My History with Heathenry

I don’t remember precisely how I found Heathenry, but it was almost certainly through a mix of music and an interest in the occult aspects of the Völkisch movement ultimately culminating in Nazi Germany. My first real research into what would become my interest in the modern religion was via four books:

  • The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890-1935 (Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, 1985)
  • Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, 2002)
  • Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Mattias Gardell, 2003)
  • Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, Rev. Ed., 2003)

Despite these books focussing on Heathenry only as it relates to racialist movements or extremist subcultures, they are still fascinating reads that I would highly recommend. As an aside, if you want a more balanced book exploring in-depth the new religious movement (NRM) of Heathenry and its roots, I would recommend Norse Revival: Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism (Stefanie von Schnurbein, 2016).

The first book I read actually written by a Heathen, about Heathenry, was Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology by Edred Thorsson (1987), an author I was already familiar with from his books The Secret King: Karl Maria Wiligut, Himmler’s Lord of the Runes (as Stephen Flowers, co-authored with the afore-mentioned Michael Moynihan, 2001) and Johannes Bureus and Adalruna (1998). Unfortunately, I found this book academically lacking – a common occurrence with research written within Heathenry. I don’t dismiss unaffiliated research by any means, but it requires far more vigilance when reading than that published by an academic institution where (one would hope) proper research procedures have been followed.

Unfortunately, as a teenager, dense academic works were far out of my price-range. Thankfully, Penguin and Oxford World Classics had English translations of many of the sources referenced in the above works, such as The Prose Edda, The Poetic Edda and various of the Icelandic Sagas, readily available. Perhaps a better place to start for those looking.

From here, I eventually felt versed enough to seek out other Heathens (or Odinists as they were calling themselves at the time) and joined The Odinic Rite – a British organisation started in the 1970s that at one time had charitable status. Unfortunately, it was quickly apparent that the OR was something of a glorified mystery school, with a shadowy figure at its head who apparently lived overseas. My only experience with the organisation was its newsletter/magazine and its online forums, although I did end up meeting with several local members during and after my membership. I also contributed two Adalruna tracks to their short-lived compilation series Folk Spirit.

The Odinic Rite, I think it’s fair to say, falls in the folkish camp of Heathenry, and perhaps something should be said about that as it is often claimed that folkish is simply a codeword for racist. I don’t personally see these terms as synonymous, although there is no doubt a racial aspect to folkish Heathenry which looks at the faith as an ancestral calling. The opposite side of the coin to folkish Heathenry is what was once called universalist Heathenry – the belief that anyone can practice Heathenry, regardless of background. In more recent times I have noticed the universalist term fall almost entirely out of use, particularly in the UK, being replaced with the more fashionable term ‘inclusive Heathenry’, with a shift away from focussing on racism towards more LGBT issues.

In my younger days I was a vocal proponent of a folkish form of Heathenry, and to some extent I still am. I cannot understand why a person with no ancestral heritage within North or Western Europe might wish to connect with the Gods who reside here rather than those who were worshipped by their own ancestors. I feel it is only honest to say this. The world was once full of rich of vibrant religions, cultures and mythologies, mostly decimated by Imperialism, Christianity and Islam. Still, I’ve come to know that a person’s character is far more important than any cultural biases I may have that by now I can do very little about. A person may choose to worship however they wish, provided they do not seek to prevent other peoples from doing the same. I feel this attitude may just as well be applied to the folkish Heathens, and I’ve come to realise what a waste of time the war of words and accusations between these ‘sides’ has been over the years.

Nobody is going to change anybody’s minds except by example. The focus should be on Heathenry – a genuine push to understand the religions we seek to reconstruct and adapt to modern life, not group politics.

When I was growing up I was not religious. Reading the experiences of American Heathens online, it seems most find their way after falling out of the Church they were raised with, and I have also seen this mentioned more than I would expect by Heathens within the United Kingdom. We have to understand that for many, losing a religion may also mean losing ones place in their community and potentially losing their family. Heathenry, which often emphasises community and fellowship, would therefore be an attractive alternative for wayward souls. A sense of identity and belonging is important. Unfortunately, wayward souls are often wayward for a reason, and few Heathen communities built this way remain for very long.

In order for Heathenry to blossom, actual communities need to be built. That is, Heathen families living together and raising their children. It is only in this situation that I feel a religion could truly refine itself from the faux-reconstructions we have that are almost entirely theoretical, and become a truly unique culture. I don’t believe that any two such communities, with the same foundations, would find themselves with the same culture after a generation or two.

Heathenry has always been a living religion.

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