On Being a Tribalist Heathen

Something I have been reading quite a bit is the use of the word ‘tribal’ as a derogatory term, especially in online places and discussions on Heathenry.  Mostly, it is being used as it appears in the Oxford Dictionaries’ second definition “The behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group” rather than its first: “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.”  The word ‘tribe’ is not without its issues; tribe was a word used by colonialists to describe the indigenous cultures they saw, as the definition for ‘tribe’ notes.  That said, most people understand what you mean when you say a tribe, whether one is using it in the first or second definition.  Some folks use the word tribe when describing their indigenous communities, others do not.  It is still used to describe some indigenous groups, such as Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.  They define tribe as “a group of people organized through kinship or family relationships.”

As a Heathen, tribe, tribal, tribalism, and tribalist as terms carry meanings more in line with the first definition and with how the Piaute Indian Tribe of Utah uses it.  I would at least like to get some dialogue started on why that is, and why I use ‘tribal’, ‘tribalist’, and ‘tribalism’ as terms to describe my understanding, and living of Heathenry.

Many of the cultures I take as inspiration and much of my understanding of my religious path were organized into what is usually referred to as tribal groups.  The Suebi or Suevi, for instance, were a recognized tribal group that was itself known to be made up of smaller tribes.  This was first recognized in what writings we have from Julius Caesar, and later Tacitus and Pliny.  Funny enough, like a lot of indigenous groups, the name Suebi may mean something to the effect of “people” or “we, ourselves”.

What Tribal Heathenry means

Tribalist Heathenry means that you worship the Gods of Northern Europe, England, France, Iceland, etc., your Ancestors, and vaettir (spirits), and that you care for and about those in your group, your tribe, first.  It means that those you count as within your walls, in your innangard/innangarðr, are within your society.  Those who are utgard/útangarðr, are outside of them.  This does not mean that those who are utgard are without meaning or not considered when looking at the impacts of a decision, but you do not owe loyalty to them as you do to those in your innangard, and they generally have far less impact and say in your life.  Rather, they are guests when they are within your walls, and given the amount of writing that exists on how hosts and guests are to treat each other, are important, but not in the same way as those who are part of your people.

There is another side to this besides the human interaction level, though.  Those one brings into their innangard, or who are brought into another’s, tie their Wyrd together far tighter than those who are utgard to one another.  We tie our hamingja, our group luck, into one another’s.  Me keeping my word is far more important for those who are within my innangard, particularly with important things like big promises to those within the community, or oaths to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, because it directly impacts their hamingja, and through this it can affect their maegen, or personal power.


Tribalist Heathenry as it applies to my life

Friends are within my innangard, and acquaintances are utgard.  Allies are within my innangard and those without alliance to me are utgard.

This means that those I care for, am loyal to, responsible to and for those I have deep personal and/or community connections with, whether they are family by blood or choice, friends, or allies, are first priorities in my life.  Note that the way I am using the word friend does not have a thing to do with Facebook definitions of ‘friends’.  When I call someone Brother, Sister, or a term of endearment meaning equivalently the same thing gender-neutrally, such as friend, these mean very specific things to me.  The same goes with the term ally.  I have very clear lines of distinction, then, between friends and acquaintances.

If I count you as part of my tribe, family, a friend, or among my allies, generally speaking, I would take a bullet for you and, in equal measure, I would use such means to protect or save you.  This means that while I count myself as part of the Heathen communities, the communities I am not a member of mean less to me both socially and spiritually speaking than the ones I am part of.  This understanding of things is how I allocate my time and resources, and to whom I owe loyalty and make spiritual ties with.  This is discernment in action.


Reviving tribal community and reviving tribal worldviews

I am a tribalist, a universalist, and a reconstructionist-derived Heathen.  Being a tribalist means that I care for those within my innangard.  Being a universalist means that I believe that anyone regardless of ancestral background can come to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of Heathen religion.  Being reconstructionist-derived in regards to archaeology and the texts regarding Heathen Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir means that I respect that these things can teach us information on and give some understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, practices and beliefs that have survived the conversion periods are incomplete.  It means that I recognize some practices are unsuited or impractical to reviving a religion and culture for where and when we are, or that we simply lack the information necessary to do so, and I am willing to innovate with the help and guidance of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and community where needed or called.

In reviving tribal community and tribal worldview associated with Heathen paths, what I am seeking is to revive the concept of the tribe itself within a polytheist Heathen context, and the attendant worldview which informs it with those in my innangard.   I do this by referencing and revitalizing the concepts that are essential to this, and where this is not possible to follow what old ways we do know about, we communicate with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and with one another to innovate and adapt what we can to work with us in this time and place.

Tribalist Heathenry as I understand and live it cannot be revived in full from where ancient Heathen cultures were prior to conversion or destruction of the cultures and folkways.  There is simply too much time between us and the Ancestors from which these ideas, structure, and worldviews spring.  In other words, the maps of archaeology and texts are useful to a point until we recognize it is outdated or no longer referencing the territory before us.

Given the diversity of religious/cultural paths within Heathenry, I do not expect our Michiganian Northern Tradition and Heathen tribalist religion or culture to look like another’s, even those that may be located in the same State.  I would expect our religious calendar to look different, especially from, say, a Texan tribalist Heathen’s religious calendar.  A given tribe’s worship of Gods might be very specific, i.e. only worshiping Anglo-Saxon Gods, whereas we worship Gods from a variety of culture backgrounds.  A given Heathen tribalist or their tribe may only worship the Aesir and/or Vanir, whereas mine worships the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar.

It is my hope this post is a gateway to more conversation, not a stopping point.  I encourage folks to post in the comments, to write their own posts exploring this, to talk with friends, family, kindred, and talk with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  I encourage us to deepen the dialogue around these things, so that our communities grow, and keep growing, strong, healthy, and well.

8 thoughts on “On Being a Tribalist Heathen

  1. Thank you for it. Tribalism seems to be one of those things that get spoken about by Heathens, without being adequately defined. Those “in the know” tend to understand it implicitly, either through direct or indirect experiences, but for many people on the outside looking in it generally gets misconstrued (kind of like “reconstructionist” does, actually). I think a reason for this tends to be so because, initially, “Tribalism” was a refuge of Folkish Heathens who figured they found a way to avoid being criticized and assaulted for their beliefs. The catchphrase became “Not my yard, not my problem”, with the assumption that criticizing tribal thew from the outside was just not possible.

    I’m glad that didn’t last long, heh.

    It’s interesting to see these developments, in both a contemporary cultural sense, and in the subcultural expression that Heathenry (and most Paganisms, really) represents. I’m not sure if you have read it, but in the mid-90’s, Michael Maffesoli wrote a book titled “The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society” which goes into an exploration of the rise of the notion of tribalism in the 20th and coming 21st centuries. Granted, Maffesoli deals with things like sports clubs, the advent of “hobby tribes” and the creation of an identity around an external group, and how there are multiple entities of these within society which people move in.

    But the relationship of the clan and ‘neo-tribe’ with the Other, especially in a (*gag*) post-modernist context, etc, the break up of this massed society that had grown, is engaging. I find that it is really interesting to see these religious subcultures reacting against what is, in essence, a packaged form of mass consumerist society by attempting to reaffirm ‘traditional’ (and now largely lost, at least in the West) kin and community ties, and especially how those themes are reacted against by other people, even within the same, broad, religious movement.

    I’ll stop rambling now. =P

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved the Article…..right up until the point where after claiming to be “Tribal”, you also claim to be “universalist”, if you truly understood the concepts of Innangardr and utgard that you speak of, you would know that Tribalism is directly opposed to universalism, and that the spiritual beliefs of the tribe (because the tribe is where the spiritual beliefs originated) were kept for the tribe, not for outsiders. Not to mention, being a “Tribal” Heathen implies that you are also “Folkish”, and you can not be “Folkish”, AND be ok with non Northern European people worshiping OUR Gods. You would know that ALL people have their OWN indigenous Pagan beliefs and pantheon of Gods / Goddesses. I suggest John Mosby’s book “Forging the Hero”, as well as “Becoming a Barbarian” for true definitions of Tribalism.


    • Your assertions here are wrong. Here is why:
      My Kindred does not own the Norse, Scandinavian, etc. Gods. No more than the Folkish own the Gods. No more than *anyone* other than the Gods own the Gods.

      What we have is our own ways of relating to the Holy Powers, to the Gods and Goddesses, our Ancestors, and the vaettir. Our ways will likely be similar to other individual Heathens as well as Heathen Kindreds, Freeholds, Hofs, etc., and in other ways distinct. We care first and foremost for our own. Those who are within our community, who follow our ways, worship the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are within our innangard. Those who ally with us are within the bounds of our innangard.

      Folkish Heathens don’t get to own the word Tribal either.

      You presume that if I truly understood something I would see it your way. Yet, I truly do understand these things and concepts, having ready familiarity with them in their historical and in the Heathen communities’ ways of using them, and I reject that Folkish Heathenry has sole claim to the use of the term Tribal. Tribal Heathenry implies only that I care first and foremost for those within my tribe. It does not, and especially you do not get to dictate to me and mine who belongs within our tribe. That is for my tribe and I to decide.

      I am okay with *anyone* who is called by the Northern Tradition Gods to worship Them. Truth be told, my being okay with the matter is immaterial. If a person is called to worship the Northern Gods then that is Who they are being called by. If they are to join my Kindred, my tribe, there are requirements they must meet before they can do this. That is a separate issue for *my* tribe.

      You are outside my tribe, and I assume from your words here you’re a Heathen. There’s plenty of folks outside of my tribe that are Heathen. However I feel about them changes nothing about their religious identifier, which is what being a Heathen is. Being a tribalist Heathen means that my worldview is bound up and understood from a tribal one. You would be just as much in my utgard as anyone else not in my innangard.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have little time for reading things like blogs online, but when I do have the time to look through them, it is always a pleasure to find something like this. Well spoken, sir. Back in the day, almost the only writings you could find on the subject of heathen identity were Folkish, with a few things from the rainbows and unicorns brigade. I am glad to see how much things have changed today, to see such a thorough, thoughtful analysis of the Tribalist view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much. I’m glad to be moving dialogue forward from the places it has been stuck.

      It is my hope that tribal Heathenry more and more becomes Heathenry’s default worldview, as it is obvious to me that many of the faultlines and failures in communication lie between many Heathen communities speaking past one another’s worldviews. It is also my hope that the more dialogue that comes out of these discussions the deeper folks engage within their communities, and in cross-community dialogues the standard of frith is tied to the understanding that our differences may not be bound in opinion or even translation/understanding of a source, but in fundamental worldview.


  4. Pingback: An Excellent Summary of the Tribalist View | From the Labyrinth

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