Column: An International Conference for Inclusive Heathenry

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From Oct. 5 through 8, Frith Forge 2017 will be held in Petzow, Germany. Organized by the Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program, the event is designed as “an international conference among inclusive Asatru/Heathen organizations and individuals.”

According to the official website for the October conference,

Frith Forge is the space and time on an international level to build alliances, understanding, and friendships among us instead of compartmentalizing further in an industrialized world. Let’s learn from each other with respect and fellowship to forge frith [Old Norse “peace”] among us. Together we can enjoy this opportunity to discuss inclusion in religion and to promote cultural, religious, and educational exchange.

frith forge poster

Several organizations have confirmed that they are sending leaders or prominent members as representatives to present about their groups, including Asatru UK , Distelfink Sippschaft (USA), De Negen Werelden (Netherlands), and Verein für Germanisches Heidentum (Germany). Other Pagan groups that include Heathen members will also be participating, including Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (USA) and Pagan Federation International Deutschland.

In addition to these introductions to the various organizations, the conference will include rituals, workshops, group discussions, presentations on a variety of topics, and vendor tables.

Although based in the United States, the international Ásatrú and Heathen organization known the Troth currently has members served by official stewards in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. A branch in the U.K. was started in 1993, chartered as an autonomous branch in 1995 and — due to increasing interest from non-U.K. Europeans — became Ring of Troth Europe later the same year. A German partner organization was founded in 2000 as “Eldaring – the Troth Deutschland,” although it became independent in 2009 to receive nonprofit status and is now simply called Eldaring.

Founded in June of last year, the Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program was created “to explore options for improved interaction, education, research, and communication among the Heathens in the various Heathen homelands.” Program coordinator Amanda Leigh-Hawkins says that a main goal is to build and strengthen ties and focus on commonalities rather than differences: “The inclusive USA Heathens need to connect more with the inclusive European Heathens and vice versa. I hope that as all of our small groups connect, we will find that it reduces the infighting and obsession over old redundant arguments.”

Troth steersman Robert L. Schreiwer expands on the goals for the conference:

While Frith Forge is about inclusive Heathenry, it may be more accurate to say that it is a gathering of Heathens who are inclusive. We are seeing a rise in dangerous thinking that is creating the same schisms within Heathenry that are appearing within several Western nations. The true diversity of American Heathenry is often misunderstood abroad, but, as some of the same issues are arising in other countries, more Heathens abroad are seeing the value in creating networks and friendships with like-minded Heathens around the world.

Heathens have many different traditions and backgrounds, yet we face many of the same challenges in many countries. Our wider societies do not understand our religion or why we pursue it. Many Heathens do not understand the many subcultures within our religion, and events like Frith Forge can help Heathens who are inclusive to learn about one another, to form networks to help one another, and to make friendships that will help us to keep pace with one another’s activities.

Leigh-Hawkins also hopes the conference will create a space to build dialogue on the engagement of Heathenry with changes in today’s world. She says, “I want to discuss implicit bias and inclusion in religions versus inclusion in the branches of Ásatrú and Heathenry specifically, how our political and religious struggles are overlapping more than before Brexit and Trump.”

She also pushes back on divisive trends in Heathenry today that build walls instead of bridges: “There is a struggle for inclusive Heathens to maintain and nurture healthy boundaries in our circles. We fear connecting with other Heathen groups because of racism but also because of ‘you’re not the boss of me, you’re doing it all wrong’ and ‘you don’t live near me, so I’m not going to recognize that you matter.’ We try to define and label ourselves, which further separates us for good reasons and bad.”

Philip John Parkyn, a founding member of Asatru UK, also believes that current events necessitate action from Heathen organizations: “With racist religious groups in Europe seeking to exploit the current surge to the right in the political tides, I feel the need is more urgent than ever for the inclusive groups to join in finding positive actions to address the public perception of Heathenry.”

Haimo Grebenstein serves as Ewart (coordinator for ritual and religious matters) for the German Heathen organization known as Verein für Germanisches Heidentum (Association for Germanic Heathenry). He has been working with Leigh-Hawkins to design and coordinate the specifics of the conference. He emphasizes the importance of Heathens engaging in open dialogue: “The world is becoming weirder at an accelerating pace, and this happens everywhere. In my experience, this has an impact on personal relations, and I consider that to be not good at all. As Heathens, Pagans, and Ásatrúar, we do share at least a similar – or even an equivalent – mind-set as a foundation for frith: dialogue, friendship, and mutual respect. I honestly consider Frith Forge to be an act of international understanding.”

Schreiwer explains why the U.S.-based Troth decided to hold the conference in Germany:

When the idea of Frith Forge first arose, we in the Troth had considered several locations for the first conference. Historically, the Troth has had strong ties to some European organizations. The idea of Frith Forge is to celebrate and to expand those relationships while creating new connections with other organizations in Europe and elsewhere. Since we were the ones seeking the new connections, it made sense for us to take to the road.

German culture is very rich in Heathen lore ranging from sacred sites and ancient votives to Externsteine, the Brocken, and the Goseck circle. German Heathens know their history, and they have a lot of insight and experience to share. I am looking forward to learning from them as well as sharing with them some of what the migrants from these same lands brought with them to the United States.

Germany also is located within a comfortable traveling distance from many other European countries that have large Heathen populations. I am eager to meet these people and to learn about their histories and their current methods of Heathen religious expression.

Grebenstein believes that Frith Forge complements the International Ásatrú Summer Camp (IASC) and the Eldathing, Heathen gatherings already established in Europe, and says, “These are three different events with different settings and target groups. Frith Forge goes across the borders of Europe and extends the target group of the others. There have been a few difficult moments with U.S. visitors at the IASCs, so I do see a need for a mutual engagement in order to understand each other better. IASC has proven for Europe that, although we have different religious understandings and ritual practices, we have more in common than we expected and we can support each other.”

Teutoburger Forest by Ivan Shishkin (1831–1898) [public domain]

Grebenstein is also organizing the Sacred Sites Tour Germany 2017, which will follow the conference and run from Oct. 8 through Oct. 14. It includes visits to places of Heathen interest such as the Kyffhäuser monument to Barbarossa; the Oberdola excavation site, museum, reconstructed buildings, and recreated sacrificial sites; the Frau Holle pond; the Exernsteine; the Teutoburger forest; megalithic sites; and the Viking Age trading center Haithabu (Hedeby).

He hopes that the tour will extend the frith-building of the conference, and points out that “Frith Forge is only a couple of days and is packed with scheduled events. There will be not so much time for individual talks and really getting to know other persons. The tour is different – being close together for six days all day long, sharing Heathen experience and history. In the Asatru-EU Network, it took years to build up the mutual trust that carries the network, split up into several smaller gatherings. The tour may pack this process within a week. At least I hope it will.”

Specifics for the Frith Forge conference can be found here, and details for the Sacred Sites of Germany Tour are here.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.