Heathenry and the Thornish Way

By Jack Wolf

One of the things I really enjoy about having my works out there in the world is that there are people who get in touch with me and share their comments and questions. This tells me that my writing is serving its twofold purpose: To share the ways of my people and to educate those who may be interested.

I get lots of questions which I am only too happy to answer. One of these that I get quite a bit is this one, or a variation of it.

“Hey Jack, I have noticed from your writing that there are some similarities between the Thornish path and modern day Heathenry. Would you say that the Thornish ways are a form of Heathenry or even Odinism or Asatru?”

Truth be told, I’ve actually answered this one before; quite a few times, but not everyone has heard/read my answer to it. I have written a number of books on the Thornish traditions in which this is covered, but at this time I am still in the process of getting some of these ready for print…

It’s a very good question though and like I have mentioned above, its one I have heard a fair bit, so for those who may find it of interest, I will answer it in some detail here.

To most simple and direct answer is this: No, the Thornish tradition is not a form of Asatru or Odinism or Forn sed or Irminism. The Thornish tradition is also not considered to be a form of Heathenry, modern or otherwise.

On a deeper level, I can certainly see why there have been people who have thought that perhaps we were related to those other Pagan paths. There are elements in there that I can imagine stir the interest of some and lead them on to thinking that maybe we are Heathens. Well, while we certainly are Pagans we do not consider ourselves to be Heathens.

You see, back in the day, when the Thornish tradition was founded, the first Lodge came together through the efforts of people who were the carriers of an older tradition. This tradition was a primal tribal tradition called the Black Talon Society. The Black Talon Society was the result of a fusion, in the old days, of the beliefs and cultural ways of Northern European Pagans, with the ways of North American indigenous people. The Black Talon Society was basically a kind of mutual protection and cultural exchange society that at first was the domain of hunters, trappers and others who walked in a warriors way and still (secretly) followed the old Pagan ways. This, in defiance of the christian domination that weighed heavily over the land at that time. We ourselves do not know how old the roots of the original Black Talon Society are; they are lost in time to us.

However, in 1958 (not all that long ago) the old society ‘branched off’ (if I can use that term) and a new Lodge was formed in order to take the traditional ways into modern times. Among the founders of this new branch of the tradition were a number of men from different traditions. There were Native (aboriginal) Canadians and Métis (mixed blood Native/European) as well as people from Germany, the UK and other places in Northern Europe. Each of these founders brought with them certain aspects of their own homelands which they contributed into the fusion of the new Lodge. One of the things that is noticeable about the ‘flavor’ of the modern day Thornish tradition is that a good number of our people have held to certain beliefs that reflect those old Northern ways.

However the European influence was never something that overpowered the Native influence. In fact the two paths walked quite well together as brothers-in-arms. There was never any cultural theft or assimilation. Instead, there was syncretism there that was based in mutual respect and a dedication towards growing something…deeper as time went on.

The Thornish way is about seeking the primal root of things; seeking the old paths that wend into the ancient forests of time and always looking for the original grains of truth that all humankind once knew. We are most at home around the fires of the distant past, where most streams of humanity once gathered under very similar circumstances even though they may have been in very different lands.

 “Everyone brings their own meat to the table”, is a Thornish saying and indeed there have been a number of individuals who have brought Norse and Germanic ‘meat’ to the collective table of the Thornish people.

Thornish people believe in the idea of a sacred balance in all things and indeed consider the laws of nature (we refer to them as the First Law) to be the only real laws worth respecting. As such when you look at the situation where human beings are striving to survive and thrive you will find that for the most part, human beings everywhere throughout the weave of time have had similar viewpoints and behaviors, inspired through contact with the First Knowledge of the sacred balance and the primal laws of the land.

In view of this if one looks at it objectively, it is not difficult to see how the primal ways which have influenced the Thornish path could suggest that perhaps it is of a Heathen nature. What is a Heathen but a person of the heath; a person of the open fields, the wildling woods or the untamed land? If one was to suggest that Thornish people fit that description then certainly we might agree that it was accurate. However when we look at the modern day interpretation of the word Heathen (at least as it stands in the Pagan community), we must as Thornish folk, step somewhat aside from that in consideration of maintaining our own unique identity.

The Late Thornsman, Björn Hammarson, (who was himself of Germanic heritage, as suggested by his name) was known for his bluntness and his clarity on many levels. Once, in response to the very kind of question which has prompted this blog post, he said this:

“Thornish people are not Heathens in the way that modern people think of that word. We have no Gods; we have the Elder Kin. A Thornsman does not see himself as special to any particular spirit or Elder Kin being. We are animists and we see that everything is alive. We have our ancestors and the spirits of the land as our allies. We never pray because praying is an act of supplication; an act of slaves. We don’t boast because we know our place in nature. We have no priesthood because each Thornish person has their own connection to the manifold universe. Our rituals are simple and instinctive. We have no need for flowery posing or the like. We serve no one save the holy Earth and our role as stewards. We have no holy book or the like; instead we have stories and the wisdom of our elders. We have no commandments other than the laws of nature and the Thornish Code, which is more common sense than rule.”

I think that this, in short form at least, sums where we stand on the question of Heathenry.

While we certainly have nothing against those who consider themselves to be Heathen – and indeed have a good many friends and allies who claim that identity – we, as Thornish folk refrain from calling ourselves that.

It is not our road to walk.

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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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