Last month I seemed to have kicked a hornet’s nest when I suggested- okay, told some folks that they weren’t going to Valhalla. While most of the feedback I saw was positive and informative, I did get a few people who were like, oh fuck this guy, he’s not one of us, he doesn’t practice the way we do, and so on and so forth. Most of it was civil, though. Only a few comments were nasty and look, I get it. I tore open the bedroom door while you were listening to Megadeth playing air guitar to your imagined ten thousand people, and you turned around, saw me, and were instantly ripped out of your heavy metal fantasy. It’s happened to me too, it’s okay. I loved doing that so much I eventually became a musician for reals. Dare to dream.
Yet, I find myself getting that itch to kick the nest again and I just can’t help it. And I do this because no matter which stripe of Heathenry one adheres to, I don’t think most of us who really care want to see it devolve into utter silliness and irrelevance. That’s why I told the people prattling on about Valhalla to knock it off because frankly, it got to be a little embarrassing. This time, something else is getting under my skin. Once again, in the interest of full disclosure (and so critics won’t have their “a-ha!” moment), part of my back story is essential.
I don’t know my ancestry on my father’s side past my paternal grandparents. On my mother’s side, I can go back a few hundred years, but beyond that I never traced it and really, never saw the need to. My father’s father was adopted into the family name and as far as I know he was British or of British descent, and when he became an adult he met and fell in love with a beautiful lass from Sicily. She defied her parents and married him and they had several kids, however, I only know my father and two uncles, one of whom is now deceased. I don’t know any of my grandfather’s or my grandmother’s relatives. It would be near impossible to trace even if I wanted to.
My mother’s side of the family is a lot more clear to me. I grew up right down the street from my grandparents. My mother had two sisters and five brothers. She was a middle child, with most of her siblings being older, so I always had cousins around too. I knew my great-aunts and great-uncles for the short time they were alive when I was a kid. There was also no shortage of stories passed down, family legends that seemed to grow ever more fantastic every few years when they were re-told at holiday gatherings. Thinking about this as I write brings a warm feeling to my heart. It’s what it means to share kinship with a group of people and I get why that is important on more than just a personal level.
My maternal grandfather’s last name was Ericson. His parents were Swedish immigrants who slightly anglicized the name. I do not know if, by the time they came here, they had gone with keeping the surname through generations as we do today or if they were the last to use the old Norse way of making your last name come from your parents’ first name. But, Ericson it was for as far back as I can see. As a kid, of course, that was a badass name to have in your family line. My interest was piqued from a very young age about Leif Eriksson and because I did not really know any better, I assumed that he was an ancestor of mine. Knowing that he was here centuries before Columbus sailed in 1492… yup. Got me into Norse mythology at a young age too, even though at that time I was still a good Catholic boy, but I knew some of the stories even then. When I realized that I was probably NOT descended from Leif Eriksson, I smiled at my childish notion and naivete, and moved on with my life. The Ericsons in my life that I grew up with and still know and love to this day, the ones who helped shape who I am, were more relevant to me anyway.
So, of course, when I read people who obsessively trace their lineage back a thousand years, or so they claim, to try and prove that their great-great-to the twelfth power ancestor was a king, or a chieftain, or a god even… I want to facepalm myself so hard that I give myself a concussion.
Chances are your great-whatever ancestors were not kings or chieftains and they certainly were not deities. It’s this type of silly made-up garbage that makes Heathens look like delusional idiots. Your ancestors were probably normal, everyday people for the time no matter when or where they lived. They were farmers and merchants, crafstpersons, hunters, soldiers, you know, kind of like most people today. It would be a very rare thing to be descended from a king or some type of historical figure like Leif Eriksson, but here’s the thing, even if you were…
Outside of bragging points or a cool story to tell at parties, what does that have to do with you? Did you inherit that ancestor’s riches or lands? Does that person’s accomplishments in their life centuries ago have any direct impact on who you are, what you do, and so on? Or is it the lives of the ancestors closest to you, those you either knew as a child or who were one- at most two- generations before you, that directly shaped your family that you were raised in, that has the direct impact?
Look, even if I was descended from Leif Eriksson, and I had the pedigree papers to prove it- big fucking whoop. And besides, what huge boots to try and fill if your great-ancestor was someone so incredibly notable. Could you imagine a conversation between the two of us?
Leif: I sailed well beyond the known world and pushed the boundaries of our knowledge and people. What did you do?
Me: Oh, I delivered pizza and wrote a few cool songs.
And it wouldn’t matter if I were the CEO of a giant pizza chain, it’s still not as cool as what Leif Eriksson did.
So why? Why are you making absurd claims about being descended from kings and gods or other well-known historical figures? You’re not, just stop it. You are doing an enormous disservice to the ancestors who knew you and loved you when they were alive, and to those just before who shaped the family you have now. You’re delegitimizing their lives and pitching them overboard to live vicariously through a fantasy ancestor who, even on the off-chance there is a relation, has zero direct meaning to you and no tangible effect on your life. What do you hope to accomplish anyway? A bunch of impressed nods from people at gatherings? A few dozen likes on your Facebook status proclaiming your direct lineage to the All-father?
The point of honoring our ancestors as Heathens is not to try and validate ourselves through the most famous of them anyway. It’s to recognize and honor everyone that helped shape who we are and to pass that on through our future generations. It’s through us that our ancestors live forever, it’s through our future generations, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and their descendants that we will also be immortalized. Lastly, it’s OUR deeds that make us worthy of boasting, not riding on the coattails of imagined or even real ancestors who gained some type of notoriety.
So, for the second time, cut the crap and stop completely missing the point. You’re making us all look ridiculous.
A final note- though it may take time due to my work schedule, I do approve all comments, even ones that are critical of my opinions or even of me as a person.