It is one of those "cardinal rules" of Asatru, that "Heathens do not proselytize." This has always left me with this impression that we, as Heathens, aren't allowed to tell people about our religion, and we certainly can't tell them that our religion would be better for them than whatever they are doing now. And this impression is reinforced by the occasionally warnings I will receive that I am either dangerously close to proselytizing or outright proselytizing. But, let's get a little deeper into this issue.
I wrote an essay on "Raising Awareness of Heathenry Among Normal Folks" that discussed various methods we could use to educate non-Heathen members of our Folk about our Gods and our Ancestral Ways. It is located here on the blog.
And very recently wrote an essay called, "Your Ancestors Were Heathen...," that explained to any non-Heathen members of our Folk, that regardless of their religious beliefs, it is interesting to note that their Ancestors were Heathen. It explained that modern Heathenry is attempting to reconstruct our native Folkway. It is located here on the blog.
These are the kinds of essays where I will occasionally receive the knee-jerk reaction from some Heathens, suggesting that what I am suggesting is "proselytizing," and that we as Heathens should never proselytize. Usually the person suggesting this, goes further and suggests that proselytizing is something that Christians do...and it is one of the reasons they are no longer Christian. And it is implied that I'm crossing a line that should not be crossed.
MYTH #1...PROSELYTIZING IS A DIRTY WORD
First off, let's look at the definition of the word "proselytizing." A proselyte is "a person who has changed from one opinion, religious belief,sect, or the like, to another; a convert." And to proselytize is "to convert or attempt to convert as a proselyte; to recruit."
The word itself is very simple and straight-forward. It is the simple act of trying to convince someone to come over to your side of things. It is most often used in relation to religion, but it can also be used in relation to politics, debates, business meetings where sides have been drawn over an issue, etc.
Now many people read all sorts of other meanings into the word. Pushiness. Manipulation. Fear-Mongering. Threats. Passing Judgement. "Quoting Scripture." Bothering People. Insulting People. But these meanings that we often seen read into the word, have more to do with HOW someone proselytizes...the methods the employ...than it does with the actual meaning of the word.
There was a time when nearly all of our Folk were of our Folkway. But that time was taken away from us. Modern Heathens are but a very small percentage of our Folk, with the vast majority of them being Christians, Agnostics, or Atheists. Most of our Folk don't even know they have a native Folkway as a religious option. Most of them don't even know Heathenry exists. We should communicate to non-Heathens who we are, how much Heathenry means to us, and how well it works for our families and ourselves. I feel it is my obligation to let non-Heathen members of our Folk know about our Gods and our Ancestral Ways. I personally didn't even know Heathenry existed, until I was 37 years old. We must do better than that.
Now, that doesn't mean we should be pushy, manipulative, fear-mongering, threatening, or bothersome in our approach to these non-Heathen members of our Folk. We should be honest, straight-forward, and simply provide the information that our current Christian-dominated culture has completely suppressed.
MYTH #2...EDUCATING PEOPLE WILL OFFEND OR CHASE PEOPLE OFF
First of all, our ancestors were not a quiet, meek people, constantly worried about stepping on someone's toes with a contrary opinion. They didn't constantly bite their tongue for fear of offending people with the truth. And I won't do it either.
I'm not suggesting we run about telling people to be heathen or they "will go to a fiery Hell." I'm not suggesting we scare people with fearmongering that they won't see their beloved family in the afterlife, if they don't convert. I'm not suggesting we tell people they are evil or reject them from our lives because they are not Heathen. I don't think we should fire people from jobs or ruin their careers because they aren't Heathen. We as heathens, don't do anything that even slightly resembles what we hate about Christian proselytizing...the form of proselytizing with which we're almost exclusively familiar.
I'm talking about sharing information with non-Heathens. Letting them know we exist. Explaining the conversion of Northern Europe to them, and the fact their ancestors were Heathen. Describing to them what our Ways are, and why they work for us. Celebrating our Gods, and letting non-Heathens know how and why we do this. And, as always, we must be living good lives...lives that illustrate that our Ways truly are natural and healty for our People.
A hard-core Christian who is satisfied with their Christianity, will likely disregard anything we say. They may even be offended that someone would dare communicate anything to them that was non-Christian. But, the satisfied Christian is really not the target of our communication efforts anyhow. They have "bought-in." They are comfortable with being in servitude to a foreign religion, and getting on their knees to a foreign god.
The target of our communications should be those members of our Folk that are dissatisfied with the foreign religion. Those that are half-living it, out of obligation or habit. Those that will literally come alive when they learn of our Ways and begin to investigate them closer. I reject the idea that sharing information about our Folkway with these dissatisfied member of our Folk will offend them or chase them away. We often talk about how Heathenry felt "like coming home." If we truly believe this is spiritually true, should we not trust that those we share information with will eventually feel the same way? Will not the waters of our faith run down familiar courses within them as well?
MYTH #3...CHRISTIANS DO THIS, SO WE SHOULDN'T
There is this automatic reaction among many Heathens against anything even vaguely Christian. To some degree, this automatic reaction extends to any effort to tell any non-Heathen that Heathenry is a good thing and maybe they should look into it. This reaction "against Christianity" is natural and understandable, but we need to get over it.
At some point Heathenry needs to be beyond Christianity, and not in reaction to it. We need to make sound and logical choices about our actions, that are driven by what is good for us and good for our Folk. These choices should be made free of any need to be against anything that is even vaguely connected in some tenuous way with what Christians do. Who cares what they do? Who cares that they do it badly? That is their problem.
We need to set our own course, and do what is right for our descendents. I want my kids to live in a world where more of their Folk have returned to their ancestral Folkway. I want my grandkids to see even more Heathens in the world...and my great-grandkids even more. This is something we can do. If communicate properly, if we work our asses off, if we live lives that show we walk the walk, as well as talk the talk...then Heathenry will grow as it should. These Ways we follow are natural to our Folk. It stands to reason, that if they know about these Ways and see them as a viable option, then Heathenry will grow.
MYTH #4...HEATHENS MUST BE CALLED BY THE GODS
Occassionally, I will hear Heathens say that new Heathens must be called by the Gods. If the Gods don't call them, then they won't be "coming home" anyhow. This has always confused me.
In almost no other area of our lives as Heathens do we ask the God to do it for us. In almost every other area, we say that we must do it ourselves. We accomplish things through our own hard work. We don't beg the Gods to do things for us. We don't sit around waiting for them to save us...or do us personal favors. As Heathens, we get up off our duff and make things happen.
Why should it not also be so in bringing our Folk home to their ancestral Folkway? I think the Gods watch us. I think they may give us a nudge now and again. But are a religion that truly believes that the Gods help those that help themselves. And if we believe that more our Folk should be Heathen, then that's something we're going to have to work for and earn...just like everything else in this life.
MYTH #5...WE SHOULD LET WYRD TAKE ITS COURSE
Myth #5 is similar to Myth #4, in that it puts the future of Heathenry in someone else's hands. It diverts responsibility for the health and growth of our ancestral Folkway to some unseen force. It relieves us of any responsibility or fault in the matter. I'm just not that kind of person. I don't think our ancestors were those sort of people. If they wanted something, they made it happen...or wore themselves out trying to make it happen.
Wyrd will take its course, but I'm certainly going to make every effort to earn the things I want in this life. I'm going to work my ass off to shape this world through my own hardwork and determination. Of course their will be setbacks, and problems, and bumps in the road...but that shouldn't stop any of us. Perhaps our Wyrd is that we should work our asses off and bring more of our Folk home? I certainly reject the idea that our Wyrd is that we'll sit on our hands and wait for some unseen force to bring them home.
BRINGING OUR FOLK BACK TO THEIR ANCESTRAL FOLKWAY
Communicating to non-Heathen members of our Folk about our Ways, and letting them know that these Ways work well for us will be called proselytizing by some. And by definition they are not wrong. We are trying to educate our Folk that their ancestral Folkway is a viable religious option...and can enrich and improve their lives and their families. We are trying to bring more of our non-Heathen Folk home to the Ways of their ancestors.
And we do so on our own terms. We don't use the manipulative and fear-based techniques the Christians use. We don't bring them this information in an obnoxious or inappropriate manner. We bring them this information in a straight-forward and honest manner, as we try to do in all things.
We should be telling people about our Faith, for knowledge of our Faith has been suppressed. We should be telling them why it works, because as members of our Folk, they deserve to know.
If it is proselytizing to tell non-Heathen members of our Folk that their Ancestors were Heathen and that they would be happier if they returned to the Ways of their Ancestors, then I'm happily guilt as charged. I'm just not going to follow that old heathen chestnut that "heathens don't proselytize." We have an obligation to communicate to our Folk who their ancestors were and what they really believed, and to share with them why it works so well for us.
Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods