CANADA – Last June, an online exchange set the stage for the creation of #HavamalWitches, a campaign that has sparked kudos and controversy in the Heathen community worldwide.
On June 27, Canadian gythia and now activist, Brynja Chleirich posted a meme from the group Feminists United to her Facebook page, which described a scientific study detailing how often women are talked over and silenced by men. Along with the meme she posted the comment:
Because it’s related to how I feel within my Heathen community and I’m gonna just grow a set of fortitude and leave this right here and go ponder or shit. Working with Heimdallr the past several years? This girl. I see.
The frustration that compelled Chleirich to make such a post was the result of being pushed to her limit: “I posted this meme because I reached my ultimate level of “nope.” I posted because it was an absolute reflection of how I felt as a solitary gythia within the Heathen community and ultimately illustrates my perceptions of how we, as women, are (either directly or indirectly) treated within the boundaries of what often seems “Heathenry As Defined By Men.”
The thread that followed became a discussion and opportunity for many other women and femmes to express frustration and anger. The commentary from these voices inspired Jade Pichette to create #HavamalWitches.
Pichette, who also serves the Heathen community as a gythia and works professionally as an outreach coordinator for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto spoke to The Wild Hunt about their motivation:
“I started the hashtag somewhat as just a form of venting,” Pichette explained, “but then we decided it was something that needed to continue.”
Although Pichette can take credit for originating #HavamalWitches, Pichette is quick to extend credit to the network of people involved in spreading the message. ”Quite frankly at this point the key organizers are any woman or femme who takes it up to critique sexism in the Heathen community, the hashtag was created by me, but is owned by all of us who speak up and create space in the face of misogyny.”
Part of Pichette’s day job includes using social media for outreach, so creating and thinking about thought-provoking messages is something that comes with the territory. #HavamalWitches is also in part by the popular “I am the witch the Havamal warns you about” meme.
“But the core was the sexism that I have seen over the years within the Heathen community, and how increasingly women I knew were leaving the Heathen community.” Pichette went on to explain.
The phenomenon of women feeling alienated and pushed out of Heathen communities was also something that Chleirich personally experienced, and was part of why she decided to take a stand and step outside of her comfort zone
“I have, personally, never spoken out about any such ‘political’ issues, especially one of gender,” Chleirich explained. “However, after over a decade of being denied what I feel to be my own personal power of ritual and its subsequent ability to bring to the folk ‘experiences’ of a deeply profound and personal revelation, it is time to speak out.”
“I had been ready to completely walk away from the community who, I felt, should have been a larger support of my Heathen journey.”
The action of #HavamalWitches is reaching out of social media and into the physical world. At this year’s Kaleidoscope Gathering
, to be held at Raven’s Knoll in Ontario, August 2 -7, there will be a panel discussion featuring Pichette, Chleirich, and Alli Keeley, another original poster of the hashtag.
Anticipation for the discussion is high, and the intention is to open the floor to folk of all genders, and to examine how to create a more inclusive Heathen community.
Keeley says, “(The) panel is to be an open discussion about the inherent misogyny in the heathen community. How ingrained it can be from small comments of ‘Well since Thor is in the Ve so should his wife’ to outright belligerent comments like ‘Viking women should be wearing apron dresses.’ ”
Chleirich also has high hopes for #HavamalWitches in action. “There is an incredible need of the women-folk of the Heathen community both in Canada, and worldwide to be heard, seen and valued for the experiences they have brought not only to their hearths and private practice, but also to those experiences shown and effected within the Heathen public community and ritual experience at large.”
Chleirch is also clear that the definition of “woman” includes any self-identifying/presenting woman.
Despite receiving worldwide support, not all response to #HavamalWitches has been positive, and many supporters have been threatened and abused online for using the hashtag, or posting related memes.
For Chleirich, who was recently the target of a violent assault, this was especially troubling. “I was shocked at some of the backlash purporting men’s perspectives at being made to feel bullied, shamed or off-put due to our obviously shocking statements.”
“The irony knows no bounds in this regard,” Chleirich continues. “One particular statement I received, personally, was ‘When we [men] feel victimized we can get mean.’ As a woman who survived an attempted murder assault Monday, July 10, 2017, this is clearly a trigger on monumental levels.”
The negative reactions have galvanized the need for #HavamalWitches in the eyes of many, as Pichette says.
“Yes there has been backlash. There have been many who have denied that any sexism or misogyny exists in the Heathen community. Some have critiqued the women participating as ‘rocking the boat.’
“In some cases women have actually received threats for their participation, which both concerns and frankly angers me. However, in many cases the backlash helps to prove the point of why #HavamalWitches is so important to our community.”
While the hashtag originated in Canada and has turned into an active topic for discussion on Canadian Heathen forums and at gatherings, the discourse #HavamalWitches is prompting is of value everywhere.
“#HavamalWitches is a global issue, Heathens from all over the world including Canada, US, UK, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark and more have participated. If you are a woman or femme who has experienced misogyny is the Heathen community, please take up #HavamalWitches for yourself, you own it, we own it. We are the Witches the Hávamál warns you about, and you are not alone.” urges Pichette.