Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Terrible Clock of Degeneration

Time runs on, tick-tock-terrible, the clock of degeneration, treatment of person by person in dehumanizing rhetoric; a world which once near universally wept tears for the loss of fairness and clemency now shrugs at massacres or even mocks. When ends this sorcery of strife and division driven by ill powers now-near mass-worshipped in thousands of masquerades, other gods or causes masks for Hrimnir's children's mischief? Witness the pitiless brag : "Var ek á Vallandi ok vígum fylgðak, atta ek jöfrum, en aldri sættak;" (Hárbarðsljóð 24), "I was in the land of slaughter and supporting warfare, egging on warriors to fight, and never reconciling them." Loki is proud of his incitements to strife,and takes glee from those he can divide so that they are never reconciled. But this follows from his basic philosophy : "Þat hafr eik, er af annarri skefr, of sik er hverr í slíku." (Hárbarðsljóð 22), "An oak has that which is scraped off another, so it is every man for himself." Since an oak can stand in for a person, he's basically shrugging and saying, "One man's loss is another man's gain," invoking a zero-sum approach where for one person to prosper, another must be stripped and robbed. He wills a world where it's every man for himself, instead of men working together. Thor tells him, "Illum huga launaðir þú þá góðar gjafar," (Hárbarðsljóð 21), "You repaid good gifts with a wicked heart." This seems abominable to him. Of course! Thor is fighting for the good of the world!

Atta ek jöfrum, en aldri sættak can also mean "I set kings-of-nations at each other's throats, and never made peace amongst them." The strife between nations has been egged on by Loki. These are words the wise ought ponder when they consider all the ethnic strife in the world.

Jöll ok áfu færi ek ása sonum, ok blend ek þeim svá meini mjöð, (Lokasenna 3) "I bring strife and quarrels to the sons of the Aesir, and so I blend harm into their mead." Eldir confirms that Loki brings hrópi ok rógi, "slander and strife". The Gods in this poem are in sumbl, the sacred round of toasts meant to lock together their luck in solidarity, and to blend their hearts together in good will with powerful, even magical, words of blessing. For Loki to enter in and mix strife into these draughts of wisdom and unity is like walking into a church, insulting everyone with foul and vulgar language, and then trying to stir up old factions against each other. In other words, it's one of the most wicked and spiteful things one could imagine : here, where things are most holy, here where quarrels are to be put aside and reconciled so hearts may come together, he wills division and slander. Bragi accuses Loki of ásum öfund of gjaldir (Lokasenna 12), "repaying the Gods with hateful envy and malice." Just as Thor had said to him, "You repay good gifts with a wicked heart."

If Loki has the nerve to attempt this kind of malice and stirring-of-envy amongst the holy Gods, in their most sacred of rituals, imagine what he may accomplish amongst men, who are not as strong nor wholesome as the Gods!

In Lokasenna 15, Loki has interesting words for Bragi, almost an ill-spell : vega þú gakk, ef þú vreiðr séir, hyggsk vætr hvatr fyrir, "Come on and fight, if thou art wrathful, an active man does not hesitate." So it seems on its face, but Loki also speaks truth here, as hyggsk vætr hvatr fyrir can also mean, "a rash man does not think ahead." Think not of the consequences ; go ahead and fight if you're angry! One almost thinks of Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars trilogy here : "Your anger has made you powerful! Strike me down!" Loki doesn't want us to think of the consequences, but to follow our anger into whatever kind of slaughter and warfare it leads.

Idunn, who brings rejuvenation to those who have grown weary with age, and is the harbinger of Spring's Return, says in Lokasenna 18, vilk-at ek at it vreiðir vegizk, "I do not will wrathful fighting". It is against her nature and her powers. If we would be young, we would not follow anger into useless slaughter and conflict.

Loki believes that Mother Earth is dead. dauð, hygg ek, at þín móðir sé (Hárbarðsljóð 4), "dead, believe I, is thy mother", he says to Thor, whose mother is Jord. Thor says (next verse) that that hverjum þykkir mest at vita, "is against what every person can sense with their own eyes." Totally contrary to what everyone knows. Most people know this isn't true. The earth sprouts and gives forth ; of course she is alive! Yet Loki has no faith in the living earth, and thinks of her as a dead rock.

While Thor counts up his deeds of worth, destroying giants who had brought great winters, and saving mankind from being overrun with monsters, Loki brags about such things as "fimm vetr alla í ey þeiri, er Algrœn heitir; vega vér þar knáttum ok val fella, margs at freista, mans at kosta," (Hárbarðsljóð 16), Spending "five years on that island called "All Green" (ie., earth), where we were able to smite and slaughter, trying many and tempting men." Var ek með Fjölvari, "I was there with Full-of-Foreboding", a clear heiti for Angrboda, who forebodes ill. Mans at kosta can also mean "fall in love", which would indicate that the two of them fell in love as they were tempting many and causing strife and slaughter, an admittedly beautiful romantic beginning. Since Angrboda and Loki had the three monsters together, here is the context out of which they were born : strife, slaughter, and men falling to temptation.

Thor knows who Loki is talking about, and what came out of that love affair, and so he asks, Hversu snúnuðu yðr konur yðrar? "And how did your woman reward you?"

In Hárbarðsljóð 18, Loki answers, þær ór sandi síma undu, ok ór dali djúpum grund of grófu; "They wove cords (or rope) out of sand, and dug the ground out of the deep dales." Weaving a cord out of sand, which lies upon the sea-shore, may very well be his way of saying that they birthed Jormungandr at this time, who as a sea-serpent might very well be described as a rope of the seashore. As far as digging the ground down into the deep dales (which in itself alludes to Surt's deep dales), this is probably a reference to Gróttasongr 11 and 12, where Fenja and Menja boast, fœrðum sjalfar setberg ór stað. Veltum grjóti of garð risa, svá at fold fyrir fór skjalfandi; svá slöngðum vit snúðga-steini, höfga-halli, at halir tóku, "We removed the sitting-rock ourselves out of where it stood. We wheeled the millstone over the courtyard of the giants, so that the entire earth shook ; so we slung the stone-of-profit [although in this context, it can also have the connotation of "the twirling stone", referring both to its motion as they hurled it, as well as the fact that the mill-stone was turned about], the heavy, enormous stone, so men might catch it." These mountain-giant maids had dug the mill-stone of the World Mill out of its posts, and rolled it along the ground so the world was shaken by terrible earthquakes, and then hurled the stone so that it landed on top of men. Such an impact would leave a terrific crater, which may also be alluded to by the Loki's reference to digging the ground into the deep dales themselves. In any case, they would have to have dug deep to get underneath the millstone enough to hurl it as they did.

Loki brags, varð ek þeim einn öllum efri at ráðum, (Hárbarðsljóð 18) "I alone was the foremost in advising them" in these ill-deeds. Loki takes responsibility for the birth of the Midgard Serpent (as we already know), and also for earthquakes which shook the earth in the great Ice Age. This is ironic, as when he is finally bound, he shall then as well be the cause of great quakes. Loki then brags that afterwards, he slept with all seven giant-maidens who had brought this ill-deed about, as if to celebrate. He is proud of the fact that he has slept with unwise and burdensome women, when he states, ironically, Sparkar áttu vér konur, ef oss at spökum yrði; horskar áttu vér konur, ef oss hollar væri (Ibid); "Lively women we would have had, if our words had been gentle ; wise women we would have had, if we had been wholesome and faithful." But Loki isn't too concerned with being hollar, wholesome and faithful, now is he? So he settled for ill women of ill deeds.

Then he brags of vélta þær frá verum (Hárbarðsljóð 20), "wiling women from their husbands", a crime which Voluspa rewards with the places of punishment in Niflhel. Couples might consensually agree to whatever their hearts desired, but to intentionally seek to break up a household was to declare oneself an enemy to kindred.

But whence is the end of all this? Let us have Freya, the Goddess of Love, speak words of blessing and insight here. Freya says to Loki, in Lokasenna 31, Flá er þér tunga,hygg ek at þér fremr myni ógott of gala; reiðir ro þér æsir ok ásynjur, hryggr muntu heim fara, "Fraudulent is thy tongue, and I think that henceforth it shall enchant for you songs of misfortune ; the Gods and Goddesses are wrathful with you, mourning shall you fare home." In other words, in the end, all of your slander and strife is only going to bring you misfortune. It will rebound on you. Likewise, she says to Gullveig, "Orðheill þín skal engu ráða, þóttú, brúðr jötuns bölvi heitir," (Hyndluljóð 50), "Your omens shall guide nothing, Giant's Bride, although you threaten misfortune." Orðheill þín skal engu ráða can also mean, "Your curses shall come to naught." This is important, as Hyndla (the "bitch") has just prophesied Ragnarok, Hyr sé ek brenna, en hauðr loga, "Fire see I burning, and earth ablaze." Freya, Goddess of Love, is not worried. What does she know that we do not? As the ástaguð, the Goddess of Affection and Love, á hana er gott at heita til ásta, "whom it is good to call upon for love", she must have faith that in the end, love conquers all.

What powerful faith! When we look upon the world, with all its ethnic strife and endless oppression and slaughter, it is easy to grow cynical and take on the eyes of Angrboda, who is only able to see things burning, and come to live one's life by fear, and the greed which says, 'Well, if it's all going to end in flames, one might as well take everything one can now." The cynicism which says, "Every man for himself." Loki and Heid provide colorful, poignant, and humorous object-lessons on how not to behave.

But this is a traditional spirituality that steps out of the path of the world-age ruled by Loki and Angrboda, and does not look to them as guides. It looks to the Gods, who represent Wholesomeness and Goodness. And Love. Love is a powerful unifying force.

Do not think that the Love Freya brings is entirely sexual. It is not. Ásta is the deep love kin feel for each other, and yes, that can include the love husband and wife share, but it is also the love a mother has for her children, the love one has for close relatives, the affection you feel for a good father.

The Gods eject Loki from their sacred ceremony of unity, the sumbl. It is wise to not blend your luck with slanderers and strife-bearers. We do not have to join in the degeneration all around us. It is likely, yes, that many will continue to fall to temptation and degeneration, and feed the Wolf and the Serpent with their malicious deeds and slaughter, thus allowing them to grow bigger and bigger, and so one has to be careful in the Axe Age. And yet, despite that probability, such a future is by no means inevitable, for every deed of ours may feed the Holy Powers or the Powers of Muspell, those who spoil courage with fear and cynicism, and if enough people place deeds inspired by love and faith in love on the scales --- and a warrior may be devoted to love if he is a true warrior, indeed, if he or she is not to be a marauder --- we do not know that it may not make a difference. And that is a worthy gamble. Shouldn't we as heathens dare to make worthy gambles?

all translations copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow


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