OTTAWA, On. – A new web series, featuring Austin “Auz” Lawrence is gaining popularity and fans on YouTube. “Heathen Hearth” was debuted in October, 2017; in the first seven months 18 episodes have been released, racking up more than 11,000 views. With almost 1,000 subscribers in 36 different countries, its success is already worldwide. “The response has been very positive. My channel even got a mention in one of the largest newspapers in India – the Hindu” Lawrence said in an exclusive Wild Hunt interview.
The web series is offering Lawrence a fun and inspiring way to express his love of food: “I find that the communities around YouTube cooking channels to be extremely positive and supportive. Mine is no exception. It is actually a place on social media where I find myself feeling better about myself and the world, so very unlike the negativity I seem to encounter on other social media platforms.”
Lawrence is known in Canada as one of the stewards of Raven’s Knoll, a pagan campground and event centre, located on 100 acres of wooded land alongside the Bonnechere River, near Eganville, Ontario. This is the venue for Canada’s largest Pagan festival, Kaleidoscope Gathering, which he also co-organizes.
Heathen Hearth is an opportunity for Lawrence to combine his most serious passions. He has a masters degree in anthropology, which led him to his full-time day job. He manages to fit this in alongside running the campground and producing the web series. He is also actively involved in running other festivals and events for his local Heathen community, and serves as an oath-bound goði, associated with the American Vinland Association.
“My inspiration for Heathen Hearth is to share how I have enriched my life through experimenting with being in other places and times by first researching and understanding the meaning of a foldaway, then finding a way to let it be part of your own life in a very physical way.”
Lawrence’s spirituality and academic studies made the leap into the web series a natural next step: “I am both a person of the imagination and one of experience. I studied history and anthropology at university; imagining the past or being a participant observer. In university I was introduced to the approach of ‘experimental archaeology.’ This is a method that combines the two approaches.”
Heathen Hearth was not the first video project for Lawrence. Bitten by the reality television bug, back in the days when the craze for this type of show was gaining momentum, Lawrence and a friend began developing a series called “The Viking Chef.” Unfortunately this project got shelved due to busy lives and other projects, but it planted a seed that took root, when Lawrence was facing a heath crisis.
As Lawrence explained, “Starting two years ago, I started to get sick with a strange set of symptoms reminiscent of Lyme disease. The symptoms began to get worse and worse. Last summer my symptoms peaked, I broke down, both physically and mentally. I was in a terrible, dark place. I was alienated from life by the stresses of my religious community, by the stresses of my paid career, and by the pain and weakness manifest in my own body. I watched cooking shows on YouTube as both an escape and solace. After watching the entirety of a few channels I realized they progressed from being jumpy recordings on a phone to polished shows. This was something I could do. At the time I could not work and felt useless. I started recording Heathen Hearth because I was in complete control of the very easy schedule. I could stop if I did not feel well, and it did not matter if the episodes were bad because no one counted on me for them.
“Heathen Hearth was a safe way for me to be creative again, to explore project management and spirituality indirectly, and to take a fresh run at the world again by learning something new. Heathen Hearth has been part of my healing journey.”
Each episode of Heathen Hearth provides much more than just instructions on how to cook something. Lawrence explores global cuisines, indigenous diets and precolonial ingredients. He recreates recipes, based on his research, which could have been eaten in paleolithic Europe.
This commitment to understanding these traditions and cultures is something Lawrence takes very seriously: “Many of us first experience other cultures through their food. One may not be able to travel to the place of another society or being in the place where their food comes from, but you can taste a people’s culture and their history through their recipes. Food-ways are central to identity and culture, as important as modes of dress or other similar cultural traits. To know a person, or a people, or a time period, is to sit at their table. “
Some of the recipes venture into the realm of fantasy and imagination. One can learn to make “bowls of brown”, a Game of Thrones inspired recipe, in an ‘instant pot.” The recipe for “injera dosa, Viking style” is a mashup of Lawrence’s three favourite cuisines – Ethiopian, Indian and Nordic.
One of the unique categories of recipes on the Heathen Hearth channel are the ones that have been on the menu for Hail and Horn Gathering. These selections are all inspired by the food and culture of northern Dark Ages Europe: the pre-Christian diet of the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples. Attendees of the gathering have been able to taste-test these dishes at the sacred husel feast offered at this event.
Lawrence is now in the process of editing a few episodes that feature creative recipes dedicated to the goddess Skaði. This year Skaði will be honored at Hail and Horn Gathering, with a blót and the raising of a god-pole.
Lawrence intends to continue to improve and polish his videography and editing skills, and with every episode, is working to elevate the production values to a more professional level. Looking ahead, he says, “I plan to continue with Heathen Hearth as long as it brings me joy. It would be amazing if this hobby could fund itself through a few small revenue from the channel if it every got very popular, but that is unlikely because it is such a niche market. What I am really hoping for it that it connects me with people who have the same passion for cooking and historical food-ways as me! I would love to collaborate with other people and channels on episodes and learn from others.”
As the season turns toward spring, and the weather improves, viewers can look forward to seeing Lawrence moving outside to shoot new episodes at Raven’s Knoll. He also has plans to collaborate with sponsors. Rhe drinking horn maker Alehorn is expected to have a presence in a future episode. Lawrence is seeking other YouTube cooks to work with as well.
New episodes of Heathen Hearth are usually released every two weeks. The next episode, “Loki’s Cheesy Balls,” will be available April 28.