Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What is Full-Immersion Heathenry?

My wife, Jennifer, made an observation the other day which I really took to heart.  To paraphrase, she said something like, "Heathenry is not a club or a weekend-only thing.  Heathenry is not a role-playing game or a re-enactment.  It is not dress-up or pretend or being on-line.  Heathenry is our life.  Our family...our children...are involved, and the kindred is our extended family.  We spend all of our time and  money on Heathenry.  Our family vacations are to Heathen gatherings, and our family friends are other Heathens.  This is what we do and who we are."

This observation got me to thinking, and it brought together a number of smaller thoughts that I hadn't really connected before.  It occurred to me that many of the struggles or misunderstandings between Heathens, both on-line and in-person, stem from differences in levels of involvement or immersion in Heathenry.  As usual, I'm going to use my own kindred, Jotun's Bane Kindred, as an example.  I would describe our kindred as fully immersed in our Heathenry.  We are not unique in this.  I personally know of many kindreds in the Midwest with a similar level of immersion, and I am certain they exist elsewhere as well.  

Jotun's Bane Kindred considers all the members of our kindred as part of one extended family.  We share true Frith with one another, considering a success or failure by any one of us to be a success or failure for the entire group.  We are Uncles and Aunts to each other's children.  We see each other at least once a week, and often several times a week.  We are at each other's home frequently, sometimes for religious reasons, but also for social purposes or to help out with something.  Our relationships within the kindred, and our relationships with people outside the kindred, are based on a Heathen world-view, Heathen values, and the tribal Thew of our kindred.

When I say that our kindred is "all-in," I mean we are literally "all-in."  Our kids and spouses are fully involved in everything that we do.  The vast majority of our friends outside the kindred, are Heathens within our Folk Community here in Kansas City or Heathens from around the Midwest that we have gotten to know very well at Heathen gatherings.  All of our family vacations or trips are centered around attending Heathen gatherings held by kindreds around the Midwest.  Walking into any one of our homes, there would be no mistaking any of us for anything other than Heathen.  Every kindred member has important portions of their home and land dedicated to honoring their Gods, the Ancestors, and the Vaettir.  Jennifer and I took the largest room in our house and remodeled it to become our kindred's Hall.  A place large enough for the whole kindred to gather comfortably, hold workshops, feast, sit in Symbel, or honor our Gods.  

Our kindred holds open Heathen gatherings, as do many other kindreds here in the Midwest.  The time, effort, planning, and money that goes into hosting these gatherings would be difficult to over-estimate.  For Lightning Across the Plains alone, we end up sacrificing about two months of our lives each year to making the event successful and meaningful for those that attend.  Whenever we attend a gathering held by another kindred, we know exactly how much time and effort, blood, sweat, and tears they have put into their event on behalf of their guests.

It goes without saying that a large portion of our free time and disposable income are focused on our kindred, our Heathen activities, and Heathenry in general.  Heathenry is at the center of our lives...and we are fully immersed in it.  We use our real names both on-line and within the Heathen community.  We participate in fostering our children with other kindreds in the Midwest.  Our crafting activities, reading, and social activities center around Heathen themes.  If I go to a movie or a hockey game with other people, you can be certain it is with members of my kindred.  If one of us faces a large crisis in our life, you can be equally certain the rest of the kindred is right there at our side.

Successful members of our kindred understand the high level of responsibility they have to their own family and the families of the other members of the kindred.  They make decisions with both their own needs, the needs of their family, and the needs of the kindred in mind.  All the decisions they make and the actions they take can have an impact on every other member of our kindred..their families...their children.  Their Orlog and Luck is tied to the Orlog and Luck of the group, and this lends a gravity to one's decisions that the individual alone does not experience.  Due to our kindred's close relationship with many kindreds here in our region, a kindred member should further recognize that his/her decisions and actions can also affect our Heathen friends throughout the region, their kindreds, and their children.

Not everyone is at the same level of involvement or immersion, and I have not described Jotun's Bane Kindred's level of immersion above as a negative judgement on other people.  Just as a factual matter, there are people that treat Heathenry a bit more like a hobby in which they indulge upon occasion.  An interest they spend some time reading about and browsing relevant websites.  Some people do not have the time at that moment to become fully immersed.  Some people don't have the support of their spouse or their families, and feel unable to really commit themselves.  Some people don't have any other Heathens in their area, and this can be naturally discouraging.  Some people see kindreds as more of a club, than an extended family.   For some it can be a weekend-only activity...something their spouse let's them go do for some time away, like a sports league or another individual activity.  Some are in a situation where their spouse or ex-spouse won't let them involve their children in Heathenry.  Some simply have other commitment and other interests that take up a fair portion of their time.  We understand this.

So, I'm going to say this one more time to avoid misunderstanding.  By describing our own level of immersion, I'm not commenting negatively on anyone else.  Obviously, our level of immersion is one that we are comfortable with and one that we feel serves us best, or we would not be doing it.  But, we understand it might not serve everyone best.  We know, like, and enjoy being around Heathens with various levels of involvement and immersion.

What can often cause problems, is when Heathens with differing levels of involvement or immersion meet and interact, without a good understanding of their differences.  The following are hypothetical situations meant to illustrate my point.  They are generalizations, and not a comment about any certain group or type of people.

Imagine for a moment a new Heathen father who wants full immersion for his family and children and finds a kindred in his area that is more of a club or weekend-only activity for individuals.  The newcomer will have certain expectations and hopes for this encounter with the new group which may very well clash with the established expectations within the club-like kindred.  The new Heathen may see the group as not being serious or committed enough, and the kindred may very well see the new Heathen as pushy, judgmental, and annoying.

Imagine the Heathen individual who comes from a dysfunctional family finding a very family-oriented fully-immersed kindred in his area.  This individual may have never known what it is to be part of a healthy family, and may not have the skills or ability to move beyond being just an individual.  The family-oriented kindred will obviously have some expectations regarding those attempting to join them, and this individual may not be able to meet those expectations.  You would think that a family-oriented kindred could train an individual to know how to interact within a family, but in most cases the damage has been done and their is no way to teach the person.  Often, they don't even have the capability to recognize or acknowledge their own dysfunctional inability to function within a family environment.

Imagine in general the new person to Heathenry.  They are still learning, exploring, and trying to get a foothold on this entirely different world-view and way of living.  A club-like kindred may be a great fit for them at first...but a fit that they may potentially out-grow if as they learn over time that they find they want to be more heavily immersed.  On the other hand, if they join a full-immersed kindred too early on, they may not fully understand the level of involvement to which they have committed...and do poorly at it in the long run.

Young single people can be a potential problem for a kindred that expects long-term commitment and full immersion.  It can be impossible to predict who a young person is going to get into a romantic relationship with, and even more impossible to predict how that relationship will alter their focus and commitment to the kindred.  Multiply this over several relationships that occur in a series, and there is certain lack of stability that will likely develop.  Young single people are also more likely to move away in order to pursue a new relationship or career opportunity.  None of this is bad in and of itself, but it should be kept in mind.

A married individual who has a spouse that dislikes Heathenry and does not support their involvement in the kindred can obviously be a large problem for a fully-immersed kindred.  Non-supportive spouses tend to pick at and grind away at the involved spouse causing them all sorts of stress and problems, and all of this is usually just the build up to an ultimatum to leave the kindred and Heathenry.  It is also enormously unlikely that a married member with a non-supportive spouse will be allowed to involve their children in your kindred, causing another focus of stress for them and within their marriage.

There are individuals that chase the next shiny thing.  They rarely realize that this is what they are doing, but they basically go from new interest to new interest, showing an intense amount of commitment to each new activity for a short amount of time.  And then off to the next shiny thing.  When these folks join a fully immersed kindred they come in like gang-busters, and then one day they are just gone to the next thing.  I wonder if they realize the damage they do to the other members, families, and children of such a group?

And let's not forget those who love drama.  They feed on emotional turmoil and the negative attention that comes from being at the center of problems, or at least enormously close to problems they've stirred up.  These individuals will never admit and may not even recognize that this is who they are and what they do.  But, you can usually spot them by listening to the stories they tell of how unfairly they were treated by past jobs, other groups they belonged to, or other drama-filled tales with them as cast as the victim.  These drama addicts can cause an enormous amount of damage to even a solid kindred if you let them.  

Again, I'm about to make some generalizations.  But, I'm going to try and off-set this by acknowledging the ever-present exceptions to every rule.  There are people who fit every good indicator who will be a nightmare for your kindred.  There are people who should send up every red-flag, who will be amazing members in your kindred.  There is no hard and fast rule.  But, I still believe there is value in considering the generalizations.

If you have a family-oriented, fully-immersed kindred or are trying to build one, it is just common sense that some people are going to fit into that group and some people aren't.  A healthy family approaching this kindred for possible membership is more likely to be a good fit than an individual who has been divorced three times.  Someone who has been a successful member of other groups and knows how to interact within a social group is a better bet than the reclusive loner who is terminally socially awkward.  Someone who has shown long-term commitment in other areas of their life is a much better bet than someone who is never long in one job, in one place, or one relationship.

But each family and each individual are case-by-case, and should be judged by their deeds.  I say judged by their deeds, because in this day and age there are many that can talk the talk...and talk it convincingly.  But, you have to look behind the curtain, ignore the flowery words, the song-and-dance, and the emotional appeals, and get right at who this person actually is and what they actually do.  When they interact with your kindred, are they contributing, helping out, sharing, and interested in learning how to fit well into your kindred?  Do you see in their lives consistent signs of stability, commitment, loyalty, teamwork, and family-oriented thinking and actions?  Or is something else going on?

It is also important to examine every aspect of a individual or family before letting them begin working toward joining the kindred.  We've talked about stability, loyalty, commitment, ability to be part of a family or team, etc.  But, one aspect that is sometimes neglected or forgotten is the social aspect.  If you allow a new member into your kindred, you are going to be spending an immense amount of time with him or her.  You will be interacting with them socially on a regular basis.  If they annoy you, tire you, or bring with them serious personality conflicts, then these problems must be completely resolved before you can move forward.  Potential members that are socially awkward or inept can also be a problem depending on the severity of their ineptness.  Building and maintaining a kindred is hard enough when you all like each other a lot and get along well.  If there are members of the kindred that do not like each other or don't know how to get along it can be toxic.  

A little earlier I wrote, what can often cause problems, is when Heathens with differing levels of involvement or immersion meet and interact, without a good understanding of their differences.

For instance, if I approached every new Heathen that attended their first open event with us and demanded that they get on-board immediately with the same level of involvement as we have within the kindred, I would drive nearly everyone away.  This goes equally so for long-time Heathens in the Kansas City area or the region around us.  If they are at a place in their life where it works better for them or they simply prefer to have less immersion, then what purpose would it serve for me to demand more of them?  One aspect of being a tribal Heathen that is sometimes overlooked, is that I don't expect everyone to believe and practices exactly as I do.  I don't demand that of other people, or judge them negatively for not being exactly like me...or believing exactly as I do.  Each tribe and family has its own ways and its own Thew, and I respect that.

When a kindred is examining someone for potential membership in their kindred, they need to keep in mind the level of immersion for which this potential new member appears ready.  To do otherwise sets everyone up for problems down the road.

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