WARNING: LONG POST.
Like many Heathens, I grew up as a Christian. Some of my earliest memories involve going to church with my mother at the local Baptist church. I was always too shy to involve myself with the youth groups or Sunday school; instead I would sit with my mother and listen to the preaching. Often the preacher would speak of how God of Abraham had proven the idols of the Gentiles and the pagans to be false gods, and how they were constructed by man out of ignorance. At the time, I thought nothing of this; I accepted what I was told by my family as well as my community: Jesus was real, I did not wish to burn in Hell, and God should be one’s primary focus in life.
My first real exposure to anything pagan came through Scooby-Doo of all things. In one of the straight-to-video movies, “Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost” specifically, witchraft and Wicca were touched upon, albeit in a very dumbed down manner. I had no idea what either of these things were, so I turned to my mother. Looking back, her response was odd considering that she, at the time, was a very strong Baptist. Her response was along the lines of, “Witches and Wicca are/were misunderstood and considered evil, despite doing good things.” However, my mother would also talk about how they were worshipers of Satan and would do his bidding, so I never had a definite viewpoint on them until much later in life. Next I was exposed to mythology, specifically Greek and Norse. We read several child-friendly versions of Greek myths from our textbooks at school. At the time I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, these gods and goddesses seem much more god-like and worthy of worship compared to Jesus. Do people still worship them?” Around the same time I discovered a book on mythology in my school’s library. It was a compilation of various world mythologies, but touched heavily on the Greeks. Towards the end of the book, it talked about various end-of-the-world myths. It was there that I was first exposed to Norse mythology. Obviously it was dumbed down to be child-friendly, but the myth of Ragnarök terrified me as a child, so much so that I never checked out that book again.
As I grew older, I stopped attending church except for holidays such as Easter. My mother and I became what I’ve seen referred to as “lukewarm Christians.” When I attended I still listened attentively to the preaching, however the only real reason I was there was to please my mother and to be able to eat some of the church food. As time drew on, however, even that wasn’t enough to compel me to go. I began to fake feeling sick or having headaches to avoid going to church. I didn’t feel drawn to it anymore; church had become a chore and a bother, and I sought to avoid it no matter what. Around this time I began to become skeptical of what I had been taught as well. Was God real? Why did he never seem to hear me or answer my prayers? Was there really an afterlife? I began to ponder all of these questions, and avoided discussing church or God with family and friends. This mild skepticism soon blossomed into full blown atheism. One day I got into a fight with another boy. He claimed that I had been talking to his girlfriend, despite me not even knowing the girl. Some of his friends gathered around me before the fight began, and one of them told me, “You’d better pray to God before you get your ass beat.” At that moment a revelation came over me: I didn’t believe in God anymore. Even if I did pray, it would go unanswered. So I did what I felt was best: I said, “I’m not going to pray, because I don’t believe in God.” The other kids were dumbfounded. How could someone not believe in God? This realization blew their minds, as well as my own. After a moment, one of them called me out for “disrespecting Jesus,” and then they beat the shit out of me.
After that event, I felt as if some invisible shackles had been loosed from my mind and body. Unfortunately for me, however, there was a drawback in regards to my statement of disbelief: my family almost found out. I didn’t know how they would react. My grandmother attended church very frequently, and though my mother had not been attending very often, I didn’t know how she would feel if she knew her son was no longer a Christian. I did my best to cover my tracks; I went to church again, acted as though I was still a Christian, and pretended to pray. They didn’t know it was all just an act.
A year or two passed, and I took an interest in Wicca. I purchased several books on the religion, and even took to wearing a pentacle. I never told anyone what I believed in, but when asked I would affirm my disbelief in the Christian god. To my family, however, I continued to act as a Christian. My interest in Wicca was short-lived, and I resumed my prior stance of atheism after a short time. At this point in my life, I loved music: specifically heavy metal and power metal. One band that I listened to frequently, Dream Evil, had a song titled “Kingdom at War.” One of the lyrics in the song is as follows: “We’re riding on the wings of Odin.” I knew of Odin from Marvel’s comics and movies, but I realized that I didn’t know the actual mythology behind this mysterious figure. So I did what anyone would do: I opened up the Wikipedia page on Odin.
I delved more into Norse mythology, quickly discovering that there was much more to it than I had been exposed to as a child. After a while of reading, I came across the Wikipedia page on Heathenry. My interest skyrocketed as I was presented with the attempted revival of the Germanic people’s pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices. I quickly decided that this was a religion that I was interested in. I went on Amazon and purchased a Thor’s hammer pendant, and began wearing it underneath my shirt. At this point, I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into. I found it easy to swallow the idea of multiple deities, and I found the lack of emphasis on an afterlife to be strangely comforting; the whole dichotomy of Heaven and Hell was something that I struggled to believe in when I was Christian.
I’ll admit it: I had no idea what the heck I was doing at first. I had a pretty big misunderstanding of our relationship with the gods; while I was first starting out, I approached them as if we were “best buds.” I talked to them throughout my day, as if they were omnipresent and caring, much like the Christian god is said to be. I didn’t realize the weight of my words, and made promises and oaths to the gods freely and without second thought. I viewed Valhalla as a sort of “Heathen Heaven,” and sought to join the army in an effort to die in combat and gain entry into Valhalla. I thought that having a patron deity was important, and decided that Odin would be a good one. For a time I considered getting a valknut as a tattoo, as a way of showing my devotion to the Valföðr. As for blóts, I had no real idea of what exactly a sacrifice was. I thought it was fine to simply pour out some soda to the gods and everything would be good. I neglected my ancestors, and completely ignored landwights and housewights. Needless to say, I was being a pretty bad Heathen.
About two years ago, I began to actually understand. I realized that our gods do not have the same attributes commonly applied to the Christian god: they are not all powerful, nor are they always present, and they are certainly not all perfectly good. I began to understand the meaning behind oaths, and the importance of upholding one’s words. I began to understand the complexity of any potential afterlife, and realized that Valhalla is not somewhere that one should desire to end up at. I realized that Odin was not a god that I wished to have dealings with, and that patron deities within Heathenry aren’t really a thing (at least not in the common understanding of the term). As for the valknut, I realized that so little is known about the true meaning behind the symbol, and that it’s frequent connection with death and warriors was not something that I wanted marked on my body. Sacrifices weren’t as simple as pouring out a Coke for Thor; whatever is being given up should value invested in it, and should be given up in such a way that it is unrecoverable. I came to understand that my ancestors are the reason I exist; without their past deeds, I would not be alive today. Landwights should be respected, and one should build a symbiotic relationship with housewights, so that both may benefit from one another.
This brings us to today. I’d like to think that along the way I grew in wisdom and knowledge, but instead it feels as if I have spent more time shedding any baggage I carry rather than learning. I’ve transitioned from a more spirituality-focused Heathenry to a reconstructionist view, in an effort to do things closer to the way they were originally done. That’s not to say that I believe everything must be done exactly as it once was; on the contrary, there are some things that I feel are impossible to revive, or that they are impractical in today’s society. Ultimately I feel that we must look to the past in order to build a future for modern Heathenry, without completely ignoring the fact that society has evolved beyond its tribalistic origins. My journey has brought me to where I am today, and it is one that I will continue to trek for years to come. If you’ve made it this far down, I applaud you for your willpower; this post has taken multiple days for me to type, and I am sure that it shows. Nevertheless, I thank you for your time spent reading this. Hopefully my words have made some impact.