Bear with me, this will take a while to get to the point, but the background is important. We have all seen the people in our communities that just fit. The ones who you know were born to be here. Heathenry comes as naturally to them as a salmon takes to the stream. You see a salmon hurling itself upstream through the rapids beside you and know that only salmon are with you on this journey. No pampered koi, no silent sturgeon; just those born to dare the white water and stone teeth of the rapids for the Return Home. Funny thing is, not all of those salmon look the same. Not everything that looks like a salmon shows any interest in those rapids at all, and not everyone beside you in the torrent looks salmonish to the outside eye.
I shrugged and ignored the question a lot of years, following a soldiers stark utilitarianism. If it works you use it, if it fails, the theory is irrelevant, it doesn’t work so toss it. The inner scientist in me looked at those provable things and waited for another data point to come up with a new theory that worked. Then I started my clergy training, and progressed along my magical path far enough to apply other senses and collect enough other data to get a different understanding.
Heathen understanding of the soul is complex. We don’t see it as one thing, nor do we understand it as being one thing before our birth or after our death. What makes us, the whole and living being that we experience is complex, formed of these disparate elements that come together and are shaped by our life experiences, by our will, by our word and deed, by our trials, by our loves, losses, and choices. Those parts have been broken down as follows.
1. The physical body – appearance, movement and health
- the hugr – conscious will and intellect
- the hamr – image forming essence, matrix between physical and
- the hamingja – shape-changing force, luck, power
- the fylgja – spirit guardian as female or animal figure
We don’t conduct baby naming ceremonies until the ninth day, when the fylgja is seen to have bonded with the baby. At this point, the baby is bound to the web of wyrd or fate, and the orlog the inherited part of your wyrd attaches to the baby, linking it to all those who have gone before, and who will come after.
It is this part of the soul that carries the inherited portion of our soul lore, the bit that we get from our ancestors in spirit. Here is the bit that makes me intrigued. The lore is full of examples where mound sitters have received inherited gifts from spirits they had no genetic link to, but gave full ancestral devotion to. These gifts, in one case the skaldship that propelled a shepherd (Thorbjorn Hornklofr ) from obscurity to the position of court skald of Harald Shaggy Hair are clearly an inheritance carried by soul part rather than genetic coding.
This fits with the understanding of family and community that our ancestors practiced, where you could be born in, married in, oathed in, adopted, or simply absorbed by being beside you through the struggles of the day until your fate was inexorably linked with those around you and you simply crossed the line and became us in every way anyone could see, however far from that hearth you may have been born. Family and community were untidy and tangled, real things, not pure constructs. They were. People who ought to be part of them turned their backs and left, people who were from far away, and even from the wrong side of long standing battle lines found acceptance and home with the fierce devotion of one who does not simply accept their place unthinking, but dared to shape their fate by conscious choice.
Burial mounds show the truth, genetic variation hard to equal even in today’s world of easy and relatively safe long distance travel, yet burial goods and manner indicate no differentiation between those whose genetics matches the bulk of the tribal identity, and those whose origins were clearly different tribally or even racially. Us and them are always real to those who are drawing the lines, but the lines then were not based on phenotypical race, but on identity.
Carry forward to today. We have the folkish vs inclusive rift in Heathenry that honestly everyone has grown sick of. It really was an attempt from the beginning to dress racism up in pretty clothes and make it more acceptable than the KKK white hoods and burning crosses. It carried with it misogyny and gender roles right out of the most conservative Evangelical Christian wet dream, and resembled Nazi family propaganda in a degree that would have made Gobels think they won the war. To say it was homophobic, transphobic is really not doing justice to the degree that folkish Heathenry really found there to be only one right way to be a male or female Heathen. You had to be pure of blood, you had to be one hundred percent cis-normative in your expression of your gender or you were just wrong.
So folkish was cast into the midden where it belonged, largely because too many of the folkish who weren’t racist misogynist homophobes were just unwilling to stand against the ones that were, so collectively we decided the folkish had failed the test of Havamal 43, and made friendship with our foes.
- To his friend a man | a friend shall prove,
To him and the friend of his friend;
But never a man | shall friendship make
With one of his foeman’s friends.
We did our surgery to protect our community, but we missed something. We let those racist twits taint the idea of folk and inheritance to the point we stared to look at Othala like the Swastika with an almost unthinking rejection.
We missed something. I am not saying I have it right, but I have at least the edges of something. We have that fylgja soul part, that inherited portion of the soul that binds after birth. When you have been at this a while, you get the sense of those who take to Heathenry like the salmon take to the stream, they fit instinctively, they ask the dangerous questions, make the connections between the different elements, ritual, lore, community building, feast, hospitality, and personal development as if they already had the concepts they just didn’t have the dictionary for it. We have the corollary as well, those who have a bloodline that may well stretch back to the Volsungs with the depressing vision limitations that seek to take the conservative Christianity they were raised with, and switch Odin for Jehova, Thor for Jesus, Frigg for Mary and carry on as if Heimdall wrote the gospels in Latin.
Sorry to the hard Folkish, but blood doesn’t make you naturally heathen. A huge portion of the original tribes that were Heathen at the time of migration into the European continent are Christian right now, and many follow other faiths entirely or none at all. A portion of those who are interested in the CULTURE of their ancestors and are proud of those traditions feel no call at all to the ancestral practice. It is music they can’t dance too, for it moves them not at all.
What about all those fylgja from all those family lines who took the cross and cut all ties so long ago they actively deny they were ever anything else? What if those fylgja found those whose soul parts were fit heirs to those who had gone before? Whose hugr, whose will and intellect were a match to those who had joined with the fylgja in the past, whose hamingja called to them, whose Mod could learn and apply the wisdom of the older parts of the soul and whose Hugi could tap the wode, the ecstatic frenzy of creation and destruction that is the highest of our gods gifts.
I really do think some people were born to be part of the community. I think it is no accident they found us, not a surprise that we WELCOMED THEM HOME, because we, as communities are wiser than as individuals and we do, on some level know our own. Not all of those who stand in our halls match others’ expectations of who should be here. If Hollywood were to ever cast our leadership in a movie, I seriously doubt any I have served beside would make the cut, but that is because Hollywood sells clean fantasy, not untidy reality.
Inclusive Heathenry is just that, we don’t let other peoples labels decide who fits and who doesn’t. We got that right. Not everyone in the community will stay forever, because we are largely a group of people that exist in an over-culture that rewards conforming to the Christian perceived norm, and to be Heathen is to accept being a salmon that is committed every day to swimming upstream, and not everyone has the drive to find this sustainable, or finds the journey rewarding consummate to the price.
Some of those salmon swimming beside us look African, look Native, look Asian, look Jewish, look Polynesian. All different expressions of everything from gender to sexuality, from politics to diet, ten thousand differences separate us. Maybe, but when you hit the water, you feel the salmon moving around you, you know through those senses developed that don’t rely or even notice flesh, you identify who is and who is not yours, who is of the tribe, of the kindred, of the folk, however you want to define them, and when you leap over the next rock in the rapids you take note that those you felt were yours are beside you, and if not all of them look like other people expect, they are following the call only salmon can hear, throwing themselves into the maelstrom with nothing held back seeking to Return. They are salmon in every sense you are, they are part of the us, where all those salmony looking fish that are sitting in the lake singing psalms are not.
That part of the soul that remembers, that is seeking to return us to a better way of living with each other, a better way of living with the world, with connecting to our dead, and those yet to be born, to live more mindfully, that is what makes us Heathen. That is found where it is found, and how it got there is something the gods aren’t sharing, and far enough above my pay grade to simply accept that it is.
We are each unique individuals. Part of what we are is inherited, part of what we are is chance, part of what we are is experience, and part of what we are is choice. All of what we are is ours alone, and when we die, this unique configuration, this glorious and fragile thing will be gone forever, but our words, our deeds, our choices will be untouched by the death that takes us. We are made of so many parts, both body and soul, that there are doubtless many paths we could follow, many streams we could have chosen, but those who swim beside us today, fighting the current beside us, they are simply us. If others don’t think all of us look equally salmony, I am reassured to note that bears are true egalitarians and are perfectly willing to take each of us as pure salmon as Loki at his slipperiest, and eat us accordingly.
The world is full of bears, the river is swift, the rocks cruel, and there are few enough salmon on the journey, treat well those beside you, learn from them as you can, share with them as you will, and perhaps more of us can return home to our gods and ancestors with the truth that we have begun rebuilding our communities.