Putting rhetoric aside, and basing evaluation entirely upon actions and interactions, I would define the heathen community at present largely as a group dedicated to the worship of Loki.
I do not claim that this worship is explicit in terms of external dedication, ceremony, or words, but rather that it is inherent in those deeds acted upon and the quality of interactions.
The level of sheer strife, beyond the level of basic human imperfection and conflict, beyond even that ordinary level of cynicism we expect for human beings in a corrupted age, when Baldur has fallen, is really quite extraordinary, which is to say it is deplorable. It points to a very rudimentary level of social evolution, where decorum, courtesy, conflict-resolution, and clear thought remain at frankly juvenile levels of stunted growth.
One need not look very far and wide to discover such disappointing dedication and devotion to principles of strife. It is both prevalent and frequent. And it does not reflect the kind of interpersonal development the Gods wish for us to attain. But that is our choice. We can choose the path of sustainability and survival, or we can give way to faction, slander, and the politics of continual disappointment, and watch efforts become swallowed by time and consigned thereby to the garbage bin for overall value. In this, we ought not wonder at widespread divestment by those with talent and who are dedicated to excellence, for the very fact that wisdom after a time urges the best to not throw in their good value with that which has little more intent than the vagaries and storms of the unconscious moment.
It represents a genuine and rather deep crisis in the heathen community. This crisis can be taken seriously, addressed with both personal soul-searching and interpersonal intelligence, and worked through, or it can be pooh-poohed, cynically noted with resignation, or avoided, with the ultimate result of being pronounced by history itself as being irrelevant to the ongoing survival and thrival of the species.
I'm not certain that the depth of this crisis is appreciated. It touches fundamental religious issues. Something is wrong with our worship forms if they are not creating greater and more lasting levels of unity capable of riding out transient storms of conflict. We are tested by the ways in which we handle conflict, and overall, the learning curve at this point is not too encouraging. The wise ones stand back from the petty conflicts and just ride it out, but there is something more fundamental going on that requires address. It seems to me that a level of hypocrisy, and one that is quite deadly to our vitality, has entered into our rituals, one akin to the Sunday-Christian phenomenon of professing one thing in church and living something entirely different. Such hypocrisy indicates that there is a lack of honesty and authenticity in our rituals about what our authentic struggles are, and a failure to pray for the ability to skillfully and gracefully work through such struggles. It would seem we are speaking bold words, and getting caught up in the bombasticism of the moment, declaring things our actions and indeed the very texture of our lives belie. We speak of loyalty, of honor, of kinship, of wisdom, of frith, and of strength. These are easy things to speak about. They are heady and they sound good. One feels glorious merely reciting the words.
We learn the right things to say within a group and then we say them. We receive our accolades and make our alliances. It really doesn't matter what the words are. It could be this group's creed, it could be that group's creed. It could be beautiful words, it could be ugly words. It doesn't really matter. We aren't much listening anyway.
The last thing in the world we want is to really face our deficiencies and do the work required to improve upon them. That requires awareness, soul-searching, and real work. No, just pass the horn around and say some things that will make people feel good and self-important in the moment. Then do whatever you want. Do what you were going to do anyway. Follow your whims, and if it takes you into conflict, be as nasty as your unconscious desires impel you to be. If someone calls you on your behavior, or advises you to cultivate a little more awareness, pull up some phrases from common slogans as a shield, and finagle an argument that tries to show how their check and balance upon your acting out is really a violation of all the wonderful words that have been bandied about. That's what those words are there for, anyway, right? To give you some kind of defense in case someone actually makes some genuine and genuinely constructive critique?
We've forgotten, it seems, that the word "worth" is in the word "worship", and therefore fail to ask the soul-searching question, Am I worthy to worship? If that sounds like a strange question, one might want to sit down and think about it. It is, admittedly, a hard question. It does not cater to convenience or ease. It asks something of you. It doesn't come door to door to you to offer you blessings for free. The question asks you whether you are worthy of such worthy ancestors and worthy Gods.
Think about it. On a human level, would you walk into a club that was filled with the cream of the crop, the most excellent in the field, and really feel qualified to take up their time? Have you accomplished enough, have you improved yourself enough, have you dedicated yourself enough to the values around which that club is organized, to feel that anyone would even take your application seriously? Think that through, because chances are, you would feel a level of formidable intimidation to even consider entering an application, unless you were really, really good, and not just in your own mind, but as tested by circumstances and long experience. If you weren't intimidated, but also were not very good, you would show yourself to be a fool, and the club would want to have little to do with you. Under such circumstances, how much benefit ought you to expect from its members, practically speaking? If you have done little to advance their agenda, to enliven them, even to entertain them in terms of motifs and interests they find engaging, and in fact, from your achievements or lack thereof, are beneath their notice, how much help do you anticipate from this club? Think real pragmatically here.
Now consider that as a heathen you are making an application to join a club of ancestors whose deeds are sung around the world, and Gods whose great deeds speak for themselves in the majesties and beauties of the world itself. If you're not at least a little bit intimidated, not only have you not been paying attention, but you aren't even taking the matter seriously. And if you are not taking the matter seriously, and are therefore engaged in what amounts to little more than game-playing and social recitation, how do you expect beings of such worth to take you seriously at all?
Prayer ought be understood as a request or petition. If you were petitioning an individual or group to whose values you had openly scorned -- if not with words, then with deeds -- and were asking them for some kind of practical assistance in your life, beyond, say, the bare minimum of help that strangers might grant to one another out of a humanistic dedication to the larger community, how much practical assistance would you really expect to be rendered?
On a communal level, the question goes deeper. It is now no longer a question of whether you personally are worthy to participate in such worship, but when considering a potential member of your group (or even an already existing one), are they worthy of participating in such worship? Again, I know, a hard question, but then, convenience was never one of those bold words passed around in toasts. I beg practicality again. If you were part of a group that was petitioning a large organization or official, say, the President or the Congress or the United Nations, or even some international charity fund of some kind, and you knew that part of the process of considering your petition would involve scrutinizing the merit of the individuals who make up your group, as well as the overall integrity of the group itself, is the person next to you holding the horn of such merit that the petition will be either turned down or potentially accepted? Because now you're all in this together. You personally may be of excellent worth, but if you keep the company of low-lifes, in anything more than a charitable way, it is going to reflect, like it or not, upon you. Is this person an asset to the group's goal of attaining merit in the eyes of those it is petitioning? If you aren't considering these things, you're probably not taking the group very seriously, and it is probably nothing more than a social club, or perhaps even a drinking club, with a little Norse dressing just for flavor. (Or, within our larger generalization, whatever flavor the group professes as its particular style.) You ought not anticipate, therefore, for anyone, whether part of the larger public, or a part of the higher group you are petitioning, to take you seriously at all. Your credibility, and therefore effective organizational or social power, will be very low. If this is true at a human level, how much more true it is on higher levels.
I want to make it clear that when I encourage individuals and groups to engage in soul-searching regarding their own worthiness that perfection is not a relevant issue. Every single person has deficiencies which it is their responsibility to notice, address, and tend. The question of worth addresses whether you are actually doing your work in this regard, and the dedication with which you have thrown yourself into the work. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone, to differing degrees, is entitled to a little fun. The question of worth is not encouraging a false sense of shame. However, if there is shame inside, that is worthy to examine and address, because it just might be speaking to something. It might speak to something which needs development and work. If you've begun the path of undoing shame through good work, you have begun a path which leads to merit and worthy notice. You might slip. Life is full of failures and conflicts. The question is how quickly you pick yourself back up, address and correct your mistakes, and dedicate yourself back to the work. And ultimately, as well, there is a question of learning curve. Repeated and significant mistakes (there are many mistakes that are of little or no consequence), particularly if they involve injuries of some kind, will not help one's reputation.
And reputation here is geared towards worth. This is not about whether people "like" you or not. People's attractions and affinities are diverse and changeable, often to the point of fickleness, but what people authentically value, and I mean authentically value as demonstrated repeatedly in the concrete texture of their lives, tends to remain steady and weather petty flurries and little primate monkey-storms of "I like her", "I don't like him", etc. In fact, when someone demonstrates achievement in terms of things we actually value, we often are willing to set aside whether we personally like them or not, and they gain honor in our eyes for their authentic integrity despite their likability or lack thereof. Returning to our more practical examples, you might know on a personal level several people who are part of an exclusive club with selective membership dedicated to specific goals, and you might have a good relationship with them. Despite their personal liking for you, however, you are not going to become part of the group (if the group, that is, has any real integrity) unless you demonstrate some basic level of competence, and no one ought expect otherwise.
This is why I place so little stock in hereditary approaches to ethnicity, because mere ancestry does not establish worth in and of itself. Sure, we're all willing to extend the minimum loyalty required of a family member towards even the worst of our kin, but such are mere trifles. It is those family members who have actually made good of themselves, or at least have not proven themselves to be forces of mayhem, who win our long approval, and to whom we are willing to dedicate greater amounts of passion and assistance. And the Icelandic Sagas are full of instances of kinsmen refusing to render any palpable assistance to a kinsman who has proven to be a danger or of little worth. How much more so from kinsmen beyond the grave with their expanded perspective. The point here is, don't stand on the laurels of your ancestors unless you are willing to live the values behind the deeds which made them great. And if you stand on the laurels of ancestors who did no deeds and proved of little worth (or worse), what kinds of benefits do you expect to receive from such powerless people? Do you think you personally gain worth just because someone a long time ago who happens to be related to you did something of value? What are you going to do? That heritage is nothing in which to rest in complacency ; it is, actually, more of an onus upon you, for even greater deeds than average are expected. (And one more friendly critique of the volkish : there is absolutely no indication that any of our ancestors ever attempted to create any kind of social or legal form of copyright around their worship forms, let alone one that was based solely on genetic ties. Affinity and worth, as always, are the stronger factors, and while biological ancestry might create greater propensity towards affinity, it cannot establish worth without equal or greater achievements of merit. It stands to reason that there will be many with biological ancestry who have neither affinity nor worth, while on the other hand, there may be some, or even potentially many, who have little biological ancestry yet a great deal of affinity and even worth. Such matters are best left to Wyrd, rather than human politics.)
This doesn't mean we should go prying into other people's lives and appoint ourselves judge over them. It does mean we should encourage soul-searching, and should not shy away from appearing intimidating, and ought to, as discretely and appropriately as possible, in the spirit of genuinely constructive critique aimed at improvement, point out discrepancies between professed declarations and actual, glaring conduct.
Constructive critique and methods of conflict resolution are vital parts of keeping any group healthy. One of the first orders of business in this regard is to prioritize, which already brings us back to the basic issue of weighing the worth of things, and figure out what is important and what is not. What is petty, and what has weight? Once this determination has been made, and some sort of consensus established, it is then worthy to assess : to what side of this spectrum of pettiness versus importance does an individual or group dedicate most of their energies? If pettiness is a major concern, as reflected in actual interactions, then that which is actually important is probably being majorly neglected. In fact, if pettiness is a major and lasting concern, then what is actually happening --- in reality, not rhetoric --- is that they are declaring that what is petty is in fact of major importance to them. They have made their concrete choices. I know these are hard ways of looking at things, but we ought not expect that the Gods' scrutiny will be any less probing, intense, and thorough ; if anything, it will be more so.
Once we have determined what is petty and what is not, we can then attend to actual methods of addressing and resolving conflict. Are private matters kept at least somewhat private? Are public matters addressed in proper channels? Despite passions, has proper decorum been observed, which is to say has proper respect for the larger community, who is not a party to the special interests involved in the conflict, and is therefore deserving of sustained consideration and regard, been given?
How do you deal with your upsets? We all get upset, every single one of us, each in differing ways. We all may need arenas, forums, and venues in which to blow off steam and air out our frustrations. (And here we may ask, have you searched for an appropriate arena? If one does not exist, have you begun the work of creating that arena?) The question is, when you get upset, do your speech-and-deed-actions reflect those values you so boldly claim in circle? Carefully scrutinizing your actual life, when you get upset, are your actions characterized by honor, loyalty, kinship, wisdom, strength, and frith? Do they at least lean in that direction? If not, what are you doing about it? Do you need some help learning how to moderate your temper or find appropriate ways to express your frustrations and air out your conflicts? Seek out and find such help, discretely or openly as you see fit.
Remember, anyone can be a good guy, or so seem, when they're not upset, when nothing is going wrong, when everything is going their way, and conflict is absent. What you're really declaring (and, let's face it, aspiring towards, more than anything else) in circle is how you wish and will to be when the cards are down and things are difficult. How are you in conflict? How are you when upset? You don't have to be perfect. Even the Gods are not perfect, and they have broad tolerance and understanding for personal failings for all those who have demonstrated overall their merits and dedication to those values the Gods affirm as life-enhancing. If you're doing your work, you get a lot of credit, even if you slip up. If you're not doing your work, and have openly, with your actions if not your speech, declared that your life is dedicated to mayhem, do not expect a lot of help or understanding. It is your choices, and not your rhetoric, that make your alliances. (And believe that those alliances will be scrutinized by the Gods in great detail : attend to your loyalties and associations.)
To invoke a cliche (but a good one) : don't talk the talk, walk the walk. Then you can talk. If people aren't walking the walk, you might want to ask whether they are in fact just bowing down before cartoon characters, because these Gods defend very particular values, and seek them in those who seek benefits. If that's hard, I'm sorry, but so is life.
The theodish have an official called the thyle whose official business is to act as a devil's advocate at ritual, and call into question any claim which doesn't seem to match the actual deeds of those speaking. The thyle is, therefore, the bullshit detector. It seems obvious to me that we need a lot more bullshit detecting in heathenism, whether centered in a particular official, or more generally and discretely exercised, because if the ritual is to have meaning, words and actions must be woven together in authentic ways, and people must be dedicated to actually working on the struggles which they declare and for which they petition aid.
I don't personally care whether you like me or not. I mean, it might be nice, and I might enjoy it if you did like me. But your liking me or not is not going to seduce me away from my real values. And whether you like me or not, whether you enjoy what I say or not, one thing you will see is that over time, on the whole, I am both dedicated and persistent to fulfilling those values I declare. I, like everyone else, have a lot of work to do, but I take that work very seriously. And I do in fact anticipate that over time that dedication will prove of value to those who authentically share the same values, regardless of their personal feelings of like or dislike towards me. That is, after all, what worth is all about, because it allows us to rise above the petty monkey politics. If the latter is all you wish, hey, why did Ask and Embla ever come down from the trees? Are you going to waste or flourish those soulful gifts the Gods once gave?
Even monkeys can chatter.