Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ferreting Out The Good in Folkism

Ok, I've said a few critical words about Folkism, and now, because I believe in balance, I want to explore the other side. The good side.

When I think of folkism, I always think of Disneyland and It's A Small World. I always loved that ride as a kid, and it has a beautiful vision, a vision of a diversity of cultures, all equally valid, all across the globe, and how wonderful it is for every folk culture to flourish.

That vision of cultural diversity, and cultural self-determination, is one of the best talking-points of Folkism.

But the thing about It's A Small World is that it assumes that every folk culture is going to stay completely pure and not inter-influence each other. And the Folkish are big to grab upon the Straw Man of globalization and accuse every hybrid of merely being a product of empire. Bullshit.

Small World is nice, and then there's my life. My life which is full of hybrids. I have friends and family from every continent on the planet. My lovers have spanned across cultures.

And sometimes you have to look at ethnic isolationists and say, man, you need to get out a little bit more. Y'know, a little rap is not going to kill you ; I know you don't think it's music, but some of it has got some spirit. (I don't really care what music you listen to ; I hate listening to music I don't like.)

Because my life is crisscrossed with hybridity, there is no way I could ever take some sort of ethnic isolationist or nationalist stance. It would be the most absurd thing in the world.

And Wyrd weaves, folks. That means crisscrossing, threads going this way and that.

Spengler, Nazi sympathizer that he sometimes was (and sometimes also courageously resisted), had a more organic vision of how various Folk crisscross throughout history, as Wyrd weaves its mighty loom. He said, in Die Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), "A boundless mass of human Being, flowing in a stream without banks; upstream, a dark past wherein our time-sense loses all powers of definition and restless or uneasy fancy conjures up geological periods to hide away an eternally unsolvable riddle, downstream, a future even so dark and timeless - such is the groundwork of the Faustian picture of human history.Over the expanse of the water passes the endless uniform wave-train of the generations. Here and there bright shafts of light broaden out, everywhere dancing flashes confuse and disturb the clear mirror, changing, sparkling, vanishing. These are what we call the clans, tribes, peoples, races which unify a series of generations within this or that limited area of the historical surface. As widely as these differ in creative Power, so widely do the images that they create vary in duration and plasticity, and when the creative power dies out, the physiognomic, linguistic and spiritual identification-marks vanish also and the phenomenon subsides again into the ruck of the generations. Aryans, Mongols, Germans, Kelts, Parthians, Franks, Carthaginians, Berbers, Bantu's are names by which we specify some very heterogeneous images of this order. But over this surface, too, the great Cultures accomplish their majestic wave-cycles. They appear suddenly, swell in splendid lines, lessen again and vanish, and the face of the waters is once more a sleeping waste. A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto- spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualised the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. But its living existence, that sequence of great epochs which define and display the stages of fulfilment, is an inner passionate struggle to maintain the Idea against the powers of Chaos without and the unconscious muttering deep-down within. It is not only the artist who struggles against the resistance of the material and the stifling of the idea within him. Every Culture stands in a deeply-symbolical, almost in a mystical, relation to the Extended, the space, in which and through which it strives to actualise itself. The aim once attained - the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual - the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization, the thing which we feel and understand in the words Egypticism, Byzantinism, Mandarinism. As such they may, like worn-out giant of the primeval forest, thrust their decaying branches towards the sky for hundreds or thousands of years, as we see in China, in India, in the Islamic world." (emphasis mine)

There is a seed of something marvelous here, but what he fails to see is that cultures do not organically birth, grow, and then simply die, but more marvelously, the ripples of these waves cross over each other and are taken up from each other in all kinds of wondrously diverse ways. So, in a sense, cultures are always reincarnating, rebirthing from the ashes, and reforming themselves. Ethnogenesis is continual, from the hybrid waves, which means the paranoia against the dissolution of "the Idea" is unnecessary, as is the "hardening" he thinks inevitable.

Spengler is wrong here to think that a "single" culture (cultures are so diverse that even a "single" culture is hardly singular, but full of rich and ripe variation) has one single "Idea" it propagates.

In a sense, we're all --- all of us --- trying to propagate the same Idea, and that Idea is Survival. The ideas that flourish out in the creative fleshing out of how to survive and thrive on this planet make for a cultural creativity that is vibrant and awesome. In this sense, cultures champion many Ideas, not just one Idea. Let's not be so monotheistic about it.

It's important to remember that MANNAZ, we are all human. The moment we forget that each of our cultures are but wonderful shimmerings and eddies of creativity and heirloom effervescence upon the rippling waves of our larger humanity, and begin to think that different tribes mean different species, we have lost our way completely. Time to come back to reality.

Spengler ends this thought with the idea that cultures can become Giants, and that these Jotnar are equivalent to what some call "Civilizations" or empires. (It's unfortunate he mixes this image of giantishness with the beauty of ancient trees.) This is not inevitable, but we do see it happen. It can happen where one culture, one way of life, tries to make itself monolithic and impose itself upon all other cultures. But there's something equally stingy and narrow about cultures closing up on themselves and refusing to interact with the rich diversity of the world. For it is rich interaction with the diversity of the world that continually recreates culture as something creative to affirm, as opposed to something paranoid and narcissistic.

The interweaving of the folk of the world is not some monster to fear. Wyrd goes on weaving, and in the interrippling, the ethnogenesis of the world flows onward. From these flows, new tribes will form, and old tribes will revision themselves anew. There's nothing to be paranoid about. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision still holds. It is still a future to look forward to.

This is not to say that globalization and the homogenization of cultures worldwide is not a problem, but it is to say that ironically, we preserve ourselves best where we interact most flourishingly. Welcome the interweaving, and give it your all, so that the folk who result from these crisscrossing of flows and currents will be a soulful folk.

And they will thank you and me. For passing on soulfulness along the great streamings of rippling time, where Wyrd works her wonders.

A toast to Njord, and lovers in every port, on every continent! A toast to Odr, who wanders amongst all the folk of the world, sharing songs and praises of love. A toast to Freya, who is known by many names across the world's expanses. And a toast to Odin, Way-Tamer, who wanders ever in search of wisdom, wherever it may be found. Hail!

Some Heathens are Confused

Some heathens think our religion is about giving a rubber stamp to norms or customs. Yea, our heathenism is about pragmatism, so let's just find some gods who will place their stamp of approval on the way we like to do things anyway.



What are you saying, Ziggy, that thew has no place in heathenism? That customs don't matter?

No, customs can be good, but they ain't necessarily good, either. It depends on the custom, wouldn't you say?

There's a confusion in heathenism between thew and wyrd. They're not the same thing. Thew is for carls, wyrd for jarls and wizards. People talk about "laying down wyrd". There ain't no weird in there! They're laying down thew. They're trying to establish norms. Ok, that's what carls do, go at it.

Religion is about aligning thew with wyrd.

There. It's that simple.

It means thew and wyrd are not always aligned. It means there has to be a continual realignment. It means the job of the Gothi is to provide an Outside to the culture from within that cannot be domesticated.

That means the nationalists, I'm sorry to say again for the umpteenth time, have got it all wrong. Yep, that's right, I'm talking about the "folkish". You can't have it both ways. The folkish are wrong. Well, that's kind of bold to say, isn't it? I worship bold Gods. We get to say bold things. That's one of the nice things about worshipping bold Gods.

Now why do I say the folkish are out-and-out wrong? If I'm going to say something that daring, I might as well back it up.

I say it because the folkish confuse culture and spirituality. They are not, not, not the same thing, not now, not ever.

Spirituality is about transcending culture. It's about correcting culture. It's about taking the folk -- and that means the "people", folks, not ethnic nationalists -- who are thick with thew, cantankerous with their customs, their strivings, their desire to domesticate everything according to their norms --- and introducing them to WEIRD.

Don't give me no fancy-shmancy nonsense about what Wyrd means. It means WEIRD. It means Reality That Cannot Be Domesticated. It means Becoming Beyond Norms. That means that norms, "thew" if you will, must be adjusted to Wyrd.

This doesn't mean the Gods hate thew. Heimdall above all understands the need for social order, which is why he tried to inaugurate a system that could make some sense of this imperfect world for us. The fact that we don't follow it is not his fault, but we can divide the social system into three classes : the Thewless, the thralls ; the Thewful, the carls ; and the Wyrd-tenders, the jarls. People need norms, customs they can count on. They also need judges and wizards who act as adjustors who recommend corrections and exceptions to customs where customs have fallen out of alignment with Wyrd.

When you come to a blot, you're coming to the table to make or renew a treaty. A treaty with Gods who are not here to rubber-stamp your desires or even your customs. Gods who have their own agenda as Trustees and Agents of Wyrd. Wyrd the Powerful, wyrd before whom all thew must bow and adjust, lest it be washed away.

We come to the blot to say, ok, we are the folk, we have thew, and we love it. It is our treasure, it keeps us warm, it gives us our rights, and it keeps the village safe. But we know we stand before Gods so wild and wondrous, so untameable and mysterious, that we will have to put aside for a moment our desire to tame the whole world, and realize that the world is not going to be tamed by us. The Gods give us our villages so that we might have our own gards, our places of safety, where we make the world a little bit more like us in the process. But meanwhile the Great Flow of Becoming rolls onward, and it is impossible to tame. No one will ever tame Wyrd. So we bow ourselves before this process, and we relinquish our domestication upon the altar. We give up the fruits of our domesticated lives upon the horg. In so doing, we say to the Gods, we know that our village is not the end-all and be-all of existence, but we exist to serve larger powers. The fruits of our domestication are to feed wilder powers and flows.

Not jotnar. I'm not making the Gods big and scary here. They're our Friends, but they are also our Teachers, and as such, they'd like us to pay attention to where we need to adjust our norms to wyrd.

So a ritual, a blot, is a really profound thing. The laying of the meat or the fruits upon the stones is not simply about having a church barbecue where we feast each other with the Gods. It is that, but it is more. It's about bringing our families and friends, with all of our customs, desires, strivings, norms, bickerings, and taming impulses, into a holy space, a space set aside from all that strife, in order to reattune. A space where we are asked to give up, to relinquish, to surrender something precious to us. To acknowledge that our little empires exist on the crest of waves far bigger than ourselves.

That is the inner transformation the blot is meant to effect.

And we get to have our customs and our common law. And we also get to figure out that, hey, there are exceptions. There are some people who are following a holy path who are going to live a little bit different than us, who are going to have customs of their own. And they are not evil. We don't get to domesticate everyone. We know that our most noble folks are creative folks, are folks who think outside the box. Hell, our Chief God is renowned for thinking outside the box! So our most noble folks are, in a sense, Outsiders on the Inside.

They don't get to abrogate our thew. They don't get to wash it away. We get to live the way we like to live, for the most part. But we, at the same time, do not get to judge them by the standards of our mainstream expectations. It works both ways. If we the tame want respect, we must give respect to the wild.

The blot is where the wild and tame meet, and make a treaty. That treaty is at first mere grith. It's not based on deep trust. We distrust that which is outside our own cultural norms. Grandpa and the Bible say that there's no gay marriage, so there shouldn't be gay marriage. Yet the Gods speak of exceptions, and the Gothis speak of Wyrd having its own ways, and sometimes these ways outstretch our thew. So reluctantly, grumbling, we listen, and make our treaty. Ok, we're willing to give up that much. But we also want this much.

Yet if we will attend to the terms of the treaty, over time, what was mere Grith will become full Frith. Frith with the world, Frith with Wyrd.

That's the magic that's possible through the blots. If we will take them where they wish to lead us.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Society Worshipping Itself

The famous sociologist Emile Durkheim put forward the hypothesis that every society worships itself as a god, and that its official religion is essentially a front symbolizing the social relations of that society. It's an intriguing hypothesis, especially inasmuch as it critiques religion as not only a form of idolatry, but a form of narcissism as well.

It's important to ask what people really worship. Regardless of what they claim to worship, what do they really worship?

This is an easy question for heathens to assess, because we know the root of the word "worship" is "worth-ship", to demonstrate worth, to show the value of something, and we know that people show the value of things mainly through their deeds, not their words.

When we look at modern society, who are the gods who most people worship, with their deeds and their mindsets?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. It would seem as if predominantly, most people worship Loki and Gullveig. It doesn't matter whether they claim to worship Jesus or Jehovah or Allah or what have you. It doesn't matter if they tell you that they're atheist and worship no one. Look at their actions and see what they worship. Look at the values this society puts forward.

Material success. Keeping up with the Joneses. How you look in the eyes of others. Take, take, take. Look out for #1. Givers are suckers. Everyone wants to cheat you. Disposable culture. When it doesn't work anymore, throw it away. Get a new one. Upgrade. Trade up, trade up, trade up. New automobile, sexy new trophy wife, ability to brag to your friends. Be "selfish", but not in any real self-affirming way, but in an empty way that keeps you completely enthralled to the approval of your friends, neighbors, and even acquaintances. Make sure that you care what your acquaintances think of you.

Gold-greed, gold-greed, gold-greed. Envy. Tricks. Selfishness. Resentment. Showing value to the most superficial things.

Loki and Gullveig. They are the Gods of American society, with predictable results.

Instead of choosing a home that is livable, you have to fill it with expensive trinkets and hardwood floors and special features and more square feet than you could ever use, so that you are constantly in debt, but hey, your friends are really impressed. I mean, you almost never really invite anyone over, but just in case you did entertain, it's important that people walk away envying you.

Envy is the basis of the whole system. No one really desires anything for its own sake, but only for its ability to produce envy. As long as other people envy you, you are real. As long as other people covet your position and your things, you're doing well. It's amazing that people cannot see how empty and vapid this all is.

But more than empty and vapid. Setting oneself up as lambs for slaughter, practically inviting the wolves in. Now most of the blame for this idiotic housing crisis and the credit crisis it's spawned belongs with the super-greedy credit companies who lied to people and gave them loans they knew most of them would never be able to carry. But while we demonstrate absolutely understandable indignation at those greedy scumbags, let's not forget our own greed which inspired us to live way beyond our own means in the first place, and not because it was something we really needed, but because we were so weak that we couldn't truly investigate what is of value to us and stick to it, and to hell with anyone who's concerned about inspiring the envy of others.

People don't share or protect each other and so the State has the perfect excuse to step in and say, if you're too immature to take care of yourselves and each other, then we have to take care of you. And with good reason --- if people are too greedy to take care of each other, without taxation, they'd just get richer and richer and watch others get poorer and poorer.

If you're one of the people who's completely selfish, unwilling to contribute to charity or to give to others when they are in need, who's living completely to augment yourself without any concern for the needs of others, then you have absolutely no right to complain about taxation, because the government absolutely has the justification to take away your money to make sure that there is some equity of some kind. Not that they can be trusted as a good father, either. But Parens Patria : the State is the "Father of the Country", and if you don't want to be treated like an immature child who needs to be a ward of the state, you'd better start acting like a freeperson. If you look like you're Loki and Gullveig's thrall, and you act like you're Loki and Gullveig's thrall, well, the people at the top of the pyramid who many times themselves worship Loki and Gullveig are going to take you as their servants, and are you really going to blame them?

Are you going to look at Thor and Tyr and Odin and Freyr and Freya and whine, "How could you let this happen? I went to a couple rituals each year, I bought some mead and drank it with others while praising you."

Do you really think that Gods like these listen to such bullshit? Do you really think that Gods this grounded and earthy are going to have the wool pulled over their eyes? They're going to take one look at you and assess who you are really worshipping, and who you have enthralled yourself to, and then they are going to respect the choices you have made, and if you have given yourself over in voluntary servitude, then you can either stay there where you want to be, or you can do the work to buy your way out of that servitude.

"But I didn't know any better! That's how everyone else was living!" Really? There was no one else who set a different example? There was no one else who was strong enough to be themselves and show you how you don't have to be cravenly begging after the approval of every idiot who walks by? There was no one who was trying to discuss alternatives? Or did these people exist, and you were one of the people making fun of them? You were one of the people ridiculing them and calling them unrealistic? You were one of the people who refused to open your mind and think outside the box? Because Odin slams down an evolutionary imperative : it's a learning-curve where if you can think outside the box in time, and set up alternatives with your fellows, you can freely create all kinds of free institutions.

Let's look at the alternative housing movement, that for years has been demonstrating how people can build their own homes out of straw bales, or lumps of mud and straw (cob), out of bamboo, out of all kinds of materials, and build humble but worthy and reliable homes for a fraction of the cost of a modern industrial home. Why haven't they received more support? Why aren't more people calling their local assessors and telling them they want them to make available the proper permits to allow these buildings to go up? (Or even more to the point, why don't more people organize county wide to eliminate zoning?) It doesn't matter if you already have your own industrial home --- don't you want these alternatives to be available? We admit that many people wouldn't want to build their own homes. Still, a whole alternative construction business could raise itself up creating all kinds of new jobs to build these alternative homes. You could live with a little less square footage, a little less hard woodage, a little less consumer goodage, and still be living the good life.

We've forgotten the concept of "the good life". It's all about the "better and better life". Now don't get me wrong. I am a strong advocate of progress. I have to be, because the myths demonstrate how far things have corroded from the golden age, and so we've got a lot of restorative work to do. But there is a difference between making something better on an inherent value scale, and just trying to "upgrade" because you want to impress people. How about impressing people by demonstrating a little integrity? Because I can tell you that one thing people appreciate is persistence. As a person who has lived somewhat of a different lifestyle, I can tell you through long and hard experience that at first, people make fun of you, but once they realize that you have the balls to actually go the long haul, many of them will respect you, because they wish they had those cojones. In general, people respect those willing to go the long haul, regardless of what it is, because that demonstrates determination.

So I ask you, which Gods are you worshipping? Are you the kind of pagan or heathen who wants your paganism to reflect Durkheim? Do you want to worship your society and just have a few dress-up characters who you tip a few good toasts to every now and again, or do you want to actually embark on a quest to discover what is of real value in life, guided by Gods who actually take a stand for something?

Because these Gods are about freedom. Are you free? Really free? Are you a thrall to other people's opinions? To their envy?

Let's be reasonable and pragmatic here ; we're heathens, after all. As humans we are a tribal species. We do care about others and what they think of us to some degree. So I'm not suggesting that we all be mavericks who could care less about our reputation. But if we care more about our reputation than we do our integrity, it's disputable that we even understand what honor is. Do you want your tribe to be strong? Then demonstrate strength. Do you want your tribe to have a firm foundation? Then be firm and not blowing every which way the winds of trends blow. Do you want your tribe to have stamina and endurance? Then be willing to endure a little when you're not getting instant admiration from others. It takes some hard work to be free, but it's more worthwhile than just doing everything the easy way and staying enthralled. Once you're free, things do become easier, but you have to want to get out of your servitude. Remember that the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution prohibits involuntary servitude. If you just sign every document that comes your way, if you hand over the plastic every time you see a shiny new thing that'll make the neighbors notice, if you don't take the time to educate yourself about the real alternatives that are available, well, even Tacitus observed that many iactu de libertate ac de corpore contendant. Victus voluntariam servitutem adit, "threw away their liberty and staked their very body, with the defeated undertaking voluntary servitude." Servos condicionis huius per commercia tradunt, "They surrender themselves over to this contract of servitude through commerce;" in other words, it is their greed which inspires them to sign over all of their rights.

And if you're that greedy, why shouldn't Gullveig and Loki have you? Loki loves the gullible ; and what are you going to complain to Odin? That you didn't use the intelligence that he planted inside you? That you trusted neither spirit (ond) nor soul (odr) and listened entirely to lá, laeti, and litu góða --- good looks, gossip, and the going-forth of the tides*? The Gods don't have a problem with your attending somewhat to the latter ; they did give them as gifts, but when you impoverish yourself by refusing to use your mind and spirit, you can't exactly complain about not being rich.

Where is our notion of human culture, and the responsibility to raise people with real values? A friend tells me, "Well, it's human nature to be selfish, look out for number one, and take, take, take." That may be, but it is the job of human culture to teach "give-and-take", not just take-take-take.

Loki's right in the short-run. It's easier to cheat, lie, steal, look out for number one, get everything you can and the devil take the hindmost, and our society is in many ways proof that such assholes often "win". But in the long run, honor and honesty have less to do with being "idealistic" and "unrealistic" than being realistic about what happens when all credibility crumbles to nothing because no one can trust each other. Dog-eat-dog becomes Wolf-eat-dog becomes Wolf-eat-all. Isn't that precisely what we're facing right now in our economy? Loki and Gullveig have had their heyday, it's all about cheating and lying and making shit up and laughing while uttering caveat emptor, and raising up ridiculously inflated imaginary numbers and buying your yachts and twenty mansions? But then the entire thing threatens to collapse.

Get it : these myths are not about imaginary events in the past, nor are they nice make-believe to tell children. They are patterns of Wyrd. They were written into the orlog, the primeval layers, and until Ragnarok, the patterns these myths speak to will repeat themselves again and again until we finally learn. The things Loki did back in the gardagum, in the yore-days, are still happening. They are happening right now. And Bragi's gift to you is this --- if you will listen to these myths -- yes, "just" stories on one level -- and really learn from them, you might just be able to avoid the pitfalls, traps, and snares that Loki and Gullveig have set for you, and gain an actual foothold of freedom where you are not enthralled to the giants. Giants want to eat up everything. Giant corporations, giant nation-states, giant consumer demand. This isn't just a cute, quaint equation I'm making up here. Look around. Who's acting like whom?

I, like most people, used to read the prophets of the Old Testament with some confusion and disdain. Who were these uptight freaks going on about fire and brimstone? What was their problem? And why were they called "prophets"? What does this have to do with any heathen level of prophecy? Well, it's not that far off. Because although they just look like critics, they were pointing out to their Israelite audience what would be the ultimate consequences of continuing down the route they were going. It didn't take a huge genius to figure that out, but even ordinary people were so self-deluding themselves that it took courage for someone to point out the obvious. If you continue to collectively behave in such a way that your tribe or nation is weakened, the ultimate result is that you're going to --- well, how did Thomas Jefferson allegedly** put it? --- "wake up homeless on the continent [your] fathers conquered".

Prophecy isn't about "fortune-telling the future". It's about seeing clearly, and seeing how verdandi fits into wyrd. It's about looking at events from the backdrop of orlog, and then just projecting this forward. That this is often a critique follows from the nature of the corruption of humankind from the best patterns set forth by the Gods in the beginning of time, under the influence of the tricksters. That is why one of the purposes of religion is to remind us about the high and noble patterns the Gods have set down for us to follow if we will. Ráðumk þér, Loddfáfnir, en þú ráð nemir, -njóta mundu, ef þú nemr,þér munu góð, ef þú getr, "I advise you, Loddfafnir, if thou wilt take counsel, you will derive benefit if you take it, you will receive good if you can get it." If you can get it. Ráðumk þér can also mean "I have laid out for you", "I have settled pathways for you". If you're willing to listen, if you'll take counsel, if you'll try to understand, there are pathways laid out for us, pathways to genuine freedom, wealth, and happiness. They may not always be the "easy route" or the "short-cut", but they are often far faster than doing things the dumb way, or playing the sucker to the first guy who comes around claiming a short-cut, or just continuing to bang your head upon the wall. The Gods don't force you down these pathways. They aren't even obvious pathways. But they're there nevertheless if you'll develop the understanding and begin to listen to the counsel they give. That's what religion is all about : to attune us to those pathways their good counsel has laid down.

And prophets are supposed to deeply read ( = raed) the myths, so that they "get" the patterns of orlog, and then through this light, read ( = raed) the present, and from this, easily project the pathway things are headed down. And if a prophet rebukes you, it's only because it's obvious from the place of orlog that your steps are headed towards disaster, and you have the opportunity to correct your course. Isn't that a gift?

If you can "get" it.

If you can "get" it in time.

* means the line of water along the shore edged by the surf, and therefore the tides, and thus, poetically, refers to blood ; laeti means "voice" and thus refers to our ability to vocalize, which I have here rendered by "gossip", the voices that pass around ; and litu góða really does mean "good looks", although on a deeper level it may actually mean giving a likeness of the appearance of the Gods, akin to Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in his own image". But rather than being interested in the image of the Gods that are lodged in us, many are just concerned with "good looks". Now, there's nothing wrong with good looks, but if there's neither soul nor spirit there, what a waste.

** There is some doubt by some scholars as to whether Thomas Jefferson actually ever said this, since the larger quote uses words like "inflation" and "deflation" that may not have been in usage during Jefferson's time, but even if the quote has been put in his mouth (a practice very widespread in folklore around the world), it's still a cogent point, and arguably one that Jefferson could have made. I listen when skeptics call into question attributions like this, but I also maintain some skepticism towards the skeptics. Jefferson might have said it, but, as it says in Chapter 41 of Njal's Saga, "His hands are clean who warns another", and so I have passed on the caveat.

All translations are, per usual, my own, and copyright 2008.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bullshit Pseudo-Spirituality

Let's speak frankly, shall we? It might rub people the wrong way, but we can't please everyone and still tell the truth. Our duty to truth may sometimes override our desire for diplomacy.

Spirituality-Lite is rampant these days. Everyone wants to feel like they are "spiritual", but without doing any real work. Conditioned by instant drinks and push-button remote controls, they think the same logic applies to spirituality and want, as my mother says, "to just add water and powder" and take the easy route.

The easy route tries to deny the reality of pain, of suffering, of evil.

Now some pagans and heathens, because of their bad associations with Christianity, shy away from the word evil.

Get over it.

Evil is real, and it is a real problem. And the word is heathen.

The world is not a feel-good place where everything is ok.

Everything does not happen as it supposed to.

Not everything "happens for a reason".

Come back to earth.

Face the fact that a lot of bad things happen, that the Gods never intended, resistance to which is good and necessary and called for.

I know it's painful. It's painful to face the true extent of unnecessary suffering in the world.

And many are tempted to turn that completely unnecessary suffering into not only necessary suffering, but in fact to imply that there was no suffering at all. "They chose those fates."


Let's not be polite with pseudo-spirituality. Let's not tolerate what is patent nonsense and self-delusion. I don't care how many people say it is "spiritual". It's bullcrap, and should be called that.

Real spirituality takes work. It takes work to connect with soul, to keep your contact with soul, and to rejuvenate your soul when woundedness and trauma impacts upon you or your loved ones. You need strength, not airy-fairy syrup that is just another form of denial.

These people confuse denial and escape with spirit. The more they flee from reality, the more spiritual they feel. Well, that's a damned privileged position to take, and it's just not realistic. To really be spiritual when you've been through a trauma, you're going to have to go through the trauma.

You're going to have to do real work. It's going to be grueling at times. It's going to feel like a battle. You're going to have to call on all your resources and all your Gods. And it will take a lot of faith at times, because with all the help you ask for and receive, there are going to be many times when you have to fall back on yourself, and it won't seem enough, and you won't know how to get through or get by, and you'll just get through barely by the skin of your teeth.

There will be periods of existential doubt, of anguish, of wondering what the hell all this is for and why the hell is all this suffering happening at all.

And some story about how you "created all your suffering" through negative thinking for fuck's sakes is not going to help you out at all. Most of the world's suffering is not created through "negative thinking". It's created through following the spiritual forces championed by Gullveig and Loki and all of their jotnar kin. Sure, negative thinking might, at times, impoverish one's sense of options and creativity, and there is always value to opening up one's brainstorming capacities so that one can truly meet the situation with panache and originality. There are indeed ways in which cycles of negative thinking can inhibit our full power to effectively deal with a situation. But that only goes so far.

Pseudo-spirituality is full of platitudes. "You create your own reality", "You attract what happens to you with your thoughts", "We are all one". Ok, it might sound nice at first, but tell these things to the French soldier in a trench in WWI who's facing a German soldier about to jump in the pit with a bayonet. Are those things going to be helpful at all? Of course, we can rewind and take the larger picture and try to figure out how human beings out of fear and greed and dishonesty and thieving created the reality of war. But once you're in that situation, once you're in that trench, and the bayonet is five feet away from you, how do these platitudes help? Are you supposed to meditate while the bayonet is piercing you through? Perhaps it's a bad example, because WWI was one of the stupidest, most useless wars ever, but there have been wars fought when you were simply defending yourself or your family from naked aggression on the parts of others who were greedy, desperate, fearful, unwise, or dishonest.

These things are real. World War I and II happened. They are, unfortunately, to our great shame, part of the Wyrd of the world now. Great work, humans. What a lovely artwork you've made out of Midgard. You can't separate or hedge or sidestep practical human history. These things have to be grappled with and dealt with. How do you come to terms with these sorts of events and still come out of the encounter being a soulful person? How do you keep these kinds of things from destroying your soul and turning you into a grim, soulless being?

Those are real spiritual questions. And it's an evolutionary intelligence learning-curve, to see if we can wrack that wisdom Odin implanted deep within us to figure out how we have all got it so wrong that these things have happened in history at the hands of fellow human beings. Not explaining it away. Not dressing it up to look nice. Not insulting people who were actual, suffering victims by suggesting they "contracted" to their fate. Let's be real, and let's honor and not insult those who went through terrible times.

The stakes get higher. The weapons get more advanced, the control-and-surveillance technologies and techniques more sophisticated. The evolutionary learning-curve here is figure out the root of evils, so that they may be systematically uprooted.

That's not to say we could get rid of the "good and bad" in life, its ups and downs, and the sufferings that are unfortunately hardwired into reality. Those are necessary sufferings.

But evil is by definition the infliction of unnecessary sufferings. And if we choose to remain as stupid as the jotnar, and let's face it, many of us do, we're not going to be able to do a stinking thing about it, and will probably help propagate it. To remain stupid is to be a collaborator. To allow others to remain stupid is to give active support to regressive evolutionary trends that will not pass the learning curve. We have got to be activist in our analysis of evil, our application of wisdom, and our pursuit of solutions.

It really is like a war plan. We come back to war as a spiritual metaphor in heathenism, and not stupidly applied, as so many missionary-style campaigns actually are, but campaigns that are critiqued with the same realism that actual wars are. Getting so strategic and realistic and determined and persistent and regrouping that we can win the real war, the evolutionary dynamic between stupidity and intelligence, to see if humans can finally win Midgard back from the spirits of the jotnar. For right now, a good name for many of our human enterprises might be Jotnar R Us, a phrase which has just the right amount of numbskull grammar to it to get the point across.

Midgard won would be a good life, not a perfect life. A good life.

But this is serious business. You wouldn't go into war with a feather or whipped cream for your spear or shield. You don't want painters crawling into your dungeon to make murals and then tell you you're free and that everything's beautiful. You don't want New Age Calvinists telling you that everything that happens in your life is your fault because you thought the wrong thoughts, or secretly agreed to it in some prelife predestination, or weren't working hard enough.

Heathens value hard work. But we are not, I repeat not Calvinists. Good work. Intelligent work. And then hard work. But banging your head against the same wall again and again and again is not work. It's stupidity. It's not only unnecessary, but ridiculous suffering. We don't confuse suffering and work. We don't confuse stupidity and work.

Calvinists have to constantly be working because they are living in penance. Their whole life is a punishment for some debt they've supposedly incurred! What nonsense. And then Calvinists turn it around to show, hallelujah, what good penance does, because if you do enough penance, look at the rewards you get! Max Weber did an excellent job of showing how this translated into a materialistic context. Do enough penance, get your material rewards. Those who are rich are rich not because they were born privileged or happened to be lucky or hid from themselves the fact that they took advantage of an exploitative system, but only, and only because they did "work", ie., penance, and now God has rewarded them for this worthy repentance.

And we've translated it into the modern world. Do your penance, work hard, go to the gym, get rid of that sinful fat, and you too can have a body to die for. Be the envy of everyone on your block. Show them the value of salvation through penance.

This is all patent, superficial nonsense. It's not spirituality. We work to create, we work to maintain, we work to defend, but most importantly, we work so that we might enjoy. We aren't working for penance. The Romans found the ancient Germani lazy, because they'd only work until their needs were met. Well, why not? They weren't debt-slaves, they'd rather hunt and fish and go to drinking parties than live their whole lives in drudgery.

No, our ancestors were not Calvinist. The meadhall is the center of life, the reason for working, the reason for defending. Spirituality was about figuring out how Grendel got in to our meadhalls, and how to get him out. Evil is real, and it must be countered, so that we can get back to the good work of enjoying ourselves in good company. And that's hard work we can be proud of.

And the meadhall, let's be clear, was not just a modern tavern. I won't insult the modern tavern, because there can be some warm community and conviviality there, that the meadhall certainly had. But we can't approach the meadhall as consumers who stay on the superficial level of life and think that all life is about is having a few beers and never getting deeper than that.

Let's remember that the "mead" of our ancestors was cognate with the Soma and Haoma of our Iranian and Vedic-Hindu cousins. (And let's remember that the Iranians are our brothers, shall we? Those who flippantly talk about bombing Iran forget they would be bombing plenty of Zoroastrians, who are our heathen cousins.) Soma wasn't just "drink" for the sake of "intoxication". Soma was more like ... LSD combined with Exstasy. It took place in the context of deeply spiritual ceremonies designed to open the soul out to the poetic mysteries of the universe.

I want to point this out lest some try to cheapen even our heathen spirituality by assimilating it to the bar scene.

Real spirituality isn't cheap, it isn't easy, and it takes a whole hell of a lot of hard work. Not stupid, penance-oriented hard work. Not even necessarily entirely materialistic hard work. But hard work on the soul. Taking a hard look at things we don't like looking at. Keeping one eye on the world, and one eye in the depths, just like Odin does.

So when you see these folks raving about the latest spin on New Thought, whether it is "The Secret" or some other positive-thinking con-artist game, don't hold back. Tell them to enjoy that saccharine-flavored cotton-candy while it appeals to them, and then when they're ready for some real spirituality, something with depth and with life and with hope and with earthiness, to come to our indigenous heathenism. And we'll have something real to share with them.