Sunday, May 03, 2009

Find the Good Proportion in the Northern Way

If you lose the proportion on the Northern Way, you will lose its very essence : Rough but chivalrous, strong but wholesome, pragmatic but reverent, no-nonsense but deep-hearted.

This does not mean that the whole of the ancestors lived this noble ideal, just as many Christians fail to live up to their ideals, and it is easy to point towards historical examples of ancestors who were barbaric in the worst of ways, but do not use the worst of us to judge the whole of us, and certainly do not use the worst of us to judge the best of us. On one level, the poem Rigsthula is merely a way of acknowledging all of this : there are different levels in any folk. Those who come closest to living the noble ideal are themselves nobles, and partake of Jarl's blood. Those who manage to do their best in the rough and wild, but remain free and wholesome despite their scars and failings, partake of the blood of Carl. And those who become so deformed by ill and by need that they descend into true barbarism and brutality, partake of the blood of Thralls, the criminals needing correction.

Many light upon the grimness of the old warriors. It is hard not to be grim in the face of such overwhelming ill in the world, surrounded first by the Roman Empire, and then by the Charlemagnic Christian Empire. But glory not in that grimness, nor worship the worst in men, and set it up as system! Yea, the old ones found strength in the hard. There is life in the rock and in the bitter cold, and even, used well, the edge of the sword, but all things in due proportion, and it is that ultimately which defines the good.

The good is not moral perfection which provides a whipping stick to punish the living, but knowing the measure of things, and cleaving to it ; of finding a place for all that is human in one's heart, and finding that balance in between where life lives.

Many of our grimmest ancestors were merely carrying the torch in dark times. They cannot be blamed for how war warped them, and we must know that we are often picking up shards of broken swords. But every shard was paid for with great price! And we ought cherish those shards and the blood they were paid with not by bowing down before the desolation and the inevitable degradation of facing a greater foe than themselves, but the reflection from better times which they cared to hand down. In every poem they gave us a gift, in every record of a rite, a way back, in every story, a picture of how it once was in the long-ago.

If we grasp the outlines of this tragic tale, this tale of spirit's triumph against ill's encroach, and hold the wholeness of good proportion, we can restore a flame long since thought extinguished. Good proportion : fierce with foes, gentle with friends, merciful towards the repentant who show their signs of good compensation.

It is not a spirit of mayhem ; it is a spirit of finding purpose in unavoidable clash, and the strength to turn that clash towards integrity as much as possible.

Grasp its holiness, its wholeness ; grasp its deep, thick, unfathomable reverence, its notion of good that coheres, but has matured through hard struggle, into something old, ancient even, but stronger than many of the goods conceived elsewhere.

It was not shibbolethry, nor was it idolatry. Oh, to be certain, we did not forbid art, evocative, from our temples, nor theatre with its powers of invocation, but its essence was simplicity. Sharing something of worth with the powers that be. Some drink, some meat, some bread. A giving-back to the powers that be, and to the folk that they loved. Let it not be said that charity was missing from our blots, for there those who had most gave forth, and those who had little, came to enjoy and feast. There is little the staunchest atheist could object to, if she keeps her heart poetic, and there is good that would surprise the most fervent of Christians.

Without that good, without that due proportion, the warriors fight for nothing. Don't look at the battles on the periphery and see that as the essence. Look penetratingly and see the holy core at the center, for which those battles on the periphery had meaning. See the closing up of ranks around the holy altars.

Oh, weary life and toil rubs off and erodes a person's sense of wonder, and peasants little time had for marvel all in a day's work. Yet note two things : in that all of a day's work, there's still a good hoe, the feel of the wood on one's palms, the strength of the horse's mane while fed, the glory in the grain upsprouting. The little things. And lastly note, religion was the gathering of this wonder banished by everyday toil! It was a time to come together and remember wonder. It was a time for the poets to come and remind the folk of all the poetry there in their lives already, and give thanks, for in giving thanks, the blessings come fourfold.

In finding due proportion, we can remain wondrous, but keep our pragmatism. We know our hard-working forebears were not all Keats and Shelleys strolling down the lane in ecstatic rapture, although they were there, too, for sure. We know there was toil and trouble and hassle. We know it ourselves for we ourselves live it, and we know this wore down many folk to be cantankerous and even crabby, even around that great hearth-fire of frith, but religion was regeneration. It was literally re-membering, re-membering what had been dis-membered.

Due proportion is what gives us that magic, and here we see a clue to the old magic, which many charlatan sorcerors of late pass by : magic comes through proper discernment, and magic comes through the good, and acting on the good. And that may sound polyanna-ish to ears that have been degraded by an axe-and-wolf-age, and that may sound dudley do-right to those ears who have already grown wolfish, and that may sound naive to those who let fear and greed and scorn rule them, but know that to the oldest of the folk, whom our oldest records only hint at, as a ripple and a reflection, it was good sense, practical, common sense. By being wise and doing good, good things come. It's not an easy formula. It's not an instant success. It's never a guaranteed, and therefore those seeking shortcuts cut it short, but proper discernment and due proportion brings magical bounty.

Take especial heed here, though ; know that in this axe-age, these truths are very fragile. We hold ancient leaves of autumn that may easily crumble in the cold breeze. It is here, today, that warriors ought stake their claim, for already the wolves surround us, already they sense fresh meat, where for years there were only dessicated bones and fossils. It is now, when this begins to come to life, that the trial is upon us, for as we bring blood and breath to the skeleton of the fossils, those who wish only bones to gnaw upon will become envious, and barbarism from every side threatens to return through and throughout the world. We have no place to become complacent about these truths. We are not in the clear yet. A brief moment has been opened to us by the Enlightenment, but the orcs and tyrants of the world are strong, and ready to rend whatever fragile sense we've been able to restore. Do not let them take your sense of chivalry. Do not let them convince you your ancestors were all wolves. Do not let those who fight for the sake of mayhem, and who bow down before the most base and barbaric claim monopoly. Challenge their claim at every opportunity.

There is a place for the common, and even for the vulgar in its earthy goodness ; it is we who taught the sailors their rough and ribald Anglo-Saxon words, but if it smells like a wolf, and acts like a wolf, it most likely is. These re-evocations of good proportion are gentle and green, easily trampled, easily lost and forgotten. If the wind that speaks my words speaks to you, hold its soul precious, and pass it on, with great discretion, pride, and wholesome fierceness. Save the seeds. Let heirlooms blossom surprise and joy for descendants to come.


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