American Heathens

The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement

Jennifer Snook
Book Cover

PB: $30.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1097-9
Publication: Jul 15

HC: $94.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1096-2
Publication: Jul 17

Ebook: $30.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1098-6

234 pages
6 x 9
1 figure, 7 halftones

An in-depth examination of American Heathenry and of those who practice and live according to its ethic


American Heathens is the first in-depth ethnographic study about the largely misunderstood practice of American Heathenry (Germanic Paganism). Jennifer Snook—who has been Pagan since her early teens and a Heathen since eighteen—traces the development and trajectory of Heathenry as a new religious movement in America, one in which all identities are political and all politics matter.

Snook explores the complexities of pagan reconstruction and racial, ethnic and gender identity in today’s divisive political climate. She considers the impact of social media on Heathen collectivities, and offers a glimpse of the world of Heathen meanings, rituals, and philosophy.

In American Heathens, Snook presents the stories and perspectives of modern practitioners in engaging detail. She treats Heathens as members of a religious movement, rather than simply a subculture reenacting myths and stories of enchantment. Her book shrewdly addresses how people construct ethnicity in a reconstructionist (historically-minded) faith system with no central authority.


"Jennifer Snook’s rich ethnography, American Heathens challenges simplistic characterizations of this relatively unknown community and sheds light on the complexities involved in trying to resurrect this gendered, white ethnic, religious identity in the midst of a society embroiled in the contentious politics of difference. This book is notable not only for being the first full-length study of this religion, but also for its theoretical approach.... Overall, the book has several strengths. It is an insightful, nuanced treatment of a fascinating subculture, based on extensive interviewing and a dozen years of ethnographic immersion. On a theoretical level, Snook adds to our understanding of the ways in which identity construction is as much about differentiation as it is about identification by analyzing not one, but several dimensions of conflict over the creation, negotiation, and maintenance of group boundaries." —Contemporary Sociology

"From beginning to end, Snook is open and reflexive about her insider identity, and it is difficult to imagine that such an in-depth study could have been undertaken by a researcher who was not an insider.... This is a comprehensive, revealing, and utterly engaging discussion of the complex and evolving politics of identity in this new religious community. Irrespective of their prior level of knowledge about the movement, readers inside and outside the academy are likely to understand modern Heathenry a great deal better as a result of reading this book."
—American Journal of Sociology

" Snook’s book, which is based on her long-term ethnographic research, addresses how American Heathens negotiate issues of race, ethnicity, and identity.... Snook wants to point out that American Heathenry is misunderstood, claiming that it differs a lot from the rest of the Neo-Pagan movements and shall deserve its own specific classification.... American Heathens provides a fine introduction to the subject."
Religious Studies Review

"American Heathens is an informative, engaging, and well-written text by American sociologist and Heathen practitioner Jennifer Snook.... It is a valuable contribution adding to the landscape of Pagan studies, different from ethnographies focused on particular communities. She does a good job at conveying the spectrum of diversity of attitudes and orientations.... (This) is quite a good book, and is well-grounded in the sociological literature."
—The Pomegranate

"American Heathens is an extremely valuable work of highly original and well-grounded scholarship. This book is a quantum leap beyond the earlier literature. Snook provides a theoretically astute analysis of the Heathen movement and an exceptionally nuanced discussion of the dynamics of such issues as gender roles, communal identity formation, and relationships to other new religious movements and mainstream American religions. American Heathens will surely become a standard text for scholars and teachers in the emerging field of Pagan studies."
Michael Strmiska, Assistant Professor of World History at SUNY-Orange and editor of Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives

"Snook has written a superb insider account of the interesting issues surrounding the revival of pagan traditions among religiously disaffected Americans seeking to (re)construct identities as heathens.... Based on fieldwork, interviews, observation of rituals, and the author's own experiences as a longtime pagan/heathen, this study reveals Snook as a skilled ethno-anthropologist. This is a helpful and needed guide to this diverse and fascinating subculture. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

" This insightful and detailed study, based on fieldwork, interviews, and online research, addresses a few of the most pressing aspects of contemporary religious movements and Heathenry.... American Heathens is an important read for scholars working on forms of contemporary paganism and those interested in specific discourses on race in the U.S. The study does much to elevate the terms of debate around the role of racism and nationalism in New Religious Movements. Its careful methodology and thoughtful analysis are exemplary, and its appearance should inspire more nuanced scholarly discussions of paganism."
Western Folklore

"American Heathens provides both an overview of the various discourses, practices, and social networks that constitute the Heathen current in the United States, as well as analyses of that current in terms of social constructivist theory.... (The) topics are all treated with great care and nuance—yielding insightful analyses of facets of a new religious movement of increasing global importance that has not previously been explored by any within academia.... (T)he academic merits and complete novelty in terms of the subject of American Heathens makes it required reading for any scholars engaging with contemporary Neopaganism in general or with Heathenry in particular."
Nova Religio

Table of Contents


1 Becoming Heathen
Mapping the Neopagan Landscape
American Heathenry 101
American Heathenry in Scholarship and the Media
The Influence of “the Political”
Researching American Heathenry

2 Fleeing the Cross and the Pentacle: Resistance and Opposition in the Maintenance of Collective Identity
Not Like Them: Constructing Identity Through the Not-Self
Resisting Oppression: Opposition to the Mainstream
Negotiating Authenticity: Opposition to the Alternatives
Boundaries in Contradiction

3 Neo-Heathens and Reconstructionists: The Project and Problems of Constructing a Heathen Nomos
Authenticity Wars: Innovation Versus Historical Accuracy
The (De)Construction of Community and Equality
Heathen Practices: Creating a Socioreligious Foundation
Heathen Fluff: Contested Realms of Authenticity
The Hammer Rite: (In)Authenticity and Community Practice
The Nine Noble Virtues: Authenticity and Community Norms
The Loki Debate
Patron Deities and Spiritual Seekers

4 Cyber Hofs and Armchair Vikings: Building Community through Social Networks (but Not without Problems)
Religion and Virtual Spaces
The Influence of the Virtual on Modern Heathenry
Formal Heathen Organizations: Politics and Bureaucracy
Local Tribes
Diffuse Groups
The Virtual Hof
Virtual Battles and Community Politics

5 Valkyries and Frithweavers: Women’s Shifting Roles—from Warriors to Domestic Caretakers
Reframing Gender and Resistance
Reading History: Finding a Place for Heathen Women
Navigating Gender: The Masculine Ethic
No Fluffy Bunnies Allowed
Politicizing Gender: Feminism Meets Antifeminism
Resistance to Patriarchy
Frith and Domesticity: The Sacred Mundane
Wisewomen: Seidkonas and Völvas

6 Honoring the Ancestors: Dealing with Issues of Race, Ethnicity, and Whiteness in Constructing an Ethnic Folkway
Who Gets to Be Heathen? Race, Ethnicity, and Belonging
“White” Ethnic Identity
Negotiating Racism, Pride, and Faith
American Heathenry as an Indigenous Tradition
Honoring the Ancestors: Constructing Bloodlines
American Heathenry as a Spiritual System
Tribalism: Depoliticizing American Heathenry
American Heathenry as an Ethnic Folkway
Navigating Race: The Folkish versus Universalist Dichotomy
Identity: Textual Constructions of Antiracism and Belonging

7 The Long Journey
The Conundrum of American Reconstructionist Faith
Collective Identity and Belonging
When Heathens Go Virtual
Challenging Notions of Gender
Examining Whiteness and the “Folk”

Glossary of (American) Heathen Terms

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Snook is an Instructional Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi.