Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Renewal, Reception, and Tradition

Has Anti-Modernism been taken too far? Is it necessary to be anti-modernist in order to be a traditionalist? Shall fascists such as Evola be allowed to monopolize our approaches to tradition? We are dealing with the baby and the bathwater here, and to dismiss the benefits of the modern world is too great a sacrifice which requires the waste of a gathering of immense intelligence, innovation, and power. I am not speaking largely here of technology, although it too must be given its due, but rather the creativity of the break with tradition that modernity represents, its boldness, and its exciting adventure of starting a new chapter while making a clean start from the unwyrd of the past. Jefferson said that a society needs a good revolution from time to time.Modernism may have gone too far, and as such needs balancing, with appropriate, careful, balanced reception of tradition, with a mind to renewal, but it has nevertheless brought great benefits.

At the time of modernity's advent, tradition was in many cases no longer creative but a burden weighing down on people’s backs. Modernism, in part, represents a movement to go "back to the drawing board", as a phrase now proverbial puts it
(http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/back-to-the-drawing-board.html defines the term as meaning "Start again on a new design - after a failure of an earlier attempt" and notes that "This term is been used since WWII as a jocular acceptance that a design has failed and that a new one is needed. It gained common currency quite quickly and began appearing in US newspapers by 1947...") While there may never be such a thing as a tabula rasa (tabula rasa's --- clean slates --- tend, on examination, to be palimpsests, notes written on top of not completely bleached or whited-out texts), there is nevertheless a necessity sometimes to completely rework and transform one's material. One might even note that the boldness of such reworking is quite in the spirit of what at one point used to be called "manly" values.

It is an unfortunate legacy that Indo-European and Germanic Studies have in the recent history been unduly influenced by research conducted in large part by fascists. This is not a rhetorical or inflammatory statement, but a literal notation of fact. The book Aryan Idols and Mosse’s many excellent books really document the background of this fact quite well. Simply because many scholars in the background of these studies were fascist is no reason to dismiss all of their findings, of course, but it does call for the appropriate use of one’s critical faculties, some healthy suspicion, and careful filtering of the fascist take on traditionalism that colors much of the discussion of tradition. There is no good reason for us to take up the varied and disguised anti-communisms of the twentieth century in our own consideration of tradition, for several reasons ; one of which is that such attempts were in large part a resistance to progressive change, and therefore reactionary rather than creative, and secondly, that the fascist agenda in large part transformed tradition into a kind of monolithic shibboleth imbued with inappropriate aura, and as free individuals, we should not be thralls to anyone, including the ways of the ancestors.

Part of wisdom is double-handedness or ambidextriosity : being able to grant the partial validity of a particular viewpoint, on the one hand, but seeking to balance it with the partial validity of that which seems to oppose it, and finding a creative synthesis between the two. Some might call this approach Hegelian, but there was a great deal of Odinic wisdom in Hegel’s understanding of life as a dynamic of struggle in which truth emerges out of the clash between opposing viewpoints. (And again, while there are many reasons to be anti- or post- Hegelian, a prominent agenda behind some anti-Hegelianism is, again, fascism, which in its sometimes rabid anti-communism, often rejects Hegelianism simply because it seems a precursor to Marxism. But it is irrational to reject any philosopher wholesale simply because of guilt by association, because we unwisely deprive ourselves of access to good amounts of wisdom, and one might remember that the word “philosophy” means “the friendly-love of wisdom”. One would think that a healthy Odinism would inspire us all to be friends-of-wisdom.)

If one is incapable of appreciating the tremendous liberation of modernism’s throwing-off of traditionalism’s dead weight, one has, perhaps, an immature notion of what the process of tradition is in the first place, which is not simply carrying the detritus of all the past generations (one of the reasons for death, after all, is to make available older matter for newer life through a continual process of composting), but a continual process of creative reception of the heirlooms the ancestors offer us. There are a number of important components of this definitional approach, the most important of which is the concept of “reception”, a legal concept involving the adoption of the customs or legal processes of a different time or place. “In the theory of law, reception is chiefly defined as the transfer of a legal phenomenon of a different legal culture, other area or other period of time to a new legal climate. … Voluntariness of the process is also considered an essential condition for reception. No genuine reception occurs if a legal phenomenon is imposed upon another nation by force. … Upon the implementation of a norm in the environment of a different legal culture, its content and effect may diverge from its implementation in the culture of origin. Such modifications are often unpredictable…” (Marju Luts, “Jurisprudential Reception as a Field of Study”, Juridica International, Iuridicum Foundation, Tartu, Estonia, 1997, no.1, pp.2-6, emphasis mine.) Tradition itself, however, is always a process of reception in which the old is adapted, and therefore both creatively and critically evaluated and shaped, to fit the new conditions. Because life is dynamic, wyrd is always shifting, and creative adaptation of the tools of the past is therefore a continual necessity. We “receive” that which is of benefit, and therefore engage in a filtering process.

Conscious reception acknowledges that the past hands us both heirlooms as well as, unfortunately, unwyrd. Because human beings – even the venerated ancestors – are not perfect, and because life is a process of struggle in which the best does not always win out despite our best efforts, the ideas, norms, and customs of any particular time period represent the best compromises that were achievable under the prevailing conditions, but these compromises may have “received” unwyrd, or unfortunate, ignoble, or simply undeveloped elements. Intelligence must be utilized in sifting and filtering these elements of unwyrd from the true heirlooms or treasures which have been handed down to us, because to confuse garbage and treasure is truly the greatest of folly. There should be no shame in admitting that in the imperfect process of history, unwyrd has affected tradition which therefore incorporates elements of garbage which it would be wise to compost rather than receive. There should be no hesitancy or wavering in additionally declaring that some of the ideas and actions of the ancestors were just plain dumb ; that's not disrespectful, but merely acknowledging the humanity of our ancestors.

Because the ancestors were not perfect, we are not required to foolishly or slavishly conform to their every manner, but rather to find ways to honor that which was most worthy in what they were able to transmit to us, and in this regard, to have the appropriate level of respect to give them the benefit of the doubt when we are in doubt so that we do not prematurely condemn elements that when sifted or re-evaluated creatively and dynamically, might prove of hidden value. This latter gives us an instinct of conservatism, not in the modern political sense, but in the sense of wanting to conserve important resources. Tradition is certainly a resource, a kind of social and even spiritual capital, and therefore represents great sources of wealth which only the most foolish would squander. Yet all resources must be used wisely if they are to prove of benefit at all. Even those elements of the past which were not unwyrd may still have little application to modern conditions ; there will be plenty of things which made sense given the climate of the times which simply do not fit our conditions, and which, therefore, by definition, are not “good” for us. (However, one important element of the necessary instinct of conservatism found in a traditional approach must be noted, and that is making sure that we do not censor the past for our descendants ; therefore, we pass on what has been passed to us, but with our commentaries and careful notes of adaptation ; after all, that from the tradition which is not of benefit to the present generation may prove to be of benefit to one that follows.)

There comes a time and a place where tradition has accumulated such a critical mass of unwyrd, and where enough slavishness towards that tradition has developed, that the only creative and bold thing to do is to throw off that kind of traditionalism, at least for a time, long enough to liberate the creative and critical faculties that allow one to be a free person. Modernism, for all of its contradictions, flaws, and exaggerations, effected precisely that, and in fact, for it, we are all much freer, in quite tangible ways. The problem has always been the baby in the bathwater.

The proverbial “baby in the bathwater” is a good metaphor to begin with, because it acknowledges from the get-go the necessity of washing and cleansing the baby, and separating the filth and detritus that has accumulated from the cleansed, refreshed being, but it also emphasizes the importance of not discarding that which was of value to wash in the first place.

There is much in a tradition, as well, that is not unwyrd but is unworthed, meaning incomplete, not yet fully developed, not having reached its fruition, and which therefore represents a stage in a potential progression. Many movements were incipient or developmental, and therefore do not come to us complete, but as works-in-progress to be further developed. In this regard, one might say, in short, that we ought not to demonstrate laziness towards the undeveloped elements in a tradition, but to work hard to bring them as close to fruition as we can in our generation, so that we may pass them on in a more completed state for our descendants. Sometimes our ancestors had just begun to grasp an idea that we have the power to bring into much greater development. One can call such development "progressive", as a descriptive term.

As a normative term, however, in order to establish what is "progressive", we must evaluate our original goals. What is the purpose of tradition? If we see the purpose of tradition as benefiting life in its ongoing development by enhancing vitality through the sharing of the lessons and tools of the past, then we may define the "progressive" as that which enhances vitality rather than reinforcing moribundity in a tradition. If one is developing and further refining tools so that they may greater service life in its goal of vitality, then that may be described both descriptively and normatively as progressive. On the other hand, with this as reference, we may define the reactionary as that which seeks to undevelop what has been progressed in the service of moribundity.

When I embrace my ancestors dynamically, which is to say as parts of a movement towards developing and progressing that which is of value in the tradition, I can respect, appreciate, and even love them for who they were and what they portended, but if I am thrall to the demand to slavishly embrace all of their ways in their entirety, it will be difficult to have respect for their many imperfections. The slavish veneration for tradition which much of fascism encouraged in fact reinforces the modernist split from tradition. The entire reason for the need to go back to the drawing board in the first place was the torpor and refusal of those claiming to speak for the tradition to adequately respond to new developments. At first, and for a long time, attempts were made to reform, revision, and renew tradition, but the old guard was so stubborn, so reactionary, and so entrenched in their commitment against any kind of progress, that "tradition" -- at least as it was conceived, utilized, and represented at the time -- became a burden and a weight, a "haft", and a jotunnish one at that, from which liberation was needed. Unresponsive, reactionary traditionalists produce anti-traditionalist modernists, and this process can go on in a vicious cycle.

Like it or not, modernism has in fact created to a great extent a clean "break" from the past such that we are now in a position to re-evaluate, post-caesura, that which was of value in the traditional.

And indeed, one might evaluate modernism from a philosophical consideration of "ragnarok", which is not in itself the Germanic "Kali Yuga" (that would be the age which precedes ragnarok), but actually, that battle which cleanses the world of all the unwyrd which has accumulated since the loss of the Golden Age and the Time of Baldur. That this is the case is prominently signalled by the fact that after Ragnarok, Baldur returns. Ragnarok represents a radical eradication of much that has accumulated in the tradition, with the judgement that much of it represented unwyrd. That Ragnarok is a kind of judgement or doom is certain in its very etymology, rök signifying a doom or judgement. Ragnarok is that time and place where the forces representing unwyrd are defeated once and for all so that the dirty bathwater which covers over Baldur may be cleansed for his return. Modernism was no complete ragnarok, to be certain, as unwyrd forces still hold predominant positions in our world, but it might be worthwhile to consider modernism as existing in the image of ragnarok, and following its archetype of throwing out the unworkable in order to renew that which was of value, but even more importantly, to make way for the new.

While tradition holds wealth, modernism has won great treasures as well, through struggle. The rewards of difficult struggle should not be flippantly dismissed. These treasures, indeed, have now begun to become a part of our ongoing tradition, and so, in a sense, tradition also includes the legacy of modernism, and it is our jobs as recipients to creatively receive and evaluate all our legacies. I, for one, will not squander the wealth of Freudianism, Marxism, and Feminism, amongst other advances, and consider them strands in my tradition, nor will I allow the past struggles of anti-communist fascists to define my approach to tradition.

I do not wish to go back to the days before sexual liberation, and before the struggles against the worst of the patriarchal. Frey and Freya live in our midst as they have not since long, long before our ancestors ever met the Romans, and they promise renewal. I will not banish them in the name of the reactionary. I like orgies, I like sexual freedom, I like the liberation of strong, self-willed women unwilling to be ruled by outdated patriarchal notions ; I like the depth-psychological adaptation of Enlightenment values to encompass the unconscious ; I like the Marxist and Anarchist critiques which seek to slough off the jotunnish forces which have all too often dominated economies and politics. I like jazz and dada, surrealism, Stravinsky, punk and gothic rock. I wouldn't throw out the wealth of Wilhelm Reich or Raoul Vaneigem for all the gold in China. And because scoundrels, reactionaries, and indeed jotunnish wolves wrap themselves in flags and cloaks of tradition, we should be wary and keep our eyes about us when we enter into that great hall of tradition, lest there be foes in our midst.

Heathen Cosmopolitanism

Heathen Cosmopolitanism and the Frightening Vertigo
of the Cargo-God's Odinic Wisdom

It is a not inconsiderable irony that one of the most cosmopolitan tools in all of human history --- the world-wide web --- is being utilized by some to construct or reconstruct rigid separatisms, reinforce quarantines, and bolster ethnic divisions and nationalisms. The world-wide web's scale of cosmopolitanism makes something as magnificent as the cosmopolitanism shared under Alexander the Great seem petty and elementary. The principle of this cosmopolitanism is simple : communication across boundaries, allowing exchange of information that obsoletizes parochialisms and stimulates evolution by allowing people to compare and contrast their experiences within one set of human guidelines with those living under another. This principle of communication across boundaries is within the purvue of the archetype of Hermes, Mercury, and ultimately, as well, Odin.

The hypocrisy with which nationalists of any stripe critique empire is astounding, considering the extent to which many will glorify the notion of conquest, certainly an imperialist tendency, on the one hand, but then bemoan it when it meant some kind of limitation on their blessed volk. This is especially ironic given that the flowering of Scandinavian culture we know of as the Viking age took place within a context of Scandinavians seeking out the world, and thriving in the adventure of meeting people from other cultures and other places. It is true, of course, that there was, as with all adventure, conflict, and that they were ready for it. It is true that there was pirating and greed and sometimes a spirit of conquest as well. But it was the traders who brought a great deal of prosperity to the Scandinavian world, and funded the renaissance of ancient heathenism in its days of ancient eclipse. We might rightfully have some ambivalence towards those traders, and foster a critique of how much this activity involved creating and/or getting ensnared in a commercial empire, still an empire of sorts, but whatever our critique may be, we ought to note that it was this willingness to exchange with others that allowed such a blossoming.

We have a native word for such blossoming : it is called worthing, and as is readily apparent in the word, the concept of "worth" or value is inherent to the word. In other words, there was great worth in the cosmopolitan nature of the Viking enterprise. I do not mean to say that the entirety of the Viking period, or the entirety of trading, or anything of the sort was solely cosmopolitan. Reality is always a mixed bag, full of various tendencies. All I wish to accentuate is that the desire to go out and meet the Other, communicating and exchanging, was an essential part of the entire historical thrust of the times.

Ironically, this spirit of adventure, and the boldness to go out and meet the world come good or come bad, is often replaced in modern times by reconstructionists who exhibit an almost heimsk attitude, the attitude of the homebody who wants to judge the world by parochial standards, by how things are done in one's home town or home folk, when Odin himself specifically states that one knows almost nothing until one has traveled widely and seen the hearts of men across a broad swathe of conditions and cultures. "Preservation" --- whether it is preservation of "purity" or preservation of one's "ancient culture" --- is a defensive stance, even a paranoid stance at times. The proposition is underconsidered that perhaps the best way to preserve a culture based on part in adventure is to be adventurous, and adventure, by its very nature, never conforms to what adventures of the past were. This is not to say there is no value to the traditional. Certainly there is, and certainly there was value placed upon tradition by our ancestors. But it is to say specifically when we are discussing the traditional value of adventure that there is nothing adventurous in doing things as they have always been done.

Fear of eclecticism haunts the reconstructionist scene like a spectre. Obviously there are clumsy, flippant, ill-thought-out, faithless eclecticisms, but it should be obvious to anyone skilled in debate that to assume this kind of eclecticism as one's opponent from the get-go is to construct a straw man easily knocked down, and obscures the possibility of more elegant, deep, philosophical, and faithful eclecticism.

Many beautiful cultures and spiritualities have formed over the eons in isolation, and thus their cosmologies are largely self-referential. Within the parameters and era of isolation, these self-referential cosmologies make perfect sense. But the anthropological moment --- the creative crisis of cross-cultural contact --- challenges the isolation and self-referentiality of cultures and spiritualities formed in isolation. When people begin to meet other people with vastly different ideas, and to exchange with them, they are placed into paradigm crisis, and historically, paradigm crisis has always been very fertile and creative. It certainly creates difficulties, and isolationists always monolithically focus on the alienations caused by cultural change, while neglecting the possibilities that have been liberated.

The difficulty faced by anyone constructing an imaginal identity is that because the identity is grounded in the imaginal, anyone may enter into it. This is why those seeking to construct imaginal identities often fall back on some form of nationalism or ethnicity, because it seems to "ground" the imaginal in a completely buttressed, impenetrable position. But the key word here is "seems". Obviously, it is not impenetrable because of the fragility and sensitivity of nationalists. I do not disrespect an identity-formation by calling it "imaginal". We imagine a certain set of ancestors, and imagine ourselves into their set and setting. It is a magical act, an act of collective imagination. The problem is, anyone can imagine, and anyone can set claims in an imaginal space, and so the nationalist fallback is to declare property lines within that imaginal space predicated on ancestry.

But modern genetics belies such an isolationist appropriation of ancestry. If we utilize ancestry as an identity, we are ultimately family with all humans on the planet. For those who subscribe to some form of evolution (and whether you believe in evolution or not, the evolutionists have at the very least proven the kinship of all life on planet earth, however you wish to account for that), we are ultimately family with all living beings on the planet. Where you draw the line in ancestry is a political choice, and it is also ultimately an arbitrary choice, and realistically one based almost solely in the imagination.

We have such a profound disrespect for the imagination in modern culture that it seems insulting to many when scholars suggest that a great deal of community exists in the imagination, and the engineering of imagination. Free thought --- certainly the only route to any lasting wisdom --- however, liberates us from the confines of any one set of imaginal engineering, and the anthropological moment --- the cosmopolitan opportunity --- reveals that not only can we imagine ourselves in multiple ways, but that reimagination is necessary to deal with, grasp, and fully come to terms with all of the different cosmologies and perspectives that exist out there.

Who are you imagining when you imagine and celebrate ancient Viking culture? Is your desire attracted to that imaginal space because you imagine a bunch of fierce men in furs waving spears around, slashing people, blood spattering, conquest, some celebration of idealized machismo you feel your present life deprives you of? Or do you imagine instead that there was a "deeply spiritual" but profoundly isolationist culture that it is your sacred task to preserve? (Always be wary of "the sacred" : everything that is most pernicious in human nature always hides in the supposed "sacred" as a fall-back position in which to insinuate itself apparently free of meaningful critique.) Or do you imagine a culture of adventurers seeking the "out there"?

Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for what you choose to imagine. Such freedom of imagination, and therefore freedom of identity, is profoundly unsettling to some. Sartre spoke directly to this issue, the anxiety that exists around our fundamental freedom, that we are not determined in advance by anything. Sartre's philosophy is the philosophy of the adventurer taken to its peak : we are not confined by a pre-existing essence, but rather, we create that essence in the adventure of living itself, which involves a choice that cannot be blamed on anything external nor ultimately grounded in the as-is world, but which requires a bold responsibility willing to choose and to be free. As Erich Fromm uncovered, many people have a will to "escape from freedom", a will to escape that Sartre called "bad faith".

Nietzsche realized that behind any set of arguments were volitional stances based in complex, psychological life experiences and choices. With his insight, we can ask ourselves about what we are choosing to imagine and what function it is serving in our life. Nietzsche's gift was the insight that beyond their surface logical consistency, it is the function of ideas in a life which requires deeper examination. This Odinic space of freedom is dizzying. It takes away an easy footing grounded in ethnicity or isolation. It asks one to take responsibility for what one imagines by developing the insight into why one is finding value in such imagination, and what function it serves in the context of one's life, one's real, nitty-gritty, autobiographical life.

I think even the most ardent reconstructionist will be forced to admit, at least to him or herself, that there are significant parts of their autobiographical life that simply do not fit into the framework they are attempting to construct. What do you do with that remnant? Does being "tru" to the Aesir involve being "false" or "faithless" to parts of oneself? Or does Odin represent an unsettling, turbulent force of wisdom and inspiration that is always challenging us forward, spurring us on towards an evolution we can't even yet anticipate, and therefore whose freedom and adventure is anxiety-provoking? Yet is it anxiety? Or is it excitement? You get to choose, and you are responsible for your choice.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Greeting the Day


Hail the Holy Powers!
I ask for a good day.
A day that will hone my skills.
A day full of fruitful work.
A day where I may learn.
A day where appetite may meet enjoyment.
And if it be a difficult day,
Give me, Lords and Ladies, main and wit
to sharpen my blade on its roughness
and return to night stronger.


I pray today be a good day,
a full day, a rich day.
I pray today I may meet
and match my mete,
stand tall, and do honor to all
who honor me.
I pray today I may be judged
for raising my worth
and doing noble work.
I pray today be a good day,
a full day, a rich day.

Proverbs for the Days Before Ragnarok

Fjöld veit hon frœða, fram sé ek lengra, um ragnarök römm sigtíva.Brœðr munu berjask ok at bönum verðask, munu systrungar sifjum spilla; hart er í heimi, hórdómr mikill, skeggjöld, skálmöld, skildir 'ru klofnir, vindöld, vargöld, áðr veröld steypisk; man engi maðr öðrum þyrma. (Voluspa 44 - 45)

"Full knows she the deep-knowledge, further see I at length, of ragnarok, the bitter-biting of the victory-gods. Brothers shall beat and bane be to each other, cousins shall spoil kinship ; hard it is in the world, mighty rule of adultery, an axe-age, a sword-age, shields shall be cloven, a wind-age, a world-age, before the world is thrown-down ; no man shows mercy nor reverence to other men." (my translation)

A word to the wise is sufficient. Power and poison go together ; the more undiluted, the more they corrode. Where there is gold, the wolves gather. Those who are desperate will use any means. Ethics and high position do not go together. Many with a smiling face wear multiple masks. In religion and politics, trust no one completely. Great profit attracts great scoundrels. The virtuous are marionettes for the unscrupulous. Better shrewd and wise than virtuous and naive. The corrupted take joy in corrupting. Child sacrifice is the foundation of empire. Where there are secrets, there is power ; where there is power, there are secrets. Two eyes are not sufficient for those insecure in their might ; they must hire thousands. Power proceeds through subterfuge. Vice bankrolls fortune. Spies sacrifice everything. Innocence stings the guilty. Those with bad conscience confuse shit and sex. Two faces, both ugly. Counterfeits abound as traps of the hunters. The predator plays the lover. Monsters wrap themselves in the cloaks of gods. Spiders sing beautiful songs to the flies. Petty men and brutality form cartels that stretch up to the top. Grey suits think nothing of strategic atrocities if there are gains to be had. Most cabals, despite competition, are in cahoots. Nothing is quite as it seems. Yfil has a hand in every pot, no matter how shiny. The wise keep their deepest thoughts locked away from public view. Only discretion saves the thewful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Counter-Cultural Vanir

Although most Asatruar would be loathe to admit it, let's admit it : There's something countercultural about the Vanir. They do sincerely have a little bit of that hippie back-to-the-land feel to them. They are not simply peasant farmer gods. They have little to do with peasants, if we define peasants as those subjugated by feudalism, empire, or patriarchal asceticism. They are gods of hoe-down, gods of zest and earthy passion, gods who transform a "farm" into something more resembling a commune.

Consider : Njord, when confronted by Loki's accusation that Freya has whored herself out to every god and elf in the room (ása ok álfa, er hér inni eru, hverr hefir þinn hór verit, "Gods and elves that are here-in each one has had you as their whore,") responds offhandedly by saying, Þat er válítit, þótt sér varðir vers fái, hós eða hvárs, "Even if a woman takes a husband or a lover or both, that is a harmless little thing." The term translated here as "lover" literally means "adulterer" or even more literally, "man-whore". This is Freya's father speaking. This is not the anxious patriarchal father frantic about the virtue of his daughter. This is an earthy sailor confident in his daughter's powers, and proud of her ability to love freely. Definitely not a Bible-belt mentality! These are folks who make the land fertile through free love ; there is really no other way to interpret Njord's statement. It is a radically different ethos than the patriarchal values of the Aesir.

The beauty of our religion is that it represent a synthesis between these two radically different ways of life. In fact, it is necessary for these differences to find a way to live with each other in order for the world to go on living with vitality and integrity, security and freedom. Anyone who splits off the Vanir's country-home, countercultural, free loving, hoe-down way of life from the adventures of heroes and warriors has lost the secret to existence that Asatru really offers.

Let's get a sense, albeit faded, of just what kinds of rituals out on the farm were thought by the Vanir to be productive of fertility, by consulting folklorists about their late remnants in mid-twentieth century rural life. We will remember that if such things managed to survive into the twentieth century, how much more rich, earthy, and full of vitality they must have been in yore-days : "... Vance Randolph has recently written an article [ "Nakedness in Ozark Folk Belief," Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 66, No. 262, October-December, 1953] on relics of these customs [of fertility rites] as known to exist in twentieth century America. Mr. Randolph reports one old man as saying, with a grin, "Yes, I've heard of such doings. It's supposed to make the corn grow tall." Other excerpts from the articles : "---that certain crops grew better if the persons who sowed the seed were naked. ... Four grown girls and one boy did the planting. They all stripped off naked. The boy started in the middle of the patch with them four big girls a-prancin' around him. ... The boy throwed all the seed, and the girls kept a-hollerin' 'Pxxxer deep! Pxxxer deer!' ... There ain't no sense to it, but them folks always raised the best turnips on the creek. ... Soon as they got their bread planted, {he} would take his wife out to the patch at midnight. -- Take off every stitch of clothes and run around the crop three times. And then he would throw her right down in the dirt and have at it. ... Wash off in the creek and go on back home." This procedure was said to protect the corn against damage from frost, drought, crows, and cutworms." (Richard Chase, American Folk Tales and Songs, Courier Dover Publications, New York, 1971 pp. 214 - 215)

Yessirree, we ain't talkin' no Bible-belt here, nor are we talking down-trodden farmers. We're talking about rural shindigs so randy and raucous they make the plants grow erect! Freya loved whom she willed, when she willed, and didn't let anyone control her. This is the very hippie spirit that middle America, full of those Bible-belted into submission, resisted, yet which promises such fertility and rebirth. Let's be happy our path has both honor and freedom, strength and desire! Praise the Aesir and Vanir!

One wonders how it can be said (http://www.ravenkindred.com/wicatru.html) that "...Many Ásatrú are horrified by the social nudity and casual sexual ethics of Wiccan-based Neo-Pagan gatherings" in the face of Randolph's folkloric findings and Njord's casual acceptance of his daughter's sexual freedom to choose lovers as she will. Obviously, however, both sides are missing out on the important synthesis Asatru truly offers in its melding of the Aesir and Vanir ways. Within the religion, a way is found to combine respect for oaths, and freedom to explore. One simply needs to find a way of exploring one's desires and freedom with honor, and respect for the oaths of others (as well as one's own oaths). It is only such a path of demonstrating appropriate respect for others and proceeding in a lawful manner, while being as free as one's fertility requires, that can become a transformative force that overturns existing cultural moribundity into something truly exciting, alive, and yet full of integrity all at the same time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Curses

What is acceptable justification for a curse? This is a question I have been pondering, sparked by some conversations with others. I have given this question a great deal of thought, and after long consideration, I have drawn a hard line that many seeking individualist loopholes may not be satisfied with, but I believe this is solidly based in the lore. Within the heathen tradition, it is acceptable to curse someone whom your community is officially at war with ; and let us place some strong hedges around that statement, and make it clear that a curse is only acceptable post-thingably. In other words, it is not something justified by individual sentiment or conflict. It is a community-invested function that only the community can delegate.

In essence, a thing may declare a person cursable, concomitant with its sovereign rights to declare war, or to declare someone outlaw. Once someone is declared outlaw, if they are found within the vicinity of the community, they may be killed by anyone with impunity, of course. Similarly, once a state of war has been declared with an individual or community, they may be cursed with impunity, because all bets are off at that point. But conversely, a curse is an act of war. It is the psychological / psychic level of warfare that accompanies other levels and forms of warfare. In other words, curses are battle-magic (addressed, for example, in the First Merseburg Charm), and thus appropriate, if at all, if and only if one is completely out of a state of frith or grith with another. (In the second Helgi Hundingsbani, Sigrun curses Dag because he has killed her husband to whom Dag had given oaths.)

Investing curses as a judicial function of the community may be immensely displeasing to modern practitioners of magic who hoped to gain some extralegal means of asserting malevolence or revenge, but such behavior could never be tolerated in a lawful community, because it violates the basic rule of law. In fact, it was never tolerated. The ancient Germanic laws are very clear that maleficia, defined as malevolent magic (and not, as the Christian Church later confused the issue, mixed with acts of contraception and abortion), is a judicial offense, and a crime on its face, punishable by tremendous fines. In other words, a curser is legally responsible to pay damages. It is an injury and therefore a trespass requiring reparation. The problem with the witchcraft trials of the later Christian Church was the violation of due process due to extended imprisonment and torture prior to trial, along with forced confessions, and punishments out of proportion with earlier Germanic fines ; but to take someone to trial for inflicting malevolent magic was not out of the ordinary for Germanic heathen custom.

Most often, curses are actually the property of ill wights. Loki curses the Aesir as he is ousted from Aegir's Hall in Lokasenna. Hyndla, the wolf-riding jotunn-bride, curses Freya in Hyndluljod. Most of those who engage in curses or malevolent magic in the sagas are portrayed as untrustworthy, antisocial fellows whom the community considers a liability, and with good reason. To threaten or intimidate others with the supernatural is an act of aggression that is not consistent with a frithful community, and constitutes a violation of that peace. Further, to engage in cursing (without a state of war having been declared by the thing) is a nithing-act, akin to murder in the sense that it is a cowardly, dishonorable, underhanded attack where the other party doesn't have the chance to defend themselves.

It should be fairly clear that from a historical perspective, the lore bears out the perspective that cursing was allowable only under very limited conditions, and was considered not properly the purvue of the lone individual, but as a judicial function of the community. But beyond the loric and historical perspective, there are rational reasons for not only discouraging cursing, but out-and-out banning it from any community. These have primarily to do with the chilling effect the presence of cursers have on free discourse and debate within a community. Such discourse must be free to speak with impunity, and cannot be restricted by fear of intimidation of any kind. To have practitioners in a community whom others are fearful of irrational reprisal if they feel slighted is to have a community that sanctions some bullying over others. This is certainly not the heathen way. To require, as it were, a "court order" by the community thing prior to cursing sets up a firewall against individual caprice and intimidation by the powerful. Such a firewall is a logical precaution against the rationalizing tendency in human beings, which tends to justify anything, especially if the passions, such as anger or vengeance, are involved. Moreover, it means that one human being all on their own cannot decide crucial issues of luck for another, because individual feelings of being wounded may not match community standards. Let's face it --- everyone knows a person who if you look at them wrong, or stand up and act with some assertiveness and dignity, considers themselves injured by such an ordinary, human act, and heathenism does not tolerate the behavior of such princess-tyrants.

Friends don't let friends curse. Nor, I think, should the presence of known cursers be tolerated. We are called upon by the gods to have high standards, and to create the conditions for a strong and frithful innangards where wisdom can grow, and we can all grow stronger. These conditions are not compatible with a general state of strife. Obviously in order for wisdom to grow, strong levels of critique must be not only tolerated, but encouraged, but this kind of critique is a species of tough love, not of antagonism. Antagonistic strife-stirring, with no intention of building the community so it becomes more worthy of the gods' notice, attention, and luck-sharing, is an act of sabotage against the community. A community must have a certain standard of security in order for good things to prosper and for the general welfare to raise to a level of education that allows wisdom to accumulate. Bullies, slanderers, and curse-mongers diminish the security and freedom of a community, and are saboteurs of its growth into full worth.

To accept the rule of law is to accept the rule of law, period. It does not allow of loopholes, excuses, or attempts to weasel out of responsible, upright behavior, even or especially through supernatural behavior. It implies what Garman Lord has rightfully called a "right good will", or what might simply be called "maturity". This is what a community must foster in order to grow in worth and be a blessing unto the gods. There is no place therein for strife-bearers or curse-mongers.

However, if one does encounter a curse-monger, there are strong spells within heathenism to protect completely a frithful member of the community. First of all, one should remember that Thor himself "bears ill will" (Hyndluljod 4) towards Jotunn troll-wife cursers, and his permission must be obtained for them to even be in his presence (Hyndluljod 4), while oath-breakers, traitors, and carriers of strife make his "rage swell" (Voluspa 29, 30). So even without specific words or formulas, calling upon Thor, who is "mightiest" (Gylfaginning 44), is more than sufficient to completely dissolve a curse. Odin, a master of seidr, knows three mighty songs to dispel any curses : in the third of his eighteen mighty songs he learned from Mimir, he is able to deaden the edges not only of the arms of his foes, but also their wiles, and can restrain them from harm (Havamal 150). With the sixth of these songs (Havamal 153), he is able to turn the hatred of one who pronounces hateful spells or carves harmful runes onto the curser ; and with the tenth song (Havamal 157), any seidr-practitioner who is ham-faring to do ill may be tossed back into their own bodies where they cannot roam and do harm. Moreover, he knows how to stop hostile shot, whether magical or projectile (Havamal 152), and more importantly, how to dispel the general state of hostility that motivates curses and strife into friendliness (Havamal 155). These are good spells whose powers are always useful to humans, but of absolutely no use or power for jotnar or their kind (Havamal 166), and which were invested in the community of men through their rightfully elected kings and noble, excellent jarls (Rigsthula 33, 40 - 42). They are not said to have been generally distributed to humankind as individuals, because they were to be invested in the community as a whole, and therefore invested in those who hold the luck of that community, the elders, the outstanding, and the king. The leaders of a community are always called upon to utter those blessings which dispel the fear of curses, and to do so with an authority that the gods themselves invest in the community through their sacred office as leaders. If such an elder or leader places his luck upon you, you have no need to fear of anyone, no matter how much shibbolethry and hocus-pocus they wave about ; these are powers that come, after all, from the gods. Beyond these powers of protection afforded by Thor, Odin, and Heimdall (through community leadership), the asynior themselves guarantee protection and safety to those who blot to them, no matter how great the need (Fjolsvinnsmal 40). The First Merseburg Charm (http://www.northvegr.org/lore/merseburg/index.php) provides an excellent prayer to the disir who watch over one's luck, to fetter the enemy and impede their armies, while freeing one's own luck from any fetters or curses placed upon it, allowing one to escape from the grasp of one's foes. Moreover, the foremost of the disir of the Vanir, the Vanadis, and, one might say, the princess of the asynior herself utters one of the most powerful dispellers of curses known. We have already discussed in this blog her opposition to that ur-curser herself, Gullveig-Angroboda, and indeed it is not only most likely, but practically certain that "Hyndla" in Hyndluljod is in fact Gullveig. There, when Gullveig threatens to call the harm of Ragnarok down upon Freya, and curses her for her freedom in love, Freya utters words that are most certainly a formula to dispel ill magic. She says there, "Orðheill þín skal engu ráða, þóttú, brúðr jötuns bölvi heitir;" "Your cursing words (or, premonitions) shall come to nothing (literally, shall have no "command" or "authority"), jotunn's bride, though bale you threaten." Finally, Erikr (one of Odr's bynames), on the way to rescue Freya from the giants who had seized her (Voluspa 29), having received mighty spells from his mother, utters a spell so powerful that it is able to not only completely extinguish all the curses thrown against him by the jotnar, but actually shatters the nid-stang they had raised against him : 'In latorem,' inquit, 'gestaminis sui fortuna recidat; nos melior consequatur eventus! Male maleficis cedat, infaustae molis gerulum onus obruat; nobis potiora tribuant omina sospitatem!' (Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes, Book Five) ; "On the curser falls the ill luck of what he bears ; while a good, noble, and healthy outcome attends on us! Evil falls back onto the cursers and ill-doers. Let the millstones crush the carriers of this misfortune ; we shall be granted the stronger and more desirable omens of health, safety, and welfare!"

And that is a good way to end this post. Fear not and befriend not the cursers.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Let us call fremde-freista the encounter with a foreign tradition, in which that tradition is interrogated, tested, dialogued with, and subjected to customs in order to allow that which is of value to be considered for a process of assimilation to those who choose or seek to naturalize it. This is not an instantaneous process, and may take a long time. Some of this time is simply sitting with the fremde-thing, the foreign custom, and watching it, getting to know its behavior. One sits out with it (utiseta) to see how the ancestors and landwights feel about it. One leaves it alone until it becomes old, ancient, even --- then one can begin to think about it. One has to take the time to fully assimilate its significance and test its compatibility with the important, known values (thews), and then it must be adapted by thew. This naturalization process is very important, because all new things must be tested for their value lest they attempt to dominate or dictate, or invade as introjections, i.e. undigested, unassimilated foreign matter.

One can imagine that when Vikings returned from their expeditions, there were stories of their discoveries and encounters, in which others gathered to share in the tales, and some of this included news of the other ways the Vikings had encountered in their trading missions, and what they were like. Strange and curious objects might be brought back and passed around. Wonder tales of travel would be intriguing. Some of the foreign ways would strike a chord, perhaps summon up an old, lost, or submerged note in the old traditions ; other things would not arouse interest. Some things would quickly fade, others might stay for a while then go, while a few things might prove themselves out over long periods as having lasting power.

It was important to have people who went out to encounter other ways, and bring back what they could. Adventures benefited society, and it was useful for youth to go out and see the world, that they might make their way in it. But it was also important that what was brought back was subjected to some scrutiny, lest one carelessly injure the hamingja (the mother-rites of the fatherland and their luck) or the landwights. Nevertheless, we know that foreign objects were brought in, and sometimes treasured as strange, intriguing wonders, and could eventually be assimilated. Assimilation required a long period of what might be called 'Darwinian cultural selection', a kind of testing or freista. Often it was the job of the cyning (chief/king) or the witan (council of wise men) to interrogate the matter, and declare their results to the folk. If they put their hand of approval on it, it was probably considered open to experimentation and general engagement. Their job was to test it against the luck of the tribe (theod). It is this kind of process that is necessary to what scholars of jurisprudence call "reception" of a foreign legal tradition, set of protocols, or thews.

We may consider as models to be elaborated upon, Odin's freista with Vafthruthnir or his encounter with the volva in Vegtamskvida. All such information received must be weighed carefully, by one's wit and wisdom. Judgement calls must be made. One sits with it, one "smokes one's pipe" with it, so to speak, one chews upon its slowly, letting one's own experience and accumulated wisdom evaluate it. One create conditions where it may prove itself. One sees how it can open up and illuminate aspects of riddles and arcane matters in one's own tradition ; in this light, it may not be fully assimilated, but rather utilized as and transformed into a tool to unlock secrets, or a torch to illuminate the darkness. A certain peasant pragmatism is involved here : does it work? how does it work? how do we feel about it? will it help? will it last? will it prove beneficial over the long run? what are its side effects? and most importantly, how will it contribute to the hoard of luck and wit in one's repository? For many strange things illumine what is strange and obscure in one's own hoard. (Such a process of questioning and assimilating something new or foreign might be profitably compared to the process the Amish councils go through when evaluating a new technology --- a process that is not, contrary to popular belief, one of pure rejection, but retains elements of an older Germanic caution towards the foreign in respect and honor of the valuable and lucky in one's own tradition.)

The field is dominated by extremes: those who shut the door on all that is new and strange, and those who introject anything exotic which comes their way, without asserting their autonomy and history before it. I am presenting this concept of "fremde-freista" to remedy these extremes, and provide food for thought on how we may increase our luck with the treasures of others without thereby becoming their thralls. I say this because to revive our traditions, we must stay true (trothful) to the authentic material of our history (as we know it and as it has sometimes accidentally survived in disproportionate fragments), but we can only draw out its deeper richness by investigating the practices of others who kept parallel traditions alive for much longer. Of course, we must evaluate what is truly parallel and what is only superficially parallel, but we cannot turn away the new altogether, for Skuld has assigned us potentials and debts (scild) that require an encounter with the future and the unknown.

Freys Velkominn

You have come to learn our folk-way. Good! I am excited for you. You will learn many good things. You will come to know your true worth, and how to feel good about yourself. There are so many ways of being good, but these old ways have been lost for a long time. There is so much joy for you to experience. I cannot wait for you to savor all the fruits that are in store for you. Good harvests! Good years and good seasons can be yours, full of bounty and cheer. It is going to be fun rediscovering your deepest roots, feeling your folk soul growing up through you like a strong tree from its roots, and reaching up towards the heavens where many of the Gods dwell. The Earth has so much for you to experience, and we have shaped it so that all of your powers may come into play. Rise up, stand erect and tall, and take your fill of joy and fruitfulness. Mirth and earthy richness await you on every level.

I will help take off the burdens and chains that have weighed you down, so you may walk or even dance with a lighter lilt. Much that you worry about in your day is of no worry to us, and no need to worry. Let your bonds be undone, for there is much inside you you may trust, and if you listen, and if you come to us, often, sharing feasts and gifts, we will speak in the hollows and depths of your heart, and slowly, you will learn how to trust again. Not too fast! Many good things come slowly. Take your time. This is a large kingdom. I wouldn't want you to stumble in your skipping! Although you may ; stumbling is sometimes half the fun of skipping. It makes for a good gallop!

I have many friends who live in the woods. They sing the most beautiful songs. You can hear their echoes in the wood itself, in the golden orange leaves fluttering down from the canopies, and gurgling in the waters. Stop and listen. You have friends all around you. No, you needn't see them! They are somewhat shy anyway, and it would do you good to be courteous to their ways. When they sing, you see, the grass and flowers and roots and buds and branches love to grow more. There are songs sung throughout creation. Perhaps if you are very lucky you might one day catch from the corner of your eye a glimpse of their forest revels. They are spreading my word and cheer everywhere. Some of you might feel elf-drawn ; then you too may someday learn the runes of the elves, and dance in their pageants -- again, if you are very lucky! But you have a good friend in me, and they always listen to my rede, so keep good spirit.

One thing is certain. What you have heard is but the surface of a skein, one coated with dross and muck from many years' neglect. The gentlest animals are sometimes the most fierce, for they must show you, see, that they are formidable, so you may respect them, and live in peace. We know there is no peace without respect. And life was meant at times to flow, like the volcano, with fury, and might, and fire ; just as, at times, life is as still as the misty water on a lake, swan-feathers white gliding over. Don't be frightened by the surface howls. Many hear our might, and even the monsters come to galk, for there is power here, great power. But it is gentle and sinewy, full of grace and song at heart. And you will learn how to be a kinsman, and to know all of your relations in the world. Oh, friend! Such that modern shades of "kin" or "kind" will seem hollow. You will see, you will see. There is peace in strength, and love in arms beyond your imagining. And the way the golden prairies wave! There are feasts and wonders therein.

Many times those who are big and roar loud have come to think themselves kings, and I have had to come amongst you, to remind you that laughter is stronger than brittle threats and brute terror. Let me say that there are heathen "Mardi Gras" so full and free that the giants cower at the towering joy of the folk. Go back into the fog of your mind, deep into the forests from which you came, where you worshipped so long ago. There you will find something so festive and strong that no one will keep you down, so long as you hold frith with your fellows, joining hands, and sharing the goods. There is always some good to share, and it is good to share it.

There are going to be many trials, and many failures. Many times it will have to be re-made over again. One goes deeper, each time deeper. One's perceptions and thoughts change. One person's loud words fade before the sinuous whispers of the wyrd. Shouts from clenched jaws give way before the mild and generous, for all things await the return of the Mild and Bright One. So do not dismay when others mistake. Many mistake in good faith, others in hollow cries for help from wounds they are not yet ready to tend. Nod your head, and walk forwards. Too much awaits you thicker on the wood-path to tarry and quarrel with those just making their way. Quarrel not, and go further! There is much to bring back for your tribe. And we find it hard to get your attention when you are so pressed with the squabbles of petty bickering. Don't drain the good fight with a thousand useless feuds.

Your body has been shaped as exquisite as any swan, as any trunk of tree, as any furred beast of the forest. Know that deep within this body have been warmed many gifts. Vitality, movement, poetry, and breath. There is no reason for you not to glory in all the many powers and pleasures these gift-endowed flesh bodies present, for every moment brings sensations you can let fill you like the warm waters of the ocean, and you will know little hunger. There are ways of touching your feet to the ground, and moving your hips, letting lips wet with breath that, eyes gasping, poetry moves through arms that reach out to hold and grasp, and there are secrets here. Let me say no more for now! You will learn the profundities of the flesh. So let all shame fade. There is religion in these motions and passions. Just go slow, and listen to the old growth, erect and virile, ancient and majestic. So shall you be some day. Look forward to it.

There is much lore to learn. Always listen with your heart. Be diligent, know as your ancestors knew, study hard. Be thorough. But then, dream. It is after a story is told, and one sits doing little, lost in reverie, that pictures and sounds will come. This is the lore the lore aims at. Come back to it. It will refresh you. And just learn to laugh at yourself! For the learning of last year will seem as so much silliness, for this year promises even more advances. That is ok. That is good. Keep learning, and if you will, it will be good for you to keep listening as well, for we will whisper riddles in your dreams.

It is time to sit and think on these things. Find a good mound, a knoll somewhere where you feel good. Sit, close your eyes, and feel. It is good to feel. I am looking forward to hearing from you again soon. I know you will have many questions. Ask freely!