Monday, September 29, 2014

Our* Community

When I started looking for a religion that I could call my own, it was difficult. First, I was lucky. I never had Christianity pushed on me. I came from a lower middle-class single parent household, and grew up in an old coal camp.The place I grew up in had more churches than schools. It was natural, then, that Christianity would become part of my life. I went to church on my own and made the decision to become a Christian on my own. That church, however, decided that I wasn't their type. They stopped picking me up for church, eventually. The reasons were generally unclear. One of the things that kept coming up, however, was how I was dressed. I only owned 2 pairs of pants and 3 shirts, and none of them were up to the standards of the church. So, at the age of 12, they drove by my house on the church bus, slowed down, looked at me and waved as I stood by the road waiting, and then sped off. They did this for weeks, until I finally gave up, and just never left my house.

I didn't do religion for awhile. I focused on other things. Eventually, I decided I would look further to see what I could find. It was 2003, and I had left high school. I felt the need to deprogram myself, before taking on the next chapter of my life. I spent the next two years, locked in a room. Only leaving the house once every few weeks. In that time, I did a lot of reading. I took up painting and drawing with charcoal. I worked on my confidence, and at the same time, struggled through one of the most violent and self-destructive cycles of my life. If I wanted to truly break myself to start fresh, this was the perfect time. In the end, I came out stronger and with an idea of who I was and where I wanted to go.

During that time, I had gone to a store with one of my best friends. The store had one of those 50 cent machines with necklaces in it. He ended up getting me one. Turns out, it was a rune necklace...Raido (This makes sense as I look back on this) to be exact. I went home that evening and looked up the meaning. The site that I got the meaning off of was a site about Wicca. As I looked through the website, it seemed interesting enough. I proceeded to go through the site, reading everything I could. After months of studying, I finally settled on calling myself a Wiccan. This, however, didn't last.Over the course of the year that I considered myself a Wiccan, I found that a sense of community was lacking. It was about "Me" rather than, "We". There was also a lot of drama. While I did find some very nice solitary types (who were solitary due to the drama), I wanted a community. 

Over the coming years, I would study constantly. I considered myself a general Pagan throughout my time in college. I studied everything from the works of Aleister Crowley to Vodun. I eventually, ran into Heathenry after a friend had been looking things up on ethnic religions. From there, I purchased Living Asatru by Greg Shetler. After that, I was hooked. This finally felt like home to me. It's been my home ever since. During those first stages, I met someone who is still a good friend (ironically, we know a lot of the same folks, but hadn't met until that point), and I remember we got to talking about how I didn't feel like I converted, and this was just who I was. He told me, "That's the great thing about our faith. You don't just are." This is something I've repeated to others countless times since (Thanks, Kraft), because it's the truth. This is who we are. 

When I decided to look into finding others locally, I was warned that WV was kind of a wasteland. That is correct, to an extent (at least at this time). You may have a group, but they may be going out of state and over the border to meet with folks. If there were Heathens or groups, there would also be a lot of distance between.

 The Christians had their community....Pagans had theirs....Every religion seemed to have their own community with their own borders (even if they pretended they didn't exist). I could not, however, find an actual strict Heathen community. I didn't give up, despite the years it took for me to get into contact with others on the same path, looking for the same things.

Now, looking back on it, it's as if the Gods have been on our side this whole time. Things have fallen into place that puts us on the brink of having our own community. It makes me happy to think that within the next few years, we may see multiple tribes/kindreds appear in the area. This is what we've needed for a long time. We have folks who go to other religions and paths, because they can't find other Heathens. I'm hoping that we can change that. Don't get me wrong. I'm not bashing other religions and paths. If we want to label ourselves Heathens, however, then we should have our own community, with other Heathens. Having borders is just a part of having structure, and as common sense would tell us, if you're building something, you must have a good structure, or else whatever you build, will fall. 

We need to educate, be active, and even learn to work with and around other religions. At the same time, it's very important to keep our own identity. We are Heathens. If everyone else has their own communities with their own laws and their own restrictions, then we should too, just to be fair about it. The easy way to say this is, our religion isn't other religions, so we shouldn't treat it like it is. This way of thinking gives folks who are just coming into this way of life a solid foundation. This gives folks a place to come to, and confidence in what they're doing. We have to promote Heathenry, not other religions, if we wish to see a future for it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Obsession with Valhalla

If you've watched my Youtube Channel, then you've probably seen the video I did about Valhalla. The reason I did that video originally, was due to the amount of folks I had ran across who were arguing over specifics of who gets in, and who doesn't. You have some folks who don't believe anyone gets into Valhalla these days, others believe that anyone can go to Valhalla, and see it as Heaven, and then others believe that only soldiers get in. Often times, they take Freyja out of the picture, and various other places that a person may go when they die.

The problem with this obsession is, that it's still a Christian road that many of these people are taking. Folks put so much importance on Valhalla, and proving they're a "warrior", either by pumping iron, or by typing furiously in an online debate, that they forget what it is to live as a Heathen.

I often say this, and if you've been in a conversation with me, then you know what I'm about to say...Our ancestors were probably more worried about leaving behind a legacy, than Valhalla. When someone leaves us, and we speak of their adventures and experiences, then we're keeping them alive. They, in some form, become immortal. Their stories and actions and ideas still have the power to inspire.

Have you ever heard a story about, maybe, a grandparent, for example? Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wish I could do that!", when you heard about something great that they had done? Maybe it inspired you to do something. Maybe it made you look at things a different way. And if you did something, that was influenced by your new view on things, or sudden need to have a story of your own, then congratulations. You've been influenced by the past. This is what we need to be more worried about.

When we do things in this life, we should want to have a story of our own. We should strive to have our stories told. We should leave such a mark, that we inspire generations, long after we're gone. The debate about Valhalla takes away from what really matters in this life. When I heard awhile back, that someone had said that we're not living in the sagas, I understood what they meant. I've heard this from a few folks, and I get it. At the same time, this is my saga. If you're not going to do anything, besides sit around and read a book, and become cynical, then that's going to be a saga that won't get too far.

We need to take action and look at our religion as a lifestyle, rather than something we do one weekend a month. You shouldn't worry about Valhalla, because you feel the need to prove to everyone that "you're a warrior". In worrying and debating, you lose precious time that you could be using to do something great. Whatever just happens. Leave something behind worth talking about. Something that will inspire the next generation to not be lazy and find their own stories.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rediscovering the Importance of Family

Myself, mom, my uncle, and my two nephews. 2013

Since I can remember, I have always been told that in the end, all we have is our clan. Friends come and go, but family is forever, like it or not. This includes the members that just call your house to gossip. Those are the ones you're really stuck with.
In today's society, we see the value of family going down. We see the value of one's self rising. It seems like it's all about self-interest anymore. Even with religion, we see a lot of the use of, "I" instead of "We". It's all about self-discovery. Self-discovery is great. Don't get me wrong on that. However, there needs to be a balance of self and family, and your self should fit into that family. Nourishing your family, with that in mind, should help you nourish yourself.
                                                  Mom with a picture of my brother. 2014

An unfortunate problem we have in today's society, is that we just don't take care of each other. Kids can't wait to leave their homes, and parent's can't wait to get the kids out of their hair. Then, the parent's will complain about how the kids never come to see them. It's an endless cycle, and the blame rests on our own shoulders. I'm amazed at how many people are surprised that I'm my mother's son, when I take her to the cancer center. People always say to my mother, "You're very lucky to have him for a son. He takes good care of you." While we do like to hear that folks still respect family still, it's terrible that it's looked at as something special. Shouldn't we do this for our family anyways?

Myself and my brother.
When my brother got to where he couldn't move around great, when his brain tumor came back, my uncles and mom took care of him. Mom was right beside of him when he passed. My uncles and mom took care of my great aunt as well. My papaw was another one that was taken care of. At this very moment, I'm staying up to take care of my mother, who just had chemo today, and is running a temperature. Doing all of this wasn't because anyone wanted recognition. We've never been the types to worry much about what people think of us. It was simply, because it had to be done. It's a matter of doing something that you should be doing in the first place.
I can understand folks not getting along with their families. At some point, however, that chain needs to break. We need to get back to that family mentality. Even when we have differences, or get mad at one another, we need to stand together to face the world. That's what I was looking for when we first got Ulv Hamre together. I wanted a family atmosphere that we could bring our actual families into, and look at each other, although some not blood related, as one big family. So far, so good.
Living life alone and looking out for yourself, can take you far, if done carefully. But a life surrounded by family...some that you've picked up along the way, and some by blood, makes life worth it. You celebrate the ups and downs. You pick each other up. You laugh, cry, and stand together. In honoring that family mentality, I believe you truly honor your ancestors.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I was a little boy, when I realized the slight differences in the scent of weather. It sounds funny to talk about it like that, but it’s the only way I can describe it. I remember standing outside in the yard, no more than eight years old, barefoot, and watching the rain come over the mountain, and into the valley. I remember that smell. Even though I was only a small child, I was almost immediately able to distinguish the difference in scents between seasons and weather. Spring rain smells different, of course, than autumn rain. This comes in handy, especially if you work outside.

Over the years, I have been made fun of for saying that you can smell a storm coming. Often times, it’s been written off as false information, told by the simple minded. I’ve even recently watched a show about weather, where the “science experts” dismissed the idea of predicting weather through senses. They laughed at the idea that any person, or animal, could predict such a thing. The last few years, however, there have been articles published that talk about how it is, in fact, true. You can, indeed, smell a storm coming. 

How does this relate to growing up in Appalachia specifically, or Heathenry for that matter? The answer is simple. Over the generations, we have forgotten what it is to feel. In Heathenry, we read our books, study our lore, argue science, and forget what it is to survive. We spend so much time talking about ancestors, but we don’t remember what it was that helped them survive. For as complex as Heathenry is, it’s really not. That’s what makes it complex. It’s difficult for those who have a modern mind to understand. 

Simply put, Heathenry is who we are. To understand ourselves is to understand Heathenry. It’s a part of our ancestors and culture. The reason that story sticks with me, is because looking back on it, it’s a lesson. We don’t always have to have books to tell us what we feel or who we are. Looking in the mirror and seeing your ancestors looking back can give you as much inspiration and guidance as any book. It’s a ritual I perform every day. 

So, why is it so hard for folks to grasp the idea of looking inside themselves and using intuition and observation to live their lives? That can be a little complicated. We live in a society that is all about right now. Instant gratification, while sometimes useful, has gained so much control of our daily lives. Many folks can’t seem to get into the idea that sometimes, things just take time. Looking into yourself and observing nature, and putting that with what you observe about your own survival instincts, is too much work. Looking it up online, reading it in a book, or asking someone on a forum has become the primary ways of learning.

Books are great, and talking to other folks on forums can be extremely helpful. Don’t get me wrong about that. However, sometimes you just have to take a week and sit outside for a few hours. Breathe in the air, watch animal behavior, look at the trees and sky, and take notes if you have to. Everything from what you’re smelling, to how the breeze makes you feel. Once you do that, look back and compare at your week. Did you find that the leaves on the trees turned over? Did you notice how the birds were behaving?

I’m sure some people reading this may be wondering what I’m getting at. I’d almost bet that someone is angrily reading on, looking for how this fits in with Vikings and Odin. The fact is, it has everything to do with our ancestors and our Gods. It’s something that seems lost in the age of digital self-serving instant gratification. In essence, we are that something, and we are lost. 

Science can tell us only so much, as can any book. At some point, we have to make decisions based on our own instinct. Not to be confused with a decision based on something we’ve read about. Rather, a decision based on circumstance and personal placement in the specific situation. Getting back to our roots as humans and as a folk, comes from more than just academics. You have to also live it.

Although intuition may not be recognized by more science minded folk as a legitimate way of practicing Heathenry, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less true to who we are. We have to balance academics with intuition. With academics, we can learn a world view through history, archaeology, and other information. With intuition, we can live the world view through how we make decisions, react to situations, and practice our faith accordingly. 

In the end, we need to step away from this outside information, and look in ourselves. Do we constantly have to be looking for others to approve? When I started work on building a Kindred, I had talked to one of my best friend’s. At the time, I had been exposed to a lot of opinions on Heathenry via the internet, as well as a lot of bickering due to those opinions. The one thing we talked about and agreed upon, was that we weren’t going to let someone tell us how we can, or can’t do things. We were going to balance what we knew with how we felt. If it fit the world view, which comes natural as it’s a part of who we are and where we come from already, we were going to do it. For us, it’s about balance, adaptation, and understanding ourselves and our ancestors.

            Sometimes, we just have to get away from the internet and television, and go work in the garden, take a walk, or just sit for a while and think. Your faith isn’t just words in a book. Your faith is who you are. It’s time to apply that knowledge to your everyday life.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thing 2014 - Valley Park

When they say that meeting Heathens in person is different than online, they're not kidding. It's one thing we promote with Ulv Hamre.

Yesterday, the point of our Appalachian Asatru event, was to simply bring folks together in the area, that may not even know that there are other Heathens around them. A lot of folks found out first hand that there's people literally right down the road from them.

Myself, Frank, and Jeffrey came down first to hang up the raven banners and Norwegian flag. We had our friends, Pat and Cliff from the Asatru Folk Assembly come in soon after. They honored us with a gift to Ulv Hamre and we started talking immediately. Over time, James showed up with his family and a friend, food got brought out. Robert Taylor from Changes brought his friend and family. Things got underway quickly.

Throughout the day, we got various comments about how how people felt at home, either instantly, or within a matter of minutes. That's when we knew it was a success. The fact that folks were happy at an open event, just to know that other folk were close by, shows that we're on the right path here in West Virginia.

Overall, it was great. Good food, good conversation, and it was great to see our folk from the AFA. Pat and Cliff honored us with gifts (that cake Cliff brought got taken out by Myself, Frank, and Jeffrey when we got back) and Pat honored Ulv Hamre over a horn. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

You're Only a Victim, If You Allow Yourself to Become One

"You're only a victim, if you allow yourself to become one."

When I think of that phrase, I think of my mother, who is laying the hospital bed beside of me at the moment. She's always been against being the victim. This doesn't mean that she's never had anything terrible happen to her. This just means that she believes in being strong and doing what you have to do, not for recognition, but only for survival and happiness for self.

She was in an physically abusive marriage, had everything she had worked her ass off for, destroyed in a flood, laid beside her first born son in a hospital bed and whispered to him that it was okay to go, and was with him a little bit later when he took his last breath, and a ton of other things that has happened in her lifetime. Now, she struggles with an inoperable brain tumor. Interestingly enough, she's not complaining. Even after being in the E.R. for almost 12 hours, she had a smile on her face.

When I look at the media and the state of the world, I see a society that makes it cool to be a victim. Instead of making a point to achieve goals, we're told that we should be offended and lazy. Thing's didn't go your way today? Someone must hate you. Did you not get that new iPhone? It's because someone believes you didn't deserve it. You should start a revolution until you get that damn iPhone.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't complain, or that you shouldn't feel bad. Sometimes, you need some time to refresh yourself, work through things, but move on. When people spend more time bringing it to everyone's attention that they're a victim, instead of doing something to better their situation, then they are the ones who put themselves in that situation. This has become a major problem in modern society.

So what do we do? I think we need to look at our ancestors. In the most difficult times, instead of limiting ourselves based on other's standards, why not do something to better ourselves. Our ancestors worked and fought so that we could get to this point, and now, it's almost a waste if we don't become more active in our own lives. Through hard work, finding happiness in yourself and your family, and by not giving up, just because something is difficult, you honor our ancestors. When we breed those virtues in our children, we, in turn, will be honored by our descendants.