Heathens in Profile is a monthly blog series featuring the lives and practices of self-identifying Heathens across the world, in an effort to dismantle the stereotype of Heathens as looking a certain way and living a certain lifestyle. The individuals featured in this blog series come from all walks of life and have differing perspectives of the world, but nevertheless all consider themselves Heathen. All answers to the series questions are their own words.
Tell us a bit about yourself, such as what you do for a living, what your hobbies are, what your favorite books/movies/TV shows are — anything you feel comfortable sharing.
My name is Dustin, and I manage an animal hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area full time and am going to school online in the evenings for my Registered Veterinary Technician License (RVT). I have the widest taste in music ever — I enjoy everything from bluegrass, folk, and country to pop and musicals! I love to work in my yard, cook, and sing at the top of my lungs all the time. Some of my too-numerous-to-list-in-full hobbies are brewing mead, tablet-weaving, knitting, crocheting, nalbinding, and Family Tree work. And I also happen to be gay.
I live with my husband and our four dogs, two cats, three tortoises, and bearded dragon. The question of whether working in the veterinary field caused me to have all these animals or having all these animals caused me to work in the veterinary field comes up a lot. My husband manages a Starbucks, so I am hopelessly addicted to caffeine and I’m married to my dealer. I love to spend evenings watching my husband play video games or entertaining friends! I also have a blog where I’m trying to throw out my thoughts into the world every so often when I have a little bit of free time.
What kind of Heathenry do you practice?
I started out delving into Norse Heathenry (with a brief, fleeting bit of research into Urglaawe along the way), but was very drawn to honoring Nerthus. I knew she was only attested to in Continental sources, but I syncretized her into a Norse frame. However, when I came across the Skíðblaðnir Discord server, I learned that there are other forms of Heathenry, and became very interested in Continental Germanic Heathenry and now Frisian Heathenry, specifically. I feel like a baby Heathen again doing new research!
Did you have a religion before Heathenry? What caused you to leave it?
Not particularly. I was raised in an agnostically-leaning household, though both my parents were raised loosely Christian. I began looking for more because I craved something other than the bland secular American culture that I was raised in.
When did you decide to explore Heathenry as a potential new religion?
I started to really dive into Heathenry after I attended my third PantheaCon (a pagan and polytheist convention in San Jose, CA — very local to me) in 2016. I was still considering myself a seeker then, looking for the right Pagan path for me, and happened to go to a ritual honoring some of the Vanic deities. In that ritual, Nerthus was being honored as one of the Vanir. Some hierophany happened, and I realized I felt at home with Nerthus — something finally felt right. I started diving into Heathenry after that.
What compelled you to look into Heathenry in the first place?
I have always considered myself Pagan-ly inclined and a polytheist since a very young age. At around 10 or so, I think I realized that I looked at nature and the Earth itself as sacred. This evolved into the obligatory high school Wiccan phase, but not knowing anyone Pagan or being able to go out on my own to events caused it to quietly slip into the background of my life, though I always had this nagging feeling I should be exploring more. Fast forward to meeting my eventual husband and getting married. One of his good friends is a Wiccan Priestess and we had her officiate our wedding in a mix of secular and Pagan traditions, watered down enough for our non-Pagan friends and family. I heard about PantheaCon through her and started to attend and pick up my seeking path again. I had solidly avoided the Germanic deities, and Norse in particular because for some reason I initially felt they were all too war- or battle-oriented and I wanted to avoid that, I guess? I didn’t want to just look into the Germanic deities only because I knew I was of German descent. I had to go through a bunch of polytheistic traditions and not feel right approaching and researching different deities before I began to truly realize that I should start exploring Heathenry.
What made you decide to stick with Heathenry after learning about it?
It felt right. The core worldview and concepts really jived well with me and helped me to develop ideas and feelings that I already had in my fully fleshed-out religious ideals. The concept of hospitality and hearth-keeping was a huge part of why I continued, but also the ancestor veneration and honoring of the wights. Though I don’t believe you need a group to be Heathen, I do have a local group of Heathens I hang out with that focus on the Vanic deities, and it helps to keep me involved in Heathen conversations with people in person!
Has Heathenry influenced your perspective on your role in modern society? If so, how?
I feel like being Heathen has helped me hone and perfect my husband and I’s particular brand of hospitality with our family and friends, and also to be better hosts and guests. My husband isn’t Heathen, but if he were, he would be the biggest example of a Friggsman ever. The way he keeps hearth and home is very ritualistic. I used to find his cleaning excessive, but from a Heathen perspective I appreciate him all the more now. Being Heathen has also affected how I care and protect and support those closest to my husband and I, and how strongly I keep my word when I give it. My work has also benefited from my honoring of Nerthus — I work in a healing profession, but deal with death, dying, and grief on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Honoring Nerthus and having an understanding through her of death and life cycles makes me that much more effective and supportive to clients, patients, family, and friends dealing with these issues.
Are there any aspects of the Heathen worldview that you felt the need to modernize? Which one(s) and why?
I think that most of the Heathen belief and worldview needs to be modernized and integrated into modern culture in order to stay relevant. Most important to me is the very antiquated and incorrect idea that Heathenry is exclusive or full of gods or limited access or some hullabaloo like that. I am a gay man and I am all for an inclusive and LGBTQ+ (I also like QUILTBAG)-friendly, anti-racist, anti-sexist Heathenry, and I’m ready for it yesterday.
Do you find yourself focusing more on Heathen beliefs or culture?
I definitely focus more on Heathen beliefs. It would do me no good trying to recreate Migration Period culture; I would rather further the creation of a living Heathen tradition by incorporating it into my daily modern life and culture and keeping it relevant. Looking at Heathen historical culture does help inform me in this process, but it is not the end-all-be-all.
Do your family and friends know about your religion? If they do, are they supportive?
My family knows that I am pretty Pagan, though I have never outright said it. I don’t do anything to hide it, however. My friends know and are supportive and are often curious! I also have some really great pagan and Heathen friends who are amazing as well!
What do you think makes your hearth cult unique or personalized?
There are so many nuanced things that differentiate hearth cults between households! Honoring Nerthus is something I don’t come across too often, and I have her space, not on an altar, but in an area in my backyard dedicated to her that I pour and leave her offerings to breakdown into the earth. She is the only deity that I allow the offerings to decay while being offered, as my UPG has decay and breaking down of things to their basic nutrients in order to build and nourish new life intrinsic to her. I also honor Frigg as our household hearth deity on behalf of my husband, as he is not Heathen, but totally inadvertently honors her in his daily life. Also, due to influences from some friends in Afro-Diasporic traditions, I keep my ancestor altar separate from my other sacred spaces.
Have you had any divine experiences (hierophany) that you are willing to share?
The ritual with Nerthus was a particularly woo-y one involving trance possession. I spoke with a medium carrying Nerthus and had some very deep realizations that just felt right. It was my first time attending a trance possession ritual, and I should have been apprehensive and walked off, but things had fallen into place in such a way that I was open and receptive.
How would you say Heathenry has changed your life?
It has given me a path and set of terms and definitions that I can finally use to explain and discuss my religious beliefs. I have met some amazing communities that have shown me Heathens can be open and inclusive and it is so refreshing. It has also helped satiate my need to constantly be learning new things — as the saying goes, Heathenry is the religion with homework!
Is there anyone (Heathen or non-Heathen) you look up to? Why?
There are so many people that I look up to and am thankful for existing, but I don’t seek to emulate anyone in particular.
What advice would you give to new Heathens?
Always keep your mind open to new information, new experiences, and new people. You never know when any of those things could be giving you new perspectives or ideas! Don’t be afraid of UPG, but be mindful of it when talking to other Heathens.
You are also never going to find a perfectly reconstructed Heathenry that fits neatly right into your life. There is going to be work and research and learning for all kinds of different sources. You will get out of it what you put into it… Something about reaping what you sow — agricultural deities and all that!