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 Lauren Crow, and I live in Little Rock, Arkansas. I work for the state government in Healthcare Information Technology. I’ve been married to my husband, Jesse, for five years, and we have three dogs.
I’m one of the two founders of Black Bear Kindred of Central Arkansas, a Troth-affiliated and inclusive kindred. I’ve served as their SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) since the kindred was founded in 2003. In addition to the kindred, I am also the Vice President of Arkansas Pagan Pride, and serve as the public relations director for The Troth, an inclusive Heathen educational organization. I also maintain a blog called Feminist Heathen where I examine the intersection of feminism and Heathens.
When not occupied with all of that, I am a fiber artist, lover of bad disaster movies, and lover of science fiction and urban fantasy books. I also spend what free time I have playing roleplaying games.
What kind of Heathenry do you practice?
The Heathenry I practice is a bit eclectic as far as Heathenry goes. My kindred tends to focus on pre-conversion Iceland, but we also are heavily influenced by Ozark traditional beliefs, which have a strong connection to Anglo-Saxon Heathenry and Urglaawe via the Appalachians. We celebrate a mix of traditional Heathen holidays with local ones that have evolved over the years.
Did you have a religion before Heathenry? What caused you to leave it?
I was raised Southern Baptist, and left the religion in college because I could not find a way to reconcile my own beliefs on how the world works and their theology and social beliefs. I explored Wicca, because that was literally all you could find in bookstores back in the dark ages before the Internet was a true force, and settled on being a general Neo-Pagan for a few years.
When did you decide to explore Heathenry as a potential new religion?
In 2002, after becoming completely disenfranchised with the local Pagan community. It had become a cult of personality that was more about making money than actually being Pagan.
What compelled you to look into Heathenry in the first place?
I looked into Heathenry because I have always had an affinity for the Norse mythology, and had learned it as a child. I also wanted something that was a bit less theologically conservative than Wicca.
What made you decide to stick with Heathenry after learning about it?
I felt a sense of spiritual fulfillment I had not found anywhere else.
Has Heathenry influenced your perspective on your role in modern society? If so, how?
It is hard to be Heathen and not be fundamentally changed by it. The book Peace-Weavers and Shield Maidens by Kathleen Herbert gave me so much inspiration about what it means to be a leader in both the Heathen community as well as the larger community. As a child, I was raised to believe that women were the weaker and inferior sex, but as a Heathen woman, I have the same opportunities as men and nonbinary people.
Are there any aspects of the Heathen worldview that you felt the need to modernize? Which one(s) and why?
Family is not the end all be all of our relationships. In our modern culture, so many of us come from toxic family situations that I believe are directly caused by the western idea of individualism. A family of choice is just as valid as a family of birth.
Do you find yourself focusing more on Heathen beliefs or culture?
I think I have been a Heathen long enough that I don’t really focus on either much anymore because they are my beliefs and culture. The exception is a strong focus on the parts of the “culture” that I find problematic, specifically bigotry in all its forms. I work with Heathens Against Hate as the Public Relations Director for the Troth to combat bigotry that tries to take root in Heathen culture and promote inclusive Heathenry.
Do your family and friends know about your religion? If they do, are they supportive?
It would be hypocritical of me not to be a very public Heathen, as I have been known to say that if you can be public and aren’t, you are contributing to the problem of the negative perceptions of Heathenry. My friends have all been supportive, and my atheist spouse is supportive as well. My parents and family tend to ignore it since they are all Evangelical Christians.
What do you think makes your hearth cult unique or personalized?
I have made a huge effort to understand the culture of those who lived here before me in Arkansas. I often very specific things to our land wights based on research and advice from the native tribe that lived here before. I also study traditional Ozark magic.
Have you had any divine experiences (hierophany) that you are willing to share?
I don’t like to share personal experiences, but my kindred had one last year. We were celebrating Midsummer in a pavillion at Maumelle Park, a Corps of Engineers park near where we live. We were almost done with our rite and this giant crow decides to join us as we toasted the gods. We all felt some deep effect from that moment, and really felt that our offerings were certainly being accepted.
How would you say Heathenry has changed your life?
Heathenry has made me a more socially responsible person, and far less selfish. I really do try to consider the ramifications of my actions on not just myself, but my family and my kindred, as well as the greater community where I live, as well as the greater Heathen community.
Is there anyone (Heathen or non-Heathen) you look up to? Why?
Diana Paxson. Who else has been active in this community so long? Who has run a kindred as long as she has? I might not always agree with her theologically, but I have an incredibly amount of respect for her intellect, writing, and longevity.
Ben Waggoner. In addition to his books and major contributions to Heathenry, he is also the person who made me the Heathen I am. My luck is forever changed and increased by the fact he deemed me worthy of being his sister.
Alvilldr in fägra and Destiny Ballard, two of the most incredible examples of a Heathen woman I know who constantly serve as role models for me.
What advice would you give to new Heathens?
Don’t let the Internet become your Heathenry. It is so easy to become caught up in online discussion, debate, and comparison. However, Heathenry is at its best face-to-face. I covet the time I get to spend with other Heathens. Be prepared to make sacrifices to make that happen, be it time or money. Being a Heathen isn’t easy. You can’t just expect to show up and be told what to think, believe, and do like many other religious groups. This is a religion of action.
Also, get a good, firm grasp of what Heathenry is and isn’t, and don’t depend on one or two people to tell you what to believe. Sources like The Longship and the Troth’s Heathen Essentials course can give you a strong foundation that gives you the ability to critique sources and see if they hold up.