The Heathen Chicken:

an Old Punchline Revisited

© 2003 Ingeborg S. Nordén

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Most of you have probably seen a joke circulating on Usenet and e-mail lists, about how various pagan faiths would answer the classic riddle "Why did the chicken cross the road?" The original Asatru answer began:

First, we don't believe in a "One Chicken" or a "Hen and Rooster." We believe in many chickens.

That part was dead accurate, but the next part sounds more appropriate to neo-shamanism or Theosophy than to Asatru:

Second, "crossing the road" is part of the three levels, or worlds, and the chicken simply crossed from one level to another. Hail the Chickens!

I've never heard Heathens mention "three levels" with a path between them; a belief in nine worlds(interconnected by Yggdrasil) seems to be the usual modern interpretation of lore.  A more plausible Asatru response might sound like this:

Second, "crossing the road" is probably a later Christian contamination of the original Norse riddle--in which the chicken "trod the road to Hel", a standard expression for death. Hail the Chickens!


I've also composed my ownfundamentalist Asatru response to that riddle:

Anyone who's bothered to read the Eddas knows that the lore contains only TWO references to chickens...[Insert lengthy discussion of Svípdagsmál stanzas describing Vidofnir the rooster's perching in a tree and guarding the only weapon that can kill it; quote and analyze the original Old Norse if possible. Insert similar lengthy discussion of Prose Edda excerpts describing three roosters crowing to wake armies at Ragnarok.]

Neither of those passages imply that the chickens did anything but stay where they were and make noise. In addition, all the chickens mentioned there were roosters -- which proves that our gods want hens to stay in the coop quietly and lay eggs. Obviously, anyone who lets his chickens cross a road is a dangerous, politically correct neo-Heathen eclectic: if the gods hadmeant for chickens to cross roads, the lore would have described it happening in the first place.

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