Today’s thought dump is brought to you by request. Over the years, lots of recently converted heathens and pagans have asked me how to deal with backlash or negativity from family/friends/coworkers, and a good friend of mine specifically asked me to write about what it’s like in a blended-faith family.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of advice. I’ve somehow been extraordinarily lucky to always have my faith and religious choices treated with respect. I’ve never been preached at nor had anyone try to convert me. Or maybe I have and just haven’t realized it, because I thought we were just having a discussion about comparative religion or world philosophy. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t been proselytized, especially because some of those past discussions allowed me to show off how much knowledge I have on the history of Christianity, the differences in theology and practices among the various denominations, and the deep biblical understanding I have from having read it a few times on top of my Catholic high school education. When people preach at you, they do so because they assume you’re ignorant; I tend to prove my knowledge and understanding very early on in conversation, and I’m able to articulate exactly why XYZ isn’t a healthy path for me while heathenry allows me to grow and flourish.
Of course, when people ask, they seem to readily accept “Well, this is how I was raised” because to them, it’s not a matter of me turning my back on the Church and my family. I can further discuss my attempts at giving Christianity a go and why it didn’t work for me. Because believe me, I tried to make it work. I wanted to make it work, because the new experience of having congregations/communities and social support for devoting my life to divinity was pretty damn neat. I wanted it to work because I really, really wanted to be a nun. Like, researched different orders when I was 14/15, talked with the nuns who taught at my school, and picked which one I wanted to petition when I graduated. I was genuinely distraught when I couldn’t build or develop a relationship with God/Jesus, and felt worthless and empty and weird. By the time I was 17, I was just phoning it in at Mass, and I felt like a fool when I prayed into the void, and as soon as I graduated high school I left Christianity behind, returned to the worldview in which I’d been brought up, and felt like I was plugged back into the universe as I welcomed the old gods back into my life and they welcomed me back into the fold. And as I grow older and more experienced and develop the social bonds within the community in my region, I’m finally realizing my teenage dream of being a nun, or the closest thing there is to it in heathenry. I’ve spent the last few years laying out the groundwork and figuring out what it all entails. So far I don’t seem to have scared anyone off with my veiling and nonsense, but that’s probably related to why I don’t get harassed for my beliefs. I’m not making a big production about any of it, I’m just going about my life and living it the best way I can.
I’m very privileged in the way I’ve always been able to be “out” and loud and proud about my heathenry. Living in a fairly liberal area helps, but remember, for many years I worked in one of the most conservative, “traditional” professions out there: funeral service. There’s entire units in mortuary school about how to build and maintain clergy relations. Funeral directors and priests/pastors work hand in hand and side by side to serve grieving families, so you have to be able to get along with men and women of the cloth for each and every denomination and church in your region. And of course, when a new FD comes along, the clergy always wants to know which church you attend. I was always honest, and I’d often have neat little chats with the ministers about my belief system when they’d ask questions. Only once did I try to tactfully dodge the question, when I was working at a super Catholic funeral home and riding in procession with an elderly Italian priest. Italian-immigrant, like, straight off the boat from Rome. The kind of old school Vatican type that looked frail enough to slump over from a heart attack if he found out he’d let an actual heathen drape the pall over the casket in his church. “Are you Catholic?” he asked when we pulled out in front of the hearse.
“I went to Catholic school,” I said carefully.
“Do you still practice?”
“Do you have faith?”
“Yes, I have very strong faith.”
“What do you practice if not Catholicism?”
“Um. Well. I’m Norse Heathen. I was raised that way.”
“Ah. I see.”
And that was that. I suppose the fact I’d been able to swan around his church and genuflect at the altar without bursting into flame was satisfactory enough for him. (I always told people I had diplomatic immunity as a funeral director, which is why I didn’t sizzle when I’d inevitably get splashed with holy water that was supposed to be directed at the casket.)
It was while I was employed at that particular funeral home that my Catholic boss, the owner, invited me to bring a bottle of mead in at Yule and explain to the staff the significance of Yule as we passed the mead around. I later worked at a funeral home owned by a Mennonite; while he was super conservative in his beliefs and politics, he was the Cadillac Escalade-kind of Mennonite, not a plain Mennonite. He would just roll his eyes when I’d wander the empty halls with my travel coffee horn shouting, “Hail the dead! Hail the fallen!” on the days I was feeling mischievous. One of the Catholic priests we worked with regularly there was oddly delighted to learn of my religious predilections; he’d been a history major in undergrad, so he always sought me out to chat about Ye Olden Times and such.
I like to think that my easy, respectful relationships with all of these devout Christians developed because I’m out and proud, but I’m not “in your face” about it. I don’t hide my hammer or my beliefs because hiding them suggests to others that there’s something awry or suspicious or shameful. Again, I’m privileged about being well north of the Bible Belt (though still working and serving in very conservative pockets) and not having to worry about being blacklisted for not being Christian. I do my best to be kind and welcoming and more than competent at my job, so when the topic of faith inevitably comes up I’ve already made a good impression and don’t have to prove anything about the sort of person I really am (the whole “not being smited on hallowed ground” bit helps, too).
Of course, being on hiatus from funeral directing, my religion is pretty irrelevant. But my coworkers still know all about it, because it’s pretty damn hard to spend more than 5 minutes talking to me without some aspect of it coming up (especially since I started veiling). Part of this is because it’s so ingrained in everything I do (how many times have I written about how Loki is in everything I do? How in oathing myself to him I’ve dedicated my energy and very self to him? It ain’t hyperbole, folks). Part of it is because the more I grow in the community, the more things I have to talk about that relate to heathenry (blogging, writing a book/submitting a chapter for a book under contract, ECT, the hijinks and shenanigans my kindred gets up to). And part of it is to spread anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-hate messages to divorce the neo-Nazi association from heathenry and to broadcast to everyone around me they’re safe and I’ve got their backs.
So I’ve been incredibly fortunate and privileged to avoid pushback and preaching. I make it a goal to establish someone’s trust in me and earn their respect for my ethics so that when I do drop the hammer, there’s no reason for them to “save” me, especially if I satisfy their need to know I’m very well versed in/respectful of their beliefs. Then again, I might just have “lost cause” vibes emanating from me, or angels are whispering in their ears, “leave this one alone, we don’t want the Aesir breathing down our necks. This one is tied to Loki, and you don’t want his attention. God won’t give you more that you can bear, but that guy? He’ll tie your nuts to a goat. Not a risk worth taking!” Do my colleagues think I’m insane? Probably. Most people who are swimming in religious fervor are crazy. Does it bother me? Not in the least. Especially since I’m the one most likely to make jokes about it, to make fun of the gods I honor and myself for the way I honor them. A little self awareness goes a long way, baby. I know sound bonkers, but it makes me happy and puts me in a mental place to better help people, so no one cares.
As far as blended-faith families go, I’m equally lucky af. My stepfather is mega-Lutheran, always has been. He’s the kind of Lutheran who serves on the church council, goes to meetings, and used to be in the choir. He’s always been active in his congregation and very devout, so much so that mom and I often tease him for being the poor weary soul having to put up with us two heathens. Mom isn’t a practicing heathen, but she gloats that she’s known heathenry longer than I have. She loves telling stories about my paternal grandfather, the OG heathen, the reason my late father and I believe(d) in what we do. Grandpa Frank was the reason my mom raised me the way she did. So I credit her with my stepdad’s acceptance of my path. After all, she started dating him before I even learned what Christianity even was – I didn’t start Catholic school until we’d moved to PA to live with him. When I dabbled in Christianity as a young teen, I split my time between Mass and attending Lutheran and UCC services with my stepdad. I voluntarily (eagerly, even) went to Vacation Bible School at his church and participated in congregational events.
As I aged out of my rebellious phase and reverted to my heathen roots, I tried to keep it pretty low key around him because I wasn’t entirely sure how he’d take it. He was a little weirded out at first, but as he saw me flourish and come into my own, he was happy because I was happy. I’m not kidding when I say my mom and I are lucky to have him: there’s a reason I introduce him to people as my dad rather than my stepdad. I just refer to him as such here so as not to confuse him with my father, who wasn’t nearly as kind and wonderful and loving as him. My SD has made a lot of effort over the years to read up on Norse history and watch historical documentaries to better understand the culture and context for what I believe, and he’s attended Scandinavian festivals and has developed a fondness for mead. He’s supportive to the point that he and my mom came to my kindred’s social hour the day of the Loki blot to meet my chosen family, and he wore a fox sweatshirt for the occasion as a nod to Loki. My heart, guys. My heart.
In a blended-faith family, we compromise for the holidays. And by compromise, I mean we celebrate all of them. Because the more holidays, the more feasts there are, and we’re a family who loves our fancy food and drinks and hanging out together. I celebrate Yule with mead and almond cakes, he celebrates Christmas with sparkling wine and cookies, and mom is along for the ride for all of it. He doesn’t seem to mind that I’m not Christian because he knows I’m well educated, he knows I gave it an honest go, and he sees how much I’m thriving as a heathen. He’s as proud of me as my mom is, and he gets excited for my events and achievements and loves hearing about me running around in the woods with mead horns and big bearded guys in kilts. Dude gave me archery lessons for Yule so I could participate in the Viking Games at ECT, because he’s that amazing. And my mom loves taking me to Iceland because even though she’s not religious, she knows how strong the gods and history are there and I think she gets a kick out of seeing me go into ultra-heathen mode. It’s pretty damn magical having such supportive parents.
So yeah, this post is basically me bragging about how awesome my parents are and how great I have it being all uber-heathen at work and with clergy. I really don’t have any negative experiences, so I have no advice. Just be respectful, and be honest, and be true to yourself, that’s the best I can offer (and I’m aware that that’s not always feasible in certain areas of the country. I know there are risks at being “out” in some of the more Evangelical regions, or in regions where symbols of heathenry might attract some not-so-good attention). I’m sorry that I don’t have any stories about arguments or strife, because then I’d have something to point at and say, “This happened, this is how it was resolved/how I got through it, and this is how you can handle it if it happens to you.” It mostly comes down to dumb luck for me. Maybe there’s a little tiny bit of “I’m super educated in the Bible and Judeo-Christian doctrine and can quote apologists if I need to in debate,” but I’ve never really debated. I enjoy hearing other points of view, and I’ve had so many fascinating conversations about theology with everyone from Catholic priests to born again Pentecostals, Rabbis and Mormons, Mennonites and Muslims. At the end of it, I tend to borrow a quip from The 13th Warrior and say with a grin, “One God may be enough for you, but I have need for many!” It’s never failed to get a laugh or a chuckle, and we all walk away from the conversation feeling uplifted and at peace, and the greetings are warm and genuinely friendly when we meet again. I think my legit eagerness to hear their points of view and experiences in their faith is validating for them rather than feeling like they have to prove something. No one likes feeling attacked for their beliefs (as you well know), and sometimes preachiness/defensiveness can come from a place of insecurity or not wanting to have to question their own beliefs in the divine. I guess one way to deal with being preached at can be to remember that you daring to not only have a completely different set of beliefs but having the audacity to be happy and thriving with those beliefs is hugely threatening because it goes against what the preacher was taught. They may be defensive or go on the attack because how dare you be doing well after rejecting their faith? Or, in the case of family, it’s rooted in a fear that you won’t be reunited with them in the afterlife. It’s not necessarily an attack on you, it’s a reaction based on fear, because they don’t want to have to reevaluate everything they’ve ever known, and/or they worry that you’ll be separated from them in the hereafter. My family doesn’t worry about the afterlife, because nothing is guaranteed except what we do here on earth. We try to make our time matter here, when we know we’ve got each other, and we’ll let eternity take care of itself. We just presume that there will be visiting hours every now and then when we’re dead. I’ll lure my stepdad over to Helheim for a visit with promises of mead. But he’s not big on traveling, so I might have to smuggle mead to wherever he’s at. We’ll figure it out, assuming there’s anything to figure out. Not for us to worry about.
That said, I still maintain my funeral director license even though I’m on break because I don’t want to lose that diplomatic immunity. I can only imagine the rumor mill in the clergy community if I walk by a church and spontaneously combust. Nope, gotta keep those credentials current if this damn dirty heathen wants to keep her reputation up. Ain’t nobody gotta worry about my soul but myself.