Monday, November 14, 2011

Let's Push Things Forward

During the course of this past weekend, we've had the pleasure of having Heathen friends over on both nights. After coming from living in Germany, where our nearest Heathen was almost 2 hours away and very busy with grad school, this is a complete (dare I say it?) luxury. To be able to talk about subjects that we are passionate about, with people that also get it is just incredible and not something that my husband or I would ever take for granted.

These conversations have given me much food for thought over the past day or so, nothing truly groundbreaking as I was already of the same opinion when it came to these topics, but it's kind of like the same feeling that you get when going through a cupboard and finding something you haven't used or looked at for a while.

On the first night, we discussed reconstructionist Heathenry and how there shouldn't be this distinction made between reconstructionist Heathenry and mainstream. It should just be either Heathenry or not. Let's face it, there's a lot of stuff in mainstream Heathenry that really has no place but has been there for years and years and just regurgitated to the next generation regardless of veracity or usefulness to the wider community. Something that isn't well rooted can easily float off with the fairies and it's increasingly my personal opinion that it is the rootless nature of a lot of practices or concepts that are taken for granted within the Heathen community,that has contributed to a lot of the craziness and controversies that can be found as well. A lot of it comes from the era that a lot of the first modern Heathens started out in and while we must never forget that without these folks, we probably wouldn't be around and accord them their due respect for this, we mustn't be afraid to examine and be critical of the things that have been passed down from the earlier days either. That which doesn't change and adapt, dies. That which doesn't have strong roots, will eventually wither and if our communities are to thrive and grow, we need to have those strong roots and we need to also be able to adapt.

Herein lies the problem. We're still looking for those roots, we're still examining them and trying to figure it out. The actual historical concepts that we're discovering are receiving little to no dissemination to newbies and when the newbie becomes more experienced, it's hit or miss whether they're ready to consider any other viewpoints than the ones that they initially found in the 'Asatru 101' books. Ezines like Odroerir are starting to try and address this issue, but not all newbies know about it and some might find it inaccessible if they're really 'green'. We have no equivalent of the 'Asatru 101' book that gives concepts in easy-to-swallow chunks. This is an issue. Another multifaceted issue is the issue of communication between those that identify as being reconstructionist and those that don't. The 'reconstructionists' don't always express their disagreement with prevalent views in the best way, the 'non-reconstructionists' become very defensive, the whole thing turns nasty, repeats, and a needless fault-line occurs.

Now I'm not saying everyone should just jump and change, just that people should at least know what is accurate, try and adopt the worldview behind the actual concepts that existed and acknowledge that the practices they *want* to stick to have become their tradition (and there is nothing wrong with that). As my friend said on Saturday night, we need to push things forward. Unfortunately as long as the people trying to reconstruct worldview remain in the minority, we won't manage that. We'll just become a joke like some aspects of Wicca have. I want better for Heathenry. I want something cohesive and beautiful in its simple, rooted elegance. Not weighted down with dross and clunky concepts that don't work properly even within the paradigms that spawned them. As German friend of mine once said:

'I guess at the root of things we're following a heathen path because we receive strength from the cult and that's it what it's all about for me: religion is for the people,but ours isn't opium, but a strengthening medicine to help us live our lives in the best possible way. '

Is the prevalent Heathenry really doing that for us? I don't believe the 'clunk' strengthens. It confuses. When we're in a place where we believe that some deity has selected us to be Odin's special little snowflake and that he's talking to us and going as far as to tell us how to wear our hair, how he likes his cookies and which way to walk or where to park, then something has gone drastically wrong. We're in a place of weakness (and quite possibly mentally ill). When we're in a place where we let synchronicity run our lives, we're in a place of weakness and next to no good to our communities or ourselves. Hell, to use a less insane example, even when we're in a place where we believe that a deity really gives a shit about if we behave in daily life or not and is going to punish us in some otherworldly place for transgressions, we're weak. What is the point of doing something that weakens?

However there is a lot of resistance to calling this kind of thing out, and this leads me to the conversations on Sunday night. We are Heathens, we reserve (or should) reserve the right to call judgement on those that we come across or that come into our communities. Be it about silly, faux-viking names, behaviour, generally accepted concepts or someone that believes that they are so special, that a deity takes a personal interest in their life or has even wooed them in the romantic sense. One might cry for tolerance but these seemingly harmless affectations often hide a myriad of other problems.

Ironically, it's often those that cry for tolerance in those cases that are the least tolerant and ultimately the most venomous. In my opinion, it is those people, that tend to cry for tolerance, that tend to be the ones avoiding the 'you' statements, that tend to speak of how their feelings were 'hurt' by disagreements and that throw the word 'bully' around, that are the most manipulative and ultimately the most harmful to a community. To heap on the irony, they are using more passive aggressive bullying tactics in order to try and stifle opinions that they don't like. This kind of behaviour is yet more of the 'clunk' that Heathens need to call out for what it is in their communities and censure accordingly.

Let's push things forward.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Turtle Island

Leaving Europe was hard, really hard and there were several times on the flights over that I found myself hiding tears from my husband. Eventually, I took myself off to the bathroom and gave myself a stern talking to. As an Englishwoman, I have to keep something called 'stiff upper lip' and so this seemed to work.

I won't bore you with more about how much I love Europe and how much I'm going to miss it. That goes without saying. Instead I'll talk about what it's been like here so far on the huge chunk of land that lots of the Native Americans call Turtle Island.

To say it's strange and a mixed bag to be here should also go without saying. I feel rootless here, I have no ancestors buried here and there's so much I don't know about the land, the myths and hell, even basic stuff like the fact that over here, 'Entrees' on the menu means 'main course' and not 'appetisers'. Sure I've lived in places where I've had no bones in the land or cultural links before, but it was different because each time, the culture was obviously different as opposed to this deceptive feeling of similarity between American cultures and English (or indeed German).

On my second or third night here, my grandmother-in-law gave me a huge bag of knitting/crochet yarn, needles/hooks and pattern books. Some of these items came from my husband's mother, some from his grandmother and some from his great-grandmother.

This gift blew me away. There is so much history and so many stories with these knitting needles and crochet hooks. Tucked among the books are notes that the great grandmother made of all the people in her family she was going to make mittens for, their various sizes and colour preferences. This list is quite long. Other notes are dated and tell of growing children needing new mittens, mittens which she'd then knit up to keep her family warm in the frigid New England winters.

I can't crochet, but my husband's mother could and so I kind of feel pushed to learn. There is the most beautiful example of crochet I've ever seen, a fine lace doily that's already found its pair in my own grandmother's tablecloth which I've oathed to finish. Looking through these treasures, I felt a little less rootless and pulled out my grandmother's tablecloth, examining the stitches that my grandmother struggled to make until the arthritis and blindness stopped her.

These items are made with love, they're truly precious and in a weird way, I kind of feel a pressure from both my husband's female ancestors and my own to lovingly craft things for family, friends and my home. I think that would be the most perfect repayment for such a gift.

The next day, I started knitting a duckling to send to my niece. It's finished now and really very cute. I now have a baby whale on the go for another child.

This is one hell of an adjustment, but by the same measure, it's exciting. It's so pretty here and people have been very friendly so far. I'm now in a land where bears, moose and coyotes aren't just something that you see on films, they might be in your backyard! The house where we're staying at the moment is surrounded by trees, a little way up there are goats and chickens and then you have a wooded hill with the most amazing rocks on it, dumped by the slowly receding glaciers way back when. Some of them reminded me of the 'fairy rocks' from back home and being a tactile person, I ran my hands over them. At that moment, it got a little easier, I stopped feeling down about everything I'd left behind in Germany and England and decided that I want to learn about this land and thrive instead of being wary of the bears and moose and coyotes and whatever else there is that is strange to me. I want to discover this big nature.

And then probably poke it with a stick.

Just kidding :P.