LANCASHIRE, England — A call for papers has been issued for an academic conference dedicated to the study of aspects of the lives of Heathen women, which will be held here July 6-8 at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. the multi-disciplinary conference has the aim of bringing together scholars and non-academics “who engage with the juxtaposition of historical and modern approaches to and practices of Heathenry, with an emphasis on women’s voices past and present.”This will have a dual approach of looking at Heathen women in the past — for example, in the sagas — and in the present, regarding the roles of women in contemporary Heathen practice. Topics may include magic and seidrecraft, women’s relationships with the land, women’s roles in community mediation, and the role of spirits and ancestors. Suggestions for papers also include looking specifically at female forms of Heathen practice, “distinct from the male-oriented ideas of ‘Asatru’,’ and the role of re-enactment.
The conference will also be running fringe events with an emphasis on crafts, such as spinning and weaving.
The organizers of Heathen Women United, describe themselves as “a circle of women supporting one another’s spiritual practice comprised of scholars, artists, healers, seidkonas, volur, and leaders in our communities. We welcome all women and female-identified members of the LGBTQ community interested in practicing our faith.”
They are “artisans, singers, crafters, writers, healers, and makers of all kinds.”
They go on to say that they recognize that people may be called to the path of Heathenry ‘regardless of heritage’ and that this is not a debatable point for them, but part of their core value system. Moreover, they state that they stand with Declaration 127, which dissociates Heathen organizations from the Asatru Folk Assembly’s stance against membership by non-white or LGBT Heathens, and which has now been signed by leaders of some 180 Heathen groups across the world.
“HWU has strict membership policies that hold a zero-tolerance stance for racism, white pride, or any form of homophobia or bigotry.”
As an organization, Heathen Women United members provide mentorship, run conferences and workshops. They’re also planning guided tours, and are seeking to establish a system of grants, microloans and scholarships for their members with the aim of funding scholars undertaking research into Heathen women, furthering the latter’s work in projects which assist their communities, and allowing Heathen women to develop sustainable businesses. In addition to this, they are also developing a pastoral outreach program which could assist with emergency financial aid, for instance.
HWU’s current initiatives include a herbal school, an artist’s co-op, and a number of academic projects. In 2017 they held the first annual Conference of Heathen Women in the United States, and are planning a return to the states in 2019, but this year’s move to Lancashire demonstrates the international approach and wider goals of the organization.
We spoke to Ceallaigh S MacCath-Moran, a folklorist, writer, blogger and academic who is currently undertaking a doctorate in folklore at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. She will be attending this year’s conference.
The Wild Hunt: how did the organisation arise?
Ceallaigh S MacCath-Moran: Several of the original members belonged to a Facebook group for Heathen women started and maintained by the Asatru Community. Without going into any great detail, there were interpersonal difficulties between one of the group’s moderators and many of the members, which caused an out-migration of women from the group. Hilary Wehrle thought women still needed a place online to gather, so she started the Heathen Women United Facebook group and invited universalist Heathen women of her acquaintance to join. I was among those early members, and I manage the organization’s web site.
TWH: how far has it fulfilled its remit so far?
CSM: Heathen Women United hosted one primarily academic conference in the U.S. last summer, and will be hosting another in the U.K. this summer. It’s working on a 501(c)3 application for nonprofit status in the U.S., and it hopes to foster several other projects by and for women going forward, but there is no cost for membership, and our primary point of contact remains the Facebook group, so the work is all done by volunteers. As someone who has several ideas in mind for the web site but is also working on [doctoral] coursework, I can tell you that sometimes my desire to be of help to a worthy Pagan organization is at odds with my available hours in the day, and the same surely holds true for other women working to grow HWU in various directions, but we’re all doing what we can, and we hope HWU continues to be a safe and inclusive environment for Heathen women.
An attendee of the 2017 conference posted on Facebook that “I know of no other time when Heathen women have come together in this fashion on this potential scale.”
It is to be hoped that the move to Lancashire proves equally as successful and establishes the HWU’s conference as part of the Heathen women’s calendar.