The Swastika: There is Nothing to Reclaim

So if you’ve been around pagan circles long enough you’ve heard people talking about reclaiming symbols from racists. Inevitably you’ve probably heard someone bemoan that the racists made the swastika off limits and wish they could “take it back”. I’m here to inform you that there’s nothing to take back, that all the importance you think belongs to the swastika was a Nazi fabrication and that when you do try to take it back you’re just perpetuating the falsified narrative created by the Nazis. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Let’s go back to the early 1900’s, it was a very different world. “Scientific” racism and eugenics programs existed across every major world power. There was the concept of a national race, one in competition with the races of every other nation. There wasn’t a white race, there were as many races as there were countries. It was therefore the interest of those countries to do eugenics when and where they could because they were improving their national race. And once again, it wasn’t just the Germans who did that stuff; eugenics before WWII was alive and well in America and England. America’s own Charles Davenport basically invented, advocated for, and dessiminated the idea of government eugenics programs world wide. By WWII there wasn’t really a major nation around that had not either had previously or currently had eugenics programs: America, England, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, etc.

So the Nazis come onto the scene, given their idea of a national race, given the prevailing concepts of eugenics, they decided to try and move their national race towards their idea of perfect through sterilizations and laws forbidding intermarriage and segregation and finally extermination. Their pursuit of improving their national race was so important to them they could rationalize killing people they saw as inferior just so they wouldn’t breed.

Let’s add to this the idea of nations and national race needing to compete against each other to see who was the strongest. Essentially all nations were not only in a biological struggle, they were in a struggle for dominance. Colonialism was fueled in part because economically being able to control and ensure markets abroad allowed powers to extract wealth from unindustrialized people abroad, but in doing so you were establishing you were racially superior because you could and did conquer them. Colonialism was an effort to exert racial superiority over others.

War itself, any war, was such a proving ground. For instance, when Russia was defeated by Japan in war it didn’t matter that Russia had seriously overstretched itself to try and start something, what mattered was the racial implications that the Russian race had fallen behind and the Japanese race was rising. Yes, they really truly though and believed these things

Enter Germany. They had just lost a war, crashed their economy trying to repay a terrible war debt, lost land to a foreign neighbor, lost the ability to have an army, and had no foreign colonies. They had tested their racial mettle and had been found wanting. In the mindset of the time, they turned to race for the answer. They didn’t have colonies? So they invaded and conquered their neighbors to make colonies. They couldn’t very well take colonies elsewhere as was traditional because every single other country in South America or Africa was spoken for and had been colonized previously, so they colonized within Europe. The lost a war to France and lost territory? So they took it back and extra and invaded and beat France down. They expanded outward in every direction. Their national race had been tested found wanting? Time to purify the race, they decided to exterminate those they deemed undesirables. In every case, the Nazis were trying to follow the same beliefs of these other great nations, they just took them to in their minds the next logical step.

Now this brings me to the real subject at hand. The Nazis had something to prove racially. But not just currently, they needed to prove it genetically, hereditarily. Other countries were crafting their own historical narratives of a grand past. The Germans had been doing it also for at least a hundred years prior, Jacob Grimm ring a bell? Grimm went out to prove a grand Germanic past that would in turn reflect it’s greatness onto the Germans of the present. Which is one reason he’s not the greatest source despite having some very interesting material, you have to wade through his nationalistic bias to get to anything worth knowing. The Nazis roll along though, and yeah they are totally looking for real history where they can but they take the next step here too – when history is found wanting they manufactured a false historical narrative for themselves.

Enter the Swastika. Chances are you’ve been sold the lie that the swastika was some all-important symbol to the ancient Germanic peoples. That it somehow despite it’s relative absence in the historical record that it was somehow fundamentally important to ancient Germanic peoples. Nazi lies. The Nazis needed a symbol, an ancient symbol, an active symbol, a German symbol, the swastika fit the bill. The one thing missing was the importance factor. Was it ancient? Yes. Did it have ancient examples in Germany? Yes. But was it an important symbol to those ancient peoples? There is no proof it was. In fact its relative rarity in comparison to other symbols says that it wasn’t all that important at all. There have been a few swastika finds, but none of them, NONE of them point to the swastika having any real overarching Germanic importance.

The Nazis lied, they fabricated a historical narrative that painted them as reviving ancient greatness. What they instead did is project their self-percieved greatness backwards onto their ancient ancestors. Any historian worth their salt avoids Nazi historians today and indeed all those nationalists of the time not because they were involved in atrocities but because their history is full of falsifications. They lie, they attribute greatness without context for there being a reason for it beyond their agenda.

But somehow the pagans of today have been ill informed. Perhaps it’s the fault of historians for not making it clear why we avoid those histories, to be fair we thought it was obvious so we didn’t think we had to spell it out. Perhaps the internet is to blame, with copyrights being what they are it is far easier to access nationalist histories from the 1800s and early 1900s than it is to access modern studies. Perhaps it is because the nationalist historians from the 1800s believed they had all the answers and portrayed their works in easy to follow narrative forms that painted complete pictures whereas modern historians are very fast to acknowledge the holes in and limitations of the available information. But let me tell it to you now, there is no complete picture, those guys from the 1800s and 1900s were lying to you.

This falsification never ended, there are elements in paganism today that continue to push the swastika agenda on shoddy evidence. They’ve collected the same few pictures of swastika finds and pass it off as overwhelming evidence. But were are their sources? Where were they found? What nation? What context? What dig? What century? When did the dig take place? Was it dug up by Nazis? Were they even ancient or were they manufactured? Every artifact has a provenance, I’ve seen folks try and pass artifacts that were clearly from the Rus off as Anglo-Saxon. Pagans at large are not as critical of these few pictures as they need to be.

We have to understand that there are thousands upon thousands of other artifacts and symbols to use, they fill museums and their back room storage, they fill private collections, they are multitudinous. And yet we only see a tiny fraction of these, why? For one, because if you looked at all of them it would get really repetitive. But on a deeper level you kind of have to go looking for them because no one is really pushing them despite their relative importance in finds. How many lunula pendants have I seen, gosh hundreds and that’s just scratching the surface. How many duck feet amulets, so many duck feet. You know why? Because I specifically look for them and seek them out. Even still there are thousands in museums and private collections I will never see. And yet we’re seemingly overwhelmed with maybe 20-30 swastikas… you ever thought to ask why? Because people seek them out and people push them. But in this case it’s the only handful that exist because it’s the same small handful you ever see. And even then they have to go cross cultural and bolster the evidence across time periods, across locality, across tribe to find the few they do. So when the neo-Nazis start pushing it they’re very much still trying to bolster the image of the Swastika, they have too much into it not to. But then ironically this deeply engrained old Nazi propaganda kicks in for the average pagan and has folks still thinking the swastika must be important.

You have been made to believe a lie, an old lie. The Nazis sowed themselves into the historical record and they did a convincing job of it, as long as you don’t probe too deep. Once you begin to ask questions you discover there isn’t enough to back it up at all, the facade falls away and you discover Nazis behind it all. It was them projecting backwards the whole time.

The swastika is not worth “reclaiming” not because it was tainted by the Nazis but because it simply was not that important. To think that it is important enough to reclaim, important enough to fight not just the nazis but society at large too on the meaning of the symbol, well that is just lapping up the Nazi propaganda that fed us the lie that it was that important in the first place.

Get your Gehenna out of my Hell

Hell is not a Christian word. Hell is not a Christian place. The word Hell is derived from Germanic etymology and comes to our vocabulary through Old English.[i] And yet it is conflated to be the “bad place” for the Christians who speak English. Now it is not as though there is no “bad place” of Judaic origin that they could have just ported over; there was Gehenna (Gehenom) which was the bad place for the Jews who were living about at the time of Jesus and it had been that way for a fair amount of time (although differences of opinion existed in Jewish belief in different times on different aspects of the afterlife or its existence at all). When the New Testament came along, a lot of it was in Greek and they used the term Tartarus, which ultimately makes at least some kind of sense because there were stories of people who were punished in Tartarus.

Heaven similarly is not a Christian word, it is not a Christian place. Heaven is similarly of Germanic origins from Heofon.[ii] “Heaven” is not even really where people end up at all in the Bible or in the Jewish belief. People go to Sheol; all people, regardless of if they are good or bad, go to Sheol in the old beliefs of the Jews. Where this begins to take form was that eventually the chosen people would return from Sheol and live again. When the New Testament dips into Greek, the term they use is Hades, and generally speaking the term is fairly appropriately used here. Hades and Sheol had a lot in common, they were the general holding place for all dead people regardless of how good or bad they were. Now the really bad people went to Tartarus, but that was rare; in much the same way it could be assumed that only the really bad people went to Gehenom.

Furthermore, there was a place in Sheol called the Bosom of Abraham which was the place where the chosen would be up until the time they were raised up to love again. That is the closest that ancient Judeo-Christian belief comes to when it pertains to “Heaven”. There are some problems with this though. There is a reason that it is the Bosom of Abraham, because all Jews are supposed to be descendants of Abraham, they are essentially just returning to be with their family, which would be the chosen people. In this case, the bosom is important because it is trying to recall how families slept in ancient times, you kept your children close to your bosom as you slept. In this way Abraham is the direct blood ancestor of all Jews and therefore he draws them to him as family in Sheol. This is potentially problematic; I bet you can see the issue: Christians are overwhelmingly not descendants of Abraham. Christians overwhelmingly converted to Christianity. So if the Jews go to their family and that would be the Bosom of Abraham in Sheol, and they’re going there because he is the founding father of the bloodline of the Jews, what would follow is that Christians wouldn’t go there at all and would by that thinking in all likelihood end up with their own pagan ancestors. So much for Sheol, so they had to radically remake their afterlife beliefs and quick before anyone figured out that their original afterlife would have sucked if directly ported over for Christians.

Now things start to get a little tricky, because we have this book and all these generations of teachings that are describing an afterlife that is now unattainable for the vast majority of the people who are being converted into the religion. So they apparently at some point just concocted a new one, one that more suited their views of things. And when they did that, they put it into terms of the language of the people they were converting at the time – and for the English language that was the ancient Anglo-Saxons. In much the same way Hades and Tartarus entered into the vernacular of church beliefs for the areas that spoke Greek.

This all was rather easy to get away with because very, very few people were literate in their own language much less in other languages needed to read the Bible as written. It was not until vernacular bibles came about in the common language of the people that you had some of these discrepancies come more to light, but by then there had been generations of people being told about Hell and Heaven.

Now herein lies the issue. The modern Christian concept of Hell is vastly at odds with both the ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs as well as the pagan beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons whose term it was originally. In much the same way the beliefs about heaven are similarly warped. I personally have a lot of issues accepting the Christian narrative. It reads as though the monks arrived and began to start to Hell-splain the pagans their own religion and over time succeeded in convincing people that the perpetually green fields of the afterlife were lakes of fire and that the realm of the gods which was likely closed off to people would be thrown open to followers of Christ. In this way they could work within the system and spread their beliefs using old vocabulary. And they pretty much got away with it due to the illiteracy of the masses of people.

Whatever the case might have been, it is our job as modern day pagans to untangle the mess those ancient Christians made of our afterlife. We have to get the Gehenna out of our Hell. Gehenna may have been lakes of fire, but Hell is not.

[i] Bosworth-Toller “Hel”: http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/018609

[ii] Bosworth-Toller “Heofon”: http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/018712

The Well-Worn Path to Hell

Arwald, King of Witwara, lay dying. His men had been routed and his people ran if they were to live. The air smelled of metal, the earth under him provided no comfort. The battle would never have been won, it was inevitable, but to have submitted would have meant death regardless and an end to all he believed. His wounds were mortal, he lay there waiting for the end and knowing that no one would be there to give him rites.
“Why is it that such suffering and death exists in this world?” whispered King Arwald as he lay dying.
From somewhere out of sight he heard “This question cannot be told here, it can only be learned in the lands of the dead.” Arwald turned his eyes and saw a cloaked woman, gray and almost ephemeral; he would have sworn she was not there only a moment before. The goddess looked towards him and a kindly gaze washed over her gray, weathered face. “I do not usually come myself, but yours will be one of my last visits to this land for a long while.”
Arwald was full of questions, but before he could speak she said “It is time.”
She leaned towards the king and wrapped him in her cloak. He felt the world leave him as he sank down. When she unwrapped her arms from him, he found himself upon a well-worn path in a land surrounded by thick mists.
The fog was oppressive and cold on his skin; “What is this place?” he asked fearfully. She just silently urged him forward until he stepped a few steps and he came through the mist. Having pierced the fog, King Arwald looked onto a vast green rolling land. Only then did he realize that he was now alone, the goddess had not come through the mists with him. Yet the mists seemed almost as solid as stone as he tried to return back into them.
He began to become very afraid indeed when he heard a voice like a hum in his ear urge him onwards, “This is a journey that can end at any time, it always was and always is, but if you want to know the answers to your questions you must continue.”
He called into the mist, “Why will you not come with me? Must I go alone?”
He heard the voice once more, “This is a journey that every man must walk on their own, I cannot be there with you.” And with that, the humming ceased and he heard her no more.
Looking around he saw that he was on a well-worn path, trod by such countless many that the path had been worn into the earth. Following the path as it wound between grassy hills; soon he came upon a wide green valley dotted with many men and women of all kinds. These people sang in strange tongues, dressed richly in robes of purple and gold. As they saw him, some of them came to welcome King Arwald.
“Welcome, you have arrived!” said the people of the robes. But as Arwald looked onto the faces he could not see anyone familiar. They looked glassy eyed and dull, singing their strange songs.
“Where is it that this path leads?” asked he of them and of this they answered “Here of course, for here we wait.”
Wondering if he had found what he was searching for he asked, “Why is it that suffering and death exists in the world?”
The people of the robes looked at him and then one another and chittered and chirped in their own way before saying, “We’re waiting here for the final end and then all will be reveled; there is no need for questions here in this place. Take a seat with us, join in our song.” They urged and brought forth a brilliant purple robe and tried to present it to King Arwald. They brought forth gold finery, necklaces and rings that would have made an emperor of old pale with jealousy. But Arwald could not but think of their dull eyes and the emptiness of their promises.
“I have no use for your robes or for your songs or for waiting, I will seek the answers myself.” Arwald replied. The glassy eyed folk merely turned and returned to their singing. He passed through their land following the path as it led away from their fields.
The farther he walked along the path it became sunnier and warmer until he felt he was in the gentle days of summer. Around the path bloomed and flourished all manner of beautiful plants, herbs, and flowers. He pressed onward. These lands gave way to a great wood with green trees of many countless variety. The boughs sang with birdsong and the brush rustled with life. King Arwald felt safer for having his sword in this place, with animals heard but not seen just out of sight. Yet as he went further he began to smell the smells of fire and smoke.
The forest opened up on a vast valley with a river running along one edge but the other side was full of trenches and armies, armies of men without count. Down he walked.
He came upon the river, but upon looking closer he saw that it was full of arrows and the bottom of it was lined with swords and armor and shields of all types. The sharpness of the blades on the bottom and arrows through that water would have made the river impassable if it were not for the bridge. Thinking of what waited on the other side; Arwald feared not having a sword but also feared even more drawing his sword and being mistaken for an enemy. So he took his sword and knife and threw them into the river as he crossed the bridge. He felt it would be easier to pass unarmed through those fields than to pass with his sword.
The valley was wet, muddy, the soil stained darkly and torn up by countless feet. The men he saw were rough and had sunken, dull eyes. They wore armor and mail and some of their armor and uniforms were old, ancient even. Some of these people belonged to people whose nations had long since fallen. Romans, Greeks, Celts, and men of his own land but who served kings long since dead flying banners and standards that had not seen sun for generations. Some of these peoples he could only vaguely make out their lands having passed into myth and legend, others, he could not recognize at all for they were so foreign to him. Countless many they stretched in either direction seemingly endlessly.
As he wound his way along the path he saw two camps move into formation to fight each other before him in the trail. He stood back and saw as they moved to battle and cut each other down to the man until the mud had been reddened and wetted with their blood. Waiting until the last had fallen, King Arwald wound his way through the corpses of men who had fought once more in ancient war long since passed but here still raging.
Once passed, he could not help but look back and he was struck with the most terrible sight, those men who had hacked each other to pieces only moments before were picking themselves up from the mud and returning to their camps having gained no land nor lost any.
Whenever he came upon a group of soldiers in a camp, they would challenge him in their tongue until he showed his hands empty and they left off their advances and let him pass unharmed. He passed this way through unknown camps until all at once he came upon enemies that he himself had fought, soldiers of men who he had laid low; they challenged him “Stop there, and say do you declare yourself as friend or foe to us here!”. Arwald stared into their sunken eyes, worn by all too many battles unending and saw that they were glassy and dull; there was no recognition there in those eyes. They did not know him for anyone else.
He called out, “I am a friend, and the war is over!” and showed his empty hands carrying no sword and no ill will. But to this the men merely shook their heads and returned to their camp; his words had no meaning to them because for them the war would never be over until they had struck down their enemies. For them, the camp of enemies lay just afield, within sight even, and until they had won they would never lay down arms.
King Arwald returned to the path and followed it out of the muck and mire of soldiers and battles, out of the smoke of fires that would give no warmth, until once again the air was fresh and the grass was growing green. Here he walked until his boots were dry and the stained mud of the fields of battle cracked and flaked off of them. Then he came to a great wall.
As he approached he remembered the people who he had passed along the road, how very many people were content with their finery and robes although they stood in the open without even a hall to shelter them and how many men fought battles they would never win. He thought upon the suffering of the world that remained and persisted. He stood at one of the gates at the wall and called out to it that he would like to enter. He called again, and once more, and again seven times he called until there came an answer at the gate “Lay down your arms if you should enter these walls.”.
Arwald answered “I have laid down my arms long hence, thrown them in a rushing river; I do not think I could have come unharmed through the fields of soldiers had I had them with me. But also I do not think I could have traveled as safe without them through the forest had I not had them then.”
The gates opened for him and on the other side a friendly face with bright eyes beckoned him into the walled city, “Is that not just the way of it though.” He said as he welcomed him in. As King Arwald walked through the gates a feeling sprung forth from within him as he gasped inward a breath that filled him and invigorated him. It was as though he had never once lived before, but in that moment he had suddenly come alive and awake.
“You are muddy and your clothes are torn, your boots are worn and surely you are weary.” The man said and delivered Arwald to a bath where he washed himself and his clothes were replaced by a simple tunic and other clothes of no flashy color or super fine weave. And yet when King Arwald donned them, cleaned and fresh he felt as if he were clothed in the finest finery.
Then he was taken, as was the custom, to the great hall to meet the host of this land. Before his eyes he saw the goddess before him, who once was gray was here before him beautiful and radiant.
“I am Hel, and this is my realm. You once asked me a question, would you have need to ask it of me again?” Said the Goddess Hel.
“Why is it that such suffering and death exists in this world?” asked King Arwald.
“It exists. It exists because it is in life that you grow and learn, and then you come here, you all come here. Did you meet any along the way?”
“There were the people of the purple robes…”
“Did they not offer you much finery? Gold and gems and robes the likes of which you could never have beheld elsewhere? Why then did you not stay?”
“I did not come here for robes, or songs, or gold; I came here for answers.”
“Did you not meet any others?”
“Many soldiers, so many I could not count them all…”
“And they who, having been slain by the sword, declare the manner of their death by a continual rehearsal, and enact the deeds of their past life in a living spectacle. They will fight their wars endlessly. But did you not meet your own enemies there among them, why did you not join in the fight against them there?”
“Those men were not my enemies; those men have no enemies and no allies for they are all dead. If I had joined them in battle then surely I would have fought for all time.”
“And so you come here and ask me of suffering and death. Here there is no suffering and no death, you are more alive here than you have ever been. But while in life there are those around you who seek honors and riches or who fight endlessly, here there is neither of those. Once through these gates there is no need for swords for in this place death cannot exist. Once through these gates there is no need for riches for the plenty of the land is for all and no need for honors because the truest honor is having passed through the gates.”
“But I still do not understand.”
“You are familiar with farming then I take it?” he nodded, “Through life we grow and mature until we are cut down. Then you thresh and winnow the grain. You are threshed and winnowed through being confronted by desire of greed and through coming to face your enemies. If you can turn aside from pride and greed and lay down arms and pass enemies without quarrel then you come here, where all who have come before you are now.”
“But why do we suffer and die?”
“Does the wheat not suffer being reaped? Does it not die back in its season? Is it suffering truly, or is it part of the growth? You suffer because you cannot see past the end of your nose, how can one be said to suffer who will attain life eternal here as a reward for a life of growth?”

Home Blessing Ritual

This ritual is intended to be a home blessing as well as an invitation to form a relationship with a hearth god or goddess. I have known people who have utilized various goddesses for the role of hearth goddess so I am unwilling to place just one in the ritual so I leave it up to you to decide which god or goddess may fill this role best for your home. Some ideas might be Frīg or Sibb for instance.

 

I bring this flame inside from out and from it the fire I light
Let it cast warmth into this home and hearth and make it bright
Resins, recels, I bring, their smell and smoke wash over this place
Water I bring to wash away ills and wrongs and not leave a trace
(Hearth God/dess) I call you inside that you main join (me/us) here in this home
That he/she/I/we always have this home to return to, far though he/she/I/we may roam
Hail (Hearth God/dess)!

(Hearth God/dess), please to all who take of it, bless this loaf of bread
Taken from the ground, bless too this salt of the earth
Sprung forth clean and clear, bless this water from the spring
Between these three our ancestors were nourished and fed,
We give of each to you, (Hearth God/dess), that you may bless this hearth
We take of each as well, that they health and blessings bring

In this house there are four corners,
In each a watch and guard keep
Cofgodas, spirits of this home be that watch,
Safety to you is entrusted during sleep
You good wights of this home of __________,
Protect it, roof and shingle, beam and wood
All outside ill and wrong, turn it aside so here,
Evil may be driven off and away by the good

Be blessed, room, be blessed, house (sprinkle water)
So that ill wights may not enter here

Be blessed, room, be blessed, house (sprinkle water)
So that ill will may not enter here

Be blessed, room, be blessed, house (sprinkle water)
So that curses may not enter here

Be blessed, room, be blessed, house (sprinkle water)
So that enemies may not enter here

And if by chance one remains,
Through the door it will leave.

The Future is Local

One of the most difficult to overcome issues facing heathens today is distance. Heathenry is a religion of converts but it isn’t as though we were organically growing outward from one location. Islam spread from Mecca and Medina from the teachings of Muhammad. Christianity spread out forming pockets across the Roman Empire after the Jews were dispersed from Jerusalem by the Romans. These religions spread outward. Heathenry is not the same. We have no flashpoint, we are thousands of people receiving the call simultaneously all over the globe.

Also problematic is that there is not one heathenry, there are many different ideas that are similar but not identical. There are as many iterations of heathenry as there are cultures and time periods and as many people reconstructing it from a specific culture or time period or doing their own take on it. There are Anglo-Saxon heathens, Norse Heathens, and Continental Heathens to name a few. But even then there are differences; among Anglo-Saxon Heathens there are Theodish and non-theodish, oathing and non-oathing, and depending on our sources and interpretations our heathenries look vastly different. Even among Norse Heathens interpretations abound. One view isn’t going to be precisely the same as another.

This is nothing new in paganism; in the ancient world the religion of Athens was different from the religion of Thebes or of Sparta or of Eleusis. Sure, they believed in the same gods more or less but the gods of practically every great Greek city took on a local flavor that made the gods very diverse even among one god. Athena wasn’t just Athena, she was Athena of (insert epithet here) and from a modern view these epithets could contrast greatly sometimes. This wouldn’t have seemed strange to ancient people though because honestly most people were not incredibly mobile. In most cases a person was born, lived, and died without ever experiencing a non-local religious rite. In most cases the religious rites of a city were closed to those not from that city, Eleusis being the exception not the rule. The ancients often never experienced the great diversity that existed among even a single god.

This begins to change under the Roman Empire in a greater way because the world became a lot more cosmopolitan. The legions were drawn from all over and went all over and experienced many foreign rites. The Romans too were actively trying to link themselves to the Greek religion and incorporated many rites not originally from Rome. Most incredibly in very un-Roman fashion they brought in the crossdressing eunuch priests of Cybele from Asia Minor in an attempt to tie themselves more to a “Trojan” legacy. The pedigree of Trojan lineage was more important than keeping the taboos, not that Cybele ever really caught on among the Romans to any great extent.

But here we are, pagans in today’s world looking back into time and trying to rebuild a religious community. But we’re all scattered to the wind. There isn’t a single non-theodish Anglo-Saxon Heathen that I’ve found in my state besides me. There are bunches of heathens, but none that share the particular exact flavor of heathenry I have been diving into. There are only a few heathens worldwide who I would truly say I agree with universally without having to hear what it is first they were saying. One is in Canada. One is in New England. I’m in Georgia.

Finding our people online, our exact tribe as it were, is so incredibly comforting because we get to interact with people who believe exactly what we believe. But it is also incredibly detrimental. Moving isn’t an option, we can’t all just uproot and move to be with one another. But neither is just staying online. So if we are going to have a community, it will have to be local. Yet many of us have opted for online communities and online organizations. Sometimes we’ve yearned for meaning and joined large national organizations or international organizations even. But unfailingly these organizations have had to stretch themselves so thin to cover all the heathens under them that they can’t meaningfully do much of anything spiritually. Something might cause a quibble, something might upset someone else, so they water themselves down to the most basic so that anyone who remotely is heathen can take them in. But they’re so watered down that they’re not filling, not spiritually filling in the least, they have no substance. These umbrella orgs in the end do more harm than good because they have convinced us to be content with them. If we are content with watered down, unmeaningful spirituality then we are not moving towards a better future. If we are content with no temples, no meets, no public rites, no groves, or these things in some far flung place it takes all one can muster to go once – why bother? It needs to be local and frequent and personal.

The future is not online, the future is not under umbrella orgs, the future is local. As much as I love my online-only heathen friends, as much as I agree with them, I cannot move to Canada or to New England to be local to them and they cannot move to me. We are apart. There are heathens here, hundreds of heathens in my state alone. Of those many are racists, of those who are not racist many have incompatible beliefs or personalities (it happens, let’s face it). We are left with some small measure of heathens locally who we can jive with in a way that is not watered down too greatly for you or them but in a way you can hopefully meet in the middle for. There is a small group of heathens locally I can say are compatible for me, these people will be who I am building something local with. Will it be everything I want? No, but that is the compromise of actual community. We will have to work together to make sure it isn’t watered down and has substance.

All of us, every heathen out there needs to not be comfortable with just the online umbrella org. They need to create local communities of heathens and when they find the people in the community are not compatible they need to split and have two communities of heathens apart from one another. Think how many churches there are in one town, you need to worship with people you like and enjoy. For a group to work an equilibrium needs to be achieved. It is a pipe dream to think of us all under one umbrella, we’re too different. But we can find or make a group where we fit alright, that at least is not too much to ask.

You may say, what about kindreds under those orgs? They encourage kindreds, sure, but they have already watered it all down so much that it’s like… well imagine if someone was trying to design an ice cream for everyone. They encounter so many upsets over flavor and allergies that eventually they make something that everyone can have, something that fits every person but not something that encourages strong feelings. It ends up bland, flavorless. When we water it down and standardize it for everyone we lose the vast diversity of belief and uniqueness of our religion. This simply isn’t a one size fits all religion.

If you’re a heathen, you know which umbrella orgs exist. You have the choice of vanilla heathenry or vanilla heathenry with racist sprinkles. (For Anglo-Saxon heathenry a choice exists that comes complete with contract to sell your soul to the icecream store for a taste of vanilla heathenry with a hint of chocolate syrup.) I’ve read their official books and their ritual books. They’re bland, they’ve made it so universal and broad and standardized that anyone can take it in. The clergy programs they have don’t do anything to make good clergy. Their lore and reading programs are a joke. If people succeed, they succeed in spite of the umbrella orgs.

But the first step is stepping outside of the watered down umbrella orgs and actually doing something. I recently read about a Roman Temple in the Ukraine, the three guys behind it had become fed up with the international umbrella org they had been under and decided that if the org was dragging its feet that they would build what they wanted locally. We don’t need to have thousands of members to make a difference, three guys in the Ukraine built a whole temple themselves when an international org couldn’t even do it. We need that in heathenry, we need small local groups building local religious groups with the people they can get along with. If we build temples, raise groves, even if only for three or four local people it is something. And more will come, if we make our spiritually meaningful and local we will have something to hand to those who come after us. As it stands we have little to show for our collective efforts that we can give to our children and grandchildren. Online communities? Umbrella orgs? Dust in the wind. We need it to be real and lasting if we want the religion to be real and lasting.

Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG)

Our religion is a living religion, our gods are living gods. Because of this it is our belief that the gods speak to people, that they are active in the lives of those who form relationships with them. They send us messages and signs, they respond to prayers, they visit us with dreams and visions; communication between us and them is in this way not a one way road. Yet we must temper this belief with the understanding that entities can and do misrepresent themselves and can and do lie. Because of this we cannot throw ourselves completely to the wind with whichever entity knocks on our door.

When discussing receiving divine inspiration it is important to first discuss the generally accepted vocabulary. You may already be somewhat familiar with some or all of these terms:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis)

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis)

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis)

It is important to discuss these terms by breaking them down. “Gnosis” is a term of Greek origin that indicates religious knowledge. There is unfortunately nothing inherent in this term that really implies it is knowledge recieved from gods or spirits. Gnosis could in this way be any knowledge, learned from any source, even a book or a teacher. This is a shortcoming in the modern terminology I will discuss in a moment. But when we apply the “personal” to the gnosis it is implying that the knowledge has direct personal links to you, the gnosis is your personal knowledge recieved by you.

The proper term for “personal gnosis” should technically be “epiphany”. An epiphany (another Greek term) originally was an insight gained from a divine source. This is somewhat different than the term for a vision of a god themselves which was called “theophany”. A theophany was a specialized type of epiphany in this way because while it is relatively accepted that all epiphanies are generally of divine origin they do not always concern the gods or show the gods. Instead the epiphany becomes a theophany when the diety involved in sending the epiphany manifests themselves in the epiphany. Most of the time these days when people use the term “UPG” they are really meaning epiphany or theophany.

The P in UPG is important. If you are watching a movie, if you are reading a book, if you are listening to someone else explain something and you decide it jives with you and you put it into your practice – it is not your UPG. You didn’t have the epiphany, someone else did, it is impersonal to you, it is not your UPG, it is someone else’s. You’re merely along for the ride because they convinced you to join into their UPG. UPG is more than just a feeling of “alright, that seems reasonable, yeah okay”, UPG is supposed to be your epiphany or theophany. If someone is telling you about something it doesn’t just become your UPG any more than you would become the inventor of the lightbulb upon learning about Thomas Edison’s invention.

It is both unfortunate and fortuitous that we have UPG as our go to term; it is unfortunate because proper terms like epiphany and theophany already existed but it is fortuitous because the U in UPG is a saving grace for the term. The U in UPG is Unverified. This means that inherent in the term is the need for verification. Verification occurs through one of two avenues – research into the pre-existing religious material to see if it is supported in the lore or through time when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently.

Shared Personal Gnosis (SPG) in an of itself is not substantiation. The shared aspect does not mean you tell someone about your UPG and they agree with it. It is not your UPG if someone else recieved the vision, it’s still their UPG no matter how much you jive with it. Instead, SPG occurs when two people in unrelated events have the same epiphany such that there are two people who recieved the same piece of knowledge independently from the gods. It is SPG between those people who shared the message of the epiphany because it is personal to them. This does not in and of itself substantiate the UPG but it does provide a route for it after a long time of many people independently corroborating the information over decades or longer.

Verified Personal Gnosis (VPG) is essentially when someone receives an epiphany which upon further research they find out is directly supported by something in the lore. At that point of verification the personal nature of the gnosis is valuable only to the person who recieved the epiphany and it become more communally valuable to share the lore source as well when discussing the epiphany. Alternately, as stated previously, when many others over generations have recieved the same or similar UPG which has been substantiated independently it can also become verified. But that is not a process which generally is instant gratification but would be an organic growth over generations of use.

I would then define these terms as:

UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis): knowledge of a religious nature that was recieved by you from a divine source such as an epiphany (general religious understanding recieved from a divine source) or a theophany (an epiphany in which a god manifested themselves).

SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis): UPG which has been recieved by you from the divine which you have also found to have been recieved by several other individuals independent of one another but which corroborate the given information.

VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis): UPG that has been recieved by you from the divine which you have been able to corroborate through sources in the lore (or far in the future, through generations of being SPG).

I would also point out that in some cases our UPG will be directly contradicted by the lore. This presents a personal quandary. Is the lore, which was the culmination of generations of people’s epiphanies, incorrect? Or are the forces behind that specific epiphany misleading us for their own purposes? The lore can have it’s flaws and is Christianized in some places which flavors the text; all of that must be weighed against the world view and how the epiphany fits into the totality. But I feel it would be folly to ignore the lore entirely because while it is not gospel it is our best glimpse into those ancient religious traditions which were substantiating lore for generations before they were written down. I have personally set aside some of my own UPG because it did not mesh with the lore or with ancient world view. In the end though, it is up to you if you choose to believe your UPG. You are under no obligation to believe your UPG or anyone else’s because deities can and do lie. You are under no obligation to believe or trust a god just because they come to you. In the case that your UPG is contradicted in the lore it remains UPG, because it remains unverified, but it is up to you if you choose to act upon it.

Let’s talk Declaration 127

Declaration 127 has become kind of a shorthand for inclusive heathenry. Heathen folks are essentially using it as a catch all for anything that would not be considered racist or sexist or whatever. That is a problem. From the perspective of acting like a contract, Declaration 127 is really incredibly weak. What you sign on to with Declaration 127 is a statement that says “We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.” These discriminatory policies being that they are unwelcoming of anyone not straight or white. I love the sentiment, however there are a lot more racists out there than just those in the AFA and the declaration only prevents one from doing business with or associating with the organization of the AFA. Only the AFA, and only as an organization.

It does not:

  • Take a stand against associating with individual members of the AFA
  • Take a stand against associating with racist or sexist or bigoted individuals
  • Bar a person from dealing with or including bigots in their group
  • Do anything besides prevent working for or with the AFA organization

So for all those heathens or orgs out there touting their signatory status on Declaration 127, I do not think it does what you think it does. Furthermore, it is not likely to ever do anything more than what it is currently written to do.

It is a product of it’s time, an artifact from that moment in time that the AFA was posting extremely bigoted material publicly. So this is coming to light in 2016 and continuing in 2017; through this we get Declaration 127 as a reaction. It’s original intent was to face off against the AFA, that is how it was written. It was not written to be a catch all because the only real actionable statements apply only to the AFA. It was a singular purposed document; it does this one thing for this one moment in time. It further has not evolved into something bigger or wider no matter how much people tout it; it merely sits there on its site as an artifact.

So herein lies the problem – the simple fact is that most heathens are ignorant of Declaration 127. They are not aware of its limitations, they are not aware of it’s actual content and purpose, they are not aware of it’s history, and so it has been stretched thin trying to cover more than it really was intended to cover. You would think heathens would be oath-aware considering the importance of oaths in our religious culture, you would think we would all be contract savvy because of oath-awareness, but no. We are not. The problem of this is in a group’s ability to make this actionable. Under Declaration 127 this is not actionable for what folks think it is supposed to do.

Since this has become an obvious communal need such that we stretch Declaration 127 far beyond its capabilities, we obviously need something new, we need something that actually can and will do what heathens have been assuming Declaration 127 was already doing but wasn’t. We need some kind of philosophical statement like a Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) but for heathenry. It needs not to be tied to being against any one organization and honestly considering how there is no enforcement organization to check up on things it needs to just be a statement of philosophy. So when groups sign on, they can be pledging that they hold with a set of philosophical minimums.

And yes, it needs to be set at a minimum bar – that those who signed on essentially would collectively pledge our groups and personal practices to be opposed to discrimination against others due to their race, gender, or sexuality. That is truly all that needs to be set at the moment too, a bare minimum against bigotry. So many times people set things at the highest level for idealistic reasons but for these purposes you want to include anyone who is not a sexist or racist or homophobe and not to exclude people who would otherwise support the non-racist non-sexist position. You essentially want to draw a line in the sand. Perfect is the enemy of good, we cannot allow perfection to prevent us from coming together to face off against these issues. But so too is specificity an enemy in this case; it was the specificity of Declaration 127 that effectively neuters it. We need something though, because we cannot keep just trusting that we’re covered by Declaration 127 when we’re really not.

We also need to collectively understand something about inclusion and inclusivity that many understand but some people still struggle to wrap their minds around – that just because we take a stand against bigotry in our religious groups it doesn’t mean we necessarily must throw wide the doors of our religious groups to anyone for any reason. Not everyone is well suited for every group, not every group is well suited for every person. Taking a stand against discrimination based on things people cannot control (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) does not mean you cannot close your group off from negative things people can control (racism, bad attitude, toxic personality, dangerous behaviors, etc.). You don’t want liars in your group, you don’t want unapologetic assholery in your group, you don’t want frithless folk. The choices we make, our deeds, and the people we choose to be are what we should be judged on, not who we are born as. You want religion to be enjoyable, you should not hate the people you’re standing in worship with.

(If you would like to check out the wording for yourself, pay close attention to the actionable parts underlined: Declaration 127.)

This is my attempt at a philosophical statement on these matters: Declaration of Deeds.