Bird, Book & Bone
animism, ecstasy, knowledge, chaos

28 January 2012 @ 7pm

history, pagan blog project, politics


The SCA and I have a weird history. I accidentally stumbled across it online as a young teenager, misreading it as the Society for Creative Acronyms. First I was slightly disappointed, then I was intrigued, then I played in it irregularly for the better part of 10 years (largely thanks to my mother). The SCA (and more broadly, medieval reenactment and living history) has plenty of crossover with Neopaganism, both in An Tir and in Ireland (where living history seems to predominate).

I am exactly that sort of geek. I ditched my senior prom to go to an An Tir crown tournament. I know how to make historically-accurate garb for several cultures (and bothered to). I did medieval lit in college. I can brew mead. I can make and clean maille. I came, I saw, I did the bransle.

He totally looks like Billy Connolly.

An Tir is rife with Vikings, Celts and ‘generic medieval’ types. And at some point in there, while I was carrying on as a chipper little teenaged 9th-century Viking merchant from Kaupang, shit got real and the Old Man showed up and I drew a line. No religion in my reenactment. Period. (Cue rimshot.)

I must be one of the only heathens to actually have a fucking trunkfull of medieval swag and not want to use it to spice up the old religion. Eventually everything in my kit picked a side: the garb stayed reenactor (with the exception of a few public rituals run by other people, serving only to confirm my choice); the pile of amber went almost exclusively pagan; and when I finally acquired a meadhorn, it was pagan from the beginning. The thought of mashing together my academic/fancy dress hobby with religion made me feel slightly schizophrenic, like a LARPer who takes the game too seriously and starts thinking they’re actually a werewolf.

It’s not that I think historical research or traditional crafts have no place in heathenry. And I get that, with the exception of medieval reenactment or certain conventions, there is a limited audience for public display of Elizabethan blackwork or Byzantine chainmail or painstakingly handmade illuminated manuscripts. (There are few people outside of reenactors who get my thing for heraldry.) But keeping dress-up weekend Viking separate from the gods talking to me was a matter of preemptive measures for my sanity.

Based on my research, I am pretty confident that Vikings did not have computers. Or cars. Or Kevlar or chocolate or jeans. But I am also pretty confident that if they had, they would have embraced them; reenactment has a long history but generally has stayed firmly on the ‘entertainment’ side of things, instead of the ‘religion’ side. Crossing over reenactment with my religion bothers me, because it changes the tenor of a ritual from being primarily concerned with a current, ineffable experience in the now to being either wildly meta or a sideshow.

The Old Religion is modern. The heathenry I’m practicing today is inherently different from what my SCA alter-ego would be practing in Kaupang in 850CE, not just because we’ve lost the immersive cultural experience, the clergy and most of the texts, but because there is a vast chasm of 12 centuries between us. Even if the Christian conversion had never happened, even if there was an unbroken line of custom and experience connecting us — and I’m not convinced that would be preferable to modern reconstruction — the religion would still look different now.

Andy Warhol wrote, “I’m very much a part of my times, of my culture, as much a part of it as rockets and television,” and that definitely goes for my heathenry. My practice is as much a product of science and culture I wouldn’t even have had access to in pre-Conversion Scandinavia as it is a product of whatever medieval information we can recover about paleopagan practice. My experience of and internal images of my gods are likewise modern; some have old-fashioned tastes, some have a sensibility more cutting-edge than my own, and They seem neither surprised nor perturbed by me and my 21st-century lifestyle. They’re amused by some of it, and They have strong opinions on, say, climate change. And yes, sometimes it’s good to hail Them with the gifts and languages They once were used to.

But now I see gods in expensive suits as often as cloaks or léine, I blót the goddesses and Dísir with chocolate, Champagne and marzipan, and I recite my prayers largely in English (where I am less likely to shame myself as a poet, always important). It’s important to keep the temple from becoming a museum, and to keep the religion from being just another anachronistic relic.

Pagan Blog Project 2012

1 Comment

Posted by
29 January 2012 @ 5pm

Great post. The last paragraph is proper wisdom.

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