Swain Wodening made an interesting observation on his blog the other day. He notes that in the last ten years, Heathenry as a whole has not really improved its situation, in terms of organization, material resources, and so forth. His general point is that we as Heathens (whether that means Ásatrú, Théodish Belief, or something else) need to _do_ things, as opposed to merely _talking_ about things:
For there to be hofs and sacred sites, they must be founded by someone. For fellowships to grow we must overcome our fears of being open about our beliefs. And most of all we must be doers and not thinkers. It is easy to think about founding an ealh for example. It is much harder to set about building one.
It’s an excellent point, as far as it goes, and I cannot quibble with it. I can only add to and emphasize it.
I would say that the things he speaks of (and I should point out he’s not alone in this; to take but one example the Heathen Nation email list was established essentially because a number of Ásatrúar felt the same thing) require three things:
Action from those who are already Heathen
Swain touched on the first point, and the third comes naturally from the second. I want to go into a little depth on that second point.
There are two ways that religions grow. Births and conversions. Depending on the size of the particular population, one or the other will be more significant. In small populations, conversions will drive growth; in large populations, births will do so. Heathenry is, frankly, a small population.
In short, we need converts.
That’s not to say that Heathens should not have kids, and educate them in the Heathen faith; far from it. But it is a realization that doing so is not the primary key to growth. We must actively seek converts, both from within the neo-pagan community and the broader community-at-large. Many Heathens have an aversion to doing so, based on their previous experience with Christian proselytizing.
It’s common to say that “word of mouth” is enough. Or that “the Gods will lead those whom They want to the faith.” People were saying those things ten years ago, and they’ll be saying them ten years from now. And Heathenry will remain where it is today, where it was ten years ago. We must change that mindset amongst ourselves.
It goes beyond merely wearing a Thor’s Hammer and being helpfully informative if someone happens to ask what it means. We have a genuinely different and superior faith to share, and it does our neighbors and children a genuine disservice if we do not at the very least let them know our option exists.
According to the 2008 Pew Research Center study on religion, 28% of Americans have changed their religious affiliation from the one they were raised in. There is genuine hunger in America today for alternatives to the “mainstream” religions, and that number is a reflection of that fact. Heathenry needs to be tapping into that trend, and it is not doing so.
Make your presence known! Get tables at local events (especially non-pagan events), and have literature– good literature– to hand out. Have a constant stream of events planned (monthly at a minimum), so that if you do find an interested prospect, you can say “We’re doing something in a week and a half, and you’re welcome to join us.” Have learning opportunities aplenty, and a website is not enough. Face to face contact is key. Our tribal organization (whether its via kindreds or theods) is our great strength; we have a perfect solution to the feelings of disassociation that modern society produces.
With numbers will come money to buy land and build hofs and all the rest. But we won’t get those numbers just relying on our own devices. We need to bring in new blood, and I believe what we have to offer is so superior, given today’s social pressures and climate, that we have a positive duty to spread the word.
It’s not proselytizing. It’s outreach. And it works.