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.
I stay a little mysterious on that kind of thing on purpose. I’m a very private person despite my online presence. I work in filmmaking, and have helmed and crewed on various projects. I very much enjoy what I do, and have a passion for storytelling, which I think has been influenced by my faith. I’ve produced a couple features now, and have produced fashion shorts, music videos, and a handful of strange personal projects that I have had a lot of fun with. Recently I’ve been making a foray into animation.
I tend to like films that are considered weird. Recent films that I’ve gotten excited about are cult films like Mandy with Nicholas Cage, Green Room, or Neon Demon. I’m also really into sci-fi, and got really into the films Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road. My favorite director is probably Guillermo del Toro, and I think in particular Pan’s Labyrinth is something that Pagans generally should check out. It’s heavily inspired by Iberian Celtic imagery.
I have a BA in history, which gave me some groundwork for doing historical research, which has been useful for chasing down historical information with respect to being a reconstructionist. I’m on the board of Berkano Hearth Union, a Heathen religious group in Georgia, and I’m also a member of clergy with the same group.
What kind of Heathenry do you practice?
I entered polytheism as a Celtic polytheist. Over time, I drifted more toward Heathenry, which I now consider very much my home. Initially, I remained strictly Norse in my interpretation, but my view has become more inclusive in the approach, as the more I read into the history of these cultures, the more they blend. I recognize the wealth of lore in the Norse Tradition and the perspective of the Anglo-Saxon. Ultimately, I’ve grown to just consider myself “Heathen” or even “polytheist” rather than any specific type.
I view polytheism as an additive philosophy that ultimately comes to an accepting view of its many traditions. Polytheism is very much an experience-centric philosophy, and as such, the multiplicity of traditions seems expected in a world full of gods. Beyond that, it’s amazing to me how many base axioms in polytheism are similar to one another. Not in a Jungian/archetypal sense, but more in the sense of all recognizing the same basic facts. Polytheists from around the world intuit the same philosophy independently, which I find to be impressive, and convincing. My personal practice, however, keeps evolving, but as of now it draws mainly from a reconstructionist approach to Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and additionally Celtic.
I’ve often claimed CDR (Cultus Deorum Romanorum) as part of my faith, mainly due to the influence of Fortuna, who I believe to have had a huge influence in my life. But that understanding doesn’t figure very much into my praxis, as much as it has in a way of living. Acknowledgement of when her wheel is in my favor, and the courage to be bold that she may look favorably upon those actions.
Did you have a religion before Heathenry? What caused you to leave it?
I was a serious Christian once. Baptized as a Southern Baptist, but with the conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Church, my family moved into an Episcopalian Church, which was wildly different, at least for Christianities. I got into reading more about the Church fathers, and found Pelagius to be one that “felt” the most right in an approach to spirituality. But after reading more into him, and discovering his excommunication, and that his process was considered heresy, I was a little confused, and didn’t agree with the justifications for excommunicating him. Being a Protestant, I rejected Original Sin. And that was much of what Pelagius’ excommunication hinged on.
Further investigation of Christianity put me in the position of being a Celtic Christian and a Pelagian. The Pelagian process inspires an experience-centric view of spirituality, which I believed to be a process that should be checked by rational thought. A position, I still hold. Eventually after a couple spiritual experiences that I couldn’t reconcile completely with Christianity, and rational examination of my belief in Hell and how it’s linked to Jesus’ salvation, and the idea of a perfect God’s communication method being a book as messy as the Bible, I couldn’t reasonably consider myself a Christian anymore. From there I drifted into a form of Celtic Pantheist Spirituality and eventually met a few polytheists through reading up on Celtic practices.
I hadn’t considered at the time that polytheism was an option. It was an antiquated idea that had “lost” over the course of history. So I didn’t see much reason to consider it. But when I realized that no, it is an option, there are people who follow this path, and seriously, I examined it for myself. And I honestly had a very hard time finding objections to it. Beyond that, it was easy to reconcile with spiritual experiences I’d had over the course of my life, which I’d found difficult within monotheistic ideas, be they Abrahamic or Pagan Pantheistic earth-worship approaches. So, polytheism became my approach, gradually, but surely.
When did you decide to explore Heathenry as a potential new religion?
I’d avoided Heathenry for a while as a Celtic polytheist, or Druid. It had come off to me as the “other” paganism. Though I was envious of those damn Heathens and their wealth of sources that they could reference, unlike the Celts, who had lost most, if not all, of their written sources. What we have for the Celts is shrouded in mystery. What we have for Heathenry is less so. After a while I decided to give it a spin, as my background is Finnish and Swedish anyway, and read some of the sources for it. A lot of that coherency that I was looking for to match up with spiritual experiences clicked within the Heathen approach, and that feeling of “calling” that many of us experience was very much present.
What compelled you to look into Heathenry in the first place?
I’ve answered this a bit above, but I’ll add something to it. I think that a big thing that compelled me to look into Heathenry in addition to Celtic Polytheism was that I realized that the idea of holding to one tradition exclusively and rejecting others was very Christian of me.
I realized that Christianity has reasons why one would hold to it exclusively. Jesus is a salvation deity that demands putting him above all others. The Father demands that he be considered the only god and that all others should be dismissed as demons or ignored. Polytheism doesn’t have a concept like that, and approaching it that way is just importing a Christian idea into a tradition where it doesn’t belong. I looked into history and discovered that the Romans thought exactly this way, that an additive approach made perfect sense to them. With all their philosophical tradition, and even what might be considered a Roman sense of arrogance, they still saw other pantheons as legitimate, and often as separate and new, rather than always just different images of their own gods.
So I decided to “travel” as a Druid into the Heathen world and explore it. And, as I stated above, I found a tradition that I consider very much my home.
What made you decide to stick with Heathenry after learning about it?
The community that I’ve found, the feeling of home within the spirituality, and the fact that there’s always more to learn.
Exploring Heathenry is an endless task, and I have an affinity for impossible puzzles, which may be why I love exploring spirituality in general. Heathenry, like any ancient spirituality, reveals more questions with each answer. Sometimes the answer can be found in lore, and sometimes the answer is for you to find. Christianity was a religion of certainty and answers, Heathenry is a religion of exploration of yourself, the gods, and the world around you. And it is far more beautiful for that.
I’ve found a community of people that I care about within this spirituality. And I believe that community is part of the spirituality. And that feeling of home is associated both with the community and the background of the faith itself. Our lore is brutal, but one that fosters hospitality and love between each other. A lot of modern Heathens have a rough background in one way or another. It’s good to share a spirituality with someone, and without even discussing our background, know that they’ve been there too, and that they know what that means.
Has Heathenry influenced your perspective on your role in modern society? If so, how?
I’m a Heathen that lives in an urban area. And that feels just incredibly strange, and may be part of the reason why I’ve incorporated Athena into my hearth cult. But as far as my role in modern society, I’ve found that I’ve been one to speak out in favor of polytheism in various communities, specifically the great debate community. I think that polytheism doesn’t have to be relegated to simple personal spirituality, but that it can compete very well in the public marketplace of ideas. My endeavor isn’t to proselytize, but to elevate respect, and let people realize that polytheism is a legitimate option, should they feel the calling, as I did for a long time before finally exploring it.
I’ve been at it long enough to see some fruit of my actions lately. Notable people in the atheist community have grown a respect for polytheists, and view us as legitimate friends as well as political allies on many issues, and stand for us against other atheists in the activist community. And I know polytheists who have been inspired to defend themselves to those outside of our faiths, standing up for their legitimacy. I see this as a very good thing.
Are there any aspects of the Heathen worldview that you felt the need to modernize? Which one(s) and why?
Not really modernize, but be wary of application. Innangard and utangard are both risky and useful as concepts. They give a solid framework for building community and keeping frith with one another, while providing a method for calling out injustice. But it also runs the risk of fostering in-group and out-group mentalities which have been toxic in other faiths in our society.
Do you find yourself focusing more on Heathen beliefs or culture?
Both. I think the beliefs entail the culture, and that culture is simply a manifestation of the beliefs. I think that Heathenry expands beyond simple ritual. Polytheistic belief does incline us to gravitate toward a particular set of gods, and that gravitation seems to manifest in our personality. My beliefs toward Odin have affected my attitude toward the search for wisdom. My beliefs in Thor have affected my attitude toward the Heathen community. I don’t think Heathenry is a religion centered around beliefs, but far more around action informed by those beliefs.
Do your family and friends know about your religion? If they do, are they supportive?
My family is mostly aware. There’s no one I’m keeping it secret from. But I love my family and they love me. Much of my family is conservative Baptist, but we can put things aside and spend time together as a family. Never had a religious fight with any of them over the issue of my Paganism. Another part of my family is largely irreligious but spiritual. There are no rabid atheists in my family, and no Christians telling me I’m going to burn in Hell. Sometimes they ask a question or two, but that’s it. There’s never been any real problem. I’m actually quite appreciative of that considering some of the horror stories I’ve heard about being pagan in a Christian or even atheist family.
Part of it also is that I don’t make a big deal about it to family. My position on being polytheist in a family that isn’t polytheist is to just be yourself. There’s no reason to announce it or even make a fuss about it. In a Christian hearth, you pray with them. In an irreligious hearth, you celebrate with them. Polytheists have no reason to force their beliefs on anyone. So there’s no need to get into a fight about it at a family gathering unless someone else starts it with you, and in that case, I have my own car.
What do you think makes your hearth cult unique or personalized?
Probably the inclusion of gods outside the Heathen pantheon. My altar includes The Morrigan, Athena, Venus, Fortuna, and Poseidon. Over the past year, though, I’ve found the need to update my altar, as I wish to honor more of the Heathen gods, such as Sif, Freyr, and others.
I don’t have much of a goal to make my hearth cult to be “unique” as much as I wish for it to be honest. I view the hearth cult to be a recognition of respect to the gods that have influenced your life along your years. Hence my reasoning for keeping old crosses that I had as a Christian as associated with my altar, but not actually a part of it, as I no longer follow that deity. But I acknowledge the influence of that deity in important periods of my life.
Have you had any divine experiences (hierophany) that you are willing to share?
Something that first pulled me toward polytheism was the acknowledgement that experiences that I had in Ireland and Scotland were, in fact, not of the Christian god, but of something else pulling me toward them. I first interpreted these experiences as an inspiration to follow the localized version of Christianity. But later interpretations of that experience has led me to believe that it may have been the Dagda, a Celtic deity with a similar attitudes as Odin and Thor, showing me a peace outside of Christianity.
How would you say Heathenry has changed your life?
I’m far more assertive. In my experience, Heathenry inspires a solution oriented attitude that involves handling problems head on. I find that this applies to every aspect of my life. There is a confidence, and strength to living in modern society as a Heathen. We bring with our intention the strength of our ancestors and the gods.
Is there anyone (Heathen or non-Heathen) you look up to? Why?
There are members of my family, and ancestors that I look up to. There’s also examples of people in history that I look up to. I tend to keep that private, however. I will say though, among Heathens that I work with, there’s a devotion to community and personal strength that I look up to in people like Eugenius, Marc, Angelica, Elgmóðr, Wolfred, Beofeld, and Casey. People that I’ve grown to know well over my journey as a Heathen, and that have given me perspective and something to learn from each of them. Eugenius, Marc, and Beofeld for their wealth of knowledge and ability to find just the right tidbit of information to answer a question; Elgmóðr and Wolfred for their passion toward family, and the spiritual strength I see in them; Angelica for her fortitude in leadership and ability to hold together a community of Heathens, which is notoriously difficult; and Casey for his unwavering passion toward the gods and his faith as a Gothi.
What advice would you give to new Heathens?
Don’t define yourself as part of any particular group. You may need to leave. Don’t define yourself by any other leader. You may learn they’re a fool. Investigate ideas for yourself and be rigorous about it. And when investigating polytheism, read the works of other polytheist traditions. Read Cicero, read Plato, read the Tao Te Ching, read the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. You’ll find that many of them are speaking in the same or similar terms we are, and that we can work together. Use what you have built out of yourself to build those around you regardless of tradition. I think a hugely important part of the Heathen mindset is to be the best example of yourself that you can be, and then use that example to better the community around you. Thor is the protector of humanity, all of it, and we wear his hammer.