This essay does not represent the entirety of my spiritual perspective, nor am I entirely comfortable with the 'Heathen' label. To be sure, I am not always comfortable with any label. However, I do believe the piece speaks to the problem of racism in the Pagan community, and so while I am not always comfortable with labels, I am always comfortable with multiculturalism, and so the essay remains.
I am a Heathen, which means that I am a practitioner of reconstructed Northern European (NE) spirituality. Heathenry is a Pagan religion, which is to say that it draws wisdom from the animistic, nature-based spirituality of pre-Christian, Northern Europe. I'm providing this resource on my web site for two reasons; first, I hope to answer a couple of basic questions about my faith for interested readers, and second, I hope to address the problem of Heathenry vs. white supremacy.
If you have a question about Heathenry you'd like me to answer here, please contact me, and I will add it to the FAQ.
Q: Do you worship Odin or other NE Gods?
A: The word 'worship' doesn't really describe to the relationship most Heathens have to their Gods and indeed is more suited to desert-religion (Christianity/Judaism/Islam) paradigms than to ours. Heathenry is, at its core, a religion of ancestor and nature veneration, and most Heathens view the Gods as elder kin. It would be more accurate to say that we look to Them for insight, much as anyone might look to ancestral wisdom and its sources.
Q: Wow. Gods, huh? Seriously? You're a polytheist?
A: Well, pan-polytheist would be more accurate, but in a nutshell, yeah. The Havamal teaches that Odin sacrificed Himself on Yggdrasil in order to acquire access to higher knowledge, which essentially means that He isn't almighty. He's learning and evolving, like us, only He's a lot further along. All this by way of saying that there are mysteries in the multiverse greater than even our anthropomorphized Gods can know. When we walk with Them, we learn access points to the infinite.
However, I am equally comfortable with the notion that NE cosmology is the way a certain group of people understood their world and that this understanding has something important to say to me in a purely Joseph Campbellian fashion. We should never take our religions and our Gods too seriously, nor should we take them too lightly. When it comes to faith, it's best to be middle-wise, I think, and willingly live with the questions.
Q: So, if you're a Heathen, does that mean you're a white supremacist? I've heard all Heathens are racists, and yours is the fastest growing religion in US prisons, you know.
A: Yeah, I've heard that, and yeah, there are significant numbers of white supremacists who have turned to pre-Christian NE and Celtic spirituality for justification of their destructive ideologies, much as there are significant numbers of the same group who have turned to the KKK. In neither case do these individuals accurately represent the faiths they espouse. In short, Heathens aren't racists, and racists aren't Heathen any more than Christians aren't racists, and racists aren't Christian.
Christianity has it a bit easier, I think, since average Christians vastly outnumber those white supremacists who identify with the faith. Heathenry (or Ásatrú, meaning 'true to the Gods') is a reconstructed minority religion already vulnerable to misappropriation because of its ethnic origins. Moreover, Heathenry, like most modern Pagan religions isn't well-organized yet, which means that in addition to a lack of spiritual infrastructure for our own people (e.g. spiritual counseling, clergy training, houses of worship), we're not getting to some necessary outreach which would help to counter the misconception that Heathenry equals racism.
The bottom line is this: There's nothing in the body of surviving, pre-Christian NE lore which supports the notion that pre-Christian, NE people practiced a faith that discriminated against other races. They went raiding, and they took slaves, but deplorable as those things were, they didn't equate to racism. The teachings that white supremacists point to in justification for their ideologies are less than 100 years old and come from, you guessed it, Nazi Germany, which twisted certain elements of Germanic cosmology for its own destructive purposes.
So yes, there is probably a greater racist-to-Heathen ratio in our faith than there is a racist-to-Christian ratio in Christianity. Yes, Christians are doing more to counteract the problem because they're greater in number and have the benefit of cultural sanction. Yes, we're not very well organized yet. Yes, one of our holy symbols, the swastika, stands as a broken monument to history's greatest atrocity against humankind, and no amount of argument in favor of its former good can or should reclaim it. It is what it is now, and I grieve for the same reasons you do when I see it.
But like any other wisdom tradition, mine has a seat at the global table of spiritual teaching. Not a high seat mind you, just a seat, next to yours, across from another, down the way from still more. I'm not giving that seat up to the kooks and the killers. I won't let it be taken away from the world because some who have claimed it had no right to sit there. If I did that, then whatever good my faith might bring to the table, whatever piece of human wisdom it has to contribute to the puzzle of human spirituality would be lost. Conversely, I won't allow myself or my faith to become a proxy for all that is wrong with race relations, nor will I allow my spiritual ancestors to be vilified as if they were the only people who ever raided or took slaves. We Heathens have a right to figure ourselves out and see to the needs of our people, just like you do.
Which brings me to the primary reason I wrote this page; my support of the Heathens Against Hate (HAH) campaign. HAH began several years ago on the Wodensharrow web site as a free service to Heathens disgusted with white supremacists who usurped our faith and traditions. Since then, the webmaster of that site has stopped maintaining the page, and another has carried the torch forward on a new site. I hope to see the new web site thrive, but more than that, I hope to see Heathens carry the ideology of tolerance into their lives, and into the world.