[Welcome to our monthly column, Talking My Path. Here, Pagans and polytheists and witches of any tradition are invited to discuss their faith and their practices. This is an on-going feature, so if you would like to be interviewed, please reach out to us at email@example.com.]
evOke: How do you define your particular tradition or path? Does it have a specific name?
Cara Freyasdottir: I am an Inclusive Heathen and a devotional polytheist. As a Heathen, I attempt to bring in some of the religious practices and beliefs that would have been practiced by the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples living during that time. Heathens primarily honor the gods and goddesses of the Viking Age (Vanic deities of the Swedish and Icelandic areas, specifically) or their cultural descendants, such as the Urglaawe in Pennsylvania. As an Inclusive Heathen, I believe that anyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnic background, can be a Heathen. I believe that any person attempting a reconstructionist religion needs to adapt past practices so that they fit the needs of a modern world, so I do not consider myself a “strict” reconstructionist.
I am a devotional polytheist in that I believe the gods to be real entities with personalities and agency, and my goal with my spiritual practice has always been to attempt to interact with these entities in as direct away as possible. (Not unlike the mystics of many other religions.)
evOke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
CFD: My focus within the Heathen pantheon are the Vanic deities — the less well-known group of gods that includes Freya, her brother Freyr, and their father Njord. I also honor deities/jotnar (“giants”) that have close ties with the Vanir, e.g., Gerd (Freyr’s wife) and Skadi (Njord’s wife). Other deities that I feel fall into the general category of Vanic gods, such as Ullr, are also honored. However, I also honor the Aesir deities (Odin, Thor, Frigga, etc). I honor my ancestors as well, both of blood and of spirit. Finally, I also try to keep a good relationship with the local landvettir (nature spirits).
I keep a pretty full plate, deity-wise, but my primary focus has always been Freya and her immediate kin.
evOke: Among the various festivals and holy days celebrated in your tradition, which is the most important to you, and why?
CFD: My favorite Heathen holiday is Winternights. This holiday generally falls mid-October and usually includes a full sumbel (ritualized toasting) and feast, focusing specifically on the ancestors and those who have recently passed away. This is a holiday I’ve celebrated with many groups and in my opinion epitomizes the best of what Heathenry has to offer to a practioner — community bonding, eating, and honoring the gods and ancestors.
Yule is also a great holiday. It is one in which one of my primary deities, Freyr, is specifically honored. It’s a great (and easy) replacement for Christmas, for those of us who grew up Christian, as many modern American Christmas traditions come out of the Scandinavian/Germanic culture.
evOke: Which texts, websites, or other resources would you recommend to someone interested in your tradition?
CFD: We jokingly refer to Heathenry as “the religion with homework”, so a full book hoard would be too long to fit into this interview. 🙂 That said, the short list I recommend is at Erich’s Hall. Any new Heathen should at least take a shot at reading the Poetic and Prose Eddas, which are our main texts for modern Heathenry. For more accessible modern discussions of the Norse myths, I recommend Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Norse Myths or Our Troth Volume 1 and Volume 2, put out by The Troth. Neil Gaimen recently put out a great, well-researched and engaging version of our main myths as well.
For suggestions on how to be a practicing Heathen, I recommend Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson and A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve. Both authors are former heads of The Troth, an international Heathen organization that focuses on practicing Inclusive Heathenry, as opposed to other Heathen groups that prohibit or strongly discourage people who do not have a Scandinavian or Germanic background from joining their membership.
As for blogs and such, though not currently active, I recommend checking out any of the articles on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, where I had been a contributor and editor for several years, or any of the Heathen authors on Patheos. I also have a retired blog called Silver and Gold (Freya: The Gold Thread) in which I discuss my experiences and thoughts about the Vanic deities and devotional polytheism.
For those more interested in the devotional polytheism side of Heathenry, there are a number of useful and informative devotional books on the market currently focusing on specific Gods. A few I recommend are Frey: God of the World by Ann Groa Sheffield; Freya, Lady, Vanadis by Patricia Lafayllve; Between Wind and Water: A Devotional for Njord by Brandon Hardy; and either of the recent Odin devotional books (one by Morgan Daimler, and one by Diana Paxson).
evOke: Is there anything you would like to add, such as creative projects you are undertaking, festivals or events you hope to attend in the future, and so on?
CFD: No other creative projects at the moment, but one thing I do really want to mention is racism in Heathenry. As a Heathen, one of the biggest problems we run into are individuals and groups who attempt to twist Heathen symbols and beliefs into fodder for racist agendas, both overtly or not. Political and religious leaders have been using Scandinavian and Germanic mythology to “legitimize” persecution of ethnic groups at least as far back as Hitler, and we still see a lot of that mentality today in some Modern Heathen groups. It’s a big enough issue that when I introduce myself as a Heathen (say, at a mixed Pagan gathering), I almost always have to add the caveat that I’m specifically an Inclusive Heathen — I believe that devotion to and practice of the Heathen gods and religion is open to anyone despite their ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Unfortunately, it’s the racist and exclusionary Heathen individuals and groups that receive the most attention outside of Heathenry, and that is many outsiders’ impression of what heathenry is. Racism in Heathenry is the most bogus attitude I can think of. Racist mindsets and beliefs, as we would define them now, did not even exist back in the Viking age, and to argue that it did shows, at the very least, a profound ignorance of the cultures on which we base our religion.