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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Facing Fear - or why I don't blog about heathenry often

     This is a blog I've needed to write probably since the beginning, but I have been putting off because it's personal, it's painful and it's messy. It's also unresolved, but it still needs to be said, and maybe saying it will help me push myself into blogging more about heathenry and related topics...
   People ask me sometimes why I write so much Celtic material if I am also heathen. Well there are two main reasons. Firstly I have studied the Celtic side of things for about 20 odd years now so its definitely my comfort zone; not that I know everything, or even comparatively that much, but I'm comfortable with Celtic mythology and paganism and feel confident talking about it. It's sort of my metaphysical comfy sweater.
  The second reason is that heathenry is a difficult emotional subject for me to talk about. On the one hand I love my kindred, and I very much enjoy the heathen practices in my life, which are probably more numerous than most people would assume. On the other hand I often find the larger heathen community enormously frustrating for me, personally. When I "converted" to heathenry in early 2006 it was the first time in my life I had ever moved from one religion to another - and initially it was a full conversion, only later did my religion become dual-tradition and only now is it evolving into something more synchretic as I explore Gaelic Heathenry, but I digress. The first several years went very well; I started a kindred, was hijacked by Odin, met lots of great people, and generally really liked it. And then the train de-railed in late 2008 when my youngest daughter, then only a year old, started really struggling with chronic health issues. I had to pull back from several community commitments and also had to start turning down invitations to other groups events. And in the middle of these months of feeling alienated from the larger community, feeling that I had failed at something that is a core aspect of heathenry, I had the inevitable crisis of faith. Oh it wasn't quite that clearly defined, since I had already been missing some aspects of my Irish practices and had already been reaching out to the Druid community in particular, but it was at this point that I really had a dark night of the soul experience. I missed the easy comfort of Celtic paganism and I felt that I had no connection to any of the gods (except Odin but he's an all around exception). I felt cut off from my new community due to my own inability to participate in it and while my kindred remained strong I felt increasingly alienated form heathenry at large. Which is a problem in a faith that is so deeply community based. I started to feel like I needed more to depend on, but was stuck in the Catch-22 of feeling like I had no one to go to to explain my nebulous feelings of insecurity, the nagging sense that I was doing it all wrong, which only fed into the feelings of failing at being a self-sufficient, persevering heathen. Now looking back I can see that a lot of this probably related directly to me projecting my feelings about my daughter's health issues onto my religion because I could not let myself feel weak or ineffective as her caregiver, as the person she depended on, but I could feel that way about my faith even though it made me totally miserable. I had my kindred who stood by me through everything, I had friends I could have gone to, I had people who I could have reached out to, but I convinced myself that my problems would be a waste of their time, or that I was already bothering them enough with other things going on at the same time. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was fear of judgement. Either way I fell back into what was comfortable, my comfy sweater religion, only I didn't stop being heathen either - which was a very good way to alienate myself from both the CR and heathen communities, so maybe that was another subconscious expression...or maybe it's just that on a deep level I need both Celtic and Norse paganism to find any real balance in my life. I'm still sorting that one out, but it certainly is a system that works for me.
      Anyway, I never stopped being heathen, I just also had other separate Celtic practices and I struggled for a long time to find a balance between the two, in the end settling on an equal division of time.  I joke that I treat it like a divorced couple sharing custody, although as I mentioned earlier I am now exploring Gaelic Heathenry which is more directly synchretic in it's approach....I never stopped being dedicated to Odin (as if I could!), or being a gythia to my kindred, never stopped living the 9 noble virtues as best I could, or honoring the gods, vaettir, and ancestors with fainings, but these years of struggle and difficulty put me in a place where I feel very apart from the larger, and local, heathen community, a fact which in and of itself makes me feel worse about all of it; community is a huge part of heathenry, so feeling cut off from that, even if it's only in my own mind, makes me feel less heathen, less worthy. And that just sucks. I've made a right mess of things at my end and there is no easy way to fix it, so I keep stumbling on, one foot in front of the other.
  This all makes it hard for me to write about heathenry or my heathen practices, because it immediately pulls up a mess of emotions. But I realize that not doing it out of fear isn't helping anything, is just perpetuating the feeling. The only way to defeat fear is to face it, and I need to face this one, so I am going to start writing one heathen themed blog each week, on whatever topic comes up.
  So if you've ever wondered why my heathen themed content so far was limited mostly to book reviews, now you know. No one has as much power to mess us up as we do over ourselves.


  1. I can relate on the having Celtic as the comfort zone and not writing much on the Heathen end of things. I usually use the excuse that i do derive my path from the Highland Scottish culture, which is predominantly Gaelic with Northern influences and that is sort of how my own path works out. My husband, were he the more scholarly one (and not to digress, but I do think we'll never mature until we really have room for more people who are not obsessive scholars as well as those who are), probably would have approached things differently.

    I think that a key thing you said was: "...I never stopped being dedicated to Odin (as if I could!)...." For me being called by Deities of both cultures was at first confusing, until I explore the interrelationships the cultures had in Scotland; but I had to do something because there it was, They wanted my attention and I couldn't say "Oh, no, I'm just Irish, go away now."

    I'm more versed in the Gaelic material, I'm more comfortable there. I have a very modest ability to at least understand variances in translations of some Old Irish and an even more modest understanding of very simple Scots Gaelic. While I will continue to learn more about the Norse, it will always be less and language's not going to happen, I do not have the language chops to do multiple languages so I'll always be far more dependent on translations.

    But I think on the whole, we all find our own balance in that stuff. Where we owe balance is with the Gods and I think They can be pretty clear when They don't feel things are balanced as They wish. And I think community can also lead to adjustments, but it's not something I now have to deal with. When I did I was even more Gaelic leaning because most of our group members were only focused on the Gaelic. It's easier for me with no community, although I do think it's important, it's just not in the cards given where I live.

  2. Think ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or’! The language of NorthernScotland/Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland still contains bits of English/Scots, Gaelic and Old Norse. I have Viking blood....many of my father’s ancestors were from Yorkshire - The Danelaw. We are all mixed, and our practice can also be.....

  3. I don't see the two separately. It's easy, with our inherited Roman way of looking at things, to look at different terminology and lines drawn on maps as barriers that sever cultural syncretism and the common origins of related peoples. But the Rhine did not divide two alien species in Gaul and Germania, they were cousins, and not distant ones.

    I focus on pre-roman Iron age Scotland, but I have Norse Gaels and Normans as well as Saxons in my family tree and I have come to the conclusion in my studies of these peoples and my practice of ancestor veneration, common to both cultures, that there is nothing "eclectic" about that.

    As Executive Editor, I have some inside information and can tell you that there may be some material of interest to you in the next issue of Óðrœrir Heathen Journal. I believe an upcoming episode of Raven Radio is also going to focus on Celtic reconstructionism.

  4. I can relate to so many things in the content of this post. Personally I have set my Celtic recon practice aside at least for a while until I feel like I have a solid grounding in Heathenry, and then I've been thinking about bringing some syncretism into my life.
    For me community was really what brought me into Heathenry because I started going to my friends' Blóts. But I often find myself alienated from the wider Heathen community. I find myself frustrated with the harsh battles between the hard-line reconstructionists and the more new-age-ish heathens, and I shudder at the racist and homophobic sentiments I hear shouted from certain corners of the Heathen world.
    I think that the value of community in heathenry means that you should have to put up with people who rub you the wrong way or offend you.

  5. Oh lady I totally iLove you through and through. ;) This was an incredibly brave and intimate post and I am even more proud that I know you.

    It is funny to me when people in Reconstructionist groups clam that the Pagan cultures died out hundreds of years ago, when we have a living, breathing modern culture of Celtic Paganism, and Hellenic Paganism and so forth... all with their own distinct unspoken rules and personalities and so forth. We all need to take a step back and look at this culture because we are in the process of creating it, right now, with out actions and our very lives. We are living it, and we need to really think about that modern Pagan culture and what we want it to be. Currently, it is very dysfunctional... and I think we need to change that.

    Nice post, I think you are amazing for sharing something so private.