I’ve always considered myself, within heathenry, to be a heathen–just a heathen, nothing more specific, nothing more defined. (I’ve heard that some heathens have an issue with multifaith folks who count heathenry among their practices; maybe I am just fortunate in the people I have met, but this hasn’t been my experience so I’m not going to address it here, apart from mentioning that I decided years ago not to use the word “Asatru” to describe myself and that was one of the reasons.)
I tend to prefer an Icelandic model and I tend to relate best (within the heathen context) the gods in their Scandinavian form–Thor, Odin, Freyja and Frey and so forth. (I’m a pretty hard polytheist but the Thunor/Thor et al. line is one I find a bit hazy.) I have a greater comfort level with the Vans and those of the Aesir who don’t mind a less structured approach, and am particularly fond of Sif and Skadhi; I grew up surrounded by woods and fields and gardens and I think that sort of thing affects a person. And although I think the heathen gods are pretty approachable on the whole, I do tend to be a bit more formal with gods like Tyr and Heimdall and Forseti and Frigg. (I am seeing a theme. Are you seeing a theme?)
Anyway, for my own use would I sat down and came up with this little list, where I put myself on various scales:
Formality: Low to Moderate
Ritual structure: Moderate
Woo level: Low
UPG level: Low to Moderate
Lore level: Moderate to Moderately High
God focus: Moderately High to High
Community focus: Moderate to High
Nature focus: Moderately Low
Is there anything I left out?
Paganism, they say, is a nature-based religion. It’s one of the primary identifiers, one of the things that’s always included in “What is a Pagan” articles and lists. I think it’s one of the reasons some pagans and polytheists specify that they are “devotional” or “god-focused,” although most nature-based pagans I know don’t actually worship nature per se, rather honoring nature and worshipping nature-focused deities. (Not that there’s anything wrong with worshipping nature, of course, although some use the term “nature-worshipper” as they would use the term “idol-worshipper,” dismissively and pejoratively implying a literal and simplistic lack of understanding.)
Hey, I like nature. I grew up in the country, playing in the woods and fields, climbing rock piles, digging in the dirt. We always had a garden (I still remember the green zinnias I planted in my own little plot as a kid). As an adult I am more of an “indoorsy” person–camping’s uncomfortable, and fires on the beach don’t provide a lot of warmth once the sun goes down–but I still love my rosebushes and am awestruck by the northern lights in winter.
But as far as location goes, nature is not the focus of my religion. And yes, I am deity-focused. But the place where my faith resides is my home.
As a semi-reconstructionist polytheist, I don’t necessarily adhere to every single aspect of historical practice, but reciprocity is a principle that I hold to absolutely. A gift for a gift. The responsibility of host to guest and of guest to host. “I give that you might give.” Ghosti.
The role of exchange in building relationship is something a lot of folks seem to take issue with, and it is certainly a thing that can be done in a bare and contractual way–but if that is what you are doing, you are missing out.
Every relationship–every one–has some element of exchange to it.
The existence of the exchange confirms in some way the worth of the relationship.
There is no such thing as something for nothing.
(As a side-note, years ago, when folks would try to convince me to sign up with their church, one of frequent selling points was the claim that what their god gave was “something for nothing,” that what he gave was given with no strings attached. That, of course, was untrue. That whole “no other gods” thing is a pretty big string. After all, if someone offered to be your friend, but only if you had no other friends, while they maintained similar relationships with any number of others, would that seem like a good deal? Not all Christian religions take this approach, of course, but enough do that this was not a one-time experience.)
An offering is not a bribe. It is not buying favor. It is a single piece of a relationship.
I will confess that while I have a long-standing relationship with heathen gods, and a sometimes working relationship with Celtic gods, there is a special place in my heart for the gods of that bit of Europe where the boundaries between the two were particularly unclear.
Tribes are tribes, Celtic and Germanic, but there was at a certain time a lot of back and forth. Similarities in style of worship. Similarities that sometimes reach the point of sameness–all those statues of the Matronae, sometimes clearly identified as Celtic, sometimes certainly Germanic, sometimes of uncertain origin.
Interpretatio Romana helped this along but cannot account for it all, and surely not for the sheer scale of it.
There’s also the dearth of information–much of what we do know is from the archaeological record. Some is linguistic, some is extrapolated from cultures with a greater (or any) mythological tradition.
But what it comes down to, for me at least, is that the line is finer than we sometimes think between what is Celtic and what is Germanic.
Which, for me, works out pretty well. I can see where the mileage on this would vary.
“Which is your favorite god?”
I am pretty tolerant of questions from folks who are not pagan or not polytheistic, but that one always stumps me.
There are gods I am closer to than others, yes.
There are gods I relate to more easily than others, yes.
There are gods I am more comfortable with than others, yes.
But a favorite? That’s like asking me which is my favorite child–I really, truly, genuinely do not have one. The very concept makes no sense. Which is my favorite thing, air or water? Food or sleep? The sea or the sky?
No favorites here.
One of the things that drew me first toward paganism was that faith was not required. As a likely-related note, one of my issues with Christianity was the focus on faith–the need to believe. Belief is not a thing you can force, or a thing you can choose. It is there or it is not. Faith is there or it is not.
So the notion of a religion based on practice–on things that are under your control–was huge for me.
Ten years down that road and suddenly, the faith was there. (Thank you, Aphrodite.)
Funny how that works.
I am, after all these years, still pretty good at keeping to my daily devotions.
Every day, I pray to the Norse gods, twenty-two of them. Every day, I pray to the Hellenic gods, also twenty-two (I am open to adding in either case but have not yet felt the need). Every day, I pray to Zeus, to Aphrodite, to Hekate, to Brigid, to Hathor and to Bast.
My daily devotions have expanded over the years, but I have kept to them for probably a decade or more.
Daily devotions quickly become habit, and although I’m not particularly organized in general I do manage to maintain them.
Now, non-daily devotions are another matter. Monthly and weekly observations just don’t seem to stick in that same way. Seasonal rites are easier but still don’t become such an integral part of my existence. Sometimes I manage well with calendars, but at other times I do not.
I’ve long thought that had to do with the fact that while a daily observance becomes automatic–if you go to bed without doing it it doesn’t feel right, so you quickly learn not to forget–other rites lack that consistency. But lately it’s occurred to me that a daily devotion (the ones I do, in any case) tend to have a direct, personal quality, perhaps because of the frequent contact. I suppose it’s something to think about with regard to non-daily devotions and rites as well.