Building the Bifrost, Part 2 – The Bad News*

One of the things I suspect that many writers might enjoy (or dread) is watching others react to what you have written and, if you are very lucky, discuss it.  For the most part, I’ve been truly fortunate to see some extremely good discussion follow some of the postings of my work.**.  My first venture in opening some dialogue on how we handle conversion to Heathenry didn’t disappoint in this respect, but I feel that consideration that it catalyzed produced more questions than answers.

Let me back up a bit.

The conversations around the previous post seemed to gravitate towards two points of view; either people had no idea what I was talking about and felt that I was coming to false conclusions, or they knew exactly what I was talking about and provided a story about their own experiences.  At first, I responded to the former group somewhat apologetically thinking that perhaps I had falsely characterized a local issue as something more widely spread.  As the number of people with upsetting stories began to grow and follow a very troublesome pattern, however, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t just me.  Essentially, they were given a homework assignment that consisted of a rather large amounted of dusty tomes, an apathetic suggestion about developing a thick skin, and than put to the side and largely ignored.


As Antonio Banderas is to Islamic Poets, is all of this nonsense to hospitality.

Where did that come from?

Unified concepts of belief are hard to come by in Heathenry, but we have a handful that everyone seems to agree upon the relevance of.  One of those is the social and spiritual responsibilities of proper hospitality.  Just about any two Heathens will agree that this concept is incredibly important, and even wildly dissimilar view points tend to have little difficulty in arriving at a similar definition of how to properly practice it.

It was validated countless time throughout sources ranging from the historical, to the anthropological, to the literary.  Hospitality was legion, being one of the building blocks of society.  It was to be given to kinsmen and strangers alike, and all evidence indicates that this was a philosophy that was in deed as well as in mind.  The Havamal, a book of the Poetic Edda that many consider an primer on the ethics of the culture, weighs in on hospitality often and at length.  So color me confused as to why a large portion of our number seem to feel justified in being hideously inhospitable to those who seek out our faith and the Gods that attend to it.  I see no evidence that the Heathens of pre-conversion Scandinavia and Germania saw themselves as the gatekeepers to Asgard.

There is no reason for this.  Our ancestors were proud warriors, unyielding farmers, and devoted kinsmen who stood strong in the face of adversity.  They were also engaging merchants, hospitable hosts, and were imbued with a fundamental dignity.  While they were unyielding to the winter, to the unknown, and to those who sought to harm them, they were not the uncompromisingly stoic muscle knots that some pretend them to be. When someone asked them about their Gods, they did not put up locks and barricades upon the doors of the Hof.

They were proud of their Gods, and I cannot imagine it was not a pride born of the exclusivity afforded to those who hold a secret.  It was the joy of a full harvest, brought in by kinship and aided by divinity and communal wyrd.  It was the pride of brothers, sisters, and cousins who could stand against a common foe, and stand as one.  It was strength born of commitment to generosity, communal good, and hospitality regardless of what that might have cost the individual in the short term

It was a pride that did had no use for the “pearls before swine” philosophy.  The Gods they worship did not need mortal gatekeepers than, and I do not suspect they need them now.  These are the methods and techniques born of other faiths, and we do not need them

This sign is completely unrelated to anything.

This sign is completely unrelated to anything, but since this post was kind of miserable?  I figured we could all enjoy a laugh.  This is a real picture of a real sign.

I do understand where some of this comes from.  I understand why we want to be better than the religious people some of us have grown up with and all of us have seen.  In reality, we are no better; our mistakes are different, but of equal value.  We strove to keep ourselves and our faith free from the damning and demeaning mentalities that come with proselytizing.  Perhaps in an effort to avoid some of the mixed blessings and pitfalls of the Wiccan influx of the 1990s and 2000s, some of us tried to firmly and quantifiable define what Heathenry was and was not.  Some of us plunged academic depths, in an desperate effort to bring scholarly credibility to our faith. We tried to stay far away from dogmatically interpreting the lore for others, as to avoid the worst of the hive mentality that such practices usher in.

I won’t say that all of it was for naught, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that almost none of that worked out in the way that we had hoped.  Where we were trying to foster respect, self-reliance, and unity we have instead harvested scorn, cliquishness, and division.  The scholars still laugh at our efforts as they always have, and we have forsaken proselytizing to the unconverted only to take up proselytizing amongst ourselves.

Our deeds, while noble in intent, have not yielded the results we had hoped for.  The range of Norse worshiping faiths has suffered for it, and I believe we are all the poorer for it

Now that I have the problems (as I see them) out of the way, let’s take a look at what we can do to fix some of this.  In a few days***, I’m going to take a good hard look at where some meaningful changes can start, and what we can do to make them stick.

*I swear to you that the title was not intended as a pun!  Had I thought of it before I started writing the post I might have made it that way mind you, but that’s neither here nor there!
**At least, the conversations that I see; if people are calling each other horse fuckers somewhere else, I haven’t caught wind of it.

*** Give or take a few years.

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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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