What does community mean to a Heathen?
I often post my musings about what I have discovered as a Gythia and a Volva; not so much as ruminations of my experiences but more to be an aid to the community at large. Being a teacher of many venues I think, ”hey why not share what I have found so others won’t have to struggle to get this concept?” I would share my insights on various open Asatru/Pagan webpages with the feeling it would be well received in the community service mindset that it was offered, but then I find, NO -my views are not welcomed on most Heathen forums as I must have some ‘hidden agenda’, or I am trying to sell myself, or worst, I am infringing on others in their right to follow Asatru as directed by the Lore and their leader of choice who has decreed to them what makes a ‘true heathen.’
Huh? Um what ever happened to the idea of community and tribal commitment? And since when does writing Norse Pagan books make you an authority on how to be a Heathen??
Whether it is a product of today’s world or a very misconstrued notion of our Ancestral history, I am finding more and more the concept of authentic ‘community’ in the path of heathenism today is very rare. Which is disturbing to me as people are tribal by nature; we long for community and search out groups who think as we do, and we gravitate to merge with others of like mind.
So like all good heathens I did my research and was troubled by what I found.
I am seeing so many Pagans who follow the Norse path tend to have the attitude it’s somehow a goal-orientated competition activity to worship the old Norse Gods, NOT a sharing, communal thing. “It’s very personal thank-you, and oh yes, I don’t play well with others.”
This sad fact becomes very prevalent when a person is fresh on the journey of discovery. In their excitement of finding a new way of being, these ‘newbies’ seek a group to join and learn from; but to their dismay, they are usually treated poorly (and at times even shunned) because they haven’t learned enough of the Lore to be bothered sharing Kith with.
Then we get the ‘higher learned’ Heathens who have poured over all the written texts and even learned to speak Old Norse; they are the ‘experts’ of Norse heathenry. When approached by a ‘peer’ instead of joyfully discussing the shared experience of this unique faith? Camaraderie turns to jaded reproach, which then turns into an ego driven pissing match to see who really is the ‘most worthy’ of venerating Odin or the other Gods. Egad, how is this newly reconstructed faith going to make it (and our species as a whole for that matter) if we evolve into a unified mindset of “everyman for himself!”
I did an impromptu questionnaire and asked where has the concept of community gone in the heathen community and here are some of the shocking answers I received:
1.“It’s like putting on your oxygen mask on a plane: you first, then your neighbor. Community is pointless because you have to take care of yourself first.”
2. “Community? Our ancestors never had a community! They were lone wolves!”
3. “Our ancestors were fiercely independent; they didn’t rely on anyone but themselves.”
4. “It’s weak to be empathetic; the Vikings were tough!”
5. “Only Christian faiths have peace and love. They call it fellowship. We’re Heathens!”
6. “If you want Healy-feely go be a Wiccan.”
7. “It’s dangerous and not smart to trust strangers. Especially now-just look at the world and how people are!”
8. “I read a lot of books, and would like to find a connection with others, but I have read its best and most effective to stay solitary, because most people don’t do it right like the Author has written.”
I have come up with responses to these answers as I can’t and won’t accept that community is not a part of the Asatru experience, and here is why:
1.When on an airplane you have to be able to breathe to assist others survival in the event of an impending disaster. Its not to JUST save yourself; its to save yourself and then your neighbor. That is the same with any shared human experience; you learn what you need to know first, then you assist your neighbor.
2.If our ancestors never had a community and were all lone wolves, in the harsh environment of northern Europe they would have all perished. The Germanic/Teutonic peoples DID have communities which were very much into aiding and abetting each other, that’s how they survived!
3.See response #2.
4.The only people Vikings (Norse raiders) were non empathetic towards were the people whom they were trying to conquest, although it is proven throughout history they had much respect as well as some empathy for the cultures they came in contact with. The ancient Norse appreciated the artwork, some of the cultural traditions and items that others had, and this is evident by the adoption of certain peoples and customs into the Norse immediate lifestyles and family lines.
5.Since when is fellowship a strictly Christian thing? What, are we to have solitary weddings, lone celebrations of life’s passages, and isolation as people, simply because we are pagans who venerate the Norse Pantheon? Our ancestors as well as all cultures of human beings enjoy sharing both good and troubling life moments with other human beings. Whether we are Pagan, Atheist or Christian, fellowship is a sharing of the human experience that makes life enriched and memorable. Have you ever seen a lone Pagan dance a May-pole??! Um NO.
6.Being community minded is NOT being fluffy bunny, or Healy-feely. It’s a mindset that you are part of a strong and bound group of people who will stand with you in both good times and bad. It is enjoying the ability to be an accepted member of a team of kindred who have your back, and will lend a hand if needed, while you will gladly and proudly do the same. It has nothing to do with the three-fold law and everything to do with wanting to be a productive part of something bigger than yourself: a Community.
7.No its not wise to blindly trust strangers; that is why one takes the proper steps when getting involved and learns to know the community in which they belong. Here I find is the dismal by-product of our modern world; there are a lot of creeps out there. However with common sense and by taking the proper precautions, you can find a community of like minded people and learn to grow with them, share celebrations with them, and even perhaps share a place at their table as friends are known to do.
8.These authors are the same people as everyone else, and all writings (this included) is a stream of thoughts, opinions, and experiences as recanted by the individual who is writing the text. It is not infallible, nor is it safe from being revisited (and revised!) at a latter date when new information comes to light.
So in summary, I am still of the mindset that to be a healthy well-adjusted Heathen person on planet Earth we need to have a appreciation of community and share that good sense. No one is an Island, nor should they be. It is the idea of self-imposed asylum that is tearing down the fabric of the modern world. People flock to social media and cling to their cell phones as they both are poor imitations of community; Folk crave to have a place of belonging, but more and more everyone seems to be forgetting HOW to accomplish this inherited trait. I purpose we use the common denominator of sharing a common religious belief called Norse Paganism to gather together with our Heathen neighbors, and re-learn the art of give and take, of listening as well as talking. Do those who practice Asatru feel like they can be part of a community? What a novel Idea! ~ I sure as Hela hope so.