Patreon Topic 70: On Sorting Out the Garbage in Heathenry

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From Maleck comes this topic:

“It’s well known at this point that Heathenry’s roots are in German romanticism. And modern Heathenry is rife with fascism, racism, queerphobia, antisemitism, and on and on. How do you personally sort out the garbage from the good, especially when many of the foundational academics are part of or tainted by that German romanticism?”

I would say some of Heathenry’s roots are. If it was all Romanticism all the way down there would be precious little for us to salvage. The definition of Romanticism most useful to our end is “a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms” It is important to recognize what Romanticism was rising to meet, intellectually and artistically. For the most part they were reacting to the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophies and artistic movements which favored materialism especially, as well as reason and logic. Meanwhile Romanticism gave emotion, the individual person, and a group of oddly distilled group of pagan ideas filtered through Christian lenses the primacy of place. Neither of these philosophies are value-neutral, and both major camps of philosophies and arts have produced a great deal of pain in their turn.

Romanticism clouded the vision of much of history, anthropology, and related fields relevant to modern Heathenry. It is important to know this, particularly when trying to parse older sources, or those sources who studied under those influenced by these movements. In part, staying with current scholarship and seeing who is willing to actually reflect on, comment on, correct, and otherwise grapple with the history of the study of whatever Heathen subject at hand is a good indicator that the person is working to excise or prevent Romanticism from taking root in their own work. An excellent example is in The Viking Way by Dr. Price, who spends a good amount of time covering the history of, and the methodologies with which archeology and anthropology were bent to the ideas of Romanticism and nationalism, and how he parses what to find useful to modern studies.

So, wherever we can we need to be aware of who we are working with as our sources of information, and if possible, how they arrived at the conclusions they did. It is also really important to remember most of those in the fields relevant to our interests as Heathens hold little to no regard for our communities or how we may use their work in furthering our objectives of providing useful roadmaps to religious phenomena and reviving various practices. They will not hold our perspectives, and what seems important to us may be completely inconsequential to them. There also is the problem that there may be quite mundane answers to the questions posed by academic inquiry when they are looking for something deeper, see the now-memeified idea of ‘this must have been used for ritual’ as applied to anthropology and archaeology. A great example is that of the so-called Roman dodecahedron. Was it used for magic? Combat? Knitting? All or a few of these? The problem being is that many folks are looking for a single interpretation when, in many ancient cultures, knitting and magic were aligned.

Another thing that must be avoided is that the past must agree with us to have been good or useful, or that we inherently are better or worse than those who came before us. The assumptions often baked into modern ideas around the ancient aliens theories, or that the ancient peoples were more ignorant than we modern enlightened folks, is a similar kind of issue: it is often racist, colonialist, ahistorical, strips the subject of their humanity, and ignores the many accomplishments that these peoples’ worldviews allowed them to make. Romanticism often took for granted that the past was automatically better, more pure, and idealized than the present, that those in the past were stronger in mind, body, and spirit. This is hardly a new view. Tacitus was pushing these noble savage ideas with regards to the ancient Germans of his time, never having visited them in person, and using them as a rhetorical device on his fellow ancient Romans, critiquing them for their decadence and largesse.

Avoiding black and white thinking, romanticizing and idealizing the past, and being sure to check our sources can help us intellectually avoid many of the pitfalls in modern Heathenry that leads to fascism, racism, queerphobia, antisemitism, and so on. However, it is not merely the intellect that Romanticism is speaking to.

A major point in the Romantic movements was that it was speaking more directly to peoples’ emotions, and ideally, hitting them in the spirit. It is important, I think, for us to recognize why certain feelings and ideas have longevity, how they persist. Many ideas that have gained traction and that have stuck with the Heathen religions into the modern period through organizations such as the AFA, the Asatru Folk Assembly, and the AA, the Asatru Assembly, and smaller groups like Irminfolk Kindred, do so because much of their messaging relies on hitting folks in the heart and the gut.

With all of these obstacles arrayed against an inclusive Heathen, how do I personally sort out the garbage from the good?

First, I ask: What is garbage?

Anything produced by or benefiting the Asatru Folk Assembly, the Asatru Alliance, Irminfolk Kindred, and similarly white supremacist and racist groups, or is any way aligned with these groups or their aims. Anything which is produced by or supports white supremacy, Naziism, antisemitism, xenophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, or the subjugation or hatred of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and historically marginalized groups. Anything that is produced in defense of, supports, or seeks to increase the number of adherents of the underlying ideologies of these groups. When it comes to the Romantics generally the academics from this period are so coopted or innacurate that using them is not much of worth. There is far superior scholarship and understanding today than there was in the past of ancient cultures. While having an understanding of the roots of these academics and their movements is necessary to understand how the various fields have come to us in regards to anthropology, archaelogy, religious studies, and so on, amplifying their messaging is unnecessary and counterproductive to modern scholarship.

Part of this ability to discern good sources from garbage is to have a working knowledge of the dog whistles, memes, and the apparatus of what ideas and emotions feed into white supremacist groups, their hatred, and what they try to reach with them. However, it is not enough to be able to identify the influences I do not want. It is not enough to reject Romanticism and its descendants. It is not enough to reject poor scholarship and white supremacism and work to abolish whiteness.

Identifying garbage in Heathenry is rather easy at this point for me. What is harder is identifying what is useful to my worldview as a Heathen, and useful to me specifically as a spiritworker. I rely on my fellow community members to recommend articles, books, podcasts, and other resources. I actively work to find these, and learn as much as I can, both from academic and Heathen sources.

I work with the best translations and interpretations of the lore I can afford. I listen to and read current books and papers on subjects as diverse as archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, and religious studies in addition to Heathen ones, so that I am approaching the material in as best an educated light as I can. I listen to Heathen podcasts, and podcasts on all the subjects relevant to my interests as a Heathen that I can. I vet my resources, academic and Heathen alike, to the best of my discernment. I reach out to others in my community to ask for their insight, discernment, knowledge, articles, and other resources.

It is equally important to me that I employ spiritual discipline to take in the things that bring me joy, connection, and affirm my life as a Heathen. I must take in music, art, and aesthetics that speaks to and empowers the values I wish to embody as a Heathen. I must also build these up the Heathen communities I am part of. Likewise, it is important to cultivate the things that bring me joy, power, connection, and affirm the work I do as a Heathen spiritworker. I have to cultivate the Heathenry I wish to see inside of myself and in the communities I am bound up in. In knowing what it is I seek, I employ that in my discernment upon the resources I seek to bring into my understanding of that Heathen worldview. Through that work, I can bring that understanding and knowledge to others.


One thought on “Patreon Topic 70: On Sorting Out the Garbage in Heathenry

  1. Pingback: Patreon Topic 71: On Connecting With Wolf Parts | Sarenth Odinsson

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