Beginner Heathenry: A Few Tips to Get You Started

So this is it.

Unsatisfied with your previous religion (or lack of religion), you’ve stumbled upon the threshold of Heathenry. You’ve watched a Marvel movie, read The Lord of the Rings, or maybe you’re just a fan of death metal. Either way, you’re pretty sure you’ve heard of the name “Thor” before, and you’ve become curious. You’ve dug a little deeper, picked up a copy of the Poetic Edda, and made a Pinterest board full of pictures of ravens and wolves. Somehow, you found this website and started reading it. You decide you like the idea of Heathenry and want to get started, but there are so many questions running through your head. The FAQ doesn’t answer them all.

It’s okay. Breathe.

In my experience, new Heathens and potential Heathens get caught up worrying about things that, ultimately, are not as important at the start of their religious exploration. While discussing future content to feature on this website, it was suggested that a page of tips would be useful — essentially, a “worry about this, not this” column of advice. I wasn’t able to figure out where such content could fit in the framework of the website, but I thought it was a pretty good idea for a blog post. So without further ado, here are a few of my tips for beginner Heathens:

1. DON’T worry about finding a local group to join right away. There is a common misconception among beginner Heathens that they must join a local group in order to properly worship the gods. This notion arose from the Wiccan tradition of worship in a coven, which people carried over into Ásatrú. Many Heathens, on the other hand, recommend focusing on establishing a solid hearth cult first, as it is better to be cautious with whom one binds their luck and wyrd.

2. DO find some way to connect with a learning community. I strongly recommend connecting with other Heathens (or at least other polytheists), whether that means joining Facebook groups, attending a study Meetup, joining a Discord server (like our official server, Skíðblaðnir), or browsing the r/heathenry subreddit. You can learn a lot from hearing other people’s experiences and perspectives. You can ask questions and get a variety of different answers, which will help you reach your own conclusions and make your own opinions.

3. DON’T feel pressured to start giving offerings right away. Setting up an altar and giving offerings can be intimidating at first. Reaching out to your ancestors, wights, and the gods is not an easy step to make, especially if you come from an atheistic or monotheistic background. It’s true that Heathenry is an orthopraxic religion, prioritizing correct action over correct belief. However, if you are brand new to Heathenry, I definitely recommend learning about it more before making the plunge and giving offerings.

4. DO take your time to understand the concepts of Heathenry first in order to determine if it’s the right religion for you. The only way to figure out if a religion is right for you is to learn more about it. This website was created with the intent of providing a starting point for all people interested in learning about Heathenry. There’s a reading list for people who learn well by reading. For those who don’t, online and in-person groups provide varying opportunities for interacting with other Heathens and learning from them. (In the future, we do hope to provide audio clips and videos of content on the website, for those who learn better using those methods.)

5. DON’T worry about needing to learn a Germanic runic system (such as Elder Futhark) or seiðr. Because of the greater acceptance of magic and mysticism among adherents of Contemporary Pagan religions, a common misconception exists that says Heathens must learn rune magic or seiðr. That is not true. While rune magic and seiðr are not discouraged by Heathens, the practice of either/both is also not required to be a “real Heathen.” Moreover, Heathens recognize that any practice involving rune divination or that calls itself seiðr is, currently, completely modern due to the lack of sufficient historical sources.

6. DO open up to the idea of magic and mysticism in everyday life. One person’s superstition is another person’s folk magic. Every mundane action can possess religious significance. Even the most down-to-earth Heathen will use wards and perform rituals in some way, whether they hang an iron Thor’s Hammer above their door for protection, bury a coin at their gate as an offering to Wōden before going on a trip, or burn incense to smoke cleanse their house the morning of every high holiday. Moreover, Heathens tend to recognize their gods in the natural world around them and in events that seem trivial to outsiders but are significant to the adherents themselves.

7. DON’T be discouraged if you aren’t drawn to Norse Heathenry specifically. Norse Heathenry is very popular because it has the most exposure in popular culture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you! The other regional traditions within Heathenry have their own rich revivals, each with its own unique flavor. It’s true there are more resources for Norse Heathenry, and that is very appealing for many people. But neither its popularity nor its available lore means the Norse tradition is better or more fleshed out than the others.

8. DO incorporate aspects of other contemporaneous religions into your practice and theology to fill in any gaps. The version of Heathenry that develops when only using the available historical and archaeological information is actually pretty incomplete. Not only are the available texts written in a post-conversion era, but we are also modern people with modern concepts and technologies that the pre-Christian Germanic peoples never could have imagined. And if the thought of syncretizing worries you, fear not; people of different ancient cultures traded ideas, gods, and myths as easily as they traded goods.

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