[Welcome to our weekly column, Talking My Path. Here, polytheists, witches, and Pagans of any tradition are invited to discuss and celebrate their spirituality in a series of five short questions. If you would like to participate, don’t hesitate to email Rebecca Buchanan at email@example.com.]
EvOke: How do you define your particular tradition or path? Does it have a specific name?
TJN: Though I still feel a little odd about identifying with a specific path, as it feels a little restricted to do so, the path that I most identify with is Rökkatru. This is a subset of Norse paganism or Heathenry that is relatively new on the scene and focuses on the jötnar or “giants,” and the darker deities of the Norse pantheon. I still honor deities of other pantheons, but Rökkatru is primarily where my path lies.
EvOke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
TJN: Rökkatru honors darker and more primordial entities. These are quite analogous to the Titans of Greek mythology and are often, though not always, associated with forces of nature. There are many entities which fall under this pantheon — if they’re jötunn, they probably belong — but the primary deities are Loki, Angrboda, Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr. Other deities often included under the umbrella of the Rökkr are Sigyn, Surt, Jord, Gerda, and Skadi, but this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.
EvOke: Among the various festivals and holy days celebrated in your tradition, which is the most important to you, and why?
TJN: There are various days attributed to Loki, but I’ve never quite gotten into the holidays. The Loki holidays seem, to me, to be more or less the same holiday but different people celebrate it at different times through the year, so it seems like one holiday that people disagree about when it’s actually held. But through my entire life as a pagan I’ve struggled to connect with holidays and sabbats. I’ve been writing a series on my blog through Divine Multiplicity about how the traditional Celtic/Wiccan holidays can be adapted to more closely align with Rökkatru, and this has helped me learn more about the holidays and start developing some investment in them.
EvOke: Which texts, websites, or other resources would you recommend to someone interested in your tradition?
TJN: There are woefully few writers putting out work that is relevant to Rökkatru, which is part of the reason I’ve been writing for Divine Multiplicity. There’s just barely a handful of voices out there and unfortunately we’ve seen at least one of them in recent times descend into Alt-Right madness and xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric, so a lot of people in the community have effectively shunned her as we largely agree that racism and xenophobia are fundamentally opposed to the values of Rökkatru. Another writer has had some ethical questions brought up about their practices that result in me feeling a bit uncomfortable directing people to their writing. (I’m not naming names both because I don’t want to direct people to those sources and because I don’t want to throw shade; I would rather just keep my distance.)
As a result of this, I would strongly encourage people who are practicing or interested in Rökkatru to go the primary sources and practice reading them with a critical eye — that’s the Eddas and the Sagas, keeping in mind that they were all written post-conversion and that Christian bias exists to greater or lesser extent in most of these sources. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable, it just means that readers must be discerning, something which aligns with my experience of Rökkatru and others on the path. Being critical readers in this way, as well as being willing to find your own meaning in these texts, are common themes for Rökkatru.
I’ve also found that consuming as much research on archeological finds going far back past the Viking era is incredibly helpful in contextualizing these texts and giving the reader more information with which to analyze the texts. As I have pointed out in the past, the religious history of the Nordic regions is much older and richer than just the Viking era, but unfortunately this is the era focused on almost exclusively because this is the era when Christians began writing about the people of Scandinavia. It’s the most well documented and most romanticized era, but focusing on the Vikings exclusively really limits the understanding of a long and rich history which should be informing modern understanding and practice.
That said, Abby Helasdottir has been credited with coining the word Rökkatru (though she denies this and credits it to a more organic development through group conversation) and her writing on this front was been very informative and helpful in my early development as a Norse pagan and later as a Rökkatru practitioner.
EvOke: Is there anything you would like to add, such as creative projects you are undertaking, festivals or events you will be attending, and so on?
TJN: There have been a lot of rumblings in the Rökkatru community lately about taking a clear and defined stance against racism within Norse paganism. It’s an unfortunate truth that for many outside of the community, the racist and xenophobic face off Heathenry is the most visible — racists do have a flare for theatrics and as a result are very good at hogging the spotlight, whereas the rest of us haven’t fully figured out the best way to combat that really theatrical, propaganda-driven racism within Heathenry. In a lot of ways we as a community let that racism go unchecked for too long, and now that those toxic ideals have become such an overwhelming part of our sociopolitical discourse, the Heathen community is scrambling to deal with the racists in our own communities.
Rökkatru has, in my experience, been a site for explicitly sociopolitical religious practices. We have a very high number of Rökkatru who are LGBTQ+ and we do seem to have a solid amount of racial and ethnic diversity as well, at least in comparison to other Heathen paths. We hail deities that can be and often are interpreted as representing the strength in diversity and the need to fight for and support those who are oppressed. Within Heathenry, Rökkatru has been looked down on for prioritizing the jötnar and deities traditionally framed as “enemies” of the Aesir, despite the overwhelming evidence that the relationships between the different Heathen pantheons is far more nuanced than that. In some ways, this may drive the more explicitly sociopolitical nature of Rökkatru, in tandem with the focus on nature deities that really stress the strength in diversity (something that can be seen on a genetic level and as such can be seen to be closely linked to the ways of nature that Rökkatru tend to elevate). That said, not all Rökkatru are as politically active, but given the current atmosphere it feels worth highlighting the effort that is being made in some parts of the community to explicitly position Rökkatru as anti-racist and anti-oppression of any kind. It’s honestly a really cool thing to see unfolding, and I hope to see that movement grow even more with time.