THE PROBLEM AT HAND
I was 37 years old before I even heard of Asatru. I had lived 37 years with no clue that anyone was actively honoring the Northern European gods. That was 25+ years of being agnostic...searching, looking, lost. Spiritually empty. And the way I found Asatru was completely random. Its likely I could have lived my entire life without hearing of it. Many people in our culture do live their whole lives without knowing that Asatru or Heathenry even exists. That is not an acceptable situation to my way of thinking.
Heathenry is not mainstream, and in my estimation we are no more mainstream than we were 10 years ago. There are about 1,000,000 people in the Kansas City area. Jotun's Bane Kindred, the only kindred in the Kansas City area has 21 people including our spouses and children. If you throw in the heathens here in Kansas City we know about, at most we're talking an additional 30 heathens. Many of these additional 30 are not "actively" heathen, but let's throw them in for illustrative purposes. Even stretching our numbers in this way, we come up with about 50 heathens among 1,000,000 people here in the Kansas City area. I think that's 0.00005%. Even if we double our numbers, we're still about 0.0001% of the population.
My 10-year-old son Nathan asked me once, "How many other heathens are their dad?" I told him it was less than 1% of the population. He said, "Oh, my Gosh!" He was shocked. So, what can we do to raise awareness of heathenry? Our Folk should at least know that Asatru or Heathenry is an option. They should at least know it exists and that it is their native Folkway. Among our People our Gefrain is minuscule. Non-existent in effect. What can we do today, so that when my grandson asks my son how many heathens there are, he can answer with a number significantly larger than the answer I gave my son?
Currently, we seem to reach the Wiccan folks just fine. We're pretty good at outreach among the SCA and reenactment folks. Heathenry is clearly known in our prisons. Many good heathens have come from Wiccan, the SCA, and prison. So, I'm not attacking or denigrating these "gateways" into heathenry. They have existed as a source of new heathens, and they will continue to serve as a source of new heathens. As an "alternative" or "fringe" religion, it is natural that we are drawing from "alternative" subcultures of our greater population. We're promoting ourselves and drawing from fringe groups.
But, we need the blue-collar metal-worker who's been dissatisfied with Christianity for years, and has felt something missing. How do we reach that guy and let him know we exist?
We need the accountant living in the suburbs with a wife and three kids, who has been agnostic for years because he knows Christianity is not for him...but he thinks Christianity was his only real choice. How do we let that guy know he has a better choice, with his native Folkway?
We need the stay-at-home mom with a garden in the backyard, who loves folk-medicine and folklore taught to her by her Pennsylvania Dutch Grandmother. How do we reach this woman, and educate her about how much she's still missing?
We need to find ways to reach the mainstream person...the suburban family...the great masses of our Folk that we currently don't reach. They are out there. They are dissatisfied with the foreign religions that have been pushed on them. They are leading stable, responsible lives...but lives that would be greatly enriched by a return to the Ways of their Ancestors. How do we reach these non-Wiccan, non-SCA, non-prison, everyday people and their families? They are members of our Folk, who are feeling that pull to "come home," and some of them don't even know where "home" is yet. How do we let them know?
RAISING AWARENESS IS IMPORTANT
I think our kindreds would be much healthier if they were drawing from a larger pool of people. The more people you encounter who are interested in heathenry, the more well-adjusted people you will have to choose from. The more of our Folk that come home to heathenry, the ratio of well-adjusted people to weirdos within heathenry will also improve. I know this sounds like a fairly harsh concept, but I believe there is truth in it.
Let's approach this issue from another direction. If you are community building and your group needs two new people, would you rather select these two people from among four people that show up now and again at your open events...or from among fifty people that attend your open events? Obviously, all things being equal...you'll get better candidates choosing from a pool of fifty people.
Our small numbers are actually a hurdle to our Folk coming home. There are many towns and cities across our nation that do not have an active kindred, or even any heathens living there. Even in one of our Folk learned about heathenry, their choices for social interaction with other heathens can be fairly limited. Yes, they could start their own study group or kindred. Yes, they could practice our way of life in a solitary fashion. But, the community aspects of our religion are very meaningful and powerful, and its clear that the sparse population of heathens affects our ability to grow as a Folkway.
Our small numbers mean that many cities that do have kindreds, only have one kindred. If a heathen does not fit in well with this particular kindred, the heathen does not have any other ready options. Our small numbers puts quite a bit of pressure on our children. They go to schools, watch television, and are exposed to wider cultural forces that are 99.9% something other than heathen. Don't think this does not impact our children, and the number of our children that will remain with heathenry as they grow into adults. It will.
Now, I don't think we need a heathen mega-church. I'm a strong believer in the power of the kindred and tribe. And there is a critical-mass point for our sort of close-knit oathed tribe. That critical-mass pointt lies somewhere between 10 and 20 oathed members...and between 25 to 40 people unoathed members including spouses and children. When you reach that critical mass point, then other tribes need to begin growing in that same area. It will be a testament of our success in making heathenry more mainstream, when there are several tribes in Kansas City. Perhaps ten tribes in Kansas City. Of course, the hope is that these tribes will communicate regularly, and be aligned with each other in some fashion.
POSSIBLE METHODS FOR RAISING AWARENESS
So, what are some ways to increase Heathenry's Gefrain among our Folk that remain ignorant or its existence in the mainstream? What are some ways we can actively reach "normal" people? How do we give more of our People Asatru or Heathenry as a choice? The metal-worker. The accountant. The stay-at-home Mom. The dissatisfied Christian, without Faith or satisfaction in that foreign religion, but unaware there is another legitimate option. How do we reach them?
1. Heathens Living Openly as Heathens - If we hide our Heathenry, then regardless of how good a life we life or how admirable a person we may be, no one will know that a part of our success is our adherence to heathen values and ways. By living openly as heathens, we show our extended family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and anyone else that comes to know us...that our way of life is strong, life-affirming, and powerful. By raising strong intact heathen families, we show that our Folkway is family-oriented. By living openly as heathens, we show that we do not have anything to be ashamed of or afraid of in declaring our loyalty to our Gods, our Ancestors, the Vaettir, and our traditional Folkway.
2. Offer Classes on Heathenry or Heathen Topics - There are many places you can schedule a class on heathenry. Most community colleges have a community education component, where they will allow you to come in and teach an Asatru 101 course, or a course on Odin, or perhaps a heathen concept. Most new age book stores will be happy to arrange a space for you to off a course on heathenry. Sometimes they will charge you to hold the class, but sometimes they are willing to charge your participants for their attendance, and often they'll let you teach a class for free. A class environment is somewhat non-threatening, and often curious people will be willing to attend a class, when they may not have been willing to attend some other sort of heathen event.
3. Presentation or Lecture at a Local Library, or Similar Venue - Explore and find ways to get your information out to a wider group of people. If you feel inclined to do what everyone else has tried, then go ahead. But also try a bunch of ideas that no one has ever tried. Blaze your own trail. Maybe the library would agree to have you in for a presentation on the Poetic Edda? Maybe you could offer a talk about our traditional Folk Religion at a local Nordic Festival? Look at coffee shops, historical societies, mainstream book stores, and wherever else you can think of for opportunities to talk to people who have perhaps never even heard of Heathenry.
4. Get Television, Radio, Newspaper News Coverage - Television, radio, and newspaper media reaches the mainstream. So, positive media coverage can reach a large number of the people we're seeking to reach. A successful approach to this can be contacting your media of choice during a time of the year or when you are holding an event that might be interesting or even "quirky" in their eyes. A traditional Yule celebration would make an interesting segment on television. The origins of the Ostara celebration might draw the attention of a newspaper reporter. Some radio stations feature non-denominational religious programming with a rotating cast of ministers, priests, and rabbis. It is possible that you might be able to entice a show like that into having you on for an interview segment about a topic they find interesting.
5. Get a Television or Radio show, or a Newspaper Column - This option is a little more difficult that just getting one-time media coverage. But with a little work, who knows what you might be able to accomplish. Often, the Sunday paper will have a regular column on religion where they will have guest authors from a variety of religions write a religious article. There is a change that you might be able to write a good enough article, that they would be convinced to run it in their paper. The radio and television show options are a little more difficult, but college radio channels are often looking for shows or concepts to fill air time...and many areas have public access television that might be an option.
6. Announce Open Events and Classes on Craigslist, an alternative Newspaper, or the Mainstream Newspaper - There are mainstream places you can announce events, such as Craigslist, the events calendar in your local paper, Meetup.com, or other places that the more mainstream members of our Folk visit for information and news. We tend to announce our open events and classes in media and internet venues that are already heavy with heathens or Wiccans, and this is essentially fishing in that same old pond. Think outside the box, and find strange and ingenious ways to get the word out about your open events and classes.
7. Podcasts or YouTube videos, if They Could be Promoted Outside Pagan Circles - We could use more Heathen podcasts and more Heathen YouTube videos, especially ones that are informative and well-done. But, we really need to figure out some ways to promote these podcasts outside of Heathen and pagan circles, and to make them accessible to people who are just coming home to Heathenry.
8. Advertising of All Sorts, Billboards, Newspaper Ads, Radio Ads, etc. - Advertising costs money. But there are relatively inexpensive advertising options that may work. I know that some of the electronic billboards along heavily traveled stretches of highway in Kansas City, can cost as little as $300 for a full month of advertising. The Heathen advertisement would be in a rotation of advertisements that are flashed on the electronic billboard, but it would provide an enormous amount of exposure. There may be other affordable options in the various types of advertising available.
9. Create a Free Pamphlet or Booklet - One could create a pamphlet or booklet that very clearly and concisely explains our religion, its origins, and why we value it. You could then distribute this material at coffee shops, bookshops, and other locations where you could leave it lying around as reading materal. You could drop it on neighborhoods from an airplane...well, that may be going too far. I realize that pamplets and little booklets of this nature have been created by the National Organizations over the year. But if I was going to do this, I would want to distribute my own information. Not something created by someone I don't even personally know.
10. Write and Publish a Concise Heathenry 101 Book that has Folkish Leanings - Make the book comprehensive, but ensure that it represents the Folkish and tribal approach that is missing in other Asatru 101 and Heathenry 101 books. The key would be to make the case for why Heathenry in a format that is very approachable for the average person.
YOUR IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS?
There is a lack of knowledge out there that we even exist. This is a problem, and I've suggested why it is a problem worth solving and some possible ways to solve it. What ideas do you have? What has worked for you or your kindred in the past? Feel free to share ideas and suggestions...
Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods