Ethics, beliefs and other paths
Wyrd and ethics
One of the central concepts in Heathenry is wyrd, the force that connects everything in the universe throughout space and time. Heathens believe that all of their actions can have far reaching consequences through the web of wyrd. They understand that who they are, where they are, and what they are doing today is dependent on actions they and others have taken in the past, and that every choice they make in the present builds upon choices they have previously made.
With an understanding of wyrd comes a great responsibility. If we know that every action we take (or fail to take) will have implications for our own future choices and for the future choices of others, we have an ethical obligation to think carefully about the possible consequences of everything we do. Thus one of the principal ethics of Heathenry is that of taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
Another Heathen value is fridh (pronounced frith), the maintenance of peace and friendship within a social group. Obligations towards friends, kin and community are taken seriously by Heathens. Like many peoples living far apart in a harsh climate, pre-Christian Heathens put great stress on hospitality, and this is still valued by modern Heathens. A related concept is the giving of gifts, though both gift-giving and hospitality are bounded by reciprocity, a principle that Heathens consider important.
Plain speaking, honesty and forthrightness are also important to Heathens. This may be seen as part of a value system based upon personal honour, which eschews deceit and dishonesty towards members of the social group. Thus Heathens place great value on the giving of their word, and any form of oath-taking is taken extremely seriously. This often means that Heathens will not sign their name to something unless they can assent to it in both letter and spirit.
Heathenry is focused on right living in the here and now and does not place as great an emphasis on the afterlife as do some other religions. Whereas Valhalla – Odhin’s hall – is popularly seen as the Norse equivalent of heaven, this is a misconception. According to the mythology as recorded in the Eddas, Valhalla is only for warriors who die in battle. Moreover, half of these battle-slain warriors go to Freyja’s hall and half to Odhin’s hall. Those who drown at sea go to the goddess Ran’s hall. People who die of natural causes go to the hall of the goddess Hel. Most of today’s Heathens see Hel as a neutral place where they will be reunited with their ancestors.
Sources do not enable a complete reconstruction of the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon views of the soul. One concept, however, which is still retained in folk stories, is that of the fetch or fylgia. The fetch was held to be a part of the person which might be contacted during life, but which would not be physically seen until just before death. The sight of one’s fetch was, indeed, a signal of the ending of one’s life.
There are a few passages in the sources which are interpreted by some as indicating an ancient Heathen belief in reincarnation, but they are far from compelling. Some modern Heathens believe in the continuation of part of a person through reincarnation, while others do not.
Heathenry and other contemporary Pagan spiritualities
Heathenry is a living religion based on literary and archaeological sources for the religious practices of a particular pre-Christian culture and extended by the relationships of modern Heathens with their gods. It differs from Wicca and other modern day non-reconstructionist* Pagan paths in a number of ways. Perhaps the primary difference is that Heathens are ‘hard polytheists’: they honour a large number of individual gods, goddesses and other spiritual beings whom they see as existing independently from humans. And in common with many indigenous religions world-wide, they also honour their ancestors.
Heathens differ from Wiccans and many of the other modern day non-reconstructionist Pagans in many other ways. They reject the concept that all goddesses are aspects of ‘The Goddess’ and that all gods are aspects of her consort. They also reject the Jungian concept of Gods and Goddesses as archetypes in the unconscious mind. Heathen festivals do not follow the ‘Eight Fold Wheel of the Year’ based on solstices and equinoxes. Their rituals do not involve ‘casting circles’ or ‘calling quarters’. Magic is not an essential or central part of Heathenry, and the majority of Heathens do not consider themselves ‘witches’. There are no ‘degrees of initiation’ within Heathen religion and no ‘high priests’ or ‘high priestesses’.
Despite these theological differences, many Heathens are involved in the wider pagan community for social and political reasons.