Disclaimer: I am not a Heathen, I do sometimes work with Nordic gods but I do not consider myself a Heathen in any sense of the word. (I am however, a pagan.) This is completely an outsider’s point of view when concerning Heathenism and it will mostly focus on this. (It could be applied to other forms of paganism, though.) Also, this is an American perspective and focal point. (I know next to nothing about modern pagan communities inside Europe or abroad and their problems.)
“Heathenism” is an umbrella term, much like the term “paganism” is, for many unaware, referring to a plethora of religions with common ground. The main difference is that Heathenism concentrates more on a specific area of the world; Germany, Austria, Nordic practices, etc. (This much like Hinduism is used to denote the religious indigenous practices of India and abroad, despite their diversity.) According to Wiki it used to be called “Germanic Neopaganism”.
One of the biggest problems in the broader community is racism and “Far Right Paganism” that is very concentrated in Heathenism circles. A recent article on Wild Hunt caught my eye about how Heathens are trying to distance themselves from the white supremacists of the movement. To me, this is not just a Heathen problem but a pagan one as well. (If one considers Heathens also under the category of paganism.)
It’s knowledge now, that while the huge right leaning groups are Heathen, it seeps into other forms of paganism as well, which is a problem for us all. There is whole sites dedicated to exposing Far Right Paganism and their groups. (I don’t totally agree with everything left leaning in the link, I do applaud them on combating the problem though.) There is also Heathens United Against Racism, [HUAR] which recently issued a statement about the Portland killer. The killer himself, seemed to be an eclectic pagan/Heathen, however, HUAR still felt responsibility. Likewise, a rather funnier incident, is documented here with Heathens Against Hate. This has been a problem spanning decades.
What inspired me for this article, was the little bit towards the end of the Wild Hunt post:
One interviewee who wished to remain anonymous keeps his religious practice hidden from coworkers and superiors, not because he’s worried about being labeled a devil worshiper, but because he is concerned, due to the public opinion, that he’ll be called white supremacist.
This is a problem. I am fairly certain, the interviewee, is not the only one who feels this way. Despite the fact that there are plenty of others doing something to combat the problem, there is too much media attention on the racist/hate issue. There is just too much negativity in the communities. It’s such a mess to be in something now associated with the “bad apples”, so to speak, of the movements.
I am reminded of how bad the reputation of paganism and witchcraft was in the earlier decades of the 1900’s. (And to a degree, Heathenism as well because it has more of a positive meaning now.) Many people sought to regain control over this public image. This was particularly a point in early Wicca movements with Valiente and Gardner, and then later in the 1980’s with Satanic panic. It got so bad that Wiccans, some of which to this day still do it despite the fact most people don’t care, tried to distance themselves from any notion of “devil worship”, literary and modern Satanism, and “bad apples” of the occult communities who sacrifice peoples’ pet cats on Halloween. (At least the stereotype. I don’t think we should distance ourselves from modern Satanism, either. But I will save that for another post.)
While I agree with them largely, that they are not literary Satanism or the form of paganism the monks of the medieval period made it out to be, I think they should be more welcoming of modern Satanism. In the previous decades, introducing yourself as a witch/Wiccan or pagan, citing no devil worship and the like, is acceptable for the time period. Now, I think it is outdated with how well known Wicca is, post-1990’s. No one really associates Wicca or even most paganism with that anymore, except evangelicals and similar Christians who don’t care to understand it. (Can’t please everyone!) However, the effort of the communities did pay off by explaining to people what they are about and how they were not Abrahamic as the majority.
In this sense, as modern pagans and witches reclaimed their image from literary Satanism and Christianity, I believe the same could be done from the hateful groups that are attempting to hijack the spiritual growth of the community and the communities themselves. It is because of the efforts of many Neopagans, over the decades, that the word “witch” now has an entirely new meaning that is beyond the original dictionary and academic definitions. (The original meaning was “one who practiced harmful or black magic”.) Most people who use the title are not going about trying to conjure demons or curse people on a regular basis, as the mythology originally implied and said.
So, what did they do? Educate. Keep espousing the traditions. Keep being friendly, open, and welcoming to people. Keep being inclusive. Be patient when people don’t know, ask, and inquire about your religion and beliefs. You attract more flies with honey, than vinegar. Meaning the “hate” is not as effective as love/friendliness (And all those gooey, warm, positive emotions.) in attracting and keeping people.
Educating (And correcting) people and removing ignorance, removes criminal behaviors, racism, transphobia, anti-feminism, hypermasculinity, and so forth. These things need to be backed in science and there is plenty of resources in introductions to anthropology alone, on inclusiveness/diversity of homo sapiens, to help back debates up, which everyone should do. Even if you don’t change a mind by publicly debating online with the person, remember, that the message has the potential to change someone else’s mind who is lurking and reading.
It is best to correct and educate, when you can and when relevant, to spread the good ideas. Voices of the other side that is inclusive, on an individual level, need to be heard, and not just the voices of racists/hateful members in the community. (Remember, you still have to pick and choose your battles. Some people simply are not worth it or the effort.)
I am a realist though. I do not expect such measure to completely eradicate hate and exclusiveness in the community, that would be unrealistic. But it could curb stomp it’s teeth in. I mean, hell, most Wiccans/witches, I’ve met, are inclusive, but it doesn’t stop Z.Budapest and Maxine Sanders from being anti-trans. It does need to be said that Asatru and other Heathen/pagan religions are NOT inherently exclusive, racist, transphobic, etc to people. I know it’s not usually coming from the pagan community, the public does not know this, however.