What is Heathenry?
Heathenry is broadly defined as "Germanic/Norse Neopaganism" (though many Heathens dislike the term neopagan because it is based, largely, on tradition and not "new" material). It is the reconstructionalist faith that is based off pre-Christian religion and culture from Northern Europe. In modern times, it is practiced by many Americans and Europeans, and many from the US are working towards getting it recognized as a serious religion.
It is a polytheistic spiritual belief and as such there are many Gods, Goddesses and spirits (called Wights) associated with it. The Gods worshipped and honored in Heathenry can be broken down into groups. The main pantheons consist of the Aesir (war Gods), Vanir (fertility Gods) and the Rokkr (chaotic Gods). Under those main pantheons there are various other Gods, and under them are various wights. Wights can range from their own races that include the Jotunfolk (giants), Alfar (elves) and Dvergar (dwarves) to simpler spirits such as the ancestor spirits, disir (female protective spirits), fylgja (animal spirits), landvaettir (land wights) and husvaettir (house wights). Below them is us! We are considered to be another type of wight.
Common deities you will hear about: Odin, Thor, Loki, Freyja, Freyr, Frigg, Baldr, Heimdall, Skadhi, Tyr, etc.
What are some basic beliefs of Heathenry?
A main core belief is that those who live a noble, good life will have a noble, good ending. We do not spend much time debating how the world was made, or how it will end. Heathenry teaches us to live in the moment, and to be ourselves now. The end will come, regardless of the time you spend worrying about it. We often believe that the world, the Gods, and ourselves are in a cycle of death and rebirth- and that this is the natural order of things, and is what will happen, has happened, and is happening.
Heathenry teaches us to better ourselves as people. There are moral codes that some heathens adhere to, such as the Nine Noble Virtues- which I will post later on. The goal of this is to shape yourself into an example of the Gods, and to make yourself someone the Gods would like to befriend. Heathenry is about working with the Gods and befriending them. We do not blindly worship our Gods. Most workings in Heathenry involve building a relationship with the deities you feel close to. We honor our Gods, and in return we expect them to play a part in our lives or in our workings. It is a two-way street.
Heathenry does include some concepts that are specific to it. Wyrd is the concept of fate. It teaches us that our lives are like a web, where what we do and say is connected to the past and the future and reaches far out. It is affected by our ancestors, and is highly respected. Taking bad actions can results in knots in the wyrd, which is bad as well. Poor wyrd can lead to problems in life, and problems for future generations in your lineage. With wyrd, you cannot "undo" a mistake- only work to even it out by doing more good than bad. " With an understanding of wyrd comes a great responsibility. If we know that every action we take (or fail to take) will have implications for our own future choices and for the future choices of others, we have an ethical obligation to think carefully about the possible consequences of everything we do. Thus one of the principal ethics of Heathenry is that of taking responsibility for one's own actions ." -BBC
Another important concept is Frith. This is the peace, love and friendship held between a group, community, etc. As the Nine Noble Virtues teach, we are obligated to our friends, neighbors, kin and community as a whole. Hospitality is a main pillar of our faith and our practice. It often simply means "peace". " Our forebears perceived three primary focuses or centers of frith. The first -- and surely the original -- wellspring of frith was kinship and kindreds. The second was the web of loyalty created among a lord or chieftain and his (occasionally her) f olk. The third wellspring of frith arose from the relationships between the folk and their gods, goddesses and other holy wights, as well as between individuals of the folk who had come together into the presence of their deities " -Friggasweb
There are other beliefs, such as Orlog and the concept of the Soul, but those can be discussed later on.
From what source does Heathenry draw?
Literary sources give us clues of how Heathenry was practiced before Christianity came into the piture. Mainly it draws from the Eddas (poetic and prose) as well as many icelandic sagas, poetry and associated literary works. There is some debate about the literature, as some of it was written during Christian times and is believed to be made in a way portraying some Christian beliefs and ideals. For instance, some translations of the Eddas portray a lot of dualism, and some go so far as to equate Loki with the Devil. Traditionally, there was never any dualism, no concept of "good vs evil" and Loki was not the Devil.
This tends to be a political debate point between different sects of Heathens. Some, snidely called "Lore Cracks", stick to the lore and belief it quite literally. Modern heathens tend to value their personal experience and their relationship with their Gods over strict text, often favoring things like UPG or PCPG. Many are inbetween on this.
Who practices Heathenry?
Anyone can truly be a Heathen. It takes time, effort, studying, research, devotion and commitment. Heathenry if often broken down into different branches, where each branch focuses on a different set of deities or views the practice in a different manner. Someone once said "Get 10 Heathens together in a room and you will have 12 ways of practicing the faith" which I find to be, unfortunately, true!
Here are some of the basics sects of Heathenry.
I will describe them in detail later on:
- Eclectic Heathens/Modern Heathens
- Folkish Heathens
- Forn Sed
- Germanic Paganism
- Norse Paganism
- Northern Tradition
- Teutonic Religion
How is it practiced?
Some groups of Heathens form Kindreds. These are very similar to covens. They typically consist of up to 12 or more members, headed by a priest/ess called the Gothi and the Gythia. These can be indepdent or can register with the Troth. The troth is the political power behind Heathenry. It is the main American-based organization which is mainly universalist in it's making. I am not a particular fan of the troth and do not associate myself with them, so if you'd like to know more of them please speak to someone else or look them up.
Here is their website: http://www.thetroth.org/
You'll find that there are a lot of politics between the different sects of Heathenry, which I will discuss later. My dislike of the Troth is due to this.
Heathenry has two main "rites": the blot and the sumbel. Feasting, drinking and giving offerings, making oaths, or sacrifices are very important parts of honoring the Gods or the wights. These types of workings are done around holidays, or in everyday life for certain heathens. A blot tends to be the sacrifice or offering of something to a deity, followed by a feast in that deities name. The point of the blot is to honor a God. It can be an elaborate ritual or just drinking a drink and hailing the God, depending on the Heathen.
A sumbel is a drinking ceremony where a drinking horn filled with mead is often passed around, used for "toasts and boasts", used for making offerings, or making oaths to the Gods. Generally there is an order to the drinking rounds. The first round is for the Gods. The second for lesser wights, such as the ancestors. The third is for yourself, and whatever you wish to include. It can go on past this depending on the Heathen.
There is a calender full of Holidays that various Heathens celebrate:
Is magick involved in Heathenry?
Yes and no. Some Heathens are strictly sticking to the faith, and are only interested on the deities they work with. However, magick was practiced traditionally and was cultural and so many Heathens include it in their workings and their faith. It is kind of like the icing on a cake- it is not nessasary to the faith, but does add to it.
Some basic practices associated with Heathenry include:
- Northern Tradition Shamanism
Disclaimer: This is a very generalized article. It can be a lot more specific. Given enough time, I plan to cover every aspect of Heathenry. I've already wrote several things regarding it and will continue to build upon what I've written thus far. If you'd like to discuss it, need help finding resources or literature regarding it, or need some guidance I am always available to help.