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Is Heathenry a two gender system?
A response to a question about this “Heathen Problem.”
Also the one about the prose Edda delineating gods and goddesses? Why is that a problem?
Aha, this is actually one of mine, so I can confidentially answer for it!
The fact that the Prose Edda delineates Gods and Goddesses isn’t really a problem in its own right. It’s an organizational choice reflecting the culture from which it emerged. In fact, the acknowledgement of multiple genders among the Gods was one of the things that initially appealed to me about this path. As a child, I was endlessly frustrated when my Christian family claimed that their god was beyond gender but continued to refer to him exclusively as male. The fact that the Eddas make room for multiple genders in the divine world is great!
But the problem arises when modern heathen groups take this model and use it to justify misogyny and cissexism. Assuming that everything can be divided into distinctly male and female energies with specific characteristics that reflect their binarism is not only horribly backwards, but also unsupported by the text itself.
Yes, Snorri begins the Prose Edda with a list of Gods and a list of Goddesses, but then he moves right along to Loki turning into a mare and getting knocked up. Later we have the story of Idunn’s capture, which ends with Skaði assuming a warrior role and claiming her “prize” from the Gods while Loki entertains Her with some good old castration humor. In the Poetic Edda, we have the memorable crossdressing episode of the “Þrymskviða” and Odin practicing seiðr in the “Lokasenna.”
Even the Goddess list itself problematizes the idea of distinctly “feminine” qualities. Sure, we see Asynjur like Eir embodying those nurturing aspects that modern pagans love to attribute to feminine forces, but we also have Goddesses like Var dealing with the “masculine” world of oathmaking. There are Goddesses in various heathen traditions that have nothing to do with nurturing, fertility, magic, or frithmaking. How can we even try to fit this diverse group into one idea of femininity?
Yet in spite of these counter-examples, as well as the fact that the Eddas are NOT an universal heathen Bible, I have seen many people trying to justify their bigotry by using this text. I see this happening in two forms: aggressive delineating of gender roles and implicit assumptions of a gender binary.
Some of the more conservative heathen groups expound upon the “values of the traditional ‘heathen’ family,” which ends up looking remarkably like its conservative “Christian” counterpart. Men are the defenders and breadwinners while the women keep the home and hearth, and anything the diverges from that model is looked down upon. I have heard it said that “Ásatrú lets mean be men and women be women,” but sadly it can be used to make rather than let them perform these identities. We don’t even know to what extent this “separate spheres” thought was present in traditional heathen cultures.
If a female-identified individual doesn’t want to be a frithweaver, nobody should be able to tell her that her gender, or GODS FORBID, her sex, dictates that she must be one.
Also problematic, but often overlooked, is the implicit assumption of a system in which everything can be categorized as distinctly male or distinctly female. This movement smacks of first wave feminism, and is rampant not just among heathens but in every other modern “pagan” community I have encountered. What might initially seem like a sex-positive and equality-affirming system actually reinforces ideas about gender and sexuality that are horribly exclusive to certain members of the community. As a GNC asexual, I hate being told that the whole world can be reduced to the sexual union between the “feminine” and the “masculine.” I don’t think it’s fair to force any human or Deity into a binarist prison.
Whenever pagans start going on about the nurturing spirit of the Goddess found in each and every womyn-being, I just smile, call Loki my “Mother Goddess,” and watch the sparks fly.
I fully admit to being the stereotypical liberal queer Lokean, and I realize that not everyone is going to agree with me or even accept my right to these opinions. But Heathen Problems exists to present different perspectives, and this is my perspective.
I’m not going to deny that there are some moments in the Eddas where gender is characterized in a very conservative way. I have made a few posts recognizing this, particularly about ergi and marriage politics. But I also must insist that there are other instances where gender is not so cut-and-dry. Yes, the Prose Edda divides the Deities into Gods and Goddesses, but much of what follows ends up looking like a big BUT* problematizing this very distinction. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I have to roll my eyes when I see heathens ignoring the blatant inconsistencies entirely.
All that aside, no amount of reconstruction should ever justify outside powers infringing on someone else’s body, identity, or civil rights. But that is another topic for another day.
Okay, so basically all gods are as “bullshit” as other gods.
If you believe in Thor, that’s no more or less ridiculous than believing Christ is your savior, or that there’s a blue fella with multiple arms acting as both a creation and destructive force.
Of course people have personal experiences that make us believe one over the other, or none, but without those personal experiences, like to a child or a person who’s never heard of any of it before, they are all pretty much as ridiculous sounding as the others.
So it really makes me mad when people consider Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or whatever legitimate religions, but if you take the time to explain what Asatru is they just go “lol people actually BELIEVE that stuff? That sounds stupid.”
Like hey bro, my one eyed wanderer with a pair of crows isn’t any more ridiculous sounding than your bearded dude getting middle eastern jews to birth white boys who are also just himself, so why don’t you get off my nuts and have some fucking respect.
If you’re going to value one religion, or view it as a “legitimate” faith, then you better not be laughing off the smaller ones just because less people hold a candle for them.
That’s some fucking bullshit right there.
Those troublesome ancestors?
Response to a question regarding this “Heathen Problems” submission.
Could you elaborate on that one about the ancestors?
Of course! But unfortunately this was an anonymous submission, so I can only really guess at the intentions of the original poster. I have encountered several other people who grapple with this issue, however, so I am going to try to explain that perspective here and hope that I am somewhere near the mark.
Several modern heathen groups stress the importance of ancestor worship. Reconstructionists note the importance of family/familial community in various Northern European examples. Some heathen cosmologies likewise support this supposition through the inclusion on ancestral deities, like the Matronae of Rhineland Germany, and ancestral protective spirits, like the disir of Old Norse lore. Generally speaking, the more “folkish” an organization is, the more likely ancestor worship will play a prominent role in their practice. Sometimes they idealize an individual ancestor or a collective “spirit of the folk” and explain that they are reviving these religious practices in honor of them.
While this idea might be appealing to some, for others it presents a variety of problems. Aside from the fact that so many of us have ancestors who wouldn’t agree with our choice to be heathens, some of us also know of ancestors who did less than desirable things in their lifetimes. For example, my great great grandfather was a member of the KKK, and I am very ashamed of that. Other heathens I have met have to deal with “scumbag” ancestors that they personally knew, such as abusive grandparents. But it’s safe to say that somewhere in everyone’s family line there was someone who really fucked up in one way or another. Of course those people don’t deserve glorification.
In light of that truth, some practitioners hit a wall when it comes to the subject of honoring ancestors. Thus it becomes a “heathen problem.”
If I were actually presented with this problem as a question submission, I would suggest rethinking the grounds on which we honor. Our modern society is very “personality obsessed,” but there are ways to appreciate someone’s contribution without idealizing their personal choices. Regardless of what our ancestors did in their lifetimes, they still prepared the way for us to come into this world. Our fate is intertwined with theirs in some way. They may have passed some of their strengths along to us, and perhaps they even remain interested in our well being after they are gone from the world. You can thank them for those things without excusing their failures or treating them like their spirits are superior to those of other families.
For me, honoring the ancestors is a part of being thankful for my life. It is remembering everything that led up to my existence in this world.
Hey hey. How are you? I’ve been Asatru for quite a while (although I practice it alone, since it’s VERY HARD to find a kindred in brazil), but while browsing your tumblr I saw a few things I did not quite understood. One of them is the idea of having a “patron” and a “matron”. What is that all about?
Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about the patron thing, either, having never practiced any “pagan” religion aside from Ásatrú, but I’ll share what I know and hopefully it clears up some of your questions!
As far as I can tell, the concept of Deity patronage was present in some of the world’s polytheistic traditions, including but not limited to the religious practices of Ancient Greece. For example, in the Oresteia Aeschylus describes Apollo as Orestes’ patron. I am not a Hellenist and my knowledge of classical Greek religion comes almost exclusively from literature, so I cannot say for certain whether or not the practice was widespread.
However, we also see “patronage” as a concept in Roman Catholicism, possibly stemming from its presence in the pre-Christian traditions of Rome. Of course, in Catholicism we have both the patronage of entire groups of people (children, sailors, the lost, etc.) and the personal baptismal and confirmation saints. The first category resembles the practice of Deity cults found in many polytheistic traditions, whereas the second looks a bit closer to what modern pagans call “patronage.”
In any case, some of the mid 20th century Neopagan movements, particularly Wicca, picked up the practice (probably from Greek literature) and ran with it. It seems most common for Wiccans to have one male patron and one female patron/matron, representing an aspect of the God and the Goddess to which they feel closest. Of course, there are those who have multiple patrons, only one, or who change patrons throughout their lives. But I think the logic behind it is basically the same.
Anyways, I’ve already rambled a lot without really explaining what a patron is! Sorry about that. A patron (in Neopaganism) is:
A deity to whom one feels particularly close. One may feel that s/z/he has been chosen or called by that Deity, or that s/z/he was the one who did the choosing. In either case, that person will often do special devotions to that Deity or Deities, have specific altars dedicated to Him and/or Her in their homes, wear amulets or other symbols associated with that Deity, etc. etc. A patron can be interpreted as one’s “in” to the other Gods, like a go-between who looks out for your interests (such as in the case of Orestes) or, as I said, an aspect of Deity to which one can easily connect.
Up until this point, I have been talking in terms of other paths. However, patronage is also a bit of a “hot issue” in Reconstructionist Heathenism, at least on the North American side. (It seems that the situation may be somewhat different in Brazil, and I’ve personally never seen it come up among European heathens, either!)
I feel that this has happened in North America specifically because the vast majority of people come to Heathenism via Neopaganism. I actually wasn’t one of those people, so I had to do a bit of homework on the topic, as well!
Anyways, the main point of contention in North American Ásatrú, at least, is whether or not patronage/fulltrui/etc can be supported by historical sources. (I say Ásatrú here, but it also occurs in Rökkatru. I have not seen it to the same extent in Theodism, Fyrnsidu, or Urglaawe, but perhaps I just overlooked it!) There are a few cases in the Icelandic sagas of people who were specifically called by certain Deities and we know that Deity cults, at least, were a thing. However, as I said, the widespread popularity of the practice seems to come from Wiccan interpretations of ancient Greek sources, so it can be a murky issue in Reconstructionist circles.
Because the Reconstructionist approach to Deities is different than Neopaganism, patrons are interpreted differently when they appear in Heathenism (i.e. not as an aspect of Deity but rather as an individual Deity). However, the practice itself is very widespread here. People choose to make binding oaths to Deities and/or take titles like Odinswoman or Lokisman to express a particular closeness to a God or Goddess. I suppose I am a Lokis(wo)man in some manner of speaking, though I haven’t made it final through oath yet.
As long as one understands the serious nature of swearing such an oath, I personally see no problem with it. I don’t feel that it is particularly Reconstructionist, and I definitely don’t think it is necessary to be “called” by a Deity before one starts to honor Him or Her, but I see no harm in the practice’s existence, either. I think what it really boils down to is one’s past religious influences and what one feels most comfortable doing in his/her/zir personal devotions.
Oh man, I hope I haven’t horribly butchered anything with my shot-in-the-dark approach to history here. If so, my sincerest apologies! D:
Testing out tumblr saviour.
Turns out you can whitelist stuff, so if I want to see stuff about Loki (which of course I would) but not stuff about Marvel’s bastardisation, I can add tags to a whitelist and see those posts.
Unfortunately while “mythology” and “Norse” work well, “god” does not. Apparently some jerks are tagging their Marvel stuff with “god” for some utterly bizarre and unhelpful reason.
It also officially does not work if there are no words in a post and people don’t actually tag their shit.
SO TAG YOUR SHIT.
I mean it was fine for a while but it’s reached the point where my dash is like 70% Avengers and I’ve reached my personal limit.
So we were talking about women’s rights in class last week and some lady said that God made woman from the rib of Adam to serve man and that the “Declarations of Sentiments and Resolutions, Senenca Falls” was “a bit whiny. Was life really all that bad for women back then?”
Fireworks ensued. Viciously worded fireworks. This is the same lady that insisted that God has a purpose for all of us with a self-righteous smile.
I have to lead a class on multiculturalism with her as a teaching partner.
And she doesn’t know that I’m a queer feminist earth-worshipping heathen. But she’s inevitably gonna find out.
Let me just get all sorts of chill on for this class.
All of the chill.
Like I’m fine with people believing in whatever helps them sleep at night… but don’t preach to a class about it. I don’t tell people to go commune with nature and reach out to their spirit guide(s) and try astral traveling. That would be offensive and awkward. I’m not looking for a debate with this lady, but if she tells me to consider the word of God… I’m going to react in an unnervingly calm manner.
Because that’s how Capricorns roll. We’re like volcanoes in the tundra.
One week old!
Aw! Such a young blog, and so full of problems already. LOL
A huge, huge thank-you goes out to everybody who has followed this blog, on Tumblr or RSS, and everybody who has suggested new and exciting “Problems”. :-D
I’m going to sound like a dick but THAT IS FRICKING AWESOME. When you say Celtic pantheon are we talking Taranis and Cern the Hunter and Sulis? Either way, wow. And what’s Asatru?
Took me a moment to realise you meant Cernunnos, welp (I haven’t heard him referred to as Cern before, sorry). Interesting you should mention Sulis because her worship was local to Bath, which is where I used to live, and she was associated with the goddess Minerva after the Romans settled there, so there are depictions of Sulis/Minerva all over the place. I digress.
Yes, that is what I mean, but my mother’s patron goddess is Brighid.
Asatru is a name given to Germanic Neopaganism. I’d try to explain it in more detail but I think someone would come along and tell me I’m wrong because I’m a n00b.
Which makes me think, most people who are into Asatru are all ‘Odin!’ or ‘Thor!’ or (controversial but currently very popular) ‘Loki!’ and I’m just sitting here in a lonely corner like ilu Freyr.
Oh also, you don’t sound like a dick at all! I like it when people are interested, haha.