Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Attend a Regional Heathen Gathering?

This note is really for those of you that have never attended a regional heathen gathering.  I was at the Northern Folk Gathering up in Minnesota this weekend, talking and laughing with other heathens, watching my children play, and experiencing our religion and our Folkway as part of our larger regional community...and I realized I really needed to write something about this.  Here are the top reasons to attend a regional heathen gathering...

IT IS FUN - Plain and simple, heathen gatherings are a good time.  There is so much laughter at a heathen gathering, and pure and simply joy in gathering as a greater community.  Jokes are told, funny stories, and people share what is going on in their lives, and their kindreds.  There are usually games and contests to watch or participate in, as well as heathen-oriented entertainment such as singing, dancing, or poetry.  Every heathen event I have gone to would have been fun for drinker and non-drinkers, alike.  A heathen gathering is about our Folk and our Community, and the joy or gathering together as a People.

IT IS A GREAT ADVENTURE - Traveling to a regional heathen gathering with your family and/or your kindred, is an adventure all in and of itself.  The packing and planning, the road-trip, the bonds you build traveling together and being among other heathens as a group can really help define and deepen the bonds within a family or a kindred.  Inside jokes and funny stories that you will still be telling years from now are often the result of such a trip.  There is a certain wander-lust that is appeased by a big trip to gather with other heathens.

GREAT FOOD AND MEAD - Some heathen gatherings provide one, two, or more meals...and some don't.  Even at the gatherings that don't provide meals, people often share what they have to eat with others, and there is an exchange of some of the food that people have brought.  You'll often find traditional food at the heathen gatherings, or food particular to the region where it is held.  You'll also find some of the best meads at a heathen gathering.  Many heathens enjoy making their own mead, and I've had some amazing meads at heathen gatherings.  Home-brewed beers as well.

HEATHEN VENDORS AND GOODS - There are opportunities at nearly all heathen gatherings to buy heathen-oriented and hand-crafted items, that you would have a hard time finding anywhere else.  You also get to look at and hold the items in your hand before buying them, and you don't have to pay shipping!   There is also something fairly special about meeting the person who crafted something you are going to wear or use as part of our Folkway, rather than just ordering it on-line.  Some heathen gatherings also have a heathen auction, and you can buy things in these auctions that you just can't get elsewhere.

BUILDING BONDS - "Knowing" someone on the internet is not the same as meeting them face-to-face, talking with them, shaking their hand, joking with them, and getting to know them in person.  Meeting their spouse, watching your children play with their children, exchanging ideas about crafting, heathenry, and kindred-building in-person, around a table or a roaring fire.  You build bonds face-to-face that you would likely never build on-line, and over time after going to a number of gatherings, you build real friendships with real people who travel to real events on a regular basis.  If was to truly stand together and help each other in real life, we need to know each other in real life.  And heathen gatherings are the way to make this happen.

FEELS LIKE A FAMILY REUNION, ONLY BETTER - My wife, Jennifer, said this past weekend that heathen gatherings are like attending a family reunion.  You get to see all these people you know and care about.  Your children get all excited to see the other heathen children that they also know and care about.    Between gatherings I miss these people dearly.  At the gathering, I feel enormously comfortable and at home with these good and worthy people.  I trust these people and they trust me, and that is a relationship we've worked hard to earn and maintain.  But, when I'm with Volkshof Kindred, or Northwoods, or Winterhof, or Tyr's Helm, I feel like I am among family.  And more and more, there are other kindreds that we are seeing often enough to start building similar bonds with...

Lightning Across the Plains 2009

YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING - Sure you could read books all day, every day, and sort of stay in your world for a year...and not learn as much as you would going to one heathen gathering and being among your Folk.  The conversations have depth and meaning.  Watching how other kindreds perform blots, fainings, and symbels is an amazing learning experience.  Interacting with other heathens, in a heathen environment and at an event with an established heathen tone and culture, can be eye-opening for many.  I learn something important at every gathering I go to.

SPIRITUAL DEPTH - I have participated in enormously meaningful fainings or blots with just a handful of people.  And I have participated in symbels with my kindred that felt enormously important and spiritual.  So, the last thing I would suggest is that you have to have "big numbers" to attain spiritual importance of depth.  But, there is also something to be said for honoring our Gods, our Ancestors, and the Vaettir with a group of 70 people, or 150 people, or 250 people.  Hearing the roar of "Hail!" coming from a large gathering of our Folk, and then echoing back from across the Plains or a beautiful lake.  A High Symbel attended by members of multiple kindreds within a region can bring together people in a way like nothing else can.  There are spiritual experiences at a regional heathen gathering, that are different than what you can experience elsewhere.

FOR YOUR CHILDREN - Our children absolutely love going to heathen gatherings.  They have so many friends there, from our past trips to these gatherings.  They know these children of other kindreds by name.  They know their likes and dislikes, and their personalities.  The kids love playing, and crafting, and playing games with the other heathen children.  They learn about our Lore and our Ways, by watching how the adults interact...and through their own interactions with other heathen children.  It also provides our children with a context, that there are other heathens out there.  Its not just our family, or our kindred.  There is a whole region here, filled with kindreds, that are filled with children.  They are not alone.

FOR THE FUTURE OF HEATHENRY - On the way back from the Northern Folk Gatherhing my six-year-old, Joshua, asked me, "is little Gunnar my cousin?"  Since "little Gunnar" is the son of "big Gunnar," the Chieftain of Volkshof Kindred...a kindred with which our kindred is very close, and with which we share an oathed alliance, I told him that he should definitely treat "little Gunnar" as his cousin, because for all practical purposes he is his cousin.  And he should look at "big Gunnar" as his Uncle.  The fact my six-year-old asked this question, is a strong indicator of how important our attendance at heathen gatherings is to my children.  They are building relationships and friendships with heathen children from other kindreds, and some of these relationships will shape the heathenry of the future.  These bonds they build will influence how our children approach heathenry as they mature into adulthood.

Here in the Midwest, we have Lightning Across the Plains coming up September 23-25, 2011.  Last year's LATP was attended by 240 people...170 adults and 70 children.  Volkshof Kindred, the Franks, Tyr's Helm Tribe, Winterhof Kindred, Hammer-Tree Hearth, Mjolnir Kindred, Fimbul Winter Kindred, Hridgar Kindred, Bifrost Way Kindred, Golden Shield Kindred, Sigruna Kindred, Bifrost Bridge Kindred, Frith Home, Wolf Tree Kindred, Wolves' Wod Kindred, Third Raven Kindred, Sacred Oak, and Jotun's Bane Kindred were some of the kindreds, hearths, and families represented there.  There were heathens there from across the Heartland.  Minnesota to Texas.  Utah to Indiana.  You are welcome and invited to attend!

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Lightning Across the Plains 2010

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