Nestled deep within the hills of Eastern New York something new has just formed, and I was fortunate enough to observe it.
It began with an invitation and a Sunday ride northward. It was a pleasant one, although truth be told it would be far more enjoyable in the warmer months. State Highway 22 makes for a great motorcycle route, and it is not too busy compared to some of the larger interstates. It had even been paved within the past handful of seasons – perhaps even in the previous summer.
Admittedly, I do not get up that way very often.
Nevertheless, the ride between the hills of that part of the state, along the winding roads and alongside several small streams and rivers was quiet, and peaceful. It took me through small villages and half-forgotten farming landscapes which characterized the eastern border running north. At times, you could see Vermont.
It was a cool day – hovering just around freezing. A snowfall the day before had largely melted in my neck of the woods, but two counties north and further into the hills there had been more substantial snowfall which had remained. With another weather system moving in later in the evening it looked like we were about to finally get the winter which had thus far been denied to our region of the state. But, for this meeting, the weather held. Thankfully. My sedan is not the best in the snow.
Finally, I pulled up a rough farming road at the end of an hour and a half long drive, towards a farm house with three or four cars parked in front of it.
And promptly had to wait a few minutes more to be able to pull off to the side because there were a pair of turkeys strutting across the asphalt, owning the place like a pair of T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
I had ventured north to visit Tyr’s Good Hand for their first annual Thing, held on Sunday in the hills of the Taconics in Eastern New York. Keen listeners of Heathen Talk might recall that we have previously made mention of Tyr’s Good Hand on a few occasions. Their organizer, Jenna, is a friend of the show. So it felt right and proper that I made the trek to her freehold farm for the occasion. I had previously made conversation with Jenna online, but we had never personally met in meatspace before. I’d say that this was doubly important, since Heathenry is a face-to-face religion.
Inside the small farmhouse, kept warm by a central heating stove, were individuals who had for the better part of the year been working together. First founded to find like-minded individuals, they were ready to take the step to transition from a proto-tribal body to a full-fledged kindred. This time last year they had met in a coffee shop to discuss the potential idea for the formation of a loose study group devoted to understanding their particular interpretation of Asatru Heathenry. Eight folks in total were there in that building: scholars and students, mothers, farmers, residents from Massachusetts, men and women all interested in reviving the worship of their gods and interested in living the right good life. This is in addition to the three dogs, at least one cat, and the red tailed hawk that Jenna keeps for her practice of falconry.
They all knew I was coming, of course. Jenna had told them that someone from the now-infamous Heathen Talk would be there. And they greeted me warmly as if they knew me personally for ages. There was good food, cold local ale, dark coffee, and a fantastic cake.
Importantly for Tyr’s Good Hand, living the right good life of Heathenry involved returning something back to those around them, Heathen or no. Perhaps this is the farming spirit that Jenna embodies and strives to live within. Perhaps this is an idea of a wider community luck, of giving something so that they may be given to later. Perhaps it is neither. But the organization which she has laid the groundwork for, helped to mold together from a disparate array of practitioners across two states, is intently focused on helping the community around them. This is important, I think. So many Heathen organizations in existence do their own thing, but otherwise act as independent islands within the larger whole, and chipping away at their cloistered edifices is difficult.
To say the least.
From donations to the local food pantry, to suggestions for cleanup measures in the various communities which they personally live, to volunteering around the region, each member was eager to help. To get out there. To show their small corners of the world that Heathenry was there, and to be an example of good action in words and deeds. And to counter the sometimes negative opinions of Heathens and Asatruar in the world by improperly reported media.
Not many people – not many Heathens – would be interested in helping out a Messianic Jewish commune in the same town. But these people are more than willing to do that, because they’re part of their greater social community. Because to them, positioning oneself in the larger whole and acting accordingly is just as good as devoting the time and effort to a smaller group. They would do both.
A study session, keeping to the roots of the original nature of the group, gave way to a business meeting. They are ambitious, funding the makings of at least one beehive of New York raised bees for the coming season. Detailing where they would like to focus their community service events for the coming months. The organizational bylaws and expectations of members of the tribe. With a few, hopefully helpful, suggestions from me, I think they’ve insulated themselves very well from the potential conflicts of those less-than-dedicated, yet remain accessible to new and natural growth.
It was all very mundane, in the good, productive sense.
When the business was concluded, the eight members of Tyr’s Good Hand officially formalized and became the members of the kindred. With that done, they trekked outside into the cool air to perform ritual. The air was colder, dropping, with the colder air front beginning to move in.
I abstained from participating in the ritual. I do not participate in rituals where I am not a member, but had I been willing I know that they would have readily accepted my company. There, in front of the Tyr’s Good Hands godpoles, they made their boasts and gave their thanks, and honored their Gods, both little and large. With offerings of bread, and beer, and an apple wassail to encouraging the coming season, they shared in each other’s company with the deeper association that members of a heathen tribe can only relate to.
I did not hang around much longer after the ritual, as people began to prepare to leave. It was a long drive back home in the rapidly descending evening. A quick turn back down the road and the reflection of Tyr’s Good Hand and Jenna’s farmhouse in my back mirror. Thankfully, there were no errant turkeys wandering around the road for me to run af– no. I’m not making that pun.
But as the house disappeared around the corner, I reflected.
These are not my people. But they are good people. These are dedicated people, filled with eagerness and hope and a desire to affect honest and good change on the world.
And maybe, if you’re in the area or reading this from a stone’s throw of Washington County, New York, perhaps they can be your people, too.
For more information, please, visit their website.