Inclusive Heathenry

This morning, I read a post in a heathen discussion group about the recent (public) rise in white supremacy the media. It, and the violence such ideology spawns, led the writer to have a crisis of faith; with racist groups and individuals identifying with the Northern gods and associated symbols, the writer expressed a need to possibly step away from heathenry. It was, as you can imagine, a sad post for me to read, and the ensuing comments from others who have similar feelings and fears were sobering.

These statements weighed heavy on me all day. Mostly because I don’t understand the sentiment myself, and I was trying to imagine what it’s like to have such a crisis of faith.

I’ve written before about how extraordinarily lucky I was to have been raised with very modern, open-minded, curious parents in a diverse community. I continue to be absurdly lucky to be a part of a community that is compromised of like-minded people and kindreds. The phrase “inclusive heathenry” has been circulating on social media by members of my extended community, and it fills me with both pride and humility to be associated with friends and associates who are diverse in their backgrounds, identities, and abilities. I’ve interacted with a lot of heathens online who don’t have access to such welcoming communities. In some places, particularly more remote or backwoods areas, the groups are racist, or homophobic, or otherwise prejudiced against anyone considered different. When I chime in with support that good kindreds and good people are out there, they’re in awe of hearing about my experiences in the community and how welcoming we are to everyone. Well, everyone who means well; the only way to be scorned in our neck of the woods is to spout hateful, hurtful nonsense or act dishonorably. So yes, I’m well aware of how lucky I am to be surrounded by good and wonderful people.

This doesn’t mean that I’m blind to the darker parts of those who claim to be heathen. Every time there’s a hate crime or a shooting, I worry about the perpetrator/s being racist and writing manifestos that reference Norse and Germanic religion. When I see their mugshots, I pray they don’t have heathen tattoos. I understand the idea of having a crisis of faith when we, an admittedly “fringe” group in this largely Christian nation, only getting public attention when the most disturbing individuals seek media stardom in the most atrocious ways. The vast majority of the American public don’t know what heathenry is. Hel, before Marvel started cranking out movies, I remember the blank stares I’d get when I’d mention Thor or Odhinn or Loki. Now at least the names are familiar, but the beliefs and practices are still pretty much unknown and unfamiliar. It certainly feels like the only time that our religion is mentioned in the media is when terrorism strikes. The extremists are the ones to get the headlines, so the faith is linked in the public mind to hate and violence and bigotry.

So yes, I suppose I can see how some are discussing “stepping away from heathenry” in light of the negative associations. I sure as fuck don’t want to be associated with bigotry. It’s nauseating. I mean, it’s annoying enough to occasionally get lumped in with “bro-satru” nonsense, having people think my religion is about vikings and alcohol and Valhalla. (Okay, well, alcohol is a big thing; mead snobbery is real, yo.) But I don’t want for a hot second to distance myself from the faith. If anything, this sort of media attention makes me even more obnoxious about who I am and what I believe. I get more chatty at work and when I’m out and about, I make even more of an effort to be “the sweet, funny, helpful lady” while wearing a Mjolnir pendant or my Loki/Sigyn runic pendant (which is daily). I point out that the jackasses making news are the heathen equivalent of the KKK or jihadists. Every religion has its extremists, and every religion has bad press. Christians are quick to say that the Westboro Baptist Church is as un-Christian as it gets, yet they call themselves Christians and grab a lot of headlines. White supremacists with valknut tattoos visible in their mugshots? They’re the WBC of our religion. They’re the KKK of heathenry, the ISIL of our culture. They are the fringe, the extremists, and they don’t represent us. We represent ourselves.

While I had a blissfully tolerant and inclusive upbringing and am pleased and honored to be an active member of a diverse community, I do have a little understanding and experience about part of my own community voicing concern and contempt for my beliefs and practices. I am, after all, Lokian. And while the Loki bans are finally starting to fall away, there’s still a measure of wariness about us. I don’t like to dive into debates and arguments about Himself, because people tend to be stubborn about their beliefs, and words aren’t always effective tools to change someone’s mind. Instead, I direct my actions to prove my worth, and since everything I do is infused with Loki’s energy, I prove his worth, as well. We are our deeds. I am a committed conduit for Loki’s energy, and His presence is a near constant in my life and in my deeds. I do my damndest to be kind and compassionate, to make people smile and laugh, to feel a moment of joy amidst the chaos of life. I hope, sometimes, that my actions prove me to be an honorable woman, one to be trusted, one who has value and a place in the community. And if I am such, then how can Loki be feared? How can a Big Bad possibly inspire good hearted devotees?

This is the exact principle I bring to the table when violence runs rampant and the reputation of our faith is being sullied. Continue to be people of integrity, continue to do good and helpful work in the world. Be a role model. And take heart in the gods. They’re not to blame. Maybe it’s because my identity is so deeply, profoundly rooted in my faith, I can’t imagine turning my back on heathenry, no matter what is being said about it. I can’t imagine hiding it, either, any more than I can imagine hiding my nose or my hands. In the midst of terror and hate, all I can do is do my best to help the people who are hurt by bigots, to help and serve people I meet in my daily life, to be the best Lokian I can be to bring that flash of joy and glee into the lives around me. Am I always successful? Nope. I’m human. I have my bad days and weeks, I make mistakes, sometimes I’m oblivious. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a bright spot in a miserable day. My gods are too entwined in my every action. I can’t be cruel or indifferent even if I want to be. It’s not even a conscious decision on my behalf. I don’t preface every action (or any action at all) with an internal “will this please Loki/Odhinn/Sigyn/Freyja? Will this prove to people that heathens can be good people?” debate. But it does become something that crosses my mind in lieu of media references. I’m aware that people who have heard of heathenry might think we’re all racist scumbags. But I won’t be stopped from wearing my Mjolnir pendants and being the religious fanatic constantly babbling gleefully about gods and nonsense.

This current political climate is beyond terrifying. We’re already being robbed of dignity, security, and community. Don’t let it rob us of our faith, too. Instead, may these terrorists and the politicians supporting their rhetoric strengthen our resolve to take action to make things better, to make them right. We all know there’s strength in diversity. Our own pantheon is bafflingly diverse. Our communities need it, our society needs it. We need to protect and raise up the groups being targeted by hate and fear. Don’t let ignorance define us when we know they don’t represent us.

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