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 :).