An in-depth examination of American Heathenry and of those who practice and live according to its ethic

American Heathens

The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement

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Jennifer Snook

"American Heathens is an extremely valuable work of highly original and well-grounded scholarship. This book is a quantum leap forward beyond what earlier scholars have done. Snook provides a theoretically astute analysis of the Heathen movement, and a much more nuanced discussion of the dynamics of such issues as gender roles, communal identity formation, and relationships to other New Religious Movement and mainstream American society and religion than other works on this topic. I fully expect that American Heathens will become a standard work in the emerging sub-field of Pagan Studies, and be of great interest to scholars and teachers."
Michael Strmiska, Assistant Professor of World History at SUNY-Orange, and author of Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives

American Heathens is the first in-depth ethnographic study about the largely misunderstood practice of American Heathenry (Germanic Paganism). Jennifer Snook—who has been Pagan since her early teens and a Heathen since eighteen—traces the development and trajectory of Heathenry as a new religious movement in America, one in which all identities are political and all politics matter.

Snook explores the complexities of pagan reconstruction in today’s divisive political climate. She considers the impact of social media on Heathen collectivities, and offers a glimpse of the world of Heathen meanings, rituals, and philosophy.

In American Heathens, Snook presents the stories and perspectives of modern practitioners in engaging detail. She treats Heathens as members of a religious movement, rather than simply a subculture reenacting myths and stories of enchantment. Her book shrewdly addresses how people construct ethnicity in a reconstructionist (historically-minded) faith system with no central authority.



Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).



"Snook has written a superb insider account of the interesting issues surrounding the revival of pagan traditions among religiously disaffected Americans seeking to (re)construct identities as heathens.... Based on fieldwork, interviews, observation of rituals, and the author's own experiences as a longtime pagan/heathen, this study reveals Snook as a skilled ethno-anthropologist. This is a helpful and needed guide to this diverse and fascinating subculture. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

"This insightful and detailed study, based on fieldwork, interviews, and online research, addresses a few of the most pressing aspects of contemporary religious movements and Heathenry.... American Heathens is an important read for scholars working on forms of contemporary paganism and those interested in specific discourses on race in the U.S. The study does much to elevate the terms of debate around the role of racism and nationalism in New Religious Movements. Its careful methodology and thoughtful analysis are exemplary, and its appearance should inspire more nuanced scholarly discussions of paganism."
Western Folklore

"American Heathens provides both an overview of the various discourses, practices, and social networks that constitute the Heathen current in the United States, as well as analyses of that current in terms of social constructivist theory.... [The] topics are all treated with great care and nuance—yielding insightful analyses of facets of a new religious movement of increasing global importance that has not previously been explored by any within academia.... [T]he academic merits and complete novelty in terms of the subject of American Heathens makes it required reading for any scholars engaging with contemporary Neopaganism in general or with Heathenry in particular."
Nova Religio




1. Becoming Heathen
  Mapping the Neopagan Landscape
  American Heathenry 101
  American Heathenry in Scholarship and the Media
  The Influence of “the Political”
  Researching American Heathenry

2. Fleeing the Cross and the Pentacle: Resistance and Opposition in the Maintenance of Collective Identity
  Not Like Them: Constructing Identity Through the Not-Self
  Resisting Oppression: Opposition to the Mainstream
  Negotiating Authenticity: Opposition to the Alternatives
  Boundaries in Contradiction

3. Neo-Heathens and Reconstructionists: The Project and Problems of Constructing a Heathen Nomos
  Shame: The Social Mechanics of a Social Emotion
  Authenticity Wars: Innovation Versus Historical Accuracy
  The (De)Construction of Community and Equality
  Heathen Practices: Creating a Socioreligious Foundation
  Heathen Fluff: Contested Realms of Authenticity
  The Hammer Rite: (In)Authenticity and Community Practice
  The Nine Noble Virtues: Authenticity and Community Norms
  The Loki Debate
  Patron Deities and Spiritual Seekers

4. Cyber Hofs and Armchair Vikings: Building Community through Social Networks (but Not without Problems)
  Religion and Virtual Spaces
  The Influence of the Virtual on Modern Heathenry
  Formal Heathen Organizations: Politics and Bureaucracy
  Local Tribes
  Diffuse Groups
  The Virtual Hof
  Virtual Battles and Community Politics

5. Valkyries and Frithweavers: Women’s Shifting Roles—from Warriors to Domestic Caretakers
  Reframing Gender and Resistance
  Reading History: Finding a Place for Heathen Women
  Navigating Gender: The Masculine Ethic
  No Fluffy Bunnies Allowed
  Politicizing Gender: Feminism Meets Antifeminism
  Resistance to Patriarchy
  Frith and Domesticity: The Sacred Mundane
  Wisewomen: Seidkonas and Völvas

6. Honoring the Ancestors: Dealing with Issues of Race, Ethnicity, and Whiteness in Constructing an Ethnic Folkway
  Who Gets to Be Heathen? Race, Ethnicity, and Belonging
  “White” Ethnic Identity
  Negotiating Racism, Pride, and Faith
  American Heathenry as an Indigenous Tradition
  Honoring the Ancestors: Constructing Bloodlines
  American Heathenry as a Spiritual System
  Tribalism: Depoliticizing American Heathenry
  American Heathenry as an Ethnic Folkway
  Navigating Race: The Folkish versus Universalist Dichotomy
  Identity: Textual Constructions of Antiracism and Belonging

7. The Long Journey
  The Conundrum of American Reconstructionist Faith
  Collective Identity and Belonging
  When Heathens Go Virtual
  Challenging Notions of Gender
  Examining Whiteness and the “Folk”

Glossary of (American) Heathen Terms


About the Author(s)

Jennifer Snook is an Instructional Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi.

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