This issue, we sit down with Maris and Talas Pái, co-editors of Huginn: A Journal of Alternative Heathenry. Here, they discuss ancestry and racism in modern Heathenry, the definition of “alternative Heathenry,” and why it is important to provide a venue for voices which would otherwise be marginalized or silenced.
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correct one common misconception about modern Heathenry, what would it be?
Talas Pái: There’s a lot of misconceptions floating around, especially due to the way Heathenry’s grown and the different groups that have arisen out of that movement. Heathenry’s historically counted itself out of the general Neopagan movement and prides itself, I think, on having differing values.
Maris Pái: And that’s not necessarily a good thing; I’ve come across so much contempt in Heathen circles for other Neopagan paths. That’s isolationist and problematic to my viewpoint, and isolationism is most definitely not a traditional Nordic virtue!
TP: I think, from within Heathenry, the biggest misconception is about ancestry — because, though it sounds damning, the Northern gods do care about ancestry. The problem comes when people conflate the gods caring about ancestry with the gods caring about race, or decide to get proactive and promulgate racist ideas. In my experience, the gods are interested in variety, in strong bloodlines, in unusual talents, in resilience and intelligence, but They don’t care about race. Heathenry also has a strong (and growing) focus on ancestor worship, but I think too many people confuse ancestor worship in a Northern context with only worshipping or acknowledging your Northern European ancestors. But if you go back to the actual Scandinavian Viking history, you’ll find that racism is ahistorical. And the suggestion that your ancestry should dictate your religious behavior — that people should only interact with or worship the pre-Christian gods of their documentable ancestry — is ridiculous and racist. Some people find their ancestral connection a touchstone of their faith, but it shouldn’t dictate it; the gods should.
MP: The idea that the gods should dicate one’s faith dovetails nicely into my answer — I think the biggest misconception about Heathenry from within or without is the notion that it’s not a faith for the mystics. Admittedly, there is a very large contingent of pure reconstructionists within Heathenry, but that’s not all it is. Blót and sumbel are very much social rituals and Norse values are very community-centric, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not another fairly large group of solitaries and mystics with a vibrant, living connection to their gods. It’s not all just high-fiving warriors and meadhorns.
TP: Exactly. Outside Heathenry, I think the biggest half-misconception is that Heathenry is a macho warrior religion for hammer-swinging tough guys. The reason it’s only half a misconception is that there is plenty of room for macho warrior stuff for the sort of people who want that, and there’s plenty of Heathen gods with a martial mindset, but there’s increasingly room for people who aren’t interested in or called to the warrior lifestyle. Heathenry has room for and deities for poets, magicians, scholars, hunters, farmers, healers, artists, politicians, homemakers, lovers, of every gender and orientation.
EHS: How did you come to Heathenry? What drew you to this particular path?
TP: The short answer is: Odin. The longer answer is that, as a teenager in the Pacific Northwest, I’d grown into a very idiosyncratic practice serving the local wights and Native animal deity-heroes. Then, after several years of that, nine nights before Yule, Odin unmistakably showed up and kind of kicked off everything.
I took it slowly and incorporated Him into what I was already doing, which suited Him, but I didn’t really move more towards Heathenry until I moved to Canada to be with Maris. The climate there was much more like Scandinavia than the desert I’d been living in and the wights were much more unfamiliar, so basically as I settled in it just felt right to move more towards a Scandinavian practice. At the same time, I started seeking out other Northern deities, and we eventually found an equilibrium, after a few years of hashing it out.
MP: I had been a solitary witch for some time before Talas moved up to join me, and then everything changed. He came up to Canada … and Team Norse moved up, too. Odin has been a factor since day one, and His lady wife, Frigga, really took me under Her wing while we worked out how to turn our long distance relationship into a workable partnership and marriage.
TP: Now that we’re in Ireland and with another set of local wights, what we’re doing doesn’t probably look like most people’s Heathenry, especially considering the aspects of Odin I deal with most, but I think it’s honest and very in keeping with the Northern mindset. Vikings travelled and settled over a vast area and generally adopted local customs, so we’re doing the same.
MP: The move to Ireland was not only a move to another country (one I have an ancestral connection to, no less), it was a move from an urban area to a rural one. My relationship with Freyja and the rest of the Vanir had been cordial but faintly haphazard in the city, but once we got to the hedgerows of Connacht, I was more actively drawn into their service.
EHS: As editor of Huginn: A Journal of Alternative Heathen Viewpoints, can you tell us how the publication came by that name? And why a journal on “alternative heathen viewpoints”?
TP: It was actually surprisingly simple, unlike almost everything else about its birth. Maris came up with the Huginn part, which we liked because it was simple, memorable and referential, and the subtitle I just intended to be descriptive.
I’ve changed it in the past month or two to A Journal of Alternative Heathenry which is less of a mouthful, but I’ve found that ‘alternative Heathenry’ may be the most controversial thing I’ve ever said. ‘Alternative Heathenry’ to me indicates that Huginn‘s a venue for opinions and experiences that are often sidelined, ignored or suppressed within mainstream Heathenry, including LGBTQ experiences, mysticism and magical practice, multiracial/multicultural experiences, and Loki and Jotnar worship.
MP: Why have a journal of alternative Heathenry? Because there’s nothing else quite like this. It’s a forum for people on that mystic path I mentioned before, living with and for the Gods — a forum we have been repeatedly told is absolutely vital, because a lot of the voices represented in Huginn are controversial, as Talas said. It’s important not to silence fringe opinions, even if it is only a de facto silencing through the lack of a venue to publish.
EHS: Is Huginn open to submissions? If so, what are you looking for?
MP and TP: Huginn is absolutely open to submissions! We have a load of info, including detailed submission guidelines and the current topic, on our website.
In brief, we’re always seeking a variety of work of interest to Heathen and Northern Tradition readers: scholarly essays; accounts of people’s personal experiences with wights, deities or groups; poetry; interviews with notable Heathen or Neopagan people; reviews of books, journals, magazines, films, etc. of interest, especially small-press works. We’re also seeking artists to contribute full-color cover art and/or black-and-white internal art of Heathen or Neopagan interest.
EHS: Past issues of Huginn have focused on such themes as “The Work” and “Mysticism.” What themes will future issues feature?
MP and TP: We deliberately keep the theme flexible until we’re ready to announce the next issue so that we can try to keep the content relevant for what’s current and interesting, and broad so that there’s a variety of ways to contribute, but we’ve got a list of ideas that we refer to. Some of the themes we’re considering for the future include the Northern cosmos; holidays, especially a Northern lineup; magic, both runic and otherwise; the lore versus new received knowledge and apocrypha; the intersection of heathenry and pop culture; and Heathen gender and sex politics.
EHS: Where can readers find Huginn?
EHS: In addition to Huginn, what resources can you recommend to people interested in Heathenry?
MP: Galina Krasskova, who is a regular contributor to Huginn, has a book out she has co-authored with Raven Kaldera entitled Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner: A Book of Prayer, Devotional Practice, and the Nine Worlds of Spirit. Now, disclaimer here, I’ve not actually read it, but both my personal dealings with the authors and their other works that I have read have been sufficiently solid that I’d recommend it anyway.
Another one I’ve not read but trust the author of would be Essential Ásatrú by Diana L. Paxson — she’s a much more mainstream heathen writer, having been steerswoman of the Troth, and is very much a respected elder in the community. Anything by her, really — her Taking Up the Runes is a far less problematic text than Freya Aswynn’s seminal Northern Mysteries and Magic.
TP: Michaela Macha, another regular Huginn contributor, runs the phenomenal poetry and mythology site Odins Gift. There’s so much incredible material there, and it’s updated tirelessly.
Uppsala Online, run by Wayland Skallagrimsson, is absolutely solid — a good mix of research and gnosis. He’s also one of the only people talking about his relationships with both Odin and Loki and how they intersect.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
MP and TP: There’s several, if only because we can’t seem to sit still! Maris is compiling Beyond Maiden, Mother and Crone, a book on the experiences of Neopagan women; she’s also writing the content for a website devoted to Vanatrú, the worship of the Vanir pantheon. Talas is splitting his time between a devotional for Odin and The Northern Bestiary, an anthology about the animals of the Scandinavian/Germanic cosmos.