Friday, January 12, 2007

Impact of Heathenry on Everyday Life

"How has your religion changed your daily, everyday life?"

One of the things most Heathens figure out pretty quickly is that Heathen isn't something you do, it's not something you get, and it's not something you practice on weekends - Heathen is something that you are. This realization has had a continuously profound effect in my life. I've always been the informal type, raised to be loosely Christian (by which I mean I was never forced to go to church as a kid...although I had no concept for existing religions aside from Christianity). I'd say that for most of my life, I was much more spiritual than religious...and for a number of years, I was definitely setting up my tent in the pantheist camp. So when I first realized there was this thing called Asatru, that there was this living, thriving religion based on gods I once lamented as being dead, I experienced what would be the first of many shocks.

Heathens, among other things, are die-hard polytheists. Walk into a room full of Heathens and suggest that our gods and goddesses are part of a universal Goddes and / or God concept, and are thus the same as Egyptian gods or Babylonian gods, and you'll be lucky if you're just politely ignored. We believe that our gods and goddesses are unique and individual, separate from the deities of other pantheons...suggesting that they aren't is in many cases taken as an affront. I had the luck of joining what would become a Heathen forum populated by some of the most notorious über-Heathens on the Internet, suggesting something I'd once heard about all the gods and goddesses of the world being a multi-faceted gem. This, I assure you, did not go over very well. My change from pantheism did not occur over night - in fact it took a few years - but learning to understand the gods as individuals, as relatives and friends, separate and unique was probably my first real step towards being Heathen. At the same time, there was the slight tendency I had toward seeing the gods as something along the lines of archetypes. This, too, has changed as I've gotten to know the Heathen gods as individuals...they aren't an inherited memory of the Germanic race, they aren't a mental construct, they're real, and they are with us. So in this regard, I went from being a Christian-based pantheist spiritualist, to walking and talking with my's not just an impact in my daily life, it's a nearly complete rewrite of the part of my mind that deals with things on religious and spiritual levels, as well as an added awareness in my daily life.

One of the fundamental virtues that Heathens strive toward is hospitality. This has quite a lot to do with the concept of community, which of course is essential in Heathenry. Hospitality is of such high importance, that many modern-day Heathens, as well as did Heathens a thousand years ago, believe that the gods sometimes walk this world in disguise, testing the hospitality of our homes. Some form of this belief can be traced back as far as the 5th Century, CE, when 'Old Man Winter' would visit the homes in a village looking for food and drink, as a form of placation for a bit of leniency from the harshness of Winter. I take the virtue of hospitality a bit further with part of one of my own maxims: True hospitality does not lock itself indoors, nor does it suffer the hindrance of inconvenience. In other words, wherever I happen to be standing, it's within my power to offer hospitality, and unless I've been insulted or offended somehow, I can generally be counted upon to do just that. Although I've always been interested in things like community service, charity and even offering a clean, warm environment for guests in my home, Heathenry has added a sacred aspect to hospitality for me that I see not just as an effect, but a benefit in my life.

One of the other great impacts for me has been in the way Heathenry approaches Nature and technology. We embrace both with great enthusiasm - Nature isn't absent in technology, quite the contrary, it's as present in technology as it is in anything else. This isn't a stated belief in Heathenry, but it's one that can be inferred from our history and general approach to things. For a person who loves the outdoors, but lives in the city, learning to see the natural in even the synthetic on a daily basis has been a great benefit to my sanity, as well as being a balm to my spirits, because it helps me to feel as though I'm always connected - not in the digital media sense of the word, but in the sense that I'm always connected to my gods and ancestors, as well as the community around me.


Mike said...

Great description of Heathenry in your life, Bernulf! I love reading about how people truly embrace their spiritualities. There's way too much in this world of people taking their spiritualities half-heartedly, and really somebody who doesn't LIVE their religion isn't truly practicing religion in the first place, by the very definition of religion. I found especially interesting your "conversion" from pantheist to polytheist, and the personal relationship you have with your gods. It's a beautiful thing, it truly is.

Hrafnkell said...

Excellent post, Bernulf! I was very glad to hear you address the matter of polytheism. I was reading an otherwise good novel the other day and the author mentioned the "twin deities of the Old Religion" - meaning the "God" and "Goddess" and I almost put the book down. Granted, the main characters were Wiccans, not Heathens, but the idea was that this was a universal, that Freyja was just another aspect of a universal Goddess, and as you say, this sort of thing makes a Heathen bridle. I left a shamanistic group on Yahoo because I had all that I could take of seeing our beliefs and Gods and customs taken out of context and plugged into some sort of universal Paganism. The rest of the post was quite good too! :)

Jeff Lilly said...

That's really neat, Bernulf. Something that caught my attention particularly was your mention of the embrace of technology as well as Nature. This is something I'd like to work on in myself. Can you point me to some references on that, on your blog or elsewhere? I'd be very grateful!

Angela-Eloise said...

What a great post! I've read your work on Heathenry before but this one seemed to evoke what it's like to be Heathen in a way that was most powerful, I think, for its simplicity and personal locus.

Your distinction, for example, of the difference between the way many Pagan faiths view gods and goddesses and how Heathens do was particularly interesting. It made me stop to think about my own views on the subject and wonder if I need to do some work in that area. Not so much that I need to choose one pantheon and stay there; my tradition of Wicca allows for this and I have worked most closesly with some deities from other pantheons. It's more of a reminder to spend some time working on developing my own relationship to my deities, which is something my teacher has encouraged us to do from day one.

I too, liked your comments about technology. Actually, I think you and I have exchanged comments about this in the past. Some people think that following the path of a nature-based faith means that we have to take ourselves off to the woods to be true to our beliefs. But there are plenty of urban pagans (and a couple of books on the subject I like a lot). I'd actually be interested to read any source on this topic you have found particularly good.

It has been fun being a guest blogger with you again!

Bernulf said...

Wow, thank you all for your comments and compliments, I'm really glad that I managed to hit the mark with this topic :-)

Mike, I share your feelings of sadness toward those who are only embracing their faiths half-heartedly. I want to ask myself when I see this, why bother at all?...but ultimately, something like that isn't for me to judge. There are probably people who think I'm approaching things half-heartedly because I'm not doing rituals and Stáv every day. By my own definitions, until I moved from pantheism to polytheism, I wasn't fully embracing the Heathen path...but with time and association, this changed :-)

Hrafnkell, I agree with you completely - religion isn't "Plug 'n' Play" (or in this case, "Pray"), at least not to most of the Heathens I've encountered over the years.

Jeff, unfortunately, I don't have any direct references about the blending of technology and nature in Heathenry. There are some decent sources that talk about the technology of historical Heathen cultures, and some that talk about the religion; but not one that I'm aware of tries to explain how the one influenced the other. Last year, ironically enough while guest-blogging in here, I wrote a post about Nature in Heathenry (I have that cross-posted here); and in this post I mention again the lack of difficulty Heathens had with technology in historical times, but this was an inference then, just as is now. Our gods were both involved with Nature, and with technology and learning, as were the people themselves.

Angela-Eloise, perhaps some of the books you've read about urban Paganism would be of use to Jeff? I'm also glad to hear that this post gave you an opportunity to reflect (I think of any compliment religious bloggers could receive, that one is the highest :-) ).

I also enjoyed the guest-blogging experience - and I'll take this opportunity to again thank our gracious hostess for inviting me back for another round :-) I hope the trip to New Orleans was a good one...I'm looking forward to hearing more about this once Sojourner's got the time :-)