Heathenry: so much more than a boys’ club

By Galloway, with contributions from Daracha.

Recently we caught up with a friend of ours who had just left her Asatru kindred. Her story was similar to others we’ve heard over the years from women involved in Germanic Heathenry in Australia.

As a country dweller like us, she was thrilled when she first became involved with this kindred. The organisers aimed to recreate the feeling of traditional Norse festivals, so the rituals were solemn and spoken in Danish and Old High Norse. As a former reenactor this appealed to her interest in history, and coming to a Viking feast with ritual also worked for her eclectic pagan side.

After ritual, the kindred would have a feast in the hof (feasting hall). These were always wonderful, with tables packed with roast meats, vegetables and homemade breads and cakes. They even drank mead from drinking horns.

The problems arose when she realised that it was always her and the wives and girlfriends of the men in attendance who served the food, cleared the table, and even fetched the beer and mead. In fact, after this realisation it became clear to her that the only reason the wife of the host had invited her female friends to these gatherings was because she needed help in the kitchen to produce such large amounts of food and drink.

And it didn’t stop there. After the feast, our friend found that she was usually going and sitting with the other women away from the fire. The men would stand around the fire and share stories and songs from the Eddas and make toasts, boasts and oaths. The women would gossip about the men. When this became apparent and she went to stand with the men to share in the music (she is one of the most talented whistle players in the state) it was suggested, not unkindly, that she should “go and sit with the others”.

As mentioned earlier, this is not an isolated incident. Over the years in our dealings with heathen folk of all walks of life, this tale seems to come up fairly frequently from Australian heathen women.

So.

Even someone with a rudimentary knowledge of history knows that the Vikings were a vibrant and varied people. War and conquest were important to them, yes, but so were a lot of other things. For some reason many people seem to revere the warrior aspect of Norse heathenry and leave it at that. In Australia, that seems to have pigeonholed all Heathenry as some sort of Men’s Shed religion, and attracted some strange ideas.

In actual fact, Viking women were treated better than all of this. The role of wife and mother were seen as sacred, and extended so much further than bringing babies, food and booze. In many Norse societies women owned land, livestock and were even able to divorce their husbands. And don’t even get us started on warrior women!

Diana Paxson also mentions in this article that it is the dísir, the female ancestors, who were traditional protectors of family lines and customs. We have attended a number of different heathen feasts in a number of different capacities over the years, and this has never been apparent in the words or actions of any participants, male or female!

Any group serious about recreating the spirit of Viking religious festivals would surely take all this into account. In terms of solid, recorded history, heathens have it much better than many other pagan paths. The evidence is there. It’s just a matter of using it!

Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings were a complex and highly progressive society. The folk who work to recreate their customs do, for the most part, a brilliant job of living true to their hearths and kindreds, and in many cases create groups of people as close as blood relatives. In Australia, though, it seems that some groups are missing the point somewhat, and heathenry becomes something of a boys’ club, leaving female members feeling disillusioned. It’s time to step out of the shed into the sunshine. It’s time celebrate our ancestors. All of them.

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