Diversity in Heathenry
I understand we do things a little differently here. Heathenry is based on relationships. A large number of groups fall somewhere along the family to community spectrum more towards the family end. A typical word used to self describe would be kindred. Similar in some ways to a coven, grove, or congregation from other faiths, it has the community of shared faith practice and world view common t those, but as we are often criticized by other communities for being light in ritual and prayer and heavy in the feasting, we are more bound by the bonds of hospitality and amity than by ritual or oath.
This gives me a bad case of Asa-Goggles. I admit this. Now Asa-Goggles are not like beer goggles, they don’t dull you into being more receptive to those you might otherwise find unappealing, they are more like FLIR. Asa-Goggles are what we see our own through. Unlike standard optics even starlight Night Vision Goggles or scopes which use the same light to generate the same image as our naked eye, the FLIR uses the Infra Red Spectrum to see heat. It is amazing in its ability to see small differences in heat, easily detecting life from backgrounds that are visually completely camouflaged, even as it fails utterly to see those colour or pattern related identifiers that are visible in any visible light system.
Asa-Goggles, like FLIR look for the emissions of life; infra –red searches for heat from life, where Asa-Goggles search for worth. Don’t get bent out of shape, worth is the way heathens judge everyone, including ourselves. It is how we see, and a cornerstone of how we think. Now people of all communities have worth, and we see that, and acknowledge that. Some shine with a light that is our own, a worth that follows our own pattern of belief. We see markings in their words and their deeds that mark them as “us”. Other people can be worth of admiration , but they are not the ones you want to share those things that we call our heathen practice, those things that blend the social and the sacred, the building of a community of people who we care to share this very private part of our lives.
I was asked to write about our diversity as a community, and I had problem with that. I look at those people that are deepest inside the “us” category, the innergard, the ones you share your problems with or seek advice from in your other parts of life. Through my goggles they look not identical, but close kin, close enough that from a mile off you can know them as your own, and feel the strength and warmth that knowing they approach will bring. Through others eyes they are “diverse”. Well if you want to pick gender, or skin tone, or sexual orientation, even nationality, income or educational background, they are diverse. I have other goggles at well that pick up CADPAT, MARPAT, and Mulitcam by the signs it leaves in the emission of those who absorbed it bone deep through their service. The combination of these optics mean that when outsiders look at me and Gari, they see their own definitions, black woman and a bearded redneck white boy. American woman with some foreigner/Canadian boy with some foreigner (depending on which side of the 49th they are glaring from).
When I see us side by side, I see Freyr and Freya; I see the male and female expressions of the same needs, the same struggle, the same sense of responsibility. Scars; oh yes, by their scars they will know each other, and we see those clearly enough. When you ask me to speak about diversity in our community I do see it. I see a diverse understanding about how our folkway is expressed. I see Stephen in his tower of reason, built brick by brick by choices and experience, by study and life lessons accepted and applied. His heathenry is a shining light that could easily be discussed by learned men in any schola of the past or university of the day. I see Diana whose heathenry reeks of the mound, the tree, of dark places and ancient truths, whose eyes have seen and embraced the storm and through which things look back that most choose to avoid seeking, let alone learning from. I see Lisa and Rob whose community building is to see the wounds they cannot pass by and accept the responsibility for those who would have no guide but them. I see Luke and Ken who ply the ancient trade of arms as modern men, and carry with them their ancestral sense of duty and honour, with a modern man’s reverence for law.
Our community is rich and diverse in ways that fill me with wonder and move me to tears, but no one wants to hear about them. They want us to point to a black, an Asian, a gay, a (insert word for someone we get a merit badge for pretending is our equal). I don’t pretend. Those who are in our community are my equals, are my peers, my community, and very much mine to defend.
Everyone is not welcome in our community. Our own are welcome here, however other people would describe them. There is not a colour that gets you in the door, nor one that bars you from it. That does not make us better than other faiths. If nothing else, let us be honest about this. Our ancestors were masters of community building; and they built those communities of the people they found of whatever tribe, race, or nation they met, who could share their sense of worth, their sense of community, their practices that bound together the disparate parts and peoples into one new shining thing. There were lots of communities, and people moved freely to find the community in which they fit, in which their sense of worth matched the sense of worth of their fellows so that they could join their efforts communally and know their actions would be judged individually by standards to which they held, or aspired to, themselves.
Our community is diverse in ways that outsiders don’t see and perhaps do not value. Our community contains what others consider diversity, in those that I just can’t see as diverse, as through my eyes they are not. This is not a statement of virtue, this is a reality of optics. FLIR doesn’t see colour, that doesn’t make it enlightened, it simply admits that it only sees a wavelength in which colour doesn’t exist. We still judge us and them, because as human beings we are no better than other communities. I think it does our nations good to have many communities inside them who define us and them along different axis, so that people have a chance to experience the reality that people from every group in our community may well find themselves on the same side of the us/them divide at least as often as they are the opposite, and those closest to us may likewise find themselves staring across that boundary at each other.
Yule is a time to come together, family and friends coworkers and neighbors. We reach across a thousand divides with a handshake, a gift, a smile, a candy. Those boundaries are real, but they are everywhere, and we reach across them a thousand times a day. When something happens that polarizes our community, those barriers loom large in our vision, and become not simply walls between us, but battle lines. We are more than any one of those us/them divides, we are more than any one label or external value you choose to apply. Every human being is. Heathens are supposed to be honest enough to both admit we judge, and own honestly both our treatment of others in response, and the fact others will do the same to us.
John T Mainer