This essay is specifically for heathens who are in an established kindred, or those who someday plan to be the member of an established kindred.
Once a kindred has established itself, grown, and maintained a stable existance, it is likely that it will begin to attract additional heathens or the heathen-curious from its surrounding local community. These non-kindred Heathens come to all or some of the kindred's open events. Some of these non-kindred Heathens will lose interest over time, and stop coming around. Others will start to form friendships with members of the kindred, and eventually begin inquiring about how to join the kindred. Others will develop a fondness and loyalty for the kindred, without any real interest on their part in actually joining the kindred. This ever-shifting group of non-kindred heathens associated with the kindred can be called that kindred's Folk Community.
Having non-kindred heathens gravitate towards an established kindred, attending their open events and forming friendships with the kindred, is just a natural result of having an active and vital kindred. But, kindreds can make certain efforts to grow and improve the Folk Community that gathers around their kindred, which benefits everyone involved in both the kindred and the kindred's Folk Community.
WHAT A FOLK COMMUNITY IS AND ISN'T
The people that comprise the Folk Community around a kindred, live in the local area, attend the kindred's open events, and are on friendly terms with the kindred and its members. The kindred likely does nice things for the members of the Folk Community, and the members of the Folk Community likely do nice things for the kindred on occasion. But the members of the Folk Community are not truly part of that kindred's Innangarth. They are not members of the kindred, and the bonds, true Frith, and obligations that each kindred member owes the kindred and its members, do not extend to the members of the Folk Community.
A kindred's Folk Community is made up of people that the kindred knows face-to-face, through real interaction in real-life. People that the kindred only knows from on-line interaction, are not part of the kindred's Folk Community.
Most kindreds will very loosely define their Folk Community, having no official designation as to who is a member of the Folk Community and who is not. Kindreds may also call this group of people many names other than "Folk Community." Some kindreds may call these people "Friends of the Kindred" or not really call them anything at all. But over time, some kindred's may see a value in having a more formally recognized Folk Community, with clearer definitions as to who is a member of that group and who is not. This will vary greatly from kindred to kindred.
THE SORTS OF PEOPLE THAT COMPRISE YOUR FOLK COMMUNITY
There are many categories of people that comprise a kindred's Folk Community, and people can move from category to category over time. Labeling in this way is somewhat artificial, but it helps to understand who is attracted into the orbit of an established kindred, and why they are there.
The heathen-curious are naturally drawn to a kindred's Folk Community. They hear about Heathenry from a friend, on-line, or from a book, and they begin looking for open Heathen events, Asatru 101 classes, or other "beginners" activities in their area. This naturally brings them into contact with a kindred that hosts these kinds of events in their local area. The heathen-curious are there to learn more and to figure out whether Heathenry is something they want to fully commit to as a religion, belief-system, and world-view.
New heathens have committed to Heathenry as a religion, belief-system, and world-view, but they aren't members of a kindred yet. They very likely don't quite understand how a kindred works or how it will benefit them and their families. So, they attend a kindred's open Heathen events, Asatru classes, and other activities in an attempt to not only learn more about Heathenry, but also to figure out if they want to join the kindred or not. A new Heathen will also attend open blots/fainings so that they can honor their Gods and Goddesses along side other Heathens. Over time, some of these new heathens will become interested in joining the kindred and inquire about it. Others will remain comfortable not being part of the kindred, but will continue to come to the kindred's open events, etc.
A kindred's Folk Community is also made up of established Heathens who are not interested in joining the kindred. They may not have the time they feel it would require. They may be uncomfortable committing at that level to other people. They may be married to a non-heathen who has pressured them heavily to not join the kindred. There are many different reasons that these established Heathens may want to remain part of a kindred' Folk Community without joining the kindred. These Heathens stick around and attend events, because they want to honor their Gods with other Heathens. They want to share friendship and fellowship with other Heathens, and usually have come to like the kindred and its members quite a bit. Over time, some of these established Heathens will reach a point where they do want to join the kindred, but others may never take that step.
A kindred's Folk Community is also made up of established Heathens that the kindred is not comfortable having as part of their kindred. They may be going through a large life crisis, and the kindred may feel they need to get their life back on track before they can join. They may be the sort of person that is alright to be around, but not the sort of person you would want to depend on in a time of need. They may have a somewhat anti-social or grating personality that would not make them a good fit within the kindred. There are many different reasons, both temporary and permanent, that a kindred may want to keep an established Heathen out of their Innangarth. These Heathens attend open events, because they want to honor their Gods with other Heathens. They want to share friendship and fellowship with other Heathens, and usually have come to like the kindred and its members quite a bit. Over time, some of these established Heathens will reach a point where the kindred is interested in letting them join the kindred. But others may never reach that point.
Many Folk Communities include non-Heathens, who have great respect for our ancestral ways, but who are not Heathen themselves. Most often these people are agnostics, who enjoy close friendships with members of the kindred, but just cannot move beyond their agnostic point-of-view regarding religious beliefs. Over time, these non-Heathens usually begin sounding and acting more Heathen than many Heathens do, because they accept the cultural values and worldview of our Ancestors, even if they haven't accepted it spirituality. These non-Heathens attend the kindred's open events to share in fellowship with people they respect and enjoy being around, and they are almost always enormously respectful of our ways and beneficial to have present. These folks rarely ask to join the kindred, understanding that a component of kindred membership is Faith and Loyalty to the Aesir.
Because the kindred's Folk Community is not directly a part of their Innangarth, there will be people in their Folk Community that the kindred would not necessarily let into their kindred. There are times, when a person's involvement i the Folk Community causes them to change and evolve over time into someone the kindred would want as a member. But, a kindred must tend to its Folk Community, weeding out disruptive people and or anyone who seems bent on hurting the kindred. Removing disruptive people is as simple as letting them know they are no longer welcome at the kindred's open events, Asatru classes, open blots/fainings, etc. This effectively jettisons the disruptive person out of the kindred's orbit, and prevents the disruptive person from working against the kindred at the events they host.
BENEFITS OF HAVING A FOLK COMMUNITY
Having a healthy Folk Community surrounding your kindred has many benefits, to both your kindred as well as the members of your Folk Community.
If fellowship with 5 or 10 quality heathens is enjoyable and productive, then fellowship wtih 20 to 30 quality heathens is more of a very good thing. When the kindred works together with its Folk Community, much more can be done...and done faster. Organizing an event or a Heathen gathering is an excellent example of this. If a kindred of 10 members is organizing a Heathen Gathering, their is only so much they will be able to accomplish. If a kindred of 10 members is also directly assisted by 10 members of their Folk Community, now 20 people are working on the Heathen gathering. Over time, this level of collaboration and cooperation between the kindred and members of its Folk Community becomes almost like second nature. The kindred learns who in its Folk Community it can really depend on, and those members of the Folk Community learn the benefits of being part of a larger effort in conjunction with the kindred.
In times of crisis, a healthy Folk Community can help immensely and/or be helped immensely. While the members of the Folk Community are not a part of the kindred's Innangarth, there are obviously times of crisis when the kindred would gladly come to the aid of members of its Folk Community. And at times of crisis for the kindred, it is only natural that members of the Folk Community would offer help when they could.
This relationship we've described between the kindred and the Folk Community, serves as a perfect testing mechanism for whether someone in the Folk Community would make a good addition to the kindred. If a member of the Folk Community is at nearly every open event, assisting when they can, and following through on anything the offer to help with...it goes a long way toward showing what sot of person they are. This contact between the kindred and its Folk Community can serve to transition a new heathen that knows very little about Heathenry or the kindred, into a knowledgable Heathen that is enormously familiar with the kindred.
One benefit of a healthy Folk Community, is the possibility that if a sufficient number of Heathens become involved in the local area, additional kindreds may grow from a kindred's existing Folk Community. If familiarity and friendships are maintained between the kindred and its Folk Community, these additional kindreds can form peacefully and with good will toward the original kindred. Taking Jotun's Bane Kindred as an example, there are currently about 40 Heathens in the Kansas City area and Jotun's Bane Kindred is currently made up of 9 oathed adults. What if in the next 10 years the number of Heathens in Kansas City grows to 300? Would it not be natural that there would be several kindreds in Kansas City at that point? And wouldn't it be best, if those kindreds knew each other, communicated regularly, and looked out for one another? As Heathenry grows among our Folk, Maintaining a good relationship with your kindred's Folk Community can lead to just such a result.
WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR KINDRED'S FOLK COMMUNITY
Many heathens argue that we should allow everything to take place naturally, or as "organically" as possible. I understand this inclination, but I feel that if you want something, and you can plan for it and work for it, you should. As my Godhi Rod Landreth would say, "If you want a garden in your backyard, you have to till the earth, plan out your plantings, plant the seeds, weed the garden, water the plants that need it, and protect the garden from animals or bugs that want to eat up the results of all your hard work." You can't just stare at your backyard and hope a garden grows. You can't plant seeds, and just hope they grow and aren't eaten by animals of bugs. A little hard work can get a lot done.
One way to develop and maintain a Folk Community around your kindred is to hold regular open events and Asatru classes. The events and classes should be announced loudly and effectively, to reach the maximum number of potentially interested people. The events and classes should be organized, interesting, welcoming, and all guests should be shown generousity and hospitality. Worthy events will attract worthy people, and when they go well, people are more likely to return. Include our spirituality in your kindred's open events, including open blots/fainings and folk symbels.
Plan at least some of your kindred's open events to the needs of the non-kindred heathens you are encountering. If many of these non-kindred Heathens have never been in a symbel before, then host one for them and show them how to do it properly. If they are new to Heathenry, then plan a series of Asatru 101 classes for them on various topics. It is also good to listen to input from non-kindred members as to what sort of open events they would be interested in attending. The goal should be to grow the size of your kindred's Folk Community, while also educating them, enculturating them, and assiting them in becoming better Heathens. It is possible to work toward a larger Folk Community and a quality Folk Community at the same time. You just have to work at it.
Like all friendships and relationships, the more that your kindred members communicate and gather with potential members of your kindred's Folk Community, the stronger the bonds will be built. Having members of your kindred's Folk Community over for dinner, going to a ball game or concert with them, or just hanging out in a pub are all ways to get to know one another better. The giving of gifts can also build bonds. Books on Heathenry that your kindred really like, make excellent gifts to new Heathens that begin coming to your open events.
Over time, your kindred can begin holding events to which known and valued members of your Folk Community are invited. These "friends only" events are not "open to anyone" or announced publicly. They are specifically scheduled and planned for just the kindred and proven members of the kindred's Folk Community to attend. Most often these events might be a special blot/faining, feast, or a series of study group sessions.
Another way to grow stronger bonds between your kindred and the members of your kindred's Folk Community, is to invite their involvement in the planning and/or organization of some of your events, or even a Heathen gathering that your kindred hosts. This is an excellent way to get to know people better, and to develop some common efforts and goals.
GROWING FOLK COMMUNITIES AROUND OUR KINDREDS
Most active and established kindreds that hold open events, will naturally develop over time a group of non-kindred members that regularly attend their open events. If you grasp the benefits of having such a Folk Community around your kindred, you can plan and take steps to increase the size and knowledge-level of this Folk Community, and work to form closer bonds between your kindred and these non-kinded Heathens. If done right, these efforts benefit everyone involved and strengthen our grassroots efforts to advance our Folkway forward...
Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods