Now for something completely different… Amateur Religious Ethnography Botched, Or the Pagan Interviews, Part 6 (archive 2011)

rn in rural Iowa, Tannen Van Horn now resides in Memphis, TN where she is a member of Summerland Grove Pagan Church.  While studying to become legally ordained clergy through this esteemed organization, she is also the gythia (and founding member) of Ulfar Kindred of Memphis, a heathen group open to all who walk the paths of the Northern Traditions.  I did this interview in August after the failure of borders. Also I am sick of writing on politics every fifteen seconds so I  am publishing another interview.

Skepoet: What is your religious background and how did you come to it?

Tannen Van Horn: I grew up in a largely non-religious home, though I was often taken to church (of varying denominations) by family members and friends.  I was led to a pagan group when I was 13 that was a Wiccan/Celtic Reconstructionist…something.  I knew it wasn’t quite right, so I began studying on my own and connecting to various pagans via the precursor to the internet, bbs.  I’ve studied Celtic Recon, Hellenic Recon, Kemeticism (briefly, mostly for curiosity’s sake), and Wicca before finding my home in heathenry in 2007.

Skepoet: What is your academic background?

Tannen Van Horn: I am a high-school graduate, but I will be going to college starting in the spring semester to obtain my degree in meteorology.  Even though I haven’t been in school all this time, various skills in studying and researching gained in high school have served me well in my quest to find my religio-spirituality.
Skepoet: How do you see these interacting with each other?

Tannen Van Horn: They already do.  I’ve always been curious about how mythology explains various phenomena that we now have a scientific answer for.  And this isn’t relegated to my personal path, either, but to all mythologies.  It’s been a pet hobby of mine for years, starting in grade-school.  I mentioned in the second question that skills I was taught in school have helped immensely throughout my spiritual growth.  Most of what I learned about the various gods I have served over the years (as well as how to serve them) started with several teachers fostering my love of studious research and pointing me in the directions I would need to go, even if they weren’t aware of my religious leanings or why I really wanted that information. I was also taught to question everything until I got the answers I sought, so it was pretty early on that I learned that Christianity wasn’t for me.

Skepoet: What was it that enabled you to settle in with heathenry?  What called you about it?

Tannen Van Horn: Answering the second question first, what called to me was the gods themselves. In working with them, I learned that, for the most part, they’re pretty relaxed and easy to relate to compared to deities of other pantheons. My experience, especially in the beginning, was/is that they won’t task you with anything that you cannot handle and they feel like a part of your family pretty quickly.

What allowed me to settle into my path was that I had found someone who shared my faith, even if it was slightly dissimilar.  The man who is now my oath-brother was invaluable in providing for me the resources I lacked in regards to heathenry/Asatrú, shared his own experience with me, and yet didn’t judge me when I shared my own experiences with my gods, no matter how we differed. Further, he and I shared a few friends who also walked a Northern Tradition path, each markedly different but remaining similar enough at the heart to share our experiences and become a Kindred. Another point was that I had been feeling a need to connect with certain parts of my ancestry (notably German/Austrian), and heathenry, in its sundry forms of practice, has a virtually universal acceptance of ancestor veneration that strongly appealed to me. Of course, the short answer to both of these questions can be summed up as “it felt like coming home.”

Skepoet: Often it seems like Wicca is often treated by many Reconstructions as a metaphorical “gateway drug” into paganism.  Do you think this is a fair metaphor?

Tannen Van Horn: It’s more than fair, I think, to consider Wicca a “gateway drug” to paganism, though with today’s technology and proliferation of publishing I think it’s becoming less so. In my beginning days, it was so much easier to acquire information on Wicca versus any other pagan path. These days we have the internet and all of its vastness to plunder for information on ANY religion one wishes to learn about.

Skepoet: Do you think there has been a shift in publishing in Pagan circles?

 Tannen Van Horn: I don’t believe there has been a shift in publishing in Pagan circles. The shift that has occurred has been in publishing in general. We have a level of convenience as both writers and consumers that were unheard of even ten years ago.  If one finds traditional means of publishing unavailable, now they could self-publish, both by print-on-demand and digitally.

Skepoet: But outlets for purchasing those books seem to be decreasing.  Do you  think Border’s closing will have the effect that many think?

Tannen Van Horn: Ultimately, no, at least when it comes to books on Paganism. Personally, I’ve had issues finding the books that I want at hard-site book stores. Especially here in the Bible Belt, the Alternative Religion sections have always been very, very small. Online book stores became my prefered way of purchasing what I’m after.

Skepoet: Are there any particularly ancestral deities you feel more attracted to than others?

Tannen Van Horn: Like most Americans, I’m kind of a mutt; my heritage is Germanic/Austrian, Danish, & Scots-Irish. I have more of a kinship with the Norse gods (particularly Odin and Freyja) than with others. Though, the Celtic pantheon is still an attractant.

Skepoet: Do you think there is a clear relationship between the two pantheons historically?

Tannen Van Horn: It’s pretty well known that the Celts traveled far and wide throughout the European continent, but I don’t think there’s a clear relationship. My personal studies show that both cultures tended to have a “your gods are your gods” type of mentality, even during the Viking surge on the British Isles. It is possible there were, in some areas, a blending of culture/pantheon, but I have yet to see anything to confirm this.

Skepoet: Are there any rituals that you find not useful in a modern context that there is archaeological evidence for?

Tannen Van Horn: I wouldn’t declare any ritual “not useful.” Impractical, yes. The only one that I have found that is largely impractical is the rite for declaring Oath Siblings. It’s basically a “rebirth from the earth” type of ritual that requires those pledging their oath to walk/crawl under a strip of unbroken sod that’s been pried up. (There’s more to it than that, but this is the example of what makes it impractical.) The others (blót & sumble) work extremely well in a modern context.

Skepoet: Are there any positive changes you’d seen in heathenry since you got involved?

 Tannen Van Horn: More groups (kindreds/hoffs/etc.) and individuals are getting more involved in both their communities and in the greater, online community. This goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that all heathens/Asatrú are white-supremacist,  insular folk. As a collective group, there is a lot that we can both share as well as learn from the world of Paganism.

Skepoet: Anything you would like to say in closing?

 Tannen Van Horn: I would like to remind folks (especially reconstructionists) that what writings we have had handed down to us from the ancients are not the be-all/end-all of our paths. Doing so can leave us vulnerable to schisms/fracturing when we should be attempting to come together in the name of community.

There prior interviews in this series can be found here, here, herehere and here.  


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