Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

Northern Winds: Asatru and Heathen Meet-up

So one of the first things they teach you about in Anthropology 101, is the history of the field and how we used to be REALLY BAD AT IT. One of the predominant examples of this is the phenomenon of “Armchair- Anthropologists”. In a nut shell; these early pioneers in the field would study and compare cultures around the world, without ever leaving their comfortable countryside homes. Content to sound like they knew what they were talking about, simply by reading reports from abroad, these guys are responsible for a LOT of cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes.

Thus, as a student of Anthropology, and somebody who hates to look like a hypocrite, I occasionally venture out into the world to see what's happening!

This past Friday evening was the monthly Asatru and Heathen Meet-up hosted by Northern Winds. I had been to the shop once before, but not for some time. Northern Winds is a small, one room shop, adjoined to the larger Fantasia Crystals. While the majority of the store seemed to have a more general Wiccan target audience, Northern Winds has a distinctly Nordic feel to it. While Pentacles and Irminsul decorated the walls, the shelves were topped with statues of the Aesir and the Vanir. The display counter boasted a large variety of rune sets, as well as Mjölnir pendants made of everything from wood, to bronze, to chain-mail links. This, along with a small shelf in the back with a few impressive (out of print) books, convinced me that I'd come to the right place for my excursion.
As the room filled up with people I was intrigued to see people from a number of traditions in attendance, including the friendly neighborhood Druid Mr. Bailey. (Whom I had the pleasure to meet once before at the local Witches Ball). I was pleased to see such a diverse group participating amicably in a kind of Intra-Pagan Interfaith discussion.
The lesson that night was lead by Kevin Puckett, author, Gothi, and creator of Asastrong. I had no idea what topic/s the lecture was going to be covering that evening, so I was curious what direction Mr. Puckett would take when he announced that the focus of the talk was going to be the concept of the “Folk-Soul”.
I was expecting a 101 lesson on the idea of the Orlog (Ones connection to their ancestral past), but Puckett had a more active, communal vision in mind. Puckett's “Folk-Soul” is something more akin to a community network. He described it as a quilt, into which each member of the community stitches their most valued skills/attributes, thus making them accessible to the whole group. By making connections with others who possess different skill sets and resources than ones own, an individual can gain access to a greater breadth of knowledge and ability.
In addition to his lesson on “Folk-Soul”, Puckett also included a practical daily philosophy, based on the idea of community contribution, represented below:

Puckett's basic idea is that the human experience can be broken down into these four fields, and that by maintaining a healthy balance of these attributes, one can better contribute to their community. (I believe his words were “commune with the Folk-Soul”. There's a reason I'm a blogger and not a priest; I do not share the Skaldic Gothi's skill at waxing poetic.)
In his lecture, Puckett expounded upon each of his four attributes, and his perspective on balance within each quarter as well as within the whole. The Physical requires a balance between work, exercise, and leisure. The Social involves the need for solitary time, balanced against ones social obligations. The Spiritual category emphasizes the need for practical grounding, in addition to spiritual growth. The Mental quarter represents the need for mental stimuli/critical thinking skills, vs mental leisure time. (On that last note: Guilty as charged, I spend WAY more time on netflix then I do in science journals...)
The talk ended with Mr. Puckett bringing the whole thing full circle, and explaining that the resources for improving ourselves can be found within the network of the Folk-Soul; and by keeping ones life in balance, one can better contribute to the Folk-Soul.

Now, putting aside my personal nitpicking around terms like “spiritual” and the amount to which it may or may not be a part of any individuals life, the Folk-Soul sounds like a fairly positive social mechanic. If you want to encourage community activism and tribal bonding, then promoting symbiotic relationships, founded in reciprocity, through religious values is an effective strategy. Couple this with a philosophy of personal progress as communal gain, using a common Pagan ethic of self-reliance and responsibility for support, and you have the beginnings of a great community action plan. While I think this would be difficult to implement in a larger community, I believe this kind of construct would make a strong foundation for smaller groups like individual kindreds/covens/groves.
After the lecture, I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Puckett briefly about his work as an author, and his goals for Asastrong. Puckett emphasized his company's stated mission:

ÁsaStrong’s mission is to provide all Ásatrúar with new foundations well as deeper philosophical based in our ancient tradition, as insights into what has become our new, contemporary, tradition. We also seek to provide books, clothing, ritual items, and jewelry created by actual Ásatrúar for Ásatrúar. We seek to accomplish these goals through the concept of Folk-Building (a term coined by some of our amazing Folk-Mothers within the Folk community). This means we seek to only do business with other companies, Kindreds, and organizations within the Ásatrú or Folk community. Symbolized by the Úlfheðinn logo, ÁsaStrong stands on the front-line of our Trú each day that we don our Hammer. We will Progress our Trú and our Folk by securing the rights and freedoms of all Ásatrúar. Our motto, “Nevermind the False, Progress the Folk” will see us through the times to come. We focus only on that which is positive, and serves to further our Love for our Folk and our Gods.

His focus, throughout our conversation, was always on contributing to and building up the community. At first glance I admit, I felt Asastrong's mission statement was a bit exclusivist. While I respected his desire to bolster the Heathen population, I didn't seem to make much room for Pagans outside of those borders. However, after listening to his talk and discussing his work, I found him to be a very open and accepting gentlemen. His personal definition of Folk seemed to have room for anybody who wished to consider themselves a part of the community, and I have a lot of respect for that. In the end, I left the meet-up feeling like I had potentially made some new friends, and I intend to follow Kevin Puckett's career with interest.

So, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I LOVE buying books on runic interpretation. I'm always fascinated to see how different people see the meanings behind the same symbols, and I've got a collection which is starting to rival the harlequin romance section at some bookstores. Thus, I made sure to procure a copy of Kevin Puckett's “Runic Philosophy”! Expect a book review in the near future!

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