Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Heathenism : An Earth-Centered Religion

It has recently come to my attention that there are some heathens who believe that our ancestral religion has little to do with ecology or reverence for the earth. Such colossal and inexcusable ignorance on the part of people who ought to know better requires a response. Reverence for the numinosity of nature was so pronounced that worship itself was centered in sacred groves. In addition to quoting classical sources as well as native heathen sources, I will be extensively citing from modern studies of sacred groves in India which underline their religious and ecological importance, for this is the material which amplifies and brings into both focus and significance the former sources.

Sacred Groves in Germania, According to Tacitus

[L]uco reverentia ... potestatem numinis prae se ferens (Germania 39), "They pay reverence to a sacred grove, ... where they bring themselves before the power of divinity."

Nature is infused with numinosity. God is in the grove.

[L]ucos ac nemora consecrant deorumque nominibus appellant secretum illud, quod sola reverentia vident (Germania 9), "They consecrate sacred groves and forests to the Gods, and invoke them with secret names, because they consider that alone to be respectful." Ceterum nec cohibere parietibus deos neque in ullam humani oris speciem adsimulare ex magnitudine caelestium arbitrantur (Ibid), "Moreover, they neither restrain the Gods within walls nor imitate them with any kind of human countenance, because of their belief in the majesty of the heavenly Gods."

Stato tempore in silvan auguriis patrum et prisca formidine sacram omnes eiusdem sanguini populi legationibus coeunt (Germania 39), "At appointed times in a forest, by ancestral divination [ie., communion with the disir], and out of ancient and sacred religious awe, all people of the same family, and the deputies of the people, gather in the forest."

Eoque omnis superstitio respicit, tamquam inde initia gentis, ibi regnator omnium deus, cetera subiecta atque parentia (Germania 39), "And everyone gazes upon it, respecting and caring for it [the grove] with such overwhelming awe, as if in that very place the people first emerged, for there is the God who Rules All, all the rest being subject to him and heeding him." Deorum maxime Mercurium colunt (Germania 9), "They worship Mercury [Odin] as the highest and greatest of the Gods."

All-Father is in the Woods. The wind blowing through the trees manifests the holy presence of his thoughts. "Weather" and "wind" are all from the same Proto-Indo-European root from which the name Vata/Votan/Odin emerge. Wodan in Anglo-Saxon refers to someone possessed by a spirit, raving, running wild, full of fury and bacchic ecstasy, roaring, growling, murmuring, roaming, blustering, wild, and of the woods. The homonymic relationship between wod and wood draws the two concepts together, as one goes to the woods to go wild.

Heathen Sources on the Numinosity of Nature and Sacred Groves

Vilhelm Gronbech, drawing upon his extensive depth studies of the Icelandic Sagas, summarizes the heathen approach to the sacred groves, as evidenced in the Sagas : "...[M]en would point to a stone, a waterfall, a meadow, a mountain, as the holiest of holy things, the true source whence all luck, all honour, all frith flowed out to pulse through the veins of kinsmen. Thorolf's family had their spiritual home in the mountain that stood above the homestead --- Helgafell (the holy mountain) it was naturally called. One of Thorolf's contemporaries, the settler Thorir Snepil, lived at Lund, and he "worshipped the grove" (lund) ; another, Lodin, acquired the Flatey valley right up as far as Gunnsteinar, and he worshipped the rocks there. Hrolf lived at Fors, and his son Thorstein worshipped the waterfall (foss), and all the leavings of the house were thrown into the rapids. Helgafell was fenced off from daily life by a holy silence ; nothing, neither man nor beast, was suffered to perish there, no blood was suffered to flow, no dirt to defile. But it was not only a place inviolable ; it was the place whence luck was brought. When it was a case of hitting upon the right decision in a difficult matter, the discussion was adjourned to the holy place ... [P]lans made on Helgafell were more likely to succeed than all others. From the foss came inspiration to the seer Thorstein Raudnef, so that he could always see, in the autumn, which of the cattle would not live through the winter and therefore should be chosen for slaughter. The power of holiness is the same as that which Tacitus heard spoken of among the southern Germanic tribes ; in the land of Hermundures there lay a salt spring, where the gods were to be found, and where men could have their wishes fulfilled. He knew too, that the Batavians assembled in a sacred grove to make plans against the Romans ... On the island of Fositeland ... two features stand out distinctly : the blessing in that spring which was in the grove -- for there the inhabitants procured their water -- and the peace and solemnity of holiness which marked the resting place of luck. The animals grazed there, sacredly inviolable, all that was found within the boundaries lay undisturbed in its place, while men came and went, the people moved in silence towards the spring in the middle, drew their water, and moved silently away." (Vilhelm Gronbech, The Culture of the Teutons, Volume II, "Holiness", pp. 112 - 113.) The groves were places of inviolability, where no blood was to be shed, and where animals and trees were left in their wild, self-willed place.

Indeed, the entire universe was visualized as a tree whose well-being the All-Father worried over, and for whom he urged human beings to be thoughtful. In Grimnismal 35, he says, Askr Yggdrasils drýgir erfiði meira en menn um viti: hjörtr bítr ofan, en á hliðu fúnar, skerðir Niðhöggr neðan, "The ash-tree Yggdrasil suffers great hardship, more than men know about : the harts bite from above, and the side [bark] is rotting, Nidhogg diminishes from beneath." Since the Tree is under such stress, we ought be healing rather than scathing influences. After all, we are trees ourselves. Not only were human beings drawn out of trees in the yoredays, but poets commonly refer to people as trees.

As far as the overwhelming evidence that Jord/Nerthus, "Earth", was also "Frigga", "beloved", in other words, "Beloved Mother Earth", I will refer the reader to William Reaves' excellent essay, "Odin's Wife : Mother Earth in Germanic Mythology". A religion where Mother Earth is the wife of the chief God is without any question an "earth-centered religion".

The Ecological Importance of the Sacred Groves

The sacred grove is an Indo-European wide (and beyond!) institution. "The protection of patches of forest as sacred groves and of several tree species as sacred trees belong to the religion-based conservation ethos of ancient people all over the world." (M.D. Subash Chandran and Madhav Gadgil, "Sacred Groves and Sacred Trees of Uttara Kannada", in Baidyanath Saraswati, ed., Lifestyle and Ecology, D.K. Printworld Ltd., New Delhi, 1998, p. 85.) The institute of the sacred grove is not a mere matter of speculation, because the institution, while under attack under globalism, still persists in India, where it has been studied. "Although such practices became extinct in most parts of the world, basically due to changes in religion, and during recent times due to changes in resource use patterns, sacred groves and sacred trees continue to be of much importance in religion, culture and resource use systems in many parts of India. ... [T]he scientific study of them was initiated by Gadgil and Vartak (1975, 1976, 1981). Gadgil (1985) pioneered the view that sacred groves and sacred trees belong to a variety of cultural practices which helped Indian society to maintain an ecologically steady state with wild living resources. This view has been fortified by many later studies..." (Ibid.) Addressing Indo-European wide practice, they say, "...[E]ach community had its own sacred grove. Especially worshipped were sanctuaries built among anormous age-old trees which were never to be cut down ... Sacred enclosures formed one of the major categories of land use. These usually contained groves of trees and springs of water ; within them the environment was preserved, as a rule, in its natural state ... Aquelus spoke of travellers praying under the trees on "a little sacred hill fenced all around". But the grove of Daphne was ten miles in circumference. A grove near Lerna stretched all the way down to a mountainside by the sea. Alexander the Great found an entire island dedicated to a goddess identified as Artemis ... ". (Ibid, pp. 86 - 87.)

There is a fundamental reason such "religious conservation" has passed out of existence amongst Europeans. "Due mainly to the rise of dogmatic religions like Christianity and Islam, which advocated faith in one god and were explicitly for the eradication of 'pagan' practices, the tradition of maintaining sacred groves and sacred trees vanished from most countries." (Ibid, p. 89.)

"Religious conservation" is an apt term, because such groves are ecological sanctuaries. "Studies on sacred groves reveal that they are priceless treasures of great ecological, biological, cultural and historical value." (Ibid, p. 90.) The authors quote D. Brandis, "The first Inspector General of Forests in India ... "... These sacred forests, as a rule, are never touched by the axe, except when wood is wanted for the repair of religious buildings, or in special cases for other purposes..." ... The forest was in good condition and well protected. Nothing was allowed to be cut except wood to feed the sacred fire and "this required the cutting annually of a small number of trees which were carefully selected among those that showed signs of age and decay." (Ibid, pp. 90 - 91.) Although precise regulations may have differed from nation to nation, in general, a pattern of strict conservatism of the wild resources of the grove prevailed. In general, these were "sacred places where trees and plants were allowed to grow undisturbed and where reptiles, birds and animals could have free living without fear of poaching or interference by man." (Ibid, p. 91.) Medieval laws in Germany show that cutting down sacred trees carried extreme penalties, and the Greek story of Erisychthon demonstrates that amongst the Greeks such an act was considered a crime as well.

Today, in the midst of widespread disruption of natural areas, the practice of sacred groves gives nature a resting area from which to regenerate. Such areas allow scientists to study flora and fauna not found elsewhere. "Ramakrishnan (1992) observes that the climax vegetation at higher elevations in Meghalaya, as at Cherrapunji, is today represented only by sacred groves. According to A.S. Chauhan of the Botanical Survey of India, the sacred groves of Meghalaya, totalling about 1000 km2 of undisturbed natural vegetation, are found scattered in small pockets all over the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. With heavy pressure of population on the land, these groves remain the last refugia for 700 rare plant species (Down to Earth, 1994). ... Such groves and forests are often the only remains of the original vegetation ..." (Ibid, p. 92). "Early travellers like Hunter in 1879 nad Gurdon in 1914 made frequent mention of the very conspicuous groves of evergreen forests on the Khasi plateau in Meghalaya (Rodgers, unpublished). Bor (1942) stated that all evergreen forest patches on the Khasi plateau were either sacred groves or land unfit for cultivation." (Ibid.) The authors list 107 rare birds catalogued by scientists in sacred groves.

"Evaluating the small-scale refugia of peasant societies, Joshi and Gadgil (1993) argue that such a system may permit biological resource use at near maximal sustainable level, while keeping the risk of resource extermination low. Such an interpretation is consistent with the fact that in the tribal state of Mizoram, the village woodlot subject to regulated use is termed the supply forest, while the adjacent sacred grove is called the safety forest (Malhotra, 1990)." (Ibid, p. 97.) The authors argue that the emergence of the institution of the sacred grove was in part a response by agriculturalists to their disruption of the habitat, and thus represents a learning curve in response to resource depletion, and therefore "sheltered the community of early peasants from this impoverishment [of biodiversity]." (Ibid, p. 112.) Thus, there were both pragmatic and spiritual reasons for early agriculturalists to institutionalize the sacred grove. These groves were distinguished from woodlots "where people gathered their regular necessities of fuel, leaf manure, minor timber, etc." (Ibid, p. 99.), and often had taboos not only on cutting down trees, but hunting within them, which ensured a "richness of wildlife" (Ibid) in the area. Consequently, these groves, "... in addition to acting as sanctums for wildlife, would also have provided ample food especially for frugiverous animals." (Ibid.) Various forest officials in India have noted that the sacred groves are "of "great economic and climatic importance. They favour the existence of springs, and perennial streams ..."" (Ibid.) Subrash Chandran and Gadgil concluded in 1993 that the sacred groves, "being mostly patches of climax evergreen forest, played an important role in the conservation of biodiversity and helped in the regeneration and restoration of degraded forests around."

Under the British regime in India, many sacred groves were seized by the government, and local ecologies "were subjected to unregulated exploitation" (Ibid, p. 101). This constituted "a major intervention in the traditional resource management systems of the region with ravaging consequences for the landscape. Timber became the major commodity for sale. ... The local peasants in most places forfeited their traditional hold over the forests, including the sacred groves." Nevertheless, religion provides at least a basis for resistance, and significantly, the groves have managed to survive mainly in areas where "Christianity and Islam have had practically no impact on the religion of the people."

Studies show that even heavily stressed peasants maintained up to 6% of their land base as sacred groves, with supply forests and other areas adding another 30 - 40% of their land. When we consider that these were modern studies conducted on peasants living subsistence lifestyles, and that sacred groves in general represented no utilitarian function, this is quite remarkable. Even at these lower percentages, the authors conclude that "the sacred groves have found to be sheltering several plant specis which have mostly vanished from areas in between", constituting "centres of plant diversity, harbouring even rare and threatened plant species", and "may be considered the best samples of the climax evergreen forest of the region" (Ibid, p. 112.) Additionally, sacred groves were "haven[s] for wildlife" (Ibid, p. 113) and a rich variety of fauna. Taking into account the integration of sacred groves into the entire resource management system of the land base, the traditional system was found to be "surprisingly similar" to "alternative agricultural systems ... based on ecological principles of sustainability and stability" (Ibid.).

Chandran and Gadgil emphasize that the spiritual traditions immanent in the sacred groves are "strongly cosmocentric, where man lives as part of a system in which everything is related to everything else", but warn that, "today, rapidly drifting from our traditions of sustainable use and coexistence, we seem to be entering a man-centred world that implies the decimation of nature."

Germania, too, where "nothing was more powerful than Wyrd", was cosmocentric as well, where humans fulfilled their needs within a larger context of respect for the natural world and the Gods who infused that world with life and spirit.

In conclusion, heathenism is, has been, and must be an earth-centered religion if it is to remain true to its roots. The material presented here in support of this conclusion is but the tip of the iceberg. Care for the Living Cosmos (Yggdrasil) is part and parcel of the religious ethos itself, and this includes setting aside and caring for sacred groves where the wild flora and fauna is free from human interference and destruction.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get back to their roots.

All translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow.

What does Life want?

What does life want? Life wants to taste the sun, to drink in light and make it live a thousand forms. And sun, sun is blaze reaching out towards life’s formation ... Look upon green, and see gold : gold enfleshed in leaf, gold grasped as rain and now leaping up to return through form to source. Gaze upon meadows, and see a single stream of sun, a golden river greened, withal, around. Life is sun’s kaleidoscope, and evolution an iteration of mirrors. Through this superdriven plasma articulated thousand and million-fold, spirit ascends through out-blossoming evolution, and so the sordid soiled flesh of monsters was seeded by the Gods with uprising potential. Here Sol, here Jord, here Freyr and Odin speak their wondrous, choired galder. Life is but their song’s choreography.

Odr's Ascent

Odr, Freya's to-be-husband, having rescued her, and then, in his madness, gone on to avenge his father and battle against the Gods, now rises to surrender the sword to win the hand of Freya in wedlock. He must leap out from beyond the earth's edge, grasp Bifrost, and ascend through the heavens, up towards Asgard. There he must pass Odin's riddle-tests before he may be let through to take his love.

Arose the rose’s kiss-bestower, rampant rave of love’s sweet song, the soul, to seek his mistress, out beyond the bounds of earth’s edge. And there, ebonocean diving, rich molassan spackle of Night’s cloak, he sought in desperate swim the silent song-paths of stars. Gasp as up the roiling foam of vacuum churned, he grasped the iridescent, thousand-huéd fish-tail, glittering moon-gold’s scatter wet upon its sleekened, stellar back, and rose, as fingers clutched the argentine sands of an unseen coast or istular peninsula, and up upon his feet.

Now glide, as surf or skied the turbulent wave of rainbow’s rush, with fleet and flight feet that coast the rolling undulations. Fast, the fire’s rapids ripple : he must ride, with pluck and certain stride, and catch with agile feet the tread of the flame’s slip. And as a flag unfurling in the wind of aether, a shook and tied-died tongue of flame, he rode the outer paths of song and eerie static.

He traveled along tongues, long elongated star-filaments vibrate, through the sonar void, light’s eclipse, as salmon towards the spawnness, light beyond the blind.

Light begleaming refractate, inflected shimmer-disperse from every round rim of eyes, and refulgent crescendo, celestial splendor waxing, eyes swore all sights before were blind, for this unveiled illum’s biosis, the very species myriad of photonic genesis, and awe was a thousand vellums of words, each its own peculiar hue and shade.

And still up the stellar canyons ascend, upon the congealed granite of vacuum photoned, pulsar’s riverine melissa-speckled ladder, out against the blind-black vastness of full-cannot-be-seen and thus so empty-seemed in awesome ocean of dark overwhelm. Light might be believed in darkness, if love drew.

And so drew on the mad, bemaddened rush of spirit’s eloquence, up, impossible beyond the quasars’ homelands, rise, and pass the falling-rising rim of fortune’s wheel galactic, creamed will-o-wisp churned to spiral labyrinth, through whose mazes mazed bewildered youth toward love. For there upon the pinnacle, power’s gaze of aether’s ancient homelands, source of spirit’s winds, unfound peak and everywhere-centered centrum of awe, befulcrumed high-hinge within the all, the very heightitude of beyondment --- there, love’s elegance and festive choir dined. Atop and without, the without-within a thousand miles alone reveals, for so the here is only found in journey. There --- the highest here --- he found her, beyond the walls of riddle.

Questions peaked the quest in puzzle, hostile rebufferment of homebody’s baffle. Growling hounds on stellar guard rails, grim intimidation of maestro’s interrogatio : the test celestial of dissertatio : GOD’s enguardment of the holy places shut to monstrous marauds. There in quick and helix-ricocheted rapid of call and response question, wit against wit, the prove, the final fristing, haze of mind’s realize, in divine dictation of riddle, the Full-Swift strong passed the eloquent candidate, past, in capped-and-gown’d graduate, on towards love’s abode, where all-waiting welcome arms of adoration lip-rims ope, as sunrise’s never-ending gaze from out the gates of newest dawn elope upon forever-fields of union’s wonder.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anarchetypal Pantheism

We may ask ourselves whether polytheism is but pantheism aspected, and given focus, lending us human form and figure with which to understand and comprehend the infinitude in digestible chunks : the poetry through which humans particularize the Pan. From this standpoint, polytheism is but archetypal pantheism, where we channel an experience of pantheism --- the divine coursing through the all of all --- through the mediation of those archetypes which are native to our psyche, and developed out individually and artistically by each culture or subculture into those pattern languages we call "religions".

Within this paradigm, we can afford a certain agnosticism regarding the ontology of these archetypes ; in other words, the question of, "Are these archetypes just categories of our mind? Are they simply very colorful personified Kantian categories through which we experience the world?" or -- "Do they subsist on their own and have their own actual beingness?" It seems to me that we must return to the Norse idea of Wyrd as primary, meaning that life is a Mystery, and sometimes these questions must be left in mystery. For if I respond to the archetypes in my nature, what does it matter their ultimate reality, so long as when I act as if they were real, when I enter into that poetic place of deep play, I am affected and I am transformed in relation to the pantheistic totality? Or must we take ourselves always so seriously that the idea that the religious aspect of ourselves could be encountered and experienced through deep play is so offensive? Are we so deadly serious that we cannot see how serious deep play may be if it is engaged with sincerity and with devotion? And are we so attached to the notion of certainty that we cannot allow our engagement with the divine to include that play of uncertainty which a certain agnosticism embraces?

So to speak of archetypes is to speak a/Gnostically, affirming the ecstasy of our experience without trying to imprison it within static certainty. It is not to assert the unreality of the archetypes, but to suspend and bracket the question of their ontology, and to speak phenomenologically. The particularization of the archetypes through the art of any one culture represent heirloom forms of those archetypes that have a charm and poetry of their own, and if they appeal, we may take in inheritance from the ancestors, and experience and develop them on our own.

Indeed, polytheism must embrace multifacetedness, and if I am a multifaceted person, then there are aspects of me which take literally my religion and which ontologize, and then there are aspects of me that play with uncertainty, that ask questions, that live my religiosity through the riddles rather than through the answers. James Hillman has a brilliant idea in Revisioning Psychology that each God has a type of thinking and a type of imagining that is native to that God, and so if we only think our polytheism through one category, through one way of thinking of things, through one facet, we are not truly being polytheistic, because there is a style of cognition, of affectivity, of even worldview that is native to each God, and thus we can pass through the circuit of the pantheon as a means of approaching, in a human way, the totality of the divine All. (Indeed, my frequent critique of Asatru has focused on the movement's tendency to view the entire pantheon entirely through the eyes of a warrior archetype, thus castrating the full spectrum of divine color.)

I want to re-emphasize that this a/Gnosticism is not a coldness towards the warmth of religious experience, nor a retreat into conceptual abstraction and sterility. Rather, it is to engage the fertile and mildly warm middle place between the hot and the cold. Between the fire and the ice is where we find our "best place", our optimum.

So if you were to say, in response, "Why, Siegfried, do you not believe?", I would say, Oh! I believe! But to believe is to be in love, and who can explain love? Who can account for how they love, for all the different thoughts they have in love, for the surge and the drama and the shifting cycles of experience within love? Indeed, on any one day, my attitude towards the beloved may differ. Ask me one day, and I am cynical about my love. Ask me another day, and I am rapturous. Ask me yet another day, and I am content.

For I will be anarchical in my spirituality. I am not going to be held back from my full experience through narrow rules and arbitrary cognitive restrictions. Tradition, for me, is a patterning of freedom, and I take it in that spirit and in that light.

The advantages of utilizing multiplicity in particularizing the divine is that when approach the All, it is so overwhelming and all-encompassing, that for beings with our limited cognitive capacity, it tends to blur into one vague "stuffness" with little differentiation. But when I utilize these various lenses that the ancestors have cocreated and crafted -- the "runes of eternity" that Rig taught to the first King -- then aspects of the divine totality, of the pantheistic promiscuity that is this cosmos, unfold before me in rich particularity, that I would miss if it were all one vagueness.

We must remember that for Jung, archetypes were not so flat as Kant's logical categories. They had a beingness to them, which resists us and behaves independently. It was their very independence that forced on him the notion that our psyche, our soul, our experience participates, and is implicated, in essences that transcend us ; that when we look "inside", there are aspects to our experience that transcend our personal concerns, and which, for that they resist us, and confound us, and confront us, and upset us, and frustrate us, as well as inspiring us, and challenging us, and pulling us out towards something greater with a sense of striving --- because of all of this, they have an independent reality or being of some sort. But Jung's genius is in maintaining the agnosticism of the concept, because as a more vibrant, living, animalistic form of Kant's categories, Kant of course said that it is through these categories that our experience comes to take on meaning and through which we are able to differentiate anything, so how could we make any statements of certainty about these beings or essences which are the archetypes, since it is through them that we experience? Another way to say this is, it is through the Gods and their powers and their gifts and their styles that we are able to experience the world at all, and therefore how could we make an independent evaluation of the Gods' reality, of their ontology, without utilizing an aspect or style of the Gods to do so? You see, we are within a moebius strip, a ouroboros, a snake biting its own tale. We are within a complex series of Celtic knots, in which we cannot untangle ourselves, but only circulate through the mesh.

So to suspend the question of ontology is not to deny the ontology. To leave in abeyance just exactly what is the reality of the Gods is not to denigrate the reality of the Gods. For we ourselves are subject to the same doubts and questions, particularly for beings like ourselves, who come into existence and then out of existence like a flash, like gnats flying through a room. Are we real? Who is the person asking the question whether the Gods are real? Who is that person? Is that person real? What is reality in this circulating, unfathomable Celtic knot of Wyrd in which we are all implicated? Would we not be arrogant to assert any certain knowledge about topics so mysterious and vast*? Who can say what the mystery of one's self is, let alone the mystery of the Gods?

So I will say as an heir, and a proud heir at that, of the ancient polytheistic paganisms of our ancestors, that I am an archetypal pantheist, and to emphasize that I am also anarchical, and therefore will not have my ecstatic, mystical experience subjected to someone else's arbitrary restrictions, I will call myself an anarchetypal pantheist, with no prejudice, and full embrace of the archetypal experience of that heirloom pantheon my ancestors have handed to me. And because it is rich and powerful and connects me with deepest source, I say it is real, and yet, because I do not arrogantly step into certainty, I also have the ability to nomadically wander outside of those heirlooms, and experience the divine with other folk who have other means of connecting, and thus my experience really is broad and rich.

* I have elsewhere spoken of our faith as an "audacity of will" willing to assert connection to that which is loved even over the abyss of death, beyond which empiricism can say little to nothing, and therefore which defies a scientific materialism. Nevertheless, such a faith, as a function of the will, is not a matter of certainty, for we ourselves are in mystery about which we assert, and yet, whatever its ultimate form, we do will that mystery. To say, I worship the Gods as I understand them, is a humble statement, that yet can admit of passionate devotion, even to the point of willingness to make sacrifices unto them, for even without certainty, life itself is a gamble where we must choose what is of worth and make our bet. Should the Gods, or the divinity which they encompass and express, transcend and surpass our conceptions of them, which they undoubtedly do, we have faith that we will be judged by the inherent worth of our deeds, and the devotion within the motives inherent to them. My audacity may be expressed in my passion, while my humility is expressed in my acknowledgement of mystery, and therefore the inadequacy of any primate modelization of that mystery. Such audacity tends towards great deeds ; such humility tends towards tolerance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wrestling Form from the Formless Stormtrolls

The stampede primeval of storm-gods into the blizzard, grappling in the fog with formlessness to draw out form in the haze : visualize the Gods wrestling with shadow in the sleet, dismembering the storm with their own passionate chaos of vibrant order, bringing life where there was derangement. Creation may be imagined as such a battle between clarity and obscurity, shape and shadow, light and darkness, with resultant color spilling forth in the blood of the clash, with all its nuanced shadings. In this melee, the formless immensity threatened to swallow and vanish the holy powers, who, persevered from their own audacity and wild-eyed eagerness, thrust themselves further and more creatively into the grapple, to rend the formless and render form. Here the rime-thurses, the sleet-and-hail throngs of frost, were thrown out of their howling derangement, with the warmth of the strong arm wielding mallet against the Earth's anvil, to shape. Here the horde of the wod-warriors, the wild, rushing wit and gusto rising high in inspiration, which we see reflected in a river's white-water surge, or the blitz of the striking wind through the course of the forest's branches, charged mightily and with primordial, undaunted confidence into the challenge before them. We may say in a sense that this battle continues indefinitely within the soul of the world as we seek to create in the midst of disorder.

Creation Shapes Essence into Order

The Gods give the world the gift of order. But this is living order, to which our penchant to line things up in rows and columns is the most elementary and juvenile rudiment. From the electrifyingly vibrant and ramifyingly complex intelligence of the Gods' order, even our most advanced mathematics, in all their complexity, are as child's play. There is within that order the Gods give a logos function, in the deepest sense of the word. And the name given to this order is heill. It is a whole-making force, that touches ice and forms a snowflake, engerming crystalline growth into the very structure of substance.

The Gods grasp essences. They are able to grok the essential nature of a thing, to see its potential locked in a static form that protects but imprisons the essence, and free it by reshaping the form to fit the essence. These are great acts of understanding. Edmund Carpenter has a classic essay about Eskimo sculptors and how they see the subject suggested in the material, and work to bring it out. "As the carver holds the unworked ivory lightly in his hand, turning it this way and that, he whispers, “Who are you? Who hides there?” And then, “Ah, seal!” He rarely sets out to carve, say, a seal, but picks up the ivory, examines it so to find its hidden form and, if that’s not immediately apparent, carves aimlessly until he sees it, humming or chanting as he works. Then he brings it out: Seal, hidden, emerges. It’s always there: He doesn’t create it: he releases it: he helps it step forth. In a deeper sense, of course, there is no “it”; he does more than discover: he reveals." (Edmund Carpenter, Man and Art in the Arctic, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Browning, Montana, 1964.) "The carver never attempts to force the ivory into uncharacteristic forms, but responds to the material as it tries to be itself, and thus the carving is continually modified as the ivory has its say." (Ibid.) This releasing of potentiality is found in the Norse word órlausn, which has taken on the meaning, "to answer or respond", yet which literally means, "to loosen out of" or to "release". And thus, when we are asked a question, we release the answer out of the question itself. This is how the Gods create.

Carpenter's imagery allows us to imagine how the Gods handled the broken bones and flesh of Ymir as they pondered creation. "The carving lives in the hand as it is moved, spoken to and about." (Ibid.) Even experiences can be freed from the dull undifferentiation which would keep them locked up. "I’ve seen silent, gently, slow-moving Eskimo, suddenly caught up in the hunt, accomplish astonishing feats of skill and daring. Yet there was consistency here. They were the same. They simply allowed the world to act towards them with complete freedom. They weren’t passive: they freed this experience from its formless state and gave it expression and beauty. When you feel a song willing up within you, you sing it; when Eskimo feel themselves possessed by the hunt, they commit themselves fully to it." (Ibid.)

Carpenter suggests that the environment of the tundra -- a barren, difficult environment our ancestors identified with Jotunheim, or approaching thereof -- forces the artist to find the shape in the form in order to create order. To his description may be supplemented the knowledge that our Gods formed the world out of the screaming blizzard that was Ymir. "The environment encourages the Eskimo to think in this fashion. To Western minds the “monotony” of snow, ice, and darkness can often be depressing, even frightening. Nothing in particular stands out; there is no scenery in the sense in which we use the term. But the Eskimo do not see it this way. They’re not interested in scenery, but in action, existence ... for nothing in their world easily defines itself and is separable from the general background. What exists, the Eskimo themselves must struggle to bring into existence. Theirs is a world which has to be conquered with each act and statement, each carving and song – but which, with each act accomplished, is as quickly lost. ... But his role is not passive. He reveals form; he cancels nothingness. ... they free the idea, the thing, from the general formlessness of the outside. ... Carver, like poet, releases form from the bonds of formlessness; he brings it forth into consciousness. He must reveal form in order to protest against a universe that is formless, and the form he reveals should be beautiful. ... Here, then, is a world of chaos and chance, a meaningless whirl of cold and white; man alone can give meaning to this – its form does not come ready-made." (Ibid., emphasis mine.) This cancelling of nothingness, this conquest of the undifferentiated and howling monotony, to bring out its difference, is the shaping magic the Gods bring to existence to ground our world. The form is not "ready-made", and yet it does lie inherent within the material, if one has the eyes to see.

There is thus a study of the material to understand its essence, and then a bringing-out of this essence by shaving off that which is inessential, and bringing the essence into that form which allows it to come into its own. Because shaping implies working with the material, there is thus an intimacy that is cultivated with the nature of the material. One does not carve marble, ivory, and wood all in the same way. Similarly, the different parts of Ymir's body presented different possibilities. With each material, one must work with the grain in the wood, the structural pattern inherent in its substance. One explores the material to see what it can do. There is thus a playful sensuality inherent in creation, and indeed, the Gods are described as playful in the age when they were shaping the world.

The Gods therefore find the potential within matter and shape it by giving it form. That shaping is a creative act which bestows heill. The two words most frequently utilized to describe creation in the Eddas are sköpuð and gerðu. In English, they "geared and shaped". "Gearing" involves preparing, which implies careful planning for contingencies, and the ability to meet that which may come. It is thus a species of intelligence and order. They readied the world for the challenges which it would unfold. Gearing also means taking the time it takes to prepare something : letting it cook in its own time. Great things take time and slow preparation. In "shaping", the Gods gave proportion to life, that the matter within it might find its proper pathways. Because shaping works with the material at hand, it is not about imposition, but release, of form. Each essence is allowed to spring into its being, and finds its own within that shape native to it. It is thus not broken from what it is and twisted beyond its own inherency to suit the whims of the carver, but blends itself with the material, subtly bending and stretching it to find its point of greatest balance. (If our modern landscaping followed such divine principles, our houses and other structures would blend harmoniously into environment, for we would shape our environment, bringing out its higher power and creative potentiality, rather than impose upon it.) Balanced and made whole, it is heill.

To heill we may contrast illr. Illr is the opposite of heillr. It is a disordering force, which deranges the wholeness of all with which it comes into contact. It is not malicious per se, although if it has been driven mad enough by its derangement it may be, but more unbalancing. It is thus, as our more modern form of it ("ill") suggests, sick, unwhole. It can have a dementing effect on its surroundings ; it is misshapen (ósköpnir), unfortunate, even cursed. It partakes of the hríð, the storm, both disordering and tending to cover over differentiation.

Heillr shapes, gives structure, form, intelligence, balance, and most especially, ability to cope and adapt. Adaptability might be the very definition of our word "wit", which in its modern form connotes an ability to adapt to verbal badinage, yet which extends beyond this to the ability of intelligence to meet and match what is encountered in experience. When we are whole, we are able to hold together against dissipation and storm. If the Gods were to cease their blessings, the heill still in the world would continue for some time, but eventually, without periodic reinfusions (particularly as we ask for them and participate in them through offerings and sacrifice), would begin to run down, and the world would eventually return to storm. Shaping finds that proportion which fits the essence precisely so that it may run its own course, and is not drowned in the smother of storm.

In this way, the Gods outwit the storm by infusing within it an element of intelligence that outstrips it. If you impregnated chaos with self-replicating pattern, then despite the protean evanescence of the constant emergence and dissolution of forms, you would still be able to slowly build coherence on top of this arising and falling. The pattern would have to be so vastly organic and squirmingly intelligent that it would be able to outmatch and surpass the rate of dissolution. Thus through sheer replication of desired verdant form, the transformal march of dissolution could be mocked, and an enduring if liquid structure could be devised and propagated. Thus, any one wonder may disappear, but the bewonderment process is so fertile and rampant that bewonderment begets bewonderment in uncontrollable lushness. Thus, the striving process of coming into vibrancy (the evolutionary process of blossoming out one's wholeness), in which form is pursued by form, must have the capacity to outstrip the predatorial nature of the bedulling and dissolving forces. Heill allows this inherent intelligence to emerge.

We Are Gnarls in the Flow of Time

If you were to touch the barren tree, and call forth its fruit in the touching, your hand would have to know the whole history of the tree and its speciation, for history is the process of manifestation and materialization. In the material world, things materialize through time, and therefore to understand them is to understand their process. To bring out potential, one must bring out potential through the very real struggle of the thing's history. In order to work magic, you must understand the struggles that live at the very heart of that which you would transform, and find a creative way to meet those challenges which existentially face that which is to be transformed.

To know something, you must know its development. You must know its process of genesis. You must know its history of tangles, and that with which it is interwoven, and that through which it has interstrewn. You must know its knots, the contradictions that it has laid and that it has had laid upon it, and which it is struggling to work through, even as it creates new contradictions.

Reality is history. This does not mean the dead past ; it means the living past, the past which refuses to die and wraps itself around and forms the integument and structure of every manifest thing in the world. It includes the living, green pith as well as the encrustations, and all of these combined are that which we confront when we look upon a thing in the world. Everything is a battle which is striving through active combat towards victory. And thus, because every thing is its own history of struggle, knowledge is not smooth. It is textured, it is difficult, it is hard-won, and change is not easy, for it must contend with the entire history of forces that are inherent in that which one is attempting to change. The forces resist us, and resist change, at the same time as they tend towards their own kinds of changes and processes. Thus, the world is beautifully, thickly, enmeshedly difficult, and because of this very difficulty, it is real, it is complex, it is intriguing, it is sinewed and fibred and grounded, it outlasts us, and therefore provides an environment in which all of our own struggles may take place and have meaning.

That our thoughts do not modify everything is the greatest blessing. If there were nothing to resist us, what a nightmare world we would live in, as our own untamed souls, souls that have not yet come into their own flourishment and order -- that vital order which a soul must find in order to become whole -- this disordered soul of ours would manifest nightmare, and all the world would be nightmare such as we cannot imagine. But for the world resists us, we must learn it, and through that process of learning, in the very midst of the difficulty, and grappling and engaging with the hindrances, our soul finds that order which is inherent in it. The encounter between the world of difficulty and the yearning soul draws out the order within that soul, that lies pregnant within it.

That is the often unrealized genius of the prima materia, this monstrous matter that much of the time confronts us as dull, purposeless, opaque, adverse, dumb, even ferocious in its grossness and enormity. But the sagacity and ingenuity of the Gods is to be able to see into that which seems useless and find its use. They are able to take even that which does not fit and find a way for it to fit, thus making it good. And so the world is in a process of being made good. An enormous lump of this stuff, this writhing, protean, chaotic, monstrous matter, which they tore apart from the raging monstrous beast Ymir, they impregnated with patterned life, that through the process of evolution has an opportunity to find its own order through time. Because of the scaled levels of resistence that the world presents us with, this world becomes an arena of challenges, and thus, a nursery of heroes.

We are still in the primordial process of creation, which was interrupted by strife. The final fruition of this prima materia has not been reached. Only through the long work of that spirit which has been impregnated into matter can the world finally, over long stretches of time, reach its fruition. And in that stage of time in which each of us are assigned, and ensnarled, each of us are gnarls, and we gnarl our way towards our defining destination.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Against dissipation, to hold : to hold onto one's treasure is an awesome power in a world where so much is evanescent, and so much slips away. To hold is to keep together and keep whole that which is precious and yet which would threaten to disperse into the four winds, and to keep it where it may be cherished. One of the old meanings of the word "hold" was loyalty, and it was the loyalty of the heart extended out into the world, saying, "No, I shall not let go of that which is precious to me," knowing that much would slip away ; that in this world of transience, where wyrd is ever changing and becoming, much slips through our fingers, even as we experience it, and in fact that most does, but that some things are not to be allowed to slip through. They must be regathered and held, and this extends even to the ancestors. The ancestors are not just cherished for what they may do for us in the other world, but that we love them and will not let them go.

Our love extends that far, for even over the threshold of death itself, we shall not abandon them, but claim them. We claim them even over that abyss from which none return, but still we say, they are ours. We extend that relation of love even beyond the doorstep of existence itself, into the substrata beneath and within existence, Hel, the hidden interiority within the unseen heart of existence, and say, we are all of one unit. All whom we love are tied together. And to do so with those who are now grounded in the very heart of existence itself is often what gives us the power and root to do so in this changing and mutable world where things have not yet found their final form. That which is dead is done ; it has found its final form, and therefore has a stability that the wonderful living world has not yet found. But once again we must remember that death does not have a connotation held in bad faith of ghostliness or deadenedness. Those words are relative to our world, to the realm of husks and compost and rotting. Once someone is dead, their spirit-form finds flourishment and fulfillment and stability, for the final doom pronounced at their afterworld hearing by the Gods is etched into the Tree itself. Indeed, as I have commented before, in some ways, the dead are far more alive than we are. We are the ones who are trying to find our alivement, and this life is our first journey in that direction.

So we do accept much of the transience of the world, as the Buddhists urge, but we also urge -- and this is the other hand of the equation that is so important -- to hold on to that which is your treasure. That which can be gathered into significance, and given the coherence of that wholeness or heill which is the holy order the Gods bless this Earth with, has the strength to persist beyond all the streamings and doings-undoings that unfold in the passage of time. The word treasure itself refers to the heirlooms, which take on value because they were held by the hands of the cherished family members and passed on. And so, we do not allow even death to separate us.

It is not something that can be proven scientifically, but we defy even science with our faith, a faith that is not a blind belief, but an assertion. It is a laying down of our law and our will. We will not let them go. We will that we will not let them go. There is therefore an element of boldness, daring, and assertion to our faith, and even audacity, to speak beyond that which the five senses would permit us. To speak and say, our loved ones we still love, and hold close to us. We say this beyond the apparent world of manifestation, for we understand that death has literally under-mined our loved ones and beneathed them beyond manifestation. The five senses would be pointless in this regard. Our will stretches beyond what the eyes can see.

If our faith extends our will this far, beyond that which can even be seen, then it gives us the strength to hold in this tornado-world where all is so often in flux, and to develop the will to hold and keep the precious coherent and alive in our lives. It will often be a battle, but it is a battle with significance.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

On Beauty’s Loom A Healing Art is Woven

For Baldur, the Fairest and Wisest of them All

Say, pain’s resolution in beauty is woven,

And on that loom the clashing forces find

Their transcendent harmony at last, as fairest

Judgements settle strife, returning frith

To those forgotten of their kin- or kithship.

Beauty no less wise is, and such wisdom

Is, at heart, for knowing how to bring

To concord what discordant strained or ripp’d

The weeping heart to woe, and hope restore :

And all these precious benefices beauty

Gives, if we will seek sincerely for it.

Beauty blends, and order gives, restores

To shape misshapen forms, and finds what fits

The all-around equation of the heart ;

And thus returns proportion to the world

Where it was lost, and lays the firmest ground

For good to prosper, that each being might

Its own fair ratio to the world discover,

Thriving thus, and giving thrive in turn

To all that good surrounds it. So our soul

The storm of what awry is tossed may take

And turn it on the wheel of wisdom, form

Replenish full, and thus give heal to that

Which ill did threaten scatter balanced form.

And in that balanced concord we may find

Such sheer adornment, and a blessed salve

Assuaging what did tug and tear the heart

That we may beauty call it truly – more :

The genius of the resolution praise

As most creative might, imagination

Wild and beneficent, to find

A way to contradictions midwife, giving

Birth to something new and lovely. This

With reason we may call creation. Thus :

There is no art a healing art is not.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Blood is in the Honey

There is liquid smoke in the mead,


The taste of burnt rubber

And ground-down jotunn.

The bitter dregs deepen

The yeast upwoven sap,

And blood, blood is in the honey.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

There is murder in the mead,

A grisly death, the taste primeval

Of injustice, the dwarf-lobbed head,

The once all-wise blood spills out,

Spilling, the wise blood, gushing,

The thick, bitter salt coagulate

Rushing into the dingy kettle.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

The old, dusty taste of roots,

Damp cellars,

The sprinkled loam of graves

Within that sweetest syrup ferment.

And every uplift on pinions’ loft

Wafted on the winged billows of rhyme

Sublime-reminds the deepest mind

Of once and near-escapes from death,

And those who did not reach escape,

And some of them the worthiest.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

There are unseen, burning embers

Far beneath the deep, and smothered,

There once lay the precious mead,

Locked and guarded, slowly flavored

Chalk and metal from the mountain.

A thousand shades of bitter mixed

With darkened fire-sparking spice.

And oaths were made, and oaths

Were broken. Tears are there,

Within that salty, sweetest mead.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

And blood, blood is in the honey.

Boil of carmelized sorrow sombred,

Breath of the neck having found the earth.

Treason and peace that was stomped into nothing.

And body of wine that cries out for wergild.

These you will flavor your tongue in lees.

In shadow that hid,

and was brought out to daylight,

lingers within the pungent savor.

For blood, blood is in the honey.

For blood, blood is in the honey.

You wish the waves of welcome heaven

Ever overwash your soul,

But you are boy, or girl, perhaps,

And have not tasted what that means.

For cynicism has been sweetened,

Rough been smoothed, and made mature.

And so must you, if you would taste

That sweetest brew of billows’ rhyme

For blood, blood is in the honey.

For blood, blood is in the honey.

The great, poetic mead tastes more than sweet. It cannot be savored without its bitters. Its bitters are what make us mature.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Praise Storms' Master

The thunder is His son,
but so is the snow-white bliss of wisdom and righteousness.
The flashing blade that strikes out against evil is His son,
but so is the honey-tongued psalmster of mirthful glory.
The fur and claw toothed bear of ferocity is His son,
but so is the silent, ever-waiting wooded one,
who shall the end of times redeem.
He births the fury whose name is vengeance,
restoring honor to the injured kin,
but so He calls into his castle the bright, fecundous
lord of feasts and frithful harvests.
He fosters the fire who all watching wards the hearth of homes,
but so he fosters the shining soul of the most widely traveled.
His home is a home of heroes,
His star-tower a wizard's yeshiva.
His throne an all-worlds observatory.
Storms' Master, He unleashes the might
and rush of wisdom's inspiration
all against the up-spiral'd life-tree's foes.
What He holds in one hand, He other hand tempers ;
the half His vision outwards, the other inward-depths is drawn.
He is the wise passion of moderation
having found its fullness,
the all-worlds' chaos given shape and found form,
the seed of spirit sown in matter,
uprising in the the mead of inspiration.
Praise this over-arching Breath between
the many heavens' worlds,
who all around bestows His Spirit.

Seeking Awe

His name is Awe
he rides eight-legged across the brachiated jewel-studded heavens
with everywhere his destination.
Oh, Awe looks over all
and all-descending, transforms a'times
into that which Awe beholds
which always in gaze of wonder seeks
the dancing creature, swaying bough, to speak
that poem of flashed, collaged moments of peak
this braided song of involute, ecstatic gasp cosmos is,
and Awe, in moment-sampling, blends with the bliss
far-and-wide branched starry boughs across the many worlds offer.
Awe is everywhere, and above,
wherever Awe chooses,
for Awe is the Father of All ;
and we, in awe, are with Awe,
and give that worship the Awe of All,
The All of Awe, demands.

O Wondrous Father

O one of the wide-brimmed starry hat,
O cloaked in the four corners of sky,
O baffler, O riddler, O ponderer of deepest, shrouded secrets,
O crazed intellect, high on the quest's exhilaration,
Come, O plumber of depths, come, O seeker of lore,
Come, O treasurer of the vaults of Saga,
Come and share the smallest share,
a crumb or table-scrapp'd bite
of hard-won wisdom,
for those who seek the see-through
of the all-too-solid opaque.
Glimpse-gift us, Breeze Rider,
Wit & Wish Crafter, O Ur-Thanc Lord of the deepest penetration,
Insight! All things inlight seeing ;
Let us grasp a passing flash of realest marvel,
Objective dazzle of indreamed cells & stars
that we might, so small, for an instant grasp a glance
at what Large Mind you see through, Lord,
for we are yearning seekers after sagedom, Much Wise,
& seek to touch our minds one moment, O Fully Swift, with yours,
& taste the whole spin and span of ages,
long roll of arcane symbols uberwit ponders on scrolls
a toss of lifetimes might start to fathom.
Too long locked up has been the hidden
ages-lost lore, O Lord of Asgard's Heights!
With a simple wave of the wand of your bladed shaft,
you glaze the black, and make crystal what before was solid stone,
& so may we see through, O Pulsing Rapids' Master,
for we would seek to ride that pulse,
and know this mazes world you still aft all this time do marvel yet,
& taste the Godly gain of wisdom, even at that hundredth trace diluted.
Let us your ever-seeking proteges become, O Wondrous Father.