Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sins and Debts and Wergilds

Every sin condemns you to (nifl)hel.

What an absurd pronouncement. Christianity is so extremist.

Sins are burdensome. The more sins you commit, the more of a mess you leave, the greater your legacy is one of garbage that other people have to pick up, and for which, no doubt, you will be made to work in the other world.

But that any single sin unredeemed before this life is over condemns one to everlasting places of punishment?

Absolutely laughable and absurd. A childish doctrine perpetrated by fools who have no understanding of things, nor wisdom for the great things of this world.

Sins rack up debt. Debt is to be avoided. Debts must be worked off, if not here, then there, if not now, then later. Debts have a way of accumulating and growing. It is better to avoid them where one can.

Sin makes of one a thrall. That is why sin ought to be avoided when possible.

But mistakes are hardly avoidable in this world. We often learn through trial and error, and the words of the wise often mean little to those growing in experience until experience itself proves those wise words all too painfully wise.

This should not be mistaken for some kind of excuse for abuses and wrongs. For these, there are no excuses. Our tradition has always been no-nonsense. Wrongs must be righted, to the best of our ability, and that may require great labors. Many indeed may have to work in the underworld before they can enjoy great freedoms with the ancestors.

Legacy matters. What you leave for others makes a difference. The old tradition states that everything dies but the legacy one leaves behind. Will it predominantly be a mess that chokes out the living, or at least the beginning of an establishment of blessings that may be build upon?

No-nonsense. Wrongs must be righted. But the inability to weigh wrongs properly, and therefore find their proper wergild or scild leads to nonsensical propositions. Like the notion that any single sin leads to places of torment.

Look, even the sins considered capable of earning one places of torment are never said to automatically do so : the Gods are wise, and make wise judgements. Even great wrongs must be judged with the utmost of fairness, for all contingencies and extenuating circumstances, and good must be weighed against ill, and all must be sorted out. Let us not have childish doctrines that introduce simplistic solutions to complex issues that require the wise.

Wergild is a sophisticated, complex solution and approach to the burdens laid down by men unwise, by desperate men, even by evil men. Wergild is a system tribal peoples developed all over the world. Reparations must be made for injuries inflicted.

Why? The long-lasting effects of injuries and injustices cannot simply be wished away. No matter how much one whitewashes, those effects linger, because living beings matter, and all must be reconciled in order for the world to live on in balance.

Reconciled. That means sometimes there's some bargaining. This is traded for that. This is given for that. It has to be that way, at least in the world as we have it now, for creatures eat each other, and that means some injuries are built into the very nourishment of the world, a kind of frightening reality, if you really think about it. Indigenous peoples all over the world found ways of envisioning this. The story of Thor waving his hammer over the bones of the eaten goats is the trace of these insights in our tradition. A contract was made, to give over the soul of the animal to the master of those animal souls so that the species could go on reproducing. The soul of the animal was returned to the place of souls from which it could recombine and regenerate new animal souls to come to earth. The tradition of sacrifice, so often maligned, was a way for folk to take seriously something that is very serious, the taking of another's life for nourishment, something that ought to seem perilous and weighty, and given its appropriate import and gravity. Crowley, of all people, speaks (in Magick in Theory and Practice) of the contract made with the animal : a promise, in a sense, that one will make one's life worthwhile for the sacrifices given, that the soul of the sacrificed may live on and live through those worthwhile deeds and fulfillment. It's a pretty powerful concept, and one that matches indigenous pacts all over the world.

So acknowledging the nature of the world, we understand that reconciliations and reparations may have to be rough-and-tumble, but rough-and-tumble they must be made, for all deeds have consequences.

` This is something seldom acknowledged in colonial, settler societies that have been built on a foundation of slaughter and wholesale violation of odal rights. A colonial situation is a great situation of sin, as those who have had the courage to face know, which no one within ever wants to confront. The tangles tied are so complex that simplistic slogans seldom do the collective sin justice. Wisdom is needed for discernment. Africans were enslaved and brought to the continent of America as a slave-labor force, and separated from their language and culture. Yet poor "whites" (a term invented by Native Americans, by the way, who did not fully discern all of the distinct nationalities of the invaders whose distinguishing feature was the paleness of their skin) were also forcibly taken to America in great numbers as well, with large amounts of kidnapping and indentured servitude that brought its own enslavement and debt, although they were seldom robbed of their language and culture in the shock-treatment that Africans were. And those who were at the bottom knew each other across whatever suspicions and strangeness, for alliances, friendships, and marriages were contracted, and here is where the colonial would-be masters stepped in with laws that created white privilege and instituted racism with the full force of law in ways that never would have matched the on-the-ground protean reality of diverse lived-experience. Empire began forging an engine of conquest, of ranked unworth, where every peon could have someone beneath them who was worse, so the sadism and masochism could be evenly exchanged, or at least so it seemed.

Are you so naive as to think that the feelings of all those people do not still resonate upon the land? Are you so simple as to think that the bones of the murdered do not cry out? Are you so hopelessly ignorant that you think that crimes can go unanswered and consequences avoided? They cannot.

Some will cry, 'begone with these ideas, they bring guilt, and we want pride!' Shameless! Are you shameless? To be shameless was quite an accusation in days of old. What right do you have to pride before you have paid your wergild? Are you aware you remain a thrall until you have worked off your debt?

And then, once your debt is paid, do you know how many generations the Old Norse thought it took to move from merely manumitted to fully free? Seven generations. (And you thought Moses' newly-freed thralls spent a long time in that desert! Fourty years? That's but a single generation!) It takes time to move from crime to freedom. Most of us hardly even know what freedom is because we're still so steeped in a legacy of debt never addressed or paid.

Now this may seem like I am agreeing with extremists who place such tremendous weight upon sin. No, not at all, because note that while there is a period of thralldom where debt must be paid off, and a period of disentangling oneself from the habits of thralldom before one comes into freedom, eventually one does come into freedom if one does the work. That's on earth, and as above, so below. Eternal torment for mistakes that can be worked out in time seems rather absurd. It is true even our small mistakes are often weightier than we think, for we are connected weirdly, and our wyrd interpenetrates, reverberates, ripples even in odd doppler effects. Thus we ought strive to do the very best we can, and learn as quickly as possible from our mistakes. And collective mistakes of great weight, compounded by planning and deliberate designs of exploitation, may take tremendous or Herculean feats to finally overcome, over generations. True weight must be declared, not an ounce more, not an ounce less.

But let's be real : we are animals, however cosmic our brain may be able to be, and we tassle always-imperfect though hopefully-improving knowledge with deep, territorial passions and hungers that make mistakes almost inevitable, and places of torment would be overflowing if mistakes alone, even painful ones, were reasons for eternal torment. No, our Gods are realistic and merciful, their clemency founded on loving, no-nonsense foundations : work off your debt. Don't run from it, don't argue with it. Just face it fair and square and do what you can, in the rough-and-tumble. If it's a big debt, you might have to work harder.

You might say, 'Well, this isn't my debt. It wasn't my ancestors who did these injuries.' An encumbrance is an encumbrance. A lien on a piece of property affects the title whether you had anything to do with it or not. There are sins of the nation that affect you whether you will or no. That may seem unfair, and in a good sense it is, but at the same time it points to the necessity for collective responsibility and the need to combat, in every sense of that term, ill that arises, for ill unaddressed and allowed to become law by being unchallenged lays an endowment of wickedness which warps all goods that might come and skews them crooked. We don't want that. You might say combativeness is a bad thing, but if you fail to combat that which is essentially wrong in your community and nation, what kind of legacy will be left for the living? What kind of freedom will there be?

Now, because this is a rough-and-tumble world, I'm pretty convinced that some things do come clean in the wash, and there is a certain number of mistakes, of a certain petty quality, that make little difference, and the Gods are not unwilling to cut essentially good people some slack, so long as it does not interfere with the balance of the world. The Gods have accumulated quite a lot of good through their deeds, and have tremendous bank accounts of heil as it were, and can cut a check every now and again to make up for small amounts, but Urd is an exacting accountant and the Gods are charged with ensuring that wyrd is balanced out over the long-run. That's part of their administrative duties. Ultimately, responsibility is one of the fundamental laws of the cosmos. Urd keeps track of it, but the cosmos' responsibility-matrix is the fundamental process of reality. What makes it wyrd is that its nonlinear ramifications are so complex as to render Urd the most incredible intuitive chaos-scientist and mathematician-of-complexity imaginable. A lot of stuff doesn't make sense from a linear perspective, but poetry completes the picture.

Poets know. Poets can feel what is in the land still, what lingers from the past and still sings or cries through the history books.

Imagine putting poets in charge, empowering them for the great insights and wisdoms they bring and channel. Wasn't that what Plato was getting at with his idea of philosopher-kings? Yet Plato was merely inflecting a much older Indo-European idea of poet-chieftains, for which word the Icelanders have given us Gothis, song-smiths in touch with the Gods.

If you read Icelandic poetry, you know it is capable of great, sinuous, twisting beauty, complexity, and ravelled allusion, but it maintains a deep pragmatism and the thump and edge of a real world. It's not all flowers and lace. It's the folk-poetry of the rural reality taken up into high-court expression.

Touch your poetic soul, your odr. It will tell you the truths of sins and debts and wergilds, if you breathe in your ond, your cosmic, Odinic breath of spirit. The books and scriptures can only tell you so much. It is coming out of dream at night before the day begins when you lie there in bed where you will come to know out of great feeling welling up from the heart what is true and what is not.

And you'll know we've got work to do. But it's good work, because it's work to undo encumbrances. Work to win us greater freedom.


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