Two-Way Bifrost: Conversations about commonalities between Heathenism, Paganism, and beyond.

My blog will be predominantly focused on Heathenism and it's interaction with the broader elements of the PanPagan movement. There is a lot of hostility within Heathenry towards the broader elements of Paganism, though I'm not really sure why. My goal is to address some of that, and build bridges through our commonalities and with a touch of humor.

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Harrison K. Hall

Harrison K. Hall

Harrison K. Hall has been a spiritual seeker for the last seventeen years.  He is a practicing, devotional Heathen, and has also explored various denominations and interpretations of Wiccan, Buddhist, and Taoist beliefs.


He continues to explore philosophy, religion, and mysticism in an effort to better understand the world in which he lives.


 

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I belong to a local, Pan-Pagan group.  I was a member of it about seven or eight years ago, but it was a bit too chaotic and "fluffy" for my tastes.  I didn't end up sticking around for long as a result, but it did good work in the community and meant well, so it's existence didn't really bother me either.  It just wasn't for me, but it served it's purpose.  Recently, the organization went under a fair amount of upheaval and was in danger of breaking apart due to infighting and disagreements. 

It had managed to achieve non-profit status about three or four years ago, so people came forward to try and help repair the damage and keep it alive.  While not the most conservative state in the union, Pennsylvania is hardly what I'd call progressive either.  As such, having a Pagan organization with non-profit status is something worthy of celebrating and definitely provokes some consideration.  Some of the local Heathens were part of the initial efforts to rebuild the organization from the ground up, and informed me of the issues at hand.  I decided I wanted to help as well, which brings us to the moment where I found myself in a county owned recreational center, sitting in on one of the meetings.

At one point, the conversation turned to the subject of how to make events and rituals mutually inclusive and respectful to all people who might be in attendance.  Towards the end of the discussion, an elderly woman of an amicable nature said "We should all stop arguing, and just worship the Earth."  She said this while wearing an expression that suggested she felt that this was so universal of a truth there could be no way that anyone who called themselves Witch, Pagan, or Polytheist could possibly disagree.  It wasn't an opinion, to her; it was fact.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mythology---Dragon---St.-George-fighting-the-dragon.jpgMost of the people in attendance were Wiccans and/or Monists of various philosophies, so she didn't seem to actually offend anyone.  Even my fellow Heathens and I were sort of used to these statement from her, so we didn't really see the point in working ourselves up over the issue.  Getting angry at this sort of person is like yelling at a cloud; it does nothing, and they didn't come from someone who was particularly polarizing.  She's just the typical representation of someone who thinks they're so inclusive that couldn't possibly make an excluding statement.

The thing is, however, that I've seen so many theological arguments come from this exact scenario; someone makes some sort of presumption for all of Paganism, and than they come across someone who believes the exact opposite.  The next step is that the disagreeing Pagan will point out, often times with great offense, that the person is very wrong.  Typically, the person who made the faux-inclusive statement gets defensive, because they aren't bigoted and/or privileged so of COURSE the other person is just being too sensitive, and than an argument breaks out.

We've all seen his exact scenario play out a lot, especially over the last year or two.  I stay out of these fights because, to be quite simple about it, I don't recognize the authority of some fool sitting off on the sideline making proclamations that are less authoritative on a given religion than the content of a Wikipedia article.  Some people, however, don't go by that standard and I can't blame them; when you practice a minority religion, you find yourself bombarded with a rather alarming amount of social faux pas. 

That's putting it very diplomatically to be sure, but it cuts to the core nicely.  Being the target of so many social and diplomatic mistakes, you expect people who also practices minority religions to be more mindful and considerate.  After all, regardless of whether you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Gardenerian Wiccan, a solitary practitioner, or what have you...in many circles within North America and (I suspect) Europe, you are going to be the targets of some similar acts of ignorance, privilege*, and stupidity.  You expect that anyone who is in a similar situation would take equal effort in being mindful of the theology and philosophy of others.

So when that expectation is let down, it's easy to get extremely angry about it.

I am Heathen.  I do respect the Earth, no doubt; there are spirits both animist and ancestral that reside on it and within it, and I do my best to show them the respect and thankfulness my tradition says that they are due.  I do not, however, worship the Earth; that's a word that I direct towards divine figures almost exclusively.  Even with ancestors, the term "worship" is used differently than I use it when I talk about Gods.  That is my path, and no one gets to tell me what it's about or what I should or should not be worshiping.**

You are...well, whatever you are.  Whatever your tradition, path, or philosophy, it is up to you to define your worldview as best as you are able.  In the meantime, for the sake of the Ancestors, Gods, the Earth,or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don't act like your path is mine.  At least, not before we've talked and discovered that together.  Not until you truly know, rather than feel you can  reasonably presume.  Your path does not represent the whole spectrum of non-Abrhamic and/or non-Islamic belief,*** so don't pretend that it does.

You have the right to your beliefs, but that right ends at the beginning of every other person's belief.  No matter then intention, someone trying to unify all faiths across the world into a single thread is going to end up insulting someone.  Probably a lot of someones.  No matter the intentions, it becomes exactly like being told that you are a Satanist because you're not Christian.  Improperly worded or poorly thought out statements about religious unity contain a very similar message; they involve telling someone what their faith is, without their consent or consideration of their person.  Should we be surprised that such statements end poorly when the presume so many things that, in many case, trip over many of our own psychological wounds? 

No matter what you wish to say when it comes to religion, you'll find someone who disagrees.  That is wonderful!  After decades and centuries of religious thought having been homogenized, by legal mandate in some cases, we have the opportunity to form our religious standards, philosophies, and concepts.  In many places in the world, such processes even have legal protection.  We get to disagree on religion, and have that not be a big deal.  We can identify, build, and form spiritual relationships in ways that were unthinkable a few generations ago.  Savor that! 

b2ap3_thumbnail_iStock_prism.jpgThis statement even applies to my Monist friends; even if you feel all paths are one, the wondrous permutations of that one idea are split into thousands of ideas like the light of one sun traveling through a prism.  This isn't a cause for contention.  It is a cause to rejoice!

Even this statement that I am making now will find some who disagree with it, and I'm okay with that.  The person who disagrees with probably will be as well, because I'm about to say one thing; this is how I see things.  I speak for no one else but myself, because I'm the only person I have the authority to speak for.  Everyone else needs to speak for themselves.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.


* I don't like the term privilege, because I think it's counter productive most of the time.  Using the term in conversation with people who don't understand it seems to destroy bridges instead of building them, and I think that's not any kind of way to sew empathy and compassion.  Your mileage may vary, of course.  In this case, we're talking about it in a broader, less accusatory manner....which is where I think this concept works best.

**Well, my Gods get to of course...but that is an entirely different topic...

***I use the dictionary definition of Pagan most of the time; that is, any religion that doesn't come from a Christian, Hebrew, or Islamic background.  Yes, that casts a wide net...but it's about the only consistent definition I can ever find.  Thus, it has become the one I use the most.  My word choices typically favor clarity as a deciding factor, and you can't get much clearer than "this is the definition the dictionary uses the most often".

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • LilithBlackDragon
    LilithBlackDragon says #
    Oh I definitely GOT this article. All of it. Made absolute perfect sense to me. For some reason, lots of people want to shade into
  • Gregor
    Gregor says #
    Your writing is barely coherent. I have no idea what this article was trying to say other than something about an old lady worshi

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Dos-XXX-Guy---Hibernate.pngThose who read a lot of my work will know that the output has been a little bit slow over the last month or so.  For the most part, I cite the holidays, a wicked cold, and a sick three month old for the distraction; it's really a hard time of the year to get anything done when you have a family, and the modern iteration of the black death doesn't help anything.  Those who can read between the lines, however, may have seen an additional factor.

It's funny saying that I felt a little burnout lately, when I consider the size of my body of work.  This becomes doubly true when I see some of the work that others do, which is sometimes both more energetic and more prolific.  Still, that's the only was I can explain how I feel right now, and it wasn't the writing itself that stymied me; it was what I was writing about.  Lately, I've done a lot of work and research on racist influences within Heathenry and Asatru, cross checking the references that the Circle Ansuz articles used when making accusations against the founder of the AFA, looking in to the ideology and philosophy of racist groups in general, deconstructing the Lokean issue, and trying to make sense of a Pagan community that tears itself apart on an hourly basis.

I have no regrets about any of this, because it good work.  It drives me nuts sometimes, but I think it would drive me nuts more to leave it on the shelf.  It would make me far more upset and distraught to do nothing about the problems I see.  There is a beauty to demanding the best of ourselves and never being satisfied with an unsatisfactory answer.  Still, it is not uncommon for me to write half of an article, grow dissatisfied with it, and cast it to the side.  The issues I'm looking at are very complex, and I haven't been happy with what I've had to say or how I've had to say it.  It's been very draining, to say the least.

Important work is often draining work.  I've seen a lot of ennui amongst Pagan writers of all stripes as of late, and more and more I understand their moments of apathy and weariness.  Where once I was confused at the large number of polytheistic bloggers who took a month off from the internet, now I completely understand.  Battering against the shouting masses is rougher than you'll realize until you face it yourself, and keeping your equilibrium is a contest that never truly ends; you just keep going as long as you can until you get knocked down.  Such a war of attrition, in of itself, can be infinitely frustrating.

The trick, then, is to get back up and keep going.  To see these issues for what they are; obstacles, and not conquerors.

The work we do has great meaning.  Every time we are read by Pagans and non-Pagans alike, we are less remote and more accessible.  Every time we sit down to write of our spiritual experiences and beliefs, we make a better network of roads and pathways for those who come after us.  With every word we make things better in some way, so long as making things better is our goal.  Sometimes fights happen, and pointless arguments spring forth from the egotistically bruised or the antagonistically verbose.  These are influences that cannot be truly bested, but they are annoyances that can be endured and ignored at our leisure. 

I'm not going to say it's easy.  In the myriad of shouting voices, it's hard not to loose your way.  Recently, I saw a published writer question their own right to have their voice heard.  It was bewildering, as this same writer was one who I had found a decent amount of inspiration from.  It attacks all of us at some level, and it's important to remember that.

b2ap3_thumbnail_ceiling-cat-awaits-your-devotionals.jpg.pngAs the year closes, I hope that 2014 gives everyone the opportunity to do good work.  Whether that's good work in the form of writing devotionals, investigative journalism, writing about their own praxis, something else, or all of that at the same time.  Most of all, I hope that we all have the endurance to keep pushing through when things get tough.

It's a tough gig going out there and talking about spirituality and religion on the internet.  Much harder than most people realize, and far more challenging than some of us give ourselves credit for.  It's important work, and I'm glad we are out there doing it.

Last modified on
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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

First, allow me to apologize for being out of the loop for about a month. Between Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, and coming down with some mutant offspring of the bubonic plague, writing anything of merit has been difficult. Second, allow me to also apologize for not having any funny memes in this post; I'm still recovering from the cold and I don't feel particularly equipped for humor.  Also, this topic is serious enough that I fear humor would detract from it.  Now, with that out of the way, let's move right along.

On December 21st, Heathens United Against Racism will be holding an international event. Heathens, Asatruar, and Norse Polytheists across the world will be raising scorn poles, or Nidstang, against the undesired racialization and radicalization of our religious paths by extremists. Months ago, the founder of that group, (Ryan Smith) asked if some of the membership would be willing to write anything to spread the message. I was eager to assist, but found myself hard pressed to write something I was satisfied with. After some work and soul searching*, I came up with the following thoughts.

Let's cut right to the chase; the racialist minority in Asatru and Heathenry is a group of disturbed people. There is no other way that I can phrase it, and I do not consider such language inflammatory or inaccurate. There is nothing within the history and anthropology of the cultures that first honored the Norse gods which supports a ethnic supremacy mindset. Tellingly, it also possesses no representation within the myths and tales that represent our religious heritage. With these things in mind, it becomes clear what the catalyst for such a philosophy truly is; fearful and/or angry people projecting their own hatred and biases onto a religion in order to give them the pretension of legitimacy. It a tactic that is ages old, and one which causes no lack of frustration and anger.

It is easy to hate such groups. Actually doing it, however, is a trap. In fact, it's the same trap they've fallen into themselves. I'm not going to go forth and do a stupid thing, simply because my reasons have better intentions. Their hate speech is a language of madness. Within that madness, however, is the best solution they think they have to a problem they cannot properly define. They are dangerous people to be sure, but they are also tragic.

I'd say that the actions of many who think like them come from a need to be the victim, and to not be the persecutor. A need to say, “No, really...everything I do isn't related to some irrational fear that equality will lead to me being treated as some of my ancestors may have once treated others! It's a war, and if I don't fight it the white race will be unable to prosper because of....reasons”.  A need to find a way to believe that such tripe is actually a valid concern. To say otherwise, in their mind, is to promote white guilt.

Allow me to address that.  You see, I'm not a land owner in the pre-civil war South. Further, I'm not a member of the Nationalsozialismus in Holocaust Germany. I didn't hold power in Apartheid era South Africa, nor did I lead Aboriginal Americans to their deaths along the trail of tears. I don't bear shame or guilt for these actions, because I didn't do them. When someone goes to great lengths to legitimize such terrible deeds, they do not appear as men and women who are attempting to triumphantly repeal the march of “Liberal Revisionism” (or whatever the kids are calling it these day); they look like someone who is terrified of being connected to the bad guys. It looks like fear and shame, turned into hate.

So, to such people, I offer a small prayer:


To those who would stand with the Aesir and Vanir,
Yet have lost themselves between Midgard and Ginnungap
Between Niflheim and Muspelheim.
Between Courage and Cowardice
I ask the Gods we mutually stand with,
To stand by you and guard your way home.

When you first stand before the Bifrost,
May Heimdall help you cross and guard you from distractions.

When you stand within the Asgard,
May Thor show you true strength and courage.

When you think upon your past,
May Loki leave your mind unclouded by pretty lies

When you find your heart and head,
May Eir help them heal and grow strong

When you cross into the Gladsheim,
May Frigg smile at your passing and embrace you as her own.
And May Odin show you the true wisdom of the nine realms.

And when you pass some day,
As both cattle and kinsmen are wont to do,
May Hel give you the peace of your greatest moments,
And let time and eternity wash away the worst.

I hail the Gods you worship.
I hail your ancestors.
May it be that someday I can hail you as well.

...
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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Huffington Post recently got the chance to compare Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Oprah Winfrey, which already lets you know that things have gone off the rails. The short of it is that each of these people took someone and projected their own religion upon them; Dawkins and Maher projected Atheism upon President Obama and Pope Francis (I wish I was kidding) respectively, while Winfrey projected a vague sort of theism onto her guest, Diana Nyad (an Atheist). The article goes on to elaborate upon how crude such presumptions are, no matter their intention. Assurances of “no really, you're the same as me!” may be spoken with a mindset that is complimentary, but the reality is that it just ends up as a subtle insult.  It leaves their religious viewpoint up to consensus rather than the dictates of their own soul.

Respect for the religions of others is, like many things, easy to talk about but much more complicated in practice. It's easy to stumble without meaning to, and modern Paganism has a pretty unique stumbling block that seems to effect people on all sides.

An interview with Larisa Hunter over at Northern Runes Radio revealed that she has just started her own publishing company (Saga Press). Part of her reason to start this venture, she said, was that that their was a few issues in communicating concepts with her previous publisher. “Working with a Pagan publisher, I did find it difficult to convey that Heathenry was different and it had to be expressed in different ways.” she said, “”A lot of the terminology is not the same, so putting generic terms in a Heathen book doesn't work. So that was my frustration; it was butting heads [because] they didn't understand that Heathenry had specific terms for specific reasons and we like those terms.” (This part of the interview occurs between 5:10 and 5:40, though the entire video is worth watching.)

I suspect the disconnect that Larisa is referring to is quite common. It certainly finds a level of comparison when contrasted against the actions of Dawkins, Maher, and Winfrey, though it comes from a much more benign place in my opinion. The modern Pagan revival really came into it's own in the 1990s partly because it was good at finding similarities and common ground.  Many historical and modern Pagan paths had a strong tradition of syncretism. It is true that some less scrupulous authors used the zeitgeist of the time to publish poorly researched works and turn them into a paycheck, the desire to find similarities and build connections was still a noble one. They learned to take a look at the spiritual actions of many separate cultures, compare the commonalities between those actions, and than make something new from the complementary elements.

This makes it easy and sensiable for some people to look at the Heathen practices of Spae-work and go, “Oh! That's just like our techniques for ritual magic!”. If you know someone who practices Spae, have them read the previous sentence. Watch the expression that they make. I'll bet you a dollar it isn't a pleasant or pleased one.

Yes, it is a form of magic, but it's not the same as yours. Some of the conceits of Spae are much different from the baseline of ritualistic magic work that exists today. This is the point where I suspect those who specialize in the mystical practices involved in chaos magic, Kabbalistic techniques, Gardenerian Wicca, and other traditions are nodding their head. The things which drew some of us to these particular practices were their unique structure and beauty.  For those passionately drawn to such work, seeing those sacred and ineffable differences disregarded can be painful if not downright insulting.


a1sx2_Original1_Gaston-and-Magic-with-a-K.pngThis is not a judgment of Eclectic Paganism, but rather highlighting a diplomatic pitfall that can occur easily. Looking for a commonality to use as a bridge between the paths of two very different people is not a weakness; it's an act of unity. The problem isn't with the comparison itself, but rather in how such a comparison is made and presented. To provide another Heathen example, Galdr could be compared to many different forms of ritualistic chanting and/or singing. Galdr certainly is a form of such practices, but it follows it's own rules, it's done for specific purposes, and is performed in it's own ways. The differences have equal value to the similarities, because those differences are what have created our traditions and paths. Recognizing the similarities is wonderful, but discarding the differences in the process is throwing out whole chunks of what some of us have spent our lives trying to understand and embrace. This isn't a one way street either, as I suspect that those of more reconstructionist based methodology are equally guilty of actions that are equally crass and marginalizing.

What is at work here is no mystery, as it represents a huge part of how humans develop socially.  Both as individuals and as cultures, we are dawn to seek the ties that bind. Finding similarities and connections is not wrong, so long as we go about it in an intelligent and respectful way.  That's the good news here; the mistake is easy to make, but it's even easier to avoid.

Don't say “Oh! That thing you do sounds exactly like this thing that I do. They must be the same!” Your never going to know if it's “exactly like” your own practices, so don't presume.  Instead, use it as a doorway to a better understanding. “That sounds similar to my own practices. Are you familiar with them?” or “In my tradition, such things are called “X”...what else can you tell me about your methods?” Instead of whitewashing those meaningful differences away, you've given a chance to give them the attention and recognition they deserve. At the same time, you've built that same bridge through commonalities and reinforced it with respect. Lastly, you've opened yourself to learning about the ways of another. You've lost nothing, and gained much.

Tolerance of religion isn't as easy as it sounds. To be truly tolerant you don't need to grasp only your own concept of acceptance, but the concepts of others. There are no easy answers, and most rules of thumb will find a way to bite you in the rump more often than not. The only guideline I've found that hasn't let me down is, fittingly enough, the simplest one of all.

If you want to know more, simply ask a question. It's surprising how much further we get with questions than with statements.

...
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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Yes. Yes.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

My name is Harrison Hall. You might know my writing from the work I at "Kvasir Amongst the Gods" over at Wordpress. A few months ago, one of my fellow bloggers suggested that I apply to write over here at Witches and Pagans, as she thought my writing style would be a good fit. I did so, and I was graciously and somewhat surprisingly accepted. This process took about a month. That neatly brings us up to the present.

That's not very interesting. Feel free to pretend that the month of processing was actually a cover so I could go forth and battle an army of genetically enhanced velociraptors that were trying to take over the world. You're welcome.

My blog at Wordpress is about my religious views, but the scope of such writing tends to be all over the place. That's not accidental, as I enjoy having the ability to just let loose with whatever thoughts or ideas I feel needed to be shared the most. When I was asked to select an area for my W&P blog to focus on, I decided to write about something that is close to my heart and has been coming up more and more over the last few weeks. The various denominations and interpretations of devotional, polytheistic, Paganism have always struggled with getting along with one another. This seems to be especially true when it comes to Heathenry and Norse Polytheism. I don't like that.

...
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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    As a soft-polytheist I commend your sentiments, Harrison. Thanks, also, for taking care of those genetically enhanced velociraptor
  • Harrison K. Hall
    Harrison K. Hall says #
    Well, you do what you can...both in terms of interfaith diplomacy and dinosaurs.
  • Heather Freysdottir
    Heather Freysdottir says #
    Yay! So happy to see you here.

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