Germanic polytheism is a religion that I’ve known my entire life. My mother raised me to understand the holiness of the world and the many gods who form a part of it.
From around 10 to 13 years of age, I would tell people that I followed the Teutonic religion. This didn’t get me very far, as few at that age had any idea what Teutonic meant. I had inherited the term from Stephan Grundy’s Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition. I wasn’t especially well versed in my own religion’s practices; I was functionally agnostic at the time and didn’t know what I was doing. My own ineptitude would earn me scorn from one classmate, a certain Robert, who would not accept my poor responses to his probing questions. This very person would a few years later tear my hammer from around my neck.
I stopped being so open about my religion once I entered high school. I knew that I wasn’t very good at what I professed. Around this time I had learned about the term Ásatrú. I used it sparingly, as I knew that it would get me just as far as my previous term. I dug into more books at this time, including a lot of books on magic. I was enthusiatic, but a lot of it left me uninterested at the same time. None of it was well written. It all seemed so hollow! My acts of devotion, such as they were, died for the most part until my senior year of high school. I was reminded by way of an English assignment of what I had dropped and started learning again.
University prompted me to examine my practices further. Many things were not practical by any means, living with four other guys in Providence, Rhode Island. I stopped saying that I followed Ásatrú and instead used Fyrnsidu, Old English for “old custom”. This hardly mattered at the time, as I didn’t know any other Heathens, let alone pagans, and wouldn’t meet anyone else until I was 21.
These many transitions caused me to look at what I did and why. While I said that I cared for the gods and offered things to them, in truth I did not care much about them. They were distant. After all, would a leader of a nation have any care about a random citizen who wanted help in improving something in his life? Not at all. I wouldn’t understand it yet, but it was my ancestors who received the most attention, if only without specifics, and that I was performing a marginally more historically accurate form of Heathenry.
Ancestors and Ancestry
A great deal of my religious activities is directed toward my ancestors, especially my grandparents, whom I knew in life with the exception of one. I have the ashes of my maternal grandparents at my altar, while the ashes of my paternal grandparents are (allegedly) scattered on my paternal grandfather’s old property in Kents Hill, Maine.
I spent a lot of time learning about my family’s past in my mid-twenties. I loved learning about my ancestors in my teens as well, but it was difficult at best to get information from my parents. My father is a bit of a hermit when it comes to relations with other people, while my mother didn’t know useful details. My own teenage laziness did not help. That finally changed when I was able to afford Ancestry.com and I gathered what I could and learned everything that I could. Ultimately my family tree accumulated 789 people, of whom a vast majority is on my father’s side.
I was shocked to discover that my direct paternal line had been in North America since 1638. Years of rumours had led me to believe that there would be a Welsh ancestor somewhere, too, but such a person was never found within several generations of me. I found remote connections to marginally famous people, including one who married into royalty, though no such people existed in direct relation to me. I located deeds to land long since sold. I learned much.
Ultimately I saw that I had a long connection to New England, just as I did to England through my paternal grandmother (and more distantly through my paternal line as a whole) and to Germany through my mother. All three became very important to me, although I always had a strong sense of nationalism, for lack of a better term, for New England.
In the years since, I’ve worked to make sure that I did better in regards to my ancestors. It was during this time that I received the ashes of my maternal grandparents; my grandmother had been in possession of my grandfather, but she died just two months ago. Near my altar is the flag of Germany. (I also have one of Iceland, which I desperately wish to visit, but I have no relation to that place.) I nurture a sawn log with lichens from a fallen tree; I’ve kept the lichens alive for a while now as my connection to the land here. This tree was damaged during a particularly bad storm and had been in the nearby cemetery; I’ve worked in that cemetery often in order to post data to Find a Grave and taken a particular liking to three individuals there. My items relating to England are rather lacking, I admit, but I periodically receive gifts from friends who visit London and use those where I can.
For my ancestors I burn oats, which is more difficult than it sounds when in an apartment. I try to learn the recipes to meals that they enjoyed in life, where possible. I hope to build a hearg (Old English, “pile of stones, altar”; cognate with Old Norse hǫrgr) on my parents’ property with stones from their current and previous homes, as well as well from my grandparents’ various homes in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia, if not more.
They are my everything. They’re important in everything. Their decisions made me in every possible sense of the idea. Without them, I would literally be nothing. Their triumphs and failures live on in me. I inherit what they’ve done.
I hope to live up to what they wanted for me, which I never heard directly from them in their lives. I hope to give them great grandchildren sooner rather than later and to teach those children about their ancestors. It is, in many ways, a singular goal of mine.
In some ways, the gods are more concrete than my ancestors. My family isn’t as firmly set in my mind, for they’re amorphous in their great quantity. My ancestors’ wants and desires blend together over the ages, while the gods have their affiliations, if loosely, that may remain rather consistent.
Throughout my many years as a Heathen, I’ve remained particularly fond of Ing Frēa. My early years were spent referring to him as Freyr; even now he’s often referenced in my head as “Frey”. His importance has been so great that my first tattoo at age 22 was of his associated Anglo-Saxon rune (ᛝ) on my right arm. One of the most influential people in my religious development was Jordsvin, a gay goði of Freyr. I gobbled up whatever I could find on the deity and went to him in times of need. His associations with peace, pleasure, fertility, and fruitfulness of the land remain very important to me. I have a statue and a woodburning of his associated rune dedicated to him.
There are, of course, other gods.
Wōden, whom others in Ásatrú may know as Óðinn, is rather important to me. Many, many people have said that he is a prolific recruiter. This isn’t completely true for me, as I wasn’t recruited by any means, but I can understand how that could be so for others. My parents and both grandfathers are lovers of history and writing. All of them have previously written for personal enjoyment at the least, while my parents also have written for profit. Like them, I have a strong love for history and writing. It was in this that I am not surprised that I may have once seen Wōden on my family’s property in my youth. (As someone who is skeptical to a fault in a lot of things, I don’t always know what to make of that, if it was anything at all.) I have a statue associated with him.
Tīw, known elsewhere at Týr, is not someone whom I’ve ever really experienced. He is for reasons of comparative mythology the leader of the ēse. He is the god of justice, war, governance, and oaths and is, for lack of a less overused term, the sky father. I called upon him once (in conjunction with my ancestors) when I had been wrongly and baselessly accused of a crime. The accusations were dropped a week later once they were seen for how empty they were. Additionally, I swear oaths on a long dagger that I associate with him.
Frīg, often erroneously written as Frīge and cognate with the Norse Frigg, holds a special place in my heart. She is both a mother and a lover. She looks over her family. She is Wōden’s wife. I have prayed to her when I have had family issues and looked to her for guidance in domestic affairs. I associate with her a drinking horn that has the boutonnières from my wedding sticking out the top.
Þunor, known as Þórr in Norse sources, is the bearded god of thunder, the defender of the common man, and the wielder of an ax (or hammer, depending on other references and comparative mythology). He is the son of the Earth and is associated with oaks. He rides across the sky with his goat-drawn chariot. I have never called upon him directly, but he is included during more generalised offerings. Plenty of others pray to him for good rains or praise him during thunderstorms. I have a statue of him and a small blade with a goat foot for a hilt associated with him.
Earth (< Old English Eorþe), or alternatively Folde (< Proto-Germanic *fuldō < Proto-Indo-European *pelth₂- “broad, flat”; cognate with Old Norse fold and Old Saxon folda), is quite obviously the goddess of the Earth. The aforementioned sawn log with lichens is dedicated to her.
Sun (< Old English Sunne) and Moon (< Old English Mōna) are self-explanatory. I have nothing associated with them on my altar, but I have a copy of the Nebra sky disk nearby.
At this point, I go into more obscure territory or have not found a way to honour the god or hero properly.
Bēow is the (putative) god of barley, to whom I have assigned the attributes of John Barleycorn. I also view him as being largely synonymous to Byggvir. I have nothing associated with him, nor do I honour him, as I don’t grow barley and I know no one who does.
Ēostre remains elusive. Plenty of people celebrate her, but often without any sort of historical understanding. The name shows that it might have belonged to a local deity, which is nice to know, but it doesn’t provide much more than that. How this name came to be so widespread then is another issue, though. Nothing is conclusive.
*Hreda/Hreþe/Hreþa has even less to work with and there’s no consensus by any means regarding the name. This goddess, if there is one there at all, is thus ignored.
Seaxnēat‘s exact role in the world is lacking in extant sources, either as being a “sword-companion” or as a national god of the Saxons. He seemed important once, but there’s little to go by.
Wēland is worthwhile as a god of smithing, but I do not do smithing and any construction that I do perform is far less laborious. I am interested in smithing, so perhaps one day he’ll be more relevant, but for now he goes unnoticed specifically.
Hengest and Hors have no function for me, but they are undoubtedly similar to other horse twins in Indo-European mythology.
There are other possible deities out there, such as Garsecg, Metod, or Fornet, but they remain even more hidden than the others in extant sources. Vague things may be gleaned here and there, but most information comes from a single sentence or etymology at best.
I would like to say that I honour the land second only to my ancestors, but truthfully I do not. Living in a city and a degree of laziness have stopped me from going out and offering to the land as much as I should.
This is not, however, to say that I do nothing. I offer milk to the wights regularly on my altar, typically alongside offerings of alcohol to the gods. I also paid my respects to the local river for a while and hope to give offerings to it eventually.
Everything else is less spiritually inclined and more of a general kindness. Scraps of food are left outside for animals. Native, flowing plants are grown on the balcony for bees and butterflies. Less directly impactful I use only energy-effecient LED lightbulbs for the most used lights.
While I cannot do too much within a city, I do work on my parents’ property. Large numbers of flowering plants are grown for bees and butterflies. Many vegetables are grown (and often consumed by rabbits before harvesting). Bird feeders are fully stocked. Additional trees are planned alongside the many preexisting ones. A hearg is partially built.
Holidays are loosely defined for me and relatively few in number.
The equinoxes and especially the solstices are fun. If it’s a quieter time, candles are lit and small parties are had. Midsummer in particular involves a larger fire on my parents’ property, the burning of offerings, the consumption of alcohol, and other celebrations.
Yule is a magical time for me, as I’ve always had wonderful memories from that time while growing up. Decorations are everywhere, gifts are hidden until the right time, music is played, and the world actually starts to shut down for once. The celebration is started with Mothers’ Night, which for me involves honouring ancestors and cleaning the home.
Outside of these, I have little in particular that may be considered Heathen. I do not celebrate the start of the growing season, nor its conclusion, as I do not grow anything of substance. I have no set time for honouring the elves. Halloween is a purely secular affair in my mind, so no veneer is put over it. Most things are ad hoc.
More loosely I at least take note of important events and people in history. These do not have celebrations attached to them currently, but I keep them on my mind when the time rolls around. They had their impact on history in ways that would have changed my life considerably otherwise, if my life were even to happen at all without certain events, so it behooves me to understand that.
This is the more involved overview of my practices. I am undoubtedly forgetting some particulars, but the framework is there.
As a reconstructionist, historicity is utterly important. While new growth in the religion is needed and must be done for it to survive, a proper foundation must be laid first. As nearly clichéd as it may be to say, this truly is a religion with homework, just as it is for the other reconstructed religions. More mainstream religions have centuries or millennia of scholarship, spiritual growth, and traditions behind them, while we are trying to bring something very old into the modern world. Many things will survive this transition, some of will go away, and others will be modified, but this will happen regardless.
Many Heathens are first generation by virtue of having converted. Some, such as I am, are second generation. It is during this time that we will make an impact. If we falter in what we do now, future generations may not have Heathenry available to them. We could be relegated to being a footnote in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
So we read and write. We get the word out to the population at large. We get involved in our communities instead of hiding as small groups that are unknown even to other Heathen groups. We do the work so that our children will have an easier time and a fuller experience with our gods and ancestors.
I hope to see more posts like this one from people in the future, not to mention more websites. It would show that our religion is healthier than ever and that we are on any path at all, rather than stagnant and forgotten.