To start off this 50 week heathenry challenge, I’ll start by exploring how I became a heathen, why it’s important to me and how it improves my life. There are many different paths one can take as a Pagan – Wicca, Druidry, Heathenry, Roman Polytheism, Slavic Polytheism and Hellenism. Within those broad categories there seem to be as different approaches to each one as there are people. So why did I choose heathenry in particular? Well before we get into that, I want to write about my spiritual journey leading up to this point.
I was born in Bristol, England. I spent the first 12 years of my life there, and though our family wasn’t particularly religious at that point, I did attend a Church of England school and some of my earliest memories from my time there were doing RE classes or attending the local church. Around the age of 11, my family went through quite a hard time due to two of my grandparents dying within 6 months of each other, and problems in my parents marriage. During that time of turmoil, my mother was invited to a different church, a pentecostal one, and became a Christian. My brothers and I attended soon after, as did my father, and through it, my parents marriage was saved. Within a year, we had made a decision to leave Bristol and move to South Devon, where I was to spend my teenage years and much of my adult years so far.
A friend once said to me that when I make up my mind to do something, I jump in with both feet. That has been true of religion too. We started attending a new Pentecostal church and within a few years I was a committed and baptised Christian too, a fundamentalist who took my faith very seriously. I ran the school Christian Union and was known for telling people not to swear or they’d end up in hell. I spent much of my free time reading Christian books and getting involved in Church activities. Religion and Spirituality was very important to me.
But by the age of 16 I was starting to have questions. Questions like what was the original Christianity really like? How could I integrate it with my political beliefs? Why did other denominations of Christians believe different things and interpret the Bible differently. This led me on a quest which was to ultimately destroy my faith in Christianity. I explored many different options in Christianity – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Contemplative traditions, Quakers, Messianic and Celtic Christianity. I soon learned that much of Church history and consequently the beliefs of the Church are rooted more in politics than the Bible, I realised almost all of the creed of evangelical churches was not biblical. But what would ultimately destroy my faith were three events that happened in 2010.
In February of 2010, I finally accepted that I was gay and managed to find a way to reconcile that with the Bible. I then came out to my friends and family. They were very accepting, if a little shocked. However, a month later came a bigger shock – one of my close friends was killed in a car crash at age 23. This set me on a path into a more liberal Christianity, especially on the issue of hell, and led me to start questioning why a loving god would allow suffering. I came to the conclusion that the god of the bible was not loving after all. Third, I began to watch Youtube videos about atheism, morality and bible, and soon realised the inevitable end of my questioning – if the Bible was supposed to be the highest standard of morality, why did it include commands in favour of slavery, genocide and rape. That was the final straw and my Christian faith was over.
But the story doesn’t end there. I was not done with spirituality, and I was soon investigating Unitarian Universalism, Religious Naturalism and Pantheism. I began to feel a sense of wonder and awe at nature. It felt like I was waking up to the world. I found it to be a powerful source of spirituality for me. Though I approached it from a non-supernatural, purely scientific/ rational perspective, Naturalistic Pantheism began to fill a gap in my soul for something deeper and more meaningful. As I expanded this search into the practicalities of how to practice this, I found Paganism and the wheel of the year. I found Druidry a particularly suitable path and started various courses. I started my previous blog naturalpantheist.wordpress.com to explore the path.
Through my interest in Druidry, I found the organisation Ar nDraiocht Fein. This is the largest Druid organisation in America. Their vision since 1983 has been to build a public polytheistic religion based on the best scholarship about the Indo-European world. Because they don’t just focus on the Celtic but all the Indo European traditions – Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Greek, Slavic and Vedic (called Hearth Cultures in ADF), they appeal to people across the Pagan spectrum. Their commitment to scholarship and their study courses, inspired me to join, and I took their dedicant path course. Over time, practicing ADF style Druidry led me from an atheistic perspective on paganism, to become a polytheist. And I moved from a Celtic hearth culture, to an interest in Anglo-Saxon paganism. And this has led me to where I am today – a mixture of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry and Celtic Animistic Druidry, with a practice primarily based on ADF’s model.
Today I honour the Anglo-Saxon gods and my ancestors. I brew mead and use the runes for divination and communication with the spirits. I maintain an altar to the Kindreds in my home and I celebrate the turning seasons of the year. I seek to live an ethical and environmentally friendly life.
So, after that long history lesson, let’s get into the main question of the day – Why heathenry? As I said above, I consider myself both a Druid and a Heathen, perhaps “Anglo Saxon Druid” would be the best description of my beliefs and practice. But why? And why not just Druidry or Heathenry? Partly it is a result of being part of ADF – they mix Celtic and Norse/ Saxon paganism in a unique way. This is because we do not know enough about one or the other to produce a full religion – we have to use comparative mythology to fill in the gaps and create something that works and vaguely resembles what the ancients might recognise.
I also have a lot of faith in tradition, in the original way things were, in history. It was what started off my questioning in Christianity, and has done the same in Paganism. I am not a reconstructionist, but I am reconstructionist-inspired. I want to practice a religion that both meets my needs now, but is also as close to historical accuracy as is reasonable. I think scholarship is important and we should follow this rather than just making things up for the sake of it. It is hard to just mish-mash things together from a variety of sources and make them actually work, because often they are all based on very different foundational assumptions and worldviews. When we look at traditions of the past, their practices are built up over time, discarding what doesn’t work and keeping any innovations that do work. They stand the test of time and the process of trial and error. And that makes them worth taking seriously. Heathenry is a religion that takes tradition seriously too. It is called “the religion with homework” because it requires a lot of personal effort to read the latest scholarship and build a faith that works.
You may be saying, but doesn’t ADF mix traditions? Sort of. But the difference is that they are limiting their sources only to the Indo-European paganisms – religions that all evolved from the same group of people with the same basic social structures, worldview, patterns of thinking and approach to the divine. The Indo-European paganisms look different on the surface, but when you get underneath and dig deeper, they share a lot of similarities which helps us to work out what the original Indo-European religion was and then to build upon that foundation. It would be a very different story if we tried to mix say Celtic Paganism and Buddhism or Daoism – which are based on completely different worldviews and thinking, and leads instead to something closer to Wicca, a religion that has little to no historical accuracy.
Another reason I find heathenry to be a suitable religion for me is Ancestry. Ever since the death of my friend and a grandparent, I have found ancestor veneration to be a great way to cope with these events in my life. I think honouring one’s ancestors is very important for teaching us virtues like reverence, gratefulness and respect for elders. While most of my ancestors over the past thousand years would have been Christian, and possibly there’s a little Japanese in there too, I do think having a religion that was practiced by my ancestors further back is a good idea. I have recently done a DNA test so I will find out where my ancestors were from in early May, however being from England, I’m pretty sure most of them will be either Anglo Saxon or Celtic and so practicing a faith based on these is one way in which I can honour them and feel connected to them.
So I have explained my spiritual journey – through Christianity, to Naturalistic Pantheism and on to Polytheistic Paganism. I have explained some of the reasons why I find Heathenry to be a great fit – it’s emphasis on scholarship, the importance of tradition in reconstructing our modern pagan faiths, and the connection with ancestry.
The final reason for “Why Heathenry”, is more of a general point about Paganism as a whole. For me, I find nature to be the major source for spirituality. I find the purpose of my spirituality to be developing that connection with nature that we have lost. Paganism is an earth-centred religion that makes honouring the earth and living in harmony with her, the central aim in life. Through the celebration of the seasons, we can learn to be more in tune with the cycles of life. Through giving environmentally friendly offerings, we learn the importance of gratitude and awareness of our impact on the world around us. Through spending time in nature through ritual and meditation, we develop a deep relationship and connection with her and learn how to live in harmony with her ways.
My religion is arguably the most important thing in my life. It is what I spend most of my free time studying and learning about. It is the thing I am most passionate about. And it helps me to find purpose and meaning in my life. Paganism appeals to me more than any other religion because of it’s emphasis on Nature as the ultimate source of spirituality. And Heathenry is the particular strand of Paganism I practice because it values tradition, value scholarship and values ancestry.