Nearly four years ago, I began exploring Heathenry. I had ended my practice of Kemetism two years prior and was, at the time, focusing on the death positive movement in the West. But I also felt adrift, unanchored by any ritualism or tradition. Heathenry brought me everything I missed: structure, education, community, purpose. But these boons did not come immediately or easily. In the first year, I put little effort into studying. In the second, I studied the wrong things, from the wrong people. Only in the third year did I meet the people who would help shape the Heathen I am today and the Heathenry I have come to practice. And for a while, I was satisfied.
But then I watched as other Heathens and our fellow Gaulish compatriots forged ahead, bringing modern religions to life using reconstructions from the old ones. I read their work with admiration and envy. They seem focused. Driven. They know what they want and they work hard for it. They are unsatisfied with only the skeletal remains of a bygone age.
It took me a while to realize this, but I am, too. And yet all I have right now are bones.
Building a unique tradition is a daunting task, and I am only one person. It’s enough to make me question my ambition. But when I started examining the possibilities, my good friend and mentor, Marc, only said, “It’s about time.” As if he always knew I would never be satisfied with only the undefined basics. Perhaps that’s why he took me under his wing in the first place.
So, for the fourth year of my study of Heathenry, I will endeavor to build up on the bones of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry. To read, research, and reconstruct. To give substance to my beliefs and practices, and to make them mine. I style the tradition after the name of my hearth, which gave this blog its name: Barrow Home, or Byrgenhām.
What is Byrgenhāmer Heathenry?
For the unaware, I worship both Germanic and Roman gods. To be more precise, I infuse my Heathenry with aspects of Cultus Deorum. Until now, though, my attempt to the syncretize these religions has resulted in something that feels awkward and juvenile. What I really want, what I envision, is more organic: as if a girl was born and raised on the frontier of the Roman Empire, where the cultures and, therefore, religions merged into one syncretized whole. Or if she were born in ancient Britain and traveled to bustling Rome, studied there, became worldly, and incorporated Roman beliefs and practices into her own native ones.
This vision invites an emphasis on the Matronae, tutelary deities worshiped by the Germanic peoples under Roman influence. Since They are local gods, I will specifically honor the powerful presences inhabiting my region and influencing my life. I have identified my Matronae as the native Wætrumōdor, the imperious Salacia Ātlantica, and the liminal *Nifolhele.
As an Anglo-Saxon Heathen tradition, Byrgenhāmer Heathenry places significance on water, well, and spring worship. I will rework my existing rituals, customs, and holidays to involve water themes and imagery. Like fire, water purifies, hallows, and heals. It will be the vehicle that facilitates communion with the sacred.
A marriage of Germanic and Roman sensibilities means a culture shaped by martial attitudes. War gods are central to the hearth — for protection, for healing, for courage, and for strength. Even deities not normally found on the battlefield bear arms and armor; Frīg Scildwīf carries a shield for defense of the home, and Salacia Gārwīf wields a spear, our Navy under Her purview.
Finally, a tradition named after the grave mound would not be complete without reverence for death. Into this tradition, I fold my advocacy of the death positive movement. Psychopompic gods like Ingui and Nifolhele receive their due respect and worship. My calendar of holy days lists several celebrations of the ancestors. In time, perhaps, I will develop unique death rites, modern observances inspired by ancient practices.
I want to emphasize that everything mentioned here is a work in progress. I am only at the beginning. Some, if not most, of these initial thoughts may change the more I read and learn. Gods may come and go. Ideas may develop into something completely unexpected. I know already that an “end product” will not exist; religion, by its very nature, grows and changes with time and with people. To expect a static “end product” would be folly. But I am interested in the process and what it may reveal, and I hope you are, too. This post is the first of a series intended to document the evolution of Byrgenhāmer Heathenry. I will discuss the above topics in depth, perhaps write some rituals, and see where this exploration takes me.