Reading the Lore in Heathenry
I’m recycling a piece I wrote last year for my polytheist.com column because I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately on lore and how I think we should be approaching it as Heathens. (carefully and with a grain of salt generally).
Now anyone who’s read my work knows that I have significant issues with the way mainstream Heathenry and Asatru utilize the lore. We’re not religions of the book. We do not have revealed scripture as part of our theological foundation in the same way that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the average Heathen group. We want our devotional insights and damn it, we want them to conform to lore too despite the fact that positioning lore as any type of religious authority is a deeply flawed premise to begin with,and for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that much of it was written by Christians). Not to mention our ability to interpret what we do have tends to be limited by our comfort levels and imagination. One might say, for instance, that there’s no evidence for possessory work or godspousery in the lore. There actually is, but we tend to interpret it out, because those aren’t things that fit nicely into our landscape of “modern” religion. (Yet another reason to reevaluate what it means to embrace a “modern” perspective).
There is, however, a way to use lore effectively to deepen one’s devotional practice and Heathen identity. In a way, we’re reverse engineering things. As I said in my article:
“In a way, we’re having to do now, what the very early Christians had to do in order to grow their faith. It’s ironic, this role reversal, but it struck me during my reading the other day: early Christians developed their monastic traditions and powerful traditions of interiority and prayer because they had to worship in secret, or at best in small groups away from the public eye. It wasn’t until later, once they’d gained political power that they were able to effect large churches and public spheres of worship (and oppression). First, there were small groups, and individual prayer. This made the hunger for texts, I would think, all the more powerful. If i can’t be celebrating my God with a group of my co-religionists, then allow me to summon that community, and the presence of my God to my memory by reading stories and accounts that we all share in common. Let the absence be filled by memory evoked by engagement with the text. Let me engage with my community –spread out and hidden–in a unity through that very absence as it were. Now, Christians are everywhere (everywhere *sigh*) and it is the polytheist contingent that meets in small groups, often quite spread out, and perhaps — i’m speculating here–we also find ourselves deferring to written texts for prayer and meditation more than our polytheistic ancestors may have done, ancestors for whom the core beliefs of religion were contained and transmitted via intergenerational household and social practice. They could see their religion and veneration for the Gods reinforced all around them. We who don’t have that, depend much more on written media. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.”
For more of my thoughts on this, as well as specifically my suggestions on how to utilize lore in a way that furthers devotion instead of narrowly blocking it, read the full article here. (it’s free).
Polytheism.com is the only pan-polytheist forum currently in existence today. It is a meeting place for multiple polytheists from a variety of traditions, where necessary theological work is being done. Check it out here.