Taxonomy /”Good” Labels: How Denomination Expression Can Benefit Heathenry.

THIS is what I think could make clarifying Heathen denominations and personal belief structures so much easier. Taxonomic structures can become exceedingly complicated (and even in our case- they do), but the simplest example is the classification of organisms used in Biology (since it is the one I am most familiar/have the easiest time explaining)

Tonight, I was doing my devotionals- nothing complicated- just sort of a running meditation on “What can I do to honor my Gods and the Gods of my family?”- and for once, I had these pleasant flashbacks.  Memories of hours of conversation about religious classifications of sects and denominations of every religion of the world.

To Academics- Heathenry (and ALMOST all religion) is classified as “Mythology” in an effort to make academic papers and lectures entirely objective and free of non-fact supported religious bias.  Christianity-based schools and Seminaries are exempt from this, of course.   However, it is still a great injustice that religions with literally millions of followers such as Hinduism are “Mythology” and all Abrahamic faiths are not classified as such “out of respect”.

On account of this biased classification- there is a great divide between benevolent scholarship on Heathenry and the day to day world of actual Heathens.

I fully encourage any and all Heathens to write as they please; but in addition to the fantastic writings of people who are inside of the community, I think we not only should be reading these works by “Mythology” scholars in Social Science programs- we should seriously consider incorporating their terminologies for the varieties of forms of Heathenry that exist- at this point in time, I do not even know if there IS a detailed classification system in place- and if it is, it is in lecture halls of random academic institutions unknown to me at this time.

The terms: “Folkish” or “Universalist” are no longer adequate. This was acknowledged with the addition of “Tribalist” several years ago- and now, people are rather “riffing” on names and making up some rather confusing classifications.  A more universal system would be for each individual to figure out where they “fit” in general terms- then having awareness of all other limited descriptors.  Even in biology, the line is cut at “Species”- when technically further divisions can be used such as sub-species, common mutation, and to which population/social group each individual animal can also be further identified.

So, allow me to propose some sample classifications in a way similar to the Taxonomy structure employed by biologist.
(Taxonomy (from Ancient Greek: τάξις taxis, “arrangement,” and -νομία -nomia, “method[1]) is the science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups. Organisms are grouped together into taxa (singular: taxon) and given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a super group of higher rank and thus create a taxonomic hierarchy-Wikipedia)

DISCLAIMER: None of these classification ideas are intended to suggest that any classification is superior or inferior to any other- these terms I made up with the best of my intentions, education, and intellect, can be used or discarded, and are meant to be descriptive, clear, encompassing, and vague enough in the larger classifications to hold all people within Heathenry.  If I have erred in some way and someone has “fallen through” the cracks.  I feel something like this is especially valuable for Lokeans to know where homage to Loki is/is not acceptable.

First Classification:

Reconstuctionist vs. Indigenous

Reconstructionist: A person not born into a specific Heathen tradition that converts to Heathenry, or belongs to a reconstructionist organization.

Indigenous: A person born into a polytheistic European-based ethnic group or groups and raised within that culture’s values, Gods, and traditions.

In population, Reconstructionism is an overwhelming majority- in the same way that Sunni Islam outnumbers Shi’i by millions and there are far more Catholics than there will ever be Lutherans in Christianity.  However, the populations of people living the “old way” near the arctic circle cannot be discounted for their existences in Northern Europe and Russia and in small mainland-European villages….and those who immigrated over without discarding their traditional polytheistic rituals, practices, and beliefs.  This classification is not a choice one can make; there are a very small amount of people who were raised with the Norse Gods, most were not.

Being born into a Heathen tradition is like being born a Samoan, Jewish, or Aboriginal.  It is both a cultural determination as well as religious- but to be religious in the framework of your ethnic ancestry is entirely your choice.

The very term Asatru is reconstructionist, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But there needs to be a change in classification where it is known that Asatru is a Type of Heathenry, not that Heathenry is a type of Asatru.

Rather like a raven is a type of bird- not all birds are ravens.

However, sometimes indigenous folks oftentimes feel more like mudskippers among land creatures in modern conventional heathen events.  Self conscious, feeling less “cool”, and then there is always the inevitable “Wow. This is so much more fun that singing funeral dirges over tombstones for 4 hours or folk dancing in uncomfortable traditional costumery”.  I was never personally enthralled of the cemetary singing or folk dancing, so I envy Recons in their dirge-less childhoods.

I like to think we’re more like Coelacanth survivors, really.

(more people like Coelacanths than mudskippers… I think.)

Those who were raised “Indigenous” tend to worship the Aesir, the Vanir, and Jotunr and offer all three respect and offerings (in some cases, offerings to the Jotunr are for appeasement and not necessarily any sense of affection)- leading to STRONG amounts of confusion when they explore the greater community outside of their families.  Being pantheistic or having more dedication to land spirits (Wights/Vaetirr/Daevas) than most reconstuctionists. Some indigenous groups- such as one’s originating from the Baltic, are actually pan-polytheistic- meaning they believe in one universal, above-all, though all “Diev” or “God” but it is not seen as human, or necessarily something one can even communicate with- like the Gunningunap, this being is a Creator and utterly unfathomable, thus, the typical pantheons are used as intermediaries who are higher beings, ancestors who ascended to immortality to become higher beings through leaving a profound legacy (such as Bragi or the God-kings), and vaetirr and friendly spirits who find benefit for themselves in aiding humanity.

While there are other sects that are pantheistic or almost exclusively more Shamanic or Druidic:  Looking up “earth religion” on wikipedia shows extensive reference to Lithuanian sources; There is a pantheon of deities and demi-deities, but in this sort of tradition they are one of thousands believed to exist among Gods for each species of flora, fauna, seasons, life events and meteorology (and likely more).

Indigenous Heathens can claim their specific family background, but that does not necessarily entail they will continue in the specific family traditions in which they were raised.  For instance, someone born into the Saami ethnic group who is now living in Florida will likely not be a reindeer herder, however, still possesses valuable insights from their upbringing which can enrich all of our depth of understanding towards Heathenry if it actually KNOWN the Heathen was raised Saami rather than typical Christian-American and they are willing to speak on their religious/spiritual upbringing… Even if they discard the Saami-specific mystical aspects in favor of a more scholarly mindset.

There are many Heathens I know personally who are solitary on account of these misunderstandings and the resultant unpleasant experiences they suffer/ed on this account.   If there is understanding indigenous Heathenry exists, it can then be clearer where a member of this group would choose to worship.  Some choose to save their worship of lesser-known, unpopular, or misunderstood deities for their private practice and join Classical communities with no issues whatsoever out of having the advantage of understanding the “landscape” and making conscious decisions as to which community they feel the most comfortable….or if, like me, end up spending enough time in books and exploring world religions to feel that an Archetypalist philosophy has been adopted in the process.

However, these is no reason to assume an Indigenous Heathen is a “better” heathen.  I’m sure my uncle knows more about the Latvian Earth Religion than I do…but he’s an agnostic, he’s not even remotely interested in the topic- and like the children of many immigrants from last century, finds more happiness in his identity of being born in the United States and being a good citizen than anything religious.

I am religious- other people who read this likely are similar, but being non-religious is not a bad thing.
I would rather have a non-religious person who treats me kindly as a friend near me than a religious person who treats me with unkindness every time.

Second Classification:

Classical vs. Archetypalist

A Classical Heathen believes in the Gods as the Norse/Germanic form and lore only comparison of a God of the Norse pantheon to Gods that share some qualities of other pantheons is strongly discouraged. A good example would be comparing Tyr to Ares of the Greeks- that would be forbidden in a Classical ritual.

Archetypalist believes each God is seen differently by each culture in the world as part of a larger paradigm.  In an Archetypalist ritual, A Goddess like Freya can also be honored by the names Inanna or Ishtar for the similarities in spiritual domain and function/s.

This may be one of the most unspoken divisions in Heathenry, and I believe peace can be found between both schools of thought simply by accepting the label that fits for each individual. I feel it might serve even as replacement for the more nebulous terms “Folkish”, “Tribalist”, and the current “Universalist” labels- There are people who fit within these terms equally well  in comparison to one another whose religious beliefs seem to clash often.  By stating a ritual or function is “Classical” that would very clearly indicate hailing Gods of other pantheons would be frowned upon without needing an extensive lecture at the beginning of rituals or events.

Third classification:
“Academic” vs. “Mystic/Shamanic” vs. “Pantologist”

Academics= Do not regularly seek mystical experiences or divine intervention as part of their spirituality, preferring technical scholarship over unverified personal gnosis (UPG)

Mystics/Shamanics:  Rely extensively on seeking mystical experience and direct spiritual interaction with the Gods via UPG

Pantologist:  Uses both.  But hopefully examines all potential historical UPG against wishful thinking.   A common Tyrsperson UPG is of a creature associated with Tyr as an exceptionally large black eagle- This UPG has more support to it considering there was indeed a megafauna eagle that meets this description which was alive concurrently with the period of time Tyr worship began (which was around 6000 BC if you were curious). They lived until about 1000-1100 CE which is when it was believed they became extinct by human hunting.  Considering these eagles have been depicted in ancient art as eating human children… lack of conservation of the species for the time period is, at least, understandable.

My intellectual bias is UPG’s of this nature hold more substantive value to the community than “I had a dream [some deity] had sex with me and we made astral babies… [S/He/It] said it was because they liked my [body part].” (yes, I have seen blog posts like this.)

[I am very open in my skepticism of the commonality of true Godspousary indicated on the internet since most historical records of most religions indicate that it was either a vow of celibacy or such a sacred form of clergyhood that the details were not spoken; since to speak of it would indicate one cared for the admiration of people instead of focusing on the more important relationship to the deity or deities.From a “mythological” and not anthropological viewpoint- there are enough stories of demi-gods born to Godspouses I postulate to the “louder” and more excessively descriptive and imaginative modernists of the practice to show me their demigod babies of amazing power and I will gladly revise my personal belief on the matter immediately.  I mention this because the few Godspouses I give my respect to would be very clearly pantologists.]

Fourth Classification:

“New Universalist”, Vs. “Orthodox” Vs. “Non-Orthodox”
[Disclaimer:  Christians do not OWN the word “Orthodox”- it just means, well, Orthodox]

New Universalist= Accepts all/most expressions of Heathenry, bears no discrimination against any potential worshiper who comes in pacifism. The majority of group ritual is open to the public.

Orthodox= Those who choose only to pay homage to the Aesir/Vanir; allows for exclusions of people based on any criteria they choose. They may hold many open events, but rituals tend to be invite only.   Orthodox can also be used in the case of Indigenous heathen groups of Classical belief system that are very insular and mistrust outsiders.

Germanic Indigenous Heathens tend to me more “Orthodox”- however, the farther North one travels, that Orthodoxy is less profound.

Most Orthodox will not accept Jotunr worship. However, Loki-worship seems to be divided primarily along the lines of “Reconstructionist Orthodox” and “Indigenous Orthodox”- with the undetermined amounts of groups in the latter categorization either embracing the practice as “normal” or merely politely tolerant based on the teaching of Woten that “Each horn raised to me is too, raised to Loki.”

Non-Orthodox: Indigenous OR reconstructionist Heathens who realize their set of their Most Honored deities may not be accepted my the majority of other heathens. They can be exclusionary or non-exclusionary, but tend to be least likely (statistically!) to hold “Open” events of any sort.  Non- Orthodox Heathens would include the Danish Troll-worshipers, The Rokkr’s of Sweden, Jotunr, Rokkatru, Lokitru, and those who emphasize minor deities that may seem controversial simply for lack of sources outside of oral tradition.  (Such as a group dedicated primarily to the worship of Hodr, which COULD be seen as contradictive to the words of the Prose Edda:

 “One of the Aesir is named Hödr: he is blind. He is of sufficient strength, but the gods would desire that no occasion should rise of naming this god, for the work of his hands shall long be held in memory among gods and men.”

Fifth/Last Classification:

Personal Classification

And finally, if one has one or two particular patron Gods special to them Within their pantheon classification- once can disclose Them as the final descriptor. Such as “Odinskinder”, “Thorian”, “Lokean”, “For Freyr”, and all [Gods]men and women Etc…

As an example, This would be my classification under this system:
Indiginious [Vanic Lettish/Braucherei*]—> Archetypalist—> Pantologist—>Non-Orthodox—>Tyrian/Lokean

Knowing that I fall into “Indigenous” category….if this were a decade ago, I would have saved myself much personal grief if I knew that “meant” something that put me at odds with the beliefs of the larger population.  Being an Archetypalist means I need to be careful to keep my names straight of world pantheons and traditions and be especially careful around classical Heathens to avoid offending their beliefs.  I know three names for Thor, for example: Latvian: Perkuns, Norse: Thor, German: Donar/Donnar.  For Woten/Odin/Woden.  For Freyr/Janis, and Hel/Hela/Holle.  I am raised of two traditions, so all these names are the same as one friend calling me by first name only- and another by my surname.

As a Pantologist, I need to balance my spirituality and my scholarship without losing either to feel spiritually fulfilled, and use discernment when determining mystical experiences from wishful thinking, dreams, or meaningless hallucination.

A very good indicator for me, personally, is if in an experience I am asked to perform a task I know is ethically correct  but extraordinarily socially unpopular.  A Tyrian without Lokean influence has the greatest advantage in these scenarios since they would likely be seen as stolid, wise, disciplined, and well respected members of the community who speak seldom.  Lokeans….tend not to speak seldom, have much discipline nor have much respect from others if it is known they are Lokean. (either undeserved or deserved).

True, ethical Lokeans are also are exceptional truth-tellers- however, after truth is told, bridges are usually burnt since the Truths of Loki tend to be as caustic as Tyr’s but usually more personal than on a “Calling out Great injustice” level.

A Tyrian action based on UPG would be taking a stand against some-sort of Oathbreaking or needless conflict to prevent an erosion of the community that can be stopped without further infighting.
A Lokean action based on UPG would be taking a stand against hypocrisy and may create needful conflict to precipitate change that is needed for a community.

All I can do is the best I can with the information and resources available to me at any given time- in life and in my writings.

The main point of this post is that there are even sections of Heathenry I do not relate to/care for- but I give them the respect to count them in my mind as “Just as Heathen as I am”.

I worked pretty hard at this to make this post as unbiased and sterile as possible-  basically turning this into the root of a college essay I could have written for class back in 2010…   However, I really feel too lazy to actually draw a diagram of what this post described, but I will give +10 Good Heathen Happy Loki Points to someone who will draw one and I will insert it here instead of the picture I used from google and fully credit your work.

In any case, perhaps, if we create a closer relationship with academia and read more textbooks we can close the gap….and those academics, in turn, can ask our more visible and knowledgeable Heathens about our sources and resources as well.

I would like to personally thank Wikipedia for its tireless work at remember terms I barely recall and by providing the accuracy of the academic parts of this post.

*** Footnote: My father’s maternal side had more practitioners of Hexerei than Braucherei, Braucherei are as often Christian as they are Heathen, and a “Braucher-raised” does not necessarily indicate an individual is actually a trained Braucher.   I was raised that “Hexerei”- meant “old Gods” and Braucherei meant “Christian”.  But with the negative connotation of the word “Hex”- Braucherei is now used for both Heathens and Christians.  Chances are- you will never meet a Christian Braucher since you are on a computer and the Christians are still very much Anabapist and tend toward “horse and buggy” communities.

2 Responses to “Taxonomy /”Good” Labels: How Denomination Expression Can Benefit Heathenry.”

  1. ladyimbrium Says:

    This is fantastic and I’m going to revisit it when I’m not half asleep. Coelacanths are cool.

    • Absolutely- it clocked in just under 5000 words. I don’t blame you.

      I alco concur Coelacanths are cool. I have yet to see any one claim one as a totem, if I did, I would imagine it would be a person over 100 years old!

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