Saturday, June 06, 2009

Heathenism as Barbarianism

Heathenism for me has always been a barbarian religion, not a "warrior" religion per se. It's for those who like to keep their character a little rough around the edges, and maintain some connection to the wild and cleave to the primal. Having the integrity of a wild animal, a heathen also has its ferocity if violated. The warrior aspect is that of a bear baring its teeth, and uttering forth a growl that says, "Respect me --- or else!"

A barbarian religion is not ashamed of its rustic edge, its closeness to wood and stone and bone, fur and mud and straw. It takes more pride in its poetry and deeply imaginative oral literature than how its architecture looks. And yet don't underestimate the architecture. It may not look like Roman engineering, but the rural wattle-and-daub, thatched hamlets have an integrity and pattern-language of their own.

If you look at Icelandic heathen society, it is not a society of specialized warriors, but agrarian pastoralists who have to know how to take care of their own in the absence of police, and thus have a good sense of self-defense, and the gumption to back up the assertion, "Don't mess with us."

A barbarian religion understands that it is possible to become too refined, and that anything that is overrefined, whether in manners or in food, just isn't wholesome anymore. It's the whole brown loaf with seeds, bran, and a little grit that's good and hearty. Don't become oversnooty, Odin says. Middle-snooty is good : a good amount of cultivation and development, but leave the weeds on the edge of the fields. They provide a little wild crosspollination.

It's wholesomeness that is valued. You don't have to be ashamed of your folk culture where it is wholesome. And where it has stopped being wholesome, due to vioelnce, addiction, and other symptoms of colonialism, you heal it, but you don't abandon it. Rettarbot, you "better your rights" so they heal up.

For example, in the United States, there are class rankings of regional dialects. The closer one's dialect is to a New England dialect, the more "proper" one is considered, and of course, if one actually has a British dialect, one is considered even "noble". All a Hollywood movie has to demonstrate, however, is a Southern accent, and the immediate subtext is one of ignorance.

I have always had a very good command of grammar, spelling, and diction, but nevertheless, I have never liked this ranking of dialect that makes some ashamed of their "home language", their folk dialect. It's especially ridiculous when we consider that folk dialects are the cauldron in which literature continually renews itself, and where one finds the most colorful and inventive language. As far as spelling goes, before the standardization of Webster's, spelling was variable.

I believe that this policing of language interferes with the natural wildness of language, which is a lush and tangled garden that grows of its own. Every dialect is capable of finding its own poetry that challenges folks to excellence and nuanced expression.

Ancient heathens really felt that your folk were those who spoke like you. Theod, "tribe" or "nation" is directly related to getheod, "language" or "tongue". Dialectical diversity and pride in the way one naturally speaks are good things.

Barbarian pride looks around at a civilization that has in many ways modelled itself on Roman examples, and says, ok, that represents a certain kind of artistry and engineering, but it is not the only kind that is possible, and there is a kind of elegance-in-the-raw to be found in more rustic lifestyles. Worth in the vernacular, as Ivan Illich puts it. Developing an "ironic pride" in one's native way of doing things, no matter how untamed or messy that might seem from more linear models. A heathen's culture has the quality of wod, or turbulence, and the patterns that are associated with turbulence : trace-patterns of nonlinear flows of complexity.

I say "ironic pride" because it is a pride with a sense of humor that is not unable to laugh at itself, but it is not a derisive laughter, but a deep, rich laughter that inspires you to want to change even when it is laughing at something that needs to be changed. Our pride doesn't disclude us looking square in the eye at problems that obviously need to be changed. But we'd like to change them from within, through internal critique, rather than having solutions ready-made in some other environment imposed on us. We may ask for some help, but ultimately, we have to figure it out for ourself, and it has more value that way.

In a rustic context, "garbage" or "trash" is simply the compost-pile, where scraps return to earth and replenish the soil. The poor white working class culture that the media loves to call "white trash" has many redeeming features to it despite the fact that as a class culture overcolonialized by capitalist society, it has suffered many pathologies that have unfortunately been integrated into many aspects of everyday culture that must themselves be worked out over the generations. Many of the obvious aspects that are often ridiculed are in fact good traits. The cars in the driveway, the weeds in the yard, the heaps of trash. These are often very resourceful collections of recyclables, with separate piles for nails, for various bolts, and so forth. A whole salvage-culture finds its seeds here. Those who come from a poor white working class culture have rustic barbarian roots they can reclaim good ironic pride in, as they work hard to work out the knots that have been tied in the generational lines by over-exploitation and poverty. Need can often warp.

It is agreed by a great majority of scholars that the great literature of the world draws its strength and roots from folk-culture, from Shakespeare to Rabelais to Cervantes. The language of the streets, the language in the bedroom, the language of back-room gambling games, the language of the hills can reseed what has become sterile and colorless.

Regeneration from the weeds, from the wild roughness of the heath, is what heathenism is all about to me. The world is a project in the making, and it's a damn good one even in its rough spots. Smoothness can be overemphasized to the point of slipperiness. Roughness provides texture and traction. The living chaos that pulsates, brachiates, and electrifies within us is a force of vitality and dynamism.

As far as the warrior stuff ... I don't even put much emphasis upon that. What it really comes down to in its most ancient, intact, and whole context is, "Don't poke at the bears." Don't vex the animals. They need their own space, their own territoriality which must be respected, and if you violate the integrity of the wild being, it may claw back, and that might not get pretty. Duh! What did you expect? The world has an integrity that must be respected and not violated. Treat every being with the dignity and regard it merits. Recognizing that we are all kin of Beloved Mother Earth doesn't mean that we all feel squishy and Disney towards each other as beings on this planet, but it does mean we respect that we all have a place, and if you push others too far, they will push back, and often harder.

Don't mess with the barbarian. A barbarian is like a primal person who has gotten pulled a little bit towards civilization, whether through osmosis, or genuine attraction, and often trauma. They are often the descendants of the wild folk whom the civilized plundered as resources and slaves, who finally decided they had had enough and learned how to fight back. In the process, they gained some fierceness, and at times, kept the trauma going. It's the wild animal who has been bruised or beaten one too many times, and becomes a little dangerous, a little prickly if provoked. The barbarians know they have to have enough of civilized skills to be able to fight off the empires that would absorb or enslave them, but they don't want enough that it will rob them of their connection to the primal. It's a tricky balance, like --- like inviting Loki in amongst the Gods! There's an admiration of inventiveness, but a certain suspiciousness as well that one may be taking in a Trojan horse. The Amish may represent the most extreme example of this, but they still nevertheless in this regard represent a genuine heathen sentiment.

When I was young, for some reason the image of barbarians that stuck with me was the big turkey drum-stick being eaten right off the bone. Whenever my family would have a drum-stick like that, I wanted to be the first to grab it and rip it off lustily with my teeth. However cartoonish scholars might someday conclude such an image is, it was an image that nevertheless had significance to me. You could grip food with your hands, you could eat with some passion, and not be inhibited by daintiness, you could approach the table with gusto and not be scolded for it.

The same sort of thing functions for our appreciation for the mead-hall. Yes, we love the beautiful, artistic carvings and tapestries of the hall. But also, let's admit it, we have a love for the simplicity of a gathering-place that at times was nothing other than a glorified barn that doubled as a temple, a gaming site, a place to conduct legal affairs, and a hang-out. There's something about those simple boards and the straw upon the floor, and the sounds of animals, and even the darkness of the place lit by torchlight --- giving an ancient equivalent of that famous cinematography from Bladerunner where the light was getting chopped up and spun about by the fan-blades --- that touches the rawness of the human soul, the part that's not ashamed of the mud and dirt from which we come, that is not ashamed of the rich textures of the tree-bark and the grain in the wood, that understands that things don't have to be fancy to be good. And ultimately that feels good because it is the triumph of substance over packaging. Not that we mind some adornment in the packaging. But we know many riches come wrapped in packages that make the greedy toss them aside.

A barbarian life means you get to enjoy the simple things in life. You don't have to be chasing after greatness, because there is significance and poignancy in an everyday life and everyday culture lived well and with spirit that brings its own kind of greatness. Excellence means fully enjoying and making the best out of the simple things in life, and taking pride in one's humble accomplishments. We talk about pride in heathenism, but it is really a pride in humility, from a certain perspective. Not humility in the form of self-debasement, but actually pride in the earth and that which stays close to the earth. There's a dignity to dirt, and the World Tree itself --- the living cosmos --- is healed by applications of the holy mud, the aurr.

What deep, healing messages! What freedom to live one's life! What room to grow and explore! What a profound existence, in that barbarian religion we call heathenism.


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