Yes, I'm a Heathen

Names are funny things. They are somehow never quite enough, but they can be so powerful (and at times rather convenient!).

I've never been much for labeling myself, though I have often experienced others' attempts to label me. I remember a peer in college calling me a "hippie," and being pretty confused as I was wearing J. Crew at the time. Come to think of it, once in high school I was wearing a flowing brown dress and jeans while attending a public event, and a stranger scolded me for being a "fake hippie" because I was drinking a Sprite (apparently sugary, corporate beverages don't jive with earth-based free thinking). I thought it was funny at the time. I never was one for being boxed.

In the realm of spirituality and religion I also never had a place to speak of. I appreciated a lot of aspects of Christianity (and was christened in a protestant church as a baby), but wasn't really a Christian. Neither was my Catholic-born mother, who said that growing up in southern Italy, the Catholicism was more of the "pagan" variety. She ended up leaving the church as a young woman as she felt a disconnect and did not abide by the subjugation of women. That said, she does not hold any negativity toward Christianity, and I, in turn, was not raised with any residual distaste for the religion as a whole. Still, I felt most at home in earth-based, indigenous systems, however I also never felt that I belonged, culturally-speaking. That mattered to me - the concept of cultural appropriation (even at a young age when I didn't have the language to describe it). Thus I always felt a deep longing for a sustenance I couldn't quite grasp.
Spiritist/Ancestral altar space
I married a Cuban man who was raised in the religious context of Santería. Over the course of the many years we cohabited, the orishas became part of my life, quite organically. I never had an intention to involve myself in the religion, but it nonetheless entered in to the fabric of my life, and the orishas/santos grew to become members of my family. Ultimately I was formally initiated into Santería though the reception of my warriors, collares, and ikofá (Mano de Orula). And it was through Santería that I came to connect viscerally with my own ancestral gods and goddesses.

In Santería, ancestor veneration is a fundamental cornerstone of religious practice. I began to focus on my family lines, and eventually I started to wear a mjölnir along with my collares as a symbolic tie to my roots. I feel quite sure that Elegua brought me to the door of my own ancestral deities. I am grateful. It was in the exploration of ancient Germanic religion that I found the deep well I had been searching for.

As a kid, my paternal aunt would often brag about our "Viking ancestors." My dad's family came from southern Denmark and the North Frisian island of Amrum, a small, sandy patch of land in the North Sea by the border of Germany and South Jutland. I was born on a Wednesday during Yule, and even as a kid always felt subtly drawn to Odin. In 2013 I had two dreams that made the connection more visceral and conscious for me. The first was about what felt to me like Yggdrasil:

There was an impending sense of doom, like the world was ending. Everyone was taking cover, and rather anxious. As people were leaving the town center, I was walking toward it, and I ended up face-to-trunk with a great, pale tree.  I sensed it was very old, and dying. I knew I had to knock on the trunk, though when I did so, the world might end.  But I had to knock, and so I did.  When I knocked on the trunk, it was simply like the sun rising. Nothing ended, nothing died. The tree was simply reborn. 

The second was interestingly symbolic:

I was sitting (at night) at a gathering, wondering who I might connect with, or if anyone would like me.  Then I saw a guy, blonde, kind of Vikingy, with a necklace. I held the necklace in my hand, and it was very native American, beaded in various colors, almost in a sharp horseshoe shape. As I went to the guy it changed to metal/chain, but in the same form.  I felt very connected to this, like I was remembering part of my identity.  I felt the fierceness of a warrior, and knew that I would be the person running toward the battle rather than away from it.  As a woman.  I felt the connection to the Norse/Viking people, my ancestry.

I wrote this up over four years ago, and I want to take a moment to clarify the fact that I am not attached to "Viking" culture or lifestyle. The activity of "viking" was a bit more like a rite of passage for primarily young men during a very specific (and rather narrow) period of history. Yes, I suspect some of my ancestors were involved in that, but I am far more interested in the broader, deeper, wider reach of pre-Christian Germanic spiritual belief and practice, which isn't limited by a period of time that doesn't even manage to span three hundred years.
These dreams were little catalysts that brought my awareness more profoundly into the context of who I am, and how I am connected to this vibrant ancestral thread. Over the years I read the Eddas and many of the Sagas, and opened my heart to the gods and goddesses. A year ago I had this dream (one of many I've had about ravens over the years):

I was standing in a mostly empty bedroom on the second floor of my mother's house, and it was daytime. A large black bird came to the windowsill and I couldn't tell whether it was a crow or raven, though its beak shape led me to think it was the latter. As I watched it, it called to me. It didn't speak in a human voice - it was definitely a bird-like utterance - but it clearly said, "Come here." At the same time it nodded its head toward the window, and the combination of its voice and gesture was an unmistakeable beckoning. I walked to the windowsill and saw that he (the bird felt masculine) had brought me an eyeball. I was supposed to eat it, and naturally this was slightly off-putting. I picked up the eye to examine it, and found that it wasn't really human; perhaps animal or some other creature. I carried it with me to a convenience store where I thought it might be easiest to simply swallow it down quickly like a pill. I couldn't find a drinking fountain, but I did eventually find a sink with a short faucet that was partially hidden. When I released some of the liquid into a cup it was orange-colored. I thought it was rusty water, and poured it down the drain. But then I realized that it was hot, and that it was actually tea, not rusty water. So I refilled my cup. I carried it around the store not consuming it because I knew it was too hot to drink down the eyeball with - it would scald me and the eyeball would sit in my mouth longer than I'd like. Eventually the dream ended and I don't recall having consumed the eye, though it was certainly on my agenda. 

Nom! Eyeballs! But you know, quite interesting as far as symbolism goes.

I never found a "name" that felt quite right until I came consciously to Heathenry. "Heathen" is often misunderstood either as a joke, or as a person who doesn't believe in (the Abrahamic concept of) God. I've received both responses when mentioning it to acquaintances, and sometimes enjoy (kindly) refuting the misconception. There are even some practitioners of Germanic paganism that don't like the label. That's perfectly okay.

The term "Heathen" encapsulates my identity as a person who engages in pre-Christian Germanic spiritual practice and belief, while still being broad enough not to stuff me into an ill-fitting box such as "Asatru" (though I certainly respect that that term feels right to some people). It feels appropriate to describe the way in which I experience a visceral sense of "wildness within." It connects me to my ancestors, which fulfill me and ground me in this earth.

Yes, I am Heathen. I consider that I have always been Heathen, I just didn't always have a name for it.


  1. Just wanted to write that I recently discovered your blog and am very much enjoying it. Devotion to Odin's grandson, Forseti, has led me into a deep interest in all things Frisian (funnily enough, I don't actually have any immediate Frisian ancestry that I know of, though). Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful blog. Best wishes and have a wonderful week.


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