Friday, January 11, 2013

The Pitfalls of On-Line Heathenry

On-line Heathenry is how many Heathens find and share information, promote and educate people about their events and efforts, and it is a great way to stay in touch with other Heathens and Kindreds not in your immediate area.  On-line Heathenry is where most new Heathens first encounter other Heathens.  But, on-line Heathenry is a flawed and dysfunctional place much of the time.  If you skim the surface and essentially just lurk about, it can be somewhat entertaining to watch the train-wreck that is on-line Heathenry.  But, if you delve in, share opinions and information, and engage in on-line discussions, the negatives to on-line Heathenry that make it almost not worth it to engage at all.

Honestly, most of the things I'm going to write about in this post don't occur very much in face-to-face Heathenry.  Probably because when you are face-to-face with another person you recognize them as another human being.  You recognize that the other person can react to what you say in an immediate and equal way.  And finally, most of the things described in this post are done by people who aren't really involved in face-to-face Heathenry.  These are things mostly done by people who see themselves as brave mighty Heathens, though most of their Heathenry takes place behind a keyboard and screen.

(Note:  I chose some cheerful photos from face-to-face Heathenry to accompany this essay, just to lighten the mood a little.  LOL.)

DENOMINATIONAL THINKING - The beliefs and practices of our Ancestors varied greatly, depending on time-period, geographical location, socio-economic status, and other factors.  Our Ancestors lived in an oral-storytelling culture, with no writing, no holy books, no centralized religious authority (at least to the degree we see today in Christianity), and there was a great diversity in what they believed and how they honored our Gods, Ancestors, and the Wights.  As with other oral-storytelling traditions, it is likely that even two families living on farms five miles from each other would have had at least some degree of differing traditions and beliefs.  But, there are those modern Heathens that seem to believe they know the "one true way" to Honor our Gods.  They may not admit to this openly, or even outright deny it, but their words and actions clearly suggest that they feel that their way is the only correct way.  They believe that what they believe and what they practice is right, and everyone else is wrong.  As such, some of these "fundamentalist" Heathens work very hard against anyone that does things or sees things differently than they do.  They denigrate and mock those Heathens that believe differently than they do.  They put forward the idea that modern Heathenry is about rediscovering what our ancestors believed, without ever truly acknowledging that our ancestors beliefs varied greatly and represent a diverse tapestry, not a singular monolithic belief structure.

This denominational thinking leads to unnatural divisions within modern Heathenry.  "I can't go to that gathering, because the people hosting it don't believe exactly as I do."  "I don't like that kindred four states away from ours because I've heard they do things differently than we do."  "I can't hang out with those folks," they are in a different National Org than I am, and must do things completely differently than I do."

Let's be clear.  Most Heathens have more in common than the petty differences that tend to get constantly highlighted on-line.  And modern Heathenry is too small and too new to weaken itself with exhausting and pointless wedges driven through segments of our Folk.  Wedges that are often driven into place by people with no real interest in advancing Heathenry forward as a whole.

THOSE THAT CONDEMN - There are on-line Heathens out there that jump at the chance to condemn and badmouth others.  Often these condemnations are over matters of belief.  They regularly accuse people of being Racists or Race-Traitors, Fluffy Bunnies, Wack-Jobs, and accuse people of having "Christian Baggage."  They almost always do this with very little actual knowledge of the person they are condemning and name-calling.  You may think you are engaging in conversation with them, or building mutual understandings, but their intentions are not to have an honest discussion with you.  They much prefer to nit-pick your words, remove them from context, argue meaningless semantics, and declare some sort of intellectual victory which they have not actually won.  I can't really say specifically why they do this, but I've come to believe they do it to feel better about themselves.  They suffer from that weak tendency of feeling bigger and better when they are tearing other people down.  From the outside looking in, it appears to be a "look at me!" showboating meant to make them feel intelligent and important.  It mostly leaves everyone else wondering why we bother getting on-line.

NAY-SAYERS - Another group of on-line Heathens spend their time tearing down anyone that is actually doing anything real in the world.  You host a gathering, and they spend their time spreading negative misinformation about your gathering.  You start a kindred, and they spend their time trash-talking your efforts.  You work on any sort of forward-looking Heathen effort, and they spend their time mocking your efforts.  Nevermind that they have never attended your gathering, have never met your kindred, and know nothing about your efforts.  And nevermind that they aren't really doing anything themselves except posting on-line, and mostly posting attacks and negativity.  Again, I can't say for sure why they do this.  But, it seems to me that if they can tear down everyone else's efforts, it makes it alright in their mind that they aren't really making any positive efforts of their own.  If no one else succeeds, or they find a way to mock anyone else's successes, it makes their own lack of action or successes somehow more personally acceptable.
LEADER-KILLERS - There are on-line Heathens that spend a fair amount of time tearing down anyone that gains any sort of renown.  Anyone that expresses any sort of opinion or shares anything publicly about their beliefs or practices is mocked as wanting to be the Asa-Pope.  It is almost a reflex reaction anymore.  Anyone that leads a kindred or local group is declared a Cult-Leader, a Know it All, or accused of benefiting from a Cult of Personality.  If they can't find anything real to destroy the leaders with, they make up lies.  Nevermind they've never met the people they are tearing down. To some degree, I understand the mistrust of anyone who represents any sort of leadership.  I think a distrust of leaders is sort of built into our American culture, and perhaps this is amplified within the Heathen subculture because we are an alternative to the status quo.  But, the people I'm talking about literally attack anyone who is working hard within Heathenry.

PERSONAL POLITICS - Heathenry represents an enormously small percentage of the population, making Heathenry a "small world."  There are Heathens that quickly develop personality-conflicts and personal dislike for other Heathens, and focus in almost obsessively to the task of destroying those they don't like...and anyone that associates with those they don't like.  Any effort by anyone they don't like, is mercilessly and endlessly attacked.  Any opinion stated by anyone they don't like is twisted and taken out of context so that it can be gutted and made to seem not only unreasonable, but outright foolish or stupid.  Often this sort of personal attack is done in the shadows.  The people that do this sort of thing feel completely comfortable attacking their target's family, using photos of their target's friends and family, and suggesting the worst possible things about a person in places and in ways that prevents the target from defending himself or herself.  It is clear to most of us how dishonorable this behavior is, but that argument is lost on those that engage in this behavior.

THE FANTASY IDENTITY - I understand when a person wants to maintain their privacy and not share too much about their family or personal life.  But, there is a specific kind of person involved in on-line Heathenry that speaks about life, Heathenry, values, and other matters...but we don't know a single real thing about the person.  They exist as just so many pixels on the screen, without any information or context available for the opinions they are sharing or the ideas they are spreading.  These fantasy identities usually have an assumed name or a "Heathen name."  There are few if any photos of the person.  No real information about their life, their successes, their failures, etc.  Nothing.  So, they are able to portray themselves any way they wish, and many people will just accept this because we all know "if it is on the internet it must be true."  LOL.  I have managed to track down information on a few of the fantasy identities that irritated me the most, just out of personal curiousity.  And I assure you that if people knew more about who they really are and what they really do in life, their online fantasy identities would lose most if not all of their credibility.  Your best bet when encountering an advice or information from someone who is basically a blank slate, is to consider that advice or information as extremely suspect until proven otherwise.

I mean, do you want to take advice about Heathen marriage from someone who has been divorced three times?  Do you want to take family advice from someone who has never really had a good family experience and doesn't really know how to interact within a family?  Do you want to take job advice from someone who has never had a career of any sort, and who has gone from job to job to job every few months?  And if you don't know anything real about the person giving you advice, you don't really know if they have any knowledge or Luck worth sharing.

CRAZY PEOPLE - We all understand that there are mentally ill people and people with personality disorders in every religion and every walk of life. But Heathenry, perhaps because it is an alternative religion and not part of the mainstream, seems to have at least its share of crazy people.  There are Heathens on-line that are delusional, unreasonable, and without any boundaries what-so-ever.  They develop hatreds for others on-line over the smallest things.  They are obsessive and, once they are on the attack, they never stop.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? - Honestly, the most you can really do about these behaviors is not engage in them yourself, call people out when you see them engage in these behaviors, and don't associate with those people who insist on acting in these ways.  Ignoring these people as sort of the broken bottom-feeders they tend to be is probably the best way to deal with them.

I wrote this essay, because people will often ask me why I am such a strong proponent of face-to-face Heathenry, grass-roots growth, and Heathen gatherings.  Sometimes people take exception when I say something negative about on-line Heathenry.  So, I thought perhaps I would illustrate some of the things I've experienced to better explain why I fear the negative affect on-line Heathenry has on all our efforts.  Granted, there are many positive features of on-line Heathenry, which is why I am still involved on-line.  But, it is my worry that Heathenry will be stuck in a prolonged infancy as long as we tolerate these destructive behaviors.

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


  1. Very well said. I think its easy for people with no other access to Heathen community to think that online Heathenry actually reflects the community itself. You make some great points about the differences.

  2. Great post, Mark, you nailed it. I am going to bookmark this and share it often. ~Sean MacDhai

  3. This was informative and I have encountered some of those you have mentioned in my time online both heathens and non heathens. Understanding the differences is the first step into grasp and understand the teutonic germanic and northern norse roots of heathenry. Me personally I go with what is mentioned in the edda's that is my guide book to understanding. And chatting with the gods at times, completion becomes satisfying. Never give up and stand for what you believe in, though let others breathe their own as well.

  4. Thanks for the great comments, everyone. :-)

  5. At the risk of repeating what others have said: Well said Mark. We need to take this to heart.