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Musings: How We Confuse Newbies

So as I'm trying to clear out both my inbox, and sent mail folder, I stumbled across an email I sent in response to one of the lists I'm on, as we talked about things such as the meanings of terms, and why there's such differences of definition, as well as what we as the community do in disservice of the newcomers that come to us earnestly asking "I want to learn."

One of the most frustrating things at times is that we have a lack of standardized definitions for alot of the terminology we use to describe ourselves, and our religion (Heathenry/Asatru/ Forn Sed/Odinists, etc.). Ask one heathen and they'll define it one way, ask someone else they'll define it another. And this doesn't just apply to what we call ourselves collectively, but also to the denominations (for lack of a better term) that exist within the Heathenry.

Not only are our definitions confusing by group, but I think that on the average the community isn't very good at nurturing newcomers. They show up to our lists and gatherings all shiny with eagerness yet a touch shy and uncertain... and far too often when they say "I want to learn" people say "go read the Eddas."

When newbies ask that question of me... my answer is a bit different. I might gauge what they do already know, not just 'that there book learnin' but what they may have been doing in their personal practices. From that I then lead them towards what I feel their next steps are, and I try to take a hollistic approach marrying some reading with some sort of daily practice (things like offerings, altars, prayer, etc.) that they do one on one. With the reading I usually hook them up with excerpts of my thesis which explains the flaws and faults with our 'lore' and the analysis on them. I think it's very important that they know up front what elements are without a doubt "Christianized" and what analysis may not be accurate because it was viewed in ways that we now know not to be true (such as the ancient cultures existing in relative isolation). I like to hook them up with an introduction to Asatru book, one that does a good job of being wide spectrum and making it clear that there's no one way to practice, yet still covers all the key basics. And then I suggest readings into the Eddas, if they're more academically minded I'll also recommend texts like Dubois' Viking Age, and Lindow's Norse Mythology (as he talks about motifs in the myths). And the book I recommend to everyone, newcomer and old-school Asatru alike is Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology (listings for practically everything, with a summation of what we know from lore and where we know it from, plus key bits of analysis from scholars and their theories, etc.) Alas, I digress.

I also take the time to make sure they understand that you don't have to practice one of our magicoreligious traditions (galdr, runemal, spa/seidr, leechcraft) to be Asatru. Many who have familiarity with Wicca come over actively seeking 'magic' more so than the Gods.

My personal belief is that ultimately so long as you are sincere in whatever you do, the Gods take notice. But we are lucky to know what we know about certain rituals, and those rituals like symbel are steeped not only deeply within the cosmology but are in fact very, very symbolic and if we do not look to the past and glean what we can... we lose the efficacy of such items.


I'm of two minds with newbies. Part of me wishes to give them the benefit of my yrs of work and the other wants them to have to go through what I did;>!
But seriously, one thing I DO have against some newbies of WHATEVER they are is that they expect you to do all the work. Back when I discovered Heathenry, there was no Internet. Really techy types had the BBS system but for most folks it was 'zines and festivals as well as word of mouth. Back then I didn't have a problem whipping off some xerox sheets. Today when any eejit can yahoo, google or bing(not to mention Pop Heathen crap atthe local B Dalton or Booksamillion)? I'm less "giving"...
Even if information is easy enough to come by, I can still understand newcomers asking for recommendations though. Frankly there's so much mediocre stuff, before I spend time on reading something or perhaps even purchasing it, I want to know that it's a solid resource tool to begin with. But at the same time, I do get a bit... irked by the sense of self entitlement not so much with newcomers as a whole, but with the generation below me.
It's more of a generational thing. Personally, I put it down to a couple of decades of folks telling their kids that they were "Special", in other words Better and more Deserving just by being THEM and not for what they've DONE. There isn't a person at Chuck's work under 30 that doesn't Beleive that their Pay is simply for showing up, that actual work requires more money....
I remember seeing an interesting article about how these overachieving students, treated as they were special, heaped with praise, when they got into the real world would fret that they were inadequate because they're not praised for doing what they're paid to do. Praise should come when you go above and beyond what you're paid to do.

I hear it's getting to the extremes that some schools have opted not to keep score, so there are no winners or losers. Losing, even failing at things in the course of a life are necessary for healthy character growth.

My favorite 'comments' are those who post on a forum... and yet the main website that hosts the forum may have the information they seek, but they expect someone to hand-feed it to them in the forum thread.

*bangs head on desk*

Unfortunately, it's across subjects, not just in the Spiritual "realm". I've finally decided to do In SPirit what I do in my other areas of Interest. I tell them to click on google/yahoo/jeeves/bing/etc and type in _____. After reading the top 3 results from at least two search engines and STILL not getting an answer, THEN ask me.
Personally, I'm tired of noobs asking me what Heathenry means and then telling me that I'm wrong when I answer....


I'll email it to you when I'm at home later. Or if you have certain types of academic database access you might be able to get the e-version of it that's already online.

It never was quite what I wanted it to be. The whole fifth chapter was me having to do what I could because human subjects clearance took far too long. (My school made me get human subject clearance for any interviews I conducted).

And there's some sections that just need updates, or complete overhauls, or expansions... but there's alot of good kernels in there. :)