Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Give the Hints their Proper Measure

Occasionally, I have read someone, puffed up with their knowledge, and in contemptuous response to someone making comparison with another indigenous tradition, say, "We didn't have that in the Norse tradition."

How the fuck would you know?


Return to reality. Glosecki quite accurately points out that our literature postdates the migrations, and thus represents echoes, not firsthand reports, of the worldview of our ancestors. These are real but oblique glimpses of the truly shamanic, animist reality our pre-migration ancestors were immersed in.

There are technologies now whereby a distorted and distal reflection in someone's sunglasses, or on a plate of glass can be computer-enhanced and reconstructed. Within a crime scene photo, such details may be very subtle and quite dwarfed by all of the rest of the detail which is relatively insignificant. But that one, small glimpse may be the key to reconstructing something which happened in the vicinity.

The shamanic echoes we find in the lore are precisely analogous to that. If you tried to put them statistically in their place --- "These are minor tidbits compared to the rest of what has come down to us" --- you would be making the same mistake as ignoring the distorted reflections in favor of the rest of the mundane, insignificant details at the crime scene.

Indigenous systems worldwide share many common characteristics. They are not all the same, but on a broad scale, if not the level of detail, there are many commonalities. There is absolutely no reason to assume that Norse-Teutonic tribal culture, pre-Roman and pre-Migrations, was any different. In fact, the only reason for even presenting such a laughable, pitiful case of special pleading would be a remainder of 19th and early 20th century racist nationalism, which attempted to argue the absolute uniqueness of one's own ancestors over and above those of anyone else. That is the only bias which could blind one's eyes to the obvious realities.

We have enough hints to know things were a part of our ancient culture in common with other indigenous peoples, and these hints are the gold we're panning for amidst the sand. We know that women observed the eddies of rivers, and listened to the murmurs of the streams, and from this divined what was happening in their world. We know this because Plutarch tells us in his Life of Caesar.

You may say, this is a small detail in a vast sagaic literature, and by a foreigner, no less.

But it is that kind of small detail which is the key to unlocking a vast treasure hoard that otherwise remains closed and opaque to us. From that single detail alone, an entire world of color and vibrancy opens up. If that had been the only detail that had survived, it would be the only detail we need.

Fortunately, it's not the only detail. We find these kinds of echoes all throughout the literature, foremost of which, in case you really needed to be slapped across the face with it, is the fact that our All-Father underwent a classic shamanic ordeal. Shamanism -- yes, let's say it, shamanism -- is written all over this tradition, and what that means is that the mundane remembrances of heathen times recorded by Christians in the 1200s, 1300s, 1400s --- two to four hundred years after heathenism had been overcome by Christianity --- valuable as they are, do not accurately reflect the full animism of our fully tribalized, pre-Roman, pre-Migration ancestors. Rather, the Icelandic Sagas are one more stream that has flowed down to us, but must be interpreted properly (and not literally) in order to be placed back into their native place. Besides, the Sagas themselves contain hints enough.

We can collect these hints and place them in an indigenous context. We should do so according to a principle of concentric rippling, beginning our comparisons with other Indo-European cultures such as the Vedic and Avestan cultures, while also taking into our sweep the Saami and Finnish neighboring non-Indo-European cultures, and rippling out from there. At the farthest ripples, we will still find resonances that embrace cultures far and wide. That is good! That allows our particularity to touch our universality, of which we have both!

What this means is that many people who are presently ridiculed as "Wiccatru" or derided as "mere" "Northern shamans" may actually be more on the right track than those who puff themselves up as more "historically accurate". Why?

Because those fetishizing "historical accuracy" are coming almost entirely from a completely externalist approach which is Roman in origin and modern in full development, and is foreign to our ancestors, who combined the external and the internal. These pompous would-be scholars attempt to imprison our tradition within wordloc, a type of logic that is not native to our folk, and which approaches things entirely from the outside. These people so distrust intuition and imagination that they confuse well-developed, properly tested imagination with the juvenile flights of fancy of novices, and thus end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

On the other hand, those who trust their indigenous intuition and run with their hints might not precisely match portraits drawn up by Christian descendants of heathens three hundred years after their temples were torn down (and really? how much detail about temple life has passed down? how much about what happened at sacrifice and ceremony? A couple meagre paragraphs at best? whose accuracy is certainly not guaranteed, as many scholars think these may be the fancies of Christians?), but they may accurately reproduce the spirit of the tribal animism of our ancestors.

"I can prove that Vikings were not tribal animists!!!" Can you, now? Well, what would that prove? The Viking period is a late one within the pagan history of Scandinavia, impacted by Rome, stimulated by Carolingian and possibly Muslim influences into internal political turmoil, and represents the end-point but not the Golden Age of the heathen culture. It thus preserves for us remnants of what these people could preserve --- mainly in their mythic forms (and the Poetic Edda preserves quite an archaic and powerful mythic system) --- with other pictures of everyday life being remnants of remnants : again, recollected after the fact by descendants of a different faith. Now this is not to impugn the fidelity of an intact oral tradition, but the change in faith hardly made it completely intact. We still are astounded by how much was preserved, and ought to be grateful, but not in order to become literalists, but to take the hints as riddles, and solve them the way a riddle ought to be solved -- animistically!

I'll be the first one to agree that the UPG of many heathens is wildly unlikely and represents first babysteps of fancy elevated to some kind of Gods-given dogma, when it really ought to be taken as mere first steps on the path towards authentic intuition. A lot of this deserves the frankly baffled raised eyebrows it receives. I have heard things that seemed wildly unbelted.

Nevertheless, this does not mean it is valid to eliminate the spirit from our reconstructions of the faith and folkways of our ancestors, because their ways cannot be understood from an entirely externalist standpoint, nor from a standpoint which exclusively begins with externals and tries to infer its way inwards. That is one necessary direction, but the other direction is to move from within outwards. Unless both motions are made, the results will not be faithful.

This is not about throwing out rationality and evidence. It's about knowing how to use rationality and evidence from a more wholistic perspective which puts things in their proper place and proportion.

There's going to be times when you see something in another indigenous tradition, and you're going to know, to know, in your heart, that your ancestors did the same thing, or at least something very similar in spirit. Ignore such messages to your peril.

All of this is meant to awaken something within you, not to bridle your nose like a monk to some parchment. There are times a resonance is going to touch you, and bring something alive within the tradition that no scholar can trace, because that scholar is working from fragmentary records. Now this doesn't mean a free-for-all, nor does it mean that first impressions ought to be taken as final facts. There is a way to test intuitions over time and let them fully mature. I have explored that before in a post about gnosis and will likely do so again. But the only way for those intuitions to mature is to not dismiss them, and to take them as important, to understand that they are hints that lead somewhere, or seeds that will sprout into something significant.

Once the truly indigenous ancestral tradition, of which we have only traces, hints, and remnants, comes alive within us, our heathen ceremonies and culture will likely look much different than they do today, and undoubtedly different than the blurred half-mentions in the sagas, and yet, they will be fully authentic, and moreover, we will have an opportunity to take them to a new blossoming, for we are not condemned to be a cargo cult repeating over and over the words of Icelandic scribes, but have been blessed with the potential to grow and develop these seeds into a lush and fragrant garden that matches the dispensation of wyrd in our time. Some of this will match our records, much of it will herald back to that pre-Roman animism grasped obliquely in the records, and some of it will be entirely new, and completely genuine.

Tradition is about life. It is not about collecting fossils into museums. If you do not hold the fossil in your hands and let your spirit soar, so that the spirit that once inhabited those bones may speak or squirm or somehow become present, what will you have? Did our ancestors bow down before stones? Or before that which was within and inherent in the stones?


Anonymous Kullervo said...

An excellent post, Sigfried.

10:24 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Thanks for coming by and reading!

11:24 PM  
Anonymous echoed said...

I completely agree. Nothing existed in a vacuum, especially societies. Look at the Dionysian mysteries which parallel the Christian myths. (Add to that Osiris as well in the Egyptian traditions.)

People got around, used ideas, were pragmatic. Nothing is written in stone, we only have the vaguest echoes of what was written down.

When I lived in the U.S., I ran into this very closed-minded, ultra-conservative attitude with Asatruar. To them, the blot and sumbel seemed a time to talk about hunting and became a drinking game. Also magic and seidhr were "frowned upon". I just didn't get it. It bothered my vegan, Vanic, ultra-leftwing sensibilities :)

2:58 AM  

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