This article is a few years old so my views may have since evolved…
I’m cynical about the notion of the “folkway”, or at least cynical about the way in which it often gets articulated these days. The ‘folk’ are meant to be an organic body of people whose lives are interrelated at an everyday level. Trying to articulate the importance of this concept at a theoretical or philosophical level seems to be completely missing the point. It’s about everyday interactions, not allegiance to common ideas. Allegiance to common ideas is politics, which has no place in the ‘folk’.
I’m cynical about the idea that all Heathens/Ásatrúar/etc are linked together and as such distinct from other folk. Most of the ‘clan’ that I am tied to, a kind of ‘folk’ bound together by shared experience, common values, and mutual liking, are not Heathen, though many of them are very spiritual. They accept the validity of my way of talking about things and even sometimes the applicability of my northern metaphors to their lives.
Note that sharing common values is different to allegiance. Allegiance claims dogmatic certainty; anyone who subsequently changes their opinion is suddenly rejected as a traitor or a prodigal child. To share values means that organic developments or changes of opinion are accepted and respected. There is diversity within the broad similarity.
But back to the people I am bonded to. It is a real bond, not some abstract ‘bond’ to all Heathens. There are Ásatrúar out there with whom I disagree on just about everything – why on earth should I feel closer to them than to those with whom I have weathered storms and revelled in happiness? Of course, I also have some deep connections to certain souls who have incorporated Heathen spirituality into their lives.
I believe that there really are ancestral streams. We are our ancestors regardless of whether we take on ‘Heathenism’ as a set of dogmatic truths to be forced on all those of Indo-European/Germanic heritage (or even to be forced upon anybody). A number of my friends are deeply archetypal, and wear their ancestral energies openly and clearly. But they are not Ásatrúar, and it doesn’t matter. They remain archetypal, having either figured out who they ‘really’ are, or else simply being so overwhelmingly carved of one block of wood that it becomes obvious for all to see.
These people are manifestations of ancestral forces, and in being true to themselves, they are true to the gods – for the gods ARE our ancestors. Personally I think they might get a lot out of the odd bit of ritual or reading some mythological poetry, or whatever, but basically these folks are fundamentally ‘tru’. Who am I to say otherwise, just because they do not accept Heathenism as a religion? Hail to those who walk the spiritual path, for that is what our mythology sprung from and always returns to anyway.
I reject dogmatism, and I reject the notion that Heathenism can survive without making spirituality a central focus. By the same notion, if we cannot criticise our own ‘religion’, then we are lost. For then we have become a sad and insecure joke, addicted to the false pleasures of egotism.
It also brings me no pleasure to report that in my time I have known a few Heathens who have been in deep denial of their actual ancestral/archetypal nature – despite being explicitly Heathen! Without exception all of these folk were dogmatists, egotists, and would only accept spirituality to the extent that it made them feel safe or justified in their insularity.
I have friends from a mix of different ethnicities – why should they not be part of my ‘clan’, if they are in their own ways true to themselves and therefore their gods? We share the common thread of self-respect and other-respect (Gebo is the principle of all meaningful relationships).
In my experience, those who talk on and on about ‘The Folk” are those who don’t actually have an organic social group built around mutual liking. Rather, they have only bands of individuals bound by a certain degree of common dogmatic belief, just like a cult or a political party. They talk about “The Folk” so incessantly because they don’t actually live it. The more they try to IMPOSE what is actually an organic social pattern, the more they alienate themselves from it. This quickly becomes a vicious cycle. I don’t mean to say ALL “Folkists” are in this predicament, of course – but many I have met ARE in this predicament.
To be fair, I am not therefore ‘siding’ with the universalist approach to Ásatrú, which is also dogmatic. I don’t think all religions are neatly interchangeable, and I don’t think it makes sense to ‘cut n paste’ different traditions unless you have a deep appreciation of each of the paths involved. Even then, this has to be something personal, and certainly should not be presented as ‘truth’.
Spiritual and cultural traditions do evolve, and they do incorporate elements from other paths – this is part of the organic nature of these paths and to try to force ‘purity’ on them is actually to lose them. However, these intersections and evolutions are gradual things, borne from mutual recognition rather than expediency or a superficial addiction to image. If you like something’s image, get into it! But don’t be so pretentious that you start ripping off the ideas that go with that image.
Eclecticism can easily devolve into constructing an intellectual framework to justify one’s insecurities, limitations and egotism. Then again, a biased interpretation of just one spiritual path (as I have seen before with some Heathens) can do exactly the same thing.
I’ve also noticed that a lot of the more ‘purist’ types enjoy waxing self-righteously about how confused or mistaken this or that group of eclectics are – yet many of these people were themselves once eclectics. If you tell people they are stupid and wrong, you should expect that they reject you. When you tell people this in a spirit of hypocrisy, they have every RIGHT to reject you.
Surely if our ways are going to have a hope of being seen in a positive light we have to get over this egotistical nonsense. I may be deeply unamused by a lot of the fluffy bunny crap that passes itself off as spirituality these days, but I’m equally unamused by the hypocrisy and absurdity of what often goes on in the Ásatrú scene.
One final thought. Heathenism is supposed to have a huge amount of respect for nature and the environment, yet most exponents of “The Folk’ hardly mention this, if at all. Without nature, our traditions are utterly empty. It is already difficult enough that so many of us are urban in basis and cannot often be in the wilderness. Give some respect to the earth, the sea, and the sky, for they were and are the cradle of the Northern Tradition.