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.


Frigga's Keys said...

great blog!and very, very cool that you get to have truar thinkathons!! you make excellent points on weakness be it about the whole or the individual. it might be because we can all go off and give the rest a finger that we have these divisions, these great divides of heathenry. or it might be that the heathen ego and the flying-fickle-finger-of-fate cannot be restrained by either girdle or common sense!

a friend of mine once pointed out to me something really indulgent about all these divisions within heathenry. this being that if we had need of each other to stand shoulder to shoulder and hold our shield wall together that we'd not care so much about whether our community members had crystals on their alters or home practices we thought of as silly. to enact what you consider in your blog heathens would really need to find some kind of cohesive community spirit; some reason to place more value on the frith of the shield wall rather than the conflicts of the varying members of the whole.

Birka said...

Well the blog isn't just about divisions but looking for a higher quality of Heathenry, trying to bring it to the fore, not being afraid to question things, the importance of rooted practices and how certain members of the community use tactics in order to get their own way in social situations.

The shield wall would be a great test, but I think many more would desert rather than stand with their communities if the shit really goes down. Hell, I've seen it even in situations that aren't life and death but that just require taking a stand against criminal activity!

'Ooops, Odin is telling me that I shouldn't be here...'

'Freyr is telling me that I need to stop and just let people do what they want in spite of it being criminal.'

Eric Schwenke said...

"We have no equivalent of the 'Asatru 101' book that gives concepts in easy-to-swallow chunks. This is an issue."

So I was thinking about this at work this morning and I had an idea that I think has potential. Mind you, I frequently come up with great ideas and have little to no follow through on executing them; such is the curse of ADD.

What if a Heathen wiki were made with pages on topics both historic and modern. Editorial policies would be comparable to Wikipedia, although approved editors might be controlled, and notability qualifications should be adjusted. Pages would have sections for Lore, Academic/Archaeology, Modern Heathen writings, and Modern Pagan/Mainstream Culture/Popular Culture. Yes, all would be included with citations for everything, but presented so as to show the good stuff first in easily read pieces, and the crap at the bottom. It could even have pages for individual authors, giving their biographies and CVs, and pages for individual works with bibliographies each with notes on criticism.

I think that a web-resource like that would do wonders for subtly promoting Reconstructionism.

goddess_arashi said...

Great post Cat. You make excellent points. A good dose of Common Sense for this path would be wonderful. Also having good guides from the beginning would also be helpful. It is so very easy to get all the wrong information. Those coming into it need the right information coming right from the beginning. Bad habits are hard to break.

Mark Andersen said...

The best way to push forward in my opinion is to lead by example. Show people rather than tell people how it can be done better. This cannot be accomplished by arguing over the internet on various groups. It simply cannot.

Reconstructionist heathens have in fact made inroads here in the Northeast. For example, I would consider Laerad one such group. They have been incorporated into the running of ECT. If all goes well they'll be running the event on their own before long. What better opportunity to push forward?

There's always going to be the flakes. Mostly they infest the online groups. Occasionally you see them at public face to face events but they tend not to last long there as ultimately they tend not to fit in.

I'm not sure what else you can really do that isn't already being done other than stay the course. I've seen too many groups come and go in even my short 8 years in this community. What I personally want to see the most from you reconstructionists is that you're going to be here 5 years from now.

Mark Andersen said...

"there shouldn't be this distinction made between reconstructionist Heathenry and mainstream. It should just be either Heathenry or not. "

I agree with that statement. But you're also going to have to be patient and understand that certain established groups or individuals aren't necessarily going to change their ways to suit how you think they ought to be practicing heathenry and you may have to agree to disagree with some on certain points. Such as the use of the word "blot" for example. Otherwise, this split will remain.

Birka said...

You misunderstand me, Mark. I don't want established groups to change, after all that is their Sippe. Tradition is something, that once built up, should be respected. However it's the lack of honesty that bugs me. When people try to make out that modern stuff is somehow 'ancient'. Or use their UPG like it's some kind of universal argument that everyone should accept or is even applicable to anyone outside of themselves.

Mark Andersen said...

"You misunderstand me, Mark. I don't want established groups to change"

No I don't misunderstand you. I think we have had the conversation before. I know that is not what you are trying to say. I was just making a statement, albeit a statement that probably didn't need to be made.