Heathenry boiled down to one sentence comes out as “We are our deeds.” Throughout our lives, we co-create the web of life with all that is and all that has come before. This is the meaning of wyrd- it is the way our individual actions weave into the actions of others both past and present, to create a reality that is based upon what came before, but is moving in the direction we believe is right.
We all live within the web of wyrd, and we cannot step outside of it. Every one of us is completely free to make our own choices, yet our view of which choices are honorable is deeply influenced by where we came from. We are our deeds, because our deeds shape who we effect in our lives, and who affects us, and what those effects are. Over a long enough time, our choices change culture and wyrd, because we have made more or less likely the forming of connections between people. Our lives are defined by how we influence the world around us- we are our deeds.
I think that this has political meaning for heathens. We are not bound by a fixed fate- we can change and influence our world and how we relate to others. We are also not without a past. Who we are is shaped by our familial past, our upbringing, and our culture. So I think that a heathen perspective on identity politics is necessary right now.
We are our deeds, and our deeds are the result of our choices. Our identities are not the creation of our circumstances they are the creation of our deeds within the framework of our lives. No matter what my deeds (barring suicide, of course), I would be right now a 25-year-old white biological female. There is nothing I can or could ever do to change that. So how can that be my identity? I am my deeds, not what I was born.
My choice is to be a radical. My choice is to fight for a better world. My choice is to stand by the oppressed. My choices define me. And I am sick of identity politics proponents trying to take away and diminish my choices. I am not a racist because of my skin color. I am my deeds, and my deeds include fighting for social justice. I want to ask you to think about the people who know. Think about whether they fit into a demographic box. Think about how they have lived, what they were born with, and what they earned. Do you know people from different backgrounds? Do you think the experience of a black man from the susburbs is the same as a black woman from rural Alabama? Do you think the experience of a white person from rural Maine is the same as the experience of a white person from a ritzy suburb?
What I find interesting is the way each of us starts out in life with certain things. This is how I interpret the idea of privilege. A part of our wyrd is laid out before we are born. Some of us will have advantages that others do not, whether those advantages are money, skin color, gender, intelligence, excellent or poor parents, or any other thing. We are definitely woven into the web of wyrd from a starting place.
And I think it is worth broadening our scope here and looking at the whole world, not just America, and not just this time period. There are those who claim that white people are woven into the web as oppressors, and that we can’t change that. So I would like to look at the families represented among those I know, at their histories (as best as I know or can imagine based on the history I know). Are we truly woven into the web as oppressed and oppressors? Or are we woven into the web in a muddle, oppressors over here, liberators over there, oppressed in that corner, all of us tangled together in the tangled weave of oppression we call capitalism?
Strands of the Web…
First I want to look at this time period. Each and every one of us is an oppressor. America is not the world, and all of us bought our food from stores that sell produce picked by migrant farm labor- un-unionized, oppressed, and often kept in slave-like conditions. Our clothes are made from cotton grown by poor farmers who might have been driven to suicide by companies we hold stock in. Those clothes were assembled by people making next to nothing. We are all of us oppressors, and all of us benefit in a way from the oppression of people (mostly of color) worldwide.
There is no pass on this oppression for your skin color, your gender, your religion, anything. If you are American, you are an oppressor. Your tax dollars are at work right now killing some Syrian’s children. The military you pay for is currently terrorizing people in third-world countries to keep them from unionizing, or electing a better government. Even those “off the grid” homesteaders and permaculturalists generally use solar panels requiring mined materials. And those mines are not nice places to work.
This is not to say that we can’t be oppressors and also fight oppression- that is a false argument. We all have to eat to live, and to eat we have to work, and to work we have to reproduce our labor. Which means using and buying things which are the products of oppression. We must use the tools oppression gives us to fight the system of oppression.
In this time period, we are also, all humans, and all other life, the oppressed. The same factories that oppress thousands also put out greenhouse gasses that threaten the future of life on this planet. The ships which bring the goods to America use an enormous amount of fossil fuels. The monoculture required to produce the tons and tons of cotton, soybeans, and corn that turns the wheels of industry is degrading our soil and water supplies at an insane rate. No one who must face the fact that their children or grand-children may see the last generation of life and can do nothing is unoppressed. The enormity of the destruction of life is so often ignored in our political conversations. We talk about oppression, yet we don’t talk about history’s largest genocide the wiping out of all life, of every culture, of every tribe, of every animal, of every plant, of every fungus, or every amoeba, and of most bacteria (some of those crazy bacteria might make it).
We never really talk about the truth and the horror of what we are doing. Think about what this really means. Jesus isn’t coming to rescue us. We’re not moving to outer space. We are all co-committing mass homicide and suicide and ecocide (us First World people more than others). I hate to gloss over what I just spoke of, to move on to other things, like other things could have any importance in light of the end of the world. But that is what we must do. It is the oath I took (and as a heathen, nothing could be higher law) that “I will not surrender in the presence of doom.”*
So I’m going to return to the narrative I promised you: the real or likely story of some ordinary people into the web of wyrd. The first step back in history is here….