Archive for July 18, 2014

Odinism, Asatru, Heathenry?

My uncle has lived for many years among the Crow Indians on an open reservation in Montana, and has befriended them and been trained as a sweat lodge leader, a very rare honor for a non-Indian. Back in college, I invited him to come to a University Pagan Society meeting, thinking he might find some commonalities. He observed us, rather bemusedly and later commented to me with his trademark mischievous grin: “I’m not a pagan. I’m a heathen“.

I’m not capitalizing it this case because he used idiosyncratically- I think as a way of thumbing his nose at white, Christian society. Certainly I’m aware that his Native friends wouldn’t be likely to call themselves pagans or heathens, as those terms are used offensively by missionaries.

So what does Heathen mean, how is it used properly, and how does it differ from Pagan?

Heathen means “dweller on the heath“- a country-dweller, so the connotation is much like Pagan, but due to it’s Germanic origin, it has become adopted to refer to modern revivals of the religions of the Germanic peoples– and there are more specific terms used for particular ethnic branches, approaches and so on. I also sometimes see Celtic and occasionally Slavic reconstructionists use “heathen” with an ethnic modifier instead of “pagan”, because those cultures tend to find more similarities with Germanic traditions than say, those of the Mediterranean and Near East.

On a socio-cultural level, Heathens differ in many ways from the broader Neo-Pagan community, and while sometimes overlapping, they do often keep to themselves. A great comparison of Wicca and Asatru can be found here.

Asatru– meaning “true to the Aesir“- in Icelandic (Aesir being the gods of the realm of Asgard) Asatru is often use interchangeably with Heathenry- but not all Heathens consider themselves Asatru. It is the label that most American Heathens identify with, a mainly Norse-influenced reconstructionism, and some prefer to use it to be specifically Icelandic. An individual member is called an Asatruar.

Vanatru– “true to the Vanir” The Vanir are another tribe of Norse gods, and people who focus on their worship sometimes use this word for themselves- others may use Vanic Paganism, Vanic Polytheism, or Vanic Heathenry.

Links: Misconceptions about Vanatru, A Defense of Vanatru

Odinism– belief/worship of Odin, is an older term that is less often used- primarily by the Odinic Rite, a British-based organization. Sometimes devotees of Odin will call themselves Odinists, while referring to their religion by a different name. Some Heathens feel this term reflects an erroneous view of Odin the All-father as a Germanic Yahweh figure. Related terms: Wotanism, Wodenism.

Anglo-Saxon Heathenry– focus on the traditions of the Angles, Jutes and Saxon peoples who invaded England from Germany.

Theodism– founded by Garman Lord, this is a specific tradition of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry that has a particular tribal structure (theod means tribe)

Irminism/Irminschaft– continental Germanic Heathenry, name comes from the Irminsul, a pillar representing Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

Urglaawe– Deitsch  Heathen folk religion(Pennsylvania German) see also Pow-wow  (Braucherei)

“The Deitsch Heathen religion of Urglaawe derives many practices and lore from the Heathen elements of Braucherei.[9]Included among these elements is a knowledge of the old Teutonic deities and other spirits. The oral traditions of Braucherei also carried myths regarding the interactions of the deities with enemies, such as the Reifreis (Frost Giants). Certain deities, most notably Holle,[10] Wudan (Odin),[11] Dunner (Thor),[12] and Ewicher Yeeger (Eternal Hunter),[13] have played an ongoing role in the evolution of Braucherei. Some practitioners have historically appealed to these entities, whether in the context of deities or as saints or compassionate spirits, for help in their healing work. Urglaawe practitioners utilize solely Heathen imagery and references in their work.”

Forn Sed– Swedish for Old Way/Old Custom, or just “Sed” (link to org page in English)

Forn Sidr– Danish for Old Way/Custom (link to org page in Danish)

Nordisk Sed– Nordic Way/Custom “in Norway and Sweden the term “Forn Siðr” is mostly bound to the, and considered a synonym for the, Nordisk Sed movement, which is in conscious contrast with Scandinavian Ásatrú groups. Scandinavian Heathens regard Nordisk Sed as a more authentic Scandinavian religion, based on Scandinavian local traditions, in contradistinction with the more eclectic Ásatrú, based on the Eddic material, and influenced by 19th century Romantic trends and 20th century New Age ideas.[2] The ideology of the Nordisk Sed or Forn Sed groups is called þjóðtrúin Icelandic (“troth of the folk / of the theod”,variants folketro or folketru in Norwegian and folktro in Swedish actually meaning folk religion —, or less ambiguously “fundamentalistic traditionalism”- Wikipedia, Neo-Paganism in Scandinavia

Not (Necessarily) Heathen Traditions & Terms

There are some other religious labels that are often lumped in with Heathenry that are seen both among Heathens and by themselves as not being Heathen.

Folkish, Universalist and Tribalist– these refer to socio-political positions an individual or organization may take within Heathenry in regards to how they view ancestry and race. People who use these labels don’t even agree on what they mean, so be careful!

A good nuanced explanation of these differences can be found here.

Norse Wicca– is not a specific tradition, but simply means the practice Wicca worshipping/honoring/invoking Norse gods. As with Wiccans in general, Norse Wiccans will have theological views that vary from “All Gods are Ultimately One” to polytheism, whereas Heathens are generally polytheists.

Norse Paganism– even broader than Wicca, just means they are Pagans of some sort with a Norse focus, many of these folks now call themselves-

Northern Tradition Paganism– founded by Raven Kaldera, is unlike Heathenry, not reconstructionist, culturally has more in common with Neo-Pagans, and includes worship of beings/gods (Loki & giants) that other Heathens may not include. They are staunchly anti-racist/pro-GLBT etc. Note: I’ve noticed more people calling themselves this, but I don’t think they are all necessarily members of Kaldera’s group.

Seax Wicca– tradition founded by Raymond Buckland that draws on Anglo-Saxon lore.

Lokean– just means a person who worships Loki. Partly since honoring him is controversial among many Heathens, Loki worshippers may or may not call themselves Heathen, and they may belong to any number of different non-Heathen traditions or religions. “Lokeanism” is not really a separate religion as such, though I suppose an individual might use that term to describe their path.

Rokkatru– coined by Abby Helasdottir, used mostly by Northern Tradition Pagans for people who focus on the worship of the Jotuns. People who honor individual jotuns (like Loki) may or may not call themselves this.

Norse DruidsADF Druidism is Pan-Indo-European, not just Celtic, so if you see any Norse Druids around, that may be what’s going on. Many of them do consider themselves part of the Heathen community, there is a lot of overlap between ADF and Troth membership. Or they might just be Norse Druids!

Norse-myth influenced Pop Culture Pagans- (for lack of a better term) this can refer to anyone who incorporates pop culture characters that relate to Norse mythology into their magical or spiritual practice. For more explanation/discussion see my post

Germanic Magical/Esoteric Practices & Traditions

There are various forms of folk magic deriving from Germanic cultures which are practiced by both Heathens and non-Heathens, including Christians. As with Paganism, some but not all Heathens practice magic, either as part of or in addition to the practice of their religion.

Pow-Wow–  “Early Pennsylvania was a melting pot of various religious persuasions, as William Penn’s promise of religious freedom opened the doors for many Christian sects: the AnabaptistsQuakersLutheransGerman ReformedCatholics, and all manner of religious mystics and free-thinkers. It is from this blending that the Pennsylvania German Pow-wow tradition was born”It primarily consists of healing charms and protective symbols (hex signs) that were painted on barns.

To be continued…

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July 18, 2014 at 11:23 pm 7 comments

Pagan/Neo-Pagan Definitions List

Neo-Paganism, often called Paganism for short, is defined in many different ways- usually in the simplest terms as a “non-Abrahamic religion”, historically from the Latin paganus meaning “country-dweller”- and a civilian- not a “soldier of Christ”, essentially a “hick” that still followed old customs- as Christianity first spread in the cities of the Roman Empire- as new ideas are prone to, thus ironically modern Pagans are actually more concentrated in cities, which one argument against using this definition. Some people, mainly reconstructionists use “Neo-Pagan” to mean non-recon pagans, sometimes in a rather pejorative manner.

I’ve gotten very sick of the debate over it myself- much as with feminist I’m more interested in what does Paganism mean to you personally and why do you identify with it, rather than what it means in general. But I think it would be useful for reference to put together some definitions. I may add more, but here’s enough to chew on for now!

As used by organizations/communities

Pagan Pride Albuquerque

(I didn’t see this on P.P. international’s website- maybe they’ve given up on defining it too!)

A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:

  • Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
  • Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
  • Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
  • Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
  • Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.

Comment: I think this is a definition that is inclusive enough to cover people likely to call themselves “Pagan” but specific enough to be meaningful (unlike “non-Abrahamic)

The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum– follower of a non-Abrahamic religion that self-identifies as Pagan- though it has been discussed that this is problematic because it excludes Jewitches/Judeopagans and Christo-Pagans/Christian Witches but that’s another debate!

Comment: OK definition for inclusive community purposes, but notvery descriptive or useful for educating the general public

Definitions by Pagan Leaders/Writers

The late Isaac Bonewits (founder of ADF) came up with definitions of “Paleo-Pagan”, “Meso-Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” which have been very influential, however I do notice that the religions/philosophies he calls Meso-Pagan don’t tend to call themselves that, not surprising given how he describe them!

Definitions by Pagan/Polytheist Bloggers

Ruadhan J. McElroy has written multiple posts & essays on Paganism that I’ve found to be insightful- I’ll go thru them in reverse chronological order

The Meaning of Pagan- May 2013

“As best as I can say, “pagan” is an experience that one practising certain religions may face.  The pagan experience includes, but might not be limited to:

  • fear of losing custody of one’s child because of one’s religion
  • fear of threats to one’s personal safety or property because of one’s religion
  • fear of loss of employment because of one’s religion
  • fear of losing friends or of becoming estranged from one’s family because of one’s religion
  • having one’s religion unfairly caricatured, ridiculed, or dismissed as something “no-one practises any-more”
  • a gross misunderstanding, from those outside one’s religious community, of what one’s religion practises
  • inaccurate dismissal by a society of one’s religion as “just mythology”, indicating a societal ignorance of and disregard to the etymology of “mythology” from the ancient Hellenic meaning “sacred texts”.

Comment: A Pagan is a religious “Other” in a Judeo-Christian (or perhaps secularized post-Christian cultural context. Utilitarian definition for purposes of political activism defending religious rights. This reminds me of a book I read about race/ethnicity, in which the author discussed that while “races” are social constructs and not biological, people are typically discriminated against by the “race” they are grouped with, rather than specific ethnic group- or perhaps are discriminated based on mistaken identity. Similarly people don’t typically get discriminated against for being Kemetic or Druid, but as Pagans or socially perceived as “Satanists” just as Sikhs and Hindus for example are often profiled as Muslims.

Defining Pagan- February 2013

“PAGANISM –a collective of religious and other spiritual practises of, based on, or influenced by those of European and Mediterranean (including North African and Middle Eastern) pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic practises. Pagans place greater emphasis on practices of groups and individuals than the beliefs of individuals. Pagans also generally place importance on community, wisdom, and the environment.”

Comment: much more culturally meaningful definition, and I think the meaning of Pagan implicitly meant that at one time, but now it’s gotten so stretched out by conflation with various New Agey ideas.

What is Paganism? Absolutely Nothing August 2012

Comment:  When I go to a gathering of Pagans, I know what Pagan means. When I look at the #pagan tag on Tumblr then I get confused.

Project Pagan Enough by Fire Lyte (March 2010?)

  1. You are Pagan Enough, because you try fervently to explore what it means to be pagan and apply it to your life, despite your physical appearance, personal tastes, level of experience, or other factor that others might use to say you are not pagan.
  2. You recognize others are Pagan Enough despite how they may look, act, or believe, as long as that person feels they are fervently seeking the divine on a pagan path.
  3. You attempt to debate those that have opposing viewpoints, learning from one another despite how passionate the debate becomes, instead of simply writing others off for not being up to your standard of ‘pagan’.
  4. You welcome, befriend, and encourage others in the pagan community despite their physical appearance, level of experience, age, or other physical or superficial characteristic.
  5. You promise to treat members of other religions and spiritual paths with equality, fairness, and grace, setting a good example for the Pagan community both in and out of the community, not judging the individuals based on fringe members of their same faith.

Comment: This is the ultimate result of the meaninglessness of Pagan. I get what this person is trying to do here- I’m sick of all the in-fighting and judging too. But I’d rather have it be “Project Human Enough”. Treat other humans with respect, and stand up to them when they behave badly. Originally- though it seems to have been removed- part of the essay discussed how Pagans who appeared or acted too “mainstream” were ostracized. I think you can use your imagination, based on my writing on this blog, about how this concern may be rather misplaced.

John Halstead, a self-described Jungian Neo-Pagan, defines Paganism as having three centers of focus which overlap: Self, Nature, Deities and fellow Patheos blogger John Beckett has added Community.

Comment: I think these are very useful ways of describing Paganism.

Volmarr, a self-described Liberal Modernist Heathen has a post describing 3 Major Approaches to Paganism: Archetypal Paganism, Polytheistic Paganism and Humanistic Paganism.

Comment: this is a more limited approach, as it only addresses matters of theology. Distinguishing between Archetypal and Humanistic Paganism is also tricky.

Freeman Presson: Defining Pagan, Last Try

modern Pagan (Neopagan) is a person who identifies as Pagan, and whose religious or spiritual practices have one or more of the following characteristics:

1. Polytheism, including recognition of multiple deities and relationship to one or several of the deities of ancient cultures, primarily those of Europe, the Near East, or North Africa. This may include more or less reliance on ancient texts and intent to reconstruct what the ancients did. This does not require a specific approach to theology: Pagans do not agree on the virtues of pantheism, panentheism, henotheism, bitheism, etc. Only exclusive (i.e., intolerant) monotheism would be excluded.

2. Belief in and relationship with spirits (similar to animism).

3. Belief in and practice of magic.

Comment: 1st part is pretty similar to Ruadhan’s Feb 2013 definition.

July 18, 2014 at 1:12 am 4 comments


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