Growing Up Wyrrd
Most of us have at one point or another heard a story from a fellow Pagan about growing up in a Christian family, being disillusioned with the religion they were assigned to and later converting. These stories are one of the more popular personal narratives of NeoPaganism, but we are entering an era when many of the elders of the modern Pagan movement are old or dead and not only have children, but grandchildren who have been raised with their particular flavour of Paganism. I suspect the narrative of NeoPaganism is about to change when these people who grew up Pagan start to tell their stories; however, there is yet another narrative not talked about or told as much as the “I grew up Christian” narrative, and that is the “I just came home” narrative. The latter is mine.
Being a convert can be tough, no doubt about it, and it can be particularly straining on relationships with nonPagan family members, and equally as straining on the convertee, especially when it comes to worldview. Pagans have a distinctly different worldview (a fundamental cognitive orientation that includes one’s views of society, philosophies, ethics, normative postulates, etc.) than that of Christians, who represent the majority narrative on worldview in the world. Many do not know how to deal with it, and many blanket Pagan terms over top of old Christian views they have internalised from being subjected to it for many years.
There are some of us however, who have never internalised the majority narrative, despite being subjected to it. Some time ago, I had the pleasure of reading Robin Artisson’s Reclaiming the Pagan Worldview, which, I think, while it has its flaws (i.e., the rejection of science-I believe this discounts all our ancestors’ work toward Academia) , is an indispensible tome of wisdom for the modern Pagan when it comes to thinking like a Pagan and being Pagan. I believe he is right when he speaks of “some people think that being Pagan is a matter of [...] making a blanket rejection of their original beliefs” and not much else. I think many Heathens know it when we see it, and know the importance of seeing the world in a Heathen way, especially the hard polytheists. It is a distinct way of perceptualising the world around you and your experiences and merely placing Pagan terminology over top of internalised perceptualisations can severely stunt your understanding of and experience of Heathenism and Paganism.
Heathenism is not compatible with the Abrahamic worldview, the worldview many of us have been taught since birth, and still more have had it ground into us, forced internalisation from everything from the basics of belief in the supernatural to our modern understanding of secularism and societal philosophies. I agree with Artisson that we need to reclaim that Pagan worldview if we are going to be Pagans. Our ancestors created rich cultures of Pagan philosophy, schooling, democracy and secularism from a distinctly Heathen point of view. Our contemporaries have spent years studying, collaborating and providing us with historical and archaeological references, texts and reconstructions of these rich cultures. Their worldviews have also changed how we see the days of the week, and even how we see time. A Pagan worldview encompasses everything from religious rites to our perception of language and how time passes. To not work toward reclaiming it is to do ourselves, our ancestors and especially our descendents are grievous disservice. This is where my narrative comes in.
I did indeed grow up in a typical “Christian household” but the beliefs were never consistent. No one seemed to be able to decide what, if anything, he or she actually believed. They had more internalised the worldview of their Christian society and feared letting it go, and stepping out of the cage. On the other hand, I grew up spending time at my best friend’s house, whose mother was an Indigenous Wiccan. From my earliest memories I saw nature as sacred and in my dimmest, furthest reaches of childhood memory; I was an animist.
When my friend’s stepmother told me about Paganism, at the age of eight, I felt I had “come home”. Of all the attempts to scar me with Christian worldview, not a single one had succeeded to embed itself in my mind. My friend’s stepmother’s own syncretic views of religion had a much deeper impact and while I didn’t end up Wiccan (I often saw Christian baggage being dragged in. Christians in Pagans’ clothing, as it were, and I rejected it in favour of Reconstructionist paths) , today I still see the world in the same manner, and more so.
In my teenage years when I was just discovering who I was, I began to fear the constant press of Christianity both in the forefront and in my periphery and began to work hard everyday to affect my Wyrd and prevent me from ever internalising Christianity. While I no longer fear Christianity, at the time, my young mind felt it was a severely pressing issue. I sucked up the lore incessantly and constantly looked for patterns of Wyrd and Orlog in my everyday life. Indeed, discovering Theodism and Sinnsreachd and Celtic Recon even changed my views of what Heathenry was, and that not every Reconstructionist shares the same worldview, philosophies or ethics, despite the majority narrative within Heathenry being Ásatrú.
Discovering the concept of Wyrd opened my eyes to a way of seeing and understanding the world I had only the faintest, labelless, wordless glimmer of before. I discovered it in my grade 11 English class, reading a Michael Alexander translation of Beowulf. Beowulf became one of my most treasured tomes of lore for its attempt at interweaving an archaic Heathen worldview with a Christian one, and I felt what must have been the same conflict as did the Christian teller of the tale who added his own elements to what was otherwise a deeply Heathen epic. Christianity, in my natural and carefully cultivated Heathen worldview, was morbid, self-serving and deeply confused about its own ethics. They were too focused on death and on purposeful suffering, and indeed I saw all the Christians in my life suffering in ways I could not empathise with because I had never internalised the shame and the obsession with death that forced them into their continual fear and gloom. And this is often what I see in contemporary Heathens who espouse a distinctly Christian flavour coming from being a convert, or even the children of converts. I see it less so with the “came home” narrative, those of us who had a way of perceiving our world and only later found names for it.
I would advise studying the lore, the history and especially the philosophies of not just our ancestors but the ancestors and elders of all Heathen paths and I would advise deeply connecting it to our everyday life on a daily basis. Heathenry isn’t a Sunday sacrifice, or merely posting on Ásatrú Lore once a week, it’s a way of life, it is how you see the sun when it rises, how you drive to work on a Monday, how you effect your Wyrd with every choice you make. Heathenry is who a Heathen is. No one ever said it was easy, but it’s certainly necessary.
Sharples, R. W. “Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy [Paperback].” Amazon.com: Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy (9780415110358) : R.W. Sharples: Books. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. .
Artisson, Robin, “Reclaiming the Pagan Worldview.” Scribd. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. .