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’m a 30-year-old IT support technician with way too many hobbies (roleplaying, gaming, writing, art, fibercrafts, dolls … I could go on). I like cyberpunk, cosmic horror, and comic books. I’m married to my partner of 10 years as of this March, and we are the proud parents of an adopted disabled pigeon.
Also, I want to take this chance to plug my fiction project. I’m trying to collect polytheist sci-fi writers for a zine and you should totally join us, person who is reading this.
What kind of Heathenry do you practice?
I’m in a place right now where I’m not sure how I’d define my Heathenry more specifically. I’m attracted to Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, but I’m also very attached to a couple of Norse deities. To cap it all off, I started recently reading about Celtic religion, and then Romano-British, and been strongly considering folding some of that into my practice. I guess I’m becoming very syncretic, which is fine with me.
Did you have a religion before Heathenry? What caused you to leave it?
I was raised by an agnostic mom who didn’t want to pressure me into religion at all. I had books of Bible stories and Greek mythology on the same bookshelf. I loved them both.
When I got a little older, around 12 or so, I started to get interested in finding a religion for me. I even went to my friend’s church a couple of times. They were the kind that would get taken by the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and fall to the ground and all that. I was sure that they were experiencing something real, but I didn’t feel it myself.
Eventually I ran into Neo-Paganism, which at the time was mostly solitary Wicca and loosely related things. I read a lot of books, I visited a lot of websites. I considered myself just “pagan” for a long time, and I definitely felt something there, but there was some theological stuff that I was kind of ambivalent about.
When did you decide to explore Heathenry as a potential new religion?
I think I was around 20 years old. I was not in a great place at the time — I was living in my boyfriend’s (now my husband) parents’ basement, not entirely welcome, trying to finish my degree so I could afford to leave. My practice was really flagging, and I was finding I didn’t really fit in with the rest of the Pagan community, which was a let down.
What compelled you to look into Heathenry in the first place?
My husband knew I was Pagan, and he had dated a Wiccan girl before me. I was nervous about a job interview, so he gave me a Mjolnir pendant that she’d gifted him which he’d been wearing for years, so I would know he was with me. I wore it for a couple of years without really knowing much about it, other than that it was Thor’s hammer.
At some point he mentioned that he had heard there were people who worshiped the Norse gods, and that he thought that was interesting. So, I looked it up on the internet, wondering if I could help him find something that resonated for him, and dove headfirst into every bit of information that I could. Turns out it resonated with me really loudly.
What made you decide to stick with Heathenry after learning about it?
Not too long after I’d decided to try on Ásatrú (which was really all you could find info about at the time), there was a bigger movement in the community between folks who were “hard” polytheists wanting to move away from the wider Pagan community, and around the same time folks calling themselves Heathen who seemed to want to move away from Ásatrú. I found I liked the reconstructionist approach to these religions, and polytheism in general felt right to me.
Has Heathenry influenced your perspective on your role in modern society? If so, how?
We live in a society where it’s very easy to be self-focused. It’s not wrong or bad to want to take care of yourself, or succeed at things you care about, but I think that Heathenry (and animism in particular) has given me more awareness that no relationship between beings is really separated from all others; I take my bonds to my gods, my family, and my wights into the world with me, and I bring my wyrd home bound up with the things that I have done outside.
In addition to that, my relationship with my role as a woman in society was sort of fraught up into my twenties, and Frigg has helped me reconcile the rebellious teenager I was with the adult I am still becoming. I’m not going to be a housewife any time soon, but my respect for the position of lady of the house has grown immensely.
Are there any aspects of the Heathen worldview that you felt the need to modernize? Which one(s) and why?
We actually had a conversation about this on the Discord server the other day. I think concepts of inner-yard and outer-yard are further complicated, in modern times, due to living in a very different society: one in which we can’t guarantee the people we see are living by the same rules of hospitality as we are, and one where we certainly can’t treat all of those people as outside of the law. I almost feel as if we need a third category in the middle now: people who are not inner-yard, who we can’t depend on to maintain frith in kind with us, but whom we must maintain grith with because we, you know, we live in a society.
Do you find yourself focusing more on Heathen beliefs or culture?
I don’t think I focus on either one more. In the time these practices originated, culture and religion weren’t separate – they were just the way things were. And belief surely varied from person to person back then, and I think it’s okay if it does now (orthopraxy and all that). So, I think a multi-disciplinary approach that covers culture and history is really important, because every part informs the others.
Do your family and friends know about your religion? If they do, are they supportive?
My husband is Heathen as well, though he is not as deeply invested into studying and performing devotions as I am — he just has faith in the gods. A lay Heathen, if you will. My mom always supported anything I had an interest in, and she actually became Pagan herself after researching it when I showed her some of the stuff I was reading as a teenager.
I think I’ve been very privileged in my life to have never worried someone I love would reject me for my beliefs, and generally have been able to be very open about myself in general. I live in Philadelphia, which is pretty liberal and has a large swath of religions represented.
What do you think makes your hearth cult unique or personalized?
I’ve been experimenting with veiling — actually, it isn’t really an experiment anymore, as I’ve been doing it regularly for a couple of months. There’s evidence that women in the Pagan north covered their hair, probably partly as a practicality but also as a sign of marriage and womanhood. I began tying my hair up in a scarf as a devotion to Frigg, and I don’t have plans to stop any time soon. I actually feel really strange if I go out with my head uncovered now!
Have you had any divine experiences (hierophany) that you are willing to share?
When I first graduated I had a lot of difficult stuff going on in my life, and once, I walked several miles in heels, without sidewalks, to get to a job interview. I left it knowing that I wasn’t going to get the job, it started storming over me on the way back. This sounds pretty mundane, but at the time I could feel the distinct power of Thor behind me — I knew that I wasn’t alone, and when lightning cracked above me, I felt safe.
How would you say Heathenry has changed your life?
I’ve met and talked to some very interesting people, for one thing. More practically, I keep buying Heathenry-related books and I’m long past running out of places to put them.
On a more sentimental note, I have a sense of family continuity that I didn’t really grow up with. I feel a connection to my ancestors and I know that I’m building something for my descendents (blood or spiritual).
Is there anyone (Heathen or non-Heathen) you look up to? Why?
It might sound like schmoozing since she’s the editor, but I look up to Angelica a lot. She has a great attitude, she is a genuinely nice person, and she cuts a great figure for a modern Heathen. Also, she gets stuff done, which is an incredible quality that I have yet to understand fully.
All the other folks who’ve been interviewed here thus far are people I’m thoroughly proud to be associated with.
What advice would you give to new Heathens?
Be extra vigilant for racists, homophobes, gender essentialists, and just general jerks. One of the worst things in the world is to be side-swiped by finding out someone whose work you’ve been reading and enjoying doesn’t think you deserve the air you breathe. Even if you’re not one of the people in their crosshairs, fringe ideas (like western polytheism) are patrolled by people whose goal is to radicalize you. Don’t let them do it.
On a more pleasant note, Maria linked my post of encouragement in her interview, so I can’t do the same thing. But in addition to all that: Be curious, but be discerning. Be earnest, but don’t be too open with everybody you meet. If you give to the gods with an open heart, they will give back to you in ways you can’t imagine yet.