Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good Things (Góðgriprmal)

For all the Vanir and all the Good Things they give us

The feel of the soil, scattering seeds through your fingers, an old leather boot stretched to feel just right, a good, apportioned field ready to be plowed, two fair and proud oxen, commons to graze the cattle on, knowing how to make a good wicker fence, waiting patiently for the rain, the self-sounds of humming a rhythmic tune while working, doing the chores while hearing the beards sing ; boots crunch, water flow, pigs grunt, wind blow. Pride and joy in fresh, ripe apples, pears, and plums, sweet smell of spring pollen, and edelweiss in the meadows. Cows low and the squeeze of milk-plump tits, a hand on the shoulder, legs that know how to dance, and a good straw bed covered with furs where naked night bodies love to rumble in the sweat of the moonlight. Ah. A stout barn, the sight of green vegetables garden-sprouting, chickens pecking at the soil. Skinny dipping in the pond. Laughter and a fiddle over harvest-home jigs, sweet-hearts in arms, bringing the corn in with the last sheaf tied up handsome like a maiden. Riding a good horse, beating the bounds to mark the odal, moot by the oak with ale and cider to mete out the chores. Watching the weather, heed the moon, soak in the sun chasing off the frost. Baking bread in an oven, groping a bosom, letting eyes wide feast on sumptuous forms, fleshy shapes, good feelings about sweaty men and maidens one calls friends. A hot bowl of oatmeal, ribald language and burlesque tales, some onion and cabbage soup, a newborn kid, and the afterbirth buried under the fruit trees. Hearty, fescennine verse spoken earthy and fertile at a wedding feast, mirth in the holy vigils outside the bridal chamber, brewing mead in casks for winter toasts to last throughout the season, waiting up at midnight to salute the passing fairy host in May. Nodding herd necks out to pasture, seasons, and the wheel turns. Mending a broken fence, good sleep after a long day's work, picking up the pieces after disaster, feeling the soil and scattering seeds again. These are good things.

Prayer for Words, Prayer for the Land

To speak with steel and bite, charcoal and rust, the grit of the soil and the grain of the wood, about things that matter, yet which are often dismissed or marginalized. To speak with firmly planted boots on thick earth how one feels about the destruction of the landscape, or how the animals are treated, or one's relationship with trees and vegetation. To speak of these things with muscle and oak trunk, with groundedness and force of character that demands a good hearing. To listen to the law of the land itself and give it the weight of statutes. To stand on the law and speak the deep rights, the rights no one articulates anymore, the forgotten responsibilities and titles. To speak as a man, or woman, might about serious matters, giving the soul and all spirits their due weight in the order of things. To see the ancient, archaic connection between poetry and law, and to speak, with conviction and the command of confidence and strong humility, feelings which well up from the earth and from the heart. Feelings about guests and hosts in the land, about hospitality and good order of things, or lack thereof, about justice on all levels, some seldom considered, and most importantly, about love. To give love in all its dimensions and axes full and proper weight, with frankness and open celebration of appropriate but generous sensuality, not shirking before hypocrisies that would cover life's wholesome earthiness, but speaking plainly real experiences of life deeply felt, and explored with wit and breadth. To listen, to summon up all the voices that speak to you, and let them gather within, until they find their place, and then, to speak them. From the words of this council, speaking words of counsel that cannot and will not be ignored, but persevere, and gather strength, letting time do its ancient task of growing truth slowly as allies hear the call and find what is ancient and true awakening within their hearts, too -- whence words emerge like seeds cast out by Johnny Chapman, and find their place, rewilding. Let land and age shape the feral and rough and give them niches and homes. When all things have a home all is good. Speak your home, and do not let home be banished from cupboard talk nor public discourse. Gather the beings that speak home and speak them : these are true words, good words, words world wants spoken.

Proposition for a Heathen Project to Mark Sites

I propose that kindreds pool their money and buy an engraving system (e.g., in order to be able to engrave and carve markings upon rocks to be left at significant sites. These engravers run anywhere from about $300 to $8000 for the most professional set. If we suppose a kindred of about five to ten heathens, that represents a range of $30 - $60 per person up to $800 - $1600 per person (this upward number should be totally unnecessary for a project like this. Somewhere in the middle is probably good). An engraver can be of great use to a kindred over a long period of time in order to be able to create lasting monuments that speak heathen values. Although every kindred would like to have a skilled rune-carver, the truth of the matter is that not every kindred is going to have these skills within its hoard, but utilizing an engraver is potentially within the skills of everyone in the kindred. Marking stones with significant signs has been part of the heathen tradition for millennia.

That's sort of the nuts and bolts of starting the project, but let's move on to the meat and bones of the project's meaning : Everywhere we look around, some embodied, landscaped memory is being bulldozed. It could be as simple as the drive-in where you had your first kiss (and therefore, however much a commercialized property, a site of some personal Vanic interest, and not, therefore, without sacred value), an open lot full of shrubs and mounds where you used to play or gather herbs, a meadow, a rock formation --- the sky's the limit. What is important is that the site has significance, gathers memories, yet is endangered by someone else's idea of "development".

When the kindred has selected a site they consider important --- and where no other remediable action seems plausible or within reach (and unfortunately, these days, so many things of value are destroyed without any plausible remedy) --- they compose a small text that speaks the value of what was once at the site, and declares it publicly by engraving it upon a medium sized rock of some kind, and then going to the site, and placing it somewhere. If permission can be established (fairly doubtful in many cases), it may be placed somewhere prominent ; if not, it is placed somewhere on the site -- by some bushes, underneath a tree, somewhere where it is no eye-sore and stands some chance of being left alone -- where it can possibly be read. Another possibility would be to bury another rock with the same message somewhere on the site, so that even if the above-ground marker is removed or tampered with, the site contains the message "archeologically", so to speak.

This is a project in battling the erasure of history, specifically soulful histories that speak to the soul of good heathen folk --- and not just self-identified heathen folk, either. Such a project will probably touch a taproot across a spectrum of good, wholesome individuals.

This could be a way for heathens to literally make a mark on the land around them and declare their values in a solid, lasting manner. One of our culture's ways of expressing a law that is strong, unyielding, and lasting is to say that something is "etched in stone". Here is our chance to mark in stone the law of our lives --- our living experience. There is honour in such a path.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Saboteurs

What a missed opportunity for mainstream heathenism to not get the underlying saga of sabotage that Gullveig and Loki represent!! (For heaven's sakes, large amounts of heathens insult our Vanadis by identifying her with her arch-enemy!!)

Gullveig and Loki take part in a tragic tale of folly and sabotage, a story which understood correctly brings wisdom.

Each of them represents types, types of men and women we will each meet throughout our lives. Most people, in fact, will follow Gullveig or Loki unless they gain in wisdom and worth themselves out of that drag of sin. Many, many women you will meet will be a thrall to Gullveig, and probably most men you will meet will be a thrall of Loki. (Hint : even the ones who think they are friends of the gods. Remember, these saboteurs install themselves in the very heart of the gods' garth, "befriending" them, and work their terrible woe from within, all under friendly guises.) Is it pessimistic or realistic to diagnose that many one will encounter will be liars, self-serving charmers, thieves, seducers, back-biters, cursers, traitors, and strivers (literally strife-ers)?

A good portion of Havamal represents Odin's reflections on his bitter experience with Loki, as well as his warnings about Gullveig.

Warnings Against Gullveig :

115. I counsel thee, Loddfafnir,
to take advice,
thou wilt profit if thou takest it.
In an enchantress’s embrace
thou mayest not sleep,
so that in her arms she clasp thee.

116. She will be the cause
that thou carest not
for Thing or prince’s words;
food thou wilt shun
and human joys;
sorrowful wilt thou go to sleep."

120. I saw mortally
wound a man
a wicked woman’s words;
a false tongue
caused his death,
and most unrighteously."

Warnings Against Loki :

119. I counsel thee, etc.
A bad man
let thou never
know thy misfortunes;
for from a bad man
thou never wilt obtain
a return for thy good will."

124. I counsel thee, etc.
Words thou never
shouldst exchange
with a witless fool;

125. for from an ill-conditioned man
thou wilt never get
a return for good;
but a good man will
bring thee favour
by his praise."

(Thorpe translation)

Odin has learned the hard way that when you enter a hall, even a seemingly friendly one, even your own, foes may lurk therein, and that is therefore the first lesson he passes on :

1. All door-ways,
before going forward,
should be looked to;
for difficult it is to know
where foes may sit
within a dwelling."

Modern heathenry doesn't get that tremendously friendly advice is being given, along with poignant warnings about these types. Gullveig, Freya's adversary, will seem as Freya to many at first, beautiful, seductive, gold-admiring, enchanting, magical, and powerful. Loki, Odin's adversary, will imitate the crazy wisdom of Odin and seem mercurial, playful, humorful, full of jokes. But "trickster" is not the right word for this brother-sister pair : saboteurs are the right word. They are lovable in their own right, be certain of that, and that is part of their charm ; they have immense charm, but that charm has an inherent tendency to turn ill in the end, and as things progress, and one gets more and more entangled with such people, they tend to become more and more monstrous.

It is the people you invite into your very home as friends who you must be most wary of. Many appear to shine at first. They have either the charm of the sociopath (Loki) or of the borderline personality disorder (Gullveig). But after a short time, one begins to see signs that not all is right. Such saboteurs, however, have an amazing ability to dissimulate and explain away all the red flags that continue to pop up. Anomaly after anomaly, one bad thing after another --- just reports, rumors, suspicions, feelings, intuitions --- all dismissed, explained away, with amazing persuasive force and acumen, but after a time, it is simply too much to wave away. For five-sixths of the friendship, it seemed as if they were fast friends, but too late, almost it is revealed that they are really wolves in sheep's clothing :

51. Hotter than fire
love for five days burns
between false friends;
but is quenched
when the sixth day comes,
and friendship is all impaired."

This is why

81. At eve the day is to be praised,
a woman after she is burnt,
a sword after it is proved,
a maid after she is married,
ice after it has passed away,
beer after it is drunk."

While the second line of the stanza in general means that one should not praise a life until it has reached its end at the funeral pyre (and then one can fully evaluate), there is yet an underlying, powerful, and bitter allusion to Gullveig here as well : up to her burning she seems to be all charm, but it is only after one has decided to burn her that one begins to see the kind of strife she has caused. (Gullveig brings strife between the Aesir and Vanir clan ; Loki brings strife between the Dwarf and Elf clan.)

This is not advice that everyone has to take, and indeed, Gullveig remains invisible, hidden within identifications with Freya, but as far as this advice and warning go,

Profit thou hast if thou hearest,
Great thy gain if thou learnest..."

One should not be fooled by their charm, for it wraps around ill, and an ill that will not allow itself to be healed, which is the worst kind of ill. They must be recognized, and told that

“Thine evil words shall work no ill,
Though... bitter thy baleful threats" (Hyndluljod 35, Bellows translation)

and cast out of one's house. Saxo puts the matter quite nicely. After Odin returns from
the exile imposed on him by the Vanir during the Van-As War, he

"qui per absentiam suam caelestium honorum titulos gesserant, tamquam alienos deponere
coegit subortosque magorum coetus veluti tenebras quasdam superveniente numinis sui
fulgore discussit."

"Those who during his absence had carried on the honor and distinction of
heavenly gods he rounded up and cast away as strangers to the family, and
the gang of sorcerers that had risen up he scattered like darkness before the
brightness of his divinity." (Hint : this gang of sorcerers and practitioners
of praestigiarum (deception, illusion, tricks, hoodwinking) are not the Vanir,
but Mithothyn and his kin. We instantly know who Mithothyn (means : With Odin,
one known as his companion) is when we are told that "Mithothyn quidam praestigiis
celeber", "Mithothyn who was celebrated for his tricks." This is Loki and his sister
Heid. They had dressed themselves up like gods, but they were no friends of the
family, and had acted as a gang of sorcerors, and thus they were exiled.

Is Odin here referring to Gullveig when he says :

"84. In a maiden’s words

no one should place faith,

nor in what a woman says;

for on a turning wheel

have their hearts been formed,

and guile in their breasts been laid"


"a flattering prophetess,

a corpse newly slain ... let no one trust" ?

But lest we focus all on those women thralled to Gullveig, let's
remember how many men follow Loki :

"91. Openly I now speak,

because I both sexes know:

unstable are men’s minds towards women;

‘tis then we speak most fair

when we most falsely think:

that deceives even the cautious."

Indeed, Odin himself was drawn into such deception in one of the worst deeds of his life, a deed thought so unworthy of him that it was one of the main reasons he was exiled, the seduction of Rind. This seduction was urged on him by both Loki and Gullveig. Saxo says,

But Odin, though he was accounted the chief of the gods, began to inquire of the prophets and diviners concerning the way to acomplish vengeance for his son, as well as all others whom he had beard were skilled in the most recondite arts of soothsaying. For godhead that is incomplete is oft in want of the help of man. Rostioph (Hrossthiof), the Finn, foretold to him that another son must be born to him by Rinda (Wrinda), daughter of the King of the Ruthenians; this son was destined to exact punishment for the slaying of his brother. "

Hrossthiof is the brother of Heid. (Hyndluljod 32 : "
Heid and Hrossthiof were of Hrimnir's race.") "Hrossthiof" means "horse thief". It is obviously a heiti for the one who stole Svadilfari from the smith who built Asgard's walls, and that was Loki.

So on the one hand, Odin had Loki urging him to seduce Rind, while on the other hand, Gullveig-Heid was urging him on the other side to do the same thing :

16. “Rind a son shall bear,
in the western halls:
he shall slay Odin’s son,
when one night old.
He a hand will not wash,
nor his head comb,
ere he to the pile has borne
Baldr’s adversary." (Vegtamskvida)

That this is Gullveig-Angrboda is made abundantly clear in the poem, as Odin tells her :

" rather art thou the mother
of three Thursar.” (Vegtamskvida 19).

Tricked into thinking this was the only way to set things right after Baldur, he entered into this seduction, producing Vali upon Rind, and Vali killed Hodur. But Hodur was innocent! Loki, in fact, was the radbani of Baldur's death, and thus, Odin was horribly tricked, as all the gods discover in Lokasenna. For that seduction, Odin tells us in Havamal 102, he had "contumely of every kind ... heaped upon me." Indeed, Saxo says :

"But the gods, whose chief seat was then at Byzantium, (Asgard), seeing that Odin had tarnished the fair name of godhead by divers injuries to its majesty, thought that he ought to be removed from their society. "

All of this was brought about by that
magorum coetus, band of sorcerors, who he promptly
cast off upon his return from exile.

Odin teaches us, through hard lessons he learned personally, see through the charms of false friends, and do not welcome them into your life, no matter how seductive or entertaining they may seem. "Everything is better than being with the deceitful." (Havamal 126).

A word to the wise is sufficient.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Skuld's Enterprise

Skuld is a warrior ever-pressing her sword forward through the fog, for there are debts that only the frontier can pay. Those debts are the unworthed potential of the past, those deeds not brought fully into fruition, and the only way to pay them is to seek their completion, which only happens on the edge, on the horizon, at the frontier. "Frontier" comes from Old French fronter, the "front line" of the army, the edge of advancement. It represents advancement into the unknown territories. In fact, it would seem that the old word for that which is strange and foreign, "fremede, fremthe" is etymologically related to the old word that means to accomplish or advance, "fremmen", a word association which acknowledges that advancement is that which takes place right on the edge of strange and foreign territory. Freme is "bold", which yields the not-hyperbolic composite meaning of these roots as "boldly advancing into the strange and foreign" to bring "advantage, profit, benefit", also freme.

Skuld advances that which has been forgotten, that which has died unfulfilled. Skuld is followed by álfar ok nornir ok annat ótöluligt illþýði (Hrólfs Saga Kraka 48), "elves, norns, and the ill crowd of the last part of the night". Lest we have any doubts about the composition of this "ill crowd of the last part of the night" who are in drjúgt liðit Skuldar, "Skuld's vast host", Hrólfs Saga Kraka 51 leaves no ambiguity : they are the dauðu and drauga, "ghost and zombies", those who rísi upp from the dead. (That Skuld should have the dead in her host follows from the fact that she takes the slain from battle (Gylfaginning 36).) They rise up because their debts have been left unfulfilled, and they come to fearfully stir up the living to complete the unfulfilled deeds. But those who are einheriar in her midst, who she is escorting from Urd's dómstóllar (witness-stands) to Valhalla, urge not only the unfulfilled deeds, but those deeds of daring which have not yet been dared.

Skuld says that hefir sá eigi jafnan, sem ekki hættir (Hrólfs Saga Kraka 47), "no one gets anything without taking risks", and it is clear that she places value on hættir, danger, peril, risk. She furthermore asks us to have krellr, "pith, fortitude, spirit", but literally, "claw", grasp and grip, to hold that which one has boldly seized.

Her command of the wights of the ótta, the last part of night, places her right on the frontier between the realm of Nótt and Dagr, at the cusp when Dellingr commands Thjodreyrir to open the gates of dawn. That threshold is the liminal space between the old and the new, the dead and the living, the fremede, the strange and foreign (h)edge of advancement. Indeed, therefore, she passes into the fog, the valkyrie holding her shield, ready to ride across the earth (Skuld hélt skildi ... görvar at ríða grund (Voluspa 30)) when the Hel-Gates in the East (Sólarljóð 39 - Heljar grind) open. She is at that very threshold, in those hours and minutes while Sol's horses are being geared up, and the horses of Dagr are eager and biting at the bit to hear Thjodreyrir's song which signals the opening of the gates, that time when Nótt is not yet through with her journey, but passing down into the Varns, through Billing's kingdom. Such is a place of wonder and fear, the "wee hours of the night", strange, but full of potential and profit.

These are the voyages that Skuld urges us onwards towards, and she is ready to ride across the ground, shield before us, in our journeys into the fremmede, the bold and foreign strangeness.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Luck

Luck is that advantage which grants the ability to meet life's challenges skillfully and directly, as well as the confidence in one's capacity to do so. In other words, life is difficult, and often overwhelming ; without luck, it is crippling. Luck gives one's wit and one's deeds edge -- just that critical degree of edge so as to grant them -- if one is willing to exert all of one's effort and capacities -- effectiveness. It is less a magic power that automatically fulfills all of one's lazy wishes, and more a multiplier of will and skill. Luck deepens will and skill down to their grooves in wyrd so they flow precisely in their 'destined' channels. By 'destined', we mean "worthed" --- in other words, they deeply and completely fulfill themselves. They are able to develop themselves to their full capacity, and the Northern ethos is an optimistic one that posits that if one is able, in the midst of a hard and sometimes even grim life, to fully develop and blossom one's capacities, one will have gained the ability, like a trained athlete, to meet life's challenges effectively and make it look easy. In fact, ease is the fruit of fulfillment, the rewards of bringing skills and deeds to full capacity. The Northern ethos is an optimistic one because it posits that with luck, will, skill, and worth, one may achieve fulfillment and ease, even in the midst of a difficult life. Luck lifts worthing into ease, and deepens it into wyrd ; in fact, it achieves ease through its deepening into wyrd. But note throughout that luck does not do this automatically, but rather acts upon the will we apply, the skills we develop, and the worth we fulfill. We must strive to bring our potential to fruition. The expansion of that fruition both fertilizes, and is fertilized by, luck.

The treeling of luck acts as well upon a kind of implicit vision or spá that we might call a "vision of the better". It is not a utopian vision, for it is well aware, moment by moment, of the tendency towards the worse, especially given the rampant failure of people to meet their worth, but it touches the good, a good better than the failures of the present, because it sees what is possible if just a few more people reach even a little bit more of their capacity. In other words, there is a spá of the good that blossoms when worth deepens into wyrd. The ultimate collective expression of full worthing into wyrd, of course, would be a goodness so full and so full of vitality, ease, and luck that we can scarcely imagine it, but such a blessed state is not the result of collective laziness but collective powerfulness. That ultimate vision -- of the good possible through full, collective fulfillment of worth -- is the ideal which energizes and motivates the person of luck, not unrealistically, but with a spirit of inspired pragmatism, a pragmatism which full well expects events to be less than the ideal, and adjusts itself moment by moment to the contingencies and turn of events, but not cynically --- in other words, not by abandoning the inspiration of the ideal. Even without complete fulfillment of the ideal, even the smallest improvements in skills, deeds, and worth can turn things towards the better. Now all of this is prelude to say that the person of luck has a collective and not just an individual, vision of hte good. When we say "collective", we do not mean to say that a treeling is responsible for the whole world, which is beyond the proportion of a single person, but rather, one's immediate kingdom -- the neighborhood of one's events, the immediate arena of one's activities. Luck is better activated, in other words, with cooperation rather than friction and antagonism, and the Northern ethos views cooperation in a very particular way.

Cooperation is inspired not by coercion, but by two capacities : confidence, and generosity. Confidence inspires the will, and boldness activates the strength. This capacity vitalizes and possibilizes that which may have been enervated in the face of difficulty. But generosity reaches out to awaken the fulfillment of others, by touching them in a way that speaks to the blossoming of their worth. Generosity is therefore neither haphazard nor disproportionate, but specific and proportional to the capacities of the recipients. The greatest generosity doesn't simply fulfill needs, but rather directly inspires worthing. As such, a gift may meet one at the edge of one's capacities, and truly be a surprise -- wonderful, but requiring as well some effort to fully enjoy. A musical instrument given to someone with perceived incipient musical capacity serves as an excellent example. The Northern ethos imagines that with the assertion of vigorous confidence and nuanced, loving generosity, cooperation naturally grows. All of this is to the advantage of the treeling of luck, for cooperation multiplies possibilities --- and not cynically or selfishly either. We may refine our earlier statements by saying that the vision of the good that the person of luck has, and which funds her luck, is one of mutual advantage.

Again, the person of luck works with what we have called "inspired pragmatism", a very grounded kind of inspiration, that is all-too-aware of the tendency of things to not worth, to not fully blossom, and to fall short, and therefore for things to tend towards the worse rather than the better. People cannot always be counted on to act the best, and therefore the better is often hindered by the worse, so the full fulfillment of the ideal is often fleeting, but no less inspiring, energizing, or powerful for that. It is this kind of inspired pragmatism (and pragmatic idealism, if you will) that actually circumvents the development of cynicism -- although everyone has, of course, their foul or glum moments. It is disappointing when people do not fulfill all their capacities, but if even a few will make an effort to blossom even somewhat, great fertility is possible. The best may await for the return of Baldur, although a good man never stops seeking it, but the better -- the better is always possible, even in the midst of a world that has the ability to tend towards the worse. One with luck, however, is able to shake people out of their thralldom to the worse ; not everyone, of course, but enough that even those few can fertilize the fruition of the better.

Because of its gathering of mutual advantage and strength, luck both funds and is funded by the capacities known as hael and megin. Luck is the energy behind hael, the whole-making power, and megin, strength. Hael, the whole-making power, is an ordering force, that gathers, gives form and relation, and takes scattered, inchoate parts and makes them pulsating organs of the whole -- in other words, it creates a body (whether a physical, energetic, or social body). Megin is the power to face and weather adversity, to overcome opposing force, to meet the friction of the world with one's own might and bite. Megin has the character of steel and stone, bone and stamina. Megin is what allows one to be unintimidated by the world's difficulties. Megin is the ability to meet difficulty with competence and confidence. It lends hardness and lasting power. It is what you ask for when you pray, "Give me the strength to ____." It is fortitude, resiliency, and gumption. When one has these capacities, luck blossoms into that feeling of magical living we characterize as enchantment, giving glow, color, and rejuvenation to life.

"Treeling" is being used in this essay as a kenning for "human being", since we all descend from Ask and Embla.