Heathenry Has Standards * whines *
Today a reader sent me a blog post (which was rather old) wherein a self-described feminist complains about all the things that’s wrong with Heathenry. When I stopped laughing, I decided I should address some of the points therein. Now, I know some of y’all send me obnoxious news articles and blog posts to wind me up and that’s ok. I read and file most of them but every once in a while, something will dovetail with an issue I want to cover, or will skirt along the periphery of something that is worth addressing so here we are. Keep the articles coming.
I deleted the email after I read it this morning but several points stuck in my head so I’ll try to recap them here:
Our intrepid blogger complained that * gasp* Heathenry has an “unspoken code of hierarchy,” and an expectation of deference to those with more experience, and also– oh holy gods, no! —the expectation of “obedience to protocol.” Well yes, cupcake, it does. That’s how religious traditions function. You don’t come into a space expecting it to change to accommodate you, especially when you know nothing of the tradition, it’s Gods, or the proper protocols for approaching Them; and yes, experience and specialist training should be respected. Every asshole might have an opinion but all opinions are most definitely not equal. Those protocols you find so horrific? In a healthy tradition, they are a living architecture that allows for safe and respectful engagement with the Holy Powers. These things are the precise building blocks of a tradition. You don’t get to do what you want. There actually are rules. I know that’s hard for you but it’s not actually oppression, sweetie. You are always free to leave, which I hope you have done.
Heathenry celebrates “honor, generosity and” horror of horrors “the family.”
Why yes, we do, because not only are those good and positive things, but they are the very things necessary for a functioning tradition that lasts for more than one generation. What sustains a tradition is inter-generational transmission of its tenets and protocols. Beyond that, since when did families become bad things? They are the building blocks not just of civilization but of society too. A tradition that doesn’t respect the family isn’t one that’s going to last very long, not in any cohesive, evolving way. We have plenty of examples of that in those weird, early American religious movements that were anti-family and anti-sex. How many Shakers do you know now?
I think honor and generosity speak for themselves as being virtues worth cultivating. I’m not quite sure what the problem was there, though I can surmise that this person went into a group and started demanding special accommodations to her way of doing things, accommodations that struck those entrenched in their tradition as impious, unnecessary, and foolish, and that she had a hissy fit when she was expected to behave herself accordingly or leave. That’s not lack of hospitality on the part of the host. Hospitality goes two ways: there is the hospitality owed from host to guest and that owed from guest to host and I’m guessing the blogger had no concept of the second. (Of course, one thing I suggest for handling visitors and newcomers: detail an experienced member to be their chaperone. Then they have someone to whom they can direct questions at appropriate times, who can guide them through expectations and protocols because suddenly being dropped in a religious group with established traditions can be intimidating, and in any group, there ARE unspoken rules. It’s unfair to expect people to abide by them if they haven’t been properly introduced, or if these things haven’t been made clear. It helps if newcomers have someone they can turn to. I also, when I lead rituals, carefully go over all the constituent parts and expectations before we begin. I want everyone on the same page – and not every Deity has the same protocol so it’s good to recap for everyone’s sake. I assume nothing from those in attendance. We all have off days after all, so I prefer to err on the side of caution and go over things carefully).
The unhappy feminist blogger also complained that we Heathens have a sense of inangarð and utgarð, things founded in “misogyny, hubris, and apathy.” I’m not sure what cognitive leap our intrepid feminist has made here in linking these things, but apparently, a tradition having the power to choose who is part of that tradition, a group having the power to make decisions of who is a good fit based on many things including ability to follow sacral protocols is a horror. Look, traditions have protocol and if someone comes in unwilling to follow those protocols, with no intention of abiding by the cultural expectations of the group, someone who is also persistently disrespectful to the elders of that tradition or group, then that person will be shown the door and not invited back. Knowing who we are as a tradition, differentiating ourselves from other traditions, and holding a firm boundary that says: “that is your space. You do you over there. This is our space and here, this is what is expected” is a good thing, one that supports sustainable infrastructure. We’re not anarchists after all, neither religiously nor socially. We have a right, furthermore, as morally aware human beings, to remove someone who is violating consent, personal space, or behaving sexually inappropriately (esp. around children), etc. You might get removed with a shotgun you pull the last thing there in many Heathen groups, but you’ll be rightly removed.
Now, one area where I do think the author has a point, is that men do assume that they have a right to de facto leadership within Heathenry and female leaders are exposed to continual “vicious criticism and subtle demands to step down.” Yeah. I’d say in many respects that is absolutely correct, but what the author never wants to address is that this happens in many cases, because other women don’t back those female leaders; or other women are the ones perpetrating the bad, anti-women behavior. Rather than support a female leader, all too often women side with the men (I can’t help thinking about a conversation my husband stumbled on several years ago where women were urging men on in making sexually violent suggestions about me, involving a horse and a shotgun stock. It never occurred to them that if they were to one day act with integrity and/or shake up the status quo that they’d be turned on just the same. This happens ALL the time). So yes, I agree, Heathenry has a problem with female leadership – less now than thirty years ago when I first became Heathen, but it’s still an issue. I also think there is a certain dismissive disrespect for Goddesses Whose area of warrant is the home and household arts. There is talk of women who focus on these things being respected but they do tend to be respected only when they remain functional and decorative. Let them step up into the leadership roles our foremothers enjoyed and there is deep dysfunction and discomfort in the majority of Kindreds (I might be somewhat biased here in that I came out of Theodism where this is the worst – women happy in domestic spheres may not immediately recognize this, but if your work involves anything else, if your sacred Work involves anything else, good fucking luck).
And yes, I’ve seen hospitality terribly lacking in many Heathen settings and the hypocrisy of that grates. Thing is, the same places where I encounter that, I also encounter a deep hostility toward devotion, or in fact, toward anything that doesn’t resemble Protestant style worship. I think it comes not from “patriarchy” or “misogyny” but from the lack of a coherent tribal mindset, and * that * comes from not yet accepting the deep divide between polytheistic values, including Heathen ones, and the moral degeneration and disconnection of modernity.
The very things this blogger was complaining about are the very things integral to any healthy, sustainable community. Consider that.