Learning about Learning

Asatru, or Heathenism, is known as the ‘one with the homework’ and for good reason. For many people new to the faith, and those who have a deeper experience, the push is for books. Books and more books. Which, spoiler alert, I have a total love for. Although there’s a lot of information you can learn, and books are a way to do that, there are other ways. Books might not be your thing, you might have severe dyslexia, be unable to keep focus on written texts, or not have pennies to spend on copies for yourself. So, before you go asking Book-Santa to bring you a whole mini-library of texts that you then have to do the hard work of slogging through, there’s a few things to consider first.

A good few years ago, the education literature exploded with a shiny new theory of learning styles. The theory stated that each person has a predominant learning style, that is to say that each human being can learn information in many ways, but there is generally one which will be most effective for that person (which is why traditional school book learning might not match everyone, and put some peeps at a disadvantage). When the theory was first proposed, there were four types recognised: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic (can be referred to as the VARK Model). Visual learners learn best with images, art, colours and diagrams, auditory learners through listening to or talking with others about the topic, reading learners through reading and writing, and kinesthetic or physical learners through practical application, or doing. Now, there are more variants recognised: people who learn best by reading whilst listening to music, to those who prefer solitary over social learning. Now, there are many criticisms of the learning styles approach, it’s not universally accepted as being able to be scientifically proven (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/the-myth-of-learning-styles/557687/ and https://www.thecut.com/2015/12/one-reason-the-learning-styles-myth-persists.html), but can be a way to reflect and approach the mountain of learning that can come with starting (or continuing) a heathen path.

To learn about heathenism, you may want to initially look at books, in which case your local library may have copies of books you can borrow for free, or there may be e-reader or pre-loved copies of books available for cheaper than new. You could look for podcasts, audiobooks or videos as a better way to access material. You may want to consider going through a ceremony, blot or prayer with dance, actions or movement to enhance the experience. For those who prefer reading and writing, you’re in luck! There are books. Hundreds of them.

The learning styles may not be a proven theory, but it’s still of use in Heathenry. Consider your experience of learning up to now: what’s it mostly been based in? Chances are, you’ll have already developed learning habits which may override your preferred learning style. So, before you go off diving into the stacks, consider your own learning preferences, it might just help you out in the long run. If books are your thing, but you don’t have a lot of time and money, maybe consider a free podcast or borrow an audiobook from your local library. Consider creating art as a way to connect you to the gods, the land or the ancestors. Dance in your next ceremony or ritual (if it’s with others, ask permission first, otherwise deep and serious connecting moment, and ta da! Surprise energetic dance with trance drums and Vuvuzela!) Consider whether you have a preference for learning alone, or learning with others, learning alongside music or silence, learning in a particular environment such as a quiet room, library or coffee shop.

If there’s information that you’re finding difficult to take in, maybe try accessing it in a different format: does it make a difference discussing it with others, listening to it, seeing it represented as a diagram, or creating something yourself based on it? Do you prefer reading academic material over seeing or creating artwork? Do you prefer discussing topics online in posts or on video chats? There’s a lot you can potentially learn, and many ways you can approach it, so ask yourself what time do you have available for learning about your faith? That might partially dictate the form your learning takes. If you have 30 minutes when it’s children’s nap time, how do you want to spend those 30 minutes? Equally with a small child in the house, you might not want to have a lot of expensive books about, or have altars/ art works/ framed pictures within potential reach. (small child + determination = cheerful chaos) For those with neurodiverse conditions, or those who manage physical conditions, you may want information in a particular format. Those heathens in prisons have limited access to materials or rituals, so may have to consider what is most important to them to put on a prison library request form or to ask the chaplains about. Heathens with social anxiety may be more relaxed in learning and practising solo than in groups. Visually impaired heathens may want documents in large print, audiobooks, texts read out, or tactile artwork.

For any heathen there’s lots to learn. It’s like a faith fractal, each iteration brings more depth and more directions to explore. There are different ways you can explore your own faith, and if some are deeply familiar to you, consider some of the others for a different experience. Does music elevate or detract from your rituals and faith experiences? Do you prefer online discussions over in-person ones? Take time to reflect on your own learning and where you want it to take you, and maybe consider a potentially different style of learning along the way.

This article isn’t going into what material you might want to learn about, as I Can’t Tell You How to Heathen. If you do definitely totally want book recs, here are the three I generally recommend people to start with:

Crossley-Holland, K The Penguin Book of Norse Myths (newer edition 2018)

Paxson, D Essential Asatru (2007, or new edition releasing 2021)

Graham-Campbell, J The Viking World (2001 or newer edition 2013)

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