Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Let Need Be Undone
And then there was bitterness of rocks crushed in waters drawn from sulphur springs, and tisaned with agrimony ; there was the cold block of ice cut from the frozen lake ; chill that dulled and buffeted the bones ; and sore need that gnawed at a man, like the chill that dulled and buffeted his bones. For meager was his nest, and the axe was all about, in the woods, with sword and feud, and darkness.
From his humble hovel he succored and savored the bitter flavor, to draw out its long strength against the barren times of longing and troubles. Hard was a man’s life, and endurance an art much in need of cultivation. The man let the cold, dense stones, cut to build the bridge, live within him, that he might their wisdom drink and draw on strength tamed in times of first beginnings, when rock from mountain was drawn as ore from egg of deepest earth.
There is memory in the land, never-faded, of famine, of leaves of unknown trees desperately gobbled and crunched, by minds half-mad to find nourishment ; the peeling of soft bark to chew and gnaw, and then throw in meager stew ; the taste of tough grass ; the crumble of dry leaf chawed dusty and mold-bland in the mouth. And who knew how hard another’s life might be?
But need was never good, which is why gold oft drew an illness of fury even within the family, setting neighbors to driven feud; and a man had to learn to live as cold sleet, and blades of blizzard breeze, icy caress of the clear creek, and drawn-out shiver of the ice-blade lunar night.
Let need be undone. Let prosper come. Let sun and shine and golden grain brim the meadows wide. Let golden hale as liquid mead be drunk from sun. Let cheer of hall’s fire boil cider for warmed bellies, bright with smiles in the harpsway. Let arm in flannel arm be linked that legs might jig upon the floorboards. Let cupboards bulge with bags of peas and lentils, cellars sawdust-stuffed with roots and carrots, tubers and the excess summer fruit. Let smiles of lovers be fertile and breed broods of smiles more and smiles more, and eyes dance full in the fullness of a shared hall with all its shared stores.
May cold days be lived for warmth, may lone days be lived in light of dear companions hoped-for, may days of darkness dream of river’s fire of the sky drawn herald white-horse blaze o’er air’s arc which no cloud can cover! Let mood and mind of men be mirthed. Be bottled and corked the warmth of woman’s love, and glow of hall’s companions in feast, with fiddle and harp and lyre, lure the stocky thighs to leap and roundel, so that day’s draw of joy might yeast and be brewed into strength for long winter days ; and lightly soothed by wine of in-drunk memoir, strong wait with soothe the spring’s fresh morn.
Up the Helixed Star-Bridge
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Praise the Binders!
Chaos has been tied in knots, with great struggle, to bind the entire star-looped loom together, that it might not pull apart. And do Powers Whole preserve this bind and weave, to ensure the marauding beasts of discord do not run amok and tear the cloth to shreds? Indeed they do, with such tremendous arms of manly might and wizards’ cunning we can hardly fathom, for all our gratitude for this miracle of order out of could-be anything-else, could-be nothing-at-all, could-be always-falling-apart, and we complain when it fails? Ah, what fools we are, that every wish we whim comes not to fruit we plead the victim, when we might not be at all, and all for them who bind and taut the net that it might hold against the raging darkness! Let us praise the binders who shaped this tendril-stuff into strongest cables that in mesh the world together hold! Praise them!
The Real Secret is Heathenism, not New Thought
1. You are being punished for your thoughts.
2. Your thoughts are sinful, and so you reap the consequences. (Based on Jesus' teaching that if someone looks upon a woman with adulterous thoughts, they have already committed adultery.)
3. The only way out is to purge and cleanse yourself of sinful thoughts, and focus totally on righteous thoughts.
Since, as we know from centuries of monastic contemplation, this is impossible, the whole thing is a set-up. Carl Jung established that the mind is an organ that achieves balance through compensation : for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction, and thus too much focus on positivity will tend to summon up an equal reaction of negativity.
New Thought depersonalizes God into a quasi-Newtonian set of "universal principles" or "great mind", but the essence is still :
A Peeping-Tom God prying into your private thoughts and punishing you for those sinful thoughts and rewarding you for nice ones. This is Santa Claus as the Universal Thought Police. And Thought Police is an appropriate term because the implications of the system are completely totalitarian.
How does this differ from heathenism?
The Gods are not Peeping Toms. They do not pry into your thoughts. They are not constantly scanning all thoughts. That would be discourteous behavior. It would be intrusive, security-state apparatus, 4th-Amendment-violating total surveillance. The privacy of a person in his own home -- the home is his or her castle -- is an ancient Teutonic principle.
If you want to get the Gods' attention, you must knock. Or you must hang a note on your door saying, Please come in. They may be able and willing to read the general state of your heart by the glow of your actions and intents, but if you have something specific to say, you've got to make it clear that you are speaking to them. Complete telepathic correspondence of every thought that passes through one's mind as constant courier to the Gods would constitute the biggest, most cumbersome, and unnecessary spiritual bureaucracy the world has ever seen.
Think about it this way : a good parent is not constantly shuffling through all the drawers and private effects of their child. If the door is closed, the door is closed, unless there is some good reason to suspect harm. A parent doesn't need to know every thought nor every action of their child. They will get the sense, if they are perceptive, what the general mood and overall effect is, gently from time to time offering guidance or inquiring about deeper things, but for the most part, waiting to be asked. If a parent can be so sensible and respectful of privacy, are the Gods any less sensible?
The general tone of New Thought, however positive it tries to paint itself, is condemnation. Since few or none of us ever experience total good fortune, any pain, suffering, or deprivation we experience is punishment for bad thoughts.
New Thought condemns you for who you are and tells you you have the power to do what you don't have the power to do. You can't control your thoughts. You can suppress them. You can emphasize some and de-emphasize others. And you can indeed identify oppressive patterns of thought (like, say, the New Thought paradigm itself) and begin a process of reassessing how you think about things, and how you approach them. (Hint : this is called the practical and psychological use of Reason.) But never have a negative thought? Come on! Come back to reality. It's never going to happen.
And if it did, would such a mindstate prepare you for reality -- you know, the real place where we live, where there actually are wars and invasions and epidemics and divorces and car crashes and accidents and traumas?
Can "It won't happen to me. It won't happen to me. It won't happen to me" really constitute a spirituality? That's called denial. The American pathology, perhaps, but hardly a religion, no matter how you dress it up.
Let's look at reality from a different perspective :
1. There are problems in the world.
2. You've been given a rational mind to be able to figure out, alone or with others, how to solve a good deal of those problems.
3. Because the problems are trenchant, you're going to get frustrated along the way. This is inevitable, but too much disappointment can impede your rational problem-solving skills, and defeat after defeat can be disempowering if you are not willing to think things afresh and take life as a series of challenges.
4. The universe is an orderly arrangement of chance, with cause-and-effect conditioning chaos, and vice-versa ; thus, sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don't, and a good deal of the time that has to do with something someone somewhere did at some previous point, although what the precise relation and ratio is is often rather odd. Let's call that "wyrd". Because of this, there are some things in your control, and some things that will remain outside your control.
So far so good? Now let's look at another set of principles :
1. Human beings tend to be narcissistic. They tend to get caught up in their own personal drama and narrow interests, and ignore the bigger picture.
2. Yet human beings live in a bigger picture. A much, much bigger picture. One that affects them.
3. Because of this, if there is to be any effective approach to reality, there must be developed skillful means to get people's heads out of their asses. We acknowledge from the get-go that this will be imperfect, because the narcissistic tendency will tend to warp even our skillful means into ways of being caught up solely in personal affairs. Nevertheless, we don't want to condemn human self-centeredness ; only de-center it enough to get a larger perspective.
4. Because life can be difficult, humans will have a tendency to see the bigger forces as negative and ill-willed. Heathenism acknowledges that there is truth in this, but not the whole truth. Moreover, it suggests that malevolence is directly linked to stupidity, which suggests an alternative.
5. Human beings are also surrounded by awesome and obviously mightily-beneficent forces as well. We all know if the sun were a little closer or a little farther, life would not be possible, and while this may, in this solar system, be a long result of chance, there are numinosities that condition that chance.
6. Opening up to the larger, more awesome, and ultimately beneficent picture can be a helpful way to live a more fulfilling life. Since we are in the analogous position of an ant trying to think about the Grand Canyon, we will need to utilize symbols, metaphors, models, narratives, and personifications --- in other words, art or poetry --- literature, we might say --- in order to do so. This literature, however, is not intended to be self-referential, but to open up onto forces roughly analogous to its symbols, so that human beings in their soul and in their lives can become oriented towards the larger picture.
7. Of those greater forces, the most basic are Mother Earth and Cosmic Mind, Immanence and Transcendence, which must come together for there to be a viable world. From their union come other numinosities vastly important to the soul : Love, Fertility, Strength, Justice, Confrontation, Moderation, etc.
So heathenism, too, is addressing thought, in the larger sense of orientation, but it approaches this not through a program of suppression (remember, New Thought = Suppress Your Bad Thoughts), but through narrative, symbol, and psychodrama ; in short, through poetry.
The next questions to ask are, Why tradition? and then, Why tribal tradition? First, to address the first question :
1. Generally speaking, wisdom is something that develops with experience, both within a lifetime, and intergenerationally. When a set of interacting people living in the same environment confront the challenges of their surroundings for some time, trial and error will generally have weeded out some of the worst choices and selected for some of the more adaptable choices. Of course, this is both approximate and imperfect, and we acknowledge from the start that both historical trauma and personal stupidity can intervene to load a tradition with its fair share of foolishness, and therefore there is a need for careful emendation. However, again, over time, a tradition has probably developed checks and balances that allow the intelligent user to identify and check tendencies towards stupidity. Although this is imperfect, it saves on having to reinvent everything from scratch (which might be creative but would have to replicate every error as well).
2. Tradition provides creative artists with a common orientation, and "curriculizes" folks' creative activity in the face of life's challenges so that a progression can slowly grow and build. In this way, creativity grows in relevance rather than ideosyncratic isolation, dispersion, and ultimately irrelevance. Getting human beings onto the same page can be a marvelous thing.
Secondly, why tribal?
1. In the process of civilization, with its tendency towards abstract rules, the balance between transcendence and immanence has shifted tot he detriment of the latter. Our concrete relation and engagement with Mother Earth has atrophied, particularly in environments which are increasingly entirely human-made, and therefore reflect our own narrow perspectives, rather than opening out onto the larger world.
2. Because of this, the symbol-systems of simple people, who have stayed close to the soil, can be of immense value and inspiration. Those who have intergenerationally maintained their balance with immanence hold a system of tools of tremendous value.
3. In particular, because in this era of world history it has been predominantly nations of European extraction who have conquered the globe and disrupted cultures through imposing processes of detribalization, there is a need for balance at the heart of our civilization, by restoring the lost tribal potential that was once a part of each and every European nation. A new synthesis is needed, to restore balance, and this means a re-engagement of the lost tribal traditions of Ancient Europe are of particular relevance. Restoration of Indo-European cosmological wisdom, as a conduit to accessing the more ancient Neolithic and Deep Paleolithic Wisdom is a way to restore balance to that process identified as Western Civilization ; not, certainly, to impose Indo-European cosmological wisdom on everyone, but so the tradition which has already imposed on much of the world will be able to resonate and scintillate with indigenous peoples everywhere, and even inspire renewal. In this regard, Germanic-Scandinavian heathenism represents a worthy, powerful, and particularly flavored restoration of Indo-European cosmological wisdom.
As such, its roots -- if not its present shoots -- are far older than the less than two centuries of New Thought. Because of this, it has a much larger history -- a better track-record, you might say -- of dealing with reality.
The real secret is that your thoughts do not control reality, and Thank the Gods! Can you imagine what a horrifying and dull world we would live in, what a sad phantasmagoria, if everything around us were nothing but a reflection and manifestation of our own narcissism?
And how much more disempowered are we if we neutralize one of the world's most marvelous mechanisms for challenging our narcissism --- chance --- with vapid declarations that "Everything happens for a reason" and "Nothing happens by accident"!
Bullshit. Come back to reality. The universe is pervaded by reason, but it is also pervaded by chance. You can create meaning out of chance, through active engagement, but chance by itself is chance and will not passively yield to you.
If you're seeking prosperity, you can listen to the equivalent of get-rich-quick schemes which will increase your vapidity, or you can listen to traditional earth-based wisdom, which says :
In general, prosperity is a reward for good diplomacy. Which is to say maintaining courteous relationships with all your relations --- the earth, the water, the air, fire, and all the world's creatures, including your neighbors --- in the long run makes for wealth outside of zero-sum games.
Odd that it takes barbarians to teach one courtesy, but that is often the nature of Wyrd.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
A Discipline of the Wild
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
On the Animal Nature
It is also worthy of thought that each animal wards a different complex and mix of moods native to it, and the earth finds a way to accommodate all these differing and even potentially clashing moods in context. Each is allotted (and claims through deeds) it's niche. This ought be comforting. The tradition does not view us alone as rational actors, but beings with deep, thick, sinewy animal natures, who have also had implanted within us the ability to transcend our particulars into the breath of universal wind. The tension between our ond or breath-mind, which partakes of the heavenly gales, and our odr, our personality and soul which rises up from our animal nature towards the imaginative, is an inevitable tension and creative dialectic, if we will so engage it, within heathenism. Because we are not perfect rational actors, because we each have a nature which often yet has to find it's niche, we often get into squabbles and stubborn impasses. That is ok, and the Gods understand it, but they would like us as well to struggle to transcend our pettiness even as we engage and appreciate the depths of our animality ; a little grumpy squabbling and cantankerousness is no trouble, and quite to be expected from time to time, in willful and quite rightfully willful creatures such as ourselves, but it is another thing altogether to habitually perpetuate strife, for we ought, even in our affirmations of our natures, to strive towards the best possible harmony.
Kierkegaard continues, "When feeling or knowing or willing has become fantastic, the entire self can become that, whether in the most active form of plunging headlong into fantasy or in the more passive form of being carried away.... The self, then, leads a fantasized existence in abstract infinitizing or in abstract isolation, continually lacking its self, from which it moves further and further away.... To lack infinitude is despairing reductionism, narrowness.... But whereas one kind of despair plunges wildly into the infinite and loses itself, another kind of despair seems to permit itself to be tricked out of its self by "the others." Surrounded by hordes of men, absorbed in all sorts of secular matters, more and more shrewd about the ways of the world—such a person forgets himself, forgets his name divinely understood, does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too hazardous to be himself, and far easier and safer to be like the others, to become a copy, a number, a mass man.... When a self becomes lost in possibility...it is not merely because of a lack of energy.... What is missing is essentially the power to obey, to submit to the necessity in one's life, to what may be called one's limitations." It is these limitations, these wonderful animal finitudes that ground and define us, that can keep us sane and healthy. These are the limits that gurus or drug addicts drunk on the infinitudes they have tasted all too easily forget. Why do you think Odin was concerned about the poetic mead being in the lair of giants? Because beings of disproportion who get too big for their britches and overstep their niche cannot handle the sheer power of the vision of the infinite. For a chilling example of this, consider Charles Manson, who was fond of talking about exploding the ego in favor of the cosmic ; cosmic contemplation alone, then, does not necessarily foster the empathy that humble groundedness in animal nature does. The transcendence of our animality is not aimed at encouraging megalomania or sociopathy, but giving our animal consciousness embedded in particular history a larger perspective with which to work ; from the juxtaposition of these comes wisdom. May the zoology of our natures fund the wisdom that creates harmony out of good niching.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Review of "Wyrd Megin Thew"
I wrote Wyrd Megin Thew in my second year of heathenry. It represents two years of deep engagement with the tradition, after having mastered its contents, but going further into profound, intuitive meditation of the material. I filled up at least three very hefty notebooks with the contents of these meditations, in which I would lie down (akin to “going under the cloak”), meditate upon an aspect of the lore, and go into a kind of hypnagogic state. I would then write down what came to me. It was a kind of meditative half-nap, in which I observed how my unconscious engaged the material. This explains some of the richness and deep soulfulness of the material in the book.
It began simple enough. I made a boast at sumble, in the kindred with which I was practicing, that within a year I would publish a book on heathenism. It so happened that I had already almost finished the said book when I made the beot, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to fulfill. As it stood then, the book was very slim, perhaps about 80 pages, and mainly covered some insights I had had about the Gods.
As the year progressed however, so did my ambition, slowly at first, but in an accelerated fashion as the year came towards a close. At first I wanted to add a few things to what I had written. As time went on, I knew I needed to include all of the intuitive, meditative work I had been doing. But that material filled up three large notebooks! I typed all of that work up, and began organizing it into categories. I had a tremendous amount of paper around me at that point, and putting it all together into categories was an immense organizing task.
Two weeks before the due-date of sending the book off to the printer, as I had boasted, I had the idea that I wanted to summarize all the mythological poems in the Poetic Edda, all nine mythological books of Saxo’s History of the Danes, and the composite mythic saga as compiled by Viktor Rydberg. I crammed and spent day and night creating detailed summaries of the poems. I wanted someone who had no familiarity with the lore to be able to have access to quick prose summations.
By the time it was finished, a book that was 80 pages had now burgeoned into something near-monstrous. Double-spaced, and in a readable 12 point font, it was almost 1200 pages, and that was in an eight by eleven size format! I reduced the spacing to single-space, and the font to 10 point font, and thereby reduced the book down to just under 400 pages, but the result was still colossal.
I now have seven additional years of heathenry under my belt, including not only daily research, but in-depth and meticulous research translating directly from the original sources, and consulting important secondary sources written by established scholars in the field. What impresses me now is how accurate my intuition was within the first year and a half of being a heathen.
There are certainly changes I would now make. There are corrections to be made. I had decided to include an old piece, “What Do Our Stories Tell Us?”, because it had a certain charm. Even when I decided to include it, I had already superceded much of it, but still felt there was value to the piece. The piece has potential, but in retrospect, I was far too uncritical of the Grimm Fairytales as a source, and perhaps read too much into them, playing too loosely and creatively with them, stretching them beyond what they may have said. My interpretations were interesting, but I think I would be more conservative with them now. What is of interest was my desire to look into traditional fairy tales to see what they might say about the folk and our history. In the same piece, I also included traditional local customs, stories from the Eddas, and implications of Tacitus’ work. The thrust of all this is still valid, even if some of the conclusions may have overstretched their mark.
The chapter treating the Gods --- ironically, the original core of the book --- may be the weakest part of the text, despite the fact that it contains some highly original and important conclusions, primarily because the treatment of the Gods is so uneven. At that time, I was not intimate with the entire pantheon, and so treat the Gods selectively, according to how much I had acquainted myself with them. Consequently, many important Gods get very cursory treatment, while others have a great deal of material dedicated to them.
There is a particularly large section on Loki, and my evolution in this regard has diverged a great deal, although it is by no means over. Loki is a very complex character. At that time, I had a great deal more faith in Loki, and this shows in the book. Two things changed in the meantime that are worthy of note and perhaps further examination. The first of which is, I gave further and more detailed attention to the pattern in the stories, and gradually, that pattern did not match entirely what I had hoped Loki might represent. The traditional stories seemed to be saying something different from what I had wanted them to say. On that point, there is still some possibility of reconciliation with what I wrote about Loki in Wyrd Megin Thew, because at all times, I was engaged in complex, and certainly not simplistic, encounters. But what was decisive was actually examining the behavior of people around me, and realizing how pervasive cheating, lying, slandering, double-crossing, and so forth are, and moreover, how devastating such behavior can be interpersonally. Moreover, this kind of behavior is pervasive amongst people who claim values quite crosswise to these mischiefs. I began to see how much of an influence Loki had upon people at an archetypal level, and came to appreciate just how undisciplined most people are.
For myself, in many arenas (though not in others, which is a task for my continued rounding-out), I have been a very disciplined person, able to play with temptation, and engage salacious impulses without much danger of being pulled in by them. Yet such discipline, I think, is rare, and so I realized that I could not simply advise a naïve engagement with Loki, because such would be disastrous, pulling people into all kinds of compromising situations, when people already are making havoc of their lives! Now, from a certain perspective, archetypally oriented, an intelligent and prudent handling of Loki could in fact awaken a person to their own mischief, and thus serve their evolution towards greater consciousness, and loyalty towards the Aesir. But such is a tricky alchemy requiring a great deal of caution, foresight, and guidance, qualities I took for granted in myself, but was expecting of others. As it turns out, I have seen nonsense coming even from those who were more positive about Loki, which, while that might not come as a surprise to some, was certainly a surprise to me, because I thought attention to Loki would grant, if anything, an immunity to gullibility. Yet skillfulness in handling shadow is poorly underdeveloped in our culture. It may turn out yet that there are some redeeming possibilities for Loki, but of such, I must remain extremely taciturn, because that is, as the Apostle Paul might put it, tough and sinewy meat, where most heathens have still yet to be weaned, and rightfully so, off their milk.
When I look back over this book, I have to laugh at my naivete that anyone would really plunge into a book of its monstrous size and density, and yet there are such beautiful phrases and insights liberally and even copiously sprinkled throughout the book, that I am awed that such things were able to come through me. There are really some profound and amazingly soulful things said in this book. I was striving for a deeply soulful heathenism, and this book expresses that.
From my more knowledgeable perspective today, could I get behind everything I said in Wyrd Megin Thew? Probably not ; I have matured in some areas, and in other areas, I have learned a great deal more which rounds out the material I explored. However, I would say that at the very least, I could still get behind 80% of what I say in the book, and probably a great deal more. What it lacks in footnoted rigor, it makes up for with sheer soulfulness.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book, and from which the book received its title, was a poem that represented my early attempt to engage and transliterate the Tao Te Ching into the Germanic idiom. The title Tao Te Ching means, “The Way of Ancient Virtue”, or “The Classic Virtue of the Way”. “Wyrd Megin Thew” means “Wandering Way, Strength of Old Customs”. It represents an idiomatic translation. My poem was a result of going through the Tao Te Ching page by page, contemplating each section, and then formulating a response from what I knew of heathen culture at that time. Some examples, for charm’s sake :
“The wyrd that can be worded is not so weird.
The word that can be weirded speaks wyrdly.”
“Wyrd dreams in grains of wood rippling through trees.”
“Everywhere wyrd flows, it ‘weirds’ –
Teases out, twists, warps, curves...”
“Violently men untangle to make sense
While Wyrd weaves on
Tangling its twistings.
Reason loses sight of the river.”
“The kings hand down
But speak the words of Folk
Before they have arrived,
And they think, “Yes.
He speaks truly.””
“Tranquility is a goddess of healing.” [“Eir”, the Healer of the Gods, means “tranquility” or “peace”.]
“Wizards will wilderness.
Because they wish what wanders,
Their wonderings have effect.
Seducers of world, they woo
Phenomenon back to source
And see fruitful blossomings
While winking an eye.”
“Events are alive, and grow
In their own way,
Weaving and twisting
The accountant weeps
At the tangles of wyrd.
But what berries to be found
In this briar patch! Dance nimbly.”
“When a country loses heart,
Disarray is everywhere.
It is silly to focus on the disarray.
The heart must be returned.”
I was convinced that Wyrd was an idiomatic counterpart to Tao, and that therefore there was a kind of weird Taoism implicit in heathenism. I still think this is an enchanting possibility, and moreover, I agree with the thrust of the poem that this is precisely what wizards practiced, and substantially how they accomplished their magicks. Moreover, some fascinating ideas were suggested in the poem, one of which is the idea that a vow at sumble unites those participating in the sumble into a kind of pact against the static, a conspiracy against the world of rigidity and stillbirth, and a commitment to blossoming. This is a powerful concept. To commit to Wyrd is no small thing, because it is to commit to ecstatic becoming against any status quo which would try to block the emergence of creativity. Rather, it is to align creativity with the rhythms of Wyrd itself. When we have begun to fully realize this Taoism of Wyrd, I believe that we will finally be on our way towards maturing heathenism towards its Old Growth potential, and that I stand by.
Wyrd Megin Thew is a difficult book because its format does not match that of other books about heathenism. It is a weird text that follows its own flows. That can be something to be proud of. It is like entering into a thick forest, and having to follow the streams and creeks through.
In my Introduction, I outline my approach of reindigenization, reclaiming the original, primal, tribal parts of our being. As I say later in the book, we utilize our Iron Age ancestors, who passed the lore down to us, as conduits through which to access, however obliquely, the Deep Paleolithic. The material, therefore, must be purged of what dross the Iron Age imposed upon it. The book thus represents a quest to penetrate beneath the level of the Iron Age to that which lies beneath it. I make clear that it is pre-Roman Germanic and Scandinavian culture I am aiming at, and therefore all elements of imperialism, picked up in the encounter with Rome, must be dropped. In order to do this, I advise that we must work through the alienation that the centuries of imperialization, and its consequent militarism, have imposed upon us. Without working through that alienation, we will alienate the ancestral material, and become subject to distortion. Particularly, I suggest that the ghosts of WWII are still with us, and must be worked through before we can hope to be free of them. I still stand by that statement. Nazi racial and state-enforced Volkism may have been only one possible culmination of many of earlier romantic nationalism, but a culmination it was, and this must be squarely faced, so that we can free ourselves from this standpoint. If there is one thing I regret about Wyrd Megin Thew, it is the fact that being new to heathenism, I gave far too much heed to folkish perspectives, in a desire to not alienate anyone. Now I do not care about alienating people who approach things from a wrongheaded angle. I am bolder. But then, I actually used the word “universalist” as if it were something to be avoided, which is ridiculous. Where universalizing results from mere imperialization, then it is something to be critiqued, but universalisation can also emerge authentically out of full development of particulars and their interaction in ecumenical dialogue. At some point I will try to take volkism back to its godfather Johann Herder in order to renew it and find new directions, but that is a task for another time.
The Introduction also begins by defining a heathen as someone from the heath. The relationship to Mother Earth and wild country in particular is zeroed in from the get-go, and this is a position from which I have never retreated. I then examine the nature of a true warrior, who resists imperialization and takes on giant powers. I make it clear that in this world, this refers as well to giantish organizations, like giant corporations, aggressive nation-states, and so forth.
The chapter on Wyrd is one of the most significant in the book. I underline the responsibility of prophets and prophetesses to tend to Wyrd, and to tend to the folk in such a way that they in no way abuse their spiritual authority. Utilizing fear-tactics or encouraging morbid superstition is abuse and frankly, sinful.
After an in-depth chapter about the Gods (although somewhat uneven), I explore a number of heathen values, beginning with “worthship”, where worthship, valueing that which is worthy in life, sums up the rest of the values. The second half of the chapter is a cutting-edge essay exploring the idea that “baed” represented an ambiguous middle ground between good and evil, and did not represent evil, but rather, something more akin to the “perilous”.
I then explore aspects of the soul within heathenism, with particular focus on the fylgia, and its relationship to the wild, emphasizing that our overenculturation is often what holds us back from full connection to our soul. Enculturation is a necessary part of maturation, but we lose something in the process that must be regained. The fylgia as wild animal reconnects us to that primal which was set aside to allow us to live politely amongst each other.
In “Forms of Worship”, I cover the basics of blot and sumble, and add the importance of festival as a worship-form. I cover holidays as well, suggesting that we find a synthesis between our modern holidays and those celebrated by our ancestors.
A particularly interesting chapter is “The Archaic Order of Northern Europe”, where I try to explore the tribal sociology of theods or kingdoms, with particular emphasis on common law, odalism (the economics of allodial property holding versus feudalism), and the responsibilities of true nobility, along with the place of thralls. In other words, this is a chapter about law and order, with some fascinating implications, some of which are not entirely irrelevant to modern day issues of taxation and freedom.
There follows a chapter about the centrality of the Viking as an outgoing expedition of adventure akin to the fairy-tale notion of “going out into the world to discover one’s fortune”, a chapter reflecting on magic as a kind of pantheistic prayer, and a chapter on the runes, which includes not only reflections on the meanings of the runes, but something I found particularly helpful, a “rune contraries” section, which outlines what the world would look like without the application of each of the runes, each of which demonstrates a problem we have in the world today, and thus proving how the runes are needed, together, in tandem, to create healthy culture.
The crowning chapter is the chapter on Lore, which includes all my summaries of the lore, but begins with an essay reflecting on the nature of Lore, and how we must engage it symbolically and intuitively, and must never fall into either literalism, or an intellectualism which would banish our dream-associations. In short, I endorse surrealism as a valid way of approaching lore and allowing it to live within our lives.
Overall, this is a fantastic accomplishment, however rough it might be in form, and contains insights which I believe could nourish people over a lifetime. It includes some amazing artwork created by Eve Ghost (from the band Scarlet's Remains and Purnama), including the cover picture of Yggdrasil, as well as some other artists. I have had a few requests for the book, but it is presently out of print. When I have the time, if people think they might be interested, I can scan in the images of the pages, put that into a PDF, along with perhaps a 2011 reflection and correction page, and get it up on Lulu.
The work, after all, is the basis of everything you see reflected in Heathen Ranter.
I’m glad I wrote it.
Landscapes One Needs
Landscapes one needs
Colors for which one hungers
Times of the day one seldom sees.
The right display of bark
The badger’s cubby hole
The hawk’s spread of rusty wing
The lopsided hand-built architecture.
Soul says, take me out to see these things.
Odr says, let me wander far and wide.
For I am not whole without beholding
All the quirks the world’s strange mirrors
Let me see in me, alive.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Fylgia (The Follower)
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Against the Bulldozing of History
An authentic heathenism works against the bulldozing of history and significance that has characterized so much of the last four hundred years, and which is only increasing and accelerating, with each generation now out of touch with that which was vital to the generation beforehand. We are losing a great deal of soul in this overturning of culture, for culture is where soul deposits so much of itself. So much is plowed over in history anyway, by history’s natural processes, and the inevitable process of growing old and then letting go, and yet in heathenism, you don’t entirely let go : you go home. In death, you go home to all that is old. Yet this world, the world of mortal life, must not lose its roots, the roots by which it connects to that which has significance and meaning, so it is worthwhile holding on to that. We know that each generation plows the field anew, and therefore disrupts as the soil is thrown up, but there are some things which must be preserved. The plow must not touch the ancient oak tree, nor the groves that are nearby. There must be a balance. In the natural scheme of things, a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter can all return to the same tree and recall significant memories around that place. A grandfather, a father, and a son can sing the same songs, and thus pass on a continuity of spirit and memory.
In the modern world, everything has become bulldozing, a tremendous process of losing so much as old monuments of landscape and history, whether those be natural or architectural, are razed to make way for innovation and finance ; and we need every power on our side to prevent this bulldozing from undoing the history of our lives, and to fight against it. This can include collecting photographs, old tape recordings, excerpts from books, and other means to hold on to some past that has been lost and has been erased around us in our fury to undo what is, and replace it with the “new”.
As we preserve soul as it has manifested in our works, and in our surroundings (through its own activity in nature), in our language and in our life, we must not come at that ideologically. We must not come at that xenophobically in such a way as to want to keep out foreign influences. No, separatism is not the answer. The demand must be the right to choose and affirm the rate of our own alchemy. The right to affirm the rate of our own alchemy : that’s the key to a vital, dynamic conservationism, that conserves values at the same time that it is radical, because it maintains connection to our roots. That which is radical in another culture may have the possibility of touching what is radical in ours, and there is interaction at the edge-zones, and that is important. That we have the right to affirm that alchemy that is native to our soul is so important! We must resist the imposition of rates of change that are foreign to the pace of our souls. We know that that alchemy, as with all living things, involves taking in that which is external, taking in that which is foreign, and digesting it. We have the right to digest, so that that which we take from without may become authentic within us. Where my soul touches your soul touches another soul, then and there, a “folk-soul” may emerge, but the core or key element is the soul itself, and soul touches and is contiguous with other souls. The focus is not, therefore, on separated nationality, but on that which nationalism was originally trying to preserve, which was a patriotism towards the soul, which finds itself in particularity, and therefore which resists the bulldozing of particularity by impositions and imperial coercion and globalization. So that element of nationalism which was attempting to create and foster a patriotism towards the soulful, in all of its particularity and concreteness, is indeed something which ought to be affirmed, but it must be purified and excised and separated from the xenophobia and isolationism which characterized it, because we live in vital interaction, and that vital interaction can and often is a vital part of the soul, and at this point in time, so many of us are already mixed anyway, that mixedness is of our soul. We needn’t excise or cut off any of our rich heritages or our possible friendships and loves for some separatism, or even some, Gods forbid, some supremacist ideology, which is itself an abstract imposition on true, authentic soulfulness.
And lest the concept of authentic soulfulness become parochial, let us remember that we must travel outside of that which is home in order to appreciate that which is home, and when we go outside of that which is home and visit other people’s homes in other places, we come to appreciate our own home more, and discover the true nature of homeness beneath that layer of ignorance and parochiality which we have unconsciencely imposed upon soul.
So all of these are important, coming from a soulful position, to retrieve and restore that which a genuine folkism would gather, but without the horrible ideological trappings that created more tragedy in the world, and more separation, and we don’t need that. It’s not about separation. It’s about the right to one’s own pace and rate of alchemy. We’re talking about a combat of speeds here, and there are some who are demanding that things change at a certain speed or you get bulldozed, and that is what we must fight against.
Holding : holding against change is a value in heathen culture, and it is a worthwhile goal, however formidable the obstacles and odds may seem, and thus a zone for genuine heroism.
The Importance of Sooth in Heathenism
It is of primary importance that two of Odin’s names listed in the Grimnismal catalogue are Saðr and Sanngetall, “Sooth” and “Getter of Sooth”. Sooth is a word with an older Indo-European provenance, with a deeper meaning and more widespread cultural representation than “truth”, and it is found in the Hindu tradition as sat, which refers to reality itself, existence, beingness. It is not just “truth”. It is not just a kind of epistemological alignment that takes place in some abstract place in the head alone. It is an ontological alignment with the way things are, a congruence with reality itself, and particularly the deeper reality that underlies illusion. We find an example of sooth in the Anglo-Saxon Maxims, where it says that “frost shall freeze, fire shall melt wood, ice shall form a bridge, water shall cover itself, the earth shall cover itself,” and so forth. Now all of these seem rather simplistic definitions, and almost tautologies. Of course frost will freeze and fire will burn wood. But what this underlines is that attention to reality, and congruence with it was something highly valued.
In Norse parlance, sannr is connected to ideas of “proof”, of “evidence”, of things which have been proven and made certain beyond a reasonable doubt. It is connected with ideas of testimony, and therefore with court processes. In other words, something which is “sooth” is something which would convince a jury. It is therefore something which has been examined and crossexamined from multiple angles, viewpoints, and testimonies. It is also based on oathed testimony, and therefore sets the standard for us when we would determine what “sooth” is. It is our connection to reality ; that we would, standing before our most Holy Gods, declare in a court of law. Therefore, that which we would not be ready to declare under penalty of perjury, not just to a court, but to our court of our Gods, can only be expressed in the language of uncertainty and not in the language of sooth.
But because the chief God of our pantheon has as one of his names “Sooth”, it means that sooth, getting at the truth of reality, and moreover, making a living connection to it in one’s life so that one is congruent with reality, is a basic value of being a heathen, of being Asatru, of being true to the Aesir.
We have a duty to get to the truth, and specifically, by getting beyond illusions. One of the foremost opponents of the Aesir are the beings around Utgard-Loki’s court. Thor has an encounter with them, and so does Odin when he goes down into Utgard-Loki’s realm to retrieve the mead. (For those who have not yet made that connection, you can see that the Utgard-Loki episode, where Thor is in Skrymir’s glove, is referred to in Hárbarðsljóð 26, where Skrymir is there called Fjalar, and we know that Fjalar is another name for Suttung . Compare Havamal 13 – 14 with Havamal 104 -110 ; in the former, Gunnlodd is named in connection with Fjalar, and in the latter, Gunnlodd is named in connection with Suttung. Suttung-Fjalar is the giant who had taken the mead unto himself, and into whose dark, mountain realm Odin had to retrieve the mead.) We know that Utgard-Loki was a master of deception and illusion, and could make one thing seem like another. Gylfaginning 47 calls this eye-glamor or delusions of sight sjónhverfingar, literally “sight-turnings”, to turn away from seeing things as they are, a spell or trick by which the eye does not catch what is really happening. This is the stock and trade of the professional magician or illusionist, who distracts his audience’s eyes away from what he is really doing, but Utgard-Loki is the master of such craft, and with tremendous power and magic behind his turnings and twistings of vision. (We might also think here of vision in the more expansive sense : how often in life we turn away from that vision or visions which give us strength and heart, distracted by a thousand petty details which take us away from the heart of our path. A turning away from vision indeed.) The same passage also refers to these powers of illusion as velum, “wiles”, tricks and guile, the trademark of Loki, but on such a grand scale that in this episode, even Loki is completely taken in and tricked! For this quintessential trickster to be taken in by guile speaks to an almost cosmic power of illusion. Thor’s strength saved him, although he was not able to penetrate the illusion, while it was Odin’s capacity of sooth that allowed him to pass through such a realm and successfully retrieve the mead, for he was able to keep his connection to reality and penetrate through deception.
You might say, borrowing Hindu terminology, and lightly, without taking on all of its connotations, that it is valid to a degree to compare Utgard-Loki’s magic of illusion to the Hindu notion of maya, and sat, sooth, goes beyond and underneath maya in Hindu cosmology, and sooth, likewise, goes beyond the illusion of Utgard-Loki. Maya variously refers to delusion, deception, a misleading or false interpretation of nature or the purpose of being, in which we are no longer connected to the deeper truths of what are. So in a sense, we are surrounded by webs of deception, half-truths, and lies. Everyone has an agenda, and we need to penetrate beyond that, and we need, in this regard, to utilize the court method of getting as many voices as we can, from testimonies of people who are willing to testify on the basis of sound sources, where they really put their reputation on the line for what they assert. When we face the internet, for example, the primary media through which modern people search for the truth, we are often facing a web of half-truths. It has become a repository for fakelore, generated by a hundred dozen groups with agenda, each of which may present a very convincing story on its own, isolated from the other stories and facts, but we ought suspend being sold on any one story until we’ve heard the gamut of multiple viewpoints. That’s how a court works, and Odin himself says that a person doesn’t know anything until they’ve traveled widely, and that’s because you have to travel widely in order to get at many different viewpoints. It behooves us to observe this when getting at sooth ourselves, because it is very easy to become superficially convinced of anything, and to act on such conviction, when one’s exposure to the various arguments out there is shallow and inexperienced. Havamal indicates that only when we’ve been around the block and beyond a few times can we discern what sorts of things tend to steer the minds of men, and having seen them, we will not be taken in ourselves. 
Odin’s other name which is pared up with Saðr is Sanngetall, which simply means “He Who Gets Sooth”. Odin gets at sooth. It can also mean that he “begets” sooth, as in engendering it, implying that he is the source from which sooth is birthed. It can also mean he who guesses at sooth, and achieves sooth by riddling through to sooth, and indeed, Odin does riddle through to sooth.
There’s another important aspect of sooth that contrasts with “pipe dreams”. Sooth is about congruence with reality, and specifically, the reality of the world we live in, the reality of nature, and the reality of what it means to live on Mother Earth. There are many different ways of living on Mother Earth, but there are also ways that violate nature’s laws, and therefore we end up paying for them. If we pollute and poison the earth, we will pay the price. Here is where Odin is somewhat impatient with those who dream delusions against the texture of reality. We need to stay true to the texture of reality. Sooth implies fidelity to the phenomena, and through that fidelity, finding the truth that underlies and lies within that phenomena, and this certainly includes the phenomena of nature and of life. Because Odin has these names, we do not only follow saga. We do not only follow myth and epic, which are enormously important aspects of connecting to the worldview of our ancestors, and richly metaphorical keys to deeper truths that allow us to see through illusion ; but, we must also follow science, not in any narrow ideological sense of that term, but as the systematic search for the truth of reality beyond our wishes and delusions. Such science, as a personal and interpersonal practice of search for the truth, and systematic attempts to remain congruent with reality, by questioning and cross-examining our own assumptions, opinions, and premade conclusions, must come into account as well. Ecology as the science of natural interconnections is therefore a valid truth-form within heathenism, as other sciences can be as well.
There is a fascinating scholar, Thomas Sefton, the author of The Gods Remain : Old European Religion as found in Greece, the Germanic Countries, and Elsewhere (http://www.kolonospress.com/index.html), who has taken a somewhat partial, but quite fascinating take on Germanic cosmology, and has compared, specifically, aspects of the Sigurd saga to aspects of certain Greek tragedies in the Oidipous cycle, and claims that the function of a hero is not necessarily to win, for good does not necessarily and always win over evil, but to come at the truth however difficult that truth might be, for the ability to come to terms with the truth of reality, however unsatisfying, however painful, is one of the true signs that marks a hero, and marks them out as courageous and deserving of glory. He suggests that we contract with Odin when we wish know the truth, even the uncomfortable truth, the difficult truth, and a truth which may work crosswise to our desires, including our desires for good to always win out over evil, and our desires for the Golden Age. It’s an interesting narrative, and I suggest that people check it out for what it is worth. So long as it is not taken out of proportion, it can be an important contribution to our understanding, particularly of the notion of sooth, suggesting that we have a duty to be in touch with the uncomfortable facts and the difficult realities.
Yet I must point out, contrary in some ways to his narrative, that this kind of realism and attention to the texture of existence, need not lead us away from the Golden Age archetype of Baldur, for they can work hand-in-hand. After all, Baldur is the son of Sooth (Odin). We have here an important notion. If Baldur is the child of Odin as Sooth, then that means that the way to reach towards Baldur is through facing reality as it actually is, and not as we would wish it to be. This doesn’t mean putting aside our ideals. It means being realistic about the prevalence of our ideals in the world, and to what degree people actually value the things they say they value, and what they are actually valuing through their actions. When have a grip on this, then we can begin, however humbly, to shape reality and infuse it with the strength of our ideals, rather than becoming deceived by our own pipe-dreams. This is both a realistic idealism and an idealistic realism. Odin and Baldur are father and son.
All of this is part and parcel of coming into devotion to Odin as Sooth. I would argue that it is Odin’s devotion to sooth that brings him his great wisdom. In fact, this may be a key to understanding the runes, which are presented as universal mysteries, and yet which on first examination appear to be almost quotidian banalities of existence : cows, ice, gifts, roads, lake ... Very simple things. There may be a truth here that is worth examining : that it is through these simple things, it is through contact with the profound that lies within the simple, within the simple realities around us, that we discover the great mysteries. Indeed, to suggest something perhaps a little radical, it could very well be that we could construct our own rune-set in the present, by taking common, everyday realities, and finding their profundity, just as in the Iron Age, their rune-set reflected the common things around them. The idea that through honest perception and connection reality we can find profundity is something worth serious thought and consideration.
We need contact with reality. By that, I don’t mean someone else’s idea of reality. I mean real things, like stones, and rocks, and leaves, and metal. We need contact with real things, because those real things lend us their qualities. Over time, by being in contact with reality, with sensuous reality, the things share their qualities with us. We can become like steel ; we can become like rocks ; we can become like the leaves. They share their essence with us, and it is only through contact with nature and the realities of nature and the heill-infused material world about us that we learn how to be fully human. This is perhaps one of the most significant and overlooked aspects of sooth, of maintaining contact with reality through the phenomena, for through sensuousness there is a sharing, and not just a communication of qualities, but a genuine communion of qualities, through which we can discover the stoneness, the leafness, the metalness, the waterness within ourselves, and become everything we were meant to be.
We cannot become everything we were meant to be if we do not allow the qualities of reality to midwife those qualities of soul within us, so everything around us reminds us of who we are. This is akin to Plato’s notion of anamnesis, the idea that we have had former lives and are simply remembering what we already knew but have forgotten. Even if we do not buy into Plato’s notion on a literal level of reincarnation, the idea that we were once fruits on the World Tree means that something of the All lives in us, that is potent in our potential, of which the things of the world remind us. The wonderful thing about the root metaphor of the World Tree is that everything has circulated through it. It is a constantly recycling process of everything, and since we have been fruits on the World Tree, there are elements of everything which have indeed passed through us, for they circulated through our embryos, our soul-embryos when we hung on the Tree. Our soul-embryos were fed on the sap, through which all forms have flown into. The intelligence, and more importantly, the significance, of all things have flowed into that sap which circulates throughout the Tree, throughout the unseen but profoundly real body of the Living Cosmos. Cormac’s medieval Irish Glossary includes a curious term, tuirgen, the idea that one becomes everything, from the lowest form to the highest form, which is mirrored in Iolo Morganwg’s Barddas, as well as in Rumi’s idea that we have been mineral, vegetable, and animal. From a Norse perspective, we can affirm that all of this is true, not necessarily in a literal sense, but in the sense that we have been on the World Tree ourselves, and have thus experienced the traces of the interflow of everything, and that therefore, it lives within us, waiting to be awakened, through remembrance, through contact with the sensory materials about us. There’s no need for us to be weak : we have the strength of stones and mountains and steel, the flexibility of the willow tree, the freshness of the green grass, and the ability to let go, like the falling leaves, all within us. We just need contact with reality in order to awaken those qualities within us. This is the power that sooth offers.
 Havamal is full of useful advice on how to penetrate the realm of half-truths, assumptions, and ill-investigated opinions :
Inn vari gestr, er til verðar kemr, þunnu hljóði þegir, eyrum hlýðir, en augum skoðar; svá nýsisk fróðra hverr fyrir (Havamal 7), “The wary guest, when he comes to the meal, with thin hearing keeps silent, his ears actively listening, and his eyes looking about ; so every wise man is inquisitive and carefully investigates what is before him.” In other words, one who is wary of the prevalence of sjónhverfingar and wiles in the world, holds back from speaking conclusively until he has listened to what everyone around the table has to say, observing closely, and then has enquired into the matter. One listens with “thin hearing”, in other words, not getting taken in by everything. We might imagine it as a kind of cursory skimming of people’s arguments, taking in its form and gist without committing to it or being taken in by it, so that we can review it later, comparing them with other arguments, and come to our own conclusions.
Sá einn veit er víða ratar ok hefr fjölð of farit, hverju geði stýrir gumna hverr, sá er vitandi er vits (Havamal 18), “He alone knows who has widely traveled and has journeyed much ; he who has wits knows how the mind of every man is steered.” In the master-apprentice training widespread in Europe, the one who has completed their apprenticeship and is ready to begin practicing is known as a “journeyman” (or in German, geselle), one who has journeyed from workshop to workshop to experience the different styles of various masters in the craft. This kind of journeying to complete one’s knowledge and training, and round out one’s skill, is a traditional part of heathen culture, as Odin indicates here. Once you’ve been around enough, you begin to see what kinds of things guide men’s minds, and being knowledgeable, you then have the opportunity to steer minds as well, but towards the truth, for those who keep their wits about them have a truer kind of knowledge and are thus able to guide others.
Ósnotr maðr þykkisk allt vita, ef hann á sér í vá veru; hittki hann veit, hvat hann skal við kveða, ef hans freista firar (Havamal 26), "The unwise man thinks he knows it all if he's been through a few storms, but he knows not what he shall answer if men test him." Freista means to be put on trial, not necessarily legally, but through a series of tests and questions. The notion of a trial invokes the idea of a jury, who in traditional times conducted the investigation, and thus, one has to be ready to face a panel of one’s fellows, who have many different perspectives, and are not going to question you alone within the zone of whatever ideology you’ve subjected yourself to, but rather, from various standpoints of common sense and the reasonable person standard would test what you know. Can you answer questions? It’s easy to think you know a lot if you haven’t had to face questions. Margr þá fróðr þykkisk,ef hann freginn er-at ok nái hann þurrfjallr þruma. "Many thinks himself wise, if he is not questioned and he can stay behind in dry clothes." (Havamal 30.)
Ósnotr maðr, er með aldir kemr, þat er bazt, at hann þegi; engi þat veit, at hann ekki kann, nema hann mæli til margt; veit-a maðr, hinn er vettki veit, þótt hann mæli til margt (Havamal 27), “For the unsophisticated man, when he comes amongst men, it is best if he is silent ; no one will know that he knows nothing unless he declares too much ; such a man does not know that he knows nothing although he proclaims far too much.” Shooting off your mouth before you know enough will expose you as a fool. It is listening, and not thrusting your unsophisticated opinions upon others, that will allow you to become more sophisticated.
Fróðr sá þykkisk, er fregna kann ok segja it sama (Havamal 28), “He is thought wise who knows how to question and report his conclusions fittingly.” Part of listening is asking the right questions. Knowing how to question is also knowing how to think critically, and frame one’s inquiries in such a way that one is able to outwit potential half-truths and unexamined assumptions in the other’s answers. Again, the model of a trial is perfect here : one has to know how to ask questions in the same way that a lawyer can examine and cross-examine a witness. Then it is important to frame one’s conclusions appropriately and fittingly, so they are neither exaggerated, nor disproportionate to the established facts. To report fittingly is to practice sooth ; sooth is an ideal that draws us closer to reality.
all translations copyright 2010 by Siegfried Goodfellow