Thursday, August 18, 2011

Heathenism and the New Atheism

The new atheism is sweeping the planet, powerful, like a broom, cleaning out the old dust. Like every new thing it has spark and life and innovations to share, and yet like many new things, it is not yet fully mature, and what it experiences as a healthy confidence (certainly healthy in the face of tyrannical religions) may overspill into an arrogance which tramples the marvelous. Minds sharpened I admire ; hearts dulled I do not.

Atheism encourages an intellectual approach to the world, which is partial, and tends to exclude the mystical. The poetic expressions of my ancestors' worship may be metaphros, but they are metaphors for real,divine forces in the world that call out for authentic connection and whole-hearted devotion, without which one does not show the commitment necessary to be fully alive. The conventions by which one has faith in love, in strength, in wisdom, in mother earth, may be arbitrary and differ from culture to culture, but that faith itself makes a difference in a life. The automatic exclusion of that fullhearted poetic experience of divinity, for reasons of intellect alone, can become a narrow intellectual supremacy, robbing one of intuitive powers nad existential engagement with the truly mystical aspects of this wondrous, uncanny reality in which we find ourselves.

This is not to disclude the intellect and its grandeur within the scheme of wholeness, but as a separated function that attacks the other functions with an eye to annihilate them, it is unbalanced. Unless we engage with our heart, we become heartless. Unless we approach the future with the history of the ancestors, we become rootless. A simplistic eye ridicules ; a deeper eye seeks to understand. It is easy at times to laugh at the colorful forms of our ancestors, to treat mythology as "nothing but" myths, and simply enjoy the stories as stories. It's fine, of course, to treat the stories as stories, but if that is the only dimension one can appreciate about them, one is losing out on multidimensional treasures the stories can open out.

To open one's heart to the Gods, and give oneself over fully to the poetry of the Holy Powers, is a transformative discipline. It requires discipline. It's not as easy as refusing to believe in anything. Refusal to be mindlessly indoctrinated is wise ; refusal to fall in love (be-lief) is foolish. Heathenism teaches there is so much to fall in love with, and that love can change your life. If you remain solely on the intellectual side of life, and miss out on the transformationally devotional, you may remain secure in your intellectual fortress, but you will lose out on some incredible experiences in life. The Gods are real. The forms through which we approach them may be conventional (although even here, those conventions are so poetic and delightful they themselves are beloved), but the Gods themselves are real. Don't believe me? Open yourself to falling in love, take the plunge into open-hearted devotion, and experience will prove the point.

Atheism is a sharp tool to trim the edges of religion from grime and cobwebs, a carving tool that shapes up as it exposes abuses. It can help liberate people from models taken too literally and not poetically which feel pathological. But in all things, it is important to take the good and leave the bad, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Odr, Anthropologist

"If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear."
- Gene Roddenberry

Some anthropology is shamanic, because it requires a leap of faith beyond the forbidden of one's culture, beyond the dogmas that have taboo written around their edges, in order to fully enter into and understand another culture. Cultures that are like us require less effort, and such study may receive modest applause by those who are not too xenophobic, but to immerse oneself in cultures who have undertaken projects whose goals and values are distinctly different than our own is a social risk that requires strength and flight of spirit. Beyond the edge of our own culture and its values lies a thick hedge of prejudice and stereotype, unable to appreciate the virtues of the dangerous other, and more than willing to catalogue its vices.

Anthropology is the effort to understand the universal in humankind through the exploration and investigation of the diverse and particular cultures of the world, culture by culture, slowly, carefully, and cautiously building our notions of universality through faithful attention to the textures of the particular. In order to venture this, the very lenses which our native culture lends us to view the world must be doffed, and temporary blindness and disorientation risked, to try on the new lenses of the exotic culture, and come to know it from within.

This is the province of Odr, the great traveler of Norse tradition, who had such a hunger to know all of mankind from the inside out, that he journeyed to every known people and explored all their wonders and peculiarities. As such, Odr may be called the quintessential viking, who dares the oceans and cold expanses of the world in order to satisfy his insatiable curiosity, a curiosity of such passion, and such intensity, and such integrity of iron innocence, that it won the heart of the Goddess of Love despite the implication that he would therefore often be away on long journeys, for Freya had faith that their love would transcend such gaps. If we can discover that passion for humanity within ourselves, that unstoppable desire to explore the furthest pockets of humankind's ways and means and festivals, we may also be able to discover that faith in love which Freya fosters.

As the mythological figure who embodies odr, the furious, seething mind of poetry, the soul in its intellectual and emotional inflagration and illumination, his travel is both physical and spiritual, and he inspires both literal travel across the physique of the world, and spiritual penetration through shamanic flight. Both are integral aspects of Odr's journeys.

Odr goes behind the Iron Curtains of the mind, crossing over the line into the forbidden zones, and gets to know the personhood of those who live there, however rough, however uncouth, and flocks to their courts, their places of flowering, to imbibe and share what poetry may be had there. He, of course, goes, in no small part, to share the glories of his love, and proclaim her queenhood throughout the nine worlds, seeking through poetic diplomacy and impassioned song to inspire and sow the native heart with longing for that love he firmly holds.

If we go out, with love in our hearts, and the faith that love can bridge all gaps, and immerse ourselves in the feasts and elegies of other people, we can discover our full humanity, which is never found, despite the importance of the tribe, entirely at home. The world stands broad and bright as an enticement beyond the parochial, and all that is required to achieve it is the affirmation of our adventuresome spirit, and a heart that never loses its fidelity to love. In this way we will discover and affirm what Odr already knows and is in the very matrix of his mythological genetics : that our own humanity transcends any race, any clan, any tribe, and even any nation, and beyond that, interpenetrates even into those beings who are not themselves human. As central as clan and tribe are to us, we are concentric beings, who in order to affirm our full selves, must ripple out to the farthest edges of being and back again. That is the promise of the Viking ; that is the embodiment of Odr, who, through a careful investigation of Skirnismal and his genealogy in Hyndluljod, shows himself to be a soul who intermixes human, elfish, dwarvish, giant, and divine lineage of diverse clans. That sublime miscegenation is our destiny and our future, and we have everything to gain through it.

Those who go beyond the edge will always be judged as going off the deep end by the parochial, but it is in the deep end, over the ocean itself, that we find who we truly are. And Odr teaches, through his spur to anthropology, that we only find who we are through the Other.

Let us praise the fine husband of Freya, whom prophets declared the Gods were willing to accept into their own courtyards and embroider with divine honors! Let us praise the image of soul that has attained its full humanity through wide exploration of its diversity! Hail Odr, Frey's friend, Wide-Traveler of the Gods!

On Sacrifice

Sacrifice is the practice of developing the habit of giving without expectation of immediate reward, and cultivating faith in the larger generalized reciprocity of the universe. It requires a leap beyond our fear of scarcity, our miserliness in the face of uncertain yields, in order to let go of a little of what we find precious so that it may be shared. Sacrifice cultivates the discipline of sharing. It does not require that we give up everything, but it does require that we give.

Some people mistake sacrifice as commerce with the Gods, a purchasing of their favors, a kind of bribery of the divine. Such philistine niggardliness exposes how far we are from the full generosity the Gods encourage and the poets admire. Instead, the more we are willing to risk generosity, the richer a life we will discover in the passion of our being. Because we are surrounded by miserliness, we must give, as an example, and as a discipline to our own stinginess, but because we are surrounded by miserliness, we are not required to give up unto those who would exploit us. We are not asked to exhaust ourselves, but yield the extra fruits of our fertility, the natural interest of our full development.

As soon as Gullveig had sown the human soil with the thorny seeds of greed, urging the few to enrich themselves at the expense of the many, and inspiring the many to therefore be sparing with their purse for fear of robbery, a distortion in the complete picture of fruition the Gods envisioned for humanity occurred. This distortion required physicians of the soul, and to this end, Heimdall was sent to establish the priesthood, which developed religion as a set of disciplines meant to counter the distortions and cultivate the fruits. Properly understood, religion, as the endowment of Heimdall through the legendary patriarchs, is the weeding and seeding of the human soul that allows, over time, for the Gods' original plan to begin to triumph. One of those tools of discipline is sacrifice, whereby sharing is encouraged.

Heimdall developed the productive forces of humanity that had lain dormant beneath the fear of scarcity and the narrow outlook that blinds the soul to the possibilities of evolution by cultivating horticulture, husbandry, and industry in the form of diverse craftsmanship. By demonstrating new possibilities of production, the anxiety over scarcity that motivates selfish greed could be challenged. Thus, one of religion's mandates is that we develop our powers to their fullness, for without full capacity, there can be no full generosity.

Heimdall cultivated the vanguard of humanity, its avante-guard front-line in the evolutionary advance, and took these bold pioneers into the fields of responsibility and generosity, and made them trustees of the commonwealth of the tribe, who would ensure fair and equitable redistribution of the wealth yielded by sacrifice in common feasts and celebrations, which would feed material hungers and satisfy spiritual strivings in the encouragement and affirmation of bolder deeds. These feasts of responsibility and festschriften of endowment became the central religious rites of the folk, whereby the festive and the aspirational, the noble and the base, the material and the spiritual, the individual and the collective, were all fused into a dialectic unity of experience. These feasts were the universities and training grounds for a higher stage of evolution, that encouraged in babysteps the progress towards greater generosity, communal empowerment, and collective development of individual powers.

Sacrifice, to the fullest extent of that generosity which will not impoverish us, is the engine that drives and supplies the potluck of the communal feast. Within the context of this feast, sacrifice allows an equalization of disparities in fertility and development of craft, because each gives as they are able, and each receives, in turn, as they need. All contribute what they can, but those who have more, give more. The host of the feast collects this voluntary but customary (and therefore traditionally expected and pressured) tribute, and ensures the felicity of the guests.

The sacrifice goes beyond a potluck in the libations, which, from an atheist standpoint represent pure waste of brewers' labor and drinkers' sup, to spill out onto the ground, yet this fraction of surplus represents a defiant act of faith against apparent scarcity, in order to boast a modest generosity towards the world itself, and the other wights who inhabit it with us. In this act, we go beyond generosity towards our own human community, and extend ourselves towards the other broods of Mother Earth, from the fairy folk of the elves and shimmering land wights, whom the normal eye cannot even see, to the diverse creatures, flora and fauna, all of whom with us are her children. Since the brag occurs within this context, we can see that our ancestors dared to assert the development of the individual within the larger expanses of human and even ecological community. In such ways, the narrow selfishness sometimes necessary to survive, but which overexaggerated limits our horizons, can be transcended, and eventually outgrown.

Through the example of these communal feasts and open-hearted giving, enacted season after season, slowly, over time, we become more saturated in the spirit of the Gods and less choked by the thorny tares of Gullveig. In other words, through practice, the spirit of the Gods is enabled to surpass rhetoric and declamation, and infuse our actions and relationships. Sacrifice is thus defying the Gullveig within to please the Gods within and without.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spell Fulfilled in Full Surprise

The twilight yearned for peaches ;
The evening yielded golden apples.
The twilight craved berries ;
The evening yielded mangos melted in mouths.
The twilight promised sherbet ;
The evening disappointed, and yielded roses, and cream, and scents of kisses.
Let us praise evening's fulfilling disappointments,
night's surprises of desire.

Our Beloved within the beloved

Grant us our loves, O Freya,
Grant us our loves.
Grant that our loves shall prosper,
that our hearts will warm
and eyes be mirrors to the sun
that in brightness of the beloved we may shine,
and believe in that Art
whose magic, O Blessed Maiden of Flaxen Witches,
you mentor, Rose's Mistress,
She who knows the pain and yearning fire
of longing, longing for the beloved.
May all our hearts be healed
and know in peaceful gratitude your grace.
Grant us our loves may prosper,
Ophelia-Feline-Mistress Found Herself,
dried seed hidden in the heart of despair,
waiting on longing tears to sprout roses,
Our Beloved within the beloved, O Freya!


All-Father, I feel you stirring the flock of the stagnant!

Stir, O Master of Winds : let a fresh breeze blow!

How cower the timid in a storm ; how fresh the fresh blast

Of gust in the blow of men that fires the inspiration!

Lift the too-long-staid to whirl within the wild mob,

And find upon their feet the fleeting wind of wisdom!

Errors made within the midst of rising up

May sure be cured within the rile of mobilization!

Standing still is not a life ; the crowd invokes a mobile tribe

That mocks the stolid giants, truer looters,

From whom stealing is but recompense.

Wod-Wielder, ward this upgust mob

To find its inner wisdom, sort the grain from chaff,

Set fire to the giants’ burgs, and not their fellow villagers!

Someday, like a sprouting grain, the gain

Of free associations, guilds again, shall Frodi-welcome

Back, and chase the giant thieves away! For now,

Let Robin Hood be life to stir

The wod you wield to lift the weight of dead stagnation!

Whenever I see a riot, something alive stirs inside me. My ancient tribe was a riled kind, who found their breath not in still air, but in wild gust, and pledged storm against the stagnant. It is all too philistine to knee-jerk shake one's head and voice one's disapproval. One might even say cowardly, for so conformist ; timid, for refusing to stand out ; hypocritical, for a heathen, for our ancestors were raiders, with barbarian hearts, that seldom ceased to riot against the binding nets of towns, the web of graveyards and deathly stillness. One need not give all one's approval : yet let awaken some viking spirit that finds its life in living defiance!

And will one nod one’s head at talking heads who speak for Gullveig? Will one ape the voice of banks, and shake one’s finger, filthed within the ink that stains the fiat bills? Or will one see a fist upraised, a rising stalk of grain, that only lacks for guildship to become a chasing-out of giants? Someday such as these may sense their freemen solidarity, and with newfound wisdom fight back against the bankers’ minions and their pseudo-noble hosts! The Normans still stand on Saxon soil, but Robin claims all who come to the forest. May the fires light the way to freedom!