Monday, January 31, 2011

A Gift for Gardner

A gift for Gardner, and his grand dames
who England opened ancient ways
unto the muggled modern zombies
banal-bound to mill-pulled machines.
From the heart of a home's secrets,
the sweet woven writhings of a kindred's craft,
books' leaves fluttering in the Autumn wind
he up gripped words to cover paths
that witches' mouths once spoke in secret.
These other authors' utterance he tailor-seam sewed
to fit the garment of the garden's God and Goddess
words women private-poem hymned, and could not share,
for oath : and oath he held, yet wrapped the naked
unspoken words in luscious leaves blood and white dew
inked by masters of magic and sex god and star'stress' wonders.
He did not need to unroll these words, for women worried
that these spells by stranger's paws might sullied be,
for soft psalms of the amateur's breath,
long hallowed in the family's secret ways through long times of hiding
might misunderstood by modern minds twist, and spit, and drive
away long kin-held fairies who gather round the magic round.
Yet he did! For beauty and subtle night's trance ought not
ever fade from the fields of blessed mother, beloved Earth!
So he psalmed, for these naked spiral writhings spellbound
spoke deep summerlands where loved ones gather
and grow their strengths for new surgings! Together!
Beyond the veil of our deepest fears, in Night's seeming snuffing,
there gasps of plenty, gasps of pleasure dawn
in the witch mind twirling naked and blindfold
on the god-named blessed circle where nymphs once
spun this spunky British gentleman long spun out
by his laughter's large eccentrics, beyond his hope or grasping.
In deep halls of grand canyon-down meandered lichen ways
to Holy Hel's sun dancing fields of apricot and frolic, he saw
the family's friends gathered in rest and pleasure, paraded
and feasted by the phallus' antlered wheat-showered God,
who in yoredays drew down blessed dew
of lunar queen's loin's marvel, kissing her, and joined his spells to hers.
In the fullness of month's menstrual orb, she taught
midst the thicket-weave's waves of fallen leaves
all matrons and maidens the heart's spell of love,
if all fairies welcome they would tend. And hunters, horn-drawn
out to pastures flocked by old oaks' many children,
heard in the deep-root spiral scent
of stag's musk the old big-bellied laughter-wisdom
of the phallus' smiling God tomes.
The gold-runed leaves of the grand dames have faded,
burnt as offerings unto the heavens, whose incensed smoke
enlucks the world, and are not found. Yet Gardner's arcane
words compiled, collaged, and wrapt up, boquet in rose
and rapture, woo, and welcome thee, and thee, and thine
to dine and taste forbidden wine
brewed by kinsmen in the depths
who wait and wassail thee. Ho!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Refill Our Aquifers

The Gods refill our aquifers. We collect moisture from the world around us in daily life, which life, directly from Jord, draws up its precious fluids from deeper wells. We make our nest, our stores, our provisions ; wisely we build our caches and cisterns, and even more wisely fill them gradually on our own. (Such cisterns may be the circle of arms around which we give and pass gifts.) But from time to time in the vicissitudes, we run low, and then, if we have been good (not perfect, good) and aimed at worthy deeds, the Gods may share a little extra from their stores. Then we feel the flow of goodness that is reward for being true to our hearts and soul. Soul, which connects to the soul of world and is thereby nourished by good deeds in the world. We must feel the flow up from the Mother, and sometimes to feel it, we must defend her children, who are through her, our brothers and sisters. There's no avoiding that implication, and why would we want to? There's love that is natural to our heart that springs up within us when good parents teach us how to tap that flow by loving us ; then, we may direct that flow to Earth when we see how much She, Beloved Mother, loves us. Let us do the Worthy merit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why is Spirituality Necessary?

Why is spirituality necessary? In part, to correct the unexamined idea that there is only one growing up in life, whereas there continue higher levels of our apprenticeship to maturity, whereby there is the second growing up, the third growing up, and so forth. There needs to be something higher towards which we aim and strive. Just as when we were children, we needed the model of adults in order to grow, so as adults we need models of something higher as well.

There are certain skills you need to know and assimilate to function in the adult world, but it is a great mistake to think that your learning has stopped here. In fact, many adults assimilate these practical skills while remaining quite immature on other levels. To round ourselves out fully, in other words to become whole, takes time, effort, and commitment, as well as the consciousness that the journey is not yet over and there is still good work to be done, noble goals to strive towards even in our stumblings.

In the old culture, there were three levels plus a higher fourth : childhood, adulthood, and elderhood, followed by the status of ancestorhood. At each stage there were difficulties to assimilate and challenges to overcome. Compare this to our secular society of essentially two stages, childhood and adulthood, as if one was then done. The old culture's stages on a personal level were then mirrored historically and sociologically : Thralls, Carls, and Jarls, above which were the Gods. Just as an elder ought be listening to the ancestors for guidance, so ought nobles be listening to the Gods for guidance.

By having these levels, there is constantly something to strive towards, and good work to be had. And one should never underestimate the value of good work, which nourishes and strengthens.

Each stage is ideally striving to be like or become the next stage (while also enjoying the process of the present, with all its joys and flavors) : a child strives to become an adult, an adult strives to become an elder, and an elder is learning how to become an ancestor. Likewise, those in debt to the community try to free themselves in order to become good, decent members of the community with a sense of dignity, those who are free and decent strive to ennoble themselves, and those who are noble strive to reflect the divine within their lives, all in good time, all with the long time it takes. Of course, Heimdall's blood runs through them all, but those who have worked the hardest and achieved the fullest receive the greatest of the mysteries.

Our Royal Monarchs

What I fear is a heathenism that is a museum where the Gods are treated as pinned butterflies rather than Flying Monarchs, where rite is rote, the script-reading from conceptual mind's abstractions. I fear neat and clean mental categories mediating between us and actual experience of the Gods in wild nature. I fear the sterilization and castration of uncontrollable holy powers.

We need experiential contact with the Gods. We need outdoor communion. We need guided visualization which helps us to feel the living presence of each of our Gods. Do you say the ancients didn't do this? They didn't need to. They were in touch ; we are not.

What do I mean? Before you dedicate a horn to Njord, go out to the sea and splash some salt water on your face. Ride a small craft and feel the power of the waves. Allow your body to channel the intelligence of the ocean up through your intuition, and feel that soulfulness of waters whose warmth and character we call Njord. Whole-body, whole-hearted, whole-minded experiences are necessary so that "Njord" is not just an abstract concept or cartoon character, but a living essence whose personality and numinosity exceed any lore-tale and any telling whatsoever, which are only tellings that stemmed in the first place from brags spoken about forces a poet knew well in his or her heart : Yea, this is what Njord might have done ; and so in lore, he did so. Its value to you ought be to help you reverse-engineer the tale back to source. Today we need more lore to do it, to direct the mind's attention to coral reefs and the fish beneath. Njord was associated with abundance : look into the seas and behold the great bounty of flora and fauna, in schools and shallows, depths and upon the waves, and not, significantly, all for you and your kind, but Njord's, and jealous and fatherly over it he is --- though he is willing to share with those who approach his home, the waters, whether salten or fresh, as a guest with proper thews of hospitality. Know the octopus, know the sea lion, know the mackerel and the anemone. These are his children. They are not your commodities or raw supplies to take as you will for whatever you will. This has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with the primal law of hospitality. Be a good guest, and he will share. Be a good trading partner, and he will share more, adding teachings and craft, the appreciation of a good sailing vessel, the skill of carving or steering it, the sheer ecstasy of riding out upon the waves. Cultivate relationship ; be a frequent guest. Go fishing. Hang out at the pier. Go to an aquarium and learn about marine life. Spend an evening at the beach. Dwell at tide pools. Engage in marine activism on behalf of the ocean and its creatures, and speak up in it's defense. Let all this permeate and fill you. When you have accomplished all this and more, then come back and toast your bragi to Njord. It will then mean something. And you will more readily unlock the meanings in the lore as well.

Likewise, before or as you blot Jord, put your hands into the soil, into mud. Make some wattle and daub. Work with clay. Garden. Do all this while opening yourself to the spirit and intelligence in the earth, and seek to feel Her, a living personality, not an abstraction, not a lifeless mechanism or substance, and most certainly not a mere metaphor. Do not force your imagination but do open it to any impressions of Her great wisdom and beauty and intricacy that may come. Then when you make that offering, it will be so much more meaningful. It will ring and resonate with the richness of these experiences and more.

We must remember that the lore provided a schematic, a rubric, a bare outline that is barren without being filled in. It is there to provide a shape for genuinely real experiences and feelings, but if you don't seek out those feelings and experiences, you will be verbally manipulating mere words accompanied by feeble mental images. Pinned butterflies. The soul seeks the Royal Monarchs in Flight.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On Nobility

In the Orkneyinga Saga (kafli 139), we are given a strophe by Earl Rognvald, famous for its summation of the skills of the nobility : Tafl emk orr at efla,/ íþróttir kannk níu, / týnik trauðla rúnum, / tíð er mér bók ok smíðir./ Skríða kannk á skíðum,/ skýtk ok roe'k, svát nýtir, / hvárt tveggja kannk hyggja / harpslótt ok bragþóttu, "I am passionate about tafl, I know nine skills, I scarcely forget the runes, books* and art I long for, knowing how to use them ; I know how to glide on skis, shoot, and row marvelously well ; I know how to think, both with cunning on the harp, and able to speak my mind through verse."

[* "books" in the archaic, poetic sense meant narrative tapestries]

He thus speaks of athletic skills, skill in gaming, knowledge of the mysteries, passion for lore and art, and in particular, dedication to the craft of poetry and song.

This list should be compared with the list of skills in Rigsthula, where the emphasis is on skills of defense and protection, sports, and hunting, followed by learning the sacred mysteries of men and of the heavens. Upp óx þar Jarl á fletjum; lind nam at skelfa, leggja strengi, alm at beygja, örvar skefta, flein at fleygja, frökkur dýja, hestum ríða, hundum verpa, sverðum bregða, sund at fremja. (Rigsthula 35) ... Rígr gangandi, rúnar kendi (Rigsthula 36) ... En Konr ungr kunni rúnar, ævinrúnar ok aldrrúnar (Rigsthula 43) “Jarl grew up on the benches ; he learned to shake the shield, to fasten bow-strings, to shaft arrows, to let fly darts, to shake the spear, to ride horses, to let loose the hounds, to brandish swords, and to swim. ... Rig arrived, taught him runes ... And the young king learned runes, the mysteries of eternity and the mysteries of men.”

Amongst the arts that the young king learned were the ability to communicate with animals (Klök nam fugla), hypnotherapy (sefa of svefja, literally, to soothe the mind or affections), and to “lessen sorrows” (sorgir lægja), which from context of all medieval tales most likely refers to the playing of music (compare Hjorrandi’s taking away sorrow ; Saxo mentions Hodur having the ability to soothe people’s sorrows with music : Ad quoscumque volebat motus, variis modorum generibus humanos impellebat affectus: gaudio, maestitia, miseratione vel odio mortales afficere noverat, “He knew how to affect mortal affections, and through different kinds of measures could stir up and urge on whatever human emotions he wished : joy, sorrow, compassion, or hate.”) He also learned the arts of protecting men (mönnum bjarga), as catalogued in his martial skills, and various shamanic or wizard abilities that affected the elements (to lower the seas and calm fires, ægi lægja ... , kyrra elda).

Amongst the runes mentioned in Sigrdrifumal are ölrúnar, limrúnar, málrúnar, and hugrúnar, which may be glossed for our purposes as the arts of brewing, the arts of healing, rhetoric and eloquence, and philosophy, in its widest sense as the king of the sciences. In addition to all this, Odin mentions as the sixth rune-song he knows (it sétta) one which will turn back curses, the ability to calm the winds (vind ek kyrri), the power to return astral travelers to their bodies (it tíunda), sociological knowledge (fyrða liði ...ek kann allra skil, “I can differentiate all the hosts of men”), holy dawn-songs (er gól ...fyr Dellings durum, “that song before Delling (Dawn)’s doors”), and arts of love (it sextánda).

Jordanes, in Chapters 69 - 73 of De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, speaks of a teacher who had come to the folk, who by context is obviously Rig, his name meaning “teacher”, who taught them the arts of philosophy, ethics, physics, logic, astronomy, botany, and theology, the latter of which was particularly taught to the nobility. We thus have a catalogue of education, martial arts, arts and music, theology, magic, and medicine.

Noble families were, in general, those who dedicated themselves to the patronage and protection of the histories, arts, humanities, law, and sacred lore of the folk. They were the most educated and strove to preserve this education and excellence within the family. The older folk knew that not everyone would be inclined in this direction, as some people just want to tend to their fields and do their work, and yet there must at least be some who keep the law and lore alive and intact. Such people were necessary as mediators and arbitrators, and of such arbitrators, Kropotkin indicates that they were taken from “such families, or such tribes, as were reputed for keeping the law of old in its purity; of being versed in the songs, triads, sagas, etc., by means of which law was perpetuated in memory; and to retain law in this way became a sort of art, a "mystery," carefully transmitted in certain families from generation to generation.” It is these who became the nobles, an “aristocracy” in the original sense of those who most cultivated virtue and excellence.

There were mechanisms for balancing out the classes. The king was permitted to promote those within his service and retinue he saw having potential, subject to review by his witan, and notification at the Thing, and thus those of lower classes who showed promise had the opportunity to rise to that level appropriate to them. Likewise, nobility often fostered their children with members of the farming class, so that their own children might gain a taste of and empathy for the realities of the people they would eventually serve and protect, and the foster family would have the honor of close contact with a more educated family, and the inspiration and possible patronage that might provide.

Now all of this is on the level of ideals, and is good so far as that goes, but as we all know, reality too often fails to live up to ideals, and thus there must be checks and balances, and quite practical and even somewhat cynical mechanisms to restrain the abuse of power and trust that leads, however gradually, however small at each step, towards tyranny. Without such pragmatics and such checks, ideals become ideology and justification for realities which consistently and even cynically fail -- rather than just incidentally fail, which we expect in the course of an imperfect life -- to live up to, or at times, even approach, the higher ideals. Indeed, a great deal of post-Roman Europe might be considered an object lesson in the abuses of nobility and aristocracy in the decay of the older traditional checks and balances.

The first place to look for this is in the highest position of prestige and trust, the king ; for what is held to be the true concept of the highest will necessarily condition what lies below. For a model of the king, we must look to Odin, who in particular watched over kings especially and scrutinized their conduct. Odin is the chieftain of Asgard, and in an analogous position to a king. He is never explicitly called a king in genuine heathen lore, but Snorri does once call him a king, suggesting that to his eyes, closer to the source material than ourselves (although still separated by over two hundred years), the comparison seemed a natural one, given his place in Asgard. It is therefore critical that we understand the conception of his position there. Fortunately, we have a name or perhaps even direct title in the heiti Jafnhar, which may be inflected either as "Equally High", or "High Equity", both of which bear meaningfully upon our investigation. A proper idiomatic translation of "Equally High" is "First Amongst Equals", perhaps the most important qualification of his power. But the myths do not leave the interpretation of this epithet to chance, for they demonstrate it directly in narrative, for Odin is actually deposed at one point in time for what the others considered a violation of the dignity of his office, and he must earn his way back into good standing with worthy deeds. It ought prove an edification of prime significance to our understanding of power that the Teutons felt that even God could be deposed for poor behavior! By the time Snorri receives his material, this story, which certainly would prove subversive to the new Christian concept of divine monarchy, had been set aside and lost, because Snorri doesn't report it, and lacking the context, shows he doesn't understand this epithet of Odin, via the fact that he has to invent the stilted explanation that Odin had created a three-tiered illusion of himself. But Odin, while tremendously wise, and their leader, was still subject to collective review in council by the other Gods, his peers amongst whom he was simply the first. If such checks on power are expected of the divine, how much more so in the human realm!

Moreover, the other inflection of the term points to a similar rigor of expected conduct and standards. Odin was expected to demonstrate as a leader the noble value of High Equity, of just decisions that accorded to each their due, with impartiality and understanding of the particulars of the circumstances, so that differentials might receive their appropriately equal, or more properly, equitable treatment. A leader's office was a dignity and a trust granted by the council in whole, and who may grant and delegate may also withdraw and impeach, through due process.

Saxo gives examples of the promotion, through exceptional service to their country, of those of lower orders. Moreover, all were subject to law, and while the nobility might have more resources to pay the fines for convicted crimes, if the resources of their families did not suffice, they too, in theory, could be made Thralls.

The concern for equity was quite conscious and institutionalized. The rotating allotments of fertile land were directly intended to foster unity and discourage faction, particularly class division between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, through which the tribe could lose its solidarity and therefore strength. Whatever differentials in personal wealth, everyone shared a similar lot of farmland, and shared the same common resources.

Having the populace attend the courts and congresses fully armed was another check upon abuse of power, and a direct intimidation to any leader whose arrogance stepped too far beyond the line. Moreover, stories were well known and kept circulated about kings who had been sacrificed to Odin for stepping out of line too far. The welfare of the folk and the land had to be foremost in a leader's mind, and demonstrated, on the whole, in his actions. The tales of Robin Hood, which accord with the lore of King Frodi, were constant popular reminders of how unjust nobility could become under the wrong circumstances, and how that might be fought, if necessary, and all other recourses and remedies had failed, insurgently.

Thus ideals and the ability to call leaders out when they consistently failed to duties of trust to such ideals, acted as balances to allow the different levels of advancement in society to work, on the whole, harmoniously, and thus in frith, and therefore strong as a whole.

all translations copyright 2011 by Siegfried Goodfellow

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Four Opponents

A study of fraud, greed, brutality, and stupidity is a good way to begin spirituality. Don't start in the heights. Begin right where you are, in your community.

The Gods have set down some lessons for us. There's four big opponents in front of us : survival and the struggle to thrive, which is necessary, and then three perennial opponents who are not necessary but constant companions to us in this age and dispensation : Loki, Gullveig, and the Giants.

Let us begin with Loki. A study of the hucksters, con-men, and manipulators in a community, who learn the jargon, who twist it to justify the basest of motives, who take advantage of a community's ideals and then with often unnoticed audacity, in the very name of those ideals, is a good way to get wise. And Odin does want us to get wise.

Loki is strong in each of us, because we want to fool ourselves. We don't like to think that we can be taken advantage of, and yet our own need for delusion, and our refusal to look at things square in the face, allows us to be manipulated. And the less we are willing to see the trickster within ourselves, and simply condemn it in others, the more we are tricked by that very trickster, who punishes gullibility whether it comes in the name of innocence or judgemental and oversimplified moralism.

It's deeply disappointing to study fraud and its pervasiveness. This disappointment, and working through all the feelings that go with it, is a deep and beautiful way to nourish the wisdom within us, and is an important part of the spiritual task. To open our eyes and see flaws, and see the failure of hopes and ideals, is an important step in developing the groundedness and savvy that empowers us to further realize those hopes and ideals. Loki will teach us, if we will study him, not only what fools others are (which is often easy to spot), but what fools we ourselves are. This develops an important moral humility to which Odin points in Havamal 22 : Vesall maðr ok illa skapi hlær at hvívetna; hittki hann veit, er hann vita þyrfti, at hann er-a vamma vanr, "A man who ridicules everything is impoverished and ill-charactered ; he knows not that which he most needs to know, that he does not lack blemishes." * Which is one way of saying, "Look in the mirror."

It's not a bad place to begin by cataloguing your own flaws, your lies, your attempts to cheat others and cover it over, your deceit to yourself about your real motives in questionable situations, not to lash yourself, but to learn. To learn whom you have been worshipping in your deeds. And from that awareness, to trace consequences, and make a conscious decision whom you would really like your actions to worship.

And to acknowledge, in a hard life, in a life which is not always easy to survive, fraud and deceit are constant temptations, and often get the best of us when we're not noticing. And just as the Gods were willing to tolerate Loki up to a certain point (but not a step beyond), in reality, a little of this energy, in balance and kept in check, can be a part of the rich texture of life. But one must be very careful, because it is a slippery slope. A little white lie from time to time to gentle someone's feelings or smooth something over may really not be too terrible a sin, but if it becomes a habit, it can become problematical. Loki will pitch for the benefits of fraud and deceit, and sometimes he will be right, but the myths show that he often got himself into more trouble than he ever anticipated in his mischief and humor. He is an example to learn from, not a model to imitate. We are all still struggling with this, and frankly, our learning curve, collectively speaking, is pretty poor. Like Loki, we may be able to (up to a point) get ourselves out of the messes into which our slippery behavior has cast us, but we may in the meantime cause a great deal of collateral damage, and in a wyrd universe, all consequences, however delayed, have a way of catching up to us. Whether we are damaged in our own persons or in the consequences our beloved descendants will have to suffer is never certain, but that a "gift calls for a gift" is the primal law, and here we might remember the ambivalence of this word, particularly in German, where gift can mean not only something of worth and generosity, but also poison. Gift for gift, poison for poison, we might say.

In a world of limitations, where poverty is all too often a bone-breaking and spirit-crushing reality, where there often seems all too little of what we want, and too many people competing for it, greed is also a constant temptation in human life. We all have needs and we all have desires, and the temptation to put "me first" ahead of every other consideration and value in life, to the neglect of all else, and out of all proportion, however extreme that sounds when explicitly stated, is often very strong. We want what we want and we want what we want, and you be damned if you stand in the way. Listen close, America, you too are being called out. We have a craving, you've got it, or you stand in our way, and we'll cheat you, we'll starve you, we'll bomb you to get it. Because "that's how life is". The Mother of Wolves whispers in our ears, "It's a dog eat dog world". Traumatic fear of scarcity fuels and powers Gullveig's luring words. And let's be clear : it's not that a greedy impulse from time to time is going to condemn you. We're all human. We can be adults and understand these temptations, but also understand that from the Gods' perspective that is no excuse for laxness in our alertness and responsibility to do the work of personal, kindred, and collective growth. And we will catch ourselves from time to time having got caught up in it, and that can be ok, so long as we do catch ourselves, and so long as we are willing to take the requisite responsibility for our deeds. But greed has become so much a religion in America, developed as an ideology of mercantilist and increasingly corporatist capitalism, that the scolding that ought accompany disproportionate greed has receded to dangerously low levels. Scolding is a great tradition in heathenism. You can hear the norn Skuld's name in it. She is not called a valkyrie for nothing, because she can be a fierce warrior in calling out behavior against the loom of that which should happen, as it has been woven as potential into the weave. And if we, continuously and consistently, beyond the pale of ordinary human foibles, refuse to live up to that potential, we may by all rights be scolded, and ought to be. (Again, with the condition of moral humility expressed in Havamal 22.) The negative consequences of greed are all about us. Its disproportionate excess has inspired equally excessive antidotes, instead of seeking that healthy place in between where the intelligent mean acts as powerful fertilizer for the soil of our souls. Because of imbalanced and unaddressed greed, our relationship to money is extremely poor. We haven't even yet digested the first rune in the set!

The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem guides us in the healthy relationship to Fehu, money.
Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum; sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan. "Money is comfort for every man ; though each man should distribute it abundantly if he desires to obtain a share of honor in the judgement of his lord." Money is meant to be a comfort, and one gains honor through appropriate generosity. It is attention to appropriate generosity and the spirit of magnanimousity that keeps money within appropriate limits. But the Icelandic and Norse Rune Poems warn us against the temptation to abuse. Fé er frænda róg ... ok grafseiðs gata, the Icelandic Rune Poem warns : "Money is strife to kinsmen ... and the road to the sorcery of the grave." The Norse Rune Poem cautions : føðesk ulfr í skóge, "The wolf is raised in the woods." There's no mistaking these direct allusions to Gullveig's causing strife to the kin of Aesir and Vanir, and her raising of wolves in the Ironwoods. Greed is a real danger in life, and combined with fraud, can create monsters that threaten the balance of the world. Endeavour to keep greed in check, not only in your life, but in those around you. Call out your culture in no uncertain terms when it begins breeding wolves.

Our third perennial set of opponents are the Giants. Time and again, we see the stupid people -- however myopically clever they are -- running things, and using brute force and the monopoly on violence by the State (or otherwise) to enforce their stupidity and impose it on others. Our ancestors recognized this combination of idiocy and force that often combine with excess and disproportion. They gave this spiritual power for ill the name jotnar, and visualized them as big, dumb giants with raging appetites and tempers, and identified them as the enemy of the divine force in us which impels us to grow more intelligent and seek harmony with nature. Yet time and again, we often refuse to learn our lessons, ignore the teachings of the ancestors, accept the propaganda thrown our way, and join ourselves, either in complicity or with enthusiasm, to jotnar forces.

If we do this in heathenism, we reduce heathenism to a cargo-cult, abusing symbols to render them inert, giving lip-service to the Gods while continuing with enthusiasm our stupidities, and systematically ignoring the connections (or disconnect) between our proclamations of value and our actual actions, between word and deed. We seldom ask what it means to proclaim the worth of the intelligence and spirit of the earth (Jord), of the oceans (Njord), of organic farming (Frey), of wisdom itself (Odin), or the integrity of love (Freya), and instead go by rote, a rote now given greater sanction by our false, symbol-abused gist of sanctity.

And while it's important to call out those people and institutions which are larger than us and acting even more like giants than ourselves, still we must ask ourselves to what degree we maintain our own ignorance and stubborn prejudice, acting with brute force to stuff our mouths (and groins and whatever else), while ravaging others around us, including the smaller creatures for whom we truly are giants.

Fortunately, the Gods do not leave us without tools against these opponents, for they have given us the power of wíg, of battle and struggle against pernicious tendencies, both internal and external ; but even more important than this, in our striving for survival and thrival, they have given us the power and potential of frith, the choice to harmonize with others in a spirit of mutual aid in order to get what we want in the world. As the title of a wonderful book of black and white woodblock art says, You Don't Have To Fuck Over Other People To Survive. Heathenism extends this worthy anthropocentric spirit to the entire world.

There is a kind of bottom-line test of heathenism (or any symbolic system for relating to spirit in the world, for that matter), and that is : is it enhancing our learning curve relative to living in harmony with the world? Because that eco-evolutionary learning curve really is the bottom line. Odin wants us to sharpen our wits and get on top of this dilemma. Do we answer it? Do we dare to call upon Him if we refuse? I like religion with hard questions and clear implications that in turn derive difficult challenges, and demands that knock us off our complacency and impel us to grow. Odin's message boiled down might be : "Look around, put your thinking caps on, and stop dorking around." Wisdom is not just knowing something. It's doing something about it. "We are our deeds"? We're an activist religion, like it or not. Are you an activist?

* A more literal translation, keeping the word order, would be "An impoverished man and ill-shaped laughs at everything ; he knows not that which he needs to know, that he is not lacking blemish." I have chosen the above translation for the emphasis I read in the original.

All translations copyright 2011 by Siegfried Goodfellow

The Good, Hard Work of Heathenism

I feel so grateful to heathenism, for helping me to grasp a holistic spirituality that does not divide me from my wholeness but keeps me grounded in common sense and the earth. It has helped me to realize that single variables in life, no matter how wonderful, do not make paradise simply by maximizing them to the neglect of everything else. Life is about fibre and texture, which requires many threads in the weave. It has helped me to see that I need my connection to the earth as much as I need my connection to the sky. It has helped me to affirm the struggle in life and that it is ok, even meaningful, that life is often a struggle, and, that I am in struggle rather than perfection, that I experience conflict and passion as often as I inhabit serenity and love, is not a mark against my spirituality, but rather a sign that life is complex and rich and full of knotted goodness. And at times it's bad ; not good at all. In those times we fight to make it better, and we often suffer in the fight. Too much fight and we can lose our humanity and love, and this is important to hold onto, but what heathenism teaches is that sometimes too little fight can lose us the same. There's the pragmatism of the farmer and the ecstasy of the poet, and the love of life of both. There's a place for your curmudgeon and a place for your idealist, a place for your shrewdness, and a place for your highest nobility. Praise be the Gods! They are demanding, and they are compassionate. They are wise, and they are understanding. And they desire such rich, rich goodness for each of us that they ask us to work so we can harvest the best life has to offer us. It's hard work ; it's good work ; praise be the Gods!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Voluspa 5 & 6, An Expansive Meditation Upon

Moon and sun were lost and homeless and impoverished, stripped of their dignity, deprived of royal routes of luminescence, banished to barren voids, and curfewed to fiery wastelands. They languished, undistinguished, their inborn powers unable to come to full talent, giving off from afar a mere tithe of their brilliance and fruitage, for they were quarantined from their rightful roads and azul-crystalline hall above. Around and about the glowing fruits of fire had no constellation ; the void spun dizzy ; seasons were unclear and confused : the stellar steads as yet guided the destinies of none.

Then the Gods met in moot and laid out the seasons, ordaining days and festivals, giving character to the thirteen moons, and naming markers on the mountains to mark out the day's quarters. With their gifts of names for the days came soul, and soul's duty to do and work its assigned toil and special glory. A regal procession was each day ordained, for Sol to ride across the wind's hall in a golden cart housing a reflective copper disc, and pulled by two white braided-maned Clydesdales, flanked and followed and reared by light-elves, and assigned the special protection of the Alcis. A strong, thick-maned horse able to withstand the rigors of the cold, sunless evenings was given to Night, Grandmother of the Gods, to spread her shade and solace that all might rest and rejuvenate through dream. Thus, the world sleeps under her watch, and sleep is safe more often than not, by general decree as overseen by her high and nightly ride. Giving hearty ahoy from afar, Moon sails a crescent ship of silver-gilded ivory through the high tides of wind.

Voluspa 4, An Expansive Meditation Upon

Old Earth Mother, dressed in Ceres' clothes, rising up from the depths in glory.

The raven flies across the whole earth ; from Huginn's eyes we see the primeval stones of the planet panning, scrolling before our vision, the mountains in the background, the sun behind them, touching, tending, awakening soil from the rocks, the first germinating seeds of grass slowly seething from the rocks, in landscape after landscape, round the world wide.

And from afar, at the center of things, Nerthus, arms raised high, calling and awakening flora and fauna from their hiding places, niches, and wombs. Come out, come out; come out from your caves ; come out larvae, come out, hatchlings ; emerge forth from thine several uteri into the fullness of the sun! And thus the very first Spring day of the world : the soil was rich, the sea was salty, the ground was green with herbs.

She ascends on a wide, rocky platform wet with loam from the deep. Regal as an empress, wise and handsome matron, bearing cornucopia and baskets of gathered harvest, she blesses the soil and bestows hale upon its grains, so it is replete with growing power. Birds fly about and around her, beasts come to be blessed, the woodlands grow around and about her like a wreath woven vine and fleurs into hair ; the Great Gods build a mighty hedge about her garden, to keep her creatures from maraud and ravage. Her first children, the eldar alfar, they place around this hedgy edge, about the rim of the wild to bow and arrow ward off monsters from the icy tundras and darkened deep. Well hedged, She is Mother of All, Fructifier, first bless-bestower of zoe upon the newly shaped stuff fresh from the ovens and nooked caverns of the slowly forming world.

Beautiful, wise, wry, and savvy beyond reckon, the awed Gods shaped whatever they beheld about her to suit her, and tapping each with her distaff-scepter, the idols about came to life. She is royalty above royalty, humble beyond humility, forward seeing beyond the far seeing sun.

Disir who report to her she sent out amongst the nine times nine nations and tongues to watch the lands and regions, each beneath them having flocks of fair handmaidens who guard and green the every nook and cranny of the land, shining, shimmering gentry of the fields and meadows and mountains. All call her queen and give her vow and heed.