Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Organization

A Personal Note

Although I’ve been eschewing active participation in Heathen groups, events, and group practices for many months now, I just formally left the last Heathen group to which I still belonged. It was a fairly easy decision, as it was clear that the group had changed radically in its mission and purpose since I originally founded it.

My plan to concentrate inwards, and focus on my own practice and researches, is unaffected, except perhaps in the sense that I have one less distraction in that facet of my life. It’s a liberating feeling.

I don’t rule out some sort of group activity at some point in the future, but it’ll be very carefully done.

No local events? There’s a solution for that…

The other day, a couple people on Facebook commented on an upcoming event I’ve got posted there, wishing there were more events in their area. This was my reply (a little bit expanded); I hope you find it useful.

If you want to see events near you, the answer is to set up an event near you and see who says they can come. Don’t wait for someone else to set it up.

It could be a nature hike, or a pub moot (getting together for dinner and drinks), or a book club, or a meet-and-greet, or visiting some local museum with Viking or Scandinavian or German themed exhibits, or a full-blown blót, or coffee at the local Starbucks, or a viewing party for the premier of Vikings on History Channel, or a movie night at your house, or anything else.

But the onus is on you to make it happen. Come up with an idea you think is fun, interesting, or relevant. See who’s in your area who can come. Worst thing that happens is nobody can make it.

And if nobody shows up the first time? Keep doing it. You never know when someone is going to stumble on your event who’s twenty minutes away from you. Keep at it. None of our kindreds or tribes were built overnight. We all kept at it, over years. Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t get discouraged right out of the gate.

AHHHH! Demon cat!

Put your event up on Facebook, but don’t just rely on Facebook! Ask your local AFA folkbuilder to get you in touch directly with other Afar (I love that term for AFA members). Put up notices in your local Pagan bookstore. Put up something on Witchvox.com (it’s old, but active, and people still go there). Join a local pagan or heathen group on Meetup.com, or start your own. If there’s something more locally relevant, post something there. Hel, I put up fliers in local grocery stores and laundromats.

And don’t be afraid of the personal touch. I make it a point to ask everyone I see wearing a Thor’s hammer if they’re Asatru or not. One of our newly regular faces was someone I happened to meet in the parking lot of the local supermarket. I gave him one of our flyers, and now he’s a regular. (That’s another thing; always have a card, or a flyer, or something handy. I keep a stack of them in my car at all times, for exactly this sort of case.)

And if I can offer any advice, or help, or anything else, just ask. Or better yet, ask your local AFA folkbuilders. That’s what they’re there for. I’m just a guy with a tribe in New Jersey.

On Oaths

Now that the folk of a certain prominent Theod of which I was a member until very recently have voted to separate ourselves from our lord because of his actions (essentially dissolving the Theod in all but name), and I am no longer bound by the oath that I swore to said lord because of his actions, I think the time has come to write on the general topic of oaths.

The Theodish model relies on what are known as “hold oaths” to create a “web of oaths” that ultimately lead to the lord at the center of the tribe, and thence to the Gods. Metaphysically, it is through this web of oaths that the Luck of the Gods is transmitted to the members of the tribe. On a more mundane level, the hold oaths that are sworn bind one person of higher rank to one of lower rank, and vice versa. They share mutual obligations, and the higher-ranked person is actually expected to come to the aid of his oathed man (and “speed his Theodish career”) just as much as that oathed man is expected to support and assist the higher-ranked person.

Now, given the totality of the history of Theodism over the last four decades or so, it’s apparent that this arrangement just doesn’t work (among other elements of Theodism which lead me to conclude that it simply doesn’t work as a model, but that’s a post for another day). People on both ends of the oath structure simply walk away from their obligations despite the existence of the hold-oath, and hard feelings result all around, and broken oaths left in their wake.

Asatru is obviously much more flexible regarding the oath structure. I’m not aware of any Asatru group that has something analogous to the Theodish hold oath, but one hears much more frequently of oaths that are sworn between members of a kindred (or tribe) not to specific members of that kindred, but to the kindred as a whole.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Asatru kindreds out there that don’t have any such oath requirement at all, whether to the group or to an individual. If you’re a member, you’re a member (no matter what the criteria for membership are) and no formal oath is required to solemnize that relationship.

Judging just on the historical record, Asatru seems to have prospered with that much looser arrangement, which has led to relatively stable kindreds that have lasted for many years in many cases.

But, speaking of history, the whole concept of swearing an oath to become a member of a tribe is a completely modern invention. As a rule, tribe membership was based on birth or marriage, not conscious choice, and a Goth was a Goth because he was born a Goth, not because he swore an oath to the Goths, or to someone who swore an oath to the lord of the Goths. Oaths might be sworn to enter into the immediate service of a chieftain (his comitatus, or warband), but outside that special case of specially cohesive warriors, the general folk were just under whatever chieftain or king they were under. No special oaths required, even when that chieftain changed because of war or some other event.

Can you imagine the spectacle of the entire Alemanni nation swearing an oath to one another at the death of some king? It’s ludicrous on the face of it.

Now, obviously in modern times we are still in the process of establishing new tribes, new clans, and new kindreds. We’re at least several generations away from the point where “you’re born into your tribe” is the norm. But I think we as Asatruar can look beyond the idea of some formal oath structure being the basis for membership in a kindred or tribe. Perhaps a simple statement of intent, and the acceptance of the existing members of the tribe, might be enough.

Just thinking out loud, as it were. But I’m leaning strongly away from oaths as the basis of association. Recent history shows they just don’t work, and ancient history shows they just weren’t needed.

You are Surrounded by Heathens

Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, proprietor of the Norse Mythology Blog, has published the full results of his 2013 Heathen Census, along with some analysis. I thought I might take a few minutes to examine some of the results, and crunch some numbers (recalling my days as an election pollster).

First, it should be pointed out that the census only asked one question of the Heathens who responded; their country of residence. It is thus a straight-out count, rather than what we in the United States think of the Census, which collates a lot of extra data on income, education, etc. It would be very interesting to see the results if Dr. Seigfried included some demographic questions in the next iteration of the census.

I’m going to focus on the United States, since that’s where I live. The census yields the following information:

  • The United States had 7878 respondents, or 47% of the total respondents
  • That represents 0.0025% of the total population of the US

However, Dr. Seigfried then introduces an interesting corrective measure, based on the data from Iceland. Since Iceland (uniquely) has an exact official record of just how many Heathens are in the country, he discovered that the census under-reported the number of Heathens in that country by a factor of 2.173. So, multiply the census results by that number to get the corrected numbers.

That methodology, while ingenious, does have a few drawbacks. First and foremost, it assumes that Iceland is representative of the Heathen community worldwide. I personally think it might be a little over-represented. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s a valid corrective factor. That gives us:

  • The United States has 17,119 Heathens
  • That represents 0.0054% of the total population of the US
Let’s stretch the demographic possibilities even further. If roughly one person out of every 18,000, or 54 people out of every million, are Heathen, there should be (roughly) 450 Heathens in New York City alone. That’s the equivalent of almost the entire membership of the Troth, an international organization, in one city! The largest Heathen gatherings don’t even come close to that number.

Here’s the breakdown by state (based purely on population):

 California 2,070
 Texas 1,428
 New York 1,061
 Florida 1,056
 Illinois 696
 Pennsylvania 690
 Ohio 625
 Georgia 540
 Michigan 534
 North Carolina 532
 New Jersey 481
 Virginia 446
 Washington 376
 Massachusetts 361
 Arizona 358
 Indiana 355
 Tennessee 351
 Missouri 326
 Maryland 320
 Wisconsin 310
 Minnesota 293
 Colorado 284
 Alabama 261
 South Carolina 258
 Louisiana 250
 Kentucky 237
 Oregon 212
 Oklahoma 208
 Puerto Rico 195
 Connecticut 194
 Iowa 167
 Mississippi 162
 Arkansas 160
 Utah 157
 Kansas 156
 Nevada 151
 New Mexico 113
 Nebraska 101
 West Virginia 100
 Idaho 87
 Hawaii 76
 Maine 72
 New Hampshire 71
 Rhode Island 57
 Montana 55
 Delaware 50
 South Dakota 46
 Alaska 40
 North Dakota 39
 District of Columbia 35
 Vermont 34
 Wyoming 31
Roll those numbers around in your mind for a minute. If you’re a “solitary”, and are convinced that there just aren’t any Heathens around you, look again. Unless you’re in Wyoming or North Dakota (in which case the odds are that there isn’t anyone around you, period), you are surrounded by Heathens
To put this in perspective, in the area immediately surrounding my house (within a 30 minute drive), in rural northwestern New Jersey, there should be nearly fifty Heathens. I personally know of 7, including my family. There should be more than 400 more in my state.
Tell me again why there’s not a kindred in your area? 
It’s not because there aren’t any Heathens. There are! It’s because we’re not connected. We’re not aware of each other, even though we might pass each other in the grocery store every week and never realize it. 
Hel, if we could get all 480 Heathens in New Jersey to each chip in $10 a month, we’d have enough money to buy land in less than a year. In two there’d be a hof. And in three… You get the idea. The Heathens in NYC, Los Angeles, and Chicago could each rent terrific spaces full-time tomorrow if they would all get together and DO it. California? I get angry when I think of the opportunities that are being wasted by two thousand Heathens all going off on their own, squandering the gifts of fellowship and potential that are right there all around them. 
Get together! Now! You are not alone. Go out and find those other Heathens. Look in the obvious places. Online – Witchvox, the big Heathen message boards, Facebook pages, G+ communities, and Meetup.com. Offline – put up flyers in pagan bookstores, Scandinavian gift shops and fairs. But beat the bushes in the less-than-obvious places too. Try putting up a flyer in your supermarket, local library, Starbucks, or wherever people congregate. Start up a Scandinavian mythology discussion group. Do you have a chapter of the Vasa Order of America nearby? Join it!

And for goodness’ sake, wear your hammer, or valknut, where folks can see it. And don’t be afraid to ask someone you see wearing one, if they’re Heathen. Swap contact info. Don’t let the moment pass by.

Find those Heathens around you. Get together. Blot to the Gods. Study together. Grow together. Form a kindred. Form a tribe. We’re out there. All we need to do is find each other.

Tribal Organization

While it is the case that most Pagans who are inspired by Wicca tend to organize themselves into covens (when they choose to belong to groups beyond themselves at all), this is most certainly not a universal thing amongst those who are most often held to be under the Pagan/Heathen umbrella. Take, for example, the phenomenon of modern tribalism.

Many people who practice Heathenry today organize themselves into tribes of one sort or another. This sort of organization into inangards and utgards (within-the-boundary and outside-the-boundary) is essential to the historical Germanic mindset, and sets the tone for many, if not most, Heathen forms of organization today.

The most obvious and ubiquitous of these organizational types is the kindred. Seen mostly within the Ásatrú community, kindreds are a basic form of tribalist grouping. The term “kindred” itself implies a sort of pseudo-familial organization; through oaths or less formal mutual agreement, the individual members deem themselves to be “kin” with the other members of the group. This forms the most basic arrangement for identity among the members of the group; those who are kin, and those who are not. This also applies to other terms also used for the same purpose, such as sippe, which comes from the German word for “clan”, or théod, which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term meaning “tribe”.

Within the tribal structure, there are a variety of different models of organization. Some, such as those who practice Théodish Belief, use a sacral leadership model. In this model, the sacral leader (in some cases, an actual sacral king) is the intermediary between the Gods and the folk, and a semi-feudal structure is employed to bring the Luck of the Gods to the individual members of the tribe (done through a series of oaths that ultimately lead up to the sacral leader).

Others have a less feudal system and simply have one member of the tribe in a position of goði (an Old Norse word for chieftain/priest). In this model, the leader is usually the one who conducts the actual rituals and possibly does other organizational work, but the position is much more fluid. Others can perform rituals for the tribe as a whole, and there is no implication that the individual members don’t have a more direct line to the Gods.

Still other tribes are more democratic in nature, with elections of leaders for specific periods of time. In such situations, the leader is usually less involved in sacral matters such as the conduct of ritual, and more in the more mundane aspects of administration (maintaining a bank account, making sure permits for using public spaces are obtained, etc.).

In all of these models (and there are of course others), it is also the case that sometimes a pair of leaders is chosen. Rarely, if ever, is there the sort of male/female duality implicit in such an arrangement that might be commonplace to other forms of Pagan religion.

Just a reminder that it’s not all covens and high priestesses out there. There’s a big, beautiful, diverse world under the Pagan/Heathen umbrella.

Meet Your Representatives

Over at The Wild Hunt, they’re making quite a big deal about the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and how Pagans are being quite well represented at this year’s proceedings. In fact, the pagan contingent has its own blog, and you can almost feel the air a-quiver with excitement. Pagans! In the same space as the Dali Lama!

However, one has but to look at those representing the Pagan community in this august body to wonder whether or not the whole Pagan community is, in fact, being represented. Let us begin with the Pagan members of the PotWR board of trustees; Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and Andras Corban Arthen.

We lead off with Angie Buchanan, contributor to Circle Magazine, a “family tradition pagan” (and unless she comes from a BTW or Appalachian tradition, that’s a load of crap– “my mother was a Wiccan” doesn’t count as a “family tradition”). She is a founder of Gaia’s Womb, a womyns-only group that, if you read their “about us” page, is all about a load of New Agey tripe about empowering women because “women have been shut out … when it comes to mainstream religions.” Ugh.

Next on the hit parade is Phyllis Currott, a Wiccan activist, uber-liberal lawyer, and all-around nincompoop. I actually met her at one of the Hands of Change Coven Pagan Picnics in central New Jersey a couple years ago. She was trotting out some tired conspiracy theory about how George Bush stole the 2004 election by means of rigged election poll machines, because the exit polls “proved” that Kerry should have won. At the time, I was the manager of election polling for the largest polling company in the country; I pointed out that the guy in charge of those exit polls had written a long article about how the exit polling was wrong because of the methodology they used. Oddly, I never heard back from Ms. Currott. But hey, she’s been on The View *and* The O’Reilly Factor, so I guess she must be a worthy representative. Oh, and lucky for her, she is one of the presenters, along with Angie Buchanan, over at Gaia’s Womb. A quick look at her bibliography at Amazon.com yields a lot of books about The Goddess and Women’s spirituality. I’m sensing a trend here…

And now we come to Andras Corban Arthen (purely by coincidence, I am sure, a fellow presenter along with Angie Buchanan and Phyllis Curott at Gaia’s Womb). Another eco-warrior in the service of The Goddess, this guy actually seems to have put some money where his mouth is. He has a 100+ acre place in western Massachusetts that serves as pagan sanctuary and wildlife refuge. Good for him on that, but otherwise he seems to be much in the New Age vein of Carlos Castaneda.

So the Pagan delegation to the World Congress of Religions seems, in actuality, to represent only the Circle Sanctuary / Gaia’s Womb version of Paganism; we’re all wiccans, or shamans, or feminists, or whatever.

Nonsense. Why are all Pagans represented by this tiny coterie of folks all with the same backgrounds, the same affiliations, and the same outlooks? Paganism today is an incredibly diverse lot; there are reconstructionists, Wiccans, Traditional Witches, eclectics, conservatives, liberals, hunters, vegans, feminists, rednecks, and so on and so forth. Why are our three self-proclaimed representatives all cut from the same cloth?

Not all pagans are feminist eco-warrior Goddess worshipers. Perhaps in five years, we can put THAT message out to the world. But today, these people don’t represent me or the Pagans I know.

A San Diego Bible Study and Us

Over in San Diego county, apparently the zealous authorities have decided to come down on a pastor and his wife who hold a Bible study at their home for about 15 people. Apparently, it is the considered opinion of the county that doing so constitutes an unlawful use of land, and is demanding that they apply for a major use permit, which could run north of $10,000 to obtain.

I hope the implications for the pagan and heathen communities are obvious.

Just this past weekend, we held a New Moon offering ceremony at my home, and had a dozen people. That’s something that I do every month, and my wife does her own Full Moon ceremony, plus the regular eight Sabbats of the year. (She and her coven have their sacred space on our property, and I have a separate one for purely Germanic activities.) If our own local authorities wanted to (and, of course, if the local statues applied), we could just as easily be hit with such a demand. The mere fact that government, at any level, thinks it has authority to prevent religious assemblies at private homes, is chilling. The fact that this couple seems to have been singled out specifically because theirs was a religious gathering, is even moreso. I have not been able to find any rash of demands for pool-party use permits.

Naturally, scale is important, as is context. A dozen or fifteen people once or twice a month is one thing. Fifty people a week could well be a different thing, but in a relatively spread-out area where there aren’t neighbors right on top of you to be discomfited by the additional traffic, maybe not so much.

Aside from the Constitutional arguments (most especially the First Amendment), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIA) provides specific protection for such use, explicitly weakening the power of municipalities to zone out religious land-use.

For the pagan and heathen communities, this could be of extraordinary importance, especially given the fact that few of us have dedicated religious properties aside from our homes. If local officials feel that they have the power to use their local zoning authority to squelch a relatively popular activity such as a Christian Bible study, then one can only imagine how such a tool could be used against a relatively unpopular religious group. All it could take is one neighbor with a grudge against those crazy pagans who chant at the moon once a month, and a sympathetic bureaucrat, to bring on months of hassle at the very least.

The pagan and heathen communities should support this pastor and his wife, and their fundamental right to hold, within reason, religious gatherings, classes, and other activities in their private home. In this case, their fight is ours, and unless they have some explicitly anti-pagan ministry (their names have not yet been published, so it’s impossible to know), we should stand with them.

“Heathen” vs. “Pagan”

The issue of terminology has come up on an email list to which I subscribe.

Specifically, the use of the term “Heathen” as opposed to the term “Pagan”.

From the point of view of the dictionary, the two terms are interchangeable. That is the point of view of the majority (the vast majority, I daresay) of the Pagan community.

Within the community of those who go out of their way to call themselves “Heathens”, however, it is a different story. In that context, “Heathen” is used to specifically refer to those who practice a faith relating to the Germanic Gods (including the Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Continental German). It is a term specifically chosen to differentiate themselves from the broader Pagan community, in an attempt to build a specific cultural identity, even in the midst of a diverse population that includes Asatru, Theodish Belief, Odinism, Vanatru, etc. All still cling to that specific cultural origin.

It is, it should go without saying, not an attempt to establish dominance or superiority, but simply a more precise definition of the label. The term was chosen specifically because it comes from a Germanic root word, as opposed to “Pagan”, which comes from the Latin. A Germanic word to describe an exclusively (or predominantly) Germanic faith seems quite appropriate.

The term “Pagan”, on the other hand, is used to paint quite a broader brush, describing Wiccans, eclectics, Khemetics, Religio Romana practitioners, Celtic Reconstructionists, and a myriad inbetween. It is, by definition, a broad term.

Heathens, by prefering to adhere to that label, seek to distinguish themselves from the broader Pagan community while at the same time still belonging to it. Since the dictionary definition is the same, the community association is present. Since the term “Heathen” has a more specific cultural reference, however, it serves to identify those within the broader community who have deliberately chosen to narrow their religious beliefs and practices to a specific (if broad) European culture.

Sometimes, when these distinctions are raised, the Pagans get prickly. Why can’t the Heathens just use the same umbrella term as the rest of us? The answer is, of course, because that umbrella is a little too wide, and covers a little too much ground. Ultimately, I think the reticence on the part of the Pagan community to accept the specific use of the Heathen terminologgy is due to the latter’s insecurity. If the Heathens limit themselves to a single culture, it must surely reflect poorly on those Pagans who are eclectic. Of course, the Heathens don’t have any such intention in mind, but it is projected on them by the Pagans.

Surely, there is enough room out there in cyberspace to allow for the two terms, the one the broader, the one the more specific, and the latter preferred to the former amongst its adherents.

It’s not an insult, it’s just being precise.

Church Envy: A Response

Over at Witchvox, Terry Mancour (aka “Arion the Blue” and “The High Druid of Durham“, at left) has posted an article this week on the subject of “Church Envy“. To say that he doesn’t think Pagans need buildings is an understatement. To say that he is insulting and condescending towards those who disagree with his point of view is being charitable. To his credit he does hurl down the straw men he creates with great vigor and verve, but ultimately with little substance.

His central theme seems to be that Pagans who aspire to permanent holy sites, with buildings and other facilities, are doing so (in his eyes) for the wrong reasons:

“The arguments for institutionalizing the Pagan clergy and leadership usually revolve around a few individuals who see these big churches around them and want to feel competitive. They claim to need manicured temples in which to hold handfastings and wiccanings and requiems. They make a big deal about the inconvenience of buying a lot of camping gear and driving across the country to meet up with fellow Pagans, preferring instead to do so in the luxury of a well-appointed temple with spacious parking and expensive landscaping. The simple coven or grove is not enough for them – not big enough, not organized enough, not impressive enough.”

That most Pagan and Heathen leaders and groups who want to do more than simply meet in somebody’s living room have other, much more legitimate reasons than he presents, doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Mancour. It’s not about luxury, or appearances, or the other superficial reasons Mr. Mancour seems obsessed with imposing on those with whom he disagrees. It’s about having a sacred space which is permanent, rather than ephemeral; doing so allows us not only to create a stronger metaphysical connection with a particular place (and the spirits of that place), but also to maintain permanent physical features such as shrines, sacred wells and springs, and God-images.

Mr. Mancour continues:

“Worse, they claim that only through Pagan churches can we find our place in the community and serve the greater community at large. Individual efforts, or the efforts of small groups, are disparaged as being pointless and selfish – only by gathering in great numbers, buying buildings, and passing the ubiquitous hat can we affect positive change in our community.”

I’m not really sure where he gets this idea, but no one I’ve ever encountered speaking on the subject has ever said that having buildings and land is the *only* way to accomplish those goals. Doing so *does*, however, make accomplishing those goals much easier. It is not “pointless” or “selfish” to serve the greater community from our collective garages. It is just not nearly as efficient or effective as doing so from a place of our collective own. Mr. Mancour is making a virtue out of poverty and allowing his obvious personal disdain for those of us who actually have achieved some level of affluence to color his perceptions of how the Pagan community as a whole should behave. News flash for Mr. Mancour; not everyone wants to live in near-poverty, nor do we think our religious institutions (be they coven, grove, kindred, or tribe) should encourage such a lifestyle.

However, Mr. Mancour seems to think that collective action in such a cause is somehow unworthy, if not downright wrong:

“If there really are throngs of eager seekers just begging to get out of our beautiful natural parks and into a majestic, air-conditioned and well-lighted temple, then they’ll be more than happy to fill your coffers full – but I’m not certain that the result would be, in fact, a Pagan one. Time, treasure and talent might be fitting offerings to the Goddess, but personal sacrifice is also demanded from time to time. If you aren’t willing to suffer, you aren’t willing to learn. If you want it so badly, you should find a way to pay for it yourself.”

Aside from his tiresome insistence that such facilities must perforce be laden with luxury (and just what is so wrong with wanting air conditioning?), this fetish of suffering is, ironically, a very Christian concept; one has to look no farther than Calvary to see its basis. He keeps saying “you” in an accusatory fashion, as if all efforts at temple-building and land-buying are some sort of scam that scheming High Priests are perpetrating on their naive coven-members. But the leader-aggrandizement theory is only one point of his attack. The notion that the coven-members (or kindred-members, or tribesmen, or whatever) might actually *want* to pool their resources is also depicted as nearly impossible to reconcile with Paganism:

“Pooling resources might make sense in specific instances, but the fact is we don’t have the same needs as other religions, the same values or the same philosophy – so paying for the privilege of “enjoying” the services of those religions seems like a hollow and cynical endeavor. It certainly doesn’t seem like a wise way to advance the Pagan cause. Since most of us provide these “services” to each other without money changing hands anyway, I can’t see this as progress towards anything but making us “Christianity Lite”.”

We don’t have the same needs? The need for shelter, for companionship, for a sense of place is universal, and not limited to Christianity. Buddhists have temples. For that matter, for all his complaining about how Pagans don’t need land or buildings, they seem to have done pretty well with them for thousands of years before Christianity came. You know; the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, Celts… Were the Saxons slain by Charlemagne practicing “Christianity Lite” because they had a temple-complex centered around their sacred pillar, the Irminsul?

That his article and other writings are also filled to the brim with a virulent anti-Christian sentiment is probably close to the mark as far as the source of his attitude; his hatred of all things Christian is so all-encompassing that anything the Christians do, no matter how effective, must somehow be wrong wrong wrong.

There is a bit of inconsistency in his views, however. He is apparently all in favor of neo-pagans taking money as part of the Federal “Faith Based Initiatives” program. For instance, he writes to the Canada Free Press on the subject, where he states quite plainly (and correctly, in my opinion):

“Why should we be denied the same access to federal funding as our Christian neighbors?”

Why indeed! But why stop there? Why should we be denied the same access to facilities as our Christian neighbors?

Mr. Mancour seems to think that such would lead down a slippery slope to a place where Pagans look too much like Christians (I’m sensing a pattern):

“When Pagans in my community are in need, word goes out and stuff gets done by those who take individual responsibility to do it. And that is what lies at the crux of this matter: Responsibility. Once we start paying for our clergy and these so-called clerical services, we cheapen the spirit of individual responsibility and sacrifice that called many of us to the groves and covens in the first place. Once we put a price-tag on such things as devotion, respect, instruction and service, we start down the dark and lonely road of abandoning our individual responsibility – and there are plenty of other churches out there that already offer that “service”.”

He does seem to make broad sweeping generalizations (“individual responsibility and sacrifice…called many of us”) that I, for one, would challenge. That may be true of Mr. Mancour, and perhaps those in his immediate orbit. But I could probably point to just as many for whom one of the chief attractions of Paganism or Heathenry is in fact the sense of community and the pull of finding security in belonging to a greater whole; such is the essence of tribalism, and although that may be anathema to an ultra-individualist such as Mr. Mancour, it is nonetheless a legitimate point of view fully consistent with either the broader Pagan or Heathen world-views. Having clergy professionally trained in such things as counseling, history, languages, etc., making them an actually legitimate source for knowledge and succor somehow leads to an erosion of personal responsibility? It might be at odds with the way that Mr. Mancour approaches his religious faith, but there are places for specialists, and not every person can (or should be expected to) be an expert in all things.

He closes his article with a cheap cop-out, claiming an implied imprimatur from the Gods supporting his point of view:

“”Lack of funding” isn’t an obstacle to getting things done; it’s merely a challenge of the moment. If the Gods so will something like a temple to be, then you can bet that the resources will magickally appear.”

That, too, is a very Christian point of view; that our material success or failure is wholly a product of the Will of the Gods. I would argue that such fatalism– placing outcomes completely in the hands of the Gods and waiting for Fate to simply plunk down a check for $100,000 before lifting a finger to do the work ourselves– is inconsistent with the Pagan and Heathen world-views. To take the example with which I am personally most familiar, in the Germanic world-view such passivity would be unthinkable. Struggling and striving to attain one’s goals, especially ones which bring glory and renown to the person who achieves them, is a central theme. We don’t wait for our Gods to drop a life of ease at our feet; we go out and seize it by the throat. Just because the resources don’t magically appear doesn’t mean the Gods *don’t* want it. Maybe it means they want *us* to go out and do it.

I happen to think that having permanent temples, and land, and even paid clergy, are Good Things. With temples and land we can, as mentioned above, have statues and shrines, sacred springs and offering wells. We can open that property to the spirits of the land, offering them a place where they will be respected by those who walk the ground, as opposed to being ignored and actively abused 357 days out of the year when they have to deal with profane softball leagues, teenagers tossing beer cans on the ground, dirt-bikers, and (horrors!) Church picnics.

Permanent buildings are not only useful for weddings and rituals. They also serve as center points for the community, and serve that function better than someone’s living room or back yard. Is it perhaps fear of success that drives this attitude? A need to be “counter-cultural”? When we limit our groups to the size than can fit in a living room, we ensure our own marginality. By having facilities that can accommodate much larger groups in a physical sense, we enable our own potential for growth. They also allow us to start proper schools for both adults and children, with places for the equipment, supplies, books, etc. necessary for modern education.

Professional clergy is a hot-button topic even more so than buildings and facilities, and my response to Mr. Mancour’s article is already long enough. Suffice to say for now that having clergy (for want of a better word; in the Heathen conception that broad category can be taken up by any number of specific roles) that is professionally trained is better than relying on well-intentioned amateurs. One does not have to be a full-time priest living in a vicarage to be able to provide professional counseling services, or be a certified non-profit financial manager, or be trained in large event planning…

Mr. Mancour seems to have issues with Christianity, and with those people and groups he sees as edging too close to what the Christians do. In so doing, he borders on the abusive and argues his case poorly, propping up straw men and making broad generalizations. But in a most ironic turn of events, he seems to take an almost Calvinist view of the world, waiting for the Gods to provide, and extolling the virtues of both poverty and suffering. There are places for small, organic groups of Pagans who meet in their living rooms and do ritual in public parks. However, there is also a place for larger and more organized pagan groups who see the virtue and utility of growing up (in a social sense) and owning property and expecting professional services from their leaders.

New blood

Swain Wodening made an interesting observation on his blog the other day. He notes that in the last ten years, Heathenry as a whole has not really improved its situation, in terms of organization, material resources, and so forth. His general point is that we as Heathens (whether that means Ásatrú, Théodish Belief, or something else) need to _do_ things, as opposed to merely _talking_ about things:

For there to be hofs and sacred sites, they must be founded by someone. For fellowships to grow we must overcome our fears of being open about our beliefs. And most of all we must be doers and not thinkers. It is easy to think about founding an ealh for example. It is much harder to set about building one.

It’s an excellent point, as far as it goes, and I cannot quibble with it. I can only add to and emphasize it.

I would say that the things he speaks of (and I should point out he’s not alone in this; to take but one example the Heathen Nation email list was established essentially because a number of Ásatrúar felt the same thing) require three things:

Action from those who are already Heathen
New Heathens
Money

Swain touched on the first point, and the third comes naturally from the second. I want to go into a little depth on that second point.

There are two ways that religions grow. Births and conversions. Depending on the size of the particular population, one or the other will be more significant. In small populations, conversions will drive growth; in large populations, births will do so. Heathenry is, frankly, a small population.

In short, we need converts.

That’s not to say that Heathens should not have kids, and educate them in the Heathen faith; far from it. But it is a realization that doing so is not the primary key to growth. We must actively seek converts, both from within the neo-pagan community and the broader community-at-large. Many Heathens have an aversion to doing so, based on their previous experience with Christian proselytizing.

It’s common to say that “word of mouth” is enough. Or that “the Gods will lead those whom They want to the faith.” People were saying those things ten years ago, and they’ll be saying them ten years from now. And Heathenry will remain where it is today, where it was ten years ago. We must change that mindset amongst ourselves.

It goes beyond merely wearing a Thor’s Hammer and being helpfully informative if someone happens to ask what it means. We have a genuinely different and superior faith to share, and it does our neighbors and children a genuine disservice if we do not at the very least let them know our option exists.

According to the 2008 Pew Research Center study on religion, 28% of Americans have changed their religious affiliation from the one they were raised in. There is genuine hunger in America today for alternatives to the “mainstream” religions, and that number is a reflection of that fact. Heathenry needs to be tapping into that trend, and it is not doing so.

Make your presence known! Get tables at local events (especially non-pagan events), and have literature– good literature– to hand out. Have a constant stream of events planned (monthly at a minimum), so that if you do find an interested prospect, you can say “We’re doing something in a week and a half, and you’re welcome to join us.” Have learning opportunities aplenty, and a website is not enough. Face to face contact is key. Our tribal organization (whether its via kindreds or theods) is our great strength; we have a perfect solution to the feelings of disassociation that modern society produces.

With numbers will come money to buy land and build hofs and all the rest. But we won’t get those numbers just relying on our own devices. We need to bring in new blood, and I believe what we have to offer is so superior, given today’s social pressures and climate, that we have a positive duty to spread the word.

It’s not proselytizing. It’s outreach. And it works.

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