The Evolution of Theodish Belief: Part I

by Garman Lord, copywrited, 1995
first published in the Lammas 1995 issue of THEOD Magazine, PO Box 8062, Watertown, NY, 13601

Introduction:

    To many people in Heathenry today, Theodish Belief is a "mystery religion"...at least in the sense that, for most, it seemed to appear one day out of nowhere, and just exactly where it came from is a mystery! The truth is, however, that Theodish Belief is pretty straightforward Heathenry, it has been around for quite awhile, and there isn't a thing mysterious about it.

    For over a year now, THEOD Magazine has been running a series of excerpts from a thesis written by Dr. Jeff Kaplan detailing much of the early history of the modern Heathen Reawakening, especially the origins and evolution of contemporary Asatru. At THEOD, we think that history is important, that it's a lot easier to know where you're  if you have a clear idea of where you have been, and we hope to continue this series with updates, including the words and accounts of contemporary Asatru leaders themselves. But of course there is more to contemporary Heathenry than Asatru, and always has been. Most people are at least dimly aware that there is also Theodish Belief. They know in at least a vague way that Theodish Belief has been around for awhile, that it's somewhat different from Asatru, that it's important somehow, but often that is about all they know. The fact is, the majority of the readership of THEOD Magazine are not Theodish but Asatru themselves, and some have even questioned why we don't say more about Theodish Belief in THEOD. Actually, the reason is because the majority of our readership is Asatru, and the less we say about ourselves, the more space we have in our pages to carry articles of general interest to them and to all Heathen! THEOD Magazine, despite its unusual Anglo-Saxon flavor, is a non-sectarian popular Heathen magazine, and we like to serve the whole Heathen community of which we form only a small part.

    One does, however, get to a certain point where part of that service must include telling the inside story on a form of Heathenry that so many have expressed curiosity about these days, that many consider mysterious, and that some even consider somehow freakish and anomalous. No account of the Reawakening would be complete without a word or two about Theodish Belief, and what better place to tell such a story than at the source itself. I can certainly say that I myself know a lot about Theodish Belief if anyone does, since I was the one who founded it. That may not necessarily make me the best person to write about it, of course; understood. It does, however, guarantee that, of all people, I can probably tell the story of Theodish Belief with the fewest footnotes!

Part I, The Wiccan Years

The earliest roots of Theodish Belief are inevitably entangled with the webs of the early spiritual development of myself, Garman Lord. That began in the late sixties; 1967, in fact, when, like so many young people of that time, I turned on, tuned in and dropped out. That's right; like most great (and small) artists, I had my "bohemian period". It was of course a great time to be bohemian, that fleeting age of "flower power", and I was hooked on the wave of creativity and spirituality that just seemed to overwhelm the country back then. You might say that I, who up to then had been pretty much of an agnostic, suddenly "got religion". It wasn't Christian religion, which I had
left behind in my Navy days, or anything even close, unless one counts "New Age" as "close" to Christianity. It was in fact the usual street-artist hippie-type mysticism that seems so silly to look back on now, but seemed so awe-inspiring then, when oneself and all one's friends were caught up in it and spending endless summers together mellowing with the flow of it all. And besides, the music was great! The real difference, of course, between then and now, was something in the air; let's just call it "hope", as opposed to today's general climate of despair. In those days, to be young was to really believe that nothing was quite impossible!

In those days, I was a follower of gurus, from whom I learned much, until I inevitably found myself becoming something of a guru myself. I knew things like Tarot and Astrology and I Ching and even a little bit about runes(!) and soon accumulated a street retinue of fans who pretty much followed me everywhere I went, hearing my words of wisdom, getting their fortunes told and such. It may all sound quite silly now, but in some ways one must understand these beginnings to properly understand the rest. The rest began
to unfold in the jaded-aftermath late summer of seventy-one, when the Beatles had already broken up, when men driving high-tech golf carts around on the Moon was getting pretty ho-hum, and when I woke up one morning and realized something about myself; I was a witch! I hadn't any clear idea at all what a witch was, actually; all I had was the certainty that I somehow was one. I went around all the rest of that particular day so full of the revelation, peering mysteriously at people, who would look back quite puzzled at me, just
overflowing with some sense of my secret self for which I had as yet no words. As the idea seasoned wordlessly in the back of my mind, however, I began to get a glimmering that whatever it was with me, it was "in my blood"; something somehow "ancestral". Don't ask me why "ancestral" should have been a key. Nobody that I knew of was thinking about "ancestral" in those days; even Alex Haley wouldn't be discovering his "Roots" for another five years. But in fact, it was that, as it turned out. And it was also an omen.

It was only days later that I first began to hear from our town's first Wiccan High Priestess (AlGard), who began a campaign of badgering me to come into her coven. She needed a High Priest, and the Goddess had told her that I was it. It didn't sound like my sort of thing, but then when she said "the Old Religion", that re-rang my "ancestral" chime, and in time I came in, bringing most of my pied-piper hippie following in with me. I was quickly ordained and initiated the lot of them myself, out in a country meadow, under the full moon of Hallows, 1971.

It had jelled for me that indeed "the Old Religion" was what I had waked up full of the sense of that sunny summer morning, and "witch" was the closest I could then come with a name for it. I had realized long before that Christianity was bogus, and had long ago lost my delight in daily believing the impossible, at the same time as my mystic "New Age" experiences were convincing me that not all religious ideas were bogus. But if Christianity was bogus, though everyone seemed to believe in it, then what was true? I had to know; it was becoming a nagging philosophical puzzle. Indeed, I had thought, we couldn't always have been Christian; the Church was an historical
phenomenon, and we had a pre-history, surely. What had we been before? And, wasn't it just possible that, whatever it was, it was somehow truer than Christianity, so that perhaps we had all just taken a wrong historical turning? Stranger things have happened. Couldn't we at least go back and have a look? And if so, how could that be done?

Wicca told me flat out that it had the answer. It was all in an ancient "Book of Shadows" that had somehow survived the "Burning Times" and was, fortunately for all of us, currently safely in the hands of my High Priestess. It was awhile before I actually got to see it, of course ("Lady Sheba" hadn't yet scandalized Wicca by commercially publishing her version yet), and when I finally did, with instructions to copy it out in my own hand of write, I was disappointed, to say the least! At that time I was the farthest thing from a scholar, but I did have a reasonably good country boy-miscellaneous home-made education, and I wasn't stupid, or at least not that stupid. Even in those naive days, I was sophisticated enough to see immediately, just by my own amateur analysis, that it was a crude literary forgery. Once my High Priestess had managed to convince me that she hadn't just made it up, I had thought at first that it must be a redaction or even a pastiche (though of course I didn't know either of those words back then!), perhaps damaged in transmission over time, and had begun seeking out what were likely the "ancient" parts in it, and finding nothing that could possibly be ancient in it at all. In other words, it could not possibly have been "handed down" very far, and therefore could not possibly be what it was
represented to be! I was just sick about my discovery; it was a crushing spiritual blow.

I was also vocal enough about it for others to become alarmed. It soon became clear that I was becoming a marked man, a heretic and a blasphemer, and my days in Wicca were numbered. But other webs were already a-weaving, unbeknownst to me. I had also noticed by then that our High Priestess was a fool; a power-mad egomaniac who was wantonly ruining many of the personal lives, marriages and such that she, as our spiritual leader, High Priestess and eventually Witch Queen, had in her charge. In fact, she seemed to
purposely be, as one bright female covenor put it, "creating emotional turmoils and feeding on the energy". Sounds like an old story by now, of course, but this was 1971, when the world of Wicca was young and green, as were the people in it, and nobody knew anything. In Yuletide of seventy-one, then, there having been several drastic crises already in our coven only since Hallows, though I still revered her, I was astonished nonetheless to realize that our all-wise High Priestess, as a spiritual mentor, had none of, say, my own divinatory skills for finding out what was really good for people and what was really going to happen to them, and I forced upon her the notion that if she was to be Queen, what she needed was a panel of wise men and wizards for advisors, or the consequences would obviously be catastrophic. I myself still thought back then that Wicca meant "The Craft of the Wise", just as I had been told, and was struck by the fact that it nonetheless had no Wisdom Tradition, and that our Queen-to-be was so obviously nothing of the kind... wise, that is... for all that she was extraordinarily cunning. My term for our proposed "panel" was something I had stumbled upon in Websters
while looking up the word "witch"; it was "Witan". Our panel, as I told her, would be called "The Witan", and I would recruit them, from the ranks of the various wise gurus and teachers I had known in my street days, who had taught me so many arcane arts, only to lose touch with them when I disappeared into the mysterious Wiccan Triangle. And that too was an omen. That moment was the birth of Theodish Belief.

As it happened, that quest, off upon which I subsequently went as soon as the weather broke, was as good an excuse as any for the HPS to quietly kick me out of the coven. It was purposely left uncertain just exactly when I might come back, unless, of course, I could learn to mend my ways. I soon recruited the nucleus of our Witan, but while I was gone the coven went ballistic with the first of many breakups, and we Witan were left all dressed up with no place to go. So we founded our own eclectic occult/mystic research group, and in 1972 formally founded our own Wicca coven under my own High Priesthood, but this time with a difference; we were "The Coven Witan of Anglo-Saxon Wicca".

Obviously, my religious search was still "ancestral", and we were already learning something. I had begun to evolve the notion that maybe the reason Wicca seemed so strange and hadn't been working for me was because Wicca was "Keltic Wicca", and I was an Englishman. But I reasoned that there must have been English witches too, in those same islands, and maybe it was their craft that we really needed to be rediscovering.

1972 was a strange and disconcerting season. At the Munich Olympics, Olga Korbut was reinventing gymnastics  and slaying the crowd with perfect tens, while Palestinian terrorists were slaying Israeli athletes with real bullets and in Washington DC Congress and the media were setting up to slay the Nixon presidency over Watergate. Most Heathen are aware of just how crucial that period of 1972-73 was for them, too; it marked the birth of the Reawakening. For our parts, little did we know, as we began organizing the "Coven Witan"
that we were not the only "ancestral religion" enthusiasm that was cropping up at the time, in America and elsewhere. Unbeknownst to us, a continent away, in ever-fermenting San Francisco, Steve McNallen had already published the first issue of a newsletter we might have been curious about, had we known about it; The Runestone, vol I no 1, Spring, 1972, journal of the Viking Brotherhood and later Asatru Free Assembly. Half an ocean away in the other direction, on Ostara (April 20, 1972), Icelandic poet bondi Sveinbj”rn
Beinteinsson was founding the Asatruar felagid. In England, John Yeowell was founding the Odinic Rite, and in 1973 Else Christensen, living in Canada at the time, published the first of many issues of The Odinist. Other than us, all of these things were of course oriented to the Norse corpus; we were the only ones marching to an exclusively Anglo-Saxon drummer. Their spirit was a "sacralization", if you will, of the philosophy of "Odinism", an obscure cultus which had been around here and there since its beginnings with Australian C. Rud Mills in the thirties. We Angelseax Witan had never heard of Odinism, either. Odinism was of course primarily socio-cultural, only
dabbling in the old gods to exploit them as a kind of nationalistic motif or backdrop for its own cultural and political agenda. To American Steve McNallen, that was putting the cart before the horse, and the interesting part, to him, was really the most neglected part, the religious implications.

It is not easy to assign an exact chronology to the sequence of events at that time, as much crucial documentation is rare or lost, memory has dimmed and exact dates are hard to fix. You have to be involved in the bare beginnings of something like this to see how that happens. One does not realize at the time, when one conceives of and pursues an immediate inspiration or enthusiasm, that one may be making some sort of history. Especially, in the midst of a  hippie-hovel hand-to-mouth existence, life is a constant turmoil, few of the really significant things that do happen are anticipated or planned, things don't get written down, and when something significant does happen it may not be all that easy to remember in the tumble of subsequent events whether it happened last month or last year. One finds oneself constructing frameworks of benchmark events as a key to recollections. Edred Thorsson, having discovered the writings of Michael Aquino during his year as a Satanist, was doing volunteer work in an Austin occult bookshop, discovering Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny and beginning his freshman year at the U of Texas in 1973, the summer of "The Exorcist". Like Edred, we of the Anglo-Saxon Coven Witan knew nothing of this phenomenon called "Asatru" that was sprouting up simultaneously with us, of course, and all we actually had in common with it was that it was, for all of us, the various quests for our ancestral Prechristian religious roots. Asatru's orientation, however, was patently Heathen, and never seemed to owe very much to Wicca. In 1972 and '73 we were not Heathen or anything close, but still patently Wiccan, and our "Anglo-Saxon" paganry was still pretty much the same old Irish Stew, albeit served up on English china. It was a bit like Ray Buckland's "Seax Wicca", and we might easily have drifted into Seax Wicca at
the time, except that it hadn't been invented yet either, and The Tree did not appear until 1973. It has always seemed my peculiar wyrd to generally be thought crazy, by everybody who knows me, for being anywhere from one to ten years ahead of my time in practically everything in life; thought crazy before the fact because nobody else is doing it yet, and then thought crazy after the fact for not being the first to write a book about it and cash in!

There were of course the occasional "omens", too, had we known at the time how to read them. In Waelburges of 1972 ("Beltaine", to us at the time), I returned to the Wicca coven to crown our Queen, as previously arranged. It was a huge ritual in the same meadow as our mass initiation the previous Hallows, during which our Pretender declared that she would demonstrate her fitness for the Queenship by commanding all four elements. She had hardly spoken before it started to rain; she commanded the rain to stop, and it promptly stopped. She then bid the other elements send us each in turn some sign, and, while we were leaping the balefire, when a certain wrongdoer's turn came and he made his leap, his robe burst into flames. Sitting around the balefire after that little excitement, one of us now naked, we heard the ground near me begin to growl. Looking around, very much alarmed, I discovered that a portable record player was spinning, with its tone arm roving at random over the grooves of an LP of the Queen's preferred background music of Gregorian Chants. Laughing, I reached over to turn the machine off, only to discover that it already was off! And later, as we were
packing up and getting back into our convoy of cars, the queen's daughter called our attention to the night sky. Looking up, we all saw how a most extraordinary trick of clouds and moonlight had formed a huge and beautiful crown in the night sky. As we gazed at it in wonder, we saw the light shift and slowly form a number 2 in the middle of the crown. We all talked about "the two crowns" for years after that, without a clue amongst us, myself included, as to what the rebus-omen might mean. It was two years later, in the summer of 1974, while President Nixon was fleeing the Presidency, that Edred Thorsson, who knew little about runes at the time, was riding back from a farcical pilgramage to the home of a phony stage guru organized by his own "witch queen" when he heard out of nowhere the strange message, "Reyn til Runa", that would change his life.

Meanwhile, I myself was not very satisfied with the success of our quest for our ancient Heathenry, but did not know where to look or what else to do. I was only dimly aware of the sagas and Eddas, and it never once occurred to me that there might be something relevant in them. What was worst about it, too, was that the coven was never very successful, never attracted more than a handful of members, and our religious practices in it did not seem to be prospering us spiritually. For as hard-working and sincere a Wiccan High
Priest as I was, I always felt somehow totally "snake-bit"! But that, of course, was the beginning of the era of the Great Witch Wars, resulting in Wicca's takeover by its "Dianic" element and the breakup of the original Wicca into a thousand hyphenated forms, and nobody in Wicca was prospering, with the possible exception of a few commercial writers. If Wicca had any real gods, they surely would have been angry! We were getting nowhere. In 1975, as the North Vietnamese were starting to overrun Saigon, I went into
retreat, bumming my way around the country, refusing all company in my rituals and keeping the holidays myself, and by the spring of 1976 I was about to give it all up. At the full moon of June 1976, stone broke and alone in a fifth floor walkup flat, I announced to the "gods" that my service to them seemed to be earning me no thanks in return, and that if there was no turnaround in my personal life (such as finding a job, for instance), I planned to leave that service. The "gods" seemed merely offended by such whining, and by the full moon of America's Bicentennial, July Fourth 1976, not a thing was different. No fireworks, no celebration; things were in fact a little worse. It was as if my bluff had been called.

To me, there was nothing to do but lay out my hand. I cast a circle and renounced the gods, right on schedule; they seemed surprised, and protested that they were now going to do better by me, but I had spirit guides of my own at the time, who gathered round me and told me by automatic writing that I would be a fool to believe them, and so I sat down in my circle suddenly religionless and an outcast, wondering what would become of me next. But there was one card left up my sleeve that I had not played. I had, during that month, looked up "Anglo Saxons" in an encyclopedia, and come up with the names of the gods that the Anglo-Saxons had actually worshipped. They were not Diana and Kernunnos at all, but Woden and Frige, names heretofore unknown to me, which to my ear sounded merely barbarous. But I was out of options, and so I stood up and summoned Woden and Frige. And they came!

I saw nothing except a trick of the light through one of the curtains off in the north corner of the room, but I knew in a minute that the room was full of these powerful presences, and indifferently to the circle that I had cast; it might as well not have been there. I blinked a few times, and in blinking realized that with my eyes closed I could indeed see something, though through a veil darkly. I caught a flash of a fine lady in a white gown, and a big figure in battle harness who came up to me and wrapped me in a bear hug, then sat down next to me and said "What can I give you?"

I had, in my Wiccan career, seen many strange things, but this whole thing had come on so sudden and strong that I was frightened, and did not know what to say at first, so that Woden had to keep repeating his question. My fear and awe were making me back off from the experience, so rather than lose the contact I fell back on my more usual sundor-arts and began scrying in a bowl and trying to communicate by automatic writing, only to find that, with Woden, it was unnecessary, so that I finally managed to say that I did not
know him and did not know if I wanted to be obligated.

"Obligated how?" asked Woden. "Religiously." I said.

At this point, Woden moved a little closer, raising the hair on my neck, and said "Look; we are not talking about your religion here, but my religion, and my religion is gift-giving, and if you will not accept my gift it could go ill for both of us. Now, tell me, what can I give you?"

"How about a job?" I finally said.

"Done!" said Woden. "Anything else?"

"A good job!" I said.

"Did you think that I would give you a bad one?"

I had no answer for that, so that Woden chuckled, almost, I thought at the time, as if he was getting out of this one pretty light. He asked again if there was anything else, and I merely said that if I had a real job right now I would probably be the happiest man alive.

I was frankly rather anxious to be out of the harrowing encounter, and after a little more small talk bid my newfound friends farewell and began to puzzle over what had happened. The more I thought about it afterwards, the more convinced I became that my mind, out of my desperation, was only playing tricks.

Or so it seemed the next day, Monday, and on up into Tuesday, when suddenly out of the blue I was offered, and accepted, the job that I am still working to this day! In one week's time I went from impoverished hippie street artist to Middle Class Working Stiff with Blue Cross, mortgages and a Dental Plan. I had "dropped back in!"