When I began venerating Woden in Seax-Wicca-styled rituals at age 16, I called myself a “Pagan” (my two previous years had been solely focused on diabolical magic, and what I could accomplish with it.) When I was around 17 or 18, I began to refer to myself as an “Odinist” after reading Ed Fitch’s “The Rites of Odin,” although I still used the term “Pagan” to describe the nature of Odinism as a pre-Christian indigenous religion. Upon acquiring the Llewellyn version of Edred Thorsson’s “A Book of Troth” at age 19, I became acquainted with the term “Asatruer,” and began to use this to self-identify as it became more apparent to me that “Odinist” as an identifier was being used by certain elements (such as Skinheads) who I not only did not want to associate with, but didn’t want to be identified with (I am by no means implying that all who identify themselves as “Odinists” fall into this category.) Despite my negative experiences with the Asatru “scene” in Southern California in the early to mid-1990’s, I continued to identify my religion as being “Asatru,” and myself as an “Asatruer,” even though I’d “divorced” myself from the local community and kept to myself, save for my association with local Chaos Magicians (who I felt were more ethical than most “Asatruers” I’d met, despite their mutable cosmologies) and a few aspiring “Pagans” who were more interested in what I had to say than in comparing dick sizes. By the early part of the 21st Century, I’d shunned using the term “Asatru” to describe my religion, or “Asatruer” to describe myself, as I had come to the obvious, honest conclusion that my approach was not Icelandic, or even Scandinavian for that matter, but Pan-Germanic; “Asatru” is the name that modern Icelanders gave to their folk-faith revival, and I certainly wasn’t doing what they were doing, regardless of any points of similarity in theory or practice. Further, I had grown more disgusted with American “Asatru” in its many forms as I came into contact with them on the internet, or as part of my interaction with members of the Rune-Gild (some people couldn’t even put their “partisan” baggage aside at a Gild-Moot.) I concluded that the term “Heathen” was the best way to quickly & simply give people an idea of where my spiritual allegiances lay. I have a little problem, though: I’m really fed up with being associated with any of the terms above anymore: they smack of ego-games of Viking make-believe, manipulation, mental illness, music subcultures, personality cults, racism (or universalism) and oathbreaking among other things; the terms themselves are neither “good” nor “bad” on their own, but have been stained with ridicule, shame & infamy through the deeds of a great many using them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been Emailed by those asking about “white man’s religion,” or by some loopy skinhead chick looking to collect my seed in order to help perpetuate the “Aryan Race” because they’d seen something on my old website that gave them the idea that I was of that sort of mindset (I don’t recall anything that would have given that impression, but then again, some people can pull an entire string of ideas out of one word alone at times.) I’ve seen friends of mine alienated & slandered by “Folkbuilders” of one of the larger “Asatru” organizations, expelling them from a regional E-list in the process, all because they had heard some rumors about them that they’d never bothered to clarify, confirm or refute personally with the people in question before taking action against them. I’ve watched as a mental-case has been pandered to at gatherings because they had accomplished the magnanimous task of completing a full-length book on Runes from a woman’s point of view (I’ve heard of this same mental case fighting with other women over which one of them is Odin’s wife.) I’ve learned of the leader of one group exposing his people to infectious diseases as part of a pointless, pseudo-mystical display of theatrics, while another member of the same group plotted to rape a girl on property set aside for religious purposes. Time & time again, I have dealt with scavengers & parasites who expected others to pay their way, whether it was a matter of cash, or a matter of work, physical or intellectual. All this is just a sampling of the kind of stuff that I’ve experienced or been made aware of over the years in association with those who I (supposedly) shared beliefs with.
When I learned of the Nine Noble Virtues and the Sixfold Goal when I was 19, I was completely elated. “Finally,” I thought, “Pagans with real ethics, and these are the ones who I share my gods with!” I can’t tell you how wrong I was in this assumption, or how many times my belief that others held these ethics as I did got me into bad situations with bad people. Mind you, I’m not saying that there aren’t any Odinists/Asatruar/Heathens (henceforth “Heathens”) out there who actually fit the bill, because there have been a few that I’ve met that *do* live by these ethics & ideals (or another set, such as the 12 Atheling Thews or the 3 Wynns), and I’ve heard them make the same complaints as I do along these lines. The thing is, the ratio of “genuine” to “jerk-off” in this regard is so disproportionate, with the jerk-offs holding the market share, and while the rare “genuine” do the hard work of backing up worthy words with worthy deeds, the “jerk-offs” seem to praise such ideals louder than anyone else in view of the public while shitting all over them in their private & semi-private circles. I used to hold my head high & take pride that people who shared my faith were better than some of the completely amoral Neo-pagans out there who eschewed any personal standards, including honestly or loyalty in favor of a lifestyle built entirely on the idea of non-accountability, personally & otherwise. I sadly, shamefully have to admit that most out there wear ethics in the same way they do the Mjöllnir hanging around their neck: as another accessory to help flesh out their image, with little behind it residing in their hearts or minds, or reflected in their actions.
The amount of pure make-believe that goes on in the Odinist/Asatru/Heathen (henceforth “Heathen”) religious community is as ridiculous as any seen throughout even some of the most whacked-out Wiccan groups that I’ve had the displeasure of running across. The most popular game of make-believe in modern “Heathendom” seems to be that of “I am a Viking”: “I am a Viking” involves pointing to a (real or imagined) heritage connected with the activity of “going a-Viking” and using this as a basis for claiming to be a “Viking,” despite the fact that the “Viking Age” ended in the last part of the 11th Century, and the last Scandinavian raids ceased in the 12th Century. The reasoning for this game is because some ancient heathens were Vikings, which makes about as much sense as modern-day Christians pretending to be pirates as part of their religion because centuries ago, some Christians were pirates. Across the internet (and, unfortunately, at some gatherings) you can see men (sometimes women) clad in their Viking-age finery, complete with a period Scandinavian sword & center-boss shield (I seriously wonder how many of them really know how to use them); while this is acceptable within a “let’s pretend” group like the SCA, it is absolutely ridiculous within contemporary religious practice (would you suppose that those of the Viking age dressed up as cavepeople , complete with clubs when they gathered to venerate Odin & Thor? You get the idea.) I’ll admit, I did this in my early 20’s, but it ended right around the time that my time in the SCA ended (go figure): what may be excusable for someone still maturing through their 20’s becomes pathetic to behold in someone in their 30’s, 40’s & beyond. Further, there are problems that accompany this game of “make believe” in the labeling of contemporary heathenry as “Viking religion,” and these problems are rarely if ever recognized. Such labeling anchors (rather than “roots”) heathenry somewhere in the far past, and isolates it to one extent or another from modern times, effectively rendering it static and inert, as all facets of the faith must be measured against a specific “snapshot” of ancient history at a level of culture (language, clothing, etc) and practices. Further, such identification will, to a great extent, relegate heathen religion to a place as a fringe faith that will hardly have much of a chance to grow & prosper: beyond the trickle of the fringe-types who are drawn to the game of “make-believe,” there will be few others who will replenish the ranks of the dying or departing. I’m not saying that there won’t be some non-fringe types who will take up these beliefs and carry them into the future, but do you think that they’re going to be interested in practicing their beliefs with their families alongside those who dress up and/or pretend to be Vikings for the duration of religious rituals & celebrations, or carry such claims around with them constantly? Unlikely, after the initial novelty of the whole idea wears off. This is an ancestral religion: it is not a costume party or cosplay, nor is it a school clique or fodder for pop-culture antics…treat it with the respect & reverence that it deserves.
My old benchmate from the Rune-Gild made a statement over the past year which left a bad taste in my mouth, but in the long-run has proven to ring true: the problem with Heathenry is the Heathens. There is nothing wrong with the religion itself, but the people who become involved in the practice of it. A quick review of the religion (and the people practicing it) in the Elder period confirms this, because if the faith was deficient, it wouldn’t have warranted even being remembered (or perpetuated), and if ancient European practitioners of these indigenous forms of faith were of the same caliber as a great many of those involved in the contemporary interpretations of those forms of faith, such forms of faith (or those practicing them) wouldn’t have prospered or endured in the first place. If something fails in your group (whatever you may call it, or however large or small it may be), it is not the ethics that failed, it is not the gods that failed, or the ancestors for that matter: it is the putrid personalities of some involved.
Personally, I am sick & tired of being grouped in with such scum simply because we (apparently) share gods, ancestors & traditions. I don’t even wear my Mjöllnir out in the open much anymore, because I’m concerned that I might draw the attention of some of the scum, or that someone else entirely might assume that I’m one of the scum and treat me accordingly. When I was younger, being Heathen was something to be proud of, because not only were our gods mighty, but the people were honorable & ethical (or so I thought), and I believed that they were the best people who I could hope to associate with; these days, I’m completely leery about making acquaintances with others who claim to share my beliefs, because I’m worried about exactly how messed up a person they really are below the surface, and I wonder if/when they plan to stick a knife in my back. It shouldn’t be this way.
I don’t intend to refer to myself as a “Heathen” anymore: I don’t want to be associated, even at a level of an identifier, with a great many people who use the term for that purpose; I shouldn’t have to suffer simply because people with low standards of conduct have soiled the term “Heathen” in the minds of others. I’ve heard other suggestions on what to refer to my faith as, but the problem is, history clearly shows that whenever a fresh identifier comes along, it’s only a matter of time before some turd comes along and adopts it as his or her newest piece of camouflage. I still honor my ancestors and my gods, and continue the practices that I have learned & developed to that end, and I see no reason to do otherwise, because, quite honestly, when I began my formal relationship with the Ginnregin at 16, there was nobody else involved, or necessary for that matter; while I appreciate the company & camaraderie of others, I don’t require a peer-group to reinforce my faith, or to lend moral support to me in my practices, because the relationship that I have established with my gods fulfills this more than sufficiently. This does not mean that I intend to be an introvert, nor does it mean that I will slap away the hand of genuine friendship when it is offered to me, but in the future, I will not assume that people are anything like me in my beliefs simply because they claim to venerate the gods & ancestors, wear a Mjöllnir around their neck, or use any of the well-known identifiers. Those “Heathens” that I *do* choose to associate with at one level or another will be held to a higher standard than the average person these days, because they should be holding themselves to a higher standard than the average person these days; if they don’t, well then, I just don’t need them around me, if not for the trouble that they bring to my door, then for the potential damage that they bring to my personal reputation through mere association with them. Those worth associating with will understand my reasoning here…the rest will stomp off, calling me an asshole or accusing me of being judgmental as they go…that’s fine, as long as they keep going.