Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Faithless Heathen


Odin PictureOne of the hardest concepts for me to adjust to when I came to Heathenry was the growing fear that I was doing it wrong, as the deeper into Heathenry I went, the less faith I had.  Now for those of you who are assuming that I was growing to trust the teachings of Heathenry less, or hold our gods in lesser reverence, I think it important to take a second to talk about the definition of faith that we inherit from a Christian European tradition.
Faith, in religious terms is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:
a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion

b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof clinging to the faith that her missing son would one day return (2) :  complete trust


There is a clear drive in the Judeo-Christian faiths to accept without questioning, to have faith, rather than trusting the things that you can see, that you can understand and test.  The name Islam means submission, and very much the definition of God Fearing Christian holds the same reflexive belief that human will and understanding, human knowledge and truth are nothing compared to the “revealed” truth of their god.  My understanding of Heathenry is greatly different than this.
The Hávamál has so very many lines about hospitality, about the building and maintaining of relationships, and yet the only line about what is owed that gods is simply it is better not to overdo it[1].  That hardly seems to match with the early Christian upbringing which tells us we have little to no worth, save through submission to God, and that just for existing we require punishment, and owe everything we may possess to God, and should be generous in offering to him, and his collectors at every opportunity.  As I grew older, this sounded more like organized crime, than religion, but the motivational basis was clearly one of appeasement of dread power, rather than anything resembling the reciprocal gifting cycle that a Heathen would recognize.


Here it is possibly worthwhile to have a look at the definition of hard polytheist.  A hard polytheist is defined as a person who believes the gods are discrete knowable entities, not all expressions of a single whole.  As a hard polytheist, I accept the gods have actual natures, knowable in some imperfect sense by us, and recognizable to us.  Our gods being discrete knowable entities has real implications in terms of faith.


I do not have faith in my grandfather, I met him.  I do not have faith in gravity, I can test its existence and describe in mathematical terms its effects.  I do not have faith in my gods, because I have gnosis, or experience which establishes their existence to me, much the way the existence of my grandfather was established to me.  I cannot have faith, for it is not rejecting the evidence of my reason and senses that is required to praise the gods, for as we deepen in our practice, we see more and more the touch of our Disir, our holy ancestors, the wights of the lands and waters, and the gods themselves in the world in which we live.  We do not turn away from the world to practice our religion, we do not turn away from the world at all.


Metaethics is the acceptance of a higher spiritual authority for moral choices.  This is accepted by many religions, and is the source of the word sin.  Sin is defined as disobeying gods will, not doing wrong, but disobeying the will of an entity which may be good or evil in nature, but to which you are deemed to owe obedience regardless of how the act itself might be judged in normal ethics.

We don’t really have that particular definition of sin.  We do have right and wrong, but they are not metaethically derived, but derived from the effects our actions have on individuals, communities and our world.  The Hávamál is not a rule book telling you what is a sin, it is a guideline for troubleshooting relationships and a set of principals that will allow you to operate ethically and successfully.  You will not choose between the ethics given us by the gods, and the ethics we understand from our own internal and societal moral compass, because what is left in the Hávamál is little more than ways to properly define the question or situation, so that you can judge the morality for yourself, and act accordingly.


I have heard the criticism that Heathens treat their gods too lightly, and this is a part of the Western European tradition as much as it is of Judeo Christian thought.  The gods of Greece and Rome were quite similar to the god of the Old Testament as far as the punishment for individuals and whole cities who did not offer fast enough, and rich enough, to prove their continued fear and sincere desire to appease the god or gods in question.  This was not a part of the Northern experience, not a part of the lore that is left to us.  There is little of the drive to appease, no body of lore that says the gods are planning to wipe out the entire tribe or city unless we offer richly enough.  I am not claiming superiority to those traditions, I am simply pointing out that while it is built into a lot of the Western European (read Christian/Roman) thought, it was never really a part of our folks fundamental assumptions.


God Fearing is a term we can address now.  We do not offer out of fear of our gods.  We do not fear them in the sense that we do not operate under the assumption that they are going to destroy our people or ourselves unless properly appeased.  That is not part of our world view.
We can laugh at the gods, for we do not fear the tribe will be ended if we tell a story, a myth of our gods in which they do something foolish.  Our gods really are great, and do not fear their power is slighted by such tales, and thus we do not fear reprisal for such things.

We do approach them with awe, with reverence, with wonder.  We can and do sometimes face them kneeling or otherwise abasing ourselves because we trust that our sense of worth, and our gods understanding of that worth is not threatened when we feel the need to make an offering of obeisance to one whose gifts, whose power, whose sheer wonder demands from us a gift of worth that we would offer no living man, woman, President or Queen.


We are driven to learn about this world, through development of our skills in science, technology, engineering, philosophy, art, history, archeology, astronomy, medicine, ecology and a thousand other disciplines by which we seek to better understand and succeed in this world we inherit and hold in trust.


We are given too to learn about our gods.  This is partly the study of the lore, the continual study of ancient archaeology to determine how much of what was once known we can recover, and by the communal and individual practice that makes up Heathen worship, community and at the more esoteric end, spiritual practice.
Again, this does not give us faith, it gives us greater understanding, and a lower requirement for faith.  The first scientists had to accept as an item of faith that the world was explainable through reason.  Those who followed afterwards did not have to accept this as faith, as the understanding had grown already to the point you could use the tools of your reason and senses to see for yourself, requiring not faith but understanding.  Not a rejection of reality to cling to an unproven and unprovable principal, but the acceptance of principals that corresponded to your best testable understanding of the world in which you live.

As a Heathen, I do not put much value in faith, and I do put much value in reason.  I do not put any value in meta-ethics, and expect to make my own moral choices, and bear the responsibility for them.  I do not live in fear of my gods, I do not hold myself worthless before them, nor do I offer to them out of fear of reprisal.

I form a reciprocal gifting relationship with the gods, with the wights, and honestly, with those in my community that I feel are important to me.  I approach my community with love, because for all that I put in, I feel I get back more.

I approach my gods joyfully, reverently.  I trust them, am inspired by them, sometimes terrified by them, and the further and further I go in Heathenry, the less confident I will ever be able to develop a perfect understanding of them, but understand that in attempting it I am developing a much better understanding of myself, and my role in my family, my community and my world.


I may be faithless, by the understanding of those outside the community, and many inside it, but I take this as a good thing.  My gods have taught me to trust what I can see, can know, can test for myself.  My gods have taught me that I am the one making my choices in this life, and I had best be doing so for reasons I accept deeply enough to have no regrets.  I gave up my faith for knowledge, my fear for understanding, and reserve my guilt for my actual failings, not for the crime of being born.

I am a lot closer to death now than I am birth, so as I look at that final shore, I am more and more at peace with the understanding I have gained in this life, and find that should that shore be reached tomorrow or twenty years from now, it holds no fear, and at least a little wonder.


I thank the gods each day for the gifts they gave me, including the courage to rage at them when my losses are too great to bear, and laugh at them when the world is too ridiculous to accept.  I am a Heathen, and accept that getting it mostly right is about as much as we can expect, and I hope when they bury me that I can at least claim that much.  I expect that I will have provided much fodder for gods, men, and certainly women, to laugh at all through my life, and possibly long after.  At least I had the wisdom to laugh with them most of the time.

[1] Hávamál

146. Better no prayer | than too big an offering,
By thy getting measure thy gift;
Better is none | than too big a sacrifice,


Pascal’s Wager and Heathenry

Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher offered a defense of Christianity called Pascal’s wager:

“If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).”

Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, but was working off a few flawed assumptions, and blind to a few of his own.  Pascal, as a Christian, accepted a few fundamental assumptions without thinking that left deep flaws in the argument.  One of the assumptions accepted by Pascal is that the only two choices available were belief in Jehova, and atheism.  As Heathen, we accept that there are other gods than Jehova and his corpse child. The second fundamental assumption is actually more important, and more insidious; the acceptance of meta-ethics.  Meta-ethics is the acceptance that right or wrong is not determined by the deed itself, but by how it agrees with the will of god (Jehova).  What might be viewed as an immoral act on its own, can become moral, if it represents god’s will.  The classic examples are the parable of Issac.  Abraham was ordered by god to sacrifice his only begotten son.  He bent his child over the alter, as he did his sacrificial lambs, and began the killing stroke when god stopped him.  This is described as a wonderful thing in Christianity, the great good of the proof of Abraham’s perfect submission to the will of god. In meta-ethics, conformation to the will of god defines good, and violating the will of god defines sin.  In ethics, a good is right or wrong by its nature; by its intent and effect.  Killing your child because someone asked you to is wrong for heathens, and for atheists.  To us, killing a child is killing a child; and there is no god, no state authority, that can make a wrong action correct.

Heathens understanding of worth is based on frith, or behaving appropriately to honour our relationships.  For us doing the right thing is honouring our duties to our family, our job, our community, our environment.  Our worth is built by the choices we make, by our deeds.  We offer to the gods, and our ancestors, offering the gift of praise in return for the gifts we ask guidance and instruction.  We don’t receive rules to obey from them, we are left to chose for ourselves, for reasons of our own relationships and duties.  From our understandings flow our choices, not from external rules, but from our understanding of our responsibilities.

If you erroneously believe in god(s) you lose nothing by obeying anyway, as you still end up dead. 


Heathen: You will still have lived an honourable life, and leave behind a legacy to be proud of.  You followed the dictates of your own conscience, and would change none of your decisions knowing now that you were wrong.


Christian: You have done many times things that you felt were wrong because you were told god demanded it.  You have chosen obedience over your own personal ethics.  At the moment of death, you will know you chose to do wrong to please a lie.  You will go down into the dark with that knowledge.


If you disbelieve in god(s) and are right


Heathen: Your worth will depend on your actions, death holds only an ending.

Christian: You did what you thought was right, death holds only an ending.


If you believe in god(s) and are right


Heathen: You have chosen to do what you felt was right as best you could.  You have built your worth through your deeds.  When you die, you will get to find out if there is anything else.  Will you rejoin your ancestors in Hel?  Does Valhalla await the chosen?  Who knows, the gods promised us only that:

“Cattle die, kinsmen die

You too will die,

One thing alone will not die

The fame of a good man’s deeds.”

What we do in life is eternal, is fixed in time, will have effects that last far beyond our own span when our choices, decisions, and accomplishments have touched and changed the lives of others.  This alone we are promised.  The rest we really will have to wait until death to discover.


Christian:  You have done what was the will of god, even when you felt it wrong.  You will get to live in eternity for the price of submitting to the will of another instead of choosing for yourself.


For a Heathen, the wager is a safe bet.  We choose for ourselves, and if we chose as we know we should our legacy will be a bright one that benefits our family, our community, and our name.  If the gods exist, we have won honour in their eyes, as well as the communities.  If the gods do not exist, we have won honour in the eyes of the community, and left our name and our world brighter than we found it.  There is no way for a Heathen to lose this wager.


For a Christian the wager is dangerous.  If they do what god wants instead of what they feel is right, if god doesn’t exist, they did evil out of fear of death.  They died anyway.  If they do what god wants, and not what they feel is right, out of fear of death, and are right, they spend an eternity in submission to a god that demanded they do what they knew was wrong, or be punished forever for choosing morality over obedience.  It seems hard for a Christian to win and remain worthy.

 Our ancestors did not live their lives as the Egyptians, Jews, or contemporary Christians and Muslims do; attempting to secure a theoretical afterlife.  Rather than spending an entire life that is real, making choices to purchase a place in an afterlife which is a theory at best, our ancestors chose to embrace this life, to do with every moment the very best they could.

I am alive now, I have choices to make today that will affect real people.  It is my responsibility to do the best that I can that those choices are good ones.  I do this not to buy a place in Valhalla; honestly my family have been soldiers for many generations and focus strongly on letting the other side do the dying for their country.  I do this because real people benefit or lose on my decisions, and my own personal worth depends on making the best of the possible choices open to me.  This is real, this is testable concrete reality.  This also agrees with the world accepting teachings of my heathen faith.  If the gods exist, they expect me to make the best possible choices for those who depend on me.  If the gods do not exist, I still have people depending on my making good choices.  I will do my best, and the gods will have to be happy, or not with that.  If I can be said to have faith, it is that my gods did not teach me what my responsibilities are, if they expected me to neglect them.  For this reason, even should Jehova appear in smoldering shrubbery, or shattering thunder, he is still cordially invited to pound sand.  I would not trade my honour in this life for an eternity forsworn and enslaved.  Our own gods and goddesses only need to point out what we mortals miss, and trust us to figure the rest out for ourselves (or not).  That I can work with.