A Warrior Religion?

Any newcomer to Heathenry will probably hear these words at some point as they explore whether it’s a good “fit” for them. Heathenry, they are told, is a “warrior religion” and if you aren’t in some way into hitting things with sharp, pointy objects, then GTFO and go join Wicca, with its wussy peace-loving deities, you wussy!

It’s actually kind of funny, because in popular thought, the Celts (and yes, I know “Celt” is a misnomer, bear with me) get the opposite treatment. If I were only reading popular books on the Celts (say, from a press like Llewellyn), I’d probably be left with the impression that they valued music and art (via bards) and that priest-judges called Druids were very, very important….and oh, yeah, some of them were warriors, but HEY LET’S ALL GO DANCE AROUND THE MAYPOLE! In that respect, it’s almost like we have two loose cultural groups who are mirror images of each other in popular thought. Interestingly, many Vanatruar find “Celtic” traditions compatible with their own practices (I don’t, personally, but I find the commonalities between the neighbouring groups to be interesting).

Do I have to go into how unbelievably skewed both of those perceptions are?

The thing is, I don’t think the fact that Heathenry is dripping with machismo is entirely the fault of Heathens, after all, they’re only going off what they read in the Eddas, forgetting that the Eddas overwhelmingly focus on what elite men are doing with sharp pointy objects. We don’t get to hear stories about fishermen or farmers (boring) or most women (even more BORING) or pretty much anyone who wasn’t born with a sword and shield by their crib. We know, of course, that people had other things to do besides war-mongering. Ibn Fadlan talks about the very much not warlike activity of traders, but that passage also includes people prostrating themselves before their deities, and as we all know, Heathens have *issues* with kneeling.

The end result is that we get a lot of people who dismiss Heathen traditions as too “masculine” and that’s just sad. On top of that, there’s the ironic promotion of traditional gender roles whereby women stay in the kitchen, completely ignoring the legendary accounts of shieldmaidens and glossing over the martial aspects of goddesses like Skadi, because that was a special case, apparently, “real women” spin and serve men drinks. It’s this weird sexist paradox: “EVERYONE BE WARRIORS, EXCEPT YOU, WOMEN, STAY IN TEH KITCHEN AND MAKE YOUR MAN A SAMMICH!” Is it really any wonder that more folks find traditions like Wicca to be more appealing? On a related note, I can’t help but wonder if the current thing where men only worship gods and women only worship goddesses is because certain men are insecure about ever acknowledging that a woman (even a goddess) is in any way superior to them. (Usually the same kind of people, incidentally, who feel threatened by LGBT+s and others who don’t fit their model of a “traditional family” because without a sammich maker and a sammich eater, society will collapse!)

And does it seem to anyone else that Heathenry is one of the only faith groups that constantly gets the label of “warrior religion”? I’ve never seen this label apply to almost anything from Greece or Rome, for instance (apart from certain cults) and yet the latter is most famously known for kicking ass and taking names (oftentimes literally) all over the ancient world.  Or, for that matter, Sikhism, whose adherents wear (blunt) daggers (the kirpan) as a reminder that they are expected to fight and die for their faith. When I went to a gurudwara as part of a class trip, all they talked about was recycling, and they shared food with us. Then again, much has changed since the religion was founded.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to put down their sharp pointy objects and make love, not war (although I would vastly prefer the former to the latter) but could we please get a little perspective here?  I think there’s a difference between honouring warriors and testosterone poisoning, and right now, I think our little family of religions is in danger of choking on its own machismo. I mean, seriously, it’s all well and good if you want to focus on being a warrior (especially if you are, say, a soldier, or a police officer) but for the love of everything, I don’t understand this constant need to put others down because they aren’t interested in war-mongering. Even the most battle-hardened warrior needed to put down their sword and pick up a hoe (and no, not as an improvised weapon!) and make sure everyone has enough food so they can live to fight another day. Again, no one else seems to have this problem with including a wide variety of different roles in their traditions, WTH is your problem, Heathenry? You’re like the little kid in the sandbox who goes around with a bucket 0n their head smashing everyone’s sand castles. Not cool.

5 thoughts on “A Warrior Religion?

  1. Hmm yeah, Heathenry definitely focuses more on the warrior aspect of life than other aspects of Norse life. However, in my own personal experience, I have not found Heathenism to be as chauvinist as others would have me believe. I know a few Heathen males who pray regularly to Freya. Of the Heathen Blot I went to, it was half male/half female and a female was the one who lead the Blot. I think it depends upon who you bump into and your own personal experiences. Sounds like you had a lot of negative ones, but I assure you not all Heathens are like that.

    • Oh yes, I just happen to talk to people who have really bad experiences with their own local communities, and then you have the far right communities (who typically refer to themselves as “Odinists” not Heathen) that really jump on the whole “traditional gender roles” bandwagon. The kindred closest to where I live was actually founded and headed by a woman, but I have no idea what the membership is like.

      Of course, not all Heathens are like that, just like not all Wiccans are open and accepting of everyone (see, for example, Mark Ventimiglia, who had all sorts of….charming….things to say about LGBT+s and anyone who wasn’t a vegetarian) but I also think that when you have a group that puts an overwhelming amount of emphasis on the “warrior” thing you end up with a lot of people who want some kind of He-Man religion, and, unfortunately, those people are loud. I should also note that my exposure to Heathenry has mostly been confined to American Heathenry, which is quite different from the faith as it is practiced in, say, Iceland.

  2. Yeah I can understand that frustration. The other annoying thing is people who use the old religion as a way to justify their homophobia or racism. If you wanna be racist and homophobic don’t force that onto other people who don’t agree. There is so little we actually know about the ancient Norse way of life it is annoying when these people use Norse Myth to justify a rigid way of life for women, homosexuals and so on. I think most people don’t do this, but the loud people usually stick out. What bleeds is what reads.

  3. Some heathen groups focus a lot on the warrior, but I’d say that’s those who have very little insight into the culture, and are often narrow-minded in other areas as well. I won’t say which geographical area I see this most in, I think most heathens already know that.

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