Monday, April 14, 2008

What Makes A Heathen?

The Eddas are beautiful fossils, but they alone do not make a heathen. Cognitive familiarity with the nature of the gods is edifying, but it alone does not make a heathen. Experience with blot and sumble is a good thing, but it alone does not make a heathen.

All of these are necessary, but far, far from sufficient, and only take on significance and meaning when the sufficiency has been supplied : then they blossom and bloom, full of perfume and color and vibrancy.

There is a living quality that cannot be created through mechanistic application of eddic or ritual formulas. One will remain a Roman Citizen with a thin veneer of heathen dressup on top. You have to become aboriginal. You have to become indigenous.

This is going to take time. It is going to take effort. Effort to deepen. Effort to let go, to unlearn. Effort to question. Effort to open the heart to the pulsation of the world's heart. Unless this can be achieved, all the rest is superficial nonsense. This is not a mind game. The only way to make it real is to open the heart and live from the heart.

If you keep it all in your head, if you maintain your detachment, if you try to hold on to your need to control, my Gods, if you are concerned with being normal, you will remain a Roman Citizen in a very strange and archaic costume.

You have to develop a feeling for wild nature. You have to allow yourself to feel, to be deeply affected by the natural world in order to feel the power pulsating within it. This is the heart from which all of the religious superstructure was originally generated. It is this heart-connection to the world that has been cut off by the Roman Empire, and all the externals in the world won't do a bit of good for humpty-dumpty unless you begin at the beginning, and tap into source.

We jump into teaching people the Gods -- the Ultimates! -- first, and then wonder when they retain a stale, cardboard comic-book feel. We should begin with plants, and stones, and trees. We should begin with water and soil, and fire. Elementary before advanced. Elementary means forming connections to the elements. Then one can graduate to connection with the fair-folk, the alfar, the landvaettir. Finally, one moves upward (and downward) to Ultimates, relations with the Gods themselves. How to do so unless one has developed a heart-connection with the living world first?

Our guides here are not the Eddas. They are not ritual scripts. They are not history books. They are not even folklore. Begin with the humble. It is in woodcraft one finds one's beginnings : a feel for the land, the woods, herbs, observations of animals and birds, and finding a place in nature, perhaps through camping or hiking or even fishing. We as heathens are doing something wrong if the Boy Scouts are able to provide more primal experiences than we are. We should be making the Boy Scouts seem like --- well, Boy Scouts!!

We train the mind in modern reconstructionism and forget that the mind is only part of wisdom. It is the heart that must be developed. Our ancestors were full-feeling fellows, and it is that capacity we must develop, proudly, without shame, learning to trust ourselves and the living world.

If all you do is shove your mind full of words and concepts, you will get trapped in wordloc, the prison of abstract Roman logic. This is not anti-intellectualism. (No one who knows me will accuse me of being anti-intellectual!! My rigor is impeccable.) It is anti-intellectual-supremacy. The intellect is important, but so is intuition, emotion, heart. This is an integrated path. First
discover yourself as a force of nature, and then blossom from there. If you stay in rules and regulations, and how to behave properly, and strictly within the approved maps, you will never discover authentic, deep heathenism. Find where you are uncontrollable, and uncontrolling, and discover the gentle, subtle, strong, unstoppable power of that wildness.

This isn't about caricature. It's not about acting like a barbarian, or purposely being rude, or play-acting some wildness you see in your head. It's about having the guts to explore your authentic wildness, the uncontrolled / uncontrolling will that animates your being. Worry about finding that first. The courtesy that flows out of that wild gentleness will develop from that in its own good time. First things first.

As a colonized person, as a Citizen of Rome, this prospect of exploring your authentic wildness should terrify you. It should frighten you so much you become embarassed by it and ridicule it. You dismiss it flippantly to push it away. You declare it absurd or nonsensical. You project onto it mayhem, chaos, violence, destruction. All your old superstitions and bugbears rear their ugly heads to see if they can distract you with fear and nightmares, spook you to push you back into defensive rationality and the fear-based obsession to control. All of these indicate just how terrifying this is for a colonized, de-indigenized being. And you don't re-indigenize by play-acting the mythology and rituals of your ancestors, because that simply allows you to continue, underneath it all, to be the scared, controlling/controlled Roman colonized subject that you are
until you release control.

You can't simply collect de-indigenized people, throw together some rituals and formulas, and expect it to all come together. There is a great deal of prerequisite catharsis necessary. Ecdysis -- peeling off the skin of Roman subjection -- is needed. You have to get naked, hairy, and vulnerable before you can experience as well your natural fierceness. Militaristic stances, rules-and-regulations mindsets, preoccupation with weapons, concern with conformity to ancient archaeology and sociology --- these are all distractions meant to keep the soul within the well-controlled mind of empire.

You have to feel free to be your wild self, and respond to the world from that wild heart, building a culture where no one is ashamed to speak and affirm the realities that emerge out of these connections.

All of this will take a while to mature. We all begin awkward, silly, superficial, our intuitive channels clogged with unfinished business, old resentments, unclaimed personal concerns, and undigested insights. Beginners take their first babysteps of intuition as fully-cooked visions and Gods-stamped truth. Over time, some of these initial feelings stay the same and confirm themselves, and some of them develop and succeed each other, as a burned-down forest first grows pioneering fire plants, then larger weeds, then small shrubs, then larger shrubs, then small trees, larger trees, and eventually, over time, Old Growth forest. That's the maturity we're aiming at. But to activate the growth process that makes development towards that goal possible, we have to discover the wild self underneath the clear-cutting self, and release the control that chops down every new growth.

From this wild place, begin developing a feel for wild nature. Cultivate woodcraft. (Not woodworking but woodcraft : woodland skills.) Engage in naturalistic observation. Less mythology, more naturalism. Take time to watch birds, to feel the grass, to gaze at the sensuous bark on tree limbs, to smell the earth, to chew grass in your mouth.

From infancy we have been placed into boxes, channeled in directions that would make us good Roman Citizens. This means to recover the lost capacities of our soul, we may have to go backwards and begin as babies. Babies' first lessons are "sensorimotor". They feel the world, touch the world, taste the world, roll around in the world, cover themselves with world, crawl then walk then bound through world. This kind of sensorimotor experience with nature is necessary to become a heathen. There's no two ways around it.

Intellectual reconstructionism forces the experiential into propriety. What is the proper way of doing this, according to historical accuracy, it asks. This creates nothing but external conformity, an empty shell. One becomes a heathen fundamentally from within. (The actual presence of a real heathen, however, can awaken impulses from within.) This is not antiquarianism. That doesn't mean there isn't an important place for our antiquarian scholars, but they serve the living heart and not vice-versa.

Some may get angry at this. They may say, "I'm a heathen and I haven't done this stuff." I don't care. I don't care whether it angers you, or whether you pull out your 25-year membership card, or recite how many rituals you've been to, or who you know or what you've written (1). If you haven't gone through a process analogous to what I'm describing here, you are still a heathen-in-training.

But that's ok. We all are. Re-indigenizing takes a long time. It is a slow growth. But it is important that we take the first steps on that long and worthy road. In this way, we can make ourselves heathens, make ourselves worthy of our ancient ancestors and the Gods. They will appreciate the effort --- and so will we.


1 This may offend pussyfoot pagans, who are committed conformists to the culture of empire, with a thin aesthetic dressing of paganism on top, too timid to challenge the status quo or rock the boat. I won't cater to such timidity be cause heathenism is a bold folkway, and I won't worry about burning bridges either because those who get offended can retain their right to disagree and meet me in other places where we can still authentically meet. This is a Path of Transformation, not Conformation.


Blogger Azuzil said...

Thank you for writing this. I don't identify as Heathen, but I am one Witch who agrees with you wholeheartedly. Nature is the Teacher and finding your Wild self is key to finding your Authentic self.


9:28 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Wassail, Josh! Thank you for stopping by! I'm glad my words were able to connect us. Keep coming by!

10:39 PM  
Anonymous WyrdGirl said...

Thank you so much for writing this!! It is so incredibly refreshing to find someone with a similar perspective. As a fellow Heathen (well, Heathen-in-training still), I understand your frustration with the modern movement and I constantly find myself disillusioned with Heathenry as it is because of this empty-shell approach. I've been struggling to make others (including other Heathens) understand what you have put so eloquently into words. I see people resisting Heathenry because they want to re-indiginize but think Heathenry is too restrictive and counter to that. I see Heathens becoming disillusioned and losing interest because they only have a superficial understanding and it fails to deliver what they are seeking. And it's all because they aren't taking the right first steps.

11:03 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Critique is a loving act intended to progress the beloved locked in stasis out of stagnancy to continue the voyage of discovery. Wyrd ought teach us the present moment, nor its fervent reification, is not the end-all and be-all, but a node in a meandering, ongoing development. The more we are authentic and real, the more we will find ourselves squirming out of the premade skins, but the more we are authentic and real, the more it will inspire actual movement into heathenry.

This doesn't mean "anything goes", either. There are reasons many heathens stick close to the guidelines, and that is because the undisciplined and superficial imagination often veers off on wildly improbable tangents, and in reaction, tries to reify those. Neither rigidity nor spastic innovation is called for. Tradition can help guide and shape us as it EDUCATES us, going back to the Latin educare, to "draw out". We assume that something heathen lives in us, and that these stories awaken that within us. Once it begins to awaken, it becomes the guiding pulse, and that is quite a different thing than a superficial and undisciplined imagination. It is now an imagination inspired, guided, and disciplined by an inner, guiding pulse.

Modern heathenry IS too restrictive, and DOES shut out too many. Don't allow it too. Don't take it literally. Refuse to obey. See it as one phase in an ongoing transformation. It is serving its purpose ; you serve your wyrd. That is the way of things. If we do our wyrdweorce, each of us, things will turn out for the better.

Thank you for stopping by. Please continue to do so, and feel free to send any you wish, who might be struggling with similar issues. Wassail!

5:40 PM  

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