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 ( 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.


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