I wish to thank Brian Greenhow for his wonderful interview! I very much enjoyed reading your answers and learning more about your faith. Thanks for sharing with us Brian!
Today we have a new interview so please welcome Siegfried Goodfellow. Siegfried is an Asatruar and I know you'll enjoy his interview as well!
Here Is Siegfried Goodfellow's Introduction:
My name is Siegfried Goodfellow, and I have been a part of the heathen community for over ten years. I deeply believe in and feel the value of indigenous faiths that speak to the deepest, most organic parts of ourselves, and connect us to the dream-level of life. I was thrilled to learn many years ago that my own ancestors practiced such a faith that I could tap into, and I have spent years pursuing it on both meditative and intellectual levels. There is ample room for both in my heathen faith.
I practice a form of Asatru, or Northern/Scandinavian Heathenism, a devotion to the Norse Gods -- who are themselves the Tenders of the Cosmic Tree of Life. We see the universe itself as alive and organic -- even its "abiotic" features. Even matter is alive, although in its more untamed, elemental respects, it can have some monstrous aspects needing harmonization. Nevertheless, the entire universe is profoundly animist and in a process of evolution towards greater intelligence and harmonization, although this does not happen without struggle. The Norse Gods steward and tend on this process, watching over with firm guidance and wisdom.
2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I was a "convert", as most of the "hereditary" aspects of this religion were wiped out by Christianity before or around 1000 A.D. This is a revivalist resurgence. Thus, perhaps one might say I was a "revert" rather than a "convert".
I'm not certain "conversion" is the proper concept. I think it is rather the pursuit of a feeling, a feeling one can feel in a very wild place, like the redwood forest, a feeling one might feel in the presence of Native American culture, but instead of forming a colonialist/appropriating attitude, seek to pursue that deeper to one's own historical sources. That pursuit -- one of a deep feeling of connection to the earth and the stars, a sense that there is something much deeper in this world than the surface superficiality of our consumer culture -- then drives an intellectual search into the historical sources to discover what is there. Fortunately, our ancestors left us rich poems, sagas, myths, and if these are sincerely meditated upon, a very deep lode of wisdom opens up. All of this might be described as a process of "coming home". Heathenism really emphasizes the concept of home. It is a very spiritual concept and reality for us. (Although not homebody-ism, which is considered a form of foolishness. Rich exploration of other realities and cultures has traditionally formed a part of really appreciating just what home is all about.)
When one begins the search for that sense of home, one discovers other co-travellers, some longer in the running than oneself, as it were, and this communication can then lead to a communion. In my case, I found a "kindred" in my area -- a term for a group of heathens who deepen their sense of connection and kinship to each other through exploring devotion to the Gods.
In a certain sense, and this is somewhat absurd to say -- and therefore I love it as fertile -- it isn't even a "spirituality" in the sense of a disconnected, antibody kind of approach. In a certain sense, and again, only in a certain sense, it is a form of depth materialism, of trusting the body, trusting the body of nature, trusting the body of dreams, but finding their core, energetic roots from which they spring up into emergence and manifestation in the material world, but which reside at a fundamental level or ground. Our orientation is this world, its health and fertility and possibilities, but we do not limit our horizon to this experience, but embrace, through the idea of the cosmic tree of worlds, the possibilities of multiple worlds of experience. In fact, our tradition teaches us that there are other kinds of beings living on this earth with us, who are abiotic and energetic/liminal in form, whom we must respect and try to live with.
3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
I don't think there are any official degrees of observance, except perhaps for the difference between the priesthood (gothi (m), gydja (f)) and laymen, although these boundaries can be quite fluid. The priesthood began as a shamanic institution -- clear in the fact that they were called "song-smiths" known for their beautiful poetry, and it is implied elsewhere, seances. These over time turned into traditional tendings of the Sacred Groves where we worship and where the presence of the Gods may be felt. But like in all animist and animist-derived cultures, the shamans/priests are simply those who dive more deeply into the animist-ethos, the vikings, as it were, of the spiritual world, going out for wild encounters, and coming back and sharing the wealth with the tribe.
4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I'm pretty seriously into this, because I believe this taps into the substrate of reality, and is thus deserving of devotion. In my opinion, this type of religion really funds maturity. I want to make clear that when I say "taps into the substrate of reality", I do not disclude other ways of getting there -- my religion is polytheistic, and thus respects many different approaches to reality, although in our tradition, we are also pantheonistic, meaning we work within a tribe of Gods. Nevertheless, the Gods work in strange ways, and thus may speak to different peoples in different ways with different modelizations and metaphors.
But I yearn for even greater religious solidarity and more regular interaction. I look forward to some day when heathen temples will dot the landscape, setting aside important wilderness areas as sacred from axe or disturbance perpetually (as they traditionally were), and opening up artistic, deeply evocative, creative-traditional spaces where the presence of these archetypes working deeply in reality, and drawn up through mythic narrative, may be felt more palpably, and from where more animist visions can begin to permeate the larger society as guides to returning home.
5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
Within the traditional mythic concepts, most people after death will go to Hel. But Hel -- from which the Christians stole our name and ascribed it to their places of punishment -- is a wonderful place of family, tribe, and ancestral wisdom, where one gets to live in vast, sunny lands of flowers and honey-scents, amongst one's loved ones, gathering in halls for feasts and celebrations. While this may seem metaphorical, it certainly describes in imagistic form for humans biologically oriented in 3-D primate matrices a sense of deep communion and utter aliveness. And since Hel is Below, the idea is one of sinking down to one's roots, where one lives at the "root level" as it were, forever, almost as if the ancestors live at the root of our dreams. This is a rich place that many can experience a taste of in this life through mead and the meditative-visionary state it can produce. (Although the mead of poetry may be its purest form. Our poetry has always been a hypnotherapeutic spiritual tool.)
But there are also other realms conceived as possibilities for afterlife trajectory. They may be summarized as the Fate of Heroes, and the Fate of Nidings.
Heroes are exceptional individuals who have made great sacrifices for the good of their people, who have raised themselves to high levels of integrity and really put themselves on the line for others. These are the people who have fought the battles that matter, that really make a difference for the integrity of their loved ones, which, by the way, includes their sacred groves and all the creatures, flora and fauna, lodged therein. The sagas of our early Germani ancestors, as described through the somewhat hostile (although at times sympathetic) witness Tacitus, the Roman historian of the 1st century AD, describe battles to preserve the sacred groves from the encroachment of Rome's imperialist axes. To fight for the sanctity of home and grove -- to keep the sacred alive in life, in this world, which often requires the willingness to sacrifice -- is a great gift. Ours is a gift tradition. Thus we honor those who give the greatest gift they have -- their own life -- to keep the sacred alive in life. Thus, a special destiny is envisioned for the heroes. These heroes are seen as two types : those who fought for the honor of their country and its wisdom (not a dumb patriotism but one founded upon a heartfelt sense of enlightenment and the search for that kind of knowledge that brings awe), and those who fought for love. Both are connected and both are important. Traditionally, the imagery suggests that those who fought for the honor of their people and its traditional wisdom went to reside in Valhalla with Odin, the very God-Embodiment of wizard-wisdom and warding the integrity of one's homeland ; while those who fought for love went to reside in Folkvang, the afterlife-fields of Freya, a shamanic goddess of witchcraft and love, most specifically, the beautiful, fairylike enchantment of love. These heroes then watched over the world, and continued to fight on higher levels for their families and tribes. (Although "lodged" in higher fortresses, they were depicted as visiting their families daily, and even staging tournaments in Hel for their delight.) These might be thought of as "higher souls" who watch over us and guard us. Perhaps one might very sloppily gloss them as more specific kinds of "guardian angels", although one would not want to lose their specific flavor.
Nidings, on the other hand, had a different fate. "Nidings" are those who have cancelled out all their honor through cowardly deeds of cruelty. Everyone comes into this world with a little bit of honor on "credit", as it were, from which they can build and grow more honor through deeds of integrity and cycles of gift-connection with their community, or which they can eat up through becoming a burden on others through deeds deemed criminal. All of us, of course, throughout life, fluctuate along this honor scale, now gaining more, now sometimes slipping a bit, and there is a healthy middle ground comprising both the frailties and triumphs of life where most people -- with a good heart, good intentions, and at least a middling ability to translate these into actions -- can rest assured. But nidings live their life in such a way that instead of honoring the Gods, who represent ideal images of high honor and worth, honor the Monsters, the untamed forces of destruction. Most of the time this in no way implies any literal worship of the "Giants" or "Jotnar" who represent the opposition to the Gods. But the Jotnar work on the "might makes right" principle while the Gods work on the principle of "put might behind right" to shape the world towards more and more emergence of integral, implicit intelligence. Those who live their lives as bullies inflicting cruelty on others quickly drain their honor, but those who descend to the level of dastardly deeds of cruelty against those weaker than themselves annihilate their worth in the cowardice of their monstrosity. Strength is to be used to build one's people up, and to help support, inspire, and goad weakness into greater strength itself. There is a certain baseline "chivalry" if you will inherent in the tradition, that cannot be broken without peril to one's very soul. There are other kinds of actions that may cancel out one's honor, which boil down to breakings of trust which break up lives and families. All of these acts are also seen as despicable cowardice. Let's be grounded about this. This is not a "macho" philosophy of never feeling fear. All of us feel fear, and courage is simply not letting one's life be ruled by fear -- because we are meant for far higher possibilities than those which fear limits. Cowardice here means enslaving oneself to fear, bowing down before fear, and making oneself its serf, and thereby making a travesty of the strengths tappable in oneself if one would just aim a little higher and take on those progressive challenges necessary to train oneself into more fertile pathways. One should never dishonor one's own strengths -- even those which are as of yet but potential. To steal another's wife is an act of cowardice, because it declares to the world that one feels too weak to either find one's own mate -- to pursue one's wyrd, that strange path of destiny meant for one and one alone (yet through which one is connected to the entire matrix of relationships in this world, and thus, which lodges one in deep kinship), through which one can find the person(s) meant for one -- or to keep bringing life and fertility to one's own relationship. It is an act of cowardice, because it threatens to bring down another's house and home, and is thus socially subtractive rather than additive or multiplicatory. An act of murder is an act of cowardice because it declares that one is too weak to challenge another to an out-and-out duel, and that one lacks the spiritual pith to solve one's conflicts with another in an open and honest way. An act of perjury in court -- bearing false-witness against another in a legal setting -- is an act of cowardice because it declares that one's case -- one's "truth", if you will -- is so weak that it cannot stand up to the light of examination without defrauding itself -- and -- it deprives another of their fair right to fight back for their own honor. Obviously acts of despicable cruelty or domination against the weak, and particularly the elderly and children, are acts of disgusting, hateful cowardice. Nidings thus earn the fate of monsters, having progressively and thoroughly transformed themselves into monsters, and monsters were brought to Niflhel, a smoky, dank region to the "north" of Hel where their soul was gradually broken down as fertilizer for the world-tree, where it could be recycled. In this way, everything can be made to serve life. Such an imagery reminded people that while there is ample room for fluctuation along the honor curve in life, along with mistakes that one can earn back one's honor through negotiated, appropriate making of amends and funding the gift-economy of one's people -- paying damages for the injuries one has committed -- there can be points of no return that do jeopardy to one's very soul, and which must be avoided at all costs, because they degrade and fray the threads that bind the good life together. Since desecrating sacred groves was considered one of these kinds of acts, we can expand this in the modern world to include egregious crimes against ecological sustainability. Watch out, Monsanto and BP -- not to mention Tepco!
See last question. People who live basically good lives, and try to pay up for their mistakes, will be just fine. Most of us, even with our screwups -- assuming we've made a fair effort to make good -- are not in any especial peril. People who live exceptional lives will be honored exceptionally. People who degrade the integrity of goodness altogether may be separated from that which their actions declared they hated -- community, life -- and broken down to reserve that life.
What this means ultimately -- beyond the traditional imagery, which is but a guide, although an important one -- is up to the meditation of each spiritual seeker. It may be that this is more imagery about what one is doing to one's own soul. Since soul is rich, nested interconnection and grounded root-love, whether one funds and enriches connection or whether one acts as poison and corrosion ultimately impacts one's own soul. The more narrow and selfish the actions, the more narrow and restricted the soul. The more honor we show -- through integrity and generosity -- the more our soul thrives, thriving on the enrichment of us all together. For it is truly "one for all and all for one."
There's something else here -- if something has been entrusted to you, it's very important that you not betray it. This is not a matter of "punishment", at least not externally. It's a matter of don't punish yourself -- even though in the short-run it may seem you gain something thereby -- by doing something which abandons one's charge to that which is precious. Each of us are given a responsibility, some more than others, with opportunities to "step up" as we feel stronger and more capable, and it is vital that we do our best -- with the inevitable mistakes -- to live up to that responsibility. Each of us has been entrusted with something vital. It may be as simple as our life, which has costs : other animals, other plants have to give up their lives so that we may live. The universe invests quite heavily in us. We are all subsidized. The sun freely gives away her energy so all may have a chance to prosper and thrive in their day. To dishonor these gifts would be a desecration. Instead, we must return these gifts -- not in a narrow, cheap, shopkeeper's way of payment for payment -- with our own gifts, that generosity of talent and capacity that flows out of us, and the more abundantly and with abandon we can do so, the more our soul shall gush and flow with ample vitality, nourishing all around us. This is a great honor, a great opportunity. It should not be squandered, but lustily taken advantage of -- in a good way.
7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
It's earthy, it's grounded, and yet it has a lively, vivacious tradition of the imagination. Much of our wisdom is preserved in folk stories and fairy tales. Thus, it gives life to my life of imagination, yet grounds me at the same time.
Yule is the main holiday season of the year, the season of Winter Solstice. This embraces not only what we in the West call "Christmas", but the entire "twelve days of Christmas" before and after that date. It was a time the Gods were thought to be amongst us communing, a time -- almost a whole month -- where we were supposed to attune ourselves more closely to their reality. Odin and his wife Frigga were thought to lead a hunt chasing out the negative entities from the land in giant windstorms, while bringing gifts.
It was, more significantly, the reenactment on a ritual level, of the great Frodi's Frith (Frith ~ Peace + Trust + Solidarity), when all lived in peace and prosperity, and sharing characterized human relations. For this reason, gifts are given.
At this time the great gift-economy the Gods intended for us to live is reenacted as a sacrament. This is not a time for money-economics, but the pouring out of the soul into material exuberance and generosity. When we are able to live Yule all year long, we will have brought ourselves much more closely into the embrace of the Gods and all the Gods-given potential they have implanted within us. In the meantime, we must diligently practice -- with good cheer -- this seed of the future, and plant it well, in our hearts, each year. Herein all that is best in us will grow.
From a nature perspective, the Winter Solstice marks the dawn into Winter, and yet, the beginning of hope, because from hereonin, the sun will be expanding its day slowly, through a period of rest. The gifts and cheer we share with each other helps us make it through the Winter together, keeping the coming Spring alive in our hearts. Such service solidarity has always done.
Spring, then, is the next great festival. This is called "Easter", to honor the goddess Eostre, who is, in all likelihood, Idunn, the granddaughter of the Sun, who rejuvenates the Gods, as in this time she rejuvenates the Earth. In myth, she was captured by a winter-giant, and eventually returned. This holiday may very well mark the return of her rejuvenating powers, as Springtime blossoms.
Mayday marks the beginning of summertime, the full fruiting of the year, and has been celebrated with festive dancing (often around a Maypole or somesuch), mating games, and skits -- particularly, Robin Hood skits. Robin Hood is an English retelling of much older stories of the liberator Frey, the God of Harvest.
Midsummer is another significant holiday, associated with bonfires and the sun, at its peak. It is often associated with Baldur, our great God of Chivalry and the Strength-Inherent-In-Virtue, whose days of bold Innocence were taken from us in this world a long time ago, yet who shall return some day to rule over a replenished world that has rediscovered its full wyrd and virtue.
Autumn may also be marked in some way, as a kind of "Winter's Beginning". I simply celebrate it by celebrating Halloween.
I sometimes celebrate these holidays with my kindred, sometimes with my immediate family, sometimes alone, and frankly, I don't celebrate these holidays enough, nor prepare for them. There was a holiday-economy in the old days where the days leading up to festival were days in preparation for festival, both on the level of economic funding and of practicing festivity through festive preparations. This is a level of practice missing in my life which I would really like to supplement, because I think it's an important part of the tradition that can really grow a sense of fullness and liveliness in one's life.
9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Absolutely without question. Of course, the more tolerant they are, the closer we can be. Exclusivist ideas are obnoxious, and can even be dangerous, historically speaking.
10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I most certainly would. This is a matter of honoring their tradition. It would not require abdicating my own. I would hold strong to my own, and blend my mind and heart with theirs to discover a new solidarity. That's simply a matter of mutual hospitality. Odin advises us to share mind and heart with guests.
This is a very complex question. I find it problematic when religion encodes and thereby impedes the social progress of common law. Common law is something the Gods leave to people to work out on their own, albeit with important Gods-inspired principles of integrity and so forth, but when specific eras of common law are reified into permanent form, the culture's sacred principles fail to keep up with cultural progress. In fact, there is an assumption there that cultural progress is so inherently regressive that any falling from the "pinnacle" of the divine-sanctioned common law must be a "fall". Of course, this can happen. We do need course-corrections, because as humans, we do often forget the way(s). But the idea that the divine has enshrined a particular stage of tribal common law -- of the Bronze Age, of the post-Roman age -- as an end-all and be-all for all time is, ultimately, I think, sacriligious, because it deprives the divine of its characteristic of transcendence and supercession. Odin, in our tradition, the chief of the Gods, is named, in fact, for his dynamic quality of continual supercession and ongoing drive. The very word "aesir", which designates the Gods, means "inciters" or "those who stir up into action and dynamism". It's true that culture can regress. But it can also evolve. I think ultimately people have to take the encoded evidence of their ancestral common laws, go deeper and derive those principles which inhered in them, decide which of those are still of value in the ongoing evolution of things, and then re-apply those principles to the modern day. I'm going to stay at that level of generality, because I think if that essential point is grasped, the implications speak for themselves.
As far as the other point, women must be honored. They are wellsprings of the divine, and should be treated as such. The way one treats women directly affects one's relationship to spirituality. The implications of this, too -- if one pushes aside disingenuous apologetics and casuistry -- should be obvious as well.
12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Absolutely. Women are considered to hold an especially divine gift of insight that is sought after. There were gydjas (priestesses) as well as gothis (priests). Our priestesses soared to the heights of spiritual and even temporal authority. The Romans often had to treat with Veleda, one of our prophetesses. Some significant texture of the later witchhunts probably reflects a survival at a folk-level of this deep, heathen sense of women's powers and benevolence -- and therefore their threat to more patriarchal religiosities. Mother Earth herself is the "queen", so to speak, of the Gods, the wife of Odin, and has the power to summon all creatures and beings to swear oaths to her. This is as it should be.
I would not tolerate such a place. There are some heathens trapped in old, nationalistic backwaters who do practice some forms of segregation. With luck, this will subside in time in the face of greater dynamism. I have no tolerance whatsoever -- and I want to underline this very clearly -- for any concept of relationship which would restrict my rippling-out solidarity not only with all other humans, but all of life. I may learn how to love at home, but I bring that love out into the world, where those I love in turn teach me about the greater richness of home. That is how it should be.
14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
My religion affects my daily life quite deeply. There are periods where it does so more explicitly, where I am more immersed in study and meditation upon the sagas and poetry, and there are other times where it lives more implicitly in me, silently, but on a significant level of principle. These latter times may be the most religious times, actually, when we sink from the head down to beingness. Of course, we need the former to help us retune. In order to stay on our wyrd, we need to detune from the rampant normality and squareness which would rectilinearize the world into heartless grids, and respark our wild, meanderings natures.
I give the principles of honor great thought when making a decision. Am I acting in integrity? Am I serving the life-force? Am I acting both in the spirit of freedom as well as the spirit of contribution and giving to the community? Can I find that vital balance between?
As far as abortion goes, since the tradition in ancient days tolerated infanticide up to the third day -- a practice I would not endorse in the modern world -- it certainly has no problems with abortion during term. In fact, our prophetesses were known for their abortifacients, amongst other herbs. The Christian Church often complained of this. While life is always honored in our tradition, we also have a sense of spiritual common sense relative to needs and resources. If a new being cannot be fully honored and brought into the family with the sense of worth and welcome it deserves, on both material and psychological levels, there is no dishonor in what difficult but worthy sacrifices a woman might have to make.
As far as homosexuality goes, there are significant, if tantalizingly brief, streams of queerness running through the tradition, although at times with some ambivalence, some of which may stem from the Germanic people's subjection to sexual enslavement by the Romans. When the Romans enslaved a people, they were also subject to sexual enslavement. Anything which dishonors the freedom and brightness of another is to be avoided. The experience of being coercively subject at times to homosexual slavery no doubt cast some bad color in some portions of the tradition. At the same time, there was a whole category of priests associated with Freya in particular who were queer. There were different attititudes at different times to this, but its very survival in the tradition suggests some sort of significant grounding at some point.
Ours is not a tradition of conformity, however, where we slavishly follow old texts. No, we are called upon to be wise, to stick to ancient principles but adapt them to modern conditions. We are also called upon to study history and draw our own conclusions. The historical vantage of the past was not always a clear channel to the most ancient and pure of days ; sometimes, it was like our own -- lost in vagaries which can often be blinders, blinders our descendants will more clearly see and correct. So we may amend and correct, and in fact, have a duty to do so. As part of the ongoing supercession of life. One which preserves the essential as it shifts and changes. In the modern world, there is no reason for us to have any attitude but embrace of that which constitutes genuine love between grown adults, and in fact, we have every reason to embrace that which would solidify love into solid bonds of solidarity and kinship, for the bonds of tribe -- in an expanded sense -- hold together the cosmos.
I would want them to carry their heathen heart with them and pass that onto their children, along with a knowledge of the traditions.
Not at all, but they will go to Hel. :) But that's a good place to be, with loved ones. Mother Earth wombed us, Mother Earth will tomb us -- it's all a womb.
It's not your creed -- it's your deeds. Ultimately, it's about fertility -- did you enrich this plain of the living you traversed? If you did, bravo! And the cosmos gives its silent bravo as well. As we say, the deeds of the dead are etched onto the tree of life.
17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
Those who promote hate in any way dishonor us publicly. I find racialists despicable, and any attempt to associate this deep, ancestral faith with anything that happened in Europe in the 1930s ought to be considered criminal slander. Ours is a tradition of wisdom, love, and earthiness -- not hate. That is crucial to underline, and there have been many misunderstandings. Hate and intolerance are not heathen values.
18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
No, not at least in terms of my faith.
19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Au contraire, it values the gifts of all. It asks for them. It declares that life is about cultivating these gifts, and giving in bounty of the harvest.
20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Great peace of mind. It centers me in the organic, allows me a dialectical (and not simplistic, fawning) faith in nature and nature's gifts (dialectical because there are also forces to oppose and overcome, and not simple naive acceptance of everything), and gives me a sense of an ancestral archetype to guide my ideosyncratic explorations.
21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
Many heathens believed in reincarnation of a sorts within the family/tribal line.
Does this happen in some form? Why not? From another angle, as humans, we are extraordinarily open to wyrd if we allow ourselves to be, and wyrd -- the ongoing development of history that preserves in deeply felt traces that which was of generative value in the past -- impresses itself upon the sensitive soul. Soul may leap up and "possess" us, so to speak, although in a more gentle sense of reverie and resonance, across time, and so, in that sense, we may all reincarnate the many souls that have made up and continue to make up the soul of this world.
I am Siegfried Goodfellow, author of the book Wyrd Megin Thew. You can read my articles and heathen poetry at