So I’m back online, but I’ve been sick with my bi-annual sinus infection, because there’s no better way to celebrate seasonal changes than with a feverish morph into a mucus-creature. Gross. As such, I was eagerly anticipating the end of the work day so I could curl up in bed and sleep the heavily-medicated sleep of the ill while the pouring rain thrummed its lullaby at the windows. Clearly, that’s not happening, because I made the mistake of glancing at Facebook, and I saw a thing that angried up the blood. Someone had posted a screenshot of a shit-brained bigoted comment that an artist “didn’t deserve” the Thorr’s Hammer she painted because she was in an interracial relationship. Ugh, it makes my already throbbing head ache all the more, and my already tight chest hurt.
I’m going to tell you a little more about my family. I’ve written many, many times about how absolutely privileged I was to grow up in a diverse environment, because military bases overseas tend to expose you to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. My family, small though it is, is also pretty damn diverse. And it’s awesome. I don’t have a lot of kind (or even good) memories of my father, but I’m always grateful that he was never a bigot, and he had little patience for racism and cultural intolerance. But that’s not what comes to mind when jackaninnies actually type shit like, “you know nothing of the Nordic way, you don’t deserve that hammer.” What comes to mind, of course, is my grandpa.
We all know he was born and raised in Norway. We all know he was a proud heathen. My constant refrain when speaking of my grandfather is, “he kept the gods close to us and us close to the gods.” Safe to say he’s what modern pagans wish they had in their families. In fact, I felt kind of awkward sometimes when I talk about him because I’m afraid I’m coming off as “heathener-than-thou,” or “I’m an authority because my family has been heathen for who knows how many generations.” The truth is, being raised with these beliefs and with the gods actually makes me feel like I’m an ill-educated dope compared to many heathens I know. I’m not a researcher, or a reconstructionist, nor can I quote lore to bolster a point in an academic debate. I’m like the kid who grew up in a family that’s Christian, but doesn’t really go to church and has read the Bible, but thinks C. S. Lewis only wrote about Narnia. I’m the only person outside of my family who pronounces “valknut” as “vahl-KUH-noot” instead of “VALK-not”; my family was always insanely adamant about the pronunciation because “Knut” is a family name, my father’s name and great-uncle’s name, and they both hated the way Americans said it. “I’m not a fucking newt!” my father exploded once. “IT’S KUH-NOOT! KUH! THE K IS THERE FOR A REASON!” (As such, my high school experience was deeply soured by the fact that our gymnasium was named for Knute Rockne. Nobody ever said his name correctly, and it drove me absolutely batty, and may or may not have made me a little paranoid that my father was going to spontaneously materialize in the middle of the basketball court and go nuclear if one more person said “Newt Rockne.”) My sharing things about my family and my background isn’t an attempt to “prove” how amazingly heathen I am or to impress anyone – it’s simply to provide context for why I think the way I do and why I do the things I do. Do I stand out like an illiterate fool at heathen gatherings when I mention my vahl-KUH-noot tattoo? Yup. But I’m not speaking from ignorance, I’ve just got enough Knuts in my family to be unable to pronounce that collection of letters any other way.
But I digress, as usual. It’s established that I don’t write about my family and background to brag, yes? Good, because now I can explain why racism and intolerance in heathenry is such a fucking foreign concept to me and just why I was so flabbergasted to learn about neo-Nazis and other fascists claiming heathenry is for A Select Few. As I mentioned above, my father’s family is small. While I’m still over the moon with joy in getting to know my extended family, up until last year I only knew my grandparents, my father, and my uncle. I also knew my uncle’s boyfriend.
Yup, my grandfather, who was born in Norway in 1919, welcomed his son’s boyfriend into his home and into the family. I met him when I was in junior high, in the early 1990s. I was 12, and he was in love with the super trendy smoky-translucent purse I’d gotten from Claire’s. He was incredibly flamboyant, and I adored him (and wondered why he was settling with my uncle, who’s so quiet and sulky I’m being generous when I say he’s probably spoken all of 17 words to me total in my life). He was also Black.
You read right. My immigrant, heathen, WW2 vet grandpa delighted in welcoming his Norwegian-American son’s Black live-in boyfriend to the family dinner table in the early ’90s. His hospitality was genuine, and those were some of the best family dinners I ever had in upstate NY, because my uncle’s boyfriend was so energetic and quick with the jokes. My favorite memories of my grandpa center around his deep, long belly-laughs, and my uncle’s boyfriend inspired a lot of those laughs with his quick wit and cheeky grins.
That same joyful welcome was extended to my stepmother. My father had been stationed in Seoul for several years, and while there, he married a Korean woman and brought her home. My stepmother made sure that my father’s headstone was engraved with Mjolnir last year, even though she herself is very Christian, and for that I’ll always be grateful to her, and I know my grandpa is too. He was always proud of his extended family, the loves that his children found and brought home. And he was so very proud of his gods.
I’ve half a mind to find the original picture with the moronic comment so I can reply with the story of my grandpa. Who better knows “the Norse way” (whatever the fuck that nonsense is supposed to mean) than an Army veteran who was born and raised in a small town south of Oslo? Who grew up heathen, raised his own kids heathen? And who welcomed the non-white lovers his children brought home? Who gladly introduced his young granddaughter to her uncle’s boyfriend and beamed when we bonded over what passed for fashion in ’93? My grandfather was O fucking G, and he would have laughed at and mocked such ignorant, bigoted claims, after flyting the hell out of the fool who spouted them. And he’d have torn them to shreds in the strong sing-song Norwegian accent that never faded, even after all of those years in America. Then he’d have laughed great, deep long belly-laughs at the stupidity that he’d heard, laughed at the offender until he’d slink away in shame. “Don’t ever be like them,” he would probably say to me. “You’re my little genius, I don’t have to tell you why they’re so foolish.”
So heathens, take heart: to paraphrase what I’ve seen others say, Odhinn is the ALL-FATHER. Not the SOME-Father, not the Norse-Father, not the Straight White Cis Father. And those who are called to this path are called for the content of their souls and the energy they can bring to the gods and to the community, not for who they love or what they look like or how they present. Anyone who honors the gods by honoring the people around them is deserving of the hammer.
Also, I don’t care how many academics say “VALK-not or “VALK-noot.” It’s “vahl-KUH-noot.” It’s the only time I’ll pull the family card at heathen gatherings. I swear, if any of you summon my father Knut’s ragey ghost by trying to make me say “valknut” the other way, I’m getting the fuck out of dodge and letting you deal with him. The laughter you’ll hear in the distance will be me and my grandpa’s ghost as my great uncle Knut’s ghost shrieks, “I told you this would happen if you named him after me! It’s a good name, BUT AMERICANS CAN’T PRONOUNCE IT!” Although now I need someone to draw me a valknut with newts on it.