Building the Bifrost, Part 1: What Converting to Any Form of Norse Polytheism Kinda Sucks

This article originally started as  a piece concerning the lore, and how we could better assist new converts to Heathenry in understanding and interpreting it.  As I began writing, I realized that our efforts to guide people into being good Heathens are woefully lacking not only on this front, but on all fronts.  As such, let’s take a look at how people come to our faith and how we may have been letting them down.

Bat SumbelYou see, the first piece of advice that just about anyone will give a new Heathen is that they should study the lore.  That’s not bad advice, but it’s often the only advice that people are willing to give.  While I am definitely frustrated that we collectively set the bar for entry at ancient, translated texts which themselves are recounts made by biased scholarship of another faith that would have no interest in respecting the original material, the issue at hand is far greater than that to me. It’s more than just having a bone to pick with people treating the Eddas like a work of holy scripture, though it’s definitely part of the problem.

Quite frankly, we throw people at the lore long before they’re able to use it in a constructive way.  We are setting people up for failure, because we don’t prepare them to digest the material with anything that approaches the appropriate context.  As such, they’re not gaining the proper lens in which to view the lore and, without that appropriate context shift, they seem to view in the only way they know how; the same way that Christianity regards it’s own lore

Our faith, like many Pagan faiths, has a population made up almost entirely from conversion.  These converts are, chiefly, from the Christian and Catholic faiths.  Of those who convert, most of the ones I encounter were born under a denomination that utilized harsh and uncompromising interpretations of the Bible.  Such groups twist and manipulate their hermeneutic interpretations in order to confirm their biases and deflect modern criticism.  Even should they come from a more liberal sect, the bible and it’s attendant cannon are held as the perfect, flawless, and unmodifiable word of their God.  This method of religious contemplation, while alien to my own thought processes, fits in line with the teaching and beliefs of Christendom.

When fledgeling Heathens use those same theological conceits with the Eddas and the lore, however, it’s not only non-functional.  It’s extremely damaging to their capacity to practice their religion in a meaningful manner.  Even if I were to accept the supposition that Snorri Sturluson was one of the latest true Heathens and a properly trained Skald?  His message was still covered and hidden, in order to evade censorship.  At absolute best we have a purposely distorted collection of myths and legends, which is riddled with holes and missing passages, with no translation key to see what is fabrication and what is not.  Such material does not a scripture make.

Yet this is the sort of paradigm we are encouraging.   By trying to encourage academic and intellectual self-reliance, we’ve accidentally created a system that hobbles those exact virtues.  Those who wish to learn of their new faith find themselves attacking a series of dusty old tomes, filled with archaic language and larger than life stories.  The ethical consideration within are from a bygone era, but a thoughtful person could take them an extrapolate a ponderous amount of modern meaning should they chose to do so.  is it any wonder wonder that many begin to consider the Poetic and Prose Eddas as they may have once considered the Bible?

success kid loreI’ve talked before about why the Eddas are not a holy text, but that was me merely talking about the consequences of a larger issue.  I didn’t realize that at the time, because I had become very fed up with people acting like the lore was immune to criticism.  While I don’t regret anything I had to say on the matter, I do regret not looking  just a little deeper.  I don’t think this issue started with those who converted to our faith but, rather, how unintentionally unwelcoming we’ve made out faith.  In the name of forcing people to “make their own way” and “to find the gods themselves”, we have left them unable to meaningfully gain theological independence.

People do need to find how they define the faith for themselves, but that doesn’t make the conversion process a solitary endeavor.  What they also need is help finding meaningful and spiritually fulfilling context.  Most of our social models are based around learning how to be Heathens first, and then joining the social dynamic.  Perhaps it’s time we consider turning the order of operations around, and letting people join the culture of our faith first and define their praxis second.

When next we talk about how to help new Heathens become great Heathens, we’re going to take a honest look at how some people think the flow of conversion should go and where they might be making mistakes they don’t realize.

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5 thoughts on “Building the Bifrost, Part 1: What Converting to Any Form of Norse Polytheism Kinda Sucks

  1. Reblogged this on Before Change, Comes Chaos. and commented:
    This….I like this as a newbie heathen.

  2. Sal says:

    Personally I think that for all Pagan religions it will always be a challenge to have people convert that were traumatized and surrounded by monotheism from early childhood on and who automatically interpret the lore through the eyes of good and evil. This becomes very obvious with the general (American Heathen) hatred of Loki, the Jötnar and Rökkr gods in general. It’s a MULTIVERSE for Gods’ sake – everything depends on each other! Everything is valid and has its own beauty and importance! Odin himself made death embodied a Goddess, derives from the giants himself, everything goes hand in hand to keep the balance in check! Okay, short irrational rant that has nothing to do with the original blog post over. Sorry! Anyways. Back to the monotheistic mindset of war between good and evil. – The war-like attitude of certain Heathens or Heathen “denominations” makes it ever so easy. It is as though they cannot be happy lil Heathens without hating something, someone or other. Which is understandable. They have no identity, they do not understand Heathen identity as for example I do because I was raised in an environment and in a culture where we haven’t forgotten the Norse Gods yet. So yes, it’s problematic to leave new Heathens all alone, but it’s relatively rare I’ve seen that happen to be quite honest. I connected on fb with other Heathens and it’s a *relatively* small community where very soon you will know who’s who and you’ll know all the groups, pages, etc. and there are usually very avid discussions going on as well. I learned a whole lot from those groups that I didn’t know about “orgnized” Heathenry, i.e. Kindreds, practices, etc. yet. What I find more concerning than saying “Go ye out into the world, young lad, and make yer own path!” is that there are a handful or more organizations and kindreds whose sole purpose it appears to be to tell ‘fledglings’ what *exactly* Heathenry is and that their Heathenry is the *only* acceptable one. I know too many newbs who joined the first org they came across simply because they were so used to having a religious authority sort everything out for them. There’s probably no ideal solution, but imo closest to ideal would be a mixture between telling someone to find their own way and yet putting them in contact or making resources available to them about what different types of Heathenry there are, what Kindreds and where all over the world they’re located, etc. etc… there are a few going in that general direction like Irminsul Aettir (I think?), etc., but they’re not near complete. For that it would be nice though if the larger and bigger orgs would work together to create a webpage complete with forum, contact opportunities, complete wiki, download material and contemporary articles/interpretations…all that. But I guess with all the petty differences between many of them that won’t happen. :/

    • We do need to balance our will to teach with our desire to teach out own truths; we need to let people find their own truths for themselves. By the same token, I wonder if many new Heathens are still responding to lesson and perspectives taught to them in other places.

      As for being able to come forward with a sense of unity? That takes time…some great mountains of time. The timeline of modern Heathenry is so small that a single lifespan can cover it all. There is much division because we are still trying to reforge a spiritual identity.

      While the differences are tragic, the are fueled by passion if nothing else…and passion is what will make sure we endure. All the tools are there…we simply need to learn how to use them.

  3. Reblogged this on facingthefireswithin and commented:
    Thoughts on issues with how we introduce new members to our communities.

  4. flameinbloom says:

    I agree completely with what you’re saying here. I didn’t know Norse mythology as a child, and reading the lore when I first came to heathenry was practically impossible. I didn’t know the first thing about who was who, and so it ended up coming to my brain as this great jumble of strange words that meant practically nothing. Even after reading some introductory websites about norse mythology, I was still left with no practical framework for a religion. It seems odd to me that we suggest reading these archaic texts instead of discussion with other heathens about even the most basic things or reading introductory texts or suggesting some introductory ritual or something as simple as “have a drink and say, “Hail!” I had this odd mass of words I didn’t understand, everyone I went to for advice said “Read the lore, it’s a religion with homework,” and absolutely no means to connect with the gods.

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