America is culturally Christian. This affects us even if we didn’t grow up practicing the faith. Without exposure to other worldviews, Americans risk carrying Christian dogmas over into Heathenry. The first step to avoiding this is to recognize what components make up Christianity that are not found in Heathenry:
In her dissertation, Visualizing the Transition Out of High Demand Religions, Summer Anne Myers of Loyola Marymount University describes a High Demand Religion as follows:
“Religions can be described as high-demand when they involve high time and resource commitments; emphasis on leadership, orthodox belief, and scriptural inerrancy or literalism; and strict behavioral codes including rules of diet, dress, tithing, education, sexual practices, media and technology use, language, social involvement, and marriage.”
Christianity is a high-demand religion whereas Heathenry is not. The spiritual practices of the Norse people didn’t answer to any greater institution, scripture, or Holy Book. The beliefs of the common people and the decisions of its practitioners drive its appearance instead.
Christianity is dualist. It’s rooted in concepts like Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil, Chosen vs. Unchosen, and Reward vs. Punishment. Because we can see this in greater American society, it’s easy to assume other religions have similar concepts, and this concept can make (and has made) its way into Heathenry if not examined.
Heathenry, on the other hand, is pluralist. There are thought to be multiple principles behind reality. These are viewed in context with one another, as opposed to within the context of some sort of divine mandate regarding that thing’s nature. This allows for the existence of multiple different truths.
Heathen beliefs were passed down orally, varied from region to region, and were never codified. As far as we know, the Norse people did not have cultural scripture. This is the nature of Heathenry as a decentralized religion.
Lord/Servant Dynamics with Divinity
God/Devotee relationships in Christianity exclusively have a Lord/Servant dynamic. This dynamic places an emphasis on:
- Humbling yourself to God
- Placing God above all
- Risking God’s anger if you don’t
Heathen relationships with the Norse Deities can take on many dynamics, all of which vary from person-to-person. Additionally, Heathen practice is not done to glorify the deities, but instead to give you a sense of personal fulfillment. Suffering for your deities is not considered a virtue in Heathenry.
In Christianity, life must be lived in such a way to guarantee passage into Heaven. This is not found in Heathenry, which is a life-affirming religion. Heathens don’t need to do anything special to receive a good afterlife. How Heathens view the afterlife is a matter of personal views, and Heathen practice is not centered upon the need to appeal to the divine to get a good afterlife.
We naturally resent situations we had no say or control over, no matter how mild that situation was. It’s not uncommon for people to come to Heathenry who carry resentment form a previous Christian upbringing. Christian resentment and Christian trauma are very real and both deserve proper space and attention. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be thrown off with conviction alone; there’s a lot of unlearning and relearning to do. Patience is needed.
While being angry is part of the process, defining Heathenry by how it not Christian it is can keep people from finding the spiritual connection they seek out in Heathen practices. Reputable Heathen resources will define practice this as separate from Christianity, not in opposition to it. Heathen spaces and resources that have unhealthy attitudes toward Christianity may do the following:
They define Christianity as the enemy of Heathenry
Not only is this inaccurate, but it’s also potentially dangerous. With time and the right influences, this sense of “enemy” can be broadened to include other so-called “enemies” of Heathenry, creating the exact same “us vs. them” thinking found in Christianity. No one deserves to have their resentment co-opted like this, so be cautious of groups and resources that have this narrative.
They are based in trauma-bonding
Trauma-bonding is the act of connecting with others over shared trauma and resentments. While trauma deserves to be spoken about and understood, it can be hard to move past that trauma if it gives you that sense of belonging in a group. You’d lose cohesion with the group if you moved past that trauma.
They compete with Christianity
Heathen spaces and resources may try to “out-faith” Christianity by casting Heathenry as a religion that competes with it, sometimes by emulating elements of Christianity in a Heathen way. This can perpetuate Christian-style dogmas and beliefs in Heathenry, just rebranded with a Norse flare. The following section discusses what some of these things look like.
Examples of Christianized Heathenry
Some attitudes found in Heathenry derive from Christian thinking. A few examples, and their origins, are as follows:
“Magic is bad.” – Jehovah’s Witnesses
Magic is a very normal part of Norse Pagan and Heathen practice. Not all Heathens practice magic, but it’s not at all taboo to do so; it’s an exercise of our agency and life-affirming praxis. Heathenry has many different kinds of magic.
“The gods are above us / the gods are not concerned with us.” – Catholicism
The gods are deeply involved in the everyday lives of Heathens, as opposed to being distant and absent. Additionally, Heathens can connect and interact withe the deities without the need for a mediator. No priest or holy text is required to find connection with our gods and goddesses.
“You will displease the gods for being human.” – Protestantism
This goes into the concept of sin, which is the belief that certain profane actions can push you further away from divinity. There is no such thing as sin in Heathenry, and that’s because Heathenry is animistic—the sacred and the profane are the same.
The use of holy books to understand the gods. – Catholicism
We don’t need, let alone have, holy books in Heathenry to interact with the gods.