Back over a hundred years ago, there was a very important occult lodge in England called the Order of the Golden Dawn. They took just about every occult practice they could find and integrated it all together into their practice. That includes kaballah, astrology, tarot, Egyptian, Enochian, geomancy, and a lot gleaned from Masonry, Rosicrucianism, and the Templars. Did I miss anything? They actually did a pretty good job of this, and most of the current Western Occult practices that are not GD based is usually pretty useless.
Out of this G.D. process came the major Western Occult stream of the 20th century, the best known of which was Aleister Crowley and his the Law of Thelema. It's not too hard to trace much of what followed, including Gardnerian Wicca, Satanism, and a lot of New Age stuff back to the G.D., some of it directly influenced by Crowley. The practices of modern astrology, tarot, kaballah, ritual magic(k) all stem from the Golden Dawn systems. This the path that many of us in Heathenry refer to as "Pagan". It is a perfectly legitimate path, and many have found value in following it. But it is not Heathenry.
Heathenry is not just another branch on this Pan-pagan tree; we are our own Tree. It is specifically the revival of the pre-Christian religious practices of Northern Europeans, sometimes also referred to as Asatru, Hedhni, Theodism or Vor Tru or simply the Troth. Our tradition is entirely separate from these Golden Dawn derived practices.
Except when it's not. Some practices have bled into Heathenry with GD-derived overtones, e.g. Hammer Rites that involve walking a circle and waving a hammer at the four corners as you go. Our tradition, which we now generally agree to refer to as "Heathen" should strive to be entirely separate from the Golden Dawn derived practices, but it is not.
Some bleed is inevitable; many, if not most, Heathens are coming from a pagan or Wiccan background, and they bring baggage -- just as the ones who come in from Christianity bring a certain amount of that baggage with them. There has been an unavoidable amount of this cross-breeding, and it's not all harmful. Outside of GD and/or pagan and Heathen practices, this hallowing and quartering may be common to religions that have nothing to do with Western traditions. We wound up with these in part due to a lack of any verifiable traditions, and have borrowed in much the same way that other religions (such as Christianity) borrowed from preexisting sources. It's good to know the differences, and to consider inventing some new practices that would make us unique and not just copy-cats.
During the formative years of the Heathen revival, we tended to follow the lead of folks like Edred Thorsson, Kveldulf Gundarsson, Freya Aswynn and others who seemed to have a strong background in Western Occultism. Their work, while valuable, may be seen by some as needing to be superseded by newer and fresher approaches. A lot of contemporary Wiccans have moved far beyond Gardner, perhaps because of his Crowley influences, and have benefited from an evolutionary process. Heathens hopefully may be now doing the same.
By comparison to the Western Occult tradition, it's generally agreed that the basis for Germanic/Nordic Heathenry is a tradition that reaches farther back historically in Europe; this stream never completely dried up, and was revived in the 70s in Iceland, Great Britain and the US almost simultaneously; yet, in an amazing display of truly Jungian synchronicity, independently of each other!
Regarding Crowley, it's not that I have hostility towards Thelemites. If anything, I'm still pissed off at myself for wasting so many years on what I now see as a false path. If I am critical of Crowley, it is because I have walked the walk, and found that it led me into a state of substance abuse, stupidity and failure.
What I did was this: somewhere back in the late 80s, I packed up 2 or 3 shopping bags full of books, mostly Crowley, but including also Golden dawn and other related occult works, and took them to the 7 Stars bookstore in Cambridge. They traded me for store credit. I had been given the Blum Rune book and set as a gift, but sensed that while the Runes were drawing me, there was something not quite right with Blum's version. I bought Thorsson's Futhark, and then the rest of his books, and two books by Gundarsson. I felt as if a great weight of darkness had been lifted from me.
I had outgrown my involvement with Crowley, cleaned house and got rid of all my old GD- occult books well before I discovered my Tru path as an Asatru-Heathen. Otherwise, I might have otherwise made what I now see as an error, and put together "Odinism" with "Do What Thou WIlt", probably with disastrous results. If my example can serve anyone who is a spiritual seeker to consider putting the illusions of Crowley aside for the real deal, then my work here is done. Crowley is the illusion of power- Asatru IS power.
This not to say that some folks still donít try to develop pagan/Heathen hybrids. There are a lot of "Norse-Wiccans" out there. I once got hold of a “Norse Tarot” deck that was an abomination. The Rune Gild is loaded with folks who see nothing wrong with belonging to both the temple of Set, and practicing their own version of Germanic Heathenry. My disagreements over this very problem is what got me kicked out of the Rune Gild.
But if that's the path some want to follow, then that's a matter of individual choice. While we still have no ¡sa-Pope, there is a certain tendency among Heathens to be somewhat critical of those who, in their opinion, pollute the stream of Germanic Heathenry with non-Heathen, or "pagan" practices. To be clear, my use of these terms is based on my observation of contemporary common usage, and is not based on historical and outmoded dictionary definitions. Christians may still lump all of us non-Christians together under these terms, but I donít let Christians define who I am.
These comments by me should not be construed as "wicca-bashing"; I have little or no concern over wiccans one way or the other. These comments are also my own personal opinion, based on my own experiences over the past 30 years or more, having first discovered my propensity for alternative spiritual paths back in the 60's. These statements are not intended to force my opinions on anyone else, but only are put forth in a attempt to clarify the definitions of pagan and Heathen. I hope that this effort will be helpful.
At some point, it may be in our best interests to consider working with pagans to protect ourselves from attack by the enemies of religious freedom. A couple of years ago, I saw a statistic that estimated the number of Wiccans at over 100,000 in the US. We of the Northern tradition have nowhere near that many, yet. If the forces of evil go after "pagans", I may tend to duck and say, that ain't me. But at some point it may be. Although we Heathens and pagans may agree to differ among ourselves, the Christian fundies aren't capable of making that distinction.
I don't have as strong a prejudice against “New Age” as some Heathens. After all, I am a Californian by birth, was hanging out in Frisco during the Summer of Love, and kind of like some New Age music. My favorite magazine is the Utne reader. I once studied the sitar. My brother lives in the Bay area and teaches yoga. I'm still a little bit "groovy".
While I certainly have no intention of making personal attacks on any “pagans”, there are many examples of exactly the kind of muddled, hodge-podge thinking that I personally am proud of avoiding. If my dedication to a certain path at the exclusion of all others makes me seem intolerant, well that's probably not entirely inaccurate.
I guess this makes me an "orthodox fundamentalist Heathen"; I see no need to mix in anything else from any other tradition. I tend to associate and bond most strongly with those fellow Heathens who share my views, and steer clear of those who strike me as being excessively eclectic. That could also be viewed as intolerance as well, I suppose. My promulgation of this approach is, of course, a suggestion, and you are all free to "Do as Thou Wilt".
In summing up, I feel very strongly that we who identify ourselves as Heathens should take pride in what that word means- that we are independent of all other alternative religious, spiritual, magical and cultural paths. We need not beg, borrow or steal from any other traditions to be Tru to what we are. And most importantly, while we may find some commonalities with pagans, we needn't hang our selves from their tree.
© Marklander # 67 Ostara Vol IX, #3 March 2003 c.e.