Frēosceatt Hæþendom and þe Frīfolc
Posted on September 4, 2017
In the past I have written about my “hearth”, which is both my residence and the spatial focus of the practice of my domestic religion. As my attention turns more to the development of a comprehensive consideration of what domestic religion consists of – what this practice can be in a contemporaneous Heathen context – I have taken stock of the world of Heathenry as it presently exists around me and I have found it regretfully wanting.
This is not to say that I am at all an advocate for the deconstruction of attempts to craft public or communal religion. I am not; I cannot more clearly state this. I believe communal religion to be a natural and important facet of exoteric polytheistic religion. I operate within the Heathen worldview of concentric obligations of duty and reciprocity and I do not, nor could I not, exclude those around me from the importance of this cycle or the fundamental human need of group experience. All these create an intrinsic communal aspect to religious identity.
But it is not one that is performing particularly well, right now.
Nor, I must stress, am I suggesting that Heathens focusing on community otherwise do not have household practice.
Heathenry has many present theological and philosophical deficiencies – whether that is due to the fear of a more concerted effort at contemporary development or an inability to engage in that development is not known to me. Paramount of this, in my view, is that it is lacking in the development and establishment of a cohesive, fundamental, understanding of domestic religion within a Heathen-centric worldview. This sphere of the religion is one that is little talked about, yet regularly questioned by new practitioners.
Within Heathenry, domestic religion is of secondary importance to that of the communal, group, religion. It is most often characterized as a type of “solitary worship”, intrinsically linking it to prejudices associated with individual movements (Wicca, itself steeped in a system of group-based, initiatory-based organizations). “Proper” Heathen practice is predicated by one’s value to the whole of the group, which necessarily takes precedence. In this discussion, it is common to see a “go and do” attitude asserting itself regarding a dearth of local groups, that one should build it (anything) and they (anyone) will come, and all will be right in the world.
When those discussions fail, hearth practice is portrayed as “inviolate”, something which cannot rightly be discussed in the public or advanced upon, because it is portrayed as supremely personalized, or so mutable that it would be ineffectual to even try to discuss it with any real purpose.
The fundamental flaws in this mentality should be readily apparent:
- Characterizing domestic religion as “solitary worship” redirects the attentions of neophyte practitioners and interested persons away from the foundational aspects of exoteric polytheistic religion, which are historically predicated on home worship. The communal religions of the Indo-Europeans, broadly, were reflections of the practices in the home.
- Pressuring people to feel required to join a group at any cost ultimately leads to disenfranchisement, particularly if economic, practical, or ideological concerns prevent them from taking part.
- Pressuring seekers to take a leadership role in the organization of distinct personalities, when they themselves may not have any capability or background to do so, sets up an unfair burden these people.
- Positioning hearthcult as “too private” simply removes it from the realm of discussion. It is often explained away as such in order to avoid commentary.
The theological image of contemporary Heathenry has been crafted thus: Heathenry as a religion is communal, and communal intercessors are seemingly required in order to directly deal and entreat with the deities on the behalf of a group, whether it be a “tribe”, or a “kindred”, or any-other Heathen organization so called. “Solitary” practice of any form is that which lacks a group, which Heathenry does not support and, at any rate, private practice is just that – private.
While a casual survey of history will show that there were indeed priests who served the public interest across a variety of cultures, it will also show that they were by and large not a specialized or vocational class of people, but one of appointment for a task. It is likewise true that not everyone served as a priest. But, even if we were to employ Dumezil’s fallacious tripartite hypothesis, which would separate Indo-European culture into three classes of professions, we see that there were often religious roles undertaken by those who would today be called “laymen”.
This is because exoteric polytheistic identity is intrinsically linked and indebted to the identity of the home. Religious developments in Indo-European descended polytheistic societies were generally (although not always) pioneered in that sphere. The home provides a foundation to the practice of the community, used as a template and model, and provides the lifeblood to these aspects of religious enactments.
Contemporary Heathenry’s avoidance of the discussion and development of this facet of practice is tantamount to cutting off one’s legs before running a marathon. And, what is worse, it is treated as business as usual. This is something that I have found to be unacceptable.
Which, ponderously, brings me to the topic of the title of this post.
I firmly believe that the foundation to a healthy polytheistic identity begins, like so many other things, in the home and that the efforts of Heathenry to expand upon communal organizations at the expense of this discussion only does near-irrevocable harm to the health and wellbeing of the religion as a cohesive movement.
If the current trend of Heathenry places an unrealistic weight on being part of a “group” or “community”, there will be a number of disenfranchised proto-/would-be-/Heathens that will simply not pursue the religion. The sense of rightful belonging is an important one for the continued interaction in the community writ large. As someone who has long been out-of-step with concepts like tribalism or group identity, I can sympathise with the desire to simply not be engaged. Especially when the physical community is lacking or disreputable.
Those that remain but struggle through without a framework or guideline towards concepts like proper action (the ultimate foundation of Orthopraxis and Ritualism) can develop improper or dangerous practices which ultimately harm them, lead to improper or impious habits (yes, we have those), and fail to understand foundational works of cosmology, gifting, et al. It takes longer to correct bad habits than it would have been to develop correct ones from the beginning.
In order for Heathenry to thrive and not be splintered through group dissolution or pointless political infighting, a more concerted effort at cultivating household polytheistic practice must be made. It needs to shed the prejudices it has with individuals who cannot (or will not) engage with a wider community, and divest itself of the baggage that it has in regards to these concepts of “solitary” or “eclectic” practices which are a holdover from the split of Asatru with Wicca.
The defenses against independent private practice on the domestic level are flimsy, buttressed by assumptions instead of concrete fact. Assumptions supported largely by a lack of evidence, not an evidence of any kind of identifiable absence. Crafting a practicing religious identity on such a fallacy is remarkably shortsighted.
Nothing is gained in ignoring household practice, or avoiding the development of a system of such things. While there are those who would prefer these developments to naturally and organically happen, without a bit of a push there is nothing to start that genesis. Emphasizing and attempting to do this definition helps establish a baseline orthopraxic religion which serves as a foundation. Orthopraxy does not mean “whatever practice appeals to us”, but instead intimates some kind of understanding of basic religious culture that is accepted.
Having resources available, having discussions that are not shut down, and having examples of proper ritual action in the home and how one can apply their Heathenry in these household/ancestral/divine methods of localized worship translates into less time overall which is spent “reinventing the wheel”, so to speak. Part of my biggest gripe with Heathenry is that we’ve been stuck, consistently, in the “beginning studies” part of it, the “101”-level. We exist with a consistent rehashing of introductory materials, because they are more easily comoodified or (perhaps) they are simply less known because of the paucity of discussion and widespread knowledge of them. In discussing these topics, and the household worship of deities that would otherwise be portrayed as uncaring to that level of society, we can hopefully advance the dialogue of Heathenry.
We can hopefully provide more time to developing, more energy to growth, with less time being spent on being shut down, or ignored, or silenced.
Identifying with Frēosceatt Hæþendom (that is Freehold Heathendom, or Heathenry because -ry/-ery as a suffix isn’t Old English), is my suggestion of rectifying this deficiency in contemporary Heathen practice, the recognition that there is another facet to Heathen practice that exists beneath and around the group dynamic. Independent Heathen households, or otherwise Heathens in groups that are willing to explore and discuss their own household practice for the intelligent consumption by others, in order to have a respectful dialogue about their practices and how they develop in their local environments. I truly believe this will only serve to strengthen communal Heathenry – after all, the tribalistic societies which many groups attempt to emulate are logically consisting of households that share common location, practice, and customs that are drawn together for survival and mutual benefit.
But instead of worrying about a communal structure to Heathenry right out of the gate, oftentimes building it with the assumption that people will come or otherwise spending time lamenting the lack of public edifices of religion, we instead could redirect some attention to developing a concrete, workable, system of belief, practice, and philosophy which literally exists wherever the practitioner happens to reside. A religious practice that not only can be picked up by anyone interested and dedicated, but can survive conflicts of personality, dissolutions of wider group initiatives, transmitted more easily through exposure and example, and which above-all recognizes the sacrality and religious meaning in the ordinary.
I have spent two years playing around with this idea through my writings, in discussion within internet groups groups, working on the Larhus Fyrnsida, and consulting my colleague Wodgar. He and I have seen an explosion of interest in Heathenry by those who would otherwise not be able to take part in communal organization, who are able to engage in their ancestral and household cults in a practical, contemporary way through a Germanic worldview. Instead of telling them to find groups, instead of simply providing a list of books for them to struggle through, we’ve had some success at providing our developments as a springboard for other people to run with.
It is particularly gratifying to know that a number of people have been touched by the concept, and it is a circle which is ever widening.
I am not the first to employ the term “freehold Heathen” to reference myself, and I know this for a fact. But I do believe that the actual effort at establishing an understood household practice is something that hasn’t been tried with a purpose, yet. Published books tend to treat their Heathen practice as an ancillary arm of community structure, fail to discuss concepts like the sacred space of the home or navigating the vagaries of modern households versus different ones, or the intersection of cosmological worldview in the household structure. Instead they, unsurprisingly, favor community-oriented rites (blots, symbels, etc.), thews, and other structures of larger-than-household-concern.
I understand the disillusionment with being treated as a lesser voice because I’m not part of some group, some organization which only meets one or two times a year and draws people from outside a reasonable range of expected assistance in the case of an emergency. I have been called “Solitary” and that I “cannot be Heathen” because of it, because I haven’t found a “group” of strangers that I want to commingle my luck with and engage with. I’ve seen people simply brushed to the side for asking questions, told to find other people, on forums and community sites that are dedicated to discussion. I’ve been called “eclectic” for having a religious practice which is not apparently in-line with what is considered accepted “Heathen practice”, subject to a system of goal-posts which consistently move as benefitting the argument at hand – arguments which always flew counter to the understanding of polytheism as a religious view.
I do not accept that one has to be part of a “group” in order to be Heathen. Nor do I believe that any one Heathen worshiping alone is solitary – for they maintain a line of practice which deals with their ancestral gods as the head of their household. And while I do not have any measure of issue with those Heathens who have found meaning or purpose in the group dynamic, or engaging in the gifting cycle of a wider group, many of us have not. One’s worth as a Heathen isn’t affixed to the perceptions of others outside their circles. That is the narrative of people who would position themselves as a higher authority than they otherwise fundamentally possess.
Exoteric polytheistic religion is just that – exoteric. This naturally positions it opposite the esoteric, the hidden or mysterious. There are values in those practices, to be sure – witchcrafts and mystery cults and other such traditions which derive their power specifically from being aberrant, deviant, or subversive all have their places. But the realm of the practical religion is the day-to-day, the seamless integration of one’s religiosity and their life, this is ultimately what defines exoteric practice.
Associating individual Heathen practice with deprecated concepts like “solitary” worship, or anchoring the value of Heathenry to an external group identity and not the smallest unit of Heathen social order, only provides unnecessary roadblocks to the proliferation of Heathen religious identity.
Part of the reason why I am writing my Hearthcult in Heathenry piece (forthcoming) is to try to do my part to advance this general understanding of in-house practice. And I really believe that if more people were to do so, to ignore the people who would try to belittle them for consequences of geography or living situations and otherwise portray them as being unsuitable to call themselves Heathens. And, as I have said, I am of the opinion it will only make Heathenry as a whole more stable.
I am a Freehold Heathen, and I am a member of þe heathen Frīfolc- those Heathen practitioners who are unbeholden to anyone other than the needs of their homes, family, and ancestral and local deities. And I, and others like me, are no less Heathen because of it.