Respect and Understanding from a Thornish Point-of-View

The following is a re-telling of a conversation had with the Thornsman, Björn Hammarson some years ago. Björn never was much for writing a lot and much of the time he asked me to take notes for him just so his ideas would be preserved.   In this piece, Björn discusses his feelings about having certain kinds of conversations with other Pagan people.

One of the things you get when you decide to walk a path that is kind of different, is that all kinds of folks, from people you know to people you don’t are always trying to get you back into the fold.

Yeah, I said that: Fold, as in a fold of sheep or goats.

For the most part people aren’t trying to cause hurt. They are trying to understand what makes me and my folk tick. Okay that’s understandable, but when you get to the point where people are acting like Christian folks trying to convert you: To “save” you or “straighten you out” for your own good, they are really pissing up the wrong tree.

What most are really trying to do is straighten you out for their own good. They could really give a flying leap about what’s good for me. They just want me to give in and be like them. They want me to comply.

But I am not talking about Christian folks trying to convert me here. I am talking about other Pagan people talking to me like maybe I am a pre-teen with a learning disorder or something.

In usually get three kinds of questions…or variations of these. Sometimes when I am in the mood to answer them and not in the mood to tell them to kiss my ass, I take the attitude that I have been given a chance to educate someone…and so I try to give them a decent answer.

1. “Oh, why don’t you just be a regular Heathen and forget about all this radical Thornish stuff?”

2. “Why do you need to go off on a tangent when there are perfectly good traditions available out there?”

3. “From what I have heard the Thornish ways seem like some kind of strange mix of various tribal elements – are you guys new age or something?”

Questions like the first two are reasonable in their way. Well, I get that people might have questions and I try to consider them in a good way before resorting to a berserker-like rage.

To the first question I respond: “What the fuck is a “regular” Heathen anyway? What, is it like a regular sized cup of coffee or something?”  and “Who said I was a Heathen? Did I tell you I was a Heathen? No, actually I said I was Thornish and you chose to interpret that in your own way.”

I get all kinds of responses to that one depending on what particular kind of path the person asking is interested in. Yes, sure, I really respect guys like Steve McNallen and Valgard Murray and others. They are legends who have done a lot for modern Heathenry…a lot for modern Pagans in general actually. But just because I like them I don’t feel the need to follow exactly in their footsteps. As a matter of fact the people in whose footsteps I follow aren’t very well known to the world in general.

There are almost as many different flavors of the old beliefs in the world today as there are different kinds of Pagans in general. Sometimes a person finds a coat that “fits” them and other times they need to learn to make their own coats because what’s out there doesn’t fit.  I ask the people who ask questions like this how they think the varieties of Paganism or Heathenry they consider “regular” got created in the first place: Somebody walked a certain way and their traditions developed from that.

The Way of the Thornwood was not invented by me. In fact it came down to me from people who I respect who in turn had it from other people who while I never met them, I have a lot of respect for. The Thornish Way is a hierarchical, stratified path that, yeah, has certain rites that might be called ordeals it them. That’s because in the tradition I walk in people earn their place, not only with the other people in the tradition, but also in the eyes of the Elder Kin and the other wights.  I’m not saying it’s for everyone but it really fits with me.

The second type of question I mentioned is a lot like the first one. It’s trying to get you to feel bad or maybe feel like a rebel or a shit-stirrer and come back into line with what the main stream of modern Heathenry is all about.

“Why do you need to go off on a tangent when there are perfectly good traditions available out there?”

 What tangent? The way I walk is not an offshoot of anything else but stands on its own as a unique Pagan tradition.  If you insist on comparing us to other Pagan traditions we are similar to some and we are completely different from others you might be trying to compare us with.

Oh yeah, and since my tradition is what I consider to be a perfectly good one, as you say, I am happy where I am.

Now the third type of question, which I am sure you can see is kind of associated with the other ones but is expressed in a ruder way, is one which maybe causes me to lose it a little.

“From what I have heard the Thornish ways seem like some kind of strange mix of various tribal elements – are you guys new age or something?”

This kind of question often comes from uneducated or from otherwise pompous dicks who seem to have the same attitudes as the Christians have, and that it that THEIR way is the correct one and everybody else is totally wrong.  If they actually did a tad of homework and  asked a few more respectful questions: If they knew what they were insulting before they opened their steaming cake-holes they might not get attitude from me, or even get knocked on their bony asses.

My way is not a new agey tinkly winkly thing at all. We get our traditions from the hard work of a good number of people who labored to get what they learned and then to pass it on to us over time. Our way seems maybe like it might be similar to one or two things out there but this is because it comes from the thing we call the First Knowledge. The First Knowledge is that deep tribal inner soul that all human beings possess in the marrow of their bones. It is what some people call a folk-soul. It is the place where some human beings can get to through spiritual quests, through privation, meditation and other ordeals. It is the kind of place that can be reached through work and desire and once people find out how to tap it they can bring back what they learn there.

That’s where about 90% of the Thornish Way comes from. The rest of it comes from the evolution to the tradition made over the years as members developed techniques that worked in different ways over time.

So our ways, what we permit people to know about our ways anyway, come from a place that all tribal people have had access to since there have been intelligent monkeys called humans. It should be no surprise then when things come from the same root that they might come out with a few things in common.

So, no we aren’t what you could call strict reconstructionist types. We get some things from there and they are good things, but a lot of who we are comes from a path we walk on our own.

Sure questions are good but if people are going to ask me questions they should make sure they frame ‘em in the same way I do when I am curious about any other culture: Respectfully.

Besides, variety is good as long as it works with the balance of the world.


About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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