A Facebook friend recently sent me a link to this Tumblr exchange between an anonymous querent and Sian, a self-described “25-year-old queer girl from England. Scientist, feminist, Heathen & devotee of Odin, Sif & the Morrigan.” I generally avoid Tumblr, but since this conversation name-drops me and raises a few interesting questions, I decided to respond here.
Why are there no PoC Heathens? Is Kenaz Filan right when he says that Odin has a covenant with white people?
I have known several devout Heathens of Color. Given that most African-Americans have a significant percentage of European ancestry, I see no reason why a person of color might not be called by White as well as Black Ancestors. Neither am I given to telling Gods who They can and cannot choose. Wotan is an eternal Traveler and an eternal Strategist: He will go to far-off places and call upon strange Folk if it suits His purposes. I believe the Gods of Europa have a special relationship with Europa and her Children: I do not believe it is an exclusive one. But that being said, few non-Whites seem interested in Heathenry and most Universalist groups are as lily-White as any Folkish Hof. (“We welcome people of all races — or we will as soon as any show up!”)
Several factors may be in play here. Despite enormous PR efforts, many still associate Heathenry with White Supremacism. This stigma almost certainly discourages many People of Color from exploring further. Much “anti-Racist Heathenry” is intended not to aid oppressed minorities so much as reassure fellow Whites. It is unclear whether many of the loudest “inclusive and tolerant” Heathen organizations are reaching out to minority communities or working to make them feel comfortable within their groups. People of Color may feel that acknowledging the Gods of their European ancestry is an affront to their African roots; they may believe White culture already forced enough Gods on them; they may simply be reluctant to honor Ancestors who raped their ten-times-great-grandmothers and saw their nine-times-great-grandparents as property rather than kin. But whatever the reasons, Heathenry remains largely a White thing. A 2016 survey by Hugin’s Heathen Hof (a Universalist group) found over 90% of 500+ responding Heathens claimed European descent.
As far as “covenants” go, I suspect the querent was inspired by this quote from an earlier blog entry on Wotan:
Anime and Manga have done for Shinto what Marvel and Disney did for Norse mythology. “Abrahamic” faiths have taken inspiration from YHVH and his scriptures, for better and (often) for worse. But despite all this the Kami have a special relationship with the Japanese; the God of Abraham and Isaac has a special relationship with the Jews; and Wotan has a special relationship with the people of Northern Europe and the European Diaspora where they are called “Whites.”
Covenants are part of the Abrahamic faiths and have no parallel in Northern European lore. The Gods of northern Europe weren’t just deities, they were Ancestors. Thralls, farmers and warriors each traced their lineage to Rig (Heimdall): the Yngling kings of early Scandinavia believed themselves children of the God Yngvi-Freyr (Frey). The Northern Gods didn’t need ritual covenants or sacred texts: They lived in the blood, breath and sinews of their Folk. (A similar relationship exists between the Kami and the Japanese people: Japan’s imperial family claims descent from the Goddess Amaterasu).
Covenants are written contracts preserved in Scriptures. Pre-Christian Germany and Scandinavia had no Holy Books comparable to the Bible or Q’uran: they had no Popes or Caliphs controlling their theology or their rituals. The idea we must agree on a canon of “Lore” is a post-Christian anachronism, like the idea we must make no distinction between slave and free or Jew and Greek in our spiritual communities. There was considerable variation in religious practices between clans and between regions. Our pre-Christian Ancestors preserved the practices passed down to their tribe and let neighboring tribes preserve theirs.
Indeed, I would argue that the need for political orthodoxy is a relic of the One True Faith which burned our sacred groves. There is no reason why Folkish and Universalist Heathen groups might not coexist and agree to disagree respectfully. Efforts to root out “racism” from the Heathen community and to shun all who claim the Northern Gods were Ancestral deities rather than World Teachers look uncomfortably like heresy-hunting.
From Sian’s response:
And, frankly, even if there were [no Heathens of Color] now, that would be no barrier to anyone choosing to follow heathenry. One of our most treasured values is hospitality, and as far as I’m concerned, anyone of any ethnicity or nationality is welcome to sit at this table and drink to the Gods with me. What ought to matter most to any right-minded heathen is whether our fellow heathens treat others with compassion and respect, not the colour of their skin or where their parents were born. [emphasis in original — KF)]
“Hospitality” is owed to strangers. Wayfaring strangers should be greeted with courtesy and respect: travelers should be welcomed at your table and given lodging. In return those guests are expected to behave well; to offer labor, gold or other recompense to their host; and to leave before overstaying their welcome. Becoming a member of the clan and joining the innengarth was another and altogether more difficult matter. That was a privilege, not an entitlement. Friendly strangers might be welcome at a Blot so long as they behaved properly: they might salute their Gods and the Gods of their hosts amidst much feasting and mirth. But afterwards they would go home to their Ancestral lands and Ancestral Gods: only a very select few would put down roots in the chilly Northern soil and raise their families as members of the tribe. That being said, each chieftain ruled over his community and each tribe decided for itself the conditions of membership. Sian is welcome to define her innengarth as she sees fit: so too are other Heathen groups.
All I can say is, I am white – from Northern Europe specifically – and I am an Odin person and I know of no such covenant. It smacks to me of someone’s ideology informing their gnosis, and not the other way around.
No covenant here, folks: I don’t speak on behalf of Odin or any other God. I believe that the Gods of Northern Europe were Ancestral deities of the northern European Folk. There have definitely been Gods whose worship crossed ethnic and geographic lines. The Romans imported Isis from Egypt, Cybele from Phrygia, Mithras from Persia, and an entire pantheon from Greece, among others. Yet they never erected a temple to Thor or dedicated a grove to Odin. Neither, until very recent times, did anyone else outside of Scandinavia or Germania.
Of late much “ancestral work” has been reduced to burning a white candle and saying a few soothing words about those who came before you. To honor the Ancestors is to honor your ancestral Folk; to see yourself as part of a process that started long before you were born and will continue long after you depart; to preserve the culture passed down to you by your forebears and to make a better world for their and your descendents. And the Gods of Northern Europe, like their Folk, were far less concerned with rituals than deeds and far more concerned with results than intentions.