Friday, December 18, 2009

The Fall of the West

Heimskringla might be subtitled, in Tolkienesque fashion, The Fall of the West. We come in in medias res, corruption and tyranny spread far and wide amongst leaders. Heimskringla is in many ways a catalogue of niding acts, of cowardly, cruel acts, with documentation upon documentation upon documentation of people burning down farms, burning down people's crops, and what was considered a most niding act, burning down people when they were in holy feast. We find a culture where the forbidden and the unthinkable is more and more enacted, and becomes less and less a terrible exception, and begins to approach a terrible, cynical rule.

This whole period might thus be called The Cynicization of the West, which is not to allege that in the cold North everything was smiles and laughter all the time, but cynicization might be defined as that threshold when a culture begins regularly violating its own values, where the base and the cultured and enlightened get turned upside-down. Indeed, the Viking Age might be seen as the last fluorescence of a decadent age, as if they knew times were changing, and gathering to themselves as much of the Old Ways as possible to be able to hand them down, and thank the Gods they did!

But greed, already long-identified by the poets in ages past as a potent and corrupting force, had made new inroads in the lives of men. Viking raids themselves are evidence of a new lust for material goods, and so Gullveig and her children insinuated themselves once more, and more deeply, into the children of men.

And with the evocation of gold, we may assess Heimskringla as a gold mine, full of lots of rocks and slag, but with just enough gold nuggets to make the mining worthwhile. We would not honor the ancestors by valorizing conditions that themselves represented decay of their most important values, but we do honor them if we take those few gold nuggets, and seeing them as seeds, plant them, so they may grow anew and flourish again.

But Heimskringla ought also be warning of how things can go wrong, and what not to do, of wolfish kings and wolfish armies, of people set in strife upon each other with a frequency and a viciousness that could never make for a sustainable society. To admire tales of bravery and strength, and value those willing to stand up to fight for their rights is a far cry from wishing strife to take over the social fabric so that the only ruling god becomes the Monotheism of Mars. In such a situation, truly, the other Gods cry out for justice.

That is the value of Heimskringla. Not that we celebrate the Fall of the West, but that we plant the seeds of its flourescence so it may Rise again with wisdom and goodness.


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