By Laurel Owen-Scutari

I had a stranger email me, wondering whether I was Odinic or Pagan. This person did not even bother to introduce themselves. Are people becoming more rude, or are those of us in the public eye subject to personal questions out of the blue from strangers? I’m not sure. It made me cranky, and not just because of the intrusion and lack of manners. It made me cranky because last year some guy in the Texas prison system who has been writing me for years suddenly decided I was no longer Odinic. He cited the fact I don’t follow the Odinic Rite calendar to the letter, and that I celebrate May Eve, which proves out I’m a pagan, and worthy of sudden distrust. Wow.

So that got me thinking. Mind you, I can only speak for myself. Some people find comfort in labels and rigid definitions. I can see why, too. When you label yourself, you get to be part of a group, and that group sets up your boundaries, determines a lot about how you define and don’t define yourself. I can also understand wanting to use labels to put distance between you and whatever weird group over there. Labels distinguish us and tell people who we are and aren’t. I get that.

But there is another side. Labels sometimes diminish and constrict, and cause a person to fall short of fully experiencing life. The label becomes more important than the ecstasy of living, and the important daily choices and actions. For instance, it becomes more important to be an Odinist and not an Asatru –instead of living the life of a person who has a deep abiding feeling for a pantheon of gods and goddesses and a rich pre-Christian ideal of living with honor and without fear. It becomes more important to be Heathen rather than Pagan, because everybody knows that Pagans are fluffy Wiccans. Pretty soon it’s all about the labels rather than individual experiences of life and wisdom along the path.

I am especially hard to label. For the record, and in hopes of not getting anymore strange emails or sudden rejections, I’m going to clarify a few things about myself personally. In doing so, for those who don’t know me, let this be a friendly nudge to remember to live your spiritual path –not live up to a label, or for a label.

I am an officer in the Odinic Rite, and therefore, by definition, an Odinist. My connection to the OR is its people. I have some close friendships and life-long friends in this group, and they have been there for me in tight spots. Whether I follow the OR calendar to the letter is immaterial. The connection with friends is quality, and enriches my life. Therefore, I’m Odinist as a result of my choices in friends.

For a minute let’s suspend the common Heathen versus Pagan definitions a moment. I like the word Pagan, and I use it. It means the same thing as Heathen – just in Latin. I’m not inclined to turn my back on words because they are Latin instead of Anglo-Saxon. My name is Laurel Owen-Scutari which is Latin, Italian, and Celtic (Welsh). I don’t have a problem with it, and I have no desire to be Gretchen or Brunhilde just because those are Germanic names. In fact, I’m not a Germanic-only person. One thing I like about the Odinic Rite, in fact, is the wider world-view. We include among our friends Greek reconstructionists, Lombardis, French speakers, and Celts, for instance. None of these are seen as aliens.

I use the word Pagan because I like it. I’m a life-long Pagan, and proud of it. Life is a wondrous path, and I have never been afraid to explore it. From Witches covens to Asatru kindreds, from a solitary practice begun in teenage years to May Poles in prisons – I have explored a lot. I am a Child of the Old Gods. Now there is a good label. And today I’m proud to be a part of the Odinic Rite. A better group of people would be hard to find.

Odinist? Sure. Pagan. Yup. Aryan? Why not? – And there are more. Doctor Mama, the Imp, Ridge Runner – these are some labels/names people have applied to me. I love them all.

I believe that love is the strongest emotion and the most healing. Does that make me “fluffy?” If so, I don’t care. I believe that all things change and that suffering stems from trying to cling to things. Oh my! Buddhist tendencies? What next! I do celebrate May Eve – that guy in Texas had that right. So that means I’m “Pagan” rather than “Heathen”? Fiddle Dee Dee. May Eve is just as Heathen as Yule. Beltaine, Walpurgisnacht, May Eve – different languages, different tribes, same folk. I believe that ancestral inheritance is important, and that there is a genetic component. Does that make me folkish as opposed to universalist? Probably.

The point is this. Whatever you believe, or feel, live it to the full. Contribute to this world. Do something for your people. Eat well, cook nutrition-rich food, take care of your close friends and family. Play hard, work hard, and commune with the gods and ancestors. Find the truth in yourself. Meditate, exercise your body, love life like today is the last day. Let other people label you because of what is shining from your heart, from the inside out. Label yourself fluidly, when inspired to do so, and for the right reasons. Living a label is petty and small minded. Living a spiritual life like that of our ancestors, living nobly, that’s the point. That is the beauty, the experiential reality. The label is secondary.