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Becoming Heathen

What are gods, and what does it mean to believe in them?

By Steven T. Abell

I’m always interested to hear how people come to be Heathens. We have a lot of children in Heathenry these days, and their story is simple. Among adults, I often hear about people who had long voyages through other traditions, sometimes several of them. These stories go something like “First I was (Some Kind Of) Christian. Then I became Buddhist. Then I was a Hindu for a while. When I found Wicca, I really thought that was it, until I discovered Ásatrú. So now I’m a Heathen.” I know a few people who even attained formal clergy status in one or another of the traditions they adopted before moving on.

I’ve left out all the motivational details. These are the best parts of such stories: why someone made a change. I get the feeling that, for a few people, spirituality and religion are like a trip to the mall, with opportunities to shop in lots of stores where you can try things on for fun. For most others, it’s just a process of sequential discovery, with each step providing a better understanding of a particular person’s needs.

For me, some of the most interesting people are those who can’t or won’t distinguish between representation and referent, or between myth and history. When I say interesting here, I don’t mean it in a good way. I’ve never taken a poll, but resistance to these distinctions seems to be uncommon in our community, while it is practically a requirement of membership in others.

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