One interesting and entirely unforeseen outcome of attending the Lokasenna ritual at PantheaCon was feeling oh so slightly inclined to go spend some time with Heathens. I’ve spent probably twice as long away from Heathenry as I did in it. Even saying I was “in Heathenry” is a bit of a stretch.
When Loki dropped into my life I was a more or less generic-flavor pagan with a spiritual and magical practice that were entirely satisfying if not necessarily spectacular or high octane. Loki changed that, tapping into little gifts and talents I already had and showing me how they could be used to much greater effect. Things sped up, got heavy, and got intense very quickly.
Thinking that the arrival of an ostensibly Norse deity in my life meant that I should go and do Norse things, I made mental noises about looking into local Asatruar groups. But no; I was prompted repeatedly that this was not what I should do with my time. So I didn’t – but I kept pushing it, thinking that I needed a peer group, people who could teach me, people who had experienced the same things I did. Thing is, I didn’t actually *need* these things. I wanted them and I didn’t recognize the difference.
Eventually I did go seeking some Heathen company. I found a large and dynamic group comprised of Asatruar/Heathen pagans and witches – which was actually possibly the highest functioning Heathen-type group I ever spent time with. Monthly rituals were always well-attended, we shared a meal afterwards, and there was much camaraderie and support. There was also a good measure of interpersonal tension between some members and when the couple whose house we met at broke up the participants all went their separate ways. I feel like that group was as successful as it was because somehow or other everyone wanted the same things – in this case, collective ritual experiences celebrating the gods and the occasional magic working.
The second Heathen group I associated with was more traditionally recon, more distinctly Asatruar. I met the gythia on a mailing list, discovered we had some Powers in common, and got to know her and her husband personally. She was a Hel’s woman and put together some lovely rituals celebrating the ancestors and the dead. That group too did not last forever and was starting to destabilize about the time that I left the region.
I won’t detail each of the handful of Heathen and Asatruar groups I associated with. Each had their own character and each, I discovered, had somewhat different focuses. Some, like the second group, built their structures according to some sort of historical basis and then infused those structures with insight and passion borne from personal practice. Others were little more than rune study groups and consisted of people who couldn’t ritual their way out of a wet sack yet somehow managed to hold symbels lasting several hours in their back yard with a scant few people. (During that disastrous ritual I fell asleep on the couch and left without saying goodbye.) Sometimes the groups were little more than a bunch of friends who happened to have similar religious predilections, which meant that they had no real ability or inclination to welcome newcomers.
At the time, I kept thinking that my inability to fit in with any group was my fault. I was doing something wrong. I was too weird, too witchy, too Lokean, too something. Now I recognize that these groups all consisted of people who simply had different religious, spiritual, and magical priorities than I did. They created or joined groups of people that shared those priorities; anyone who didn’t would not be a great fit. See, despite efforts to clearly state the singular purpose that religion serves, any observation of actual religious bodies will show that multiple ends are achieved. This is true of polytheist traditions, too. If I want to study runes, the first group would have probably been a pretty poor fit for me. If I wanted a peer group, the kindred full of shitty ritualists would have been a poor fit (and it was).
Also, I started noticing a weird pattern in the groups I associated with. No matter how well-established or functional they seemed to be when I arrived, by the time I left or started to separate myself from them shit was already starting to get tense and weird. After actual murder-suicides and other assorted felonies destroyed more than one group I spent time with, I started to wonder if perhaps I was bringing a certain destabilizing energy to each collective.
(Today I feel that yes, I did in fact have a destabilizing effect on several of these groups but not deliberately and certainly without malice. I can’t do magic or ritual with most people because I bring a radioactive flavor to their current and since people don’t know what’s happening or how to mitigate it, everything ends in tears and federal charges. I’m considerably more delicate in how I approach group workings these days and I’ve even managed to find groups that deal with heavy energy currents. I’m also upfront with the fact that I’m going to fuck things up; nothing personal and no, there isn’t anything I can do to stop it except leave. On the other hand, in exchange for the high mayhem potential of a spiritually radioactive Lokean you get someone with decades of ritual and magical experience, with a willingness to learn and teach and do the work, and with a large body of creative and artistic knowledge all ready to help your group do whatever’s important to you. At least one group leader feels this is a reasonable trade-off.)
Aside from mismatched priorities and energy dynamics, I also never felt at home in Heathenry. There’s an experience shared by many – but by no means all – Heathens irrespective of tradition, and that’s the feeling of finally arriving at a spiritual home. This never happened for me. My feelings of belonging were always simply a suspension of disbelief, a momentary shift in awareness that was always, always, always demonstrated ultimately false. These were gods I loved and prayed to, these were the rituals I did, and this was even the language of cosmology and magic I employed, but it wasn’t where I fit. Heathenry was a time and place, a style of working, a group of friends – not my spiritual path.
I realize that religious identification is a complicated matter and for some people time, place, style of working, social group, etc. are what constitutes their Heathen identity and participation in the tradition. And that’s great. For whatever reason, there were other things I wanted even if I didn’t exactly know what they were. I found Heathenry unfulfilling.
There was also the Loki issue. Groups as a whole rarely had any outright policy regarding Him (that’s one of the ways that Heathen culture has changed since I left) so it was always on an individual level that I encountered acceptance, rejection, or wary confusion. This meant that some people in a group welcomed me while others did not. Put another way: my personal spiritual choices had public consequences. This is a strange thing and it’s definitely not one that I was expecting to be as problematic as it ended up being. No matter how helpful or willing or educated or sympathetic I was, I was always pushed out by some and drawn in by others.
You don’t expect to have to justify your existence to your religious community. Having already spent time in religious communities that had required exactly the same thing of me, I knew that the only solution was to leave. One cannot fight a battle in which one’s opponents have already determined the outcome. Trying to justify the relevance of my path, my choices, and my alliances would be a terrific waste of time and win me absolutely nothing.
I am not Heathen. I’m also not not Heathen. However, I think I am too many other things, I draw from too many currents, and I bring too many perspectives to ever be a good fit for a Heathen group even if I was entirely willing to “just be Heathen” while in their company.
I’m not making a value judgment for or against myself, or for or against Heathenry. My experience is just that I’m usually a spectacularly bad fit for Heathen groups and this will eventually make everyone very unhappy.
So I’m not sure. So far as I know, there are no actual kindreds in my area. There’s a group that sort of focuses on pan-European pagan cultural traditions (Celtic, Germanic, and Norse primarily I think) but they seem little more than a coffee club. There’s no Troth presence, even if I wanted to spend time with them. A godhi I used to know is still occasionally doing something but so far as I know it’s just him and his partner. The only seidhman I ever knew in the entire state when screaming back to Mormonism. I’m also not willing to do any organizing because a Heathen group should be organized by a Heathen and also because I fear sitting around in a lot of shitty coffee shops listening to people compare notes on shitty rune manuals.
There is, however, a newly forming group of Hellenic polytheists. Despite allegiances to very different Powers, I feel like I probably have most in common with them. We have a similar stance of religious regard and even of ritual structure. At this point, it even seems like we share similar views on how revitalized polytheist traditions can fit into modern life and find contemporary expression. For the time being, I’m looking forward to spending time with them.
I have no doubt that I’ll find like-minded Heathen-types some day; I actually already have and some I’ve known for a long time. But as things stand now, Heathenry will be a sometimes food and not a primary part of my spiritual sustenance.