The Romantic Period of the 18th and 19th centuries placed heavy emphasis on emotion, free spirituality, and a desire to recapture the lost glory of history. It is during this movement that we see interest in the elder Heathens first appear on the intellectual horizon. This interest resulted in the concept of the Noble Savage and introduced to the world a romanticized depiction of the practices of Heathenry. Through the lenses of their overarching philosophy, Romanticists assigned exaggerated qualities to the Germanic people, turning them into caricatures. For example, while we know now that the elder Heathens were not ignorant barbarians, adorned in horned helmets and drinking the blood of their enemies as every man, woman, and child raped their way across the world, at the time it was accepted as fact because the ideals had yet to be challenged with the truth.
It was only through the drive for deeper understanding that a more nuanced comprehension of Germanic culture and religion began to emerge. Outdated concepts were put away. Commonly held ideas were challenged, found wanting, and clarified with verifiable data. The persistent refusal of anything less than an expedition into truth and learning brought us to a point where our knowledge of Heathen Culture is not only unparalleled, but has also trickled down to become the new common understanding.
This is the reward of striving for excellence, when we refuse to be satisfied by second rate or questionable information and practices. If we challenge ourselves to welcome uncomfortable truth and validate with knowledge rather than reactionary emotions, then the whole of Heathenry benefits. Newcomers benefit by no longer being flooded with inaccurate information that holds them back, potentially for years. Our tribes benefit, moving closer to correct actions that allow us to emulate the Germanic peoples of old and reap greater benefits of blessing and luck. As individuals, we benefit, increasing our understanding and insight into the nuanced and deep meaning that we call Heathenry.
Who then, does it serve to when outrecuidance prevents us from becoming the best Heathens we can become? Who benefits when an attempt to push the boundaries of our understanding is derided as Elitism?
Heathenry remains in a phase of growth and development. We do not have the benefit of centuries of organic practice to fall back on. We are still exploring the mysteries and uncovering truths held by the elder Germanic people, and rather than being disturbed by this progress we should instead see it for the challenge it is. Instead of shrugging our shoulders at accepted wisdom or, hiding behind “traditions” that are barely older than we are and not necessarily founded in truth, we should seek to constantly challenge our preconceptions, to constantly reevaluate our understanding in the light of emerging research, both academic and practical. It is our intellectual duty to seek the next level, fostering growth and evolution that carries us closer to true understanding of what it means to be Heathen and the responsibilities entailed therein. In settling for the second best and the sub-par, one settles for relationships with one’s kin and that kin’s gods that are “acceptable” rather than “excellent” and “meaning well,” rather than “being well.” Settling squanders potential and invites the spectre of stagnation.
While the constant challenge and unforgiving forge of debate is often difficult and uncomfortable, denigrating that process as elitist not only adds nothing to the debate, but merely serves to exclude oneself from its benefits. Not everyone is capable of this kind of difficult work. Not everyone should be. Heathenry needs more than just academia, but to denigrate it simply because it is difficult and you feel left behind only serves to hold everyone back, not pull yourself forward. Many Heathens have fallen into the comfortable trap of ‘good enough’, and take umbrage when their ideas or conceptions about Heathenry are challenged. They fight back against the friction and discomfort of change, unwilling to leave their established realms of knowledge and push the boundaries.
To some, the very idea of growth and evolving comprehension is exclusive as it leaves them feeling left behind, but why should we not be exclusive? Just as we guard the sanctity of our innangeard against people who would do us harm, why should we not guard that same sanctity against ideas that would do harm? Incomplete information and misunderstandings lead only to bad practice, and in a culture where right action is what matters, these failures should be eagerly put to bed.
If we are to create a culture and worldview and religion that our children can inherit and pass on one day, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are leaving them with truths and practices more clearly understood than what we were given. Heathenry is not an individual practice. While the individual is celebrated, our true strength lies in the fortitude of our communities – communities that only benefit when we refuse to settle for less.
Elitism is not something to be scorned and pushed aside, but rather something that will be pursued. Elitism should be the metric by which we measure all of our accomplishments and learnings as a culture, for the betterment of our tribes. Anything less should be unacceptable.