I am free because I am bound to a community. It almost seems contradictory. How can someone in modern society consider themselves free when they intentionally bind themselves to the good of others? This comes down to a clash of the Heathen worldview and the overculture’s ideals of how a person should live. The Heathen worldview is transgressive to modern society, but ultimately the most freeing.

Modern American culture has a focus on individualism. Modern literature and movies are driven by characters who pioneer on their own into uncharted territories. There is especially an emphasis on the western pioneer, who went out and created fortune from nothing but raw land and his own labor. Even though the facts of Western settlement and other pioneers are often skewed, as a society, we have a fascination with autonomy and individualism, and that fascination bleeds into our behavior and practice as Heathens.

Individualism is defined as “the doctrine that self-interest is the proper goal for all human actions,” by Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. To put it more plainly, individualism is “looking out for number one.” It is a focus on the self over the group, and the belief that personal achievement is more important than the good of the community. Writers on the subject of individualism such as Craig Biddle, in his 2012 essay, “Individualism vs. Collectivism,” believe that human beings are distinct, separate beings, who are not in any way metaphysically connected to one another. Quoting Frederick Douglas, “I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons… God created both, and made us separate beings.”

Many of the larger parts of American culture are built on individualism – unrestricted capitalism, protestant theology, and the idea of “pulling up your boot straps,” are but a few examples. There is a strong emphasis on the self, and rarely do you hear of the group. Very few people credit Apple for the iPhone or Microsoft for Windows – instead those are credited to a single individual such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

In contrast, the Heathen worldview is that the group comes before the individual, because the individual only exist as part of the group. Therefore, one could argue that Heathenry is a form of collectivism. By this, I do not mean on a governmental level. Heathenry is not communism, but instead collectivism in the objectivist point of view, defined as “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity,” by Merriam-Webster. Group interest is the goal of Heathen moral decisions. Within modern Heathen theology, there is no larger example of this than Frith. In Culture of the Teutons, Grøntech states in Chapter 1, “Thus the kinsmen proclaim their oneness of soul and body, and this reciprocal identity is the foundation on which society and the laws of society mast be based. In all relations between man and man, it is frith that is taken into account, not individuals.”

Modern Heathen author Ale Glad writes in his essay, “The Heathen Mind: Construction and Transgression”:

Heathenry is communal. In Culture of the Teutons, Grönbech discusses frith, kinship, and honor to great extent and one of the conclusions he draws about Heathen society is summed up best as “the man is the clan and the clan is the man.” We are at our truest when we are part of something and when we are invested in it. In fact, it is the man without a clan, without frith, that is no man in any meaningful way. This is partly because a man living without frith, without kin, is expelled from society and can build nothing. They will have no legacy. They transgress the borders of society, living like a wolf, and preying upon others. They are outlaw and not protected by the normal rules governing human interaction. They are without purposeful and meaningful existence and, where they intersect society, exist as a parasite. They steal what they can and give nothing back. They violate all the rules and upset the proper order of things.”

 

I believe that being an individual, unbound to community, is one of the hardest ways to live. The world is a cruel place, and nature, quite frankly, is trying to kill us all. In my neck of the woods, it’s only a matter of time before we experience a devastating earthquake. Tornados are common, and occasionally we even get a tropical storm if a hurricane blows up over south Texas. No matter who you are, where you are from, or what you believe, there is someone out there who wishes to harm you. This is not meant as doom and gloom, but simply a statement of fact.

Looking at modern culture, it is easy to see the price we have paid for this individualism. According to the United States Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making, 60% of households are three missed paychecks (or less) from losing their home. If faced with that situation, how many of those people have a community they can depend on to help them weather the storm? How many people are so isolated from community they don’t know how to ask for help?

In his book, “Quest for Community,” sociologist Robert Nisbet discusses the effects individualism has on society. He argues that the emancipation of the individual from local, meaningful communities has led to the rise of searching for belonging. When people begin searching for belonging, this search can often lead to predatory groups. I have experienced the recruiting tactics of radical, racialized groups that prey on the disaffected and lonely in my community. Predatory tactics are also used by cults and other less than savory groups to try to ensnare people to their beliefs or cause.

On the show, I have been very open about my struggles with mental illness. Anxiety is a monster that is always lurking in the back of my mind, and I can become consumed with worries. When I try to face these things alone, I fail, and this failure often leads to even more anxiety, which can spiral into an episode of panic and distress. There is a stigma around asking for help. I have found myself trying to take the weight of the world on my shoulders, and this has led to disaster personally and professionally. Eventually, I become so burdened that I implode, and neglect everything, to the detriment of myself and those around me.

When self-interest becomes my goal, rather than the community, I become destructive to my community. What is gained at the expense of my community is ultimately going to be at the expense of myself emotionally and spiritually as my actions diminish the bonds I have with my community. Without my community, I am the most wretched of creatures, alone and without a friend.

When I surround myself with community, including my family and my kindred, I feel at ease. Acting within my frith bonds gives a sense of peace, because I never shoulder any burden alone. It gives me hope, because I know I am working toward something greater than myself. When I am acting as a part and not an individual, I am constructively building the luck of my community, and that luck in turn rewards me when it is most needed. I am able to take risks I could have never taken before because my community is there to support me, and pick me up if I fall.

Embracing this worldview is not something every Heathen will do. There will be those who value their individualism over the Arch Heathen values of community and Frith. There are also those who have not embraced this facet due to ignorance about the beliefs of our religious ancestors. I was once in the latter position. My worldview continues to evolve daily. My sincerest wish is that every Heathen is able to experience the power of Frith and community, because it will profoundly change their life for the better.

Posted by Lauren

Lauren is one of the hosts of Heathen Talk and holds the title of SHMBO of Black Bear Kindred of Central Arkansas. She prides herself on being able to leverage Heathen Talk into getting hired at her dream job.

Website: http://www.accessibleheathenryproject.org

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  1. Well said Lauren. Excessive individualism is a blight in our culture. I am glad that there are people, like you, trying to raise our awareness of the inherent problems with it and attempting to bring about change. Good work and good luck! Lewis

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