I felt the need to write this rant because heathen internet forums can be incredibly empowering places, where information is shared and people can feel they’ve come home to their right path, or forums can also discourage people from trying to participate in the community at all. It’s not just newbies who are abandoning online community because of all the arguing and insults, either. I mentioned the problem with people labeling and insulting each other instead of trying to understand, support, and educate each other, to an old friend who is heathen but not Asatru, and he told me that it seemed to him that “There is nothing Asatruars hate more than other Asatruars.” This statement struck me as tragic and at least partially true. We had this conversation while I was writing the essay on trollery, which was published in the previous issue of this magazine. Trolls are usually only a small percentage of the members of any particular forum, except for forums specifically set up to encourage trollery (any forum where the primary purpose of most posts in mocking others’ beliefs is a troll haven, and will inevitably attract trolls.) A lot of the people using labels to divide each other and insult each other are not actually trolls, though, they are just people with strongly held beliefs who seem to think that insulting people with jargon is the proper way to relate online because that’s what everyone else is doing. I’m writing this rant in the hope that at least some people will realize that online discussions are better when we all try to get along, and will stop using these terms as insults.
The Word List
UPG: Unverified Personal Gnosis
Why do we use this term at all, instead of just calling religious visions, dreams, and insights “gnosis”?
Using the qualifier “unverified” implies that gnosis can or should be verified. How could gnosis be verified? There is group gnosis, which applies the scientific principle of replicability to gnosis. Group gnosis has two weak points: in an open group in which anyone can add to the group, even anonymously, such as many internet forums, trolls could post under multiple names and skew the results. In a closed group, in which everyone knows each other, an echo-chamber effect could be created by expecting to experience what the other group members have experienced. That is not significantly different than how any religious dogma works, of course. If one is a Christian and experiences a female godly presence, one would most likely interpret it as Mary, whereas a heathen might interpret the same presence as Freya.
Using the qualifier “personal” implies that there can be such a thing as impersonal gnosis. Unless and until it is possible to induce the feeling of religious mysterium by electrically stimulating the brain, and the experience is reliably the same for everyone who chooses to buy the experience, all gnosis is personal.
There have been scientific experiments of this kind. Reference this paper, as a general overview of scientific investigation of the experience of mysterium tremendous.
The U and P qualifiers in UPG are meant to devalue gnosis. When people apply the term UPG to their own insights, it’s meant in a “imho” (in my humble opinion) way, to say, this is just me talking, not a real authority. When people use it of other people’s gnosis, it’s often used as an insult, a way to belittle what was said. As, “That’s just UPG. Cite a real source.” For some reason, the gnosis of someone from the 12th century recording their vision on a vellum scroll is seen as more valid than the exact same type of vision had by someone who is still alive. Why? What is so special about the past that it should be regarded as more valid than the present?
I can understand agnosticism in any religion if they are trying to have faith but failing at it, and I can also understand it if they are only interested in the folkway and not the religion. I know some atheist Jews, for example, who practice the ways they grew up in but don’t really believe in their God. They would never tell religious Jews that they’re doing it wrong, though. That atheist heathens try to tell heathens who have actual religious experiences that they’re doing heathenry wrong is a reflection on them, not on the religious.
Wiccatru: Influenced by Wicca / Fluffbunny
Wiccatru — generally used by reconstructionist or atheist heathens to mean people influenced by Wicca, or eclecticists, or universalists, or anyone who is both a heathen and a magic user / witch, or anyone who is more interested in gnosis than reconstruction, or who identifies as pagan and would attend an interfaith conference or a Pagan Pride Day. When used as an insult, it generally is a comment on the insultee’s intelligence or seriousness, as in, the speaker considers himself a respected scholar and considers the insultee a hippy. This insult tends to be used by the same people who use UPG as an insult, who see the gods as stuck in the Viking Age, which is ironically the same attitude that some heathens mock with the insults Marvel-tru and recon.
In its essence, the insult Wiccatru means the speaker thinks only academics are real heathens, and that heathens should do things like they did in the good old days. That’s ironic, because in historical times, very few heathens were literate, and even fewer were scholars. Most heathens of the ancient days were farmers and fishermen, warriors and weavers, merchants and midwives, all of whom got through their daily lives without knowing how to read. Why should today’s farmers be excluded from heathenry for not having a college degree? Or for that matter, today’s office workers who do have college degrees — in IT? No one says only people who read Aramaic are qualified to call themselves Christians. If heathenry is to be a real religion, it has to be practiced as a religion, not confined to study alone.
When it was first coined, the word Wiccatru actually referred to ritual practices borrowed from Wicca, not to people one disagreed with. There was a time period when reconstruction of the heathen religions reached the point where there was enough information on actual historical ritual practices so that stopgaps borrowed from Wicca and Masonic / Ritual Magic traditions, such as the Hammer Rite, could be left behind by those who wanted to embrace the new knowledge. Wiccatru referred to things like the Hammer Rite, which was a Norsified version of calling the quarters like Wiccans do. It did not refer to people. When it started to refer to people, it turned insulting. The word no longer serves its original purpose because it’s been used as an insult too much.
Rokkatru: Jotun Worshipper
Rokkatru — when used as an insult, it mean giant-worshipper. Never mind that sacrifice to giants is documented in the lore, for example to Surtr in Landnamabok. There are heathens on the net arguing that Asatru should be for the worship of the Aesir only, even though Asgard contains three distinct species of gods, Aesir, Vanir, and Aesir who were born Jotun, all of whom were worshipped by our heathen ancestors, plus which, Asatru has always included certain beings who don’t even live in Asgard, such as the norns, and then there are the various incarnations of Mother Earth who could be variously considered either goddesses or giants, such as Jord (Thor’s mother, who is also called Fjorgynn) and Gerda (Freyr’s wife.) The Asatru-for-Aesir-only folks completely ignore that gods of whatever origin are listed as Aesir by the Asatruarfelagidh, the official Asatru religious organization in Iceland, not only including Jotun-born Aesir such as Loki but even Vanir such as Freya. The Asatru-for-Aesir-only crowd are making an argument from racial originalism, which is patently ridiculous in a pantheon in which the oldest generation of gods all have jotun parents, including Odin, Tyr, and possibly Heimdall (unless you happen to think the nine mothers were selkies or some other type of non-jotun sea being, but still, not Aesir.)
This word should not be used as an insult because it is actually the name of a real heathen group whose members identify themselves by that word, and in fact that is the origin of the word.
Marveltru: Geeky Fangirl
Marveltru — a person who is both a heathen and a geek. As in, “You’re not doing heathenry right because you like Tom Hiddleston.”
We did not have an insulting term for being both a heathen and a geek back when it was Lord of the Rings bringing new people to heathenry. Why now? Could it be because this term is most often applied to women and gay men? hmm, maybe it’s not really about being a geek, is it?
In my generation, it was Lord of the Rings that brought new people to heathenry. Gandalf was transparently a heathen god, even to those who had never heard Odin’s name. I knew there was something special and real about Gandalf when I was 5, reading The Hobbit, when my only life experience with religion was kids at school shunning me for not going to church, asking my dad what religion we were and getting the answer “Listen to the corn.” Tolkien’s fantasy books laid the foundation for me to eventually become heathen later in life. I would not have recognized what runes were and why they were special when I was given that rune book for my 17th birthday if I hadn’t already been a Tolkien fan. So when I see people making fun of newbies who got interested in the heathen gods because of the Thor movies, I remember when I was 5 years old and feeling the same pull and being totally ignorant about everything but my feelings about a novel and not understanding anything but still having that true calling in my heart, and I think we should be kind and welcoming to those experiencing the same thing now.
Sometimes, the insult Marveltru is used in an almost completely opposite way, to indicate a person who thinks the depiction of Thor in the first Thor movie is about right, and that if he appeared on Earth today he would bumble around not knowing what any of our technology is and speaking in an odd archaic fashion. So basically, that applies to the same people the insult Recon is applied to. This is really the total opposite of the other meaning. It’s like the word “with”– if you fight with someone, are you on the same side or the opposite side? You’d need context to be sure.
Recon — a reconstructionist, generally used to mean an SCA wannabe Viking who is also an Edda-thumper making claims of being an academic. Whew. Where did these people even come from? Is the Do You Even Heathen Bro crowd really that large that they managed to pervert a word that used to apply to every heathen in existence? Really, it did. I’m not even that old, I’m only 45 and I remember when heathenry was identified as a reconstructed religion and everyone was interested in contributing to further reconstruction, and yes, having UPG experiences was considered part of the reconstruction, not antagonistic towards it. How did “recon” come to mean “we don’t actually believe the gods are real, they can’t do real things in the real world, and they certainly don’t talk to humans even though it says they do in the sacred Lore we are always quoting, because those people back then had the only valid experience of being heathen, all we can do is dress up in Renfaire garb.”
(I enjoy Renfaire myself, and have been a Rennie longer than I’ve been a heathen. There is no reason one can’t both enjoy Faire and experience the gods directly. The one really has nothing to do with the other.)
Recon should not be an insult. (Unless, of course, you are attempting to start a bar fight with Marines.) The people who exemplify the qualities that make “recon” an insult are not actually reconstructing anything. They are just making fun of people who actually have religious experiences (UPG), who are trying to apply what was reconstructed to modern life, or who are trying to fill in gaps left by the erasure of the concerns of women from history– all of which usually comes down to men bullying women. More actual reconstruction is probably done by non heathens whose work is supported by universities, i.e., archeologists studying ancient burial sites. They have the time, the training, and the resources (money! computers! cameras! grad students! Not to mention permission from local governments to dig up hillsides.) Reconstruction means knowing what was and understanding what was, and that has been essential in the first half century of heathenry’s rebirth. There was no way to get to where we are today without reconstruction. The task now is to apply what we’ve learned and figure out how to live as a modern religion, but we should still be open to learning more and reconstructing more. Recon should not mean romanticizing the past to the point where it obliterates the present. That’s the opposite of what reconstruction is supposed to do. Let’s find a new word for the so-called “recons” who do nothing but attack people for actually believing in the gods and having relationships with them. How about we call them deconstructionists, because what they are doing is attacking heathenry as an actual religion as distinct from a Renfaire guild.
Labels divide us. They provoke arguments and ad hominen attacks rather than facilitate discussion. I’m not going to ban anyone from the forum where I’m an admin (American Asatru Association) for using them, because all these words have their legitimate uses and I prefer more free speech myself, so I’m not saying this list of words should be an official rule that everyone has to follow. But I hope that people will think twice about insulting each other in this way or any other way in online or offline community spaces.
[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]