At least one deployed naval ship is holding religious services for servicemen who practice the Norse pagan religion — a.k.a. “Heathens.”
The USS John C. Stennis, a carrier currently operating in the Persian Gulf, says its hosting Heathen services in its chapel for a “small, committed” group of sailors. According to an announcement from the Navy ship, Heathenry is “practiced by a small, committed group of Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier.”
Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Joshua Wood, from Eagle River, Alaska, is John C. Stennis’ Heathen lay leader. Wood has practiced Heathenry for over five years.
“I took a world mythology class in high school and that opened my eyes to the Nordic Gods,” said Wood.
Wood, who was raised Roman Catholic, found Heathenry’s teachings within the religion’s Eddas aligned with his personal beliefs more than the monotheistic philosophies he was raised with. The Eddas, two separate works of poems and prose, are the largest collections of Viking mythology and are essential pieces of work for Heathens.
This is a man who truly values the religion, and he did all the work needed to become a leader for others who practice the faith or are interested in it. (He also has the Constitutional right to do just that, in case anyone tries to stop him.)
What’s surprising is that it doesn’t seem like anyone really is trying to stop him, which is a nice change of pace. Aside from some commenters on conservative news sites — one said, “This is NOT THE SAME NAVY I spent 20 years in” — there’s no evidence he faced any major discrimination or oppression.
That’s great news. It’s also reminiscent of what we saw in April of last year in a different branch of the U.S. military. At that time, the Army’s faith-based exemption allowing Sikh servicemen to keep their beards was applied — for the first time — to someone who identified as a Heathen.
For Wood, this couldn’t be a better result. He’s getting to practice his faith while helping others see the benefits of nature-based religions over imperialist Abrahamic ones.
Wood said he wants Sailors, whether they’re practicing Heathens or just curious, to know that they are not alone and are welcome to come to any informal ceremony, called a sumbel. It was at one of these sumbels where he met Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Joshua Shaikoski.
“Since a lot of Norway and Scandinavia are covered in forests and mountains, it makes sense that the gods the ancient Heathens worshiped are land-based,” said Shaikoski. “We do a lot of praying to the god of seafarers, Njord.”
I may not be a Heathen in the technical religious sense, but I am a heathen in the cultural sense that I don’t accept mainstream religions, so I suppose we should all stick together. That’s not to mention the fact that everyone should be guaranteed the right to worship as they see fit (as long as it doesn’t hurt other people) — even if they are in a religious minority. The people running the USS Stennis deserve credit for taking religious freedom seriously.
(Image via Shutterstock)