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.
You 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?
I’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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