Welcome to The Wyrd Thing podcast, episode 9: Hail Steve. I’m your host, Rich Blackett, and joining me today, here’s Jochem [Jochem: Hello!], Jens [Jens: Hello!], Suzanne and Frigga [Frigga: Hello!]. I think you’ve something to tell us about ‘Hail Steve’, Frigga?
Many fantasy writers play with reality, magic and religion, they can, because there are no boundaries when it comes to imaginative powers. Yes, it is considered a power. And humour. A wonderful combination the English fantasy writer Terry Pratchett was gifted with. Although his Discworld series is fantasy, already for a long time I think his books should be required reading for heathens. Especially the ones who take religion serious. More than once stuff in his books make me think. Like in small books… in Small gods, one of the books in the Discworld series, I love the heresy of Coomy the Snail, a religious philosopher. And here I quote from the book: ‘Where do gods come from? Where do they go? Coomy theorise that gods come into being and grow and flourish, because they are believed in. Any god could start small. Any god could grow in stature, as its believers increased.’
On the other hand – and this is my words… but also from the book – when a deity looses followers, they slowly become small gods. And then finally diminish and disappear. And they will be forgotten, even by history. One could wonder: is this fantasy… or reality? As humans we need fantasy and humour. First there was animism and from there on, on various places on the earth, it developed into religion.
To me, religion is a man-made creation, which too often lacks fantasy and humour. Luckily, heathendom has humour. Think only of Loki, the god of healing humour, amongst other things which might not always be considered that funny. However, I guess religion should change at least partly in the same face as it followers.
Trying to stick to the topic of today’s episode, to me – as far as the gods are concerned – keep in mind that we humans shape the imaging of the gods to a large extent. Could we also bring new gods into being, like Steve? More about Steve later. I first would like to hear thoughts of my co-hosts.
Thank you, Frigga. So, to slightly summarise, we’re talking about the development of heathenry, which can’t remain static, and about how much we can invent – and that’s a loaded word even to say, ‘invent’, because there are certain people within heathenry who will say: ‘We must only use what we can find in the sources and nothing else.’ That’s a very canonical approach. If it’s not in the sources, you must not do it. But that’s a very, very limiting approach, I think. It’s not the way for a believe system to grow, and certainly not the way of a believe system to become inclusive.
I prefer the term ‘to discover’ instead of ‘invent’ or anything else. In my world we discover the gods and we learn about them. And in heathenry a strange thing has happened about roughly thousand years ago. Because on the one side, the stories are written down. They were fixed at that point. They were orally transitioned until then, probably very well, but they were still very flexible. There was still room to add things, to change things, to adapt things. So, they were fixed by being written down. And at the same time people converted to a different… Or roughly the same time, that people converted to different religions, so now it were records of a former religion. And so, it’s been very frozen there. Until then, it was a living thing. And if we want to live this religion again, we need to revive this. We need to develop it and to discover more about the gods. So they’re not the images from thousand years ago, but deities which help and assist us in our lives nowadays.
Yes, I think that sort of reflects the concept of a reciprocal arrangement or… A reciprocal arrangement is to have to interact with the gods. That is not just a one way path, because we gift things to the gods, we make offerings to the gods. And if that’s the same with offerings and actual religious practice, surely that will also be the same for how the gods interact with the world. And how our perceptions of them will also grow. Which is what we’ve seen the last hundred years, in how people’s perception of the gods has grown, and changed, and broathened in a fantastic way.
Yeah, because more people are starting to write about it, and to tell about it, what their experiences are, how they perceive the gods. And I think there’s a very… maybe even more important to me than what is in the Edda or one of the sources, because then you’ve got a way broader image of them. And maybe how I perceive a god can be totally different from what another person perceives, which makes it interesting.
It certainly makes for some very lively dialogues sometimes, because we have so many gods! And there are so many different ways to perceive them, to experience them, to have those deepening relationships with them. I think another aspect is that our culture now effects how we see the gods, and maybe how they interact with us as well.
Yeah, of course. I mean, the spirit of time which is of a great influence.
That reminds me of the concept of… you have multiple, multiple, perhaps infinite numbers of aspects of one god, whether they’re a warrior, or a father, or a god of fertility, and all the millions of other sorts of potential aspects within that. And I wonder whether that is where we really are perhaps heading, in terms of heathenry.
I like to go back to the question you asked us, Rich. And also refer to the quote Frigga used from the book by Terry Pratchett. It reminded me to the book American Gods by Neil Gaiman, who is writing basically the same thing, which is that gods get forgotten and get smaller and smaller, and less powerful. While gods who are believed in by a lot of people, grow and turn bigger and more powerful. And I think there are a lot of gods we have forgotten, and that we could connect with, again.
On the other hand, there are all kind of new issues that are specific for this time. Last week I was at a queer pagan camp in the UK, and we talked about this same issue as well. This is interesting. And we came up with… ja… what about the goddess of internet, for example? Is that a god or goddess that is already existing and has this new feature, internet? Or is there a new god, specific for the internet?
Personally, I’m not quite sure. I’m still thinking about this issue. I think it’s a very interesting question to ask.
My first thought on the god of internet that would be Odin, who is the god of hospitality, but also madness and crazyness. So, if anyone would fit that category! [Rich and Jochem laugh] I think of all these nice, welcoming and safe spaces, but also places which are full of the worst thing ever. So, yeah, I think that’s…
I remember having a conversation about the… Well, it’s not… I wouldn’t call it curse, but the mixed blessings of Odin. Which is like, oh, you want to learn things? Well, you will learn things, but also things you wish you hadn’t learned! You can’t… I think sometimes that’s the sort of… I mean, I wonder about that. But if there’s another…
And talking about smaller gods. Somebody I know was talking about Vidar, who is barely mentioned, he is known as the silent one. But this person I was talking to, said they felt that would be a root… or they got inspired by that to do silent meditation, which had never occurred to me. I think you never hear about meditation in a heathen context. Yeah, but Vida the silent one. That was their take away from that. And that’s a really interesting sort of thing. Because if that becomes a religious practice, that would be very interesting thing to see how that develops.
Of course meditation is a heathen thing! It’s… [Jens and Jochem laugh] We <unaudible> thing, or something like that. Because it’s one of the seiðr practices that you just find yourself a big, solid rock, grounded in the soil, sit on it, and actually meditate.
When it comes to the internet, I thought it’s more a means of communication. I think it would not be right for the internet to have one specific god. Then I thought about this issue: there’s not a real god for the sea in the nordic pantheon. Because it belongs to many of them. So, of course Njordr is quite connected to the sea, but Freyja is connected to the sea and Thor is connected to the sea. It’s just so basic. And for Vikings, well, the sea was not the internet, but it was the main way to connect things there. So, they didn’t have a specific god for that, but it was just basic part of the world what was shared by everyone and every god. So, I think it should be similar with the internet. But Odin carries the most aspects of all gods we know. About… It’s easier to find a ship everywhere.
Or maybe it needs a little bit more goddesses than only a male can (?) [laughs] Yeah. But it’s also… where do gods come from? What I always find interesting to think about is – and then I get back to that we, by large extent, shape the imaging. It is this primal powers of fertility, or communication, or thunder, that became personalised. Well, did it turned into gods? Or were it ancestors that turned into gods? It will be an ongoing discussion I get, which is great.
But there are many gods who are god of the internet. I mean, Loki for example, should be in there too, for the necessary humour, [all laugh] and chaos.
Going back to what you said… We talked about, in the beginning, about the gods being developed or discovered – I think is a much better word, as Jens said. The… not rehabilitation, but people have explored Loki in the last twenty, thirty years even. Where prior to that he was – wrongly – thought of as a sort of devilish figure, or someone who you didn’t interact with, and all that kind of stuff. Certainly, what I’ve read. But that’s completely different now. Completely different, like the trows (?) are accepted, and that sort of thing. Very much seen as a… a sort of a… a queer deity, I guess? Is possibly… or certainly in that aspect. That’s very interesting to see that.
Yeah, Loki is a really good example of how the people look at somebody, in this case a god, can change. Because indeed, when I became a heathen, as you said, he was seen as the devil, and you were not allowed to invoke him. I mean, I’ve been… I had many times, people were angry at me, as I had a good relationship with him. But indeed, nowadays, it seems way more people who think of Loki as just being part of the whole, an aspect of the whole. And I think there is also influence from other traditions, like first nation America, where he was seen as the trickster. That is a completely different role. And I think Loki too has many sides, and is as well… There is a reason why I call him the god of the healing humour, because humour can be so… If there is a conflict and you get to the point where you start laughing again, you feel the shift in the energy which is around.
Yes, there is this point where Skadi asks he gods to make them laugh, now that you mention it. But I was thinking, it’s not always healing when it’s humourous. But sometimes it is, and that’s a very explicit story about that, when he was asked to make Skadi laugh to heal that wound that her father had been killed. And he does it in a very… well… rude way. But it works.
Rude to whom? [Frigga and Jens laugh]
And the poor goat!
Yeah, that too. I’m sorry, I forgot the goat. [Frigga and Jens laugh]
That’s rude in the sense that it couldn’t be shown on prime time television, perhaps.
I’m very glad this is a podcast, and not a videocast.
I prefer not to see an artist’s impression, to be fair. [Suzanne laughs]
But yes, I think, the idea of Loki… But also, people from previously excluded… – or people that felt excluded – communities, sort of seen, a deity they can identify with, is that fair to say that?
Yeah. Loki, to me, is the obvious one, and it’s good to see that more people are looking into it. I think… and then I get back to our own imagination, and exploring, and the spirit of time that we can look at the gods and goddesses – or deities to not put them in a specific gender, or whatever – can look up to in very, very many different ways. And our whole way of looking at male and female, and that there’s way more to it, and that there’s not only binary, also in nature – yeah, why should it be different for gods?
Anyway, the way how we look at gender now in western societies is very much based on christianity, where is a very strict binary. In all other civilisations, either now or that have been, there have been at least three genders, and many times much more.
That’s also a thing I have been thinking about for a long time, and here I quote Terry Pratchett again: ‘The trouble with being a god is that
you’ve got no-one to pray to. And think of that: is there any human being who would listen to you as a god, if you feel the need to complain about how you need to live up to expectations, how you look like, how to dress, what you eat, what you drink? As humans we don’t usually like to be at everybody’s tongue. And when people assume they know exactly who we are and what we are, we are not fond of gossip and backbiting.
But what is the difference with our endless discussions about the gods? People are often convinced they know exactly who a deity is, and how the poor bastard should behave, but based upon what? To words, written down centuries ago, at least partly by people of a different faith? I think, I said before, stop with the pixels (?) of eighteenth century views and current cultural thinking, like individualism.
So, the gods need supervision? [all laugh]
Like every good therapist does! So, it’s a basic part of psychology, you must have supervision. [laughs] That must be the secret supervisional powers behind them. Maybe that’s the real function of the Norns!
Oh, I see them sitting, you know, at the… where they have their thing, all together. [laughs] The therapist is coming.
I feel there’s got to be some potential TV show where, you know, the gods are going in disguise to some sort of earth therapist: ‘How are things going?’
– ‘Well, we have a lot of family issues.’
‘Oh, I see, yes, yes. Would you consider yourself an old family?’
– ‘Yeah, yeah, pretty much.’
That would be quite good fun. But what does this mean for inclusivity, outside of Loki and that sort of perceptions of deities? How does that feed into inclusion… and that sort of previously excluded communities, of people?
I think perhaps our perception of the gods is shifting with our own cultural perceptions as well. And the way that we are making strides in society or our current understanding of things like LGBT, then affects our perceptions of our relationships with the gods. And for an LGBT heathen to then have, to be able to feel safe enough to make that connection, and to start developing a deepening spiritual path. I think our culture now is kind of affecting how those relationships go.
Yeah, I think it’s what you say, important that people feel safe to call upon the gods in different ways, than… yeah, than is written down by some modern heathens or whatever. Just feel free to call upon them. Because I think I write that somewhere in my book, which I’m still working on about rituals, if you as a transgender person or an LGB and the rest – QUILTBAG I should refer to that, it’s way easier for a dyslexic. If they don’t want to listen to you because you’re gay or whatever, they’re not worth your attention in my opinion.
I think the diversity we see in our gods is the same diversity we see in humankind. Frigga said about QUILTBAG before, there are lots of gods who have a disability. Either physical like Tyr who missed his arm, or Völundr [Wayland the Smith] who walked difficult, or Hodr who was blind, or Odin who missed an eye, or Loki of whom many say that he may have had psychological issues. And we see that in humankind as well, and to me this representation of visibility in our gods, is a kind of peace in a way that if we accept these things in our gods, it makes it easier to accept it in humans as well.
There’s also the emerging academic field in queer Heathenry at the moment, especially in the last few years, that academics have been looking at the emergence of queer Heathenry, being able to look at the Norse gods through a queer lens in theses and dissertations, in research papers which then, that kind of informs our practice as modern heathens as well. We can take those conclusions and reflect on them and maybe incorporate them into our inclusive practice.
Yeah, I was going to mention that. There’s some very, very serious sort of articles – almost sort of dry, but very serious of academic articles, not sort of pop culture things, but very, very serious ones – which have been extremely interesting which I regularly share. If only to aggravate some people who have, shall we say, less than good opinions.
Ah yes, that’s indeed very interesting. I think, Suzanne, you were there too? At the online lecture Erinn Jeffrey-Franks – do I mention the name correctly? – gave just a couple of days ago, about queer Vikings?
Yes, I did catch that. I felt it was a really, really interesting way of looking at the gods through a queer lens and through current LGBT+ theory.
Yah, me too. I think it’s good to look in different ways back at history. And what she said that we have to be aware how we look back. We look through our spirit of time, and that we can’t apply the way we think on times in the past.
I think we don’t totally understand the times of the past anyway, So it’s written in a dead language, basically. And even if I would learn this language and study very hard to get all that, I prefer to take a good translation. But even if I do that, I still don’t really grasp all the concepts which are in there, which are in the words, how they really, how they’ve really seen the world. What was right and wrong for them, it’s extremely hard to tell. And, on the other side, Frigga, you said something like we shape our image of the gods?
I like to think of that in a different way as well. I see it the gods reveal themselves to us in a human form so that we may understand them. Otherwise we would not be able to understand them, we may, they make it just easy for us. But we also need our imagination to grasp all these revelations they give us, so again it’s reciprocal there. We must have this imagination to, we must have our antennas open to… to receive the message of the gods.
Yeah, and that is also what I said before, I think it’s important for both, us and the gods, that there are much more people and not only one or two. Because we are all limited in our own ways of thinking, so gods need more people to show themselves and… that they can be seen in different ways. One of the things I also found interesting as Erinn Jeffries-Franks put it was Vikings did not write things down about themselves, it is always written down in later periods. So, again you have the… – and I totally agree with what Jens said – we don’t know how our ancestors perceived life, and we have to live it in our way with all the things of today. I mean I think we need a god of climate change, for example.
For or against?
Do we need a god for climate change or against climate change?
No, I realise I said it [Frigga and Suzanne laugh] I said it in exactly the opposite way I should say it! And we need a god for climate justice, social justice and intergenerational justice, to become more aware. But I think we can find them in all the gods, or in a lot of the gods that are around. But, you know, invoke them in different ways on that level as well.
It’ll be interesting to see which gods people felt, which aspects of them align with climate change, I would totally think of Thor, protector of Midgard, that sort of thing. But also I think of Ran and Aegir, because of the sea, and the sea level rising, and that sort of thing. That’ll be interesting. You could even make an argument for Freyja, in terms of, you know, what effect it’s going to have globally, on fertility, Frey and Freyja perhaps, so. Perhaps all of the gods would be applicable.
I think when it comes to climate it’s the same as the sea. We don’t have one god for it, because it’s far too important and it’s, has aspects of all parts of our life. So it would make sense, to me at least, to have several gods doing their bit, when it comes to climate or sea.
When it comes to discovering new gods we even have a historic example for that. Because as far as I know the last one who kind of made it into the pantheon was Bragi. So he is the god of poets, but we also know that he’s just a historic person who was an outstanding poet of his time. And after that it stopped with conversion and writing down all this, we didn’t discover any more, more of them. And I think it would be fair and good to discover new ones, but on the other hand we have still so many… we know little about many of them. But there are just so many gods that there is a huge choice and that maybe it’s easier to discover more about those where we mainly know the names. So for example in the Netherlands we have Nehalennia, of which we know the name and I don’t know any story connected to her. But people discover and learn more about her in modern times.
It’s the only way to get to know the gods from which only a name passed down to us. Whether it’s a statue with a name on it, or written down somewhere, and it’s… Yeah, she showed up… in my life many, many years ago. At first I had no clue who she was, but yeah, you start invoking her and I slowly get to know her. And you know more people are calling upon her and telling how they perceive her, how she is. I mean, can you imagine? [laughs]
There are two bizarre historical buildings, two temples of her in the Netherlands rebuilt. Based upon other examples of Roman temples. One is in the Archeon, an archaeological theme park, and we were there for a workshop and there were totally no visitors. So we got the key of the temple, and we could go in there and do a small blot. And one of the guys who was there, he said: ‘Ehm, she is showing herself in a totally bling evening dress, all glittering!’ and he really felt a bit uncomfortable. ‘How should I respond?’ And well… just let it be!
So yeah, the gods can show themselves in totally different ways than we expect, if we can think beyond Vikings and horned helmets – which are not even historical. They can show up in modern clothes and use modern stuff. I mean, there are images – isn’t there – of Thor on a bike, and Odin in a very modern suit, and all this kind of thing.
So, lets move on to, yeah, how non-binary people for example dress, which is not… Yeah, I love it. To see how they give expression to how they feel inside. We can see the gods in that way as well. Again, imaginary powers, I think that is so important, and humour, to religion.
I think it’s a very, almost an exciting time for heathenry as it goes forward, as we sort of develop from the seventies and eighties revival to where we are now, with this growing awareness that the gods, we discover different aspects of the gods, as our society changes. And I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, and how the generations beyond ours start picturing the gods, whether they picture them in 10th Century clothes, or business suits, or blinged evening dresses. If they start picturing Njord in board shorts and a surfboard, I’ve no idea! But I’m looking forward to seeing these new aspects and making deeper connections with them through those new images and other peoples experiences as well.
Now you say that, I wonder how it is for younger people. I mean, when we ended up, willingly or unwillingly, in heathendom – we talk about thirty years ago – there was only a little. There were no books or maybe in English. So maybe then, you have to rely more on what is in the sources and stuff. Now there is a heathen past, so younger people don’t have to… to invent, reinvent the wheel again. Of course they are most welcome to do so, so maybe they can rely much more on their imaginative powers than we did, which I think is great.
Well, maybe I can tell a bit more about that. Because I haven’t been that long in heathenry – I think about ten years – and I found a lot of basic information on the internet, but it was quite superficial. In a way, it’s just the basic information and I would like to have more. I wasn’t in a position to buy all kinds of books, because a lot has been written of course, but most books were quite expensive and I just didn’t have the money to buy them. Nor did I have the money to go to a library and to borrow them. I didn’t know any pagan or heathen people, so it was quite difficult still to come into contact with like minded people, and it took time. Now it’s even more simple, I think, with all kinds of social media, and books that you can find, and [people] who you can connect with.
Oh, yeah, there’s so many books. I looked on internet shop and used the search word ‘Asatru’ and ‘heathendom’ and I was amazed! Book, after book, after book, after book… woah! [Frigga and Jochem laugh]
It is even so much, that yeah, are these good books or not?
There was a recent thing that’s happened where it’s not quite done by computer, but these certain companies are churning out books on anything to do with paganism, or whatever. When you’ll find this author, who is probably not a real person, who will have written a hundred books on the tarot, on Druidry, on paganism, on Satanism, on heathenry, on everything. Well, even if they are super intelligent, there’s no way they could have written all of that, in the last three years. And a few people I know who have bought them, it seems to be either essentially recycled content from Wikipedia very lightly rewritten, just to churn out a book that is a certain length and then they’ll publish that and they’ll get the profit and the person gets a flat fee. Because somebody’s done some investigate of this and there’s a number of these books that are just being churned out. So you know, unwitting new heathens and pagans are buying these books and then getting them and then think: ‘Hmm, this isn’t very good’. I think the example I found was the book on Heathenry where the two groups that the author recommended joining: ‘Oh, there’s two great groups you can investigate. There’s the AFA and The Troth.’ Side by side, which is just… Well, that’s clearly somebody who’s done the briefest of briefest Google searches. ‘Yeah, that’ll do’, without knowing the deep history there.
At least The Troth was mentioned.
But the fact they were mentioned side by side is, yeah, as if they were both same.
Yeah. And at the same time I think we have to be alert, but don’t have to worry about that too much, because as I always say in every religious field, or whatever, in any field there are people who are, you know, you can trust and people who are such morons that you have ‘Okay, bye!’. You never should go for one book, always look around, and read more, and look a bit deeper into it.
I wouldn’t say it had become easier, I think the challenges have changed. So it’s not the challenge anymore to get information at all, it’s the challenge to sort it, and to sort the good from the bad one.
And isn’t that the spirit of time in general? I mean, there is a lot of fake news, that applies for Heathendom as well.
Yeah, it’s not disconnected to the spirit of time.
And we could sort this quite easily by providing a, I don’t know, top ten book list that we think heathens or people interested in heathenry should start reading with?
You look around, you can find that information. It makes me think, is there a god of fake news, already?
I think that’s a giant, isn’t it? That’s not a god.
That’s a discussion.
Of course we know who it is: it’s Ratatosk. Going up and down the tree, whispering things, like: ‘You know what this person said? Oh, you know what this person said? Yeah, yeah.’ Absolutely, it’s Ratatosk.
That’s not a giant, but I have to admit that’s more convincing. [Rich laughs]
I know, there’s a friend of mine, whenever he goes to sort of download things or pirate things on the internet, his phrase is: ‘I shall consult Ratatosk, and see what he may provide.’
So, now we’ve concluded that Ratatosk is the god of fake news, and all the gods are gods of the internet, but where does this leave us in the future? What are your… I’d like to hear everyone’s thoughts for the future about how people will discover more gods, before we hear about the origins of Steve.
You know, there will be some finds of artefacts, with names of gods on it. Maybe I can talk now about Steve, is how Steve came into being. Four years ago when we had a Summer Camp in Sweden, or rather at the beginning of that week, a Danish academic, Janek Talbitter, gave a talk and the title of the talk was ‘What’s in a name? How the ancestors perceived the names of the gods.’ One of the arguments he gave about the importance of names of gods was: otherwise we can call them Steve. But somehow Steve stuck, and became rather an important figure in that entire week. He even got a role in a play and, you know, we start talking about him, and some saw him as another name of Odin, and others saw him as a separate god of communication, and now even some of the participants made a little statue of him. So that is how gods can come into being. I don’t think he is… he is still a very small god, I think. But I know that if I put Hail Steve on my timeline on Facebook, at least some people will respond with Hail Steve, because they will remember.
Rich asked how we think that in future times we’ll learn more about the gods. And I think the only way to do, is to experience them and to share this experience with others, and that’s just how it works, and I think will be working.
And maybe, as Frigga said, we will dig up even more names of gods that are nowadays unknown to us. And then we can do what Jens said: talk about them, invite them and learn more about them. And they will become a more active part of our future pantheon.
And I think for me, it is all of those points and it’s also, as our society changes, our relationship to gods changes and different ones come into focus and to the fore. Like we’ve talked about with Loki. And especially with the rise of queer heathenry – queer heathens discovering those relationships, because society’s changing into a more accepting and supporting one – it’s not there yet, but we’re getting there – allows those faith relationships to deepen. So I think, yeah, there are some gods that maybe we already know about, who’s understanding will deepen as we go forward into the future.
And on that fantastic note, I want to say thank you all for participating. And if you want to hear more of our podcast you can hear it on the Wyrd Thing website, we’re on Twitter, and Facebook, and iTunes, and Anchor, and various other sites. Thank you once again for listening to The Wyrd Thing.
In the end tune:
Hail Steve! [all laugh]