Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I have a confession to make.

I have a LOT of Pagan friends, friends that I hold dear and value, friends that I've known for years. You see, I'm from that weird little island in the North sea where people drink a lot of tea, Druidses like Ed Prynn collect standing stones in their back yard, and Pagans and Heathens often hang out together.

Or at least they did when I was last living there.

But there is one wee bugbear I do have with some Pagans, and that's the assumption that Heathens are just a slightly different flavour of generic Paganism...or Paganism with Norse trappings. I don't blame these people, they're generally good people and a lot of the information out there about Heathenry from things like those Heathen 101-type books really don't do us any favours.

There are also certain assumptions within the Pagan community of what a Pagan is to contend with (note, this is all going to be UK-specific, or based in experiences with UK Pagan communities); for example, there's the assumption that everyone is a soft polytheist that worships 'The Goddess', or that all Pagans cast circles, or hell, even that the pentacle is a universal symbol!

These were all things that bugged me when I used to hang out with my Pagan friends in the UK, in all honesty it bugged them too, because just like Heathenry, Paganism is a vast and varied beast of a term that encompasses many different worldviews. One term we had for this was the 'wicca-borg', and note that I spell 'Wicca' with a small 'w' in that term! Which is yet again another UK differentiation...the practice of spelling lineaged Wicca with an uppercase 'W', and non-lineaged with a lower case. A far more derogatory term for the small 'w' wiccans is calling them an IRAB, which is an acronym for 'I read a book'. All this sounds quite nasty, but so is not having your differences respected, or even patronised for your differences!

And yes, that does happen! I've actually had the experience before now of being told that I wasn't as 'enlightened' as this particular individual because I'm a hard polytheist!

Moreover, it's not just we Heathens that feel this way or have these experiences, I know Hellenic Pagans and Tradcrafters that have had the same issues (using the term 'Tradcrafter' in the UK sense here, as opposed to the American usage of British Traditional Wicca). And talking of Wicca (note the upper case), I've had Gardnerian friends express dismay at the way that parts of their practice (as corrupted as those parts are so as to keep within the bounds of Craft oaths) have formed the basis for this ecumenical wicca-borg.

There are reasons why we Heathens tend to get on well with Wiccans as opposed to wiccans. Part of it is the years of study they put in, but another part is the awareness of group to group differences. Wiccans get that we don't see things the same and they often enjoy talking about and debating those differences.

And that's what it comes down to at the end of the day, acknowledging and respecting our differences while finding the common ground we do have and partying heartily on it!

We Heathens are hard polytheists, for us it's disrespectful to consider our gods to be aspects, but I'm cool with you doing that in your practice because it is your practice and I'm cool with other people having different traditions and beliefs.

We Heathens don't generally cast circles, but there is some literature out there from the older generation of Heathens that was admittedly far more influenced by Wicca/wicca than we tend to be now that feature something called the 'Hammer Rite'. Most Heathens don't cast a circle (except for groups that have been around for years and for whom it's become traditional), for example some of us walk the boundary of the area we're working in with flame while singing a chant, and that boundary doesn't have to be a circle, it can be any shape!

We Heathens have a myriad of symbols but the pentacle isn't one of them, nor does it have any meaning to us.

We also don't believe in reincarnation...well a minority of people do, but they're a minority and it's not a widely held belief.

But most importantly, there is no such thing as 'we' Heathens and I've been very naughty to write using the term 'we Heathens'as we have neither orthodoxy nor orthopraxy and each group varies from the next. Each group of Heathens has its own culture, its own ways of worship, its own worldview when it comes to how the gods are seen, what role the gods play, the etiquette that should be observed around a Ve/Weoh/shrine,its own rules and its own traditions. Unfortunately these differences aren't always respected within Heathenry, but things are changing, more Heathens are actually asking each other what their ways are are and respecting the difference as opposed to just assuming that because person A is a 'Heathen', they're the same.

To me, this is a very positive change, and a direction that I hope Pagan communities are also moving in. We don't all have to be the same to stand shoulder to shoulder as allies, and our common ground is quite a large and fertile patch. It's one that is seeded with friendship and marriage, it's one that knows the same pressures of living in a larger society that can be downright hostile to us, it's one that appreciates the value of good friends and good times, and it's one that I've personally missed since moving over here.

So I'll be getting my Beltane on at a local festival, which I know...isn't considered particularly Heathen, but this Heathen is from that island in the North sea that drinks entirely too much tea, and that has Beltane celebrations all over.

I'm sure they won't set literally everything on fire like they do back home, but I'm sure it'll be a load of fun all the same :).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Disposable People

So guess who's bringing the polemic again?

Over the past few weeks, I've been musing over the nature of community, and more specifically how modern Heathen communities function.

Even *more* specifically, I've been paying special attention to how communities deal with those among their number that are different, or contrary to the general sidu of the community.

Generally speaking, most Heathen communities strive to work on the basis that they're a group of people who are vaguely co-religionists, that also share common values. We often talk about only allowing 'people of quality' into the community, like the community we're talking about is some fancy schmancy gated community in some posh into which no riff-raff shall be admitted.

The reality is that we're actually many separate individuals, couples and groups that are separated by distance. We generally spend more time with those closest to us geographically, but our interactions with the rest of the community are far fewer; perhaps a yearly Thing.

But then there's the internet..

Oh boy, and does it cause trouble!

In person, we can see the person we're talking to, we can see their facial expressions, and body language. We can't just pretend that it's a name on a screen and 'not a real person'. In other words we're far less likely to be dicks to each other, because in person, the consequences for being dicks are far more immediate (not to mention unpleasant!).

But the majority of Heathen interaction - even among established communities - tends to take place online.

This isn't automatically a bad thing, but I think it's been harmful in some ways.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the concept of the 'Disposable Person'.

So what is the 'Disposable Person'?

We Heathens are community animals, we're also animals to whom reputation and worth mean so much. This isn't a bad thing - after all, it's our way of protecting ourselves against people coming in that would harm the wider community - our way of weeding out the monstrous.

However, have we lost sight of what 'monstrous' really is? Moreover, is this causing us more damage in the long run?

If you spend time around any community, you'll find that some people seem to have far more of a leeway than others, and that a trait that's considered to be far too negative for inclusion in the community in one person is completely overlooked in another. Communities are full of contradictions like that - it's only natural - we're humans, we network, and we're always more likely to overlook when our friends fuck up than people we barely know.

Two traits in particular, which seem to make a person more likely to become one of these 'disposable' people are being anything resembling a Seidr-worker, or being a 'Lokean'.

People that first come to a community claiming to be Seidr workers or discussing related topics tend to be treated in a far more guarded way than those that don't, and will probably find it much harder to even get into a community in the long run. I get it, it can be annoying being told how someone can do all this magic woo woo when you haven't even got a clue what type of person they are in more concrete terms. But often times, people that do this are just *so* damn excited to come across others that might have even the slightest idea of what they're on about. We all want to belong, we all want community, and if people can't find that community with decent folk, then sooner or later the chances are that they'll find it with folk considered to be far less scrupulous and become part of a larger problem. Ironically, more often than not, in the communities that hold the reputations for being more against Seidr, some of the most prominent members are Seidr workers themselves! So what gives? Is it a case of 'Witch Positions Filled: currently not accepting applications from newcomers!'? Or is it just that those people became a part of the community in a time when the pendulum of opinion was slightly less on the 'anti' side of things?

Even worse than being a Seidrworker though, is being a 'Lokean'.

The more I think about the term 'Lokean', the more it annoys the shit out of me. It's an almost henotheistic term (putting aside debates about Loki's alleged godhood for a moment), it implies that Loki is your personal Jesus as opposed to a god you also offer to, or even predominantly offer to. It's like drawing a big fat line between yourself and everyone else, then putting up neon lights with 'LOOK AT ME, I'M DIFFERENT' on them.

Now I'm not saying that if you worship Loki, that you should hide it, that you should crawl into a hole and just disappear - not at all. It's that the entire point of your Heathenry; being a 'Lokean'?

And this is a great point, all of us, both in community and out, 'Lokean' or not, focus on the point of difference rather than commonalities.

Common ground is a great thing, common ground can be built upon, whereas just drawing some big-ass dividing line between two camps does nothing but cause trouble and eventually persecution complexes among the smaller of the two groups. Sooner or later that persecution almost becomes the identifier of the smaller group, their rallying cry, and the romance of the underdog is gained.

When we deal with people that say that they offer to Loki, the instant reactions ranging from long explanations of why people shouldn't offer to Loki, to expletives, are really not helpful. They do nothing for any of us. It is not the place for us to tell others what they do in their own homes. At Things we host, yes, we can stipulate which deities and practices are within keeping with the sidu of the Thing, but we can't tell others what they do in their own halls.

And really, when it comes down to it, should we judge them for their Loki worship before their deeds?

I know a few people that offer to Loki back in Europe, they're friends, and I daresay some of you reading this blog will know some of them too. You'd also probably stand at blot with them and may even call them 'kin'. You know them to be good people, you know that their deeds speak for themselves.

I would love to see a day when the 'Loki thing' is a non-issue. I would love to see someone introduce themselves either in meatspace or online as someone that offers to Loki, and it to be met with something as casual as 'yeah Loki? Not my thing, kite flying, now you're talking!' . I would love to see those that offer to Loki accepting when it's not someone else's thing and I would love to see people looking for common ground and getting to know each other as people. Mostly, I would love to see certain groups that exploit the lack of acceptance of those that worship Loki lose members, eventually lose popularity and that underdog martyr mystique, and eventually disappear - no longer relevant to anything or anyone.

I would love to see us stop treating others as 'Disposable People'.