Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Rationality of the Heathen Ethos

Heathen Principles of Reality

1. Life is predominantly rational. By "rational" here, we mean it is subject to investigation, analysis, and creative synthesis, and because of this, problems are potentially solvable. One need not accept the "First Noble Truth" of Buddhism that "all is suffering" ; rather, one can perceive that unresolved problems constitute suffering. The Norse creation story begins with a giant problem, that is broken apart and intelligently reconfigured and creatively reshaped to fertilize possibilities of life ; this shows that the proper resolution of problems not only alleviates suffering, but also creates new possibilities for order, expression, and vitality (sometimes called heil or the ingredients that make for the blessings of wholeness). Because problems are predominantly solvable does not mean, of course, that all problems can be solved, nor that most of them can be solved at once, nor that, without persistent and intelligent analysis and consistent application, any will be solved at all. What it means is that nature presents as a set of learning challenges spontaneously layered in such a way as to draw out intelligence ; at the bottom of the learning curve is suffering, and at the top is mastery. While each of us may never achieve the complete top of the learning curve (which perhaps represents the mastery of the Gods), it is completely natural to move in that direction, which constitutes positive evolution. Because life is predominantly rational, it is not true that "anything goes", because some things will work, and other things will not work, and that which does not meet the learning curve of reality will face increasing suffering. There is therefore a proper way (or a set of proper ways) of doing things, even if those have yet to be fully figured out or perfected. While one should experiment to see how proper ways may be improved, one should also stick to that which has proven itself as tried and true. Life is so predominantly rational in the Norse view, in fact, that not only must all problems eventually be faced, as Ragnarok illustrates, but will in fact be completely solved until all of the giant problems are destroyed. That utopian victory may be far in the future, but it rests upon the training each of us cultivate to take on problems successfully, passing those solutions and not the received flaws down to those who follow. Although the progress towards that perfected state of final victory has suffered several reversals in the course of time, these have predominantly been due to the ascendance of forces of irrationality such as untruth, distortion, and delusion (Loki), and thralldom to fear, anxiety, and the cowardice in the face of apparent scarcity that manifests as greed (Gullveig). Forces which oppose our rational capacities hinder our ability to solve problems both individually and collectively, and thus produce suffering. While we are faced in life with tremendous and even overwhelming problems at times, it is encouraging to know that we are hindered even more by our own irrationalities and delusions, which are potentially overcomeable, and thus happiness is not only possible, but once we have earned it through doing the work to master life's learning curves, even normal.

2. Reality is both linear and non-linear, with an emphasis on the latter. Just because life is rational in the sense that problems are potentially solvable, however, does not mean that life is predominantly linear. In fact, non-linear flows and various levels of turbulence characterize much of nature. This means that purely linear cognitive processes are not adequate (although they may be necessary) to fully understanding and comprehending reality. Both linear and nonlinear cognitive processes, thought and intuition, science and art, are necessary to adequately (if not fully) grasp reality. A completely linear approach will lack depth and remain stilted. Nonlinear flows such as the currents of streams and rivers, the shifting fronts of a windstorm, or the fall of rain may all be modelized and allowed to come alive within us so our cognition may intuitively understand and flow with the nonlinear processes that surround us. Because of the nonlinear aspects of reality, cause and effect intertwine and iterate in such a way that the aleatory takes on a significant force in life that nevertheless, being nested in rich, correlative fields of meaning, is also often significant in synchronistic ways. For this reason, aleatory methods such as divination may be utilized to tap into nonlinear ways of thinking.

3. Life consists of choice, and therefore involves the giving up of one set of possibilities for another set of possibilities rationally calculated to be more dear. Our happiness is therefore directly dependent on our ability to accurately assess and compare values, and evaluate costs. (In fact, one of the words for "values", "virtues", or "excellences" was "custes" or "costs".) Wise judgement of worth is therefore critical to the life-process. Moreover, when we have discovered what is truly of value in our lives, it takes on such high worth that we may at times be willing to pay a high price to either achieve it or sustain it or both, and still feel we have profited from the bargain, although at times it may be a hard bargain. But a gift calls for a gift, and we are expected to give proper value for that which truly has worth.

4. Life is only vital and alive when we are actively rising to meet the challenges which face us. Because of this, daring each other in ways that are appropriate to our growth and capacities is a loving act. Love challenges weakness to become stronger, however it may. Because life is nonlinear, and therefore includes both the aleatory and the unpredictable, risk is a necessary part of life, and thus, gambling is an essential part of facing life's challenges and making choices based on rational assessment of costs. The cost of a gamble is what we are willing to stake. Taking a chance at times provides meaningful ways to increase our ability to meet challenges and to increase our confidence in life. Worthwhile conviviality consists at least in part in egging on such gambles, and celebrating their victories. When facing a problem, you need people around you who will encourage you to find ways to meet that problem, and help you develop confidence in your ability, through proper analysis and sufficient training, to overcome it, given enough persistence. Much that is thought ungraspable is graspable with a little boldness and calculated risk.

5. Life, and the processes and ecologies that support life, are so valuable that they are worth fighting for. Concordant with the principle of choice and cost above, one should not be passive in the face of that which threatens the good life, but should rise with confidence to defend them and stand up for them. This is regardless of whether the opposing parties see any value to that which is being defended ; what matters is the perception of value by the advocates and their willingness to forcefully defend what they find of value.

6. A single approach is seldom sufficient to solve all problems. Intelligence must be pragmatic and geared towards the situation. Sometimes force and strength are required (e.g., Thor) ; sometimes pithy, penetrating, poetic intellect is necessary (e.g., Odin) ; sometimes intuition and empathy are called for (e.g., Freya, Frigga). The pantheon, consisting of a coordinated tribe of individuals each with diverse talents, reminds us that it is the bringing-together or togathering of diverse approaches that is most able to meet and overcome difficulties in creative and beneficial ways. The Community of the Gods models how any community may come together in fruitful ways to mutually challenge and keep at bay problems that to any individual might seem gigantic. Furthermore, the tales of their doings remind us that when a community gives way to factionalism, it is separated from its powers and thus ability to take care of what it needs to take care of. Many approaches are better than one, and one may need to reach across boundaries and separations to embrace strange allies in order to further one's goals. Such alliances can be mutually beneficial against overwhelming problems. The Gods ally themselves with the elves and the dwarves to the benefit of all against the giants. One's strength often depends on the diversity and integrity of one's connection and alliances. This fruitful power of coalition is not limited to humanoid life, for one may reach out in alliance towards the sentience in animals, in vegetation, in the land itself, and the various coherent expressions of intelligence which guard these. The mutual aid strategy of "one for all and all for one" is really an effective way of overcoming problems, and is greater the greater number of beings with whom one shares it. An ecology of problems calls for an even richer ecology of solutions.

7. Different people occupy different levels of evolution and thus niches. Not everyone chooses to be rational. Some give in to or even cultivate the worst in themselves and multiply suffering. Others merely fall short of cultivating that which is most excellent in themselves. On the other hand, there will always be a class of people who achieve the excellent in themselves, and who therefore, understanding the true value of things, will train themselves to protect that which is of value. Part of this protecting function is protecting the ordinary mass of society from those who have given in to the worst in themselves. This is done both preventatively and prophylactically through generous sharings of aid with those in genuine need, in exchange for service and loyalty to noble causes. Those who have multiplied sufferings are constrained to make good on what they made ill for as long as it takes to at least clean up the mess and initiate the process of significant improvement. While all people who have not turned themselves into monsters through horrendous or shameful crimes are human beings, and therefore worthy of at least a chance to remedy themselves and thus earn respect, nevertheless, one must appropriately value the contributions people bring to the table, and thus, those who are more highly evolved must not evaluate themselves by the criteria set by those who are more lowly evolved, but rather cling to that which is most noble. The noble must never be ruled by the base, and true social order consists in maintaining this proper relationship, with the caveat that due to the persuasions of delusion and irrationality, these roles are often counterfeited and reversed. When this occurs, those who truly cling to noble values must "turn the tables". To the degree that rationality and excellence, following the bold wisdom of the Gods, rules society, life seems doable, its challenges full of potential rewards, and an opportunity, with all its difficulties, for happiness and rich enjoyment. To the degree that nobility is subordinated to the base and irrational, life seems crazy, out of control, and subdued by suffering. But because irrationality and fear often have a way of empowering the base, the good life requires exceptional courage and boldness on the part of the noble to challenge and take down those less evolved souls who would elevate themselves above others and at their expense. When everyone and everything occupies its proper niche or home, there is harmony and happiness. This is not a limiting factor because it is always possible, with hard work and intelligence, to rise both in worth and excellence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it! I'd be interested in hearing what you think the nature of reality is? For Vaishnavas for instance it all boils down to Isvara, Jivatman, and Jagat or God, souls, and world. What do you think our Heathen reality is?

1:07 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

This is a difficult question that will require a bit more erudition than my off-the-cuff response here, but, I'd say that the material world consists of "monstrous matter" derived from the body of Ymir. The description of Ymir's creation in Gylfaginning sounds like he represents the dregs of an alchemical process. He is nourished and fructified by Audhumla's milk, and it is after this, after life has been seeded in him, so to speak, that his body is ripe for disassembling and reassembling. The world-tree, on the other hand, is not normally visible to human eyes (due to the daubing of aurr or mud upon it), and thus represents a spiritual reality that is uncreated as such, and exists through all ages. Neither fire nor iron can fell it. Humans represent divine potentials given to living matter ("trees")within the matter-world, and thus represent a middle ground between monstrous matter (the giants) and the Gods. So, Divine, Human, and Matter sound like a good division. On the other hand, we can say that substance consists of Fire, Ice, and all that lies Between. It is where things are moderate that they are good.

I hope that at least partially answers your question. You are asking a good philosophical question that has yet to really meet its philosophical master. What we have in the myths are urthanc-potentials that must be carefully drawn out.

You might find, as a prologemena, the following posts of interest :



In an online interview, I said, "There fire and ice came together, and what met in the middle became the prima materia for the world. Yet that prima materia was still monstrous and required shaping. First the Gods took their hand at shaping, and then they made artisans to finish up the job. However, a revolt of those artisans at a particular point interrupted the task, and so the world still remains to be completed. Perhaps our own creative power can help fill the gap left by the sundering of the elves and dwarves. We will have to see."

I hope that at least begins to be helpful.

4:39 PM  

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