Guidance for Life

There is no holy book that sets out how to live, and there are many different ways of living a Pagan life, which is seen as the choice of the individual. Nevertheless, some generalisations can be made. Contemporary Pagans tend to have a life-affirming attitude, life as something to be enjoyed rather than endured. The body and sexuality are viewed positively, and there is little talk of renunciation or asceticism, although in practice Pagans may endure hardships as a necessary part of something that needs to be achieved, for example sleeping outside as part of a protest against ecologically damaging ‘development’. Pagans seek to live in harmony with the rest of nature, and may choose lifestyles that minimise their use of natural resources and harm done to other beings and the natural environment. Thus in practice they may live lives of simplicity resembling those of renunciates in other traditions, but with different motivations. In general there is a love of freedom, respect for plurality and a non-judgemental approach to individual ways of living, so that people with less conventional lifestyles feel welcome in Pagan communities. There is a strong connection between Paganism and various ‘countercultural’ movements such as the ‘hippies’ of the 1960s, and later anti-war and environmental protestors, though there are also Pagans within ‘mainstream’ occupations such as schoolteachers or the police force.

With regard to modern Heathenry, to be Heathen you simply need to endeavour to adopt the worldview and do Heathen things. There is no limitation based on origin or background, all heathens will give worth to their ancestors, wherever they come from. There is also room to manoeuvre. Whilst most Heathens are polytheists, some are pantheist, or even atheist, and belief can happily remain a personal matter, with priority given to custom.

The central concept is reciprocity, or fair exchange for mutual benefit. Heathens will tend to be active in their community, even if it isn’t a Heathen one per se. Reciprocity is not solely important for family and community matters, but extends to other-than-human persons as well. Heathenry is embedded in a mythopoeic view which places importance on ancestors, landwights (spirits of the land), and gods, usually in that order. Ancestors are generally understood to come in three types, which may overlap: genetic, cultural, and those humans who dwelt on the land in past times, yet about whom we know little (prehistoric mound dwellers, for instance).

One way or another, ancestors, landwights, and gods are all worshipped. The first two groupings tend to be addressed as personal or family matters, the last more as a community matter, but there are no fixed distinctions. Worship tends to focus around the making of appropriate offerings in a sacred space. For ancestors and housewights the home itself is sacred, whereas landwights are understood to dwell at particular features of the landscape. The gods are the most widely known amongst Heathen communities, and the major ones and their iconography will be recognised everywhere, though there is yet no network of community temples for their worship.

Some Heathens will endeavour to work ‘magic’ for spiritual development or material effect, though this is a minority endeavour, generally not as high profile as such practices are in Paganism.

Pagans and Heathens are aware that there are always some people in every community who might try to take advantage of others sexually or in other ways. To that end, Pagan and Heathen organisations who are members of the Pagan and Heathen symposium have drawn up a code of conduct for use at events that outline what they collectively feel constitutes unacceptable behaviour and give some guidance on how they might address issues. It would be important to note that, whilst there is a great deal of freedom within Pagan traditions, this comes with the requirement of personal responsibility to act within a self-defining level of personal ethics that might also be judged by one’s peers within the Pagan community: http://pagansymposium.org/code.html

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