Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Life Isn't Fair ; Now Who Do I Blame?

It's true that life isn't fair, that rewards and outcomes are uneven, and things are not always reliable or consistent. These vagaries of fortune have always caused the most serious quandaries for the moral mind of mankind, and with good reason, for troubles vex us. Philosophers have pondered theodicy -- the so-called "problem of evil" for some time, but the matter of having someone to blame, whether it is God or the Devil, is a quintessentially human solution to a problem that cannot be fully solved.

On the other hand, our Northern ancestors did not subscribe to this solution to the theodicy, because they never imagined that there were any entities that had ultimate control. There were some Big Guys (and Gals) who had a lot of power, power they had mainly won back through brave deeds from a sometimes hostile, often random universe, but there was no one who was "in charge" of everything that happened. No, not even the Norns, who are recorded as weaving and as recording and notating fate, but not controlling everything.

If no one's in charge, there's no one ultimately to blame. Rather, our orientation, rather than being on blaming, is put back on DIY (Do It Yourself), and figuring out what you can do. After all, if the Gods won back some order and fortune from a chaotic universe through brave deeds, then that demonstrates that at least temporary victories are possible through the same means. It's true that there's plenty of jotnar to blame for all kinds of events, but they are simply expressions of a universe that, if not hostile, is more capricious than anything else, a universe that can have a decidedly Lokean flavor to it. This follows from the fact that the world was created from the remains of Ymir, whose name, according to page 727 of Cleasby/Vigfusson, means something like "Howler" or "Roarer". Ymr can also mean to "whine or cry", which renders the synthetic meaning of "Screamer", the image of a randomness so complete it was like a howling blizzard. Out of this monstrous chaos where nothing was ordered, the Gods created a world, a good world, but a world still ruled by the vagaries of fortune, of wyrd.

If there's no one to blame, then we need to focus our attention on actions and attitudes which will render victory from the entropy and create an ordering-possibility, which might be an interesting new way of defining heill, which does not so much guarantee success as it provides for its possibility. Success (ie, sig, victory), on the other hand, boldly won, in however small a way, does render heill, because anentropic goodness has been freed from the grip of entropic forces.

Life is a gamble. It always has been, and it has been even for those immensely powerful and benevolent beings we call Gods, but they show us how to face life's gamble with courage, determination, strength, audacity, and bravado. There is an element of defiance that the Gods admire, and so, it would seem, does Wyrd as well. Audacity is a noble stance in the face of a sometimes fickle distribution of fortune, and fortune, it seems, often smiles upon the bold. We get no guarantees by being bold, and indeed will often slip over the edge into foolhardiness, many times courting failure by daring to take risks, but we will win more, and more quickly, than those who always play it safe, and, additionally, even when we fail, we will fail nobly, in a stance that does not cower in submission to a dangerous universe, but stands up tall and proud even when one is terrified inside, and rely on the strength of the Gods' megin, and face fate, though trembling inside, with courage that refuses to bow down.

Who do I blame? We all understand the impulse. And it would be untrue to say that element didn't exist in our tradition, because we're all, after all, human, and it's quite human to want to blame. Despite attempts to blame it all on the Christians, demonology (we can call them jotnar or trolls, but they were demons all the same) was just as rampant in our culture as it was in any other folk culture, and the Gods indeed were seen as vanquishers of demons. But it was placed in a heroic mode such that even with demons, the goal was to boldly take back what had been taken away, so that another piece of wholeness could become possible in the world. Then we also have the records of bitter warriors who blame Odin for not giving them the victory, again, as if he had complete and total control over everything. But our Gods are Allies who have great power, not puppet masters. Thank the Gods for that!


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