When I was on a plane to Texas, I was seated next to a very chatty seventeen year old. In between randomly making assumptions about substance use (I’m generally sober, thank you), and incorrectly guessing my age by ten years (to be fair, nobody cards me) she asked me what I was reading. Or trying to read, really. Because she was that chatty.
I told her I was reading a translation of the Poetic Edda. Since nobody who isn’t Heathen or super into mythology to begin with knows what “Edda” refers to, I explained that this is one of the main sources of Norse mythology. She still didn’t know what that meant, so I said, “well you know, like, stories about Odin and Thor and Loki and them.”
That finally clicked for her, and I scrambled to specify “it’s not like the Marvel movies, though. This is a religious thing for me.”
Her response was “wait, you can do that? That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!”
By disclosing my practice, I had achieved two things:
- Challenged the idea that pagan religions are dead, non-existent or inferior.
- Challenged the stigma surrounding Heathenry as base and hateful, because I was peacefully sitting on a plane and making the effort to educate somebody.
Visibility of pagan practices is important. I believe in the gods and teachable moments.
This idea that our faiths and our gods are dead leads to a lot of things. People assume nobody has a personal or cultural investment in these deities and their stories. And then they assume it is therefore okay to take these and bend them to their own wills. This leads to miseducation, insulting portrayals, and exploitation by people with a malicious agenda.
Because the general population assumes we don’t even exist, they don’t know enough to separate assumptions from actual practice, and those who are only vaguely aware don’t have the background knowledge necessary to differentiate extremists with an ahistorical agenda, from decent human beings who actually value the gods and the good we can all do for each other.
I’m not saying to go screaming it from the roof tops. It is not always prudent or even safe to open up about your practices, but doing so has a positive effect when it’s well-timed. I used to hide my hammer because I thought it was more “polite” to do that. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable, knowing that this symbol has been bastardized for the past 80-odd years.
But I realized I was missing out on valuable opportunities to let people ask questions if they recognized it. I was allowing the face of my religion to be the louder and more dangerous contingent. I now make a point of being really, really obviously Heathen while being a decent human being. It shouldn’t be a big deal. In a better world, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But we’re not in that world yet.
There’s a wide variety of tactics available, and I know there are some that work better for other people. Setting a good example and being open to questions is what I’m capable of at the moment, so that is what I do.
Setting precedents is important.