I’ve just discovered a new blog called Heathen Round Table, that is doing a series of monthly prompts for heathens and Norse pagans to reflect and share ideas. I may be a bit late, but I wanted to join in too! Their first prompt is: “How did you first become involved in heathenry? What started you on this path, and how has it changed you?”
Well, I’m not sure if “heathen” is the right word or not at this stage (I’ve only just started feeling comfortable thinking of myself as pagan, and have a complicated relationship with the word “druid” so the last thing I need is another label), but I am pretty set on the Norse hearth culture as the focus of my ADF studies and personal practice. When I first got interested in druidry and paganism, I was drawn by the Celtic side of things, it being the way of my ancestors and of at least parts of the British Isles. But it never seemed to “click” in quite the right way. The Irish myths and deities seemed remote, and a lot of British paganism was very Wiccan in form and feel in ways that made me uncomfortable (gender polarity, heterosexism etc.). ADF offered an alternative, but I had no idea what hearth culture to work in.
Until, that was, I went to Norway on holiday for my wife’s birthday. I had always liked the Norse myths and remember reading them as a child, and I love the Marvel Thor films. I know they get a lot of flack in the heathen community, but I think they are a wonderful way of keeping the myths and the Norse gods alive and relevant to a modern culture.
Norway struck me with its natural beauty, and deep sense of connection to its history and heritage. The people seemed to be more in touch with nature, even just in simple ways like using renewable energy, eating locally sourced food or the popularity of family hiking trips or boating on the fjords.Of course a holiday gives an idealistic sense of a place, but friends I know who have lived out there say the same thing. A love of the land seems to be a big part of Scandinavian culture more generally, and it’s something I feel we have lost a bit in Britain.
It was in a tiny village called Flam where I met Thor, in the unassuming form of a little clay figurine based on one from archaeological findings, which was on sale in a souvenir shop. I instantly snapped him up and took him home, where he now lives happily on my hearth-shrine. At Flam, I also saw a huge carved Yggdrasil tree (complete with Ratatosk the squirrel) in the village square, and drank a toast to Freya in Aegir Brewery pub.
Since then, the Norse hearth has gone from “hmm, that’s interesting” to “wow, this feels right“. I’m currently devouring both A practical heathen’s guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve and Joanne Harris’ Gospel of Loki, which is a surprisingly faithful (and utterly hilarious) retelling of some of the stories of Thor, Odin, Loki and the rest. I have a small silver Mjolnir which I wear at all times, and I start each day with a greeting to Sunna and the “deity of the day” since the days of the week are named after the Anglo-Saxon names for the Norse gods.
I still don’t think the gods “really exist” in a literal sense, and am very much a naturalist/pantheist, interpreting the deities as mythic personifications of natural forces. This actually makes them more real for me, as I can hear Thor in every thunderstorm, see Njord every time I go to the coast, connect with Nerthus as the ground beneath my bare feet.
While I am angered, saddened and disturbed by the strains of ultra-conservative, racist, homophobic Asatru and heathens out there, I know from my online wanderings that they do not speak for all heathens, and are a tiny minority who just shout the loudest and use religion to justify their hate. ADF is demonstrably LGBT friendly and open to all, as are heathen organisations like The Troth, so I know I could find a welcome community there if I so chose.
How has this new direction changed me? I think it has given me a sense of focus in both my ADF work and my life more generally, as well as a sense of identity and connection to the Viking ancestors I almost certainly have at some point down the family line, and a greater connection to the land, sea and sky all around me. Whether this is a lasting relationship with the Norse hearth or not, it seems a deeply interesting path to take these first steps down.