Treatise on Wod
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.