Obviously, all religions come with certain expectations about conduct. There will probably always be disagreements about the finer points, but there are still overarching themes. There are certain rituals and observances with traditions you’re at least implicitly expected to use. Or to find a sufficiently similar approximation.
But major lifestyle changes? Heathenry doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of dogma, and explicitly didactic stuff like Havamal is mostly common sense, so I didn’t expect any major changes. They happened anyway.
When I swore my pledge in preparation for a lifelong oath, one of the requirements I set for myself was that my oath ring had to be on during waking hours, and other religious jewelry should ideally be worn, especially if I was leaving the house.
For the first two weeks, I didn’t wear my oath ring to bed. The natural chemical balance of my skin runs acidic and salty, so it tarnishes every metal I wear, except for stainless steel. (Probably purer gold alloys, too. But I don’t wear gold. Sorry, Gullveig.) My oath ring is made of copper, so I kept it on the altar to prevent my skin from damaging it, and because I was paranoid about rolling over on it and snapping it. This meant climbing out of bed as soon as I was alert, so I could put everything on.
I used to wake up at a pretty normal time, but then spend several hours catching up on social media, sneaking naps, and collecting myself before finally making coffee around 11AM. Putting myself in a situation where I had to get out of bed the instant I realized I was awake has forced me to start my day earlier. I may still crawl back into bed to stay warm and check feeds, but I definitely start my day a few hours earlier and catch myself looking for ways to get a head start on being productive. I suddenly have so much more time to get things done.
And considering I have ADHD, which often comes with bizarre sleep issues (more on that here) this was a feat. I have struggled for years to keep myself up at a “normal” time. Now that I’ve managed it, I crave it. Melatonin and coffee are still useful things to have on hand, and I’ll throw in the occasional nightcap, but these are all in pursuit of a functional relationship with sleep and daylight.
Religion has also nudged me into being more active. When I didn’t have the budget or the craft skills to dress up my shrines to my liking, I relied on found objects picked up on walks. I was walking upwards of 7 miles a day to collect cute rocks and offerings. I’m out of shape at the moment, but now that the weather’s a little kinder I’ll be right back to that level in no time flat.
There’s also a lot more emphasis on trying to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Part of that was downsizing to identify a manageable workload. The rest of it was picking up new skills and advancing the ones I already had. If you can cook well enough for yourself when you were used to prepackaged food, that’s an achievement on its own. But when you cook for the gods, the pressure is on to make more exciting choices and expand your repertoire.
And when idols are pricey to buy, and the ones on the market don’t suit your style, the next logical step is to figure out how to make your own. Which, incidentally, made me far more motivated to tidy up the yard in search of workable wood and finally learn how to properly work an axe.
Being a heathen has also drastically altered my relationship with alcohol. I was never an alcoholic (thank the gods) but I had a horrible tendency to binge and get blackout drunk on the rare occasion that I did drink. If I bought alcohol, it was a matter of finding the balance of a tolerable flavor, good price and sufficiently high %ABV. If someone else provided it, and didn’t intervene, I’d just grab whatever they permitted. I didn’t drink for pleasure. I just drank to get drunk.
You’d think, from the outside, that heathenry would encourage drinking, since it’s frequently included in our group rituals and we take our cues from the supposedly very sloshy Vikings. The Hávamál suggests something pretty different, though:
-  Less good there lies | than most believe
- In ale for mortal men;
- For the more he drinks | the less does man
- Of his mind the mastery hold.
-  Over beer the bird | of forgetfulness broods,
- And steals the minds of men;
- With the heron’s feathers | fettered I lay
- And in Gunnloth’s house was held.
-  Drunk I was, | I was dead-drunk,
- When with Fjalar wise I was;
- ‘Tis the best of drinking | if back one brings
- His wisdom with him home.
Bearing in mind that alcohol snatches your wits has made me more likely to refuse, even when the opportunity is right in front of me at no apparent cost. Faceplanting on walls isn’t a good look. And I’m sure the gods find it funny, but what’s funny once is just really sad when you do it regularly. The real cost is a lot higher than what’s immediately obvious.
Which is something that having my fingertip crushed in a door during a bender put into painfully sharp focus.
So, I take the apple juice instead of the wine. Make instead of buy. Try to sleep and try to be mindful of my consumption and be generous with what I have. Try to be whatever it is the gods seem like they’re nudging me towards.
Wild goose chases aside (tricksters gonna trick), they haven’t really led me astray so far.