Not all Heathens are academics, but we all want to develop a fulfilling practice. For most, that means learning from books, articles, and groups. But how can we be sure a resource is credible? And how can we separate the useful from the dubious? Fortunately, discernment is pretty easy once you know what to look for. Here are some signs that your Heathen resource may be dubious:
It Lacks Source Transparency
Some Heathen resources will dive into “How to be a Heathen” without mentioning where their information comes from, which can dupe you into believing it’s something it’s not. A transparent resource will acknowledge its information’s origins, whether it’s from a person’s personal practice, a living folk tradition, reconstructed from old texts, etc. This can be done through citations or disclaimers. Should you throw out resources that aren’t open about their origins? Not necessarily. But it does means you can’t fully trust what that resource is leading you to believe.
It Frames Heathenry as a High-Demand Religion
A religion can be considered “high demand” if it involves any or all of the following:
- Intense demands of time and resources
- Emphasis on leadership
- Orthodox belief
- Scriptural inerrancy or literalism
- Strict behavioral codes including rules of diet, dress, tithing, education, sexual practices, media and technology use, language, social involvement, and marriage.
(Myers, Summer Anne, “Visualizing the Transition Out of High-Demand Religions” (2017). LMU/LLS Theses and Dissertations. 321)
Not all religions act like high-demand Christianity. Heathenry, with its origins in folkloric practice, isn’t inherently a High-Demand Religion and is not required to look like one.
It Conflates Healing from Christian Trauma as Heathen Practice
Trauma caused by Christianity is very real and deserves proper attention and space. However, it’s not a cultural staple of Heathenry, nor is it even an experience shared by all Heathens. A good resource will help you foster an identity wholly separate from Christianity, not in direct opposition to it.
It Suggests Heathenry has a Certain “Look”
I’ve rarely seen a resource state it’s the “one true way”, but some will definitely talk as though they define what all of Heathenry is, or at least their sect of it. In reality, Heathenry varies between groups and has pretty much always done so…and the values of one group do not define the values of all Heathenry. This is why pulling from multiple sources and authors builds a stronger foundation for your practice than using just one.
It Contains Morally Questionable Content
A part of me is baffled I’m even writing this, but you’d be surprised the kind of unethical nonsense authors will parade around, from endorsing pedophilia, to unequal deity-practitioner dynamics, to spiritual abuse, to appropriation from other cultures, and more. This goes for all paganism: Mystical experiences are not a “Get out of Jail Free” card for accountability. You’re allowed to hold authors accountable if their content is questionable.
It Enforces an Apolitical Stance
Since political disagreements may cause conflict in public communities, groups sometimes adopt a “no politics allowed” policy to keep things peaceful. Why would this be dubious in Heathenry? A few reasons:
Modern Heathenry’s origins are entirely political
The foundations of American Heathenry are political, whether we acknowledge it or not. The Germanic Völkisch Movement spawned the first iterations of American Heathenry, Odinism, and its offshoot, American Ásatrú. Depending on the group policy on politics, banning political debate can prohibit discussing Heathenry’s roots and how they continue to affect American Heathenry.
This policy can hide and protect white nationalists in Heathen groups
Because of modern Heathenry’s origins, it attracts more white nationalists than most other spaces. White nationalists benefit from apolitical groups because the “no politics” policy protects them from disclosing their beliefs, and likewise prevents other group members from discovering them. This results in a situation where marginalized group members cohabit the same space as white nationalists, which can be extremely dangerous.
This policy enforces a specific kind of political stance
“Apolitical” is in itself a political alignment. This stance values taking no sides and maintaining the status quo. In group settings, this means placing the group status quo over the needs of members, if those needs disrupt it. Rather than create political neutrality, it creates political conformity. It also promotes the idea that “true heathenry” is apolitical in nature.
It Turns Heathenry into a Strictly Academic Practice
The opposite of lacking source transparency is the idea that a valid Heathen practice is one built ONLY upon historical or “pre-Christian” evidence, applying even to UPGs. It makes academic prowess the proof of faith, rather than practice or even belief itself. It also discredits modern Heathen practices and lineaged Heathen practices that were passed down from historical ones. Academia itself isn’t bad, and academic papers are some of the most reliable sources on Heathenry out there. But anyone treating academia as the source of legitimacy for a Heathen practice is operating off of a standard not required in Heathenry.
It Preys on Your Quest For Significance
Many people come to paganism seeking personal significance. Dubious resources, groups, and people may try to take advantage of this in order to indoctrinate and exercise undue influence. Here are some signs that point to this intention:
- They claim or imply that other groups/people/systems don’t recognize your spiritual significance, but they do.
- They claim or imply you’re superior, “chosen,” otherworldly, or superhuman in some way
- They point to characteristics of neurodivergence (“dreamy,” “creative,” “odd,” etc.), mental problems (hallucinations, personality disorders, etc.), or the existence of trauma (“the world made you suffer because you’re superior”) as evidence you carry an otherworldly status. For example: Literally every “How to tell you’re a Changeling/Otherkin” quiz.
- They claim you can realize your full potential through them
- They tell you everything you what you want to hear, affirming your every hope and never challenging your assumptions
- They promise desired results with no downsides
- The group claims they are “like a family”
- They reinforce narratives of “us vs. them” (i.e. “it’s us against the world, and we’re the good guys”)
- It’s considered rude, inappropriate, or bad to challenge the resource’s authority or expertise
- You learn to depend upon that resource/person/group/system to feel significant
- Your significance is based on whether you meet expectations, requirements, conditions, or prerequisites (i.e. “A true Heathen is a Heathen who has Scandinavian heritage in his blood”)
- Your feelings of significance will immediately dissolve if you leave
You can read more about undue influence at Dr. Steven Hassan’s website.
It Contains White Supremacist Dogwhistles and Virtues
We knew this one was coming. Let’s take a few examples for a speed run:
- Emphasis on bloodlines/heritage/race
- Revisionist views on History
- The Nine Noble Virtues
- Claiming Heathenry is a closed religion
- Implies a shared experience of whiteness
- Emphasis on War Culture
- Glorification of Ragnarok
- Glorification of Valhalla
- Obsession with Vikings
- Idealization of Odin, demonization or pointed absence of Loki
- Chosen vs. Unchosen, Us vs.Them narratives
- Innangard and Utangard (requires context)
- Folkish, Völkisch, “the Folk”
- “Metagenetics”, “Blood and Soil”, “Heritage not Hate”
- Social issues are “politics” and “politics don’t belong in Heathenry”
- The Black Sun
- SS Symbol
- The Triple Horn (logo of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a hate group.)
White supremacy is a real issue in Heathenry, and dogwhistles have become so subtle that many can be written off as harmless or unrelated to white supremacy…which is exactly the point.
Ask yourself this: Does the book, group, or resource state or imply that white people have lost their pre-Christian roots, and that they can reclaim them through the brotherhood of Heathenry? If so, then you have found the introductory narrative of white supremacy.*
Remember that a trustworthy resource on Heathenry will not prey on bitter feelings you may have coming into Heathenry. Instead it’ll give you the room and tools to build your practice regardless of where your come from or the religion you were previously in. Your inherent worth and wellbeing are important and should not be leveraged against you.
The front-line defense against white supremacist sources is Googling the author of your resource. A few popular and easily-found authors out there are active white supremacists, and even if a book of theirs doesn’t talk about race, their ideals bleed through their works.
*As a side note, many pagans turn to family origins to inform their path, including people with ancestry in Nordic countries. Just because someone comes to Heathenry this way doesn’t automatically make them a white supremacist or a sympathizer. The narrative only begins to darken when everything is conflated with a notion of “white heritage” that uses bloodlines as a measurement of legitimate Heathen practice.
That being said, this article is not suggesting you should point out the white supremacist red flags in other people when you see them. Rather, this article is meant to help you identify when the narrative tries to prey on YOU. Regular people aren’t equipped to reverse radicalization in other people, no matter what point it’s at, and trying to do so will do more harm than good. It’s truly best to simply stay in your lane and not go poking the bear. Please exercise good personal discernment in all situations.