Affecting Traditions at Raven’s Knoll

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Tradition remains a broadly misused term that is mobilized against innovation in favour of pre-existing social and religious communities, organizations, and hierarchies across much of North American and European society, especially throughout the cultural upheavals of Modernism in the 20th century. Heathenry, as practiced at Raven’s Knoll, presents a distinct challenge to this definition through the development of traditions rather than the reified Tradition. The opening of my presentation will establish this definitional distinction between traditions and Tradition, the former being  established through specific decisions and actions and the later composed of culturally embedded ideologies that reject change through appeals to common sense. The Heathen community of Raven’s Knoll make these decisions on four distinct hierarchic levels, the Witan at the top, the Doughty who are elevated, the regular attendees, and the new attendees who all participate in different degrees to affect by putting on or performing the developing identity of Heathenry at the Knoll.

I will point to two interconnected modes of viewing traditions. Discrete traditions that are made at a material level about the minutiae of realistic expectations and practices, as well as concerning how practices change in relation to available resources such as using the Knoll’s abundant red pine for God Poles and Vé posts. Broad traditions relate to “higher” or conceptual decisions that might change traditions. Examples of broad traditions include the devotional and aesthetic decisions to don ceremonial dress or to bear the God Poles to the Vé by hand rather than deliver it using machine assistance. These definitions are not rigid, but overlap each other. If there were not enough hands to carry the Godpoles, Their carting would be made more devotional and the tradition would be altered. It is in the messiness between where Affect begins to seep in. Knollians have borne Godpoles and performed Blot through all manner of inclement weather such as heavy rain and the threats of lightning and thunder during Thor and Skadhi’s years, but the discrete decision was made to halt ritual activities during Éir’s year due to the danger of imminent hail. While the “higher” order of a broad tradition had been established the material necessity of community safety overrode that previously established tradition. Braving the elements is already an aspect of Knoll Heathen identity there emerges through these decisions and experiences a sense of attunement by individuals to the potential for omens and signs. 

At this point I will expand my use of “affect” from activities and expectations performed by the community to a sensory attunement to the material world through which the Gods, Wights, and Ancestors emerge and influence both discrete and broad traditions at Raven’s Knoll by the community’s interpretation. Material phenomena are enhanced by their proximity (temporal, spatial, and experiential) individuals who are experiencing a heightened attunement through ritual experience. Worldly phenomena become imbued with significance – if not explicit meaning – that contributes to the further development of traditions and connote Heathens’ own contributions to traditions. These also position Heathenry as a living religion that is continually relaying new foundational expectations of traditions to be affected by returning participants for the benefit of new participants. By understanding Heathen traditions as affected and affective we can also examine how other local and regional Heathen communities reinforce their own traditions by the underlying ideologies from which distinctions arise. I hope to briefly address examples such as the Reconstruction/Innovation debate as range of permissiveness rather than a strict binary, the fallacious “Tradition” of white supremacist and misogynist Heathen groups, and how Unverifiable Personal Gnosis becomes essential to communally acceptable Gnosis.