Born-Again Heathen:

from Christianity to Asatru

© 2000-2005 Ingeborg S. Nordén

(originally published in The Marklander as "How I found Freyr")

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To be accurate, I would have to describe my former religious background as "crazy-quilt Christian": my family did agree on the importance of Jesus and the Bible, but finding three adults who attended the same church was impossible. (My mother was Methodist, my father was Baptist, one grandmother was Catholic, one was Moravian Protestant--you get the idea.)

I had Bible study and church forced on me as a girl, when I was much too young to understand what was going on. (When I was eight, one incident in Vacation Bible School scared me into doubting what I'd been taught. The preacher had talked about the importance of "giving your life to Jesus"; being very literal-minded, I thought Jesus wanted me to commit suicide to prove I loved him. A god who demanded something that horrible was definitely not my type! A few sessions later I asked: "When are we gonna get through with this Jesus junk?" You can probably imagine how my parents, who would have washed my mouth out with soap for saying "heck", reacted when the preacher reported that one.)

 At about the same time, my teacher at the regular public school was talking about countries where most people followed non-Biblical religions. I was shocked and asked her if all those Chinese and Japanese people weren't going to hell for worshiping idols. The teacher answered that the Ten Commandments did not apply to them, which confused me even more.

A little later, I found some books on world mythology and folk magic in the school library. I was fascinated by the idea that maybe there were other gods besides the scary one people talked about in church, and maybe magic was not so evil that I would go to hell for trying it. I actually went through a Greek pagan phase very briefly as a nine-year-old, but my family and school promptly squelched it.

Flash forward another year: yet another mythology book catches my eye at school, this time a Norse one. I read it and something in the names, in the language itself, grabbed me. All this eventually grew into a passion for most things Scandinavian in general, both mythical and mundane. (I have taught myself Swedish, Norwegian and Danish over the past twenty years...and can read Old Norse as well, thanks to my time in college.)

By the time I was a teenager, my parents considered my interest in Scandinavia a dangerous obsession that kept me from interacting "normally" with people my own age--whatever that was supposed to mean. Even without such an unusual interest, I was an intellectual snob and had a short temper. "Fashions, sports, popular music, sex... That's boring; let's talk about something meaningful!" Granted, my attitude did alienate people; but blaming it on my involvement with Scandinavia was just as wrong. I was sent to one psychiatrist after another in the hopes that I would be "cured".

When secular therapy failed, my family tried using the Bible to convince me that God disapproved. They quoted many verses related to God's position on ethnicity, usually out of context: God seemed to want either a one-world kingdom in which NO ethnic and cultural differences existed, or an Israel-centered world in which the saved were spiritually "grafted" into the Jewish nation, abandoning their old identity forever. No matter which interpretation they used, I did not want to be part of a world like that: when I look back on it, my family left me with an image of God's kingdom that resembled the Borg collectives on Star Trek. ("Resistance is futile...your wishes are will be assimilated.") Even the promise that my disability would be healed in Heaven did not comfort me when I knew that I would lose a precious part of who I was, something more meaningful to me than the promise of "leaping and dancing like a deer" as the Bible says.

For the next several years I felt miserable: angry at my family for using religion that way, guilty over wanting something that they told me was wrong, and terrified that God was going to either take it all away or send me to Hell. When I went off to college for the first time, I asked many pastors about my problem and attended one Bible-study group after another; they left me feeling even guiltier and more terrified. But my doubt had spread beyond God's opinion of my interest in Scandinavia; the Bible seemed to contain many more contradictions and illogical passages, which I could not accept even if they were irrelevant to me personally.

When some of my classmates showed me some books on the modern Asatru movement, I was stunned. "Americans, here and now, believing in THOSE gods? Wait just a darn minute!" I visited the New Age bookstores whenever I had free time, and scraped together money as soon as the latest rune books came out. I considered myself agnostic-but-interested by then: "Maybe the Ćsir are real but I'm not sure yet". I was afraid to tell my family what I believed, though; it was their roof I lived under between semesters.

Two colleges later, I had decided to stay in the game room one afternoon instead of going on to class. Some students had been talking about a role-playing game which I also happened to enjoy; so I wheeled over and invited them to play with me. I told them that I was running a true-to-myth Norse campaign, with "the REAL runes...not those weird scripts Tolkien invented". One of the students said he had a book on the "real runes", and pulled a copy of an Asatru book (Kveldulf Gundarsson's Teutonic Magic) from his knapsack. I thumbed through it for the next hour or two, and was awestruck: here was a man with a degree in Germanic studies, writing more vividly about the runes and the gods than I had ever seen anyone do.

Two of the author's remarks stood out in my mind. First, feeling attached to a specific place or group of people was not a sin at all in this religion; up to a point, it was actually a good thing. ("This feeling I've had ISN'T evil--and there's a rune for it? Whoah!")

Second, it amazed me that one god (Freyr) actually had a special connection to Sweden himself. The strange dreams I had had years before, with a man who claimed to be Freyr's messenger, began to make sense. I'd been very skeptical at first: what would a god of sex and agriculture want with a city-dwelling woman who didn't even keep a window box, and who was perfectly happy with NO husband or children? I made a huge breakthrough when I discovered that my would-be patron actually had something in common with me. Over the thirteen years I have been Heathen, my relationship with the gods has kept changing and growing. It feels very different to follow a religion which assumes that neither we nor our creators are perfect, and that gods and humans can learn from each other.


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