Moving Beyond the Wound-Chasm

I recently listened to Episode 28 of Everyday Animism, Animism and the Broken Path. The hosts raised some good points, among them being the understanding that decolonization of and embracing authenticity within our religious lives is an ongoing process. They hit the idea of the breaking of our Ancestors’ ties with their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir quite a bit.

Heathenry has faced and is continuing to face the same challenges as those they were speaking to as animists. As Heathenry came up from the 70s, there has been quite an effort expended to come up with our own words, our own understanding of ourselves. Reviving religions and eventually cultures takes work and time. As academic fields came up with new information we adjusted our understanding of where we stood and where we are going. As new understandings of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir came forward many changed with them. Heathenry, like a lot of polytheist religions, does a lot of looking back.

Where I would like to see conversations like these move is beyond where our Ancestors’ wound-chasm lies, that place where our Ancestors destroyed or whose connection was destroyed to their culture and absorbed into Christian and Muslim cultures. We are not living there. It is important to look at it, to acknowledge it, and to work to heal it, but our point of view cannot live there. Likewise, I feel we need to shift the conversation away from cultural appropriation and into embracing our own cultures. Beyond surface-level idiocy, see the Coachella models wearing headdresses or the same at Burning Man, my understanding is that a lot of appropriation is a grasping for something. That grasping might be words to describe a thing, like when folks grasp onto the word smudging (which is a ritual in and of itself, not just waving around smoke to get rid of evil spirits) when we have reykr (Old Norse for smoke) or recan (Anglo-Saxon for cleansing something with smoke) as words for smoke cleansing. That grasping might be for ancestral spirits, where folks might grasp for totem (which is a corruption of the Ojibwe word doodem, itself being a noun needing a prefix) I would point them to kinfylgja (Old Norse for kin follower/helper spirits). Wherever we are grasping we should look to our religions, our cultures first.

This means that we need to embrace our own understanding of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and ourselves over that of outsiders to our religions. Academics and others external to our religious and cultural communities are fine and should be looked to so long as their studies, commentary, etc are useful to us. Rather than this being an anti-academic or anti-science approach, this is an approach that weighs the usefulness and relevancy of outsider views on us, our religions, and cultures. Dr. Jackson Crawford and Dr. Caroline Larrington are excellent academic sources on Old Norse texts. What neither are is Heathen. Their expertise is not in religious instruction, nor would I want to put them in such a position. Likewise, the texts they have translated, the books they have written, and lectures they produce are not meant to be religious instruction.

Part of decolonizing ourselves and our communities is to radically embrace our own living religious worldviews. Decolonizing cannot be accomplished without this. Indeed, part of the point of it is to stop drinking the poison and to drink good clean water. We do this by understanding and especially living within our worldview. For Heathens this is living in good Gebo, reciprocity, with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and within ourselves. We are going to develop neologisms and work with words and concepts in new forms. My own use of the word Mikilvaettir and use of Ergi to describe and honor our Powerful Queer Ancestors is evidence of this. I understand that writing here on my blog, resources such as The Longship, and the work of countless individuals and communities developing their own relationships, vocabulary and worldviews all are part of this work. Whether we live quiet lives doing devotion or busy ones full of spirit work, or whether we lie somewhere in between, by worshiping Them and fuIfilling our part of Urðr we do the work of rejecting poison and drinking good water.

  1. Keith McCormic
    December 7, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    You make a lot of good points about the need to stop focusing on what was lost and start focusing on growing from the healthy material that survives. That is certainly a stumbling block for many folks.

    I have to quibble on a point, though. “Smudging” is not a particular ritual, nor is it particular to indigenous peoples in the Americas or elsewhere. The word is a longstanding English term for using smoke to drive out vermin and is from the same Germanic root as “schmutz” and “smut”. I don’t know what the actual indigenous names of those various rituals are any more than I actually know those rituals.

    Just as part of decolonization is recognizing when we’re using terms from other cultures, we need to recognize when we’re labeling other cultures’ practices with our own terms because we don’t know theirs.

    • December 8, 2019 at 7:51 am

      Fair enough quibble regarding where the word itself comes from. This article is a good reason for why I do not use the term smudging.

      I don’t use smudging because the common understanding of the term comes from use primarily out of and in reference to Native peoples. Rather, I use terms in Old Norse like reykr for cleansing with smoke, vatnryðja (to clear away with water) or just ryðja, to clear away.

  2. Marc
    December 10, 2019 at 6:40 am

    I think it’s something to consider that we are still a religious movement of converts, many of us are still generation 0 in terms of establishing or enacting our religious traditions. Few, if any, have been raised in the religious practice since birth or childhood (and those that have been sometimes come from..problematic viewpoints). Having the point of fixation on the process of de-conversion / where we focus on the period where the traditions which we use to inspire us were severed, is always going to be a feature until we, collectively and generationally, move beyond such a thing.

    • December 14, 2019 at 4:03 am

      This is a fair point.
      My urging is not that seeing the chasm and recognizing what it is an unimportant thing.
      My urging towards working and looking beyond the wound chasm is twofold: that a living, vibrant polytheism cannot live in the chasm, and that what we are building is beyond that point. For some folks that is going to mean a long, hard look at that chasm, see what work we need to do, and get to it. For others that is going to be building on from where folks who build up from the foundations that are here. Both are building after the wound chasm was made, and both need to acknowledge it exists, and perhaps over time we can heal a lot of that wound, if not even let it scar over.

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