Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Does "Heathen" Mean?

What does it mean to be a heathen? The word "heathen" originally meant a dweller on the heath, an Anglo-Saxon term meaning, "open, unplowed country" or a "tract of wasteland" or "uncultivated land". A heathen, therefore, is someone who loves the open country. The word "dwell" originally meant a kind of dreamy trance, and so a heathen, as a dweller on the heath, is someone entranced by the countryside, a lover of wilderness. This suits the Teutonic folk well, for they loved to make their settlements like islands in the midst of a vast sea of forest, swamp, and wasteland.

Caesar says that Publice maximam putant esse laudem quam latissime a suis finibus vacare agros: hac re significari magnum numerum civitatum suam vim sustinere non posse. Itaque una ex parte a Suebis circiter milia passuum C agri vacare dicuntur (De Bello Gallico, Book IV.III), "For them, a tribe's greatest praise is to be surrounded by broad swathes of unoccupied countryside around their boundaries, as this shows that all the other tribes cannot withstand their might. Consequently, it is said that one region of Suebian territory is surrounded by a hundred miles of unoccupied land.”

Tacitus says Terra etsi aliquanto specie differt, in universum tamen aut silvis horrida aut paludibus foeda (Germania 5), "Their lands, with some minor differences, are nevertheless on the whole wild and rough woodlands and unkempt forests, as well as barbarous, muddy swamps." He goes on to say that Nullas Germanorum populis urbes habitari satis notum est, ne pati quidem inter se iunctas sedes. Colunt discreti ac diversi, ut fons, ut campus, ut nemus placuit. Vicos locant non in nostrum morem conexis et cohaerentibus aedificiis: suam quisque domum spatio circumdat, sive adversus casus ignis remedium sive inscitia aedificandi (Germania 16), "It is well known that none of the German people live in cities, nor indeed do they allow their homes to be joined together. They live apart and separate, by a well, or a meadow, or a sacred wood, as it pleases them. They arrange their hamlets not like our custom of building structures side by side, but everyone's house has a spacious yard around it, whether as a remedy against accidents of fire, or out of ignorance of the art of architecture."

Caesar and Tacitus are describing the land tenure of the Teutonic village-communities or theods (tribes), where the hamlets are laid out in the center of the croplands and pastures, with each house surrounded by a yard, and the commons, or pasturelands, surrounded by vast tracts of woodland and heath, the greatest part of the land laying uncultivated and wild. Caesar says Neque multum frumento, sed maximam partem lacte atque pecore vivunt multum sunt in venationibus (De Bello Gallico, IV.I), "Nor do they live much on grain, but to a much larger extent on milk and herds of cattle, while many engage in hunting..." These are a mainly pastoral people who supplement the milk and meat of their herds with a little grain and a little hunting. In other words, rural country folk who prefer to be surrounded by wild-lands.

The wilderness calls out to the heathen. The scrublands, the areas considered "waste" by others because they are vacant and uncultivated, are the places the heart of the heathen yearn for. Tacitus says that lucos ac nemora consecrant deorumque nominibus appellant secretum illud, quod sola reverentia vident (Germania 9), "They consecrate sacred groves and woods, and call upon the names of the Gods in these grottoes, which they hold entirely in respect and awe." Vilhelm Gronbech says, "The sacred customs lead us further afield; outside the house men would point to a stone, a waterfall, a meadow, a mountain, as the holiest of holy things, the true source whence all luck, all honour, all frith flowed out to pulse through the veins of the kinsmen. Thorolf's family had their spiritual home in the mountain that stood above the homestead — Helgafell (the holy mountain) it was naturally called. One of Thorolf's contemporaries, the settler Thorir Snepil, lived at Lund, and he “worshipped the grove” (lund); another, Lodin, acquired the Flatey valley right up as far as Gunnsteinar, and he worshipped the rocks there. Hrolf lived at Fors, and his son Thorstein worshipped the waterfall (foss)..." (Culture of the Teutons, Chapter VII.)

There is a kind of pantheist element here : divinity lives in the land, and the gods are found and beheld in the wild forests. We know that amongst our ancestors, every meadow and woodland had an aelf or fairy in it, a landvættr, or land-wight, and Tacitus specifically tells us that woods were set aside to worship the Gods themselves.

These are a wild folk, rough and ready, wild and wooly, Gerunt et ferarum pelles (Germania 17), “wearing the skins of wild beasts” and In omni domo nudi ac sordidi... excrescunt ... inter eadem pecora, in eadem humo degunt (Germania 20), “in every house growing up naked and dirty, living amongst the cattle and on the dirty floor”. They are lawless, living outside the codes and statutes of legislatures, yet good custom prevails amongst them. Ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges (Germania 19), “There, good customs are stronger than good laws are elsewhere.”

They are farmers, herders, and hunters, living off the land and finding not only their strength, but their worship there. In commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur (Germania 40), “They worship in common Nerthus, who is Mother Earth, and believe that she intervenes in the affairs of people, and rides through the districts.”

As heathens, we keep a healthy part of ourselves uncultivated, and find strength in the holiness that pulsates in the midst of the untouched wastes of the hinterlands. Mother Earth is sacred to us, and we would rather live by wells, meadows, and sacred groves where the presence of the Gods may be felt. We don’t like to be told what to do, because our customs constitute our own rough form of courtesy, which is good enough for us. We’re heathens ; we’re wild folk of the wild lands.

All translations copyright 2008 by Siegfried Goodfellow

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Get Back Into the Goodness

Get back into the goodness. When you stray from the goodness, get back into it. It's that simple. Freyr says that life can be full of such enjoyment if we will follow such simple advice.

Do your work, your good work, and stay in the goodness. Perpetual crisis, over-work, burdens, and stress are not natural states. Even battles are not meant to last forever. And the whole point of battles is to create victories that allow the goodness to come back into fruition. As the Germans say, gemutlichkeit, the comfort that comes with hearty courage (mut/mod). Battles are meant to be infrequent punctuations in long stretches of good peace, and are fought to win back peace that has been lost. Life may be struggle, but most often, it is the struggle of the branch to stretch out and find sunlight, the bud to become leaf, the potato to root itself, the fruit to come into fruition.

So often we let the burdens and traumas imprint upon our minds, and perpetuate them with our own stressed-out reactions. Life was meant to be enjoyed. Do your work, your good work, and stay in the goodness. When you stray from the goodness, get back into it. It's that simple.

Blaedlond, not Mortgage

Mortgage is a social-economic relationship with creditors that produces crippling debt, turning what should be freemen into virtual modern thralls.

Yet creditors require some collateral to make good their credit, and even a free man may need credit from time to time. In the modern world, where all allodial land has been cast aside (although remaining as an inalienable right to be reclaimed under the 9th Amendment), people may need credit to buy a house and some land. And even those few who own their house and/or land outright may need credit from time to time. College costs a lot of money these days!

The mortgage relationship places the entire property in jeopardy. From a heathen perspective, mortgage is not logical, because it endangers the very existence of the home estate, while placing undue burden on those attempting to pay off the mortgage. As anyone knows who opens their eyes these days, mortgages have gotten many of us into a great deal of trouble.

I propose instead an institution I will call "Blaedlond", meaning Fruit-Land, as an alternative to this mess, that preserves the family home-estate while at the same time satisfying creditors. This concept and instititution, which I am giving the neologism "Blaedlond", is not without precedent in the history of European property law.

The idea would be for every household to set aside an area of land as Creditor's Land, and it would be this land that would become the basis of the collateral for creditors. But it would not be the land itself, but its fruits that would be pledged to creditors.

Thus, for example, one might pledge the fruits of one's front lawn to creditors in exchange for a loan. If, for some reason, you could, despite your best efforts, not make good on paying back the loan, the creditors could seize usage of the Blaed-lond (in this case your front yard), taking possession of all its fruits, until such time as the sale of those fruits paid back the full amount of the loan. In other words, the Blaed-lond would represent an Alienable Usufruct for Creditors. Creditors would be unable to seize ownership of the land, but they could alienate its fruits for as long as it took to pay back the loan. They could plant cash-crops there, for instance, like tobacco, or cotton, or coffee, or what have you, and could hold the usage of the land and its fruits potentially for decades or even generations, but once the debt is paid, the Usufruct of the Blaed-londs would return to the owners of the estate. If the owners of the property decided to sell their house and land in the meantime, the Blaed-lond would remain in hock, lessening the selling value of the estate. New owners wouldn't be able to use their front lawn, plant gardens there, or utilize the Blaed-londs as collateral for any loans they would want to make, and thus, unredeemed Blaed-londs would discourage selling of a house until such time as the loan was paid off.

This institution would make good sense for both creditors and debtors, without endangering home ownership, which is the basis of a stable society. From a heathen perspective, land should be held over the generations. Yet we all know that credit is needed at times, even for self-sufficient farms. It is logical to create a way to establish collateral for credit without at the same time establishing the foundations for bankruptcy and foreclosure. The mortgage institution has given too much power to creditors, while at the same time, such power has gone unchallenged for far too long. Creditors must be given their fair due, which is substantial collateral to guarantee the repayment of their loans. Blaed-lond, if adopted as an institutional practice by modern folk, could open up a new niche for agriculturally-savvy creditors, who could offer to take up the Blaed-lond and cultivate it for a given number of years in exchange for paying off the loan. Whomever possessed the Usufruct rights of the Blaed-lond would pocket all of the profits made off of its cultivation.

Alternatives to the mortgage-institution are desperately needed in the modern world. The precedents to solutions lie in the institutions of our ancestors, for whom pledges of foreclosure (which is what mortgages amount to) would have been seen as abominable. Keep the land in the family, and pay off the creditors with the usufruct of a subdivision. Over time, there is enough to go around for everybody without having to alienate the family from its homeland and create broken patterns of bankruptcy and foreclosure, which have a devastating effect on society.

A variation of Blaed-lond, especially in urban areas where the home has little extra land-space, would be to pledge one's garage as collateral. If a loan went to the "foreclosure" stage, the usufruct of the garage would be foreclosed until such time as the debt was paid. In this special case, the creditors would have the right to clear the garage of all materials (which you would then have to find another space for), and retrofit it to become a locked Storage Facility which could rent at a couple of hundred dollars per month. If the garage could be rented for $250 a month, that's somewhere between 1/5 to 1/10 of a monthly mortgage/loan payment. Assuming that in the first year of a 30 year loan one was unable to keep paying, and that one never made another payment after that (which is an absurd suggestion, as every half-responsible person or family is going to make some effort at repaying, if for nothing else than the reclamation of the alienated garage-space), then even under these conditions, the garage could end up staying in hock anywhere from five to ten generations --- assuming that no other payments were ever made on it. (In such a family home, for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the garage would never have seemed theirs, but always belonging to the bank, and the strange people who come by every so often with their key to check in to their storage unit.) The inconvenience of not having garage-space, not to mention having anonymous strangers entering the property at will to gain access to their storage units, would be motivation enough to get payments to the creditor! Under most circumstances, people might have their garages alienated for a series of months, until they got back onto their feet.

In short, Blaed-lond could be one step towards securing home-estates back into the foundation of odal that was the pride of our ancestors' freedom, and the basis of a stable society.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Terrorist Religion? Or Strong, Hearty, Good Religion?

Op Ed

While it is not toward to slander other religions, frankness is a heathen value, and those of us who have been through the imposition of a religion have the right to speak of it genuinely. The following comments apply mainly to fundamentalist Christianity. There are forms of Christianity, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not believe in hell, but merely death. These comments do not apply towards them. The language in this piece is strong, but strong words are needed to challenge ettinish ideas. When our Christian friends no longer dogmatically assert nonsense that clearly goes against all common sense, encouraging notions that make for bad citizens, these words can be withdrawn. But as heathens, we are committed to the truth, and that means we must speak our mind.

Christianity is a religion of terrorism. It tries to force obedience through terrifying people about the punishments of hell, taking cynical advantage of the natural human fear of death and uncertainty of what comes after. It would be hard to define more of a niding approach to religion. There is nothing strong, courageous, or confident about this approach at all. Religion through ultimatums -- obedience or eternal torture -- is terrorism, plain and simple. It is the same, cowardly mindstate of those too weak to confront policy either in the marketplace of ideas nor in the open, honest field of campaign, who threaten violence with ultimatums for demands in this world --- though terrorist religion has often manifested real-life terror in this world, too --- just look at the Inquisition!

Now it's not true that there were no heathen ideas about punishment in the afterlife --- but these were not used as a battering ram to force obedience, either. A heathen accepts responsibility for allactions. And those who choose to live their lives entirely against the good will get theirs -- of that there is no doubt. But we are called into the good, not terrorized into perfection, and it is the goodness of our deeds, not the perfection of our doctrine or belief, which will be judged, and they will be judged by good gods who know well the flaws of humanity, without holier-than-thou judgement, and who want us to live a good life, in every sense of the word, in this world, and that is the criteria for our station in the next. The gods are fair and kind and discerning, and they look at the whole picture : in balance, in our life, with allowance for errors, follies, and some good, honest mistakes, was it a life well-lived --- for all concerned?

Yes, it is true that Voluspa says that Nastrond is full of oathbreakers and murderers --- but it nowhere says that everyone who breaks an oath automatically goes there. It's just that one's chances are high if one lives that kind of life. The emphasis is on the goodness lived out in, and therefore given to, this world. It has nothing to do with doctrine, belief, or perfection. It has nothing to do with grovelling for pardon for things we damned well know need no pardon. And if we make mistakes, we also damn well know it is our responsibility to pay that scild in our lifetime, and make up for it, to the best of our abilities. Nastrond holds criminals who lived criminal lives and never bothered to correct their own mistakes and crimes. They didn't need to beg pardon from anyone. All they needed to do was heal the ill into the wholesome, by righting what had been wronged, to the best of their ability, with right, good will. No terrorism or submissive obedience involved or required at all.

The gods may ask us where we could have done better -- and that's fine, we call can do better -- but that is a point for edification, not condemnation ; wisdom, not perfectionism.

We know that only immature brats and cowardly dogs (no offense to dogs) would resort to terrorism to enforce and impose their insecure, pathetically desperate ideas of spirituality on others, and we also know that the strong are under no obligation to tolerate nidings --- and such niding doctrine should not be tolerated. We can say unequivocally and boldly, with no reservations nor regrets, that such tactics have nothing to do with genuine spirituality, and everything to do with mind control. And as good, healthy people, wanting to live in a healthy world, we don't care to be surrounded by mind-controlled fools who have been literally terrified out of their wits.

Maturity in Religion

Op Ed

No ill will is intended towards the Younger Faith Christianity here, and these remarks are directed at those forms of Christianity familiar to the writer, although I suspect others will recognize such traits as well. They may be considered words of wisdom from an Older Faith as good rede to help guide the Younger Faith into maturity. This is specifically an "op ed" piece to set it off from other pieces, and to accentuate that this will be a shooting from the hip personal opinion in the full spirit of heathen frankness.

Heathenism can help you to become a mature human being.

I doubt whether Christianity is usually a religion that can ever help people become mature. I suspect people become mature despite rather than because of Christianity.

Jesus tells us to love, but only the mature person knows how to love, and to attempt to love, with no guidelines, and no maturity, is to bungle love, and love bungled is not really love but folly. And Paul's hundred sets of rules and thou-shalt-not's don't really help.

Christianity may well have worked for Jews, because it built upon their Old Testament. Judaism is a religion that can help someone become mature. It's tribal, it's traditional, and it is realistic about the world. It is not world-denying. A Jew who becomes a Christian truly adds a New testament onto the solid foundation of a much older one.

But some foolish choices were made when Christian missionaries expanded from their Jewish base into the pagan world. A deliberate program of negating the "Old Testament" --- ie., the tribal traditions and religion --- of each pagan tribe was commenced, replacing it with a Jewish Old Testament that didn't fit the culture -- for all its genuine wisdom and value -- and that had never really belonged. In short, it was an imperialistic imposition that gave no official recognition to the older traditions in which the cultures had grown.

Now even if the missionized cultures needed to improve some things -- and there is no doubt they did, for the contact with Rome had overmilitarized many of the pagan cultures -- it is one thing to encourage improvement from within, and another thing to impose it from without, while at the same time encouraging the abandonment of all the old traditions. What a setup for schizoid hypocrisy! To call the older traditions "demonic" simply because they were subject to abuse (as all traditions and religions, even Christianity, are) was absurd and insulting.

Traditions are designed, in part, to help people become mature. They are guided by ideals, yes, but they are realistic and humanistic within a context of larger powers and possibilities. They speak to the real (wo/wer-) man where he or she stands, with the desires and conflicts he or she faces, and the strengths that can be cultivated. While remaining edifying, it speaks to, through, and with the culture itself, and all of its cultural opportunities and temptations, without condemnation.

Christianity is a graft, a stunted dwarf grafted onto what was once a magnificent tree that was hacked down nearly to its roots. It is a graft, like mistletoe. It cannot bring about the health of the body. Not in its present state. Not without recognizing and officially receiving the "Old Testament" of each heathen culture as its Old Testament --- and let the Jews have theirs for themselves, with grace and good will. What Christianity would result would not doubt be a strange one from modern standards --- but there's little worry, as even the most liberal churches are not liable to even consider this possibility any time soon.

It's a shame, really, because a religion of love that emphasizes that a kingdom of social justice and healing can one day reign on this earth is really such a good idea. The core of Jesus' theology is good shamanism, guided by love : healing does come through a vision that reconnects us to the best of the Golden Age, stretching us towards the realization of that in our own lives. Such stretching is not a problem, and quite compatible with a realistic attitude to human capacities. It is, in a sense, a reclamation of what has been lost, on a higher level. We had fairy-doctors who invoked the magical utopia of the fairy-world to inspire healing, so the basic concept is not foreign to Northern Europe.

But Jesus' quite worldly challenge to empire -- an ambition to replace empire with a kingdom of justice and wholeness in this world, even in this lifetime --- was postponed and finally delayed to an afterlife that became so obsessive that this world lost its value.

All of this is Eastern Mediterranean religious and social politics. Why did this need to be imposed upon Northern Europe? Why take your problems and conflcits and export them? We had a Wisdom Tradition, too, and we had our own problems, which needed creative, collaborative problem-solving, not forced importation of other people's problems! Obviously there's something universal in any religion, but that's hardly the point : each religion arises in response to a particular context which it wraps itself around and which gives it meaning. The context cannot be exported ; only the text. But the text has no meaning without the context. And Christianity tried to use its text to eradicate our context! It failed, partially, leaving a largely unspoken context to frame a foreign text it really doesn't know what to do with, and thus gives hypocritical-holy lip service to. It's so sacred, it's so meaningful, ok now let's go live real life, even if we are obligated to feel guilty about it.

Don't get me wrong. I like Jesus. Freeing the captives? Pure Freyr. Caring for orphans and widows? An integral part of the Sibbe (clan) system. Restoring Golden Age conditions our cynical and jaded age has abandoned for pitiful, all-too-accepted degradations? We all pray for the return of Baldur. May Frodi's Frith be with us! Love thy neighbor as thyself? Hey, as long as it is accepted that we have a right to have a self that we love, good hospitalitiy, kindness, and frith are heathen values, too! Frodi helped oust the giants through encouraging folk-guilds that spread the practice of mutual aid.

But the pleasure-denying stuff? The moralistic judgements on Who can do What with Whom and Where, that has no connection to their actual feelings, involvements, and oaths? No thank you.

Turn the other cheek? Is this a tactical or an absolute rule? If you mean to keep a cool head and choose our battles, on our own terms, rather than as an automatic kneejerk reaction to someone else's hothead provocations, sure. But we don't like being pushed around, and generally don't think it's good policy to allow that to go on. We say -- You don't let people disrespect you, not without consequences. Do you mean seek the most peaceful means of resolving any conflict? Prudence alone dictates that, and as heathens, we are always advised to exercise moderation. But if we let someone strike us with absolutely no answer, we are encouraging their arrogance. Oh, I'll admit some of us got way too far into that whole vengeance/feud cycle. That was indeed one of our problems. But our wergild system was making good progress on that. I don't ween that absolute submissiveness to aggression constitutes good wisdom, and therefore cannot be a solution to our problem. On the other hand, if the maxim is a tactical guide rather than an absolute rule, could the contextual conditions that would call for such tactics be elucidated for our evaluation? You see, it seems to me that we never got to vote on which verses we were really going to put our strength behind, and that means this was shoved wholesale down our throats. Look what turning that cheek did to us --- it only encouraged the aggression. Such imposition was contrary to our democratic councils.

And loving our enemy? What does that mean? Does the enemy stop being our enemy merely for being loved by us? Surely if they are not merely a rival or an opponent, they are an enemy because they have done hateful things which have aroused our righteous anger. We have a philosophy. It isn’t written in any books claiming to be scripture, but it’s nevertheless good heathen law --- law in the old, heathen sense of the term --- long-layered habits of behaviour. We say, live and let live. We’re happy to love our enemy so long as the enemy stays far away and lets us live. Leave us alone, and we are quite happy with a nice, content neutrality. We don’t have to like you ; just leave us alone, and you take care of your own affairs, and we’re all good. But to not resist an aggressive enemy? Are you kidding? Perhaps you mean to not forget the humanity of the enemy? We know the enemy is human, and like all humans subject to hubris, we’re reminding the enemy of that by pushing back and putting them back into their britches, forcefully if necessary. Or do you mean, be slow to make enemies? Or be cautious about slandering mere rivals as enemies? It is true that hatred can distort perception, but as heathens, we are always cautioned into moderating extremes. That is practically a religious imperative. And only a fool is quick to make enemies, for life is already enough of a struggle without adding onto it unnecessary battles.

When we first encountered your kind, coming to share with us your truths, we listened, because Woden taught us to gain wisdom where we could, regardless of the source, regardless of its possibly foreign context. We’re a tolerant folk when we’re well-fed, unthreatened, and happy. We’ve never had a reason to reject any of the things you’ve said which have made sense --- but we get to decide which of those things make sense, when, and where, and with whom. On our terms. Not on yours. But we’re not allowed to pick-and-choose, are we? If we don’t accept the whole lock, stock, and barrel, we’re to be condemned, right? Strange, because besides the fact that perhaps a tenth of Christians even know the entire corpus, it seems to us that Christians themselves pick and choose, which is as it should be, because it is human and natural to pick-and-choose what seems of value in life. That’s the prerogative and responsibility of exercising judgement. The folk are pragmatic ; they choose what works. At the very least, they choose the workable. Only a fool forces him or her self to attempt the unworkable, and a religion which expects people to go against good, natural, common sense, and pragmatic selection of workability, is an immature religion, plain and simple.

But Christianity we’ve never really had a problem with. It’s Christian Supremacism we have a problem with, and we have a big problem with it. (Actually, supremacism of any kind is naturally our enemy.)

The problem is, Christianity --- for the most part, in its official forms, with some exceptions --- is Christian Supremacist. It’s like trying to take white supremacy out of Nazism – it really won’t work. That may sound harsh, but Christianity’s official policy is that it is the only way, and all other paths are not only deluded, but even demonic! And historically it has demonized every other approach. Yes, I know that this is not the case for good ol’ modern liberal Christianity, which is more enlightened --- but not from any impulse emerging from Christianity, mind you! Modern conditions have merely allowed healthy doses of good sense to re-emerge which makes fundamentalism appear to be the narrow nastiness that it truly is. Christian Supremacy is arrogant and invasive --- and it is our enemy, and we will love it by pushing it back until its hubris calms down to realize the sanity of live and let live. That’s really the only heathen value we wish to impose by force if necessary.

Christians who are willing to observe that rule we welcome to the table. We’ll listen --- and measure --- the wisdom you have to share --- as powerful, autonomous equals, wh you can neither shame nor put down.

But we suspect that if you’re mature enough to do this, you’re probably heathen underneath your Christianity anyway, as most Christians have been. A conceit, perhaps, but we suspect it is true, because only indigenous and realistic tradition can make someone mature. Although we say it half-jokingly and in good spirits, don’t think there’s no seriousness at all when we say – will you be a hypocritical heathen, or an authentic one? Will you be in the closet or out of the closet? Those aren’t the only choices, for the heathen ethos teaches that life seldom reduces to two choices (contrary to the thought patterns of some supremacisms), but it does make some deep thought for dialogue.

Why do I say that heathenism can help make you into a mature human being? In a certain sense, heathenism is nothing but common sense applied to spirituality. Myth and scripture are just an articulation or explication of deeper, more implicit and inchoate but nonetheless real, aspects of living a common sense spiritual life, and thus are never to be applied literally and unintelligently, but always with the intention of unlocking and awakening wisdom. One does not need to separate spirit and matter, this world and the next world, selfishness and altruism. All you need, in essence, is worth-ship and wisdom. Worth-ship is both the practice of developing your own worth, and demonstrating worth where you find value. So beginning right where you are, within your own life’s interests, passions, and pleasures, you begin applying common sense to the process of becoming the best human being you can be for your kith and kin, and you utilize the worship forms to find and fund the worth in yourself and for all the nine worlds. You stay realistic, rooted in the earthy and pragmatic, but like a tree, reaching for the stars. That is a mature approach. And its goal is not to create someone perfect, nor to castigate anyone for not being perfect. Perfection is irrelevant. The goal is not to create impossible standards that have no relationship to real life, and then to disparage when those unworkable impossibilities can't be met, but to create and strive for worthy goals and standards. Those standards may require struggle and stretching, but they are not impossible. The goal of mature religion is to help create good, whole, mature human beings, who accept their limitations, and make the best of them for themselves and the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Strong and the Weak

Heathenism is a religion of the strong against the weak. Now when I say that, "the strong against the weak", that should get your hackles up. It smacks of Social Darwinism and the Nazis, and I have nothing but contempt for the lot of them --- because they are weak, and as weaklings, they invert and pervert the true meanings of strength and weakness. You will not find pitiful Social Darwinist fascism on this site. All that constitutes is overcompensation for severe inferiority-complexes --- again, the domain of the weak.

The weak are not those with less strength or fortune. Not all are equal in strength or fortune, and advantages are not excuses to lord it over anyone. It's weaklings who try to lord it over others --- because they are weak in their souls, and try to drag down their betters out of envy and inability or unwillingness to do the work to strengthen themselves. By "betters", I do not mean those who without merit presume to be better, but those who have bettered themselves through their own might and main (and I do not mean here through force-and-fraud).

It is, in fact, the expectation and privilege for the fortunate to share their fortune, in good exchange, with the less fortunate, to the best of their ability, within reason, without impoverishing or enslaving themselves. This is a good and full thing -- but it must be exercised, as with all things religious or otherwise, with common sense. It is common sense that is most needed in such matters. Within these good bounds, the fortunate are expected to be generous, which is why leaders were called "ring-givers". They are to share out the bounty with their kith and kin.

Here we have two sets of contrasting oppositions : the Strong and the Weak, and the Fortunate and Unfortunate. These oppositions are not equivalent. Within good measure, compassion and encouragement for the unfortunate is a worthy part of becoming fortunate. Simply being unfortunate doesn't make one weak. No one chooses their wyrd, even if we are responsible for making the best of it. Because of this, the good heathen realizes that there but for the grace of Wyrd goes I, and many things come down to luck.

Weakness is not the same thing as misfortune. The word "weak" comes from a root which implies over-pliant ; in other words, without backbone, unable to hold one's own. Now the phrase "to hold one's own" is very exact. Whatever your lot is, if you can hold it, you may be able to get more, but you are not required to hold more than your lot. But what you have been dealt you are expected to hold. This is not to say in ordinary terms that we don't all have our weak moments. Of course we do. Almost nothing in this mortal Midgard stands completely strong 100% of the time. But that is not the point. The point is whether one has through laziness allowed weakness to become such a force of habit that it becomes a character trait. That is the danger of weakness, because when inability to hold one's own and to stand strong become character traits, one will inevitably begin to want to tear others down out of malicious envy. There is a big difference between standing on your rights and stepping on others'. Let us be clear, against the reactionary sentiments of Social Darwinists, that rebellion and revolution is often a legitimate process of folk standing on their rights, and standing up against those who have overstepped and stepped upon the rights of others. The idea that all impulses of rebellion and revolution stem from malicious envy and weakness is hogwash. It all depends upon the circumstances. The point is that those who cannot hold their own may soon wish to hold that which belongs to others. And here, often the faux-nobility and upper class of a nation, where that wealth and position have not been built upon noble and worthy deeds, but, all-too-often, upon the depredation of others' rights, are themselves weak, and represent the weak trying to put down the strong.

Generally speaking, the weak do always try to put the strong down. In fact, that is one of their defining characteristics. When they see something good, noble, and strong, they want to tear it down. This is a completely different impulse than the unfortunate getting angry at those whose fortunes have been earned through fraud or force, and who have therefore deprived others of the opportunity to come into their own fortunes. Again, the impulse or habit of deriving one's fortune through depriving others of the opportunity to come into their own fortunes might be considered a defining mark of weakness.

Weakness, being a lack of backbone, is cowardly, and drives cowardly acts of malice and crime. In other words, the weakling becomes a niding. I must underline again, lest anyone misunderstand me, that mere misfortune, on its own, never makes one a niding. Being sick, and therefore waning in strength, so long as it is not the result of one's own cowardice, does not constitute weakness, not in the sense I am using it here. Strength-levels differ and are in flux, both across people, and within the same person over time. Variable strength, even when that strength varies to a low point, is not weakness. Cowardly irresponsibility, emerging out of worthlessness, is. The word "worthless" has been bandied about in a judgemental, rigidly moralistic manner for far too long. Everyone --- everyone without exception --- has potential worth. Worth is simply that which we can become. It is the value we can bring to the world. The strength of that value may differ from person to person, but everyone, regardless of their lot, has some value and some good to bring to the world, if only they will do the work to develop their strengths.

A weak person is someone who refuses to do the work to develop their own strengths. This is the highest form of irresponsibility, and it insults the gods and the norns who have infolded into us their gifts and opportunities. When one refuses to develop one’s strengths, in other words, to grow into all that one can be, one deprives not only oneself, but the world, of all the value one had to bring into the world. That is worthlessness.

Weakness, therefore, is worthlessness, irresponsibility, and niding-work. The term “niding” is often translated as “coward”, which is correct, for what it is worth, but this is not the ordinary lack of courage that can strike any of us. This is cowardice when it comes to life and to the important things in life. Having a mere failing does not a niding make. Courage, although it is a faculty that can be developed, is also a factor that varies and fluctuates across people and within the same person across time. The niding is one who commits a cowardly act of wanton cruelty, or one who betrays everything he or she should stand for. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you may very well end up stepping on others, or you will end up betraying your own to those who step on others. To step on others, or to betray one’s own to those who step on others, is an act of cowardice, cruelty, and treason. Such acts make one a niding.

So the “strong against the weak”, as you can see, does not mean the rule of bullies. Bullies are weaklings, who use force against their betters --- again, those who have bettered themselves. “Strong against the weak” is not the healthy versus the infirm, the bodybuilders against the handicapped, the rich against the poor. Strength seeks its own, but does not begrudge the strength of others, and even, when it can, lends a hand to help pull up. Strength pulls up. It does not pull down. Or more accurately, strength does not pull down strength, but strength pulls down the weak, in other words, those who pull down. We don’t have to be compassionate to nidings ; in fact, contempt is the appropriate shame for such cowardice. One should not let one’s heart bleed for the worthless, for that only encourages and enables their weakness. “Strong against the weak” means tough, resolute, even scornful zero-tolerance for such weakness.

The strong are those who let life surge through them, who develop their talents, who develop the strength to not begrudge the strong, but rather to learn from them how to be strong in one’s own way. The strong live life with backbone. They stand up for their rights and the rights of others. Strength does not necessitate the blustering of machismo. It may be soft-spoken and full of moderation. Strength is about bringing fullness to life, in all of its varied dimensions, with the ultimate goal of everyone holding their own and standing up for themselves. Those who are less fortunate receive support to help them develop their strengths. Strength will distribute extra fish, but it more readily teaches how to fish.

There is no room in strength for the disdain of those who are less fortunate, for our strengths have been wyrded to help compensate for those less fortunate in our kith and kin. Together we stand strong and tall, when all throw their strengths together, and those strengths can compensate for each other. Kith and kin care for each other. That is a good and strong thing. Infirmity is not weakness. What many call “disdain for weakness” is in fact itself the greatest weakness.

The weak are those who, as a habit of life, sap the strength of others. On these terms, the strong are never under any obligation to tolerate the weak. In fact, on these terms, the ultimate goal of strength is to eliminate weakness altogether. Infirmity, variable fortune, fallibility --- all of these a folk can weather, and still get through fairly prosperous, the gods willing, if they throw their strengths together. But weakness only weakens everyone.

That is why I say that heathenism is a religion of the strong against the weak. May weaklings who would misread these words to bolster their own niding attitudes and actions be shamed into developing their own strengths.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Odin and Expediency


If you're the guy in charge, you do what it takes.

Expediency, in the service of love. (See Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethics.)

You don't shirk from getting your hands dirty if it will help the situation.

You accept failure and even dishonour as a worthy sacrifice for doing what needs to be done to help those you love.

And if it is the world, the very World Tree that you love, expediency may be higher on your priority list than it is for others.

And you may take flack for it.

And if you love the World Tree, that flack may be worth it.

But you have to have the Wisdom to back up any Expediency you may Dare. Because Expediency is always a Risk. If you "do what it takes" and bypass ordinary rules and even ethics, you'd better have the Wisdom to guide it.

The bottom line is that Wisdom is the highest value of all, along with Love. It is not Expediency per se that is the top value. Expediency is Wisdom's Servant, never the other way around, or things go awry.

Because Expediency is a Gamble, things may go wrong. They may not turn up as well as one might like. There might be some messy cleanup to do. One accepts that. One becomes skillful at making a good thing out of a mess.

Odin accepts his mistakes. He admits them. He even "grounds" himself in them, in a certain sense. He accepts their existence, and their possibility, and thus is able to deal fair and square with reality, with no excuses, and no guilt, although he may have remorse. But he moves on and deals with the situation, cleans up the mess that has been made, and tries to make something creative out of it. He composts that which has gone to shit, and returns with fresh manure. (A Freyr-skill, but something Odin, in this sense, is skilled at as well.)

Odin knows that a mistake can never fully be corrected, because the original situation cannot be completely restored. A new equilibrium must be reached, a situation that compensates by creating new goods and new possibilities.

Odin is Expediency in the Service of Wisdom. Loki, on the other hand, is Expediency in the Service of Caprice ; with that formula, he has a good chance of striking good up to half the time. The problem, of course, is the other half. Was it Odin who taught Loki how to make good on his mistakes? Certainly, at first, at least, they both had much to learn from each other, and found their friendship profitable.

Odin sometimes messed with things he knew ethically perhaps he oughtn't have, but he was guided by a love for things and a desire to correct things. A couple times this backfired horribly. His consultation of the mother of three monsters, for instance, who advised the rendexvous with Rind, and the debacle that resulted in his exile. Oh, he knows what it is to be on the outside. Imagine what it must have felt like. But he had to learn how to accept what was, and move from there. He knew how to twirl the soil in his fingers and find new possibilities through the very acceptance of life's grit and texture.

It is by facing facts that we ween unforeseen, magical possibilities.

Ghostpitality (Gestrisni)

A question which has vexed modern heathenry is whether "possession" by spirits is a legitimate experience connected with the magic arts of spa and seidr. Eric the Red's Saga clearly demonstrates Thorbjorg summoning "nattura", or nature-spirits to her, with magical, enchanting songs, and they bring her information about the fate of the farm for which she is prophecying. Frigg summons to her all of the spirits of the earth, of fire, water, iron, plants, etc., to make them swear oaths to her. Clearly there is something akin to "possession" that is experienced in these magical states, but it is perhaps more akin to a kind of visiting custom. In other words, it is a matter of hospitality, for which there is no better guide than the Havamal.

The Havamal, the inspired words of the High One, Odin, that brilliant practical manual of proverbs and saws for good living, can be read as a manual for how to host the ghosts, because it is full of good advice on hospitality and friendships. In this light, it may be read as a virtual Wizard's Manual, a guide to conjuring and how to host the spirits who come. The word "guest" comes from *ghostis "strange", which is obviously related to *ghois- "to be excited, frightened" ; the former refers to someone from a different place, while the latter refers to a ghost, who comes from a different place! In other words, there is an oblique but very real etymological kinship between the words "ghost" and "guest". The Havamal, being a manual of guestliness, is also a manual of ghostliness, or as I have quipped here, of Ghostpitality.

Havamal's Rede of Gestrisni (Hospitality)

Havamal teaches many rules of thumb to guide the host-and-guest relationship, which I shall summarize here. Hosts should provide guests with warmth, food, water, and a good reception. (Havamal 3,4.) Guests should have some knowledge, but should also demonstrate caution, and not be overboastful in what they know. (Havamal 5, 6.) A guest should not be incoherent, completely silent, or drunk. (Havamal 17.) For the guest's knowledge to be reliable, the guest should have had travelled wide and experienced a lot. (Havamal 18). Guests will return to visit those who treat them in a friendly fashion, even if they hale from far, but even local guests will avoid the hospitality of those who are unfriendly. (Havamal 34, 121, 122). Guests should never be insulted or mocked, regardless of their kin or origin. (Havamal 134, 137.) Guests should enjoy their stay but not overstay their welcome. (Havamal 35). Regardless of how humble his station, a host is always master of his house, and should not grovel or beg. (Havamal 36). Hosts and guests should exchange gifts and attempt to empower each other. (Havamal 41, 42). When hosts and guests trust each other, they should blend their minds together (geði skaltu við þann blanda (Havamal 44), Sifjum er þá blandat, hver er segja ræðr einum allan hug (Havamal 124)). Hosts and guests should enjoy each other, with a spirit of fun and laughter, but dishonest or untrustworthy guests should be treated by the same standard they mete out. (Havamal 44, 45). One should not share much information with a bad or foolish guest, and should not contend with them. (Havamal 119, 124, 125, 127). Before they blend their minds with each other, they should make sure that they have taken the time to get to know each other well, for new acquaintanceships often begin with enthusiasm, but peter out. (Havamal 51). One should take the time, therefore, to make sure that the relationship is characterized by trust, confidence, the ability to keep secrets if necessary, and the safety that good faith provides. (Havamal 44). With one's confidant, one should avoid quarreling. (Havamal 123.) Hosts should be generous and brave, and not characterized by undue superstition and fear. (Havamal 48). The prudent one will be able to defend his or her own by taking appropriate precautions, having one's weapons at hand if they are needed. (Havamal 38). It is good for hosts and guests to put their minds together in this way, because self-reliance, while important, is not sufficient; we are enriched by company and exchange. (Havamal 50). One does not need to overgive, because sometimes the simplest offerings, of a little bread, and some drink, are good enough to establish good relations. (Havamal 52, 147.) When inquiring of news from a traveling guest, it is wise to be moderate and careful for what one asks, because too much information may simply weigh the mind down ; therefore, the appropriate, and just the proper, needed information is what should be explored. (Havamal 54, 55, 56). Sometimes all the guest needs to do is get the spark going in the host, and the host will be able to figure out all that is needed from this initial inspiration. (Havamal 57.) When they confer, the host needs to know how to properly inquire, as well as what information to impart, and it is best if they both keep their counsels confidential, lest gossip spread what only concerns a few to those whom it doesn't concern at all. (Havamal 63).

If host and guest(s) intend to embark on any adventure or enterprise together, the best time to commence work to their advantage is in the wee hours of the morning, the ótta (1) just before daybreak. (Havamal 58, 59.) Before they embark on their adventures, and in fact, even before the guests arrive, the host should take stock of all material needs, including especially making sure that the shelter is sound, and the fire warm, for the guests. (Havamal 60.) All such materials and tools should be prepared oneself to make sure they are trustworthy. (Havamal 128.) When the folk meet in council to decide on their course of action, their clothing or superficial appearance does not matter, but they should make sure they have washed and are well-fed. (Havamal 61, 118). Timing is important in such matters ; while the work proper may be done at ótta, travelling is often best done at night, and one should pay attention to the season and the weather. (Havamal 74). Night is also the best time for scouting-missions. (Havamal 114.) Those embarking on these kinds of enterprises, however, should remember that fortune is often quite variable, and gain, which is easily lost, does not always translate into wisdom. (Havamal 78, 79). Not until the results are certain and the fruits already enjoyed should the enterprise be praised. (Havamal 81). One should exercise appropriate caution at every step of the way, for many things turn out to be untrustworthy, and it does not pay in such things to be too trusting.(Havamal 84 - 89.) One's intentions in such things ought to be to either do good or to fight the wicked(Havamal 129, 130), although one should remember that no one is wholly good or bad. (Havamal 135).

When host and guest(s) blend their minds together in an intimate way, great affection can arise, but one must be careful, because love is tricky, and beings can be fickle with one another. (Havamal 90 - 94.) Our own desires can make fools of us. (Havamal 93, 94).

Wizardry and Havamal's Rede of Ghostrisni

So what are the implications of all this for wizardry?

When one welcomes a spirit into one's self, one should treat the spirit with hospitality, but it should behave with guestliness. You are always in charge in your own home, and a good guest does not overstay his or her welcome. You should never beg, but only ask what is prudent. You should invite in those who are experienced and wise, and who you have learned to trust over time. Spirits who babble incoherencies or refuse to speak should be kindly dismissed. Be generous with the spirit (s), dismissing superstitious fear for a spirit of boldness. Thus, while this is akin to "possession", it differs inasmuch as it is not supposed to be either a frightening experience, nor one where the spirit "takes over", but one where there is mutual hospitality and guestliness.

The best time to do magical work is at night and the wee hours of the morning. One should be washed and well-fed, and a fire should be lit to keep oneself warm. One should have one's weapons and tools about one, and one should have made them oneself. The space or shelter in which the operation is to take place should be secure. One's clothing does not matter much, but the timing does, paying attention to the season and the weather. One should exercise caution, and intend the best, whether one's mission is for blessings or cursings of ill-doers.

The entire point of the operation is to blend one's mind with the ghost. This is expressed as "geði skaltu við þann blanda", "mind/wits shall blend together" and "Sifjum er þá blandat, hver er segja ræðr einum allan hug", "There is a blending of affinity where one may share all the rede of one's heart with another." This blending or mixing of mind, heart, and desire, is very intimate, and may even have sexual overtones, as the word "blanda" not only means "to mix" but also "sexual intercourse"(2). Great love may arise from this, and here one has to be careful. One will often encounter beings with "beauteous countenance", whose fair form is so dazzling that one's wisdom can easily be captivated. One must speak praises, offer gifts, and court such beings, because one may obtain their love thereby, but one should be careful to not lose one's head! One must be careful not to let down one's guard in their presence (Havamal 115), for their beauty may be the cause that one cares not anymore for things of this world (Havamal 116). It is the typical theme of one who has fallen in love with a Woman of Faerie, who afterwards wastes away because her world is so beautiful and enchanting that the mundane world holds no charm. One must exercise appropriate moderation here, even in the midst of such beauty, lest our desires make fools of us. At the same time, it is appropriate to laugh and have a spirit of celebration. Odin shares his own adventures of love, with Rind and with Gunnlodd, to underline opportunities and provide cautions for such exploits (3).

The purpose of such blending is mutual empowerment, where both sides give to each other. One offers the spirit(s) bread or cakes and wine, milk, or ale, and they offer their own powers. One may learn of the news the spirit has learned in his or her travels, which may be extensive, if the spirit is experienced, but one should be wary of spirits who boast too much. One should be very careful with the information one seeks, and how one asks it, because too much information may be unpleasant. Not only may one scout out the unseen through the familiar's powers, but wealth may be gained, and threatening enemies eliminated (Havamal 58, 59 ; Ynglingasaga 7) (4). But one should never be cocky about such things, because fortune can turn very quickly, and one should not praise the working until its fruits are certain. The spirit itself may go out hamfaring to gain such information or gains, or it may lend its form to the wizard, allowing him or her to ride upon it, so they may travel together.

With a friendly spirit, one ought to visit often, to build up rapport. One can clothe wood shaped into humanoid form (Havamal 49) to symbolize the spirit, and give it a welcome home ; alternatively, one can shape a wand which welcomes the wight, and from which they can be summoned. If, in the course of operations, one runs into trouble, one has recourse to various herbs and magical substances (Havamal 139) as well as special rune-songs (Havamal 148 - 165) that tell how to receive assistance, to heal, to disarm opponents, to free oneself from fetters, to stop projectiles, to turn back hate, to stop fires, to bring peace, to calm the wind and waves, to make astral travellers return to their bodies, to protect in battle, to speak with the dead, to make oneself invulnerable to wounds, to tally up the deeds of men, to utter the blessings of dawn, to bring and to avoid love.

With such advice, such preparations, such careful friendship, and such tools, the wizard is well-armed.


1 In Hrólfs Saga Kraka 48, we learn that Skuld, there an elf-maiden and sorceress, but also the name of Urd's sister who is considered a valkyrie as well, is followed by álfar ok nornir ok annat ótöluligt illþýði, "elves, norns, and the ill crowd of the last part of the night". The word ótöluligt is from the word ótta, which denotes the last part of the night just before daybreak. In this saga, her retinue of elves, luck-fairies (norns), and those who travel about in the last part of the night, fits her function as a sorceress.

2 Seidr seems to always have been associated with sexuality. Ynglingasaga calls it "ergi", which implies a kind of nymphomania or promiscuity, as well as a kind of receptive sexuality that welcomes others to come in. Someone characterized by "ergi", in other words, is a good host with many guests. The term nymphomania, if taken literally, actually translates what ergi is all about in the context of seidr, literally a mania or enthusiasm for nymphs or elven fairy-spirits (also called "nattura"). Such receptive sexual-spiritual hosting was considered in the context of patriarchal sexuality to be effeminate, and therefore unmanly. The term ergi can also be used to denote a man who is sexually penetrated. There are cross-gender implications here. In this regard, we find the word seið-skratti, which denotes a wizard, but which literally means "seidr through skratti". Well, what is a "scratt"? Here my friend Carla O'Harris has done all the relevant research, and I gratefully draw upon her analysis here. A "scraett" is a hermaphroditic spirit of the wild, a kind of elfin or satyr-like incubus/succubus. (And noting their hermaphroditic nature, let us recall all of the cross-dressing ritual in European festive folklore.) This is why witches were always accused of relations with an incubus, as well as having intercourse with demons. From the indigenous side, the folk-culture referred to "fairy brides" (as well as fairy husbands), where not only the enchantment of sexuality, but also love, are experienced. Several modern studies of astral travel have noted that there is a kind of sexuality experienced in hamfaring, and reportedly, sexual sharing with those encountered in such states can be quite powerful. As I've stated before, Freya, being the Teacher of the Art of seidr, is also the Goddess of Love, and it is clear that it involves a blending of mind, heart, and soul on a level of intimacy which only physical sexuality is capable of symbolizing and expressing.

3 Consider that Odin says that Vel keypts litar hefi ek vel notit, "A well kept form had I good use" when he was at Suttung's with Gunnlodd, and that Skaldskaparmal 1 says that "Þá brást hann í arnarham ok flaug sem ákafast," "Then he changed into the shape (ham) of an eagle and flew with eagerness," all of which imply that he was ham-faring on this adventure. Similarly, in Saxo's telling (in Book Three of his History of the Danes) of Odin's wooing of Rind (Billing's lass), he assumes many different forms in an attempt to woo her, and that this constituted seidr is confirmed by the fact that the gods found this conduct on his part extremely shameful, while Ynglingasaga 7 says that seidr is "fylgir svo mikil ergi að eigi þótti karlmönnum skammlaust", "followed by mighty ergi (sexual shamefulness) that it is not thought without shame for a freeman". We know Odin practiced it, however, for Ynglingasaga 4 states that Freya taught it to all the Aesir, and Loki in Lokasenna 24 reveals that Odin pounded on the vats with volvas at Samso. All of this suggests that Odin's adventures with Gunnlodd and Rind may very well have been hamfaring adventures, where the element of love was involved, shared here to remind the wizard to exercise moderation in such wooings.

4 One ought to compare the language of Ynglingasaga 7, "Óðinn kunni þá íþrótt svo að mestur máttur fylgdi og framdi sjálfur, er seiður heitir, en af því mátti hann vita örlög manna og óorðna hluti, svo og að gera mönnum bana eða óhamingju eða vanheilindi, svo og að taka frá mönnum vit eða afl og gefa öðrum.", "Odinn knew that skill in which the most might follows and which he practiced himself, that is called seidr, because of which he might know the orlog of men and their un-ordained lot, so he could cause the death of a man or unluck (rob luck) or bad-health, and so take the wit or strength from one man and give it to another." with Havamal 58, "Ár skal rísa sá er annars vill fé eða fjör hafa", "Early shall rise he who another man's wealth or life will have". In the Ynglingasaga passage, Odin demonstrates the power to take the life of another, and to rob from one man to give to another, and we find the same powers in the Havamal passage. With this, however, it is best to remember Odin's words of caution, how fortune may quickly turn in such matters. One follows here Havamal 129, hvars þú böl kannt,kveð þú þér bölvi at ok gef-at þínum fjándum frið, "where you know misfortune, declare that that is your misfortune, and do not give your foes peace." In other words, don't let ill escape justice ; on the other hand, in these matters, one would be very wise to consult Havamal 130, whose spirit must guide all ventures : illu feginn ver þú aldregi, en lát þér at góðu getit, "Of ill never be joyful, but let good get for you joy." A word to the wise is sufficient.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Loosening the Gods

ok leysir ór höptum hvern.
"And loosens out of every bond." (Lokasenna 37,
said of Freyr)

"Leysir" can mean "loosen, free, dissolve", while "höptum" are "bonds, chains, fetters."

But interestingly enough, the word "höptum" is also a word used to refer to the Gods.

Now what would it mean to say that Freyr "loosens every god"?

Freyr is a god of Freedom and Joy, a god of Laughter and Liberation, a god of Celebration and Merriment.

Would Freyr want us to be in bondage to anyone or anything, including the Gods?

If Freyr loosens the bonds, he does so to give us that slack we need to not be uptight about something that is supposed to be a joyous relationship. Our bonds are bonds of trust, bonds of faith, that make us strong and resilient. They are not meant to put us into bondage.

Freyr as Liberator reminds us to not relate to our Gods as if we were in bondage to them.

That means we can question "them", we can think about "them" in different ways. I put "them" in quotes, because often when we dare to do this, we discover that we have not been questioning them at all, but our own concepts about them, which get in the way. Really we are in bondage to our own limited conceptions.

Are the Gods cosmic cartoon-characters who fit in every way their mythical image? Of course not! Those are stories, told to make their very real forces in the world come alive in the imagination, and allow important lessons to pass on through narratives. I don't dismiss the importance of those narratives when I say that ; they have been precisely crafted. But does that mean that worship has something to do with merely conjuring an image of a mythical character, and pledging ourselves to this character? That sounds like silly idolatry to me.

It also reminds me of Christians, who always said to "take Jesus into your heart". I always got the impression that all you had to do was visualize this guy with a beard in the center of your chest, and send some good feelings his way, and that was all there was to it. I'm convinced that for a lot of Christians this is actually the extent of their devotion. It's very devout play-acting that doesn't get to the essence. (No, I'm not insulting all Christians here. There are many Christians who go beyond this.)

The gods as images, as characters, are vehicles to help us experience their real forces which are inexplicable in real terms, at least in earth terms. In fact, it's absurd, in a sense, to try to pin them down with earth language, so far better to cast them in terms of predictable, easily memorizable characters whom the playful side of the mind can easily imagine and relate to. But the relation is to the force, the archetype, and not the image per se. Now some are going to say that I am trying to reduce the gods by calling them "forces" or "archetypes". You can use whatever word you wish ; I'm merely trying to articulate that they are mysteries beyond any theological theory of forces, archetypes, gods, personalities, images, etc. One can clutter one's mind with charts of correspondences or relate to a mental heavenly bureaucracy hoping one's prayers will go to the right department, or one can step back, breathe, and discover the profundity within simplicity.

I call it being A/Gnostic. Gnostic meaning valuing one's real, spiritual experiences. Agnostic meaning capable of questioning the frameworks we utilize to express those experiences. "Are the Gods real?" Gnostic : "Of course, I experience them." Agnostic : "Do you mean the characters in Marvel Comics' Thor?" From an A/Gnostic perspective, if an atheist comes to us and says, "Do you really believe in these things?", we can respond by saying, "Tell me what you mean when you say "believe". Is there love in my being for these powerful beauties (and beautiful powers) beyond expression? If you can get the poetry, as poetry, you are experiencing everything that is necessary ; all that is then required is to join the poetry by making your own life significant through living a life of poetry, power, and values."

We aren't required to worship our gods the way Christian theology envisions worshipping their deity. I've actually discovered a paradoxical effect to our gods such that on days when I am in a mood to dismiss them, or question them, those are the days I experience them the most powerfully! And no, not with any feeling of retribution or "told you so". Almost as if they were saying, duh, we're in your blood, you don't have to believe in us. We're here whether you believe in us or not. You will feel us.

It's more scientific that way. We're allowed to test reality. We're allowed to test our experience. Veistu hvé freista skal? Do you know how to test? We're dealing with reality here, not beliefs. Beliefs are just a way to approach reality. We're allowed to test our experience. And it has been my experience that when I do, I feel them even more.

I think that is what it may mean to "loosen the Gods". Freyr doesn't want our mind fettered, or for us to be cowering before mental imageries. It's ok to have fun, and to enjoy, even a good laugh or two from time to time in a well-meaning spirit of camaraderie.

Heathenism is totally compatible with agnostics and atheists, because it goes beyond either theism or atheism. And I think one can find traces of that in the theology of the Rhineland mystic Meister Eckhart, who perhaps carried on vestiges of a heathen approach to the gods. Eckhart's theology is very unique, and it was threatening to the Catholic Church, who condemned him. Eckhart had the courage to say, "I pray God to rid me of God."

Bil Darlison ( calls this the approach of the "Atheistic Mystic", which is a great term. Darlison interprets Eckhart's quotation as meaning "I pray to be freed from this anthropomorphic creation of my own imagination which is actually impeding my ability to reconnect with the source of my existence, a source which I can only encounter within myself and not in some fancied external entity." That seems right on, except I would add that for a heathen, the source is not solely within the self, but also within the world. The world is a revelation of godhood. Of multiple godhood. Of multiple mysteries.

Ultimately, there is Wyrd. That is another way of saying Mystery. It means, we can stand under the stars with atheist friends and agree that as humans living in the mortal Midgard world, we don't know what the ultimate truths are, and are unable to ultimately define the gods --- in words. But in our hearts --- and in the world of feeling and purpose and power our hearts reveal to us --- there we know.

A/Gnosticism. It's a heathen way to consider.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Treatise on Wod

is dynamic ecstasis as a value and condition of health without which people stagnate. When Woden is your god, you live in a world of adventure and excitement, a world of movement and dynamic growth, where even things that appear to be still are simply in slower phases of dynamic development. This is not a universe of stasis, stagnation, where everything is in its place. Rather, it is an exciting, challenging universe of creative chaos, and those who can be most creative with the dance of chaos reap the most rewarding and interesting dividends.

The Greeks felt change was a problem and elevated stasis – beingness – nonchange—as the desirable norm. A worldview that champions wod champions becoming, growth, development. By searching for an essence, an unchanging core, we are using a Greek-style analysis and assuming their metaphysics of stasis from the get-go. Ultimately if wod is your core value, you remain slippery, indefinable, unknowable, mercurial, in transition, neither this nor that, becoming-nomad. Wod gives you a nomadic orientation and emphasis even if you are not living a fully nomadic life, and thus, your essence is ever-changing and magical, not sought in coagulation and stasis but in the movement itself.

Woden is therefore Master of Change, Master of Dynamic Movement, Master of Turbulence, and as this Master of Dynamis, he actually, surprisingly, recommends moderation : a good amount of change, chaos, creativity, and movement, rather than any extreme. He appears here as a kind of Shiva Buddha, one who knows the dance through experience, and has found the optimal point, the center of the cyclone, the balancing point – and that is, of course, Yggdrasil, the Tree. From that still point, which is not still actually but a point of paradox where stillness is motion and motion is stillness – from that point of dynamic stillness, one can shift perspectives from one world to another with ease.

“Yes, what you are saying is true, and … and then listen to … and …” Multiplicity tempering any one way of looking at things. A nomadic perspective is one where you can value what’s in any one place without being limited by it because you are familiar with other places. In Havamal, Odin says you only know men when you’ve traveled widely.

Wod is that force that stirs us out of our homes and beckons us out to the open road, to join the throng and feel the collective bodies of the pack in motion, to be carried by turbulence, seeking wild encounter, to feel intoxicated, mad with mead, fired by enthusiasm, out in the nomadic movement, the chaos of stars, the rushing rabble at the heart of creativity. Woden knows such moments are good. They are good for us. It is resisting such movement that brings about its excesses. Woden always wants the good, and advises against too-much, excess, yfil, and advises moderation. But moderation in the fullness of passion and soul-movement. When Woden calls the soul, personal and/or collective, to move, it is good for it to move ; it is when it is resisted for too long that the fury builds up to excesses, lynchings, pogroms. These are side effects of wod denied for too long. Wod has a Dionysian, infectious, even epidemic feel to it, a drunk-on-God wildness that makes the body shake and quake and move with other bodies out to encounter the bodies of the Other and see what ecstasies are possible. Such mass hysterias can indeed be dangerous, as history has proven, but Woden teaches us to trust them, and if we follow them in our hearts, he will guide them towards a good place. But as Woden is the Wizard of Wisdom, Wod must be a pure force ungoverned by ideology or dogma, which distorts it, must be free of scapegoating, and must have jotunnish impulses – which some too readily associate with wod (the storm of a jotunn is not the storm of Woden)--- ousted.

As Morris Berman indicates in his new book on nomadism, Wandering God, such turbulent movement of the pack is necessary to the human soul. Too much stagnation breeds collective madness (a kind of soul cabin-fever) that leads to tragic excesses and war, but if wod is regularly followed when Woden blows it our way, our lives are enlivened with appropriate enthusiasm where we live our madness instead of being driven insane.

Wod asks the question of the ungoverned encounter. What do you do once your naked body has encountered the naked body of the other? (We are not picturing an orgy here but naked tribal warriors like New Guinea Danae in full war paint out on the field confronting each other. Look at the Danae in ‘War’, and you have an idea of the kinds of encounters wod can stir up.) You let madness take over. You dance. You assault. You scream. You sing. You embrace. You allow the moment to have its own quality outside all rules – and that is wyrded (fated)!

But if this has been locked into a set of ideological, dogmatic, or militarist rules, the ungoverned encounter becomes domesticated, controlled, and colonized, and the true madness of the wild moment and its possibilities for interchange and spontaneous gift are lost, leaving the soul unfed, and hungry for more. Let us not mistake absolutism for wod, fanaticism for open-ended enthusiasm. Absolutism is closed down to surprise and questioning ; fanaticism has too much certainty, whereas wod is made exciting by its very uncertainty. One never knows what will happen next, and thus one is open to surprise, suggestion, and questioning, something that doesn’t’ happen with the regimentation of wod that militaries represent, which leave the need unfed. The wod has been unconsummated because it has been coopted, and without this experience of ecstatic satiety, the gnawing unconsummated hunger can turn jotunnish, and it is this jotunnish, unconsummated remnant that is manipulated and used by the strategists of war to fire their military engines. This is not good. This is not what Woden intended the good gift of wod for.

Wod is a force of anarchy, and is degraded by ideologies and regulations. Wod inspires anarchical packs meeting in ecstasy. From this standpoint, Woden as God is the Master of Anarchy, the Anarchist God dancing through chaos to wisdom. Indeed, chaos scientists have found the world to function on a turbulent foundation of chaos and brilliantly unpredictable nonlinear growth patterns that show the kaleidoscopic blossoming of wod in the world, and that is Woden’s work. Woden is the God of an age that trusts chaos, and gives itself over to the wisdom of the ecstatic moment, without the armoring that distorts, channelizes, and turns it sadistic. I am not going to mince words nor be diplomatic here. Nazism, the Crusades, the European pogroms all prove that wod is a dangerous force if it is allowed to be coopted or dogmatized in any way, and yet it is a force to be contended with that is real, arises in history, and arises with reason and for the good, and so we must – we must – fiercely resist its dogmatisation and militarization or there will only be more pogroms, witchhunts, and scapegoating. If social movement is not allowed to be anarchical, self-regulating, and autopoetic, it creates great disasters : this history has shown. The alternative is not to fight or resist or control hysteria, but to bewild and de-armor hysteria so it serves as a force of nature, renewal, and ‘justice’ envisioned as collective realignment with the flow of Wyrd. When stagnation has settled people counter to the flows of Wyrd, stirring up is needed to generate movement towards realignment with Wyrd’s movements.

Odin carries a sense of “you don’t have control over anything”, and turns that sense into exhilaration, with wild eyes : what a ride, eh? There’s a relinquishment to the flow, and learning how to ride it. That may be part of the magic of the runes. Control is not what you have, and it is not what the gods have. Rather, there are riddles, and with luck, the insight to figure them, and by figuring them, you improve your ability to surf the uncontrollable. The runes help you to surf the uncontrollable, not to tame or domesticate them.

Woden is the wisdom in chaos, the laughing magic of a beautifully disordered and completely natural world. And Woden saw the Wod in the world, and it was good. Flows of strangeness and difference bring wisdom, so the stranger must be treated with hospitality. This exchange of difference enlivens. This keeping-turbulent of the social realm through mass movements and the welcoming of difference into the home itself is what ensures justice. Without welcoming chaos into our hearts and discovering the gifts difference brings, our homes stagnate, and this stagnation breeds all kinds of ills. The human family cannot be confined to just our kin or even our own species, but brotherhood manifests unpredictably, and the stranger may be a messenger of the gods. This is seen clearly in both Grimnisal and Rigsthula. Woden can be seen as a force of inclusion : include the stranger, include the old, include the young. Apparently he tried even to include the jotnar, but that hasn’t worked yet (but knowing Odin, “yet” may be the key word). To have Woden as All-Father means to trust in Wod. It also means to tend it, to ensure it does not get refused, coopted, or regulated, but rather is allowed to regulate itself in continuing autopoetic processes of emergence and surprise.

It’s difficult for me to picture Odin in the stereotypic way as a “god of war”. A god of riots, perhaps – and maybe old time wars were more like riots. A leader of the Wild Hunt, certainly – and thus, possibly, of raids, like the molimo made of the Mbuti that roams wild through the camp to chase out the noisy spirits of unrest. The Wild Hunt is a response to stagnation, but war as a defense of rights is more Tyr’s thing ; a fight against bullies is more Thor’s thing. A good party – Freyr and Freya’s thing. But Odin’s throngs are about clearing the air so we may be freed up to wonder in a world of mystery. Odin is more like the general who keeps his troops out in the field not for any war but to keep them mobilized, to open up an alternative form of life as the nomadic throng – even Quixote-like, inventing battles just to keep people out in the field. Odin doesn’t love disaster, but he loves the way people throng together during disasters in a sense of togetherness against the elements and a stronger sense of aliveness, so Odin strives to preserve that elemental edge, creating situations that call us out into that encounter with the elemental world, if for nothing else but the sheer sake of keeping us from being domesticated. And the more responsive we are to that call, the less disastrous the situation has to be : the key point is preparedness for mystery, readiness for the fresh and surprising. Odin’s wars are spiritual wars, his armies throngs of lone-warriors (einheriar) fighting their battle with the elements to unlock mysteries that cannot be found in complacency. Thus, Odin uncomplacencizes, and in ages where war is the only way to do this, well, he will utilize what is necessary, but his intent is not war per se but the mobilization of the lone-warrior in throngs to fight their spiritual battles, clear the air, and to be in the midst, on the road, where life’s riddles may be knuckled and puzzled in the midst of wyrd. In nomadic ages, it was easier ; in more complacent ages, only disaster seems to stir people. Odin wants to stir us, spiritually, so we may be more alive. There is grandeur and glory in a windstorm, and we are called out into wisdom.

This is an older essay of mine, from about 2003, and while I might put qualifications around certain terms and phrases, and expand them, I still think it retains some power and charm.

Reflections on Mannaz

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the book Stripping the Gurus ( by Geoffrey D. Falk, in which he exposes the inanity of various religious figures who got too big for their britches, and this gave me pause to reflect on the meaning of the rune Mannaz, "mankind."

Human beings are beautifully flawed, fallible creatures of the earth with the gifts of breath that allows their mind to float on the wind, and the gift of poetic inspiration (odr) that is also madness, meaning their ideas, potentially brilliant and beautiful, often take them on crazy trips and bouts of foolish fury. The fallible nature of humans, if accepted with a deep and critical tolerance, can be something beautiful. There is a poignancy to their daring and stumbling nature. The flawed fallibility of human beings provokes an attitude of humility, which is not false modesty, abnegation, or self-abasement, which would violate heathen values of pride and boldness, but rather understanding the essential connection between the hum-an and the hum-us, man and earth. Heathen humility keeps us grounded. We all have our flaws, and therefore we must be careful in how far we venerate any man, even our heroes. They too are human. It also means that we must temper our trust with a careful dose of salt and common sense, for "men switcheth", they change their minds, they betray, their loyalty is not always certain.

Hoenir's gift to humankind (odr) is double-edged, giving us the capacity to generate inspired thoughts that can connect us to the gods, but also providing hooks through which Loki can, to his glee, lead us into paths of terrible folly and illusion, all while seeming perfectly sound and reasonable.

The poetic mind-of-madness (odr) given to humans means that besides being able to create elegant and noble philosophies, beautiful poetry, and brilliant, grounded, and attuned strategy, that same mind is also capable of the greatest foolishness, self-delusion, and production of bovine excreta. For this reason, one of the greatest tools a heathen can have is that of freista, of questioning and testing, of critical inquisition, for it is freista that generates that most useful of instruments that Hemingway recommended for all good writers, a bovine excreta detector. Follow your nose, it always knows. If it looks like, smells like, stinks like ... it probably is. As Mr. T might say, "Don't be a sucker."

This combination of heathen humility and freista gives the average heathen a very grounded and healthy anti-authoritarian attitude that does not conflict with loyalty to a good leader. This is true for many reasons ; first, that a good leader is one who does not lose his connection to the folk nor to her or his own fallibility, secondly, that a heathen is not looking for perfection in a leader, but a "good bargain", something that will not solve all problems but will improve things palpably, thirdly, that both folk and leaders do not expect leaders to be perfectly enlightened or to engage in self-sacrifice, but rather are prone to good guesses and flashes of insight that in the pragmatic prove good more often than not (accompanied by a willingness to admit mistakes with frankness), and leaders are entitled to their own share of human selfishness that every human shares, which is ok, so long as it does not surpass the proportions of natural satiety. So long as it knows how to say "enough", selfishness is not a bad thing, and so therefore heathen leaders do not have to hide behind facades of hypocrisy in satisfying their urges, while at the same time, if these become outrageous, they will be called on their outrages --- and they know it. Finally, loyalty to a leader always takes place within a web of oaths, none of which can be violated ; therefore, loyalty to a leader cannot interfere with or violate one's loyalty to family, to the earth, to the gods, and to oneself. This is why Germanic oaths of loyalty were always couched in so many clauses of exception : to map out the web in the midst of the vow. Leaders understood these limitations on loyalty, and respected them : when Dietrich's retainers found themselves in a conflict with loyalty towards him due to obligations of kinship, Dietrich demonstrated understanding in letting them go. All of these constitute important checks and balances within the unwritten heathen folk-constitution, which seldom had to be written down because they were lived and so obvious, but which would profit through articulation in the present precisely because of their modern dearth.

The ability to practice no-nonsense loyalty, with admiration for good deeds, that never forgets the fallibility of all mankind, is an important heathen ability. All of Heimdall's sons, high as well as low, are men, and are subject to the foibles and flaws of the human condition. This includes those with the highest levels of inspiration and the greatest luck, those with the most subtle insights, and even the most kind. Even the wise may be foolish at times. One of Odin's greatest strengths is to admit his flaws and foolishness : that was a good king!

A good leader gets "on the jazz", as was said of Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith of the A-Team, and thus gains excellent grasp of the situation and how to handle it. This often works. Yet it is not infallible. Even the A-Team often ended up tied up in a garage having to figure out how to get out. Sometimes a plan comes together and sometimes it doesn't. When it does, it has a marvelous quality that speaks of the gods touching the leader, and that can be an exalted place of victory, of sig, but this wonderful luck, so admired and so envied, still has nothing to do with miracle-working or levels of perfection. Rather, mundane miracles of mannaz.

Heathen humility comes natural. The Icelandic and Old Norse Rune Poems describe "mannaz" by saying that Maðr es moldar auki, "Man is the seed of the earth", or the "progeny of the ground". There is soil in us, holy aurr- clay coming up through our roots as we stretch our arms towards the heavens. The Old Norse Rune Poem follows by saying mikil es greip a hauki, "mighty is the grip of the hawk". Skaldskaparmal 18 mentions the valsham Friggjar "hawk-shape of Frigg" with which she soars in ham-faring. If Frigg is Jord, as some scholars have suggested, and I believe, then as children of the earth, her grip upon us is indeed mighty. We are always in her grasp. The Anglo Saxon Rune Poem reminds us that we shall return to earth when it says, Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof: sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican, forðum drihten wyle dome sine þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan. "Man is mirth to his beloved kin, but each one shall depart from the other ; indeed, the lord shall doom this poor flesh to be delivered into the earth". The verb "swican", here contextually translated as "depart from", generally has a connotation of wandering, not necessarily in the adventurous sense, but more like the wavering from one's true place, or wandering-astray, because other meanings of the term include "deceive" and "betray". The poet surely chose this word to remind us all of our capacity to "switch", to turn even on the ones we love, and to this end, to remind us that someday we too shall be committed to the earth, and thus to value our kin while we are alive and with them.

The Icelandic Rune Poem reminds us that we are meant to be joys to each other : Maðr er manns gaman, "Man is the joy of man". The word "gaman", from which we get our modern word "game", denotes fun, amusement, glee, but it is essentially a combination of "mann", "man" and the combining prefix "ge" : ge-mann, meaning people together. The Gothic inflection, gaman, means "participation" or even "communion". The optimism and humanism of our ancestors come out in these words, for when people gather together, there can be a communion characterized by a spirit of joy, fun, and amusement. For this reason, we should stay true to each other and not "switcheth". We need not wander astray from each other, for we were meant to travel together. The Icelandic Rune Poem says that we are skipa skreytir, the adornment of ships ; in other words, we are all on this boat together, and so it behooves us to remember that we are all human, for everyone of us will one day be the adornment of that ship which sails for the great world beneath. We can celebrate our humanity, with all its foibles, knowing that to be human is a good thing, despite our flaws, for when we come together in a spirit of participation, there is fun to be had that makes short shrift of all the mischief pompous pretentiousness would invite Loki to provoke. So don't get too big for your britches, but stand tall, and laugh! If you stand back and let go, the tragicomedy has its merits of mirth.