Evolution vs. Reconstruction

Recently I find myself increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated by reconstructionist Paganism. This is a bit of a turn-around for me from earlier years when I was very much impressed by the apparent scholarly acumen of people willing to dig into medieval and ancient history to retrieve bits of information about pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices that could be built upon anew. I still respect the scholarly enterprise of investigating the past, but I have become increasingly suspicious of certain aspects and implications of the reconstructionist enterprise.

First of all, the attitude of a good many reconstructionists seems to be to privilege the past over the present, to judge that those living in the good old days of medieval or ancient wherever were really in touch with spiritual truth whereas we moderns and post-moderns are sadly misguided creatures cut off from primal reality. And so, we must strive to emulate the wise ones of the past as much as possible. I see a major problem with this, in that we don't know enough about the past practitioners of Paganism to make such grand statements about their superiority. We have some of their traditions in fragmentary form; that is all we have. I enjoy those fragments of myth and belief and take inspiration from them, but it seems intellectually dishonest to assume that we today can know past traditions completely or how to follow them just as the past masters supposedly did.

I also note that in America, many modern followers of Paganism, at least Norse-Germanic Paganism/Asatru, interpret the Norse-Germanic traditions in ways that are suspiciously similar to American conservative views and values. I have commented on this many times before, so I will just give the short version, with just two key points: (1) emphasis on machismo, war and militarism, equating modern soldiers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan with Viking warriors or Odin's einherjar, and making this the most holy of holies, as if Odin and Thor were employees of the Pentagon; (2) interpreting medieval eddas, sagas and texts describing small-scale, pre-modern, pre-industrial communities through the lens of typically American conservative anti-government attitudes that prioritize rugged individualism and small-town living, and disdain modern government attempts to provide for collective welfare, as if Ayn Rand were the reincarnation of Freyja. This is a thoroughly American conservative version of Norse-Germanic lore, with some parallels in right-wing European thought, and is by no means the sole possible or self-evident interpretation that can be applied to Pagan traditions. It is not the "one true faith," in other words. I am not saying that this is not a viable interpretation for those with such conservative views and values, but it is an interpretation that rises out of a particular ideological viewpoint, and it should not be imposed on those of us who do not share such conservative ideology.

Reconstructionist Paganism, by prioritizing the world of the past over the society of the present time, lends itself to conservative political interpretation and manipulation, because the fundamental conservative impulse is to fear and hate the new and the modern. For those of us of more liberal or progressive ways of thinking, who believe that the society of today is better than the society of the past because there has been steady progress in such areas as human rights, respect for women, appreciation of cultural diversity, and the use of government programs to provide for human needs and to not simply leave the old, sick and disadvantaged to wither and die, strict Reconstructionism is a spiritual and political dead end. What we need is an open-ended Paganism that has affection and respect for traditions of the past, but realizes too that we live in a modern world and must not be bound and gagged by the ways of the past.

This means accepting that religions, like any other aspect of human life, will necessarily evolve over time. A great injury done to the Pagan traditions of Europe by the process of Christian domination is that they were not allowed to naturally evolve in a healthy manner. Therefore we are stuck with medieval tales and myths that do indeed feature a good bit of slashing and smashing with swords, spears and other medieval weapons, along with other aspects that speak to other areas of human endeavor, such as family, fertility, beauty, art, agriculture, love, laughter and mystical experience. If Christianity had not come along with its harsh and oppressive influence, how might the religions of Europe have further evolved?

This is an open question that no one can answer definitely, of course. It is hard enough to know what was but impossible to know what might have been. However, I see one analogy that we can at least consider: the case of Hinduism. The earliest forms of Hinduism, the Vedic traditions recorded in such texts as the Rig Veda, are something rather similar to European Paganism, which is why we can talk about Indo-European connections between pre-Christian Europe and early Hindu India. In the Vedas, we find nature-centered polytheism, veneration of ancestors, tales of war, animal sacrifice, gods of many functions.

If India had followed the same trajectory as Europe, and Hinduism the same sequence of events as Paganism, with Christianity coming in and freezing development of this religious tradition, this could have been the end of the story, and Hinduism would be associated with meat-eating, animal-sacrificing, wealth-loving, nature-worshipping warrior tribes. Hinduism however continued to evolve, most spectacularly in the period of the Upanishads. These were philosophical texts from the first millennium BCE that move Hinduism from simple polytheism and a somewhat materialistic view of life to ideas of karma, reincarnation and transcendence. Later came another stage of intense devotion of personalized deities, known as bhakti. All three of these stages still exist and are still respected as spiritual options within the larger fold of Hinduism.

Perhaps if Paganism had been allowed to evolve, it might have undergone some such further stages of development. Well, there is no time like the present. So, let's evolve! New horizons are waiting. You don't have to keep living in a thatched hut, sharpening your axe!

I find exactly this kind of open, progressive attitude among my Scandinavian and German Pagan friends. They are inspired by the Pagan traditions of the past, such as these can be known, but they are not prisoners of the past. They embrace the modern world, and this is also seen in their politics. They are grateful for modern government programs that can provide a better life and better security than in ancient or medieval times. They are not looking to retreat into the past but to build a better future. They have evolved. Can American Pagans do the same? I hope so.

The Barber, the Boss, the GP and Me

Another week has passed since I blogged, it’s been an unremarkable week I suppose. Calvin’s recovery has continued well and you’d never believe he had back surgery less than two weeks ago. We’re inevitably, I suppose, mainly back to that functional communication I talked about last time with the odd “watch your back” and “be careful” thrown in. He did, in an act of extreme trust, ask me to cut the mop of hair he’s been lovingly nurturing for some time, in an attempt to make it easier to keep clean whilst bathing is still disallowed and leaning over the bath is forbidden.

I don’t do haircuts, preferring to leave such things to skilled professionals but armed with some clippers from Argos I set about his head with shakier than usual hands and the kind of fake optimism I usually save for trips to casualty with the youngest child. “Yeah it’s looking great!” I said as he took on the appearance of a dog with sarcoptic mange. The haircut was naturally a family affair with the other two children looking on- a steely glare toward the middle child ensured she said nothing to alert Calvin to the possible catastrophe that his head was becoming; the youngest child could not be kept from pointing out how funny his brother looked. I got to the end of the haircut, sweating and trembling and it looked ok, ok enough that none of us are embarrassed to be seen with Cal- especially since he always wears a hat.

I spoke to my lovely boss this week, nothing major, just a friendly exchange but I did tell her I’d been signed off for another 12 weeks I didn’t have the guts to tell her that I’ll probably get signed off again when that ends. I often wonder what my lovely boss understands about how well or otherwise I am. I submit sick lines- all they say is “bipolar affective disorder” (though curiously my recent one says “acute bipolar affective disorder”) what does this actually tell someone about my condition?

Today for example, and all this past week, this has meant that for the most part I am ok, I am stable. But this week I have suffered the most agonising agitation and restlessness. I’m not talking about needing something to do to keep me occupied; I’m talking about a skin-crawling, muscle aching, stomach churning need for something I can’t identify. This has me pacing round the house most of the time, needing something but unable to focus on anything. I usually resort to Lorazepam to help, which it does for a bit but then I need to sleep off the effects of the Lorazepam. I have no idea what’s causing this recent development, maybe it’s just another of the little in-between episodes joys that bi-polar brings? I’m hoping the fantastic CPN can shed some light tomorrow- or at least persuade the wonderful GP to be less stingy with the Lorazepam prescription.

I’m sure the wonderful GP has good reasons for only ever giving me 14 Lorazepam at a time; in fact I know she does. But this means I have to keep going back to get more and I hate having to ask for such things, in fact contrary to what the staff at my GP practice must believe- I don’t like going to the doctor at all, for anything. I spend far too much time with my wonderful GP; I would quite like to go back to that rarely seen patient I was before all this happened.

Pagan Fundamentalism?

Warning: this blog entry will likely be offensive to some who read it.
Nonetheless, the subject matter is something I have deep feelings about and am eager to see how others feel about this.

When modern-day Pagan or neo-Pagan movements started forming some decades back, many of those involved were excited about creating a definite alternative to Christianity, which many European, Americans and others had come to feel was a seriously flawed religion that had had various negative impacts on western and indeed, world civilization. It was viewed as anti-natural, anti-female, anti-sexual, and intolerant and oppressive toward other forms of tradition and spirituality around the world. One form of Christianity that came in for particularly strong criticism was modern-day fundamentalist Christianity. There was a sense of optimism that we free-wheeling, open-minded, pluralistic, polytheistic worshippers of Pagan gods and goddesses would never succumb to the narrow-minded, closed-off, literalistic, authoritarian tendencies embraced by those we perceived as our Christian foes.

Well, after some decades of development, I detect signs that a kind of fundamentalism is creeping into Paganism. I see this happening at least in American Asatru/Heathenry, and I am wondering is this is an "only in America" phenomenon, or if it may be taking place in other regions too.

I see it in two areas above all. The first place I see it is in an aggressive conviction that the gods are REAL, that they are actual, eternal, living, supernatural beings who watch over us and may intervene in our world as they see fit. This point of view has no tolerance for other perspectives, such as the idea that the gods are psychic or psychological realities more than actual beings, or that they are archetypal symbols a la Jung, or that the gods of this or that tradition are but partial reflections of a larger spiritual reality, like the Brahman that transcends the various personal deities of polytheistic Hinduism, or the Buddha-Mind of certain schools of Buddhist philosophy. Having never met a god in person, nor seen any proof that the assertions by some Pagans that they REALLY have met their gods is anything more than a personal whim or fantasy or psychological quirk, I find myself uneasy with those who take the stance that Odin or Thor or whoever is REAL REAL REAL and if you deny it you are an idiot, a traitor, a loser or an apostate.

Another place I see this creeping fundamentalism is in the tendency to take old Pagan texts, such as Norse myths and sagas, as literal, perfect truth that can neither be questioned nor interpreted metaphorically. If the Eddas say that there are 640 doors in Valhalla, then by Gungnir, there are absolutely and only 640 doors. AND Valhalla is a real place, an actual physical place where warriors chop each other up every day and drink mead every night. AND every warrior who believes in Odin is really really going there. AND Ragnarok is really really going to happen. The world is going to end in a big battle, and so we must all prepare to fight to the death. Don't worry, it will be glorious!

Well, sorry folks, I ain't buying. The emphasis on the gods as literally physically REAL who are out there waiting for us is all too reminiscent of the fundie Christian belief that Jesus lord god is REAL and if you don't take JC as your personal savior, you are going to hell. I don't go for a Pagan equivalent of "I don't care if it rains or freezes, as long as I got my plasic Jesus" along the lines of "I don't care if I have to die in a war, as long as I got my hammer of Thor."

I'm sorry. I know this may be offensive to some who have a sincere desire to worship Freyja, Odin, Thor or others as personal gods. I accept that such an attitude and practice can be very fulfulling, just like a very emotional belief in the Virgin Mary or Saint Fill-in-the-blank may be very meaningful and satisying to many Catholics. I can't do it. I can't go down a road that I rejected long ago and pretend that the new road is different from the old road when it seems to me that it is really just the same road under a different name. Let me explain why.

I have a long history of spiritual exploration. In my teen years, reading books by such eminent thinkers as Carl Jung and Alan Watts opened my mind in ways that left me permanently unable to embrace any kind of narrow-minded creed that puts up road blocks and blinders for the sake of certainty and security. Rereading Alan Watts' autobiography "In My Own Way" recently stirred up renewed apprecation for what Watts and Jung gave me as a young man struggling to come to grips with the variety of religions that all seemed partially compelling to me and partially not. Thinking about the parallels between Christian and Hindu and Buddhist myths and beliefs as laid down by Watts, or the amazing proposition by Jung that we all share in a greater consciousness, unfortunately named with the somewhat pejorative term "collective UNconscious," my sense of religion was permanently altered. I became convinced that there can be no one true religion, only many versions of religious experience put into different words and symbols. I cannot say that one religious teaching or myth or holy man or mystic from one tradition is better than another any more than I can say that Bach is true and Beethoven is false. The reality is vast and words are limited. I accept readily the proposition that each religion has the capacity to carry us to a deeper view of reality beyond our narrow selves.

I see Odin, Thor, Freyr, Freyja as wonderful symbols of important, universal dimensions of reality. Odin on the tree like the Buddha under the tree or Christ on the cross: a symbol of mankind suffering through to wisdom and a glimpse of eternity. Thor with the hammer the eternal hero rising up again and again to quell disorder and injustice. Freyr the bountiful king and the lovesick suitor, with both roles well-known in world literature. Freyja like Aphrodite or Kali, a wild force of feminine nature. I love them all but I cannot see them as literal, real, actual beings who are going to be my personal savior.

I see something greater beyond, a greater spiritual reality that is the source and sum of all things, like the Tao or the Brahman or the interdependent ultimate reality of Buddhism, mirrored perhaps in the Wyrd or Orlog of Norse tradition. Think on this: the gods in Pagan myth are not supreme. There is always a greater order, a higher power of fate. We should be careful to not become the person who can't see the forest for the trees. Or the one who can't even see the tree because they are obsessed with one or two pretty leaves. I think religion should be something that impels us onward to the broadest possible vision of life, not a desperate search for security by clinging tightly to some new "ancient" dogma and shutting off the mind to larger issues of universal truth and meaning.

To lapse into narrow fundamentalism seems to me a terrible mistake, and I do see some of my American Pagan friends going down this road. I hope that in time something will move them to take a larger view. Otherwise, to be a Pagan would seem little different than being a fundamentalist Christian. You just change the names of the gods and the titles of the texts, but the attitude remains the same. After all, you don't even have to give up the fundie Christian belief in a future apocalypse; you just relabel it Ragnarok.

This can't be all that Paganism amounts to, trading in one narrow, literal belief-system for another.

What do you think?

Fixing One Curve, Starting Another

This past week has been another learning curve; I’ve learned lots about myself, my condition and my son.

Last Wednesday my eldest son (Calvin, 16) was admitted to hospital to have an operation – (“lower spinal fusion with instrumentation and autologous ileac grafts” according to the consent form). It’s as major an operation as it sounds but I knew he was in the hands of one of the best surgeons so I wasn’t worried about the success of the operation. I was worried about how both he and I would cope with the before and after bits though.

I needn’t have worried about Calvin, he did extremely well, told me he loved me when he came round and declared himself “officially hard as nails” between doses of morphine. Physio started without delay and it was gruelling and painful but he did so well he walked out of the hospital 5 days post-op.

I was staying in accommodation near the hospital so was on hand most of the day and into the evening for Calvin, fetching Yorkie bars, copies of the Guardian and drinks of water. We chatted, mainly about politics, a little about trains and a lot about things to do when he was better.

This time we spent together, though marred by the after effects of surgery, was precious time. In common with most mums and 16 year old boys, we don’t usually spend a lot of time talking to each other- our exchanges are mainly functional “can you go to the shop for milk?” “yeah” “are you going to school today?” “no” that kind of thing. The conversations we had as he lay in his hospital bed were special and cherished; I’ve learned more about my son in 5 days than I think I’ve learned in the previous 16 years.

To cut down on travelling (especially as I can’t drive at the moment) I stayed in accommodation provided by the family support centre. It was lovely but not quite lovely enough to stop me surviving on very little sleep, I went home on Saturday night to get a rest. Once I’d got over the maternal guilt I had a lovely evening at home and returned to the hospital on Sunday morning relieved but not surprised that Cal had survived the night without me.

It had been a stressful few days and I could feel myself losing my grip a bit. It’s so difficult to articulate how I was feeling. I was agitated, restless, tearful and maddeningly tired from lack of sleep. The final warning sign was waking at 4am on Monday. I decided it was in my best interests and Calvin’s for me to head home as who knew what was coming. I’d spent the whole time at the hospital feeling a bit unstable.

19 hours later I was still awake and generally just going loopy.

I managed to do something I never would have managed to do a few months ago- I recognised it and dealt with it (sleeping tablets), 191/2 hours after waking up I was fast asleep.

I’m still feeling unsettled now, still restless enough that Lorazepam seemed appropriate today. Part of the problem is my ongoing irritation at living on the knife edge that bipolar can be. The toxic stress is inescapable and I am furious at myself for not being able to deal with it.

Stress wise there is a lot going on around me- the country has ground to a halt thanks to snow, the children are off school and we’re generally all feeling a bit fed up of each other. I’ve been in this situation before and coped fine so is it any wonder I find myself furious at my inability to cope without Lorazepam and frequent trips through to the bedroom to hide.

My new medication seems to be working, though it’s difficult to tell. I know I have a full body tremor so bad that hugging me is like holding a frightened rabbit. Drugs to combat the tremor are useless (unless blurred vision is what you’re looking for) and I have to avoid doing anything in front of others that involves using my hands. I struggle to even walk down stairs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about acceptance and recovery lately, just thinking mind you, don’t think I’m far enough out of denial yet to blog about it.

Lessons Learned

As I stood this morning waiting for the kettle to boil, clapping my hands and reflecting on my late night last night, my desire to go shopping today and my determination to solve the problem of the youngest child invading my bed for good, I realised my mood may be changing.

I can hear my team cheering my insight from here.

Insight has not been my strong point until now, I’ve preferred to kind of roll with it, realising I’m either high or low when it’s really too late to do anything about it. Not that I know what to do about this time either and it’s difficult to find the desire to do anything that might change it. As fellow bipolar explorers will know, the cusp of a mood rise is probably one of the best bits- the ideas are starting to flow, I feel awake, interested, interesting, excited and my (no doubt, slightly irritating) habit of clapping my hands can go unchecked as I’m home alone!

I have to confess to having a bit of a light bulb moment during the night (as the 5 year old kicked me in the head for the 1000th time) and I finally got something I think I was supposed to get some months ago.

The fabulous CPN has always pointed out that stress and the adrenalin that goes with it is my poison. This bit I understood. What I didn’t understand is that good stress or bad stress, it didn’t matter, it could send me either way.

Later this week, my eldest child, the 16 year old is undergoing major surgery and I am stressed about it. I naturally assumed that this situation would depress me, I’m worried, my child is going to be in pain, and we will be away from home for a while away from the other two children. I never thought for a minute that the stress of this situation would have me fizzing with anticipation the way I am now.

I feel guilty I suppose that I am tending toward high rather than low but in there is another lesson for me, I do not choose how I react to situations. I think I can choose how I deal with those reactions to a degree (and that will no doubt involve medication) but that’s my illness.

How Others See Me

I’m still stable, still enjoying the ups and downs of everyday life with only the odd wobble toward emotional extremes.

One such extreme came after my bold attempts to deal with something I had hoped to put off forever- claiming ESA. I can’t elaborate much on this story except to say- the Job Centre were useless, I’m still not sure what ESA is, whether I want it and how I get it. I called the telephone number the Job Centre had given me, got halfway through the recorded message (please have details of your mortgage, pay, blood group, parents occupations etc) and had to take Lorazepam.

Suffice to say, I’ll let that one lie for a bit.

I’ve been advised to go to the CAB, and I will, but not today.

I started taking my new anti-psychotic last week. It’s working in that I am not psychotic but physically I feel awful. As I’ve said before I don’t “do” illness so it was with great reluctance, tinged with fear that I was on the verge of lithium toxicity, that last night I contacted NHS24 (Scottish equivalent of NHS Direct).

My symptoms were purely physical- nausea, severe whole body tremor, headache, dizziness and blurred vision. I went through my symptoms several times, the nurse checked my records then she started talking to me in a tone of voice which would normally be saved for someone perched on a bridge. I was asked what kind of day I’d had (“rubbish, I’m not feeling well”), was I feeling anxious? Was there anything troubling me? Other than the slight fear that if it was lithium toxicity I could be in a coma by the time she’d stopped patronising me- no!

I was left with the instruction to see my own GP tomorrow, “to talk it all through with him”. Now firstly, my wonderful GP is a woman and secondly, I don’t need to talk, I need my bloods done.

So this is the stigma they’re all going on about! I don’t know (and don’t want to know) what my medical records say, but in isolation they clearly paint a picture of someone much less capable and together than me. I know I haven’t been capable and together for very long but long enough to know the difference between nausea and “nerves”. It’s bad enough that everyone one asks “how are you?” or the classic yet nonsensical “how are you, in yourself?” but to discover that any health query I have from now on will immediately be attributed to my mental health is infuriating.

For the record, I didn’t slip into a coma during the night and I still feel rubbish, I’m seeing the wonderful GP tomorrow to get some proper medical advice.

So What Now?

I’m almost frightened to say this out loud but I think I may be stable.

Frightened to say it in case it doesn’t last, frightened to say it in case my new drugs muck it up, frightened to say it because I’ll lose support and frightened because I don’t know what comes now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying stability- I can be happy or sad without either turning into a trip to hospital, I can spend time with my family without the need to slope of to bed after half an hour in fact I’m sure those around me are even more grateful for my stability than I am.

I have yet to venture out much and my days are uneventful, save for the odd trip to the doctor or psychiatrist. Going out induces such crippling anxiety and feelings of exposure that I prefer to avoid it and tend to hide under my duvet until midday. When I am out my anxiety compounds my lithium tremor so much I can feel my head shake, never mind my hands.

I feel fragile and delicate as though the slightest nudge to my mental health will see me careering one way or another. I attempted grocery shopping in a supermarket last week and had to give up after 10 minutes as it was just too much. I passed up the chance to join Labour party colleagues on bonfire night for fear that I would have little to say of any interest, if I could say anything at all. I may be stable, but I’m not quite the woman I was.

So what next? I have no idea if I’m honest; I’m hoping others will provide some answers. I don’t know where I go from here, how to stop living in fear of the next relapse, how to find things to do and find the courage to do the things I have to do.

Survey Results Comments Lost and Found

Dear Readers: I must apologize for a major screw-up on my part. I accidentally deleted a long string of comments. I have been able to retrieve most, so here they are again. Some comments of my own have been lost, because I did not send them to my own email for safekeeping, but only posted them. Lesson learned.....


Sena has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

Again I feel compelled to question your methodology with this project. You give no statement as to the size of your sample, an estimate of what proportion of the Pagan/Heathen community that represents nor a calculation of potential error. There is no way to determine the statistical significance in your comparisons without it. Several are very close and depending on such figures, could, in reality pose no significant difference. You claim a background in academia, but I find the theoretical and methodology problems with this project very disturbing.

Posted by Sena to The Political Pagan at October 24, 2010 6:04 PM


Sena has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

My apologies, as I did miss the count numbers at the top. There are ways though to estimate both the Pagan and Heathen populations to some degree of accuracy. On a previous project I worked on such an estimate that established a range of 10k-100k Heathens in the US. Data on such is available, even if it must be extrapolated from larger groupings. Particularly using multiple references to such data can provide a reasonable figure.On a previous project I worked on such an estimate that established a range of 10k-100k Heathens in the US. Using that as a working example, a sample of less than 200 Heathens would pose a significant margin of error.

Your sampling method also filters those who encountered the survey through your extended contact network, those who have internet access and choose to seek out Paganism and Heathenism with that tool. That is a significant selection bias that should be factored into an acknowledgment of potential error. It is understandable that you may not be a statistician yourself, but a certain standard is necessary if your intended to publish, as you have earlier implied.. It doesn't require the PEW research center, but having a bit of peer review of your work by someone with better knowledge of statistical methods.. As others have pointed out, it is obvious that you constructed this project with a biased agenda and thus it is no surprise that you confirmed your own rational.

Posted by Sena to The Political Pagan at October 24, 2010 9:41 PM


Anthony Arndt has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

My responses to the questions and suggestions on how to improve them.


Instead of the choices given, it might have been more useful to break it into four questions:
Your perception of dominant political perspectives:
1a) Economically... very conservative/somewhat conservative/moderate/somewhat liberal/very liberal.
1b) Socially... v.c./s.c./m/s.l./v.l.
Your personal political perspectives
1c) Economically... v.c./s.c./m/s.l./v.l.
1d) Socially... v.c./s.c./m/s.l./v.l.


I feel this question should also have been broken up into separate questions:
2a) The government is... much too big/too big/just right/too small/much too small
2b) The government should try to solve social problems...
strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree


Again, this question is better as separate questions.
3a) I love the military and trust it completely...
strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree
3b) Military spending should be...
greatly increased/increased/kept as it/decreased/greatly decreased

Note that in the survey, half of all Ásatrú, the largest single segment, feel the US spends too much on the military. Even though the first two options you give are not mutually exclusive. I know many veterans and active military personnel who both love and trust the military but also feel we spend too much on it.

Q4 No issues..


This question has the trouble that Ásatrú is, from its beginning in all the countries it's found in, the attempt to reconstruct the native religious traditions of a particular cultural and ethnic group which the majority of the the members of have had some ancestral tie to.

In contrast, Paganism is such an overly broad category of (predominantly Indo-European) religious and mystical practices that it is not likely to have any more ethnic identity than chemistry or mathematics. In terms of ethnicity, “Paganism” could be considered void for vagueness. Given that, of course Ásatrú is more likely to be more exclusive.

However, treating Paganism as an umbrella term like Abrahamic, you would would find similar attitudes regarding the importance of ethnic identity in other varieties of Indo-European Pagan traditions whether Celtic Reconstructionist, Hellenic Reconstructionists, Slavic Reconstructionists, Hindus, etc. As you would also in non-Indo-European traditions like those still practiced (whether continuous or reconstructed) by various North American native tribes.

Q6 No comments.


This question would also be better served as three separate questions:
7a) Ásatrú/Paganism should strongly/clearly denounce racism:
strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree
7b) Ásatrú/Paganism should leave the issue of racism to individual choice:
7c) This issue of racism is not a real concern for Ásatrú/Paganism:


This question would also be better served as three separate questions:
8a) Ásatrú/Paganism should strongly/clearly denounce (Neo)Nazism:
8b) Ásatrú/Paganism should leave the issue of (Neo)Nazism to individual choice:
8c) This issue of (Neo)Nazism is not a real concern for Ásatrú/Paganism:

Q9 No issues.

Q10 No issues.

“Ásatrú Pagans tend to trend more … with less support for government programs, interracial relations, and helping the disadvantaged...”

It is worth noting that the largest single segment of Ásatrú respondents were supportive of interracial relations and government programs to help the disadvantaged. Not as large a majority as in the Pagan respondents but still the most common response.

“The most striking differences are in regards to questions of ethnicity and race.”

This is the expected result as I commented on above.

“A consistently lower proportion of Ásatrú Pagans endorse their religion taking a clear stand against racism, Nazism and neo-Nazism than among non-Ásatrú Pagans.”

In my experience in Ásatrú on the level of national organizer, the converse, “an Ásatrú group that publicly supports racism or Nazism” will find themselves shunned and ostracized by both their local community and the larger national community. Most Ásatrú also don't endorse their religion taking a clear stand against Christianity. Most Ásatrú seem to prefer that their religion takes “pro” stances rather than “anti-” stances. I find this is in line with the Heathen tradition of promoting virtue rather than the monotheist tradition of prohibiting vice.

Now for a bit of my own thoughts on why you might feel you're running into a bit of a wall.

In my experience, much of the perception of Ásatrú “harboring” those with sympathies for Neonazism and the “White Power” cretins is due to two things, neither of which are related to politically conservative Ásatrú. Racist non-Ásatrú gangs have in the past used Ásatrú as a cover to form and expand gangs in prisons. This leads to the first problem, fear-funded “watch groups” and government agencies regularly misrepresenting and mischaracterizing Ásatrú using cherry picked statistics only of Ásatrú in the US Federal Prison system (the SPLC is one of the most notorious repeat offenders). The second is the prejudice against prison outreach which in my experience is much more common (and extreme) among Leftist Ásatrú than it is among conservative Ásatrú. When truly non-racist Ásatrú have worked to promote accurate Ásatrú study in prisons we are often ostracized and belittled by the “anti-” crowd. I'm pretty much a Scandinavian Socialist (with Monarchist sympathies) but living in the US and Europe (both EU and Eastern Europe) I've seen more damage to Ásatrú from the prejudices and “with us or against us” attitude of groups like the US's Anti-Fascist-Action (AFA), Europe's Anti-FA, and the group “Heathens Against Hate”. I don't know if it's gotten any better but prior to 2005 any list I'd ever been on that was run by a HAH supporter banned me as soon as I was outed as being a supporter of prison outreach. Which wasn't too hard since I was publicly supportive of it any time it came up.

All that being said, having your top link be HAH might be causing people to be initially biased against you. It would be like a conservative Ásatrú saying they are not prejudiced and not racist and then having their first link being to 14 Words Press or some similarly trashy group. And yes, even among the liberal Ásatrú I have known, HAH's reputation is just as bad as 14 Words Press. At least when they were younger their members publicly proclaimed at every opportunity that you were either part of HAH or you weren't Heathen. Perhaps they've changed but I and the Heathens I know haven't seen much evidence of it.

“If the US military can take a clear stand against racism and open its doors to all races and ethnic identities, why can’t American Ásatrú?”

Apples and tofu here. The US military is a job. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing matters but “can you do your job, if not, can you be trained to do your job?” Ásatrú, like all religions, is personal. Not all religions are equal. If they were, we wouldn't have different religions. Different religions are right for different people. Had my socio-economic status been different, I could have entered the military and, like my brother, done quite well.

Regarding Ásatrú, the doors are already wide open to all “races and ethnic identities.” There's just not a lot of people showing interest or paying attention, let alone walking through. From my own experience, this does not surprise me. No amount of wishful thinking would have allowed me to fit in so well in any Native American tribal religion, or even other European tribes, I've studied the traditions and lived in the lands of Celtic, Slavic, and Hellenic tribes. I've made offerings at their temples and holy sites. I've never felt as “at home” with them (no matter how much I tried) as I do with Ásatrú. Here now in Stockholm, we went to the fall blot after living in Sweden for barely three weeks and having never been here before. We fit in as if we'd known these people for years. And they weren't politically homogenous. There were three or four elected officials at the blot and they were each from different parties. We have never experienced something like that in other lands no matter how long we lived there.

And to me, “race” is problematic as well. I see culture and ethnicity are separate issues from “race.” Both I and an Italian Catholic may be considered “white” but to say we are the same race while I am somehow different from a Dakota, an Egyptian polytheist, a Japanese Shinto, a Chinese Taoist, an Indian Hindu, etc is ridiculous. Historically, the Slavs, Celts, Asians, Indians, Persians, Arabs, and North Africans, have been predominantly good trading partners with Nordic/Germanic tribes. Interaction with them strengthened the culture of my ancestors. Conversely, the greatest threats that my cultural traditions have faced throughout history have been from other “members” of the “white” race, from the Italic culture. First through its military expansion, then through its adoption and forced promotion of monotheism. Anyone who talks about the “White Race” as if it were something homogenous and good/bad is an idiot regardless of whether they consider themselves politically “left” or “right.”

But I've gone on long enough. It's my wife's birthday today and it's time I made her dinner.
Posted by Anthony Arndt to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 2:34 PM

Anthony Arndt has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

In case my earlier comments were a garbled mess, you can read the whole thing at once here:

(blogger kept giving me 414 errors)

Posted by Anthony Arndt to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 2:44 PM


Eran Rathan has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

Maelstrom, I don't know if you have seen this, but there were a great many comments regarding the format, level of granularity, and setup of the survey over at http://politics.pagannewswirecollective.com/2010/10/01/guest-post-survey-on-political-views-of-pagans/

(I assume that you had at least seen it, considering that Jason had your guest post there). I would think that it would not be terribly difficult to incorporate some of the suggested changes, to perhaps address what was seen as issues?

Posted by Eran Rathan to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 4:03 PM


Jack has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

Even though I would say that based on personal experience the statistics here are probably fairly accurate, it's still a methodology nightmare of an embarrassing degree.

Racism is a problem in Ásatrú. I won't argue against that. But honestly? Based on the way people treat the religion, all your statistics show me is that people are overplaying how racist they actually are. Only four percent of them said Ásatrú was only open to people of Northern European heritage. I would have expected that to be much, much higher.

I'm curious what the results would have been if you'd decided to ask people based on individual Pagan religion instead of just "Ásatrú" and "Other." I can assure you there would be a huge difference between the statistics relevant to an Eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic Recon, a Kemetic Recon, and a Dianic Wiccan as well. Each has its own distinct culture which fosters varying amounts of racism, homophobia, sexism, and any other -ism you choose to study.

Posted by Jack to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 5:39 PM


Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":


Sampling bias aside, you're incorrect when you say, "Using that [10K-100K] as a working example, a sample of less than 200 Heathens would pose a significant margin of error." The "margin of error" of a poll refers to the standard error of the estimate, and is derived from the size of the sample, not the size of the population (unless the population is very small, close to the sample size).

Running quick chi-square tests of homogeneity on the various questions (excluding question 1, for the reasons mentioned in the post), all of these are significant at the .05 level, using either the chi-square approximation or Monte Carlo simulations. The weakest effects are in question 4, which is significant only at p=.035, and question 9, which is significant at p=.006. All others are very highly significant.

A proper analysis isn't possible without the raw data (some people may have skipped questions, etc), and questions of methodology, survey design, and response bias could still be raised, but this at least gives some sense about whether sample size is a problem in this survey. The answer is, probably not, at least for simple statistical significance. More interesting would be to look at the effect sizes and the correlations between questions (impossible without the full dataset), but I've run out of time to poke at these data ATM.

Posted by Anonymous to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 5:45 PM


Æthelbera has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

I'd like to see a further breakdown of how these attitudes differ between Heathen demographics, or if they follow similar paths to the American Asatruar.

Posted by Æthelbera to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 6:49 PM


mageprof (http://mageprof.livejournal.com/) has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

In question #_, one of your choices is "Mainly for people of N. Euro ancestry, but open to others with strong interest" and the result is 65..3%.

In your summary, however, you report this as "65.3% of Ásatrúar favoring the less open, more guarded option of favoring N. European ethnic background but *possibly* allowing those of other ethnic backgrounds to join too" [my emphasis on "possibly"].

I really do not see how you can rationally move from the positive "open to others with a strong interest" of your survey to the much more negative "possibly allowing those of other ethnic backgrounds to join too" of your summary. "Possibly" sounds as though this is seen as a theoretical option only, rarely or never encountered in actual practice.

More to the point, perhaps . . . Do you think it is reasonable to suppose that an American of Scandinavian ancestry can take great pride in his/her ancestry and make that ethnic pride a part of his deepest identity and values, without becoming a racist by virtue of that ethnic pride?

Posted by mageprof to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 6:57 PM


Long Response by Blog Author (Maelstrom) on October 25, 2o1o

Comments are coming in at a rate that is hard for me to keep up. I am also receiving them through other channels, so I must apologize if I do not answer any and all questions and comments. In fact, I know I will not be able to. This does not mean I disregard comments, but simply that I do not have enough time. But right now let me address a few points.

Anthony, I really respect your nuanced understanding of these issues. I can assure you that I am by no means done thinking about these things, and that this blog and survey are just tools for generating perspectives and possibilities: an experimental laboratory, as it were. I would love to hear more from you about prison ministry and about the controversy you mentioned about the Heathens Against Hate campaign and website. I put up the link without knowing much about it, and if you know some history I would love to be educated on this.

Eran, I haven't checked in at the Pagan + Politics Site in some time, so I will have to put that on my to-do list. It is already a big project simply to send the survey results to all those who were contacted or who contributed.

Aethelbera, good question but I do not have the data in fine enough detail to allow such analysis. One of the beauties, also drawbacks of using Survey Monkey is that it allows people to register their input anonymously. This may increase willlingness to express controversial opinions, but it means that there is no way of tracking people down as to age, gender, location, occupation, etc., all of which might be very interesting to know. This is again why I urge those with greater capability to undertake a more sensitive, nuanced and comprehensive survey.

Jack, your comments about separating various types of Paganism rather than just lumping all into one undifferentiated "non-Asatru" catgeory is certainly pertinent, even moreso your point that it would be good to look into how attitudes in other forms of ethnic reconstructionist Paganism compare with those here expressed by Asatru respondents.

Mageprof, you bring up an issue that I find extremely interesting. That option of "north euro heritage but open to others" comes out of years of experience with Asatruar, and awareness of the past "folkish versus universalist" debate. I used to think that definitely one could embrace ethnic heritage without being racist, but I now have become concerned about how ethnic heritage can be a hiding place for racism, even unconscious racism, and that a strong focus on European, particualrly Northern European-Nordic-Germanic ethnic heritage may provide aid and comfort to racists and white supremacists. This is a very complex issue. Certainly one can enjoy and feel a bond with Nordic cultural heritage and not be a racist, but the matter is always open to manipulation and misuse by those who do harbor racists sentiments and ideas. I also see a problem that a focus on European ethnic heritage can point toward ideas of white separatism, even if the people in question do not embrace the ideology of white supremacy. Many issues here. I am still searching and pondering.


Snoozepossum has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

I saw the survey, but could not complete it in any way that honestly represented my views. I feel the questions were extremely polarized and limited in scope, and seemed to be geared toward achieving a particular result. I also believe that asking people to attempt to answer for those other than themselves is not only inviting inaccuracy but simply bad form. I can't give the results any serious credence.

Posted by Snoozepossum to The Political Pagan at October 25, 2010 10:52 PM


mageprof (http://mageprof.livejournal.com/) has left a new comment on your post "Survey Results, and Commentary":

Your response to my earlier post (not yet visible among the comments) didn't address what for me was the major issue.

Your question #5 gave an option, "Mainly for people of N. Euro ancestry, but open to others with strong interest," which was chosen by 65.3% of the respondents. In your summary, you characterized this choice as "favoring N. European ethnic background but possibly allowing those of other ethnic backgrounds to join too," as though "with a strong interest" was merely a theoretical possibility that permitted one to dodge an accusation of racism.

That it why, as an afterthought, I asked about ethnic pride in one's Scandinavian heritage. Your answer, tentative as it was, clarified your views and premises -- and explained why you jumped from "with a strong interest" to a theoretical "possibly."

But, given those views and premises, I can only judge that your question #5 was deceptively worded and must have confused some of your respondents.

This, of course, does not mean that your conclusions are false, only that they are not supported by this question (at a minimum) in your questionnaire. Nor does it mean that the deceptive wording was deliberate deceit.

But it does call the results of your questionnaire into serious question from an academic point of view.

Posted by mageprof to The Political Pagan at October 26, 2010 8:14 AM


One Year On........

It’s a year since the non-political parent/catalyst/bastard; let’s call him Stephen, unexpectedly walked out on our ten year relationship, leaving me stunned and heartbroken.

It’s not been the best year for me to say the least.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly one area of my life that is good is my relationship with Stephen, good enough that he’s sitting next to me on my sofa as I write this.

I am understandably reticent about committing wholly to a relationship with him again but I am glad he is back and he is, for all his faults (and one or two of them were particularly terrible), still the only man I ever envisaged myself growing old with.

Time, hindsight and guilt have changed the nature of our relationship for the better but I’ve yet to decide whether I like the change brought about by my mental illness.

My healthcare team seem to have breathed a collective sigh of relief that there is now “someone else at home”. Today my GP surgery was happy to organise a prescription I needed without ever speaking to me. I suspect they wouldn’t had that prescription been for a physical ailment. At my last hospital admission Stephen was asked if he was happy for them to admit me- the doctor didn’t ask me.

During my previous hospital stays I longed not to be single or not to have parents too far away (geographically or emotionally), I wanted to have someone there for me as a kind of natural advocate. Now I have one I’m not so sure, there is a fine line between advocate and carer and I don’t think I want a carer.

Maybe I just want to not need a carer? I want to be well enough to look after myself and the house and the children. The truth is at the moment Stephen does all of this whilst I hold him at arms length emotionally and refuse to even discuss the prospect of him moving back in. He is my carer- because he cares.

So on the whole, it’s good to have him around, I do love him, I never stopped. A “new” relationship with your ex is much easier than a new relationship with someone new and the kids are living the dream of mum and dad getting back together.

Survey Results, and Commentary

Readers: A few weeks back I asked for your help with a survey on political attitudes in Asatru in America, with a second survey on non-Asatru pagans in America. Today, as promised, I have the results, along with my own commentary between questions and at the end.

Survey Comparison

Comparing Results from my “Political Perspectives” Surveys. October 24, 2010. Survey limited to American members of Ásatru and other forms of Paganism. 193 Ásatrú respondents, 279 Non-Ásatrú Pagan respondents.

Question 1. Perception of dominant political perspective in your type of Paganism:

(Ásatrú): Liberal: 10.6 %. Conservative: 25.9%. Moderate: 32.8%. Libertarian: 38.6%
(Non-Ása): Liberal: 77.7%. Conservative: 3.6 %. Moderate: 18.0%. Libertarian: 9.4%.
(Note: this question had a design flaw on the non-Ásatrú side which allowed respondents to choose more than one answer. I could not change the question without voiding a large number of results. Even with this flaw, the overall trend is clear, with Ásatrú leaning more toward the conservative side of the spectrum, non-Ásatrú Pagan favoring the liberal side.)

Question 2. Feeling about U.S. Government:

(Ásatrú): Gov’t too big, too many unnecessary functions: 58.6%.
Gov’t should try to solve social problems: 34.6%. No feelings either way: 6.8%
(Non-Ása): Gov’t too big, too many unnecessary functions: 28%.
Gov’t should try to solve social problems: 65.2%. No feeling either way: 6.8%

Question 3. Feeling about U.S. Military:

(Ásatrú): Love military, trust it completely: 26.3%.
Too much spent on military, needs to reduce: 49.5%. No feelings either way: 24.2%
(Non-Ása): Love military, trust it completely: 11.7%.
Too much spent on military, needs to reduce: 67.2%. No feelings either way: 21.2%
(Note: I received many complaints about the wording of this question, which accounts for the substantial minority who took the “no opinion” option. I can readily concede it was the worst-conceived question. Nonetheless, it does show a clear difference, Ásatrú more pro-military and less eager to reduce military spending than non-Ásatrú.)

Question 4. Are you a military veteran?

(Ásatrú): Yes: 18.2%, No: 81.8%. (Non-Ása): Yes: 10.9%, No 89.1%.

Question 5. Question on how respondent’s form of Paganism relates to ethnic identity:

(Ásatrú): Ásatrú only for people of N. Euro ancestry: 4.1%.
Open to people of any ethnic background: 30.6%.
Mainly for people of N. Euro ancestry, but open to others with strong interest: 65.3%.
(Non-Ása): Only for people of European ancestry: 0.4%.
Open to people of any ethnic background: 92.1%.
Mainly for people of European ancestry, but open to others with strong interest: 7.6%.
(Clearly, this question points out that ethnic-ancestral identity is more highly valued and more likely to be exclusive in Ásatrú than in non-Ásatrú forms of Paganism.)

Question 6. Question whether form of Paganism accepts interracial sex and marriage:

(Ásatrú): Yes: 85%. No: 6.2%. Not sure: 8.8%.
(Non-Ása): Yes: 95.3%. No: 2.5%. Not sure: 2.2%.
(Difference not huge, but shows more acceptance of interracial relations among non-Ásatrú Pagans.)

Question 7. Question what stance you think your form of Paganism should take toward racism:

(Ásatrú): Should strongly, clearly denounce: 72.3%. Should not take stance, leave to individual choice: 22.4%. No position, feels this is phony issue. 5.2%.
(Non-Ása): Should strongly, clearly denounce: 87.4%. Should not take stance, leave to individual choice: 10.1%. No position, feels this is phony issue: 2.5%.
(This suggests greater resolve to renounce/reject racism among non-Ásatrú Pagans.)

Question 8. Question what stance you think your form of Paganism should take toward Nazism and Neo-Nazism:

(Ásatrú): Should strongly, clearly denounce: 78.2%. Should not take stance, leave to individual choice: 17.6%. No position, feels this is phony issue. 4.1%.
(Non-Ása): Should strongly, clearly denounce: 87.8%. Should not take stance, leave to individual choice: 7.9%. No position, feels this is phony issue: 4.3%.

Question 9: Do you think compassion is an important moral virtue?

(Ásatrú): Yes: 85%. No: 6.2%. Not sure: 8.8%.
(Non-Ása): Yes: 95.3. No: 2.5%. Not sure: 2.2%.
(Not huge difference, but suggests more liberal tendencies of non-Ásatrú Pagans, corresponding to larger number who favor gov’t programs for social programs in question 2 and next question.)

Question 10: Do you think government should help disadvantaged groups in society?

(Ásatrú): Yes: 63.%. No: 13.5%. Not sure: 22.9%.
(Non-Ása): Yes: 82.8%. No: 3.9%. Not sure: 13.9%.

:: Overall, I think the survey, despite its flaws, does manage to highlight some distinctive patterns. Ásatrú Pagans tend to trend more conservative and/or libertarian, and to be more involved in and supportive of the military, with less support for government programs, interracial relations, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which are in line with the views and values of conservative and libertarian political ideology in the USA. Non-Ásatrú Pagans tend to trend more towards the liberal end of the spectrum, and to be less involved in and supportive of the military, with more support for government programs, interracial relations, and helping the disadvantaged, all of which are in line with the views and values of liberal-leftist political ideology in the USA.

The most striking differences are in regards to questions of ethnicity and race. While an overwhelming 92.1 % majority of non-Ásatrú Pagans are emphatic about allowing people of any racial or ethnic background to join their religion, less than a third of Ásatrú respondents embrace this option, with 65.3% of Ásatrúar favoring the less open, more guarded option of favoring N. European ethnic background but possibly allowing those of other ethnic backgrounds to join too. A consistently lower proportion of Ásatrú Pagans endorse their religion taking a clear stand against racism, Nazism and neo-Nazism than among non-Ásatrú Pagans.

Speaking personally, this is the result that I find most troubling. I want to be part of a Pagan movement that is clear on where it stands in rejecting racism and Nazism, and not only those specific words, but any and all related attitudes of the superiority of one racial, ethnic or ancestral group over another. This survey suggests that a fair proportion of American Ásatrúar are ambivalent or uncertain about how they feel about ethnicity and race in relation to Ásatrú. I continue to hope to make common cause with other Ásatrúar who share a dedication to ethnic and racial openness and equality.

I have received some criticism for doing this survey, with the suggestion being made that I am stirring up trouble unnecessarily by raising such questions. I disagree. I believe that if Ásatrú doesn’t openly discuss such issues and take a firm stance against racism, white supremacy, and related ideologies and movements, it will always be suspected of harboring and sheltering those who do have such agendas. If the US military can take a clear stand against racism and open its doors to all races and ethnic identities, why can’t American Ásatrú?

Thanks for your help. I look forward to comments, both appreciative and critical, though hopefully not hateful.

If It Was I'd Win Gold..............

I was right to suspect on Sunday that my mood was rising and it continued to rise.

Sunday night was largely sleepless yet I woke, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5am on Monday. I was discharged from hospital early on Monday afternoon- high as a kite. By 4pm on Monday I was depressed again and wishing I had killed myself when I had the chance. I spent some time lying, motionless and crying again experiencing that horrendous pain that depression brings by 7pm I was the life and soul of the party again.

This is rapid-cycling- almost sounds like it should be fun, or at least an Olympic sport but it is neither it is in fact very distressing and unsettling.

By contrast on Tuesday I was stable, probably more stable than I’ve been in months. I saw my psychiatrist in the afternoon and was able to ask what I needed to ask, engage meaningfully with the consultation and for once I came away satisfied with the outcome (rubbish anti-depressant gone, referral to new psychologist, next psychiatrist appointment brought forward).

I came home and at some point in the afternoon started to feel something I haven’t felt since the time just before my first ever admission to hospital- “the fear”. I felt threatened and afraid, I insisted that curtains and blinds were shut I knew I couldn’t go anywhere, I didn’t even feel able to stand at my own back door for a cigarette. I knew something was amiss so phoned my fantastic CPN who dished out the stock advice for these kinds of situations- stay in, take Lorazepam, so I did.

The Lorazepam calmed me a bit but only for a while. I was getting increasingly aware of the “noise” in my head I had a number of intrusive thoughts and decided that I needed to be vigilant so decided against any more Lorazepam. I believed I was in danger from everybody, I “realised” I had been stupid all along and it was in fact the doctors who were making me ill. As the evening went on the psychosis got worse, I was convinced I could trust no-one but one lovely friend.

Yesterday morning my lovely friend took me to see my wonderful GP, who I decided I no longer trusted (and told her so). My wonderful GP patiently listened as I told her that everyone was out to get me and I felt I needed to arm myself with a knife to protect myself. Lorazepam was the answer again but by this point I’d ruled it out completely as there was no way I’d be able to protect myself if I was in a benzodiazepine fug.

The noise in my head increased throughout the day, I was having violent fantasies and believed that as well as being at risk from the medical profession at large, I was going to harm someone.

My fantastic CPN visited in the afternoon, by this time I’d decided she was “one of them” as well but she sat, patiently listening anyway. The fantastic CPN had spent a large part of the day chasing the psychiatrist who eventually told her I was to start taking the anti-psychotic they had taken me off on my admission to hospital on Friday.

So today, my head is quieter, I have a psychotic episode hangover- it’s much the same as a traditional hangover- I’m tired, the house is a mess, my body aches and I can’t believe some of the things I said yesterday.

I think I can be forgiven for feeling like I’m not getting anywhere. I first visited my wonderful GP about my mental health on the 30th November 2009, met the fantastic CPN on 12th December 2009 had my first psychotic episode and got admitted to hospital for the first time on 21st April 2010. I’m not stable, I’m nowhere near ready to be back at work; I’ve lost my driving license and still can’t manage my home and children alone.

But today is better than yesterday and I suppose I have to cling to that.

Third Time Lucky?

Today is World Mental Health Day so it seems somehow fitting that that I am, once again, blogging from my hospital bed. How did I end up here again? Perhaps I am forever doomed to mark the changing seasons with a trip to my local acute psychiatric ward for I have done spring, summer and now autumn.

Quite simply I was losing the battle for stability, I had high days and low days but mainly low days culminating in some very low days, until, on Friday I was so low that there seemed only one answer to the way I was feeling and I planned to take my own life.

Before my own encounter with depression- a depression so severe it brings with it a tangible physical pain, I saw suicide as a selfish act, an act perpetrated by those who didn’t have or didn’t want support; I saw it as a choice.

I wish I was skilled enough with the written word to express just how desperate I was, I wish I could describe that pain with words, the gaping emptiness, the crushing sadness, the fearlessness of death and the peace it would bring. I completely understand how one can feel that simply by not being here any more the pain will be over. I now see how easily one can answer all the questions the prospect of suicide raises- what about the children, friends, family?

My justification was simple, I wasn’t getting any better, my life was a mess, I was unable to do all the things I should be doing or any of the things I wanted to do. My mental illness was preventing me from being the parent, employee, friend and person I wanted and felt I should be.

So persuaded by my fantastic CPN (who must wonder why these things always happen at 4.30pm on Fridays) I, once again, checked into hospital “to keep me safe” and here I am.

I have had a slight medication tweak and not enough tea; again I should see the doctor on Tuesday to discuss what to do next. The doctor who did my admission on Friday night thinks all my health professionals need to get together to “re-strategise”. Bless, he’s obviously new.

This morning I woke- early and with that nervous excitement that so often indicates a swift change in mood. I’ll take it, thanks.

I almost forgot to say, the icing on the cake is that last week I lost my driving licence as I haven’t been stable for 3 months (or 3 minutes). I’d like to point out that DVLA were happy for me to drive for the 3 months it took to gather the reports and in fact don’t require me to stop until the 13th of October- something just doesn’t add up.

Non-White Asatruar: Do They Exist?

Dear readers, I have been receiving many responses to my separate surveys on Asatru and non-Asatru political attitudes, and the results are quite interesting. I intend to post a discussion of initial results in the near future, but today I want to pose a question of critical importance to my resarch just now. In attempting to analyze attitudes about race and ethnicity in Asatru, I have encountered a range of opinions, from the view that Asatru is only for people of European (white) background, to the belief that it should be open to anyone, to the middle-ground view that it is mainly for people of European ethnic background, but could also be open to people of other racial or ethnic backgrounds who have high interest and motivation. I realized that there was another way to approach this issue, to ask you, my thoughtful readers, if you know of any non-white Asatru members. Do they exist? Or are they as mythical as Bigfoot?

As an Asatru supporter who would very much like to see evidence that this religious movement is moving away from racial exclusivism, I am extremely interested in any input you have on this issue.

Thanks in advance to all.

If you would like to participate in my Asatru or non-Asatru Pagan surveys, see the previous post.

Survey on Political Views of Pagans

Hello all. As part of a research project on the political views of Norse Pagans (=Heathens, Asatru members, Asatruar) in the USA. I have devised a poll on the topic for members of this Pagan community. However, after thinking more, I realized it would be useful to also ask members of non-Asatru, non-Norse Pagan groups, about their political perspectives. My hope is to be able to contrast the political profile of Asatru members with other Pagans. At this stage, I am only seeking responses from Pagans in the USA, but this could extend to other countries in the future. The survey is rather crude, only ten questions, but it is designed to at least highlight some broad-brush differences between right-wing and left-wing, conservative and liberal positions. I encourage you to participate either in the Asatru poll, if you are involved with Norse Paganism, or the non-Asatru poll, if you are Wiccan, Goddess-worshipping, Celtic, Hellenic, or other types of Pagan.

Note: these surveys are for USA citizens and residents only. I hope to develop versions for other countries in future, but at this point, USA only.

All responses are anonymous. Neither I nor anyone else will know who you are if you answer this survey. No such information is collected. The system is however designed to allow each person to respond to the survey only one time. You can change your answers up to the point where you exit, but once you do exit the survey, you cannot go back and change answers.

Here is the link for the Asatru survey:
Click here to take survey

Here is the link for the non-Asatru survey:
Click here to take survey

I will discuss results at a future date.

Just Add Water.......

…………….and wait 4-6 weeks for results, this is the current advice from my psychiatrist who has added yet another drug to the arsenal in an attempt to get me well.

I’ve been taking duloxetine for three weeks now and my mood has continued to plummet, I feel consumed by a blackness and void that comes from within.

I did my best to fight against it- ate well, exercsied regularly, forced myself to do things I didn't want to do in the hope it would help but have now succumbed and prefer to spend most of my days asleep.

So again I am playing the waiting game, sitting, or rather sleeping on the sidelines of my own life.

Reject War and Hate on 9/11: Give Aid to Pakistan Flood Relief

On this ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the USA, at a time when opportunistic politicians, publicity-hound preachers and a generally docile and subservient mass media are whipping up anti-Muslim hatred and hysteria in America, I want to suggest that the most important thing is to recognize that we are all members of the same species, and that our common future on this planet will be greatly improved by working together and helping each other than by seeking revenge or pursuing fantasies of domination over other peoples.

There is a very severe crisis in Pakistan right now. Since late July, one fifth of the country has suffered terrible floods from heavier than usual monsoon rains. Millions are homeless, many are without food, drinkable water, and medicine. Millions may die. It is urgent that people help and not turn aside from this unfolding holocaust.

I urge you to send a donation in whatever amount you can afford to help the starving, sick and dying in Pakistan. When humans stand together, it becomes harder for the forces of division to turn us against one another.

Right-wing neo-con militarists, aggressive Christians like the idiot preacher in Gainseville, and militant jihadists like Osama bin Laden all want us to hate each other and build up more and more tension and conflict.



(Here is a report from UNICEF, with a link for how to send aid:)

Support UNICEF's flood disaster relief for the children of Pakistan

More than 8.5 million children have been left vulnerable by the unprecedented flooding in Pakistan.

Homes, schools and crops are destroyed as 1/5 of the country has been inundated. UNICEF is providing clean water, immunizations and therapeutic food to stave off malnutrition, but there are millions of women and children still in need.

Help us provide urgently needed:

150,000 hygiene kits;
1.5 million vaccinations for children under 5;
3 million packets of ORS salts; and
support for 1 million school children.
Use this form to make a secure, tax-deductible donation to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, supporting UNICEF's disaster relief efforts in Pakistan: $50, $100, $250, $500 or any amount you can give will help save kids' lives.

Below is a link that you can use to send aid through UNICEF:



So I’m still depressed, I had 3 wonderful days of hypomanic respite last week but I’m back down to earth now. I’ve adopted a new positive mental attitude which basically means forcing myself to do things everyday that I don’t want to do- get up, get dressed, go out etc.

Tomorrow I’m having a much needed haircut then…….*drum roll*…….I’m going into the office for a coffee with a colleague. My heart rate increases just thinking about it- which I suppose should demonstrate it’s nothing special as my local Morrisons has the same effect, anyway, I’m going to do it.

Now that the children are back at school and I have a lot of time on my (shaky) hands my thoughts have turned to work.

I loved my job, for all the ups and downs it brought I was always happy to be there and to be part of the small select team working towards a shared goal. My job gave me purpose and identity, not to mention lots of good fun and a fairly reasonable remuneration. My job was a huge chunk of who I am or was.

I haven’t worked now for well over six months and in that time my job has been someone else’s job. I think I’ve come to terms with not being indispensable but I am plagued with worry that my time off has proved me entirely dispensable.

I often put myself in the shoes of my employer and ask would I want myself back? Would I employ someone who has been off for so long sick? I guess I wouldn’t make a very good employer as my answers are always “no”. I’m lucky, I have a good employer and I know my job will be there when I’m ready but that doesn’t make it any easier to go back.

I don’t know where I’m going to fit back in at work, from the silly things like someone else is using my desk to the serious things- I’ve no idea what’s happened over the last 6 months or so, I don’t feel I have the skills to do my job anymore now that the lithium has somewhat stunted my previously ample creativity and productivity.

I’ve been tempted to take the path of least resistance and resign, not because I want to but because it would be easier than going back. Nobody can tell me when to go back to work, my team of healthcare professionals have been quite good at telling me when not to attempt it but the decision must be mine to make when I am ready. The problem is I don’t think I will ever be ready, I think I’m just going to have to suck it and see and hope, for the sake of my shattered confidence, that I get it right.

In The Pursuit Of Happiness

I am fed up, completely and utterly fed up.

I have spent another day in the pursuit of happiness and failed. Yet again I find myself overwhelmed by unhappiness, depression and hopelessness. I have made numerous attempts to pull myself together and it’s just not happening.

I’m angry today, angry at my condition, angry at my medication, angry at my inability to get better.

On paper I’ve done well this week- looked after my children all week, managed the back to school routine, cooked, cleaned and coped. The list of things I haven’t managed is still bigger and the simple things I can’t cope with frustrates me. I spend my days feeling restless and agitated with nothing to do and no impetuous to do anything. On reflection I can’t believe the past week has just been a week, it feels far longer.

I find myself longing for the highs more than ever, I know each high brought a corresponding low but at the moment it’s a risk I’m willing to take. The highs brought their own agitation and restlessness but it could be satisfied by carrying out any of the hundreds of wonderful ideas I had, now I have no ideas.

I’m due to see my psychiatrist on Monday to discuss the pervading depression I don’t know what I expect her to do or say, I just need some hope.

Living With It

Today marks the end of my first week at home, officially recovered enough to leave the hospital.

It’s been a challenging week and again I am finding the simplest tasks are beyond me. Housework overwhelms me and trying to fill in the seemingly endless pile of forms I’ve been putting off until I feel up to it has me in tears.

My children have returned to school so the days have some structure and routine but during the time they are away I have nothing to do other than attend appointments with health professionals. The truth is I don’t feel up to doing anything anyway.

People keep telling me I need to find things to do but with no motivation it’s very difficult. I still hanker for all the things I used to do and I miss my job. I know that it is too soon to go back to work- I still struggle to go to a supermarket but my job was such a large part of my identity I feel lost without it. I can’t think of anything I want to do other than the rather vague plea of “get my life back”.

I attended my CBT appointment this morning to be told that I am too depressed or getting too depressed for CBT to be effective and I should seek an appointment with my psychiatrist to discuss what to do next. This invariably means more medication; the current pile is enough to induce a bout of weeping when I pick them up. The side effects from my medication continue to affect me and I can’t decide which I hate more- the weight gain or the tremor. I know I could take more medication to counteract the tremor but it has its own side effects so it’s no easy decision.

On the upside, I have a letter from DVLA telling me I can drive, so I have a little of my independence back. I used my car yesterday to drive to the home of an acquaintance who revealed over coffee that they had been through a similar experience to me some years ago. It is so good to know that I’m not alone and that others have been there, done that and come out the other side.

I’m hoping to come out the other side sometime soon, and I hope to stay there.

First They Came for the Muslims...

Beginning with the controversy about the Islamic community center and mosque being planned several blocks away from the World Trade Center site in NYC, there seems to be a concerted, nationwide campaign underway to villify and persecute Muslims, mosques and any kind of Islamic activity across the country. Nine years AFTER 9/11, people seem to be going crazy with intense hatred of Muslims and anything to do with Islam. This is so disturbing on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, the fact that people across the nation are going on the warpath against mosques and Muslims demonstrates that this is NOT really about the mosque in NYC, which has anyway been in the works for a long time, and would not be major news if not for people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich doing all they can to make this into an angry, divisive issue. This is one in a continuing series of efforts (remember the phony controversy over Death Panels?) to use lies and distortions to whip up a fearful and poorly-informed population into a mad mob frenzy for political purposes. The Republican Party and their Tea Party and FOX News divisions clearly want people to spend lots and lots of time talking about the "Muslim menace" supposedly demonstrated by Islamic groups doing horrible, heinous things like applying for construction permits.

Why do the Republicans want to push the panic button, if not the "Beat up on Muslims" button across the country? Because they know that the more that people get worked up over things like this, the less time and energy they will have to think seriously about issues like the Gulf oil catastrophe, the economy and the plight of the millions of unemployed, and the opposition of the Republican party to ANY government programs to help people or regulate corrupt and out-of-control corporations. The same applies to the news media, who get caught up in chasing these Republican Party-guided, FOX News-generated phantoms instead of attempting any thoughtful analysis or investigative reporting into matters of greater relevance to people's day-to-day lives. This kind of phony controversy plays perfectly to the Republicans' desire to portray themselves as the champions of patriotic, Christian, conservative white people--REAL Americans-- who desire protection, if not pogroms, against such horrible un-American entities as Hispanics, Muslims, gays, and liberals. In fact, you could almost say that the split in our politics today could be described as a divide between one party that proposes programs, and another that advocates pogroms.

But let's go back to the original topic. I noted that this is a phony controversy. It is important to understand the facts. (1) The proposed mosque and community center will NOT be at Ground Zero, but several blocks away, taking the place of a defunct clothing store, the Burlington Coat Factory. So all the noise you hear about the suppposed outrage of building a mosque on the hallowed ground of Ground Zero is hyperbole and crap. (2) The Muslims involved are peace-loving Sufis. They have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda or any Islamic extremism or terrorism. (3) The intention of the Muslim group planning the construction is not to build some kind of anti-American, pro-9/11 Muslim victory monument, but to create an institution like the Jewish-run 92nd St. Y, where lectures, concerts and other events open to the public can be held, along with a swimming pool and yes, a mosque, one of more than 100 in the NYC area.

This may very well seem a completely different situation than what you may have been hearing or reading from journalists and politicians bent on stirring up anti-Muslim passions. If you doubt what I am describing, please take some time and check the facts from a reputable news source like Reuters, Associated Press or The New York Times.

Some readers of this Pagan-oriented blog may wonder why I am taking so much time on this Muslim matter. "None of our business; they're not us, so who cares?" you might say, but you would be wrong. Modern-day Pagan movements are only possible in the USA and other countries because of the increased respect for social and cultural diversity, including religious diversity, that has been part of American culture and to some extent world culture since the 1960s, building on our long-ignored, Constitional respect for freedom of religion. If we start going back to a witch-hunting, minority-persecuting mentality in this country, it will only be a matter of time before emboldened conservative Christians will undertake a crusade against Pagans and Heathens along with anyone else whose life does not revolve around Jesus and the Bible. Remember the 1950s and McCarthyism? To some, those were the "good old days."

If you don't want to see our country go backwards toward Christian conformity and open season on anyone defined as an "Un-Christian," or "Un-American" Other, STAND UP, SPEAK UP and FIGHT BACK against the persecution of Muslims, as well as the persecution of Hispanics going on with the anti-immigrant movement. If you hear someone in the supermarket, at your work place, or in your ritual circle spouting anti-Muslim nonsense based on misleading news sources, open your mouth and calmly set the person straight. Otherwise, we may all end up rephrasing that old poem about the advent of Nazism: "When they came for the Hispanic immigrants, I didn't say anything because I am not a Hispanic immigrant. When they came for the Muslims, I did not speak out because I am not a Muslim. When they came for the Pagans...."

Time for T

I feel like I’ve lost 9 months of my life. When I look back I can see snippets but I really have no idea where all that time has gone. However in those 9 months my life has changed immeasurably and forever.

I now face the prospect of rebuilding my life and fitting in all the extra stuff that mental illness and the pursuit of good mental health requires. I don’t really know where to start.

I know from previous experience that my usual rush to ‘get back to normal’ doesn’t help so I’m mindful to avoid it but then I’m left with “what do I do?”

Advice from others is always the same- take it easy, don’t rush, find new activities to fill my time. The problem is I don’t want new activities; I want to be able to do the old ones. I suppose to be fair I haven’t tried many new activities though I did have one foisted upon my by the occupational therapist at the hospital.

Occupational therapy is hard to define; even the occupational therapists themselves seem to struggle to define their purpose. I initially thought the aim was to prepare me in some way for the world of work again, I envisaged reading newspapers, maybe writing the odd newsletter or press release- but no, I was to make a greetings card.

I am not entirely against expressing myself artistically, indeed I drew and painted feverishly during my manic episodes, but cutting out stuff and sticking it to a card was not something I ever wanted to do so being made to do it for an hour whilst two strangers heaped false praise on my pitiful effort was cringingly awful.

I was asked what I thought of the finished item so I replied honestly, as I do, “I think it’s shit” (because it was). The ‘art’ session did nothing for my self-esteem though I did gain a hilariously tacky gift for a much-loved friend- in it I wrote “they forced me to make this, lots of love, Zoë xxx

Not being ones to give up easily, much like the stalkers of the psychiatric ward, OT have also offered me the chance to do some cooking, who they think caters for the dietary needs of my children is beyond me, indeed one of the upsides of being in hospital is that there is no cooking.

If OT really wanted to help they could’ve made sure my sick note for work was up to date, helped fill in my council tax benefit form, sourced school uniforms online, ensured I saw the doctor when he was on the ward, even just made me a cup of tea and stopped for a chat.

However in an environment where any kind of therapy is a rarity perhaps the OT department should be congratulated, at least they try, even if it is a little misguided.

I have also started CBT- cognitive behavioural therapy; you can Google it for a number of explanations. As far as I can tell CBT is aimed at changing the way I think but without addressing why I think that way in the first place. I’ve had 2 sessions and so far all I can see is that I react in the wrong way to almost every situation! I clearly have a lot of work to do.

The good news is that this work will be done “on the outside” as I hope to be discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. I finally feel well enough to go home for good and this time I hope it is for good.