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On Being a Tribalist Heathen

June 9, 2016 6 comments

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.

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Limits of Language: Hooks and Fish

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I am a hard polytheist and animist.  The Gods are real, individual beings.  The world is populated by spirits.  My Ancestors are as close as my blood relatives, reaching into the World itself, into Yggdrasil, the Elements and raw power of the Void, into the Gap Itself, if I look back far enough.  Many Gods are imminent, and some transcendent.  Some are local Gods, some with names and some with names we do not know, and more with names we may never speak.  The Gods can be our friends, our family, our lovers, distant acquaintances, terse partners, employers, and/or master/mistress, among roles and ways of being I am sure I have missed.  So can a great many spirits.  As for the spirits, They are part and parcel of everything around us.  We might call some spirits Gods , and some Gods might be called spirits, depending on how we view Them, and Their place in the world, universe, etc.  We may not even have terribly solid boundaries where one God ends and another begins, or on the other hand, may have very defined ones between Goddesses.

We all exist within the fabric of Wyrd, within Ma’at from the most infinitesimal piece of sand to the Gods, to the Universe Itself (which, in some religions is a God/dess/Being).

Is this monist?

Perhaps, at its core, I suppose it is.  The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Monist as:

a : a view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance and b : the view that reality is one unitary organic whole with no independent parts.

I much prefer the b definition.  This idea is not that we are somehow one mass, blob, etc., but that we are threads of a great tapestry, and each of us is but a thread.  That while being individual, we are not independent.  That we are organically whole, together.

Really, though, what am I capturing by saying things this way?

Language is tricky.  When it comes to describing the Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, They are much like a fish wriggling in your hands: even as you take out the hook from a well-fought catch, it struggles to go back in the water where you must find it yet again¹.  In many ways language is insufficient, even in the hands of a poet, a writer, a lyricist, or a bard, to describe in full or even in part what it is to experience the Gods.  Language is the hook that gives us one fish, and it may fill us awhile with good food, but while that hook is bare it is an unused tool, and there are far more times where the fish fights us off or fools us that it has been hooked, when it merely eats the bait and swims off.  Language alone, whether written on a page, sung in front of a crowd, or whispered before an altar will not sustain.  It is the fish, not the hook, that provides the nourishment.  After all, sometimes we lose the hook, and sometimes the whole line, and sometimes the whole damned pole!

I still feel as I did in August with A Useful Teacup.  Boundaries are useful and necessary.  A hook is not a fish, after all, and no matter how many hooks one eats they will not provide nourishment.  Yet I find that monism is not wholly opposed to polytheism, but rather, it is part and parcel of it.

Monism within polytheism is nothing new, nor is animism.  Recognizing we are all part of an interdependent whole does not deny our Gods, our spirits, or our Ancestors, but puts us into our proper place within the Worlds.  The Worlds hang on Yggdrasil, and Yggdrasil came from the Gap.  All at first came from Atum who came from Nun.  We all come from a source, and it is often represented by, referred to, and is the Void, Darkness, Nothing, etc.  If anything, monism within polytheism is a challenge for us to live more in tune with the Worlds around us.  If we are all interdependent, are we doing our part in Wyrd, in Ma’at?

Bringing this idea into the current discussion on Paganism, I do not want to find another boat when so many will do.  I may not board the good ship Reconstructionist but I count myself as a hard polytheist and animist, a Northern Tradition Pagan, a Heathen, and a worshiper of many Gods beyond the Norse and German.  So, I am also very eclectic.  Yet, I look at it this way: salmon has sure been good to me in filling my belly, and so has tilapia and tuna.  I fish in many waters, but with the proper pole and bait for each.  The fish still come.  Sometimes I come back with nothing, and sometimes I come back with a fish story, and an accompanying fish.

Boundaries are still useful and necessary; it is hard going trying to salmon fish with a leaky boat.  Likewise, it is impossible to fish without risking getting wet.

 

 

¹Small wonder that Loki is associated with a salmon: a hardy fish that is hard to catch and a powerful swimmer who often outsmarts or outright beats the fisherman.  As with language, the understanding of Loki is evolving inside and outside of academic circles.  He is one God among many who are being discovered, thought about, and reexamined, and yet, consistently escapes consensus.

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