Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Blameless Life-Time: Wisdom from Beowulf

Sæll og blessaður, Bjarnharðr!

Before I launch into the next phase of our little talks together here- a deep and meticulous study of Voluspa and Heathen Cosmology- I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of the most treasured and precious pieces of history that have come down to us from the ancestral past- that of the majestic work called "Beowulf". Most high school students have to read it or learn about it on some level- or at least, they did when I was in high school- but nearly everyone's heard of it now thanks to the popularity of movies that have been made showcasing various versions of this great work.

You and I and Thorgrimmr have already seen the finest film adaption of Beowulf ever done: "Beowulf and Grendel" starring Gerard Butler. The fact that it was filmed in Iceland, with the storytellers and director deciding to set it in Pagan times (and showcasing a Blot and a Symbel, among other things) was excellent.

For those former Dungeons and Dragons fans, the Ray Winston version (with a delicious computerized Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother) was good, mostly eye-candy, but I didn't prefer it to the grittier, earthier version with Butler. I remember the good times we had watching these things. Up here in the rafters of the world, with our long, cold days and pitch dark nights, I think about those good times often.

Even though the version of Beowulf we have in written form was written down in Christian times, it has been pointed out in dozens of places how the pre-Christian values and beliefs of the original tellers of the tale come out easily and clearly. And we have much to learn from it. Chiefly, I think, we can all learn about living in a noble way, following an ancestral example that never loses its power to make us good men and women, to make us brave and worthwhile examples of what humanity is capable of.

You Get A Life-Time

Some Heathens I've met find it hard to maintain their "Heathen religiosity" from day to day because they lack simple, straightforward things like reminders of what it means to be noble, simple daily rites which orient them towards the chief messages of our faith, and a focus on what makes a Heathen life so powerful and desirable. I think about this a good bit, and I've shared with you, some essays back, a good and simple "righting" ritual that you can do each day, and which I hope you have continued to do regularly. But we can take this further, to the next level as it were.

When I find myself wanting to be reminded of why we do what we do, and believe what we believe, I think about a "human life-time" and think about what that really means. Most people, it seems, consider themselves to be waiting around to die; time (in the common view) is subtracting minutes and days from us, until we inevitably perish from this earth- and in the meantime, we make ourselves successful or comfortable however we can. This idea separates the concepts of "life" and "time". There is, in this way of seeing, a life, and time is "outside" it, working upon it, diminishing it.

But truly, a "Life-time" is a measure of time that is also a life. You really can't separate the two- this time that is wearing away from me and you and all of us- it IS our lives. Your life-time is a power given to you, not an abstraction born from knowledge of passing time. It is a thing, a force. What will you do with your life-time? This is your life force spreading out, interacting and communicating with so many other powers to which it is solidly connected in the web of Wyrd- and it was woven with a destiny. The Norns scored on wood the Runes of your life-time. What do those Runes say?

We can find out together, and you can find out in the company of others, but you alone must also find out. Spreading out your vital life-force, that "life-time" power, you can change this world... or should I say, the world will change along with you. That is how Wyrd's weave works.

My life-time means many things to me, but I didn't really begin to live perfectly like a Heathen until I grasped that my life-time is my precious gift from the Gods and Fate. I'm not sitting around, passively waiting for death, I'm expressing my life-time, every minute, every day. In one sense, you can describe the observation of your days as "waiting" for death, but in my way of seeing, I don't do much waiting for death. I do a lot of "doing" before it gets here.

Death has little to do with with a true life, in the final analysis; death is just a word, a name we give to the point in the perceptual sequence of events when my life-time no longer directly involves the living world above the ground, but goes on being woven off in deeper reaches of Wyrd's tapestry.

In the meantime, I have a life-time to live. So do you. Think about this carefully again- "time" isn't against you, or stealing from you. Your life-time is a power you are wielding, a power that is you, too- a power you are wielding in this world towards destiny. Your life-time is you happening.

Buddhists have their mindfulness, Christians and Muslims have their faith, and we have our destinies- our lifetimes and our inherited ancestral powers and dooms. By powers and dooms, I mean the assets we have inherited from our ancestors; their wisdom, their bravery, their beliefs, and our own urge to live well and with joy and peace (the "powers") and our fateful ends, the constraints laid upon us by Orlog or the Fateful unfolding of the world (the "dooms").

These aren't bad things to have, friend. We're rich and we are blessed- even our deaths and the end of all things at the collapse of the Nine Worlds is a blessing. The story is great and the story has a beginning and an end, before its new beginning. It's beginning is great. It's ending is great. The new beginning is great. It's all very fatefully enduring and exciting. The most important thing, I think, for any Heathen to remember is that the essence of our way isn't found first and foremost in rituals of religion or books of theology, but in how we live our lives. Your whole life-time, and the noble way you live it, is the essence of Heathenry.

While the story is being told, we have many great gifts to help us live well, to use those life-times in the best way we can. Beowulf, as a literary work and a part of the fund of Ancestral Wisdom, never fails to show me good ways to live and think about the world. I wanted to share some of those with you, today. I have the wonderful illustrated edition of Beowulf, with translation by Seamus Heaney- the best I've ever read.

The Blood Flood and Hrothgar's Speech

We haven't yet gotten to the detailed discussion on Voluspa, but from your own readings by now, you probably know that Odin the Allfather was believed by our ancestors to have shaped the world from the body of the first great giant, Ymir. This act of creation is tinged with an act of violence; Ymir had to be killed first, and his blood created a great flood that drowned nearly all of the giant-kind that he had spawned from his mighty bulk. This myth of the "blood flood" is our ancestor's reflex of the common "great flood" myth that you get in many Indo-European sources, and otherwise.

All acts of creation are, in a sense, acts of violence, of force- force for changing what is there into something new, in accordance with your own creative vision. Even the organic act of creation manifested by women- the shaping and birthing of children- is not without a bloody cost in pain, trauma, and danger.

From the bloody tides of that first flood, a new order arose. The depth of these metaphors is not something we need to go into now; it is enough to hear it so that you know that the "God" of Beowulf- the one who is credited with drowning the giants who are mentioned in the story- is Odin. The christian recollection of the flood in this case was almost certainly laid over the original Heathen sacred tale of the blood flood.

In the transition from Heathendom to Christendom, Odin (as you will see) and Tyr end up being remembered the most in the new names, titles, and powers that are ascribed to the new conception of "God" that would arise. Odin, for his creation-powers, destruction of giants, and the like; Tyr, for his power guarding justice and right. You can 'see' the older divinities coming through in the new beliefs.

In Beowulf, lines 1687-1708, Hrothgar gazes at a relic from old times- a sword from the age of the Giants which was before a great flood that killed them, which was being given to him as a gift- and the narrative mentions the story of the giants. Hrothgar speaks his own honor and qualifications as a man, before he enumerates Beowulf's positive qualities as a hero, to thank him for this mighty gift.

Hrothgar spoke; he examined the hilt,
that relic of old times. It was engraved all over
and showed how war first came into the world
and the flood destroyed the tribe of giants.
They suffered a terrible severance from the Lord;
the Almighty made the waters rise,
drowned them in the deluge for retribution.
In pure gold inlay on the sword-guards
there were Rune-markings correctly incised,
stating and recording for whom the sword
had first been made and ornamented.
with its scrollworked hilt. Then everyone hushed
as the son of Halfdane spoke this wisdom.
"A protector of his people, pledged to uphold
truth and justice and to respect tradition,
is entitled to affirm that this man
was born to distinction. Beowulf, my friend,
your fame has gone far and wide,
you are known everywhere. In all things you are even-tempered,
prudent and resolute. So I stand firm by the promise of friendship
we exchanged before. Forever you will be
your people's mainstay and your own warriors'
helping hand."

The entire story of Beowulf is a focus on the duty of a man, a hero, coming to the aid of his kin, and those he has oath-bonds and bonds of affection with. He aids them in their darkest hour; his glory, in my opinion, is greatest because his song of honor, told down the ages, does not begin with Beowulf seeking some empty quest for personal glory, but answering a call to help kin and friends. Certainly there is an element of glory involved, but the duty he responds to is one demanded of bonds between people.

People sometimes wonder at this entire "glory seeking" ethic. In the Christian world, it came to be seen as vanity and ego to seek personal glory in this world. The Christian ethic is very much against the ancestral heroic way, and always has been. I myself can't see the harm in telling young men and women to seek glory in this world, to seek to be remembered for doing great things in the name of their people, their Gods, and their own personal power. This would, in my way of thinking, motivate our people to great deeds. And we know that the Allfather promises lasting memory for those who do truly great things. The more the merrier, I say.

Hrothgar's Goodness

In the verse I gave you above, two things stand out, with respect to ethics of living. Hrothgar describes himself in this way:

"A protector of his people, pledged to uphold
truth and justice and to respect tradition,
is entitled to affirm that this man
was born to distinction...

Hrothgar's praiseworthy qualities, which none in his assembly could or would dispute, were these: he was a protector of his people, a defender or upholder of truth and justice, and a defender of tradition. To be a protector of one's people needs little explanation. You have a family and friends, some of whom are Asatruar, but many who are not. They are all your people.

To be their protector is a great honor and a real duty. Wyrd wove you among them. Protect what is good in them. From the stone age till now, it is a primary duty of every man and every human. The Gods recognize it as virtue and it will increase your power and reputation in this world and the other. And it is just the right thing to do- in line with the right order of human beings and the entire world.

Truth and Justice are the two most common social virtues praised, right before the "American way" in these parts. Forget the "American way" (an oblique reference to capitalism) for a bit; let's talk about Truth and Justice. While I don't think they need much tossing about, it is interesting how much they both emerge in the ancestral literature. What does it mean to uphold the truth?

For me, it can't mean that we have to discover some universal, incontestable "truth" out there, as much as it refers to how we treat others right here, around us. It has to do with how we treat the world around us in our lives. When you know how you feel about something, don't mislead another on your feelings, in a conversation, just to manipulate their feelings (normally in the name of "protecting" them or avoiding their ire). Say what you feel, or simply say nothing; re-direct the conversation.

Those little "white lies" add up quick. We seldom ask ourselves why we say the things we say, but when we focus on truth, we add quality control to our words, which the Allfather suggests should be fewer rather than too many.

Upholding truth goes a step further. The "truth" I'm talking about is the truth of your hall, the truth of your people, the truth of your social setting. This isn't an invitation to high-level philosophical speculation. If you know that people hate one another, you uphold the truth by helping them to stay apart, but not candy-coating the feelings of one side to the other. If you know that someone among your social gathering has harmed another in an unconscionable way, you cannot take part in the deception that covers it up. It is better for all to know what has occurred, especially the parties directly involved and anyone else affected, so that a fair resolution can be created. Truth is never about dividing, ultimately; it is about integrating and resolving.

Local Justice

If you keep the truth "local" you begin to see another dimension of it that has long been hidden, it seems, from our sight. Justice follows the exact same pattern- justice for the ancestors wasn't about some universal standards of right, but what was agreed upon as "right" and "fair" by local assemblies, by the people, by local custom. Hrothgar "upheld justice" by upholding his people's legal traditions, by judging matters that needed judging in accordance with what his people agreed was right and good.

When it comes to justice, friend, you are the local assembly. It begins with you. Search your heart. What things leap out of your heart as "fair"? The "assembly" needs to continue with your nearest and dearest. Talk to them about these things. Our sense of "justice" has become absorbed in a national legal code and a state legal code that tries to apply similar penalties across the board for crimes that may have amazing variance in motivation, impact, and the like. We forget that our legal codes are not universal codes; our current legal systems and doctrines are much larger and expansive than anything the Ancestors ever had, and they hold sway over many more people than the Ancestors ever knew.

And that can be dangerous. You know that in most cases, a person who shoplifts from a store and is caught will be arrested, held at low bail, and convicted for some level of theft or larceny and (the first time) given parole, made to return property or repay the debt, and later placed in prison for several months, and finally several years (if they keep it up). Most people don't think about it past this. But what do you think? Does it feel or seem fair?

You know what prison does to people. You know that anyone convicted of anything has an automatic lifelong negative record following them around, which definitely inhibits them in many ways for the rest of their life- our society has little notion of people redeeming themselves.

The penalty for shoplifting is "just" because it follows our social legal customs. That's all "justice" is- the words of the social jurists and the lawmakers, purporting to bestow equity and righteousness, penalties and decisions (theoretically) in accordance with "rightness"- the right way of things. Do all of our laws reflect RAIDHO, the Mystery of the Right Order, the true "way" of things? Absolutely not! I didn't even need to ask!

It is my belief that the smaller group-society of the Ancestors had a greater chance of evolving local customs of law in accordance with the "rightness" of things.
Don't let someone else's notions of justice drag you away from your heart and your home. Think about it for yourself. Speaking from the records of the ancients, "justice", even locally, seemed to nearly always involve a sense of fairly requiting wrongs with fair recompense. To "fairly requite" means that you don't expect a man who took a sheep from you to have his head sliced off, but you do expect him to repay you the value of what you lost.

The ancestral records reveal communities of people more or less concerned with those who were wronged being compensated, and those who wronged being given either expulsion from a community, or a chance to redeem their wrong through repayment or service.
There is a constant inter-personal exchange element in the ancestral thinking which speaks clearly and needfully to us today.

The ancestors fought long and hard to avoid bloodshed within their societies; despite the "barbaric" reputation which was manufactured for our ancestors by others, they had many amazing social mechanisms in place to avoid killing in response to killing (many preferring to receive compensation for dead family members or kin, instead of taking blood-vengeance) and they certainly used banishment or outlawry far more than simple "death sentences" on people who could no longer be tolerated in a community.

A "wrong" that went against local custom or law was not just a wrong against a victim, but a wrong that affected all parties involved- meaning that some were owed compensation, and others were simultaneously locked into a debt that needed to be discharged in a prescribed manner.

One might say that a whole "sub-system" of new relationships, bonds, and expectations was born when a wrong deed was carried out.
How the victims pressed for their rights, and how wrong-doers discharged their debts, said everything about the virtues of either side. This is relevant today, I think, when we are 'wronged' on any level, either by friends or even strangers.

When you live among your family and friends, you will all evolve your own notions of what "just" treatment of one another is. Uphold what conclusions you all come to, that your heart thinks is fair. Always remember the difference between the true local justice of the heart and kin-bound mind, and the "justice" of the nation and the states. What motivates so many of our laws? What motivates your own thinking on what is just? Our laws are motivated largely by concerns of money, protection for the greedy and powerful, and Judeo-Christian ethics. YOUR laws, your feelings about justice, should be motivated by something else entirely. And these thoughts will shape how you treat others.

Hrothgar's last accolade was that he was "pledged to uphold tradition"- the ancestral traditions (including religion) that were passed down to him. You now have a tradition to uphold, namely the religious ways of Asatru. Kings in the old days were the chief priests of their people; the king is who made sacrifices on behalf of all. The King's goodness and rightness as a person was reflected in the luck of his people as a whole.

You may not be a king over people, but you are a king over your own mind and life. Your goodness and rightness- found in how you protect your family, uphold truth, think carefully about justice, and uphold the troth or faith of the Gods and ancestors- these things will increase your mind and your life, empowering your life and your life-time with an excess of might and motivation for great deeds. It will also carry you to a meeting with death that can come with serenity, and a destiny beyond that will be noble.

Beowulf's Honor

Hrothgar goes on to praise Beowulf, by saying:

"Beowulf, my friend,
your fame has gone far and wide,
you are known everywhere. In all things you are even-tempered,
prudent and resolute. "

"Even tempered, prudent, and resolute." This is a formula for a man or woman of intense power. To be even-tempered means that you are master of your tempers and moods, not the other way around. Even when you feel anger or grief, you can integrate those emotions in your soul in such a way that your own face and behavior and judgment does not become compromised or disturbing to others.

To be prudent means to wisely consider your deeds now and how they will affect the future; to be resolute means that you do not compromise with wicked powers or people, when your own people or virtues are on the chopping block. And Fate weaves many little chopping blocks for us to possibly lose a little more of ourselves relatively often. It takes strong men and women to stand against the temptations, the laziness, the greed, the malicious nature of other people and their attempts to intimidate us.

If you want your lifetime to have real meaning, it needs to be strong, needs to be a fertile ground for vigor, creativity and the capacity to be free. If you want it to be strong, work on being as even-tempered as you can be (steer the boat of emotions between the sharp rocks left or right!) be as prudent as you can be, and stand resolute against those forces and people who care nothing for you or your most sacred beliefs, and your friends and family. If it was praiseworthy in Beowulf's character, it is safe to say it will be praiseworthy in yours.

Beowulf's Declaration at Death

When Beowulf comes to death, he makes this final statement about his life as a king:

"For fifty years I ruled this nation. No king
of any neighboring clan would dare
face me with troops, none had the power
to intimidate me. I took what came,
cared for and stood by the things in my keeping,
never fomented quarrels, never
swore to a lie. All this consoles me,
doomed as I am and sickening for death,
because of my right ways, the Ruler of mankind
need never blame me when the breath leaves my body
for the murder of kinsmen."

Amazing! Here is a creed for life, recited at a man's death, which is most certainly in the "Right way" of things. Because Beowulf was so resolute, neighboring enemies would not face him, knowing he would not back down or be intimidated. He "took what came"- meaning he endured what Fate wove for him- he cared for what was in his keeping, the lands and people and customs entrusted to him. These are all the prime attributes of a Heathen king- along with generosity, of course. But it comes down to standing up for you and yours, being resolute and brave, and enduring what hardships come your way.

Beowulf was also a ruler who protect frith and peace- he, in his words, never helped stir up quarrels nor helped, through manipulation, to keep quarrels going; and he never swore to lies. Again we come back to the importance of the truth and the importance of peace. Last and most importantly, he never murdered kinsmen. I don't have to tell you how awful the blood of your own loved ones being spilled is; how exponentially more awful to know that you did it yourself, or colluding in the deed! This would be one of the ultimate crimes against the Right Way of things.

And in his last hours, these truths about himself- these simple truths- this way of life that put him within the "right way" of life, console him. Like they consoled him, they can and will console men like you and me if we make the effort to express these things with our life-times.

The "Ruler of Mankind"- Odin or Veratyr, the "God of Men and All Beings" from our lore, will face all of us when we die. We will see him, and he will pronounce a doom on each dead. What you can be sure of is that a man or woman who shows the qualities attributed to Beowulf and Hrothgar will not be blamed by the Allfather. In death, there will be no evil for them.

There is no room to worry; even the best Christians have to wonder about God's judgments, for none can really know, until the moment comes, where they will wear out their eternity. For we Heathens, however, we are blessed with a certainty about this. The Allfather and the Gods do not shun, hate, or despise men and women who live according to virtue. And the doom in death for those men and women is not tangled in any sort of doubt.

Be well,

Your friend, Ule Alfarrin

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Studying Fate: A History Lesson

Sæll og blessaður, Bjarnharðr!

You know that my original academic training was in history and anthropology, and to this day, they remain my favorite subjects. I'm one of these strange types that believes the past holds the key to understanding the present, and to knowing what we call the "future". Those who forget the past- or who never knew it- are, in fact, doomed to repeat it.

That last line is both good, and, from the perspective of the Heathen, very redundant- as you will see in essays to come. Because the idea of "cyclical history" was taught from the earliest ages by our wise forebears. They knew, and we continue to know, that history MUST (in a sense) repeat itself, from age to age. But within each age, such as ours, there is always an opportunity to study the pattern of Fate, most especially that pattern which is woven as the past, and to gain wisdom from it. Studying history isn't just about understanding the present and guessing the future- it's about understanding the deeper design of Orlog, or the "primal layers" laid down by the Fates, which govern so many fundamental things about the world and humanity.

My love of religion- especially ancient religions- makes the study of history both informative and poignant for me. I can discover many truths and perspectives on the ancient faith that I cherish and live by, as can you- but we will also see the lamentable historical realities that led to our faith's diminishment, at least on the outward level. Was it Fate that our faith decline, and our Ancestor's life ways be forced into the disharmony that now exists?

The answer is "certainly." I have never made a secret of this in my writings, nor would any person of insight. As much as it may personally grieve us at times, It is no shame that Fate as a whole works and weaves as she does, nor is what happened in the past some indictment of our Ancestral way.
Our Way didn't diminish because it was flawed. There were deeper processes at work here.

As I have pointed out many times, and will point out again, Heathens have no room for the "myth of progress". The world is not "getting better"- it is in metaphysical decline, and this decline, this "winding down", the final tearing and straining of the threads of Wyrd, is reflected in the order of the world, particularly (I find) in our societies. That half-wise creeds should dominate our world is not a surprise; it is expected of our "Wolf Age". That some few still maintain a vestigial amount of Ancestral sanity and the fellowship of the Gods and one another is the true miracle and strength of our age.

Doctor Christian and Mr. Heathen

Today we will study an essay written by someone else, which I will provide a link to. This essay is called "A Rational History of Christianity", and it was penned by Robert Charles Stewart, a gifted writer somehow involved with the Academy of Evolutionary Metaphysics. I am not a member of that academy, but I appreciate their clarity on many subjects. I will tell you more about them, including a few words of warning, before you proceed to read their excellent essay on the history of Christianity and the world Christianity shaped.

Why are we going to study this history? And why have I mentioned Christianity to you in each of these discussions thus far? Because only a fool would think that the largest and most powerful religious force in the world has no bearing on becoming a Heathen in the world they shaped, and which they still influence in so many ways. You and I began our lives in Christian families, Bjarnharðr. We understand their Kristinn ways with ease, and it took me many years to really "internalize" the Heathen worldview and belief system so that I could brag to understand it as well.

Carl Jung said that denial of any repressed force in the psyche only assured its strength and power. No Heathen who walks the path of formation and wishes to change his or her religious culture to the Heathen one, placing their Christian past behind them, can ignore Christianity or try to pretend that it doesn't influence them. The secret to truly embracing the Heathen way is to accept Christianity for what it is, and all of the other pervasive non-Heathen social forces for what they are, and not deny their force. You will discover that this accelerates your rebirth as a Heathen.

If it were as easy as denial, becoming a truly reborn being in your mind and soul would be easy. But to do as some unwise Heathens do, and deny the Christian element of our history and society, and further, to repress it in themselves, only brings them to an ugly condition which is no better than the Christians they used to be- an inverted imbalance, as it were. To be Christian, in most cases, is simply the repression and denial of many important powers and perspectives that the Heathen treasures.

So being a healthy Heathen should be more than just a "flip side" of that. A Heathen who will remain Heathen for the rest of their life won't do it through denial, but through wholeness. When you have the "full story", as it were, you can see what is good and what is bad, what tends to harmony and what tends to decadence and destruction.

Some people out there, in our religious movement, will claim that they need not study or concern themselves with Christianity, because they were not raised Christian. Their parents may have been atheists, or agnostics, or just unconcerned with these matters with respect to their family. You'll find that these types are often rather prideful about it- the implication being that, due to their pristine upbringings, they can embrace Heathenry in some easier, purer way.

Naturally, these people are mistaken. To be raised in a Christian culture, even by atheist parents, still creates many of the same issues. A person need not be Christian to be culturally Christian- raised around officials, governments, movies, social customs, and friends who did mediate the Christian worldview to them, on every imaginable level. Culture is itself a group-power, even on the inner level, of massive strength. So even the people who were (sometimes) fortunate enough to have avoided some perilous Christian upbringing need to realize the deeper impact of Christianity, regardless.

When you consider it further, atheist or agnostic parents probably mocked religion of any kind, as a whole, throughout the upbringing of these "never Christian" Heathens- which is possibly more devastating to the deep mind and to the chances of becoming Heathen and remaining Heathen throughout one's life, than being raised to believe that there was only one God!

Average, All Too Average

People today always worry over what the "right" religion might be, and how it is found. It is true that centuries of obfuscation and stupidity and disaster have built up over the subject of religion, and even the sharpest minds of today cannot cope with the mountains of books, controversy, paperwork, and entanglements that obscure the truth about the spiritual nature of things.

As a boy, I knew very early on that the religion of my parents was fundamentally flawed. I couldn't place why with exact words, but I knew that something was missing- a strange tension of unspoken disharmony was built up behind the teachings and institutions of the church. Its people were not any more happy or virtuous than the other people they accused of being bad. They didn't have some great peace and serenity that filled me with evidence of their Christ-like insights or experiences. The church plied people for money constantly, and seemed distant.

I noticed this about Christians early on, and it remains true: despite the fact that nearly all Christian churches teach basically the same things: teachings about being humble, forgiving, chaste, peaceful, poor in spirit, charitable, meek, hopeful for life after death and the like, and even though individual churches make a big deal about how different they are from other churches, you really can't tell Christians apart outside of those churches. Their doctrines would seem (on the surface) to be pretty radical and transformative, and their individual church identities seem to occupy a lot of attention and emotion, but that all vanishes away to dust when you meet them in person.

Whether Baptist or Catholic or Mormon or Methodist, Christians tend to all dress alike, do the same sorts of jobs, want the same things out of life- money, a house, the most recent fad in clothing or electronics. They tend to have similar political stances. The vast majority don't impress you instantly with any humbleness or Christ-like meekness or kindness. Many appear to be the exact opposite- arrogant about religion, defensive, greedy or materialistic, and downright narrow-minded or mean at times. In other words, they are painfully "average"- for all the claims of great power in these general church teachings, they seem to lack the power to change the basic, day to day lives and characters of human beings.

Christians are nearly all equally-as-shallow when it comes to what most Heathens consider truly spiritual matters- either completely unaware of basic spiritual truths of the Heathen way, dismissive of them, or hostile towards them. They tend to be unaware of the majestic spiritual truths of other ancient world faiths- even faiths older than their own, like Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. They have a very few cosmetic differences (like Mormons won't drink, Catholics will drink, etc.) but this is nothing terribly important from the outside viewer's perspective.

A few Christians I knew stood out. I remember one Bishop who was certainly as close to the "Christ like" ideal as any I have ever met. But he was, like the saints, a strange oddity to be fawned over by the masses who shook their heads and confessed their many sins, had sex with the people they weren't supposed to behind the scenes, and went on living the same miserable lives. To me, all of this indicates a weakness in the doctrines, a weakness in the basic fabric of the revealed religious institutions, which I believe only still exist owing to the powerful force of tradition and social habit.

Those who wish to apologize for this state of affairs like to say that the doctrines are too hard or too pure or too righteous for this fallen world, but again, that marks the doctrines as useless. They are useless if they cannot reach the average person and really change them.

Some say that the failings of churches and mosques are not born of some weakness in the doctrines or institutions, that the teachings are "good" somehow, but people- those evil, flawed humans- will take them to "bad" places. Again, I say that the doctrines and institutions share the blame for being stated or sold in such a manner that the average person runs a high risk of disastrously misinterpreting them or failing to be changed for the better. If the doctrines are truly of divine origin, it isn't asking too much for them to be stated in such a way that more good comes from them when the average person interprets them, than not.

If these institutions don't have major magic and lack powerful, transformative doctrines that can cut through the darkness of the world, what use are they? Why do they have such a grand place of honor, if they can do no better than anyone else?

When I began to learn the history of Christianity, which my Catholic educators were all too happy to teach me, and to learn the philosophies they espoused, I became further alienated from the entire institution. They were admitting to wiping away thousands of years of previous histories and religions and cultures, under the assumption that they were the one true church, the one true revelation of God to man. They didn't even try to gloss over the fact that they were the authors of cultural genocide, nor that they were arrogantly asserting the dominance of their supposed "truths"!

And that's fine and well. I expect no less from human beings who have become enchanted by the allure of revealed religions. And these weren't bad people; they were just victims of what Fate wove for many in this age. But there they stood, there they lived, alternating between their assurances about their rightness, and barely-concealed worries about it, arguing forever with others about who was really "right".

Testing the Truth

And who is "right", Bjarnharðr? You know already what I would say. I would say a person or a group is "right" when they live according to the rightness of things. That rightness of things is the order of the world, the Fatefully-woven order manifested by the creativity of the Gods, led by the Allfather. The order of the world is found in Nature's body, the courses of stars and the sun and moon, the coming of bees to flower and pollen, the union of men and women and the multiplying of beasts, the shedding of leaves from trees in early winter and the falling of rain on the thirsty ground.

All of these things, these natural principles, are good and right. To accept them, to bless them, to see yourself among them- that "places" you in the rightness. Many other things are "right" as well- accepting the Gods for who they are, and honoring them; that places you in the Rightness. Being a brave and loyal human being who is kindly disposed to friends, kinsmen and strangers, and who exercises truth, reason, compassion, and creativity- that is right.

I've said this before. I'll say it again. And again. But for now, let us turn our attention to one important fact that history can teach us today. I believe that history can help us to realize what religions out there may have more claim on "truth" than others. When I say "truth" here, I only mean it in the sense of "what religion can guide people to live a truly harmonious life."

I'm not talking about the "true or false" game of the revealed religionists. I'm talking about religions that give us sound principles for living the best lives we can live. THAT is how I look for "truth". I say it is "true" or "more true than another" when I live my life by its principles and its perspectives and discover that I am able to face each day with peace and purpose, with strength and honor, and I am able to better understand the quandaries that find me.

Most importantly, I say it is "true" or "more true than others" when, under its influence,I do not harm others with my beliefs; I do not choke the world or its water and air, and the dark forces in my nature- greed, fear, and selfishness- do not arise under the mask of virtue. I know in my bones that I am "living a truth"- living in the blessed order of rightness.

In that order, the world itself seems to respond to me, with gifts of simple natural joy. Blessings seem to come naturally. A tranquility in my soul settles, and even when storms arise there, which they must for us all, I see the light at the end of the stormy tunnel.

So you might say my criteria of "truth" is only found by testing.

They Said the World was Flat

How can history help us to know further what the "right" religions might be? The problem with religion today is that "religion" and "politics" are the very same thing. There you have it- revealed religion IS politics. It always has been, as you will see in this history essay I'm about to point you towards.

Why is that bad? Because, as you and I have discussed before, politics on the massive scale is a threat to real, authentic freedom. Revealed religions don't help this; they join with it; they bolster it. But history shows us something of extreme importance- it shows us what people were doing before revealed religion upset the way of the world.

Why is that important? Because by seeing how revealed religions- like Christianity and Islam- are largely functions of political power and disease, we can settle our souls in the knowledge that they need no longer concern us. Any lingering doubts that some people walking the path of Heathen Formation may have about Christianity can be laid to rest through acceptance of Christianity's necessity in the lives of others, but also through understanding how the people of the world were mistaken so many centuries ago. We are freed then to reject the revealed error, and re-embrace the organic truths.

No one is bothered anymore by the idea that the earth might be flat. Some people long ago were afraid to sail too far out into the ocean, thinking they might fall off the world. But soon, brilliant and brave minds (foremost among them our own Ancestors) proved that the world was round. After that, the ancient error was dispelled. That fear was gone. People knew that the old tale of the world being flat was not only false, but it was never true to begin with. They no longer needed to concern themselves with the fear it generated. This example can be applied to the "game of doubts" played between revealed religions like Christianity and religious paths like Heathenry.

The "game of doubt" has been played since the very first conversion periods. Missionaries introduced the element of doubt into the minds of those they tried to convert- "What if you're wrong?" They challenged people to think "What if I die hoping in the wrong God? What would the cost be?"

And that game is still being played. Converts away from Christianity are often pursued by fears and doubts, even if they are tiny and nagging. By studying the history of Christianity (and Islam) a reasonable person can see why this game of doubt need never be played, again. A rational survey of history frees us from the absurd claims of churches. And this single fact is why Churches still fight against the light of scholarship being shed on their history- because they know that the history isn't neat and tidy. The Catholic Church has admitted for years that the Gospels were likely not written by the people tradition claims wrote them. But most of the faithful ignore those details, for contemplating them too much will cast doubt on their heavenly retirement plans.

By studying the history of our world and the dominant modern religions, a hidden suggestion is before our eyes: people once knew the Gods and lived a certain way. Their ways were largely (but not totally) washed away by what amounts to a complicated system of mistakes- invented doctrines- and politics. It seems to me that going BACK to what the Ancestors were doing before the massive political darkness came is the best thing we can do if we wish to discover the "right" religions. Maybe the Ancestors were "right" all along! That is my belief, at any rate. And the many blessings of my life thus far- the amazing freedom and joy I've tasted and lived within- is all the evidence that I need.

As Unbiased as History Tends to Get

Now, friend, I will turn you over to the Academy's writers, and let you read an essay I found refreshing. It is called, as I mentioned, "A Rational History of Christianity". Let me make one warning to you about it. The authors are not terribly friendly to any religion, including ours. They see all ancient religions- Heathen or Christian or otherwise- as sort of superstitious or not ideal for human thinking today. That is their right. Their message is still valuable, because they present what I consider a pretty unbiased short history of Christianity, and the history of Christian Europe. It's enough for one read.

From my studies of history, their facts seem to check out. At two points in their narrative, you will see our Ancestors make an appearance- first when the Northern Tribes overwhelm Rome, and second when the Vikings invade Europe. The Academy's writers think that the Northern Tribes were lawless and savage; they are, of course, wrong about this. But they are writing from a general Western perspective, and for years people have been told that the Teutonic tribes that conquered Rome were savages. The real story there is more complicated.

So bear that in mind when you read- our Ancestors did not throw Europe down into a dark age; Christianity really did that, on the back of Rome which became too powerful for Her own good. Our Ancestors created a new Europe, which, despite the presence of Christianity, had the seeds of a new way of thinking and being- one of liberty. It took centuries for those seeds to break and ripen, of course, but ripen they did as soon as religion was largely removed from power.

Here is the link. As you read, consider the origins of Christianity as these authors present it. Of all the histories I've read, even short ones, I think they are closest to the historical mark as far as where Christianity came from- how it got from a mysterious Jewish teacher who may or may not have been called "Jesus", to where it is now. Click the link below, and when you are done reading, please discuss your thoughts with me in the comments boxes below. The Rational History isn't THAT long, but it will require some of your time. Truth be told, it's shorter than some of the essays I've already written here for you!

A Rational History of Christianity

Do you know what we are doing, Bjarnharðr? We are reaching back in time, and, through our minds and bodies, we are re-birthing the ancient religions, giving life back to the ancient symbols, joining with the ancient powers because they are real- and from the very beginning of human cultural history, they were real. They were with us and the Ancestors. They do not break troth with their kin.

Politics makes for bad religion, as our history has shown. Our souls have been dying of thirst, dying of starvation, dying of lies, dying of political boredom. To be Heathen, my friend, is to re-embrace something of beauty and awe-filled power, and bring it back to life- to "pick up where we left off", so to speak. It is a challenge, but it is the only way that men like us will know peace. I have seen the peace that lies in the meadow on the other side of all this bullshit- on the other side of all of the lies and distortions and inventions, all of the papal conclaves and arguments and schisms and wars and injustices.

I have seen that truth in religion lies nowhere else but in the simplicity of the meadow, the hearth, and the family and friends. There is no "heavenly kingdom" on earth apart from your own home and your own beloved kin. Church buildings really are just wood and stone, projects of politics and vanity. Our sacredness, our truth, is in the grass and leaves, the rush of stream, and crash of ocean.

It is in our Gods that never told the Ancestors to murder others because of their religious faith- or lack thereof. It is in our Gods who encourage us to live as tranquilly and simply as the trees themselves, and the ancient mountains, but always with the creativity and poetry that is in our hearts. If you feel as I feel already, you might say I'm preaching to the choir!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Faining: Righting and Rowning

Good Day, cousin Bjarnharðr.

As we discussed in my previous perspective essay, the essence of the Heathen way lies in many things, but chiefly in what we do, our deeds, the way we outwardly "place the principles of life" in our doings.

People try to compare these "outward acts" to prayer, but we have to beware our ways being conflated with the "prayer" concepts of the Christian mainstream. For most people in the west, "prayer" is a lifting of the mind and heart, through intense mental focus and (sometimes) rote words, to a central divine concept or reality- in most cases, "God".

"Prayer", in its barest form, is a specific form of communication in which one party attempts to obtain something by entreaty to another party. You might recall many of Shakespeare's characters using the words "I pray thee" when asking other characters for something. This is what it really boils down to, when you strip away the religious over-coating.

Sacred Reciprocity

Heathens from the past did pray. There's no doubt there; the account of Ibn Fadhlan shows Rus Viking merchants praying to the Gods for good business, at sites along the great river that had wooden sacred images carved and set up. Those merchants were also making offerings- gifts to the Gods of those places- to add some power to their entreaties. The reason they'd do so is just as simple as pie: in the Old Ways of our Ancestors, "a gift looks for a gift."

Reciprocity is what we're talking about here- when you got a gift from someone, or help from them, you owed them back- no one had to say it, and no one had to ask you to give it back, one day. You just knew this and you did it, because fair reciprocity was a deeply-engrained sacred cultural value. And the ancient culture of our Ancestors was not an accidental culture; it was a consciously created, sacred arrangement which resembled the culture of the Gods themselves.

Thus, if humans believed in reciprocity, it was for more than just practical reasons. Sure, it was practical- society itself was (and to an extent, still is) held together by people exchanging things with one another, everything from goods to help, protection, and good will. But reciprocity has a sacred dimension that goes deeper than just the "outward" form. Reciprocity is a perfect working model of how reality itself really functions- everything exchanges, communicates, transforms, and grows together. That's good Wyrd thinking, and thus, it is good reality thinking.

This all means that the Gods themselves also believe in reciprocity, and act on it. The wise Gods understand that "giving and giving back" is not just good social grace, but a perfect model of how the web of Wyrd itself works. Whatever the Gods have, they gained it from others and gave to others. You will see that the great treasures of our Gods- like Thorr's hammer, Freya's cloak and magical necklace, Odhinn's spear, Frey's golden boar and magical boat- all these things and more were gifts to the Gods from other wights or beings.

If you give a gift to me, I'll repay you- somehow, one day, sooner rather than later. Any Heathen who fails at that duty is seriously missing a crucial part of the spirit of Heathenry and the wisdom of the Ancestors and Gods. If you give a gift to a God, the God will repay it, too- somehow, one day. This never fails- "a gift looks for a gift", or as some translations say "a gift demands a gift."

Our Rus Vikings were giving gifts to the Gods in the certainty that the Gods would reciprocate, and hopefully reciprocate in the way their prayers were asking. This all makes good organic sense.


Now, this talk on sacred reciprocity is far from over, but I've said what I had to say for now. I want to talk to you today about faining- a word that has many meanings in the Heathen world, but only one meaning that we'll be using for our time together as forming Heathen and advice-man. "Faining" means "celebration", technically- a joy-making, and in some branches of the Heathen tree, it refers to a full religious celebration in which people gather, and blots or sacrifices are made to the Gods and Ancestors.

However, in other places- like my farmstead and hearth- faining refers to a religious act for the Gods or wights or Ancestors which does not include a formal sacrifice or blot. We will cover the key concept of blot later in great detail- after all, next to the sumbel, or the ritual of drinking and toasting together, the blot is the central religious practice of Asatru as a whole. But "faining" is a word used by some (as I said) to refer to a less formal, simpler religious act, usually a private one. It is very much the closest thing I think Heathens have to a "personal religious practice" or even to "praying".

Doing personal religious acts is important. Even if they are very simple- such as what I will share with you here- they are channeling one of the most important aspects of being Heathen, something we discussed in detail in our "Being True to the Gods" talk. And that is "properly placing the principles of life in our deeds."

Faining lets us have a few moments of our day to recognize what worthy, sacred things need to be recognized, and to honor that recognition with tangible acts of religion, thus "making those worthy things manifest" and allowing the Wyrd of those things to fully enter our lives and make changes in us and in our world.

"Properly placing the sacred principles" is a matter of recognizing them and honoring them with words and deeds. After that, they are "writ in Wyrd"- chiseled into your mind and heart, and into the pattern of the world itself. They alter your luck; they alter how you think and feel and behave.

Our spiritual path has to be transformative on the personal level, or it really is useless. Unlike most people today, who really see religion in terms of a "one way service" from humans to God, historical Heathen religion was, as stated, predicated on a two-way exchange of power, a reciprocity, between Gods and human beings who had the spirit of the Gods in them. Thus, worship of the Gods and other rites of religion was always about both Gods and humans. This sort of practicality and harmonious wholeness is one of the great blessings of being Heathen.

Now, you know Heathens prayed, but never forget- the underpinning of Heathen prayer were not at all the same as Christian prayer. Christian prayer is (or at least should be) a very abstract form of communion; ideally, you don't pray to "get" something from God- though this fact seems to be lost on 99% of Christians I know- you pray to align your will to God and gain his grace for living.

That's fine and well for the followers of the white Christ, but the followers of the red Thorr have a different way of seeing it. We don't need to align ourselves to the will of the Gods; what the Gods will is for their own lives and the Nine Worlds; humans have their own will that they must discover. We may wish to know the advice of the Gods on many matters- and that, my friend, is crucial in many situations- but we don't submit our will to other beings, giving up on ourselves totally. One wonders what the point of being human would be, if we did this.

Righting and Rowning

Now, since you are walking the path of Heathen Formation, a time has come to "carve new Wyrd" for youself- by considering some perspectives that can help you to change not just how you think, but how you act. For this first voyage of yours into the Heathen way, it is necessary to engage some new behaviors, because deeds are very important. They shape a person, change them from a person whose personal power resonates with their non-Heathen past, into a person whose power or Hamingja resonates with their Heathen present and future.

In honor of this, you have your first "field assignment"- an assignment which I will ask you to keep until next Midsummer, and which I hope will, in some form, become a life-changing and regular practice for you, for the rest of your days. I will ask you to join me (and other fanatics like me) in the daily practice of faining.

Fortunately for you, it only takes a few moments each day, but it can have an enormous and powerful effect on your mind and life. Faining in the format I will suggest for you is good not just for your spiritual development, but powerful for the Gods, Ancestors, and other sacred wights we will want to establish good communion and relationship with.

Remember that the real "Heathen" value of faining is not that you get to "talk to the Gods" or lift up any hearts or minds, but that you get to integrate, in a conscious and tangible way, the good and sacred principles of life. You are quite literally "putting yourself right" with the powers that be- all sacred powers, in a sense.

The first part of my faining-advice here is called (you guessed it) "Righting". This is the first step- you get right with the world and find some peace in yourself. This simple little act should precede all acts of religion, as far as I'm concerned- but never forget, "religion", for us, isn't separate from everyday life. The act of Righting gets you centered and steady, and makes you better prepared for any daily act or challenge.

The Righting act is as simple as pie- and it begins and ends with the simplicity of your very breath. Breathing is the basic act of communion with the world; it was Ond, or life-breath that the Allfather gave to human beings, and so breathing is, in essence, quite sacred. It reminds us of our connection with Allfather and his brothers.

When you're ready to Right yourself, you just step aside to a private, quieter place and take nine easy breaths. Nine is a very sacred number to the Heathen way, for reasons we'll discuss later; it's enough to know that the number nine chiefly refers to the Nine Worlds, of which our human world is just one. Something of each of those worlds is inside us- inside of our full human being. By getting nine steady, calm breaths, you are making a conscious act of steadying and harmonizing your mind and body.

Now, when you've done that, you say the following four things- say them with a good, steady voice.

I follow fain the course of Raidho-beauty and Wunjo-life.
In the world-order right, I take my place for growth of might.
In the great sun of victory, I fear no darkness or defeat.
In the joy of the Gods, of bright-alfs and frithful folk I place my will.

This "Right declaration" does require a bit of an explanation, and so here it is. RAIDHO is the runic principle (a universal mystery principle) of the right order of the cosmos. When the Gods were busy shaping our world, they arranged certain elements and forces to be in accord with the rightness of things- the sun, for instance, was set on her path in accordance with right, and also the moon; night and day were ordered to come in a certain pattern. There is a cosmic order on every level, which the Gods helped to create, and which they still help to sustain. To see that order, to live by it, is to experience the beauty of the cosmic order.

WUNJO is the runic principle of Joy- and life, despite what some revealed religionists may try to tell you, is joy. At heart, life is a very joyful, pleasant thing, even if it does contain elements that may challenge us or threaten us. When you say "I follow fain the course of Raidho-beauty and Wunjo-life", you are saying "I gladly follow the course of the right order and its beauty, and the great joy of life." This first line is a declaration that aligns you with the Rightness of things, and the Joy of things.

Now, when you say "In the world-order right, I take my place for growth of might", you are again invoking, with tangible words, the power of the RAIDHO principle. As you say this, make the sign of Raidho in the air in front of you. It looks like this:

For one brief moment, let yourself see the sacred sign of the rune, in front of you, made of red light. Let that light radiate into your chest and face.

Then, as you say "In the great sun of victory, I fear no darkness or defeat", make this sign in front of you:

And let it radiate into you a bit, as well. This Rune- SOWILO- is the rune of the sun, but it refers to the sun of solar-consciousness, Odin's victory, and high-mindedness, of which we talked in the last conversation.

Finally, when you say "In the joy of the Gods, of bright-alfs and frithful folk I place my will", make this sign in front of you:

This is the Wunjo rune, the rune of joy, frith, peace, and sacred belonging. With this last line, you are saying that you wish for the joy of the Gods, the light-elves (who represent the blessed kindreds in the unseen, including our Ancestors) and the "frithful folk", or your fellow heathens of good will.

And that's it! You are "Righted" by placing these principles. Remember, you must make these gestures- draw the Rune-shapes with your right hand- and must say these lines outloud; the deeds and sounds are where the power is.

* * *

You should "right yourself" every day. I start my day with this simple rite. After your Troth-pledging, if you don't feel the need to do this anymore, by all means, stop. But the Righting is such a simple and elegant way of declaring what is really important about life and Heathenry to yourself, and to all the Kindreds who listen- and taking the runic powers into yourself- powers that really change you.

For the time you are in "Heathen Formation", it is my opinion (and I say this to everyone who asks me for help in this way) that you should do fainings for a particular God, a God who was known for his support of the historical Heathens and their ancient way of life. That God is the God whose hammer you wear daily, friend- Thorr, the Thunderer and Protector of Gods and Men.

The second half of my faining process here is called "Rowning", which means "whispering", technically, and it refers to a "rune", in this case, a secret or a mystery- or even an incantation of types. In my usage here, as with others, it is intended as the act of using words to send a message to the powers.

The twofold process is simple: you Right, then you Rown. The Rowning portion is also short: you simply address the God or wight that you wish to address. You're already steady in your mind and body from the breathing and the runic signing, so it's easy.

Thorr's sacred day is Thursday- "Thor's day." You have a choice at this point. You can Rown or pray to Thorr each day (and I suggest you do) or you can save it just for Thursdays. It is your choice, but at this stage, you may find it more useful to focus on the Old Redbeard more often- maybe just three days a week, as you wish. Whatever you decide, At some point during your day, Right yourself, and then (if it's one of the chosen days) Rown or pray to Thorr. I have a simple address to him for your use below, but before you use it, let me give you another small tip that I have always found useful.

You know that our Ancestors believed that a great Tree connected all of the Nine Worlds. That tree, the world-tree, Yggdrasil, is (of course) not a literal tree, but it is a literal great power, a power that you've been feeling all your life. There is a tangible metaphysical "structure" to the cosmos- all things are connected and there is a great power that we are all situated within, and very much a part of. That power was given the form of a tree by our Ancestors, among other symbolic representations of it.

Everything is a part of the World-Tree. Nothing is excluded; even things about yourself- your breath, blood, bones, body heat. Your thoughts and memories and dreams haunt it; all of the worlds are reachable through it. A poet once said this about it:

"All life is figured by them as a Tree. Ygdrasil, the Ash-tree of existence, has its roots deep-down in the kingdoms of Death: its trunk reaches up heaven-high, spreads its boughs over the whole Universe: it is the Tree of Existence. At the foot of it, in the Death-Kingdom, sit the three Fates... watering its roots from the Sacred Well. It's "bough," with their buddings and disleafings, - events, things suffered, things done, catastrophes, - stretch through all lands and times. Is not every leaf of it a biography, every fiber there an act or word? Its boughs are the Histories of Nations. The rustle of it is the noise of Human Existence, onwards from of old. I find no similitude so true as this of a Tree. Beautiful; altogether beautiful and great."

That was Thomas Carlyle at his finest. To really "Rown" to the powers- any power or wight- you should try, for a few moments after you've Righted yourself, to feel the World Tree's great presence in you. It is, after all, that thing that connects you to the Gods or wights you wish to address. Here's how I express it:

My life is the sap of the Needle-Ash;
My words the wind that shake its branches.

You can say this to yourself before you Rown, or think it- internalize it. At any rate, after Righting yourself and getting a feel for your connection to all things, it's time to Rown- to send words to the Gods or Wights. In your case, Thorr is who you'll be addressing, and here's a formula that you can use. Say the words out-loud, steady, and strong. You can make the hammer-sign in front of yourself (an upside down T) with your fist as you say it, or after you are done.

Thor, hammer's thewful wielder, bane to fell etins and wicked wights
High-warder of Middle earth and all of Gods' homes ay- hear my troth:
Honor to you and your great sib all my days.

This simple rowning formula uses some archaic Teutonic words, but they are included because they have a marvelous affect, owing to their poetry, upon your mind and on any who hear you. "Thewful" means strong or mighty; "bane" means deadly or dangerous, an "Etin" is a giant or a malevolent power; "ay" means "always", and "troth" is a creed of belief. A "sib" is a family. Thorr's family is the family of our Gods.

This rowning establishes Thorr's great roles in the cosmos, that of a warder and protector, and delivers your pledge of Troth to him and the Gods. You need rown no more- Old Redbeard will hear these words and reciprocate in whatever way he will, as these words are technically an offering of types. If you have a special need that day, you can include it yourself in your own words, after the simple formula.

If you have a drink of beer or ale or cider with you, you can pour some out as you say the prayer. You are creating a sacred, two-way relationship. A time will come when you will do this with other Gods and powers.

Never forget: there's no need to pester the Sacred Powers; if you have a true need, something that really sticks in your mind, then fain about it to Thorr. He will help; not for no reason is he called "Man's Well-Wisher." But if you must ask him for something special, don't ask him for things that you can handle yourself. And never forget- a gift demands a gift.

The Time Is Now

Please, make a use of these materials- memorize them for now. You can use them the rest of your life, or give them up later; you will, of course, come up with your own fainings in your career as a Heathen. But for now- for the goal of transformation and doing Heathen Deeds, please use the material here. All of these things I've shown you are easy to remember- just a few lines- and only take a minute or two of your day. Remember to recognize the many subtle layers of sacredness that are wrapped into these simple words and gestures. You will integrate and internalize these things within a few weeks of regular observance.

You will also see that these simple formulas I shared with you here will have other uses, later in your Heathen career. Also, I know you've probably already read it, but turn to "Our Troth: Volume One" and re-read the chapter on Thor. Get to know him and that lore about him.

Raise the Horns!

Your Friend, Ule Alfarrin

Monday, September 28, 2009

Being True to the Gods

Even though I've been Heathen for a long time now, there is a question that still passes through my mind occasionally, Bjarnharðr: what does it mean to be "Asatru" or one who has "belief in the Gods"? It's a maddening question, because it's so simple, yet not so simple at all.

A follower of the white Christ might hear "what does it mean to be a Christian?" and respond with "It means to believe in Christ, to follow Christ's teachings and live by his example." For Christians, as with most followers of a revealed religion, that is a good enough answer: you have the founder of the religion, you have his teachings, you believe his myth and you let the teachings guide you.

But Asatru is an organic religion- it has no "founder". It has no "book of scriptures". It only has the historical dispensation or Example of the Ancestors, as found in the Eddas and Sagas: what Gods they believed in, some sacred stories or myths they handed down among them, how they treated others, what they valued in a man or woman's character, and how they lived and worshiped.

That Fund of Ancestral Wisdom is what we have, and it is not a rock-firm body of unquestionable lore; it is quite open to interpretation, despite what some may say.
But a wise man or woman will always put the fund of ancestral wisdom primary in their moral and ethical thinking, and look to it for advice in living. This doesn't mean "look for answers in it"- this means "look for guidance to find your own answers." The distinction there is very important.

So, what does it mean to be believers as we are- to be "True to the Gods?"

You've made the decision to enter into the world of Heathenry, to call yourself Heathen or Asatru, and so I imagine this is a question that you'd care to hear answered.

Part of the problem comes from trying to decide on just a "few points" that make a person "True to the Gods" or "True to the Old Ways". You can't really narrow it down like that; many things would seem to make a person a "true" Heathen. I could talk about how they make prayers or do fainings; I could talk about how they decorate their homes, or how they take part in rites and rituals of the old way.

I could talk about how they think, what sort of music they listen to, how they believe in the Gods and Goddesses, how they choose to self-identify, how they dress, how they view social issues. I could talk about how they sprinkle their newborn children with water in sacred
Vatni Ausa rites.

There's so many things, and if I drew from them to make a small list, I wouldn't have a satisfactory answer. If I made a long, exhaustive list of everything I could think of, I still wouldn't have a satisfactory answer, in my opinion.

So what does it mean to "be True to the Gods"? It has to relate to some of those things I just pointed out, but it seems to go further than just thinking or behaving in a certain "Heathenish" manner.

It must go further than just belief, for to we Heathens, "pure belief" without a tangible expression of that belief is really of no use to anyone. But let's start with feeling and thinking, and maybe we can put some good ideas on the table that will help us to come to a clear perspective on what it means to really be Heathen.

Being True to the Old Ways and the Gods: Feeling and Thinking like a Heathen

What we think about things is often born in how we feel, or at least shaped by how we feel. Do Heathens feel and think differently from others? The answer is certainly yes; and after examining my own feelings for years, I've come to the conclusion that how I feel- and how I think about many things- is one of the outside reasons that I'm Heathen.

I won't say that there are special feelings that are unique to Heathens, nor thoughts for that matter, but how far Heathens will go to live according to their feelings and thoughts is certainly unique to them, when compared to the other religious cultures that surround us in America and Europe. Let me explain this more.

I feel the need to be free. Freedom is a big issue for Heathens, both historically and in the modern day. To feel the desire to be free, to think of freedom as an important issue, is pretty human, and very "American" even- America's spent a long time extolling the virtue of freedom, though what most Americans mean by it is up for grabs.

I'll tell you what freedom is to me- it's the power to go off on my own and be left alone. It's the power to have as few people involved in my private life as possible (unless I want them there), and to have as little interference in my affairs as possible. I want to handle my affairs. If I really need help, of course, I do enjoy people around who want to help. But freedom is about living my life the way I see fit, without having to ask permission from others, or worry about the approval or interference of others.

And this very idea was precious to our Ancestors- some of our grandmothers and grandfathers even left Norway to move all the way out to Iceland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just to have that "leave us alone" lifestyle. Before the age of Kings being manipulated by Christianity, our Ancestors did live free lives- in small communities, headed by local leaders (called "kings" historically, but who would have looked more like "the richest homeowner in the area" if you had seen one with your own eyes.)

Their communities were small- people knew one another, watched out for one another and the community itself. They gathered together to worship the Gods, to defend one another, and to keep bonds strong with nearby communities, at least in favorable theory. They helped one another when they needed help, and help was always carefully paid back in reciprocal help- this we are certain of. They had a society based on cooperation, not competition.

There was no "central authority" over entire bodies of land the size of present-day nations, and such a concentration of power was not to be seen until the centuries of Christianity. The "center" of authority was not in a king's court miles away; it was right there in the land of the community, and the "spiritual center" was not a big church in a distant city- it was right there, in the land of the community, in a local Hof or shrine, or a field or hill that was sacred to the community.

The community was self-sufficient. It was self-policing. If you didn't like the way things were run, you could leave and start a life elsewhere. In Iceland, the democratic ideal of the Althing was created so that people could band together and vote to change how things were done, if needed. No one could tell you how to live or act in your own home, or tell you how to pray or how to think. And for me, all of this means "freedom".

The growth of nation-states, of "high kings" and of powerful churches destroyed it all. The center of political authority was now far away, and so was the center of spiritual authority. The old times of tribes, autonomous communities, and localized religion was gone. And the new age that was born led directly to the great evils that we all know and hate: industrialization, urbanization, globalization, global warfare, big government interference, absolutism, mass evangelistic religion, technocracy, and the repression of non-western peoples and their cultures and religions.

All of this led to the devaluing of folk culture, thus deeply depleting the character of many nations and groups. All of this led to the devaluing of uniqueness, of crafts made by hand, and the loss of many languages and dialects. All of this turned the land that was once seen as the sacred body of a Goddess and a collection of sacred, living powers into a huge resource pool to be manipulated and used on a massive scale for national treasuries, leveling entire forests to do it and unbalancing the environment in other ways.

The bigger it all gets, the faster, the more organized, the more centralized, the more concentrated, the more materialistic, the more you will see freedom fading away, until nothing of what the Ancestors once enjoyed really remains. It's sad to say, but what we call "freedom" today is nothing at all compared to what it once was. Yet, we accept the reality we are presented with from birth, and the "freedoms" we've known are now the only things we can understand as "freedom".

Freedom from Revealed Religion and Spiritual Dictators

Don't get me wrong,
Bjarnharðr- living in the West still makes us more "free" than other places, and gives us a higher standard of living. It beats most of the rest of the world for certain. But there is something in the Heathen "way of feeling" and "way of thinking" that yearns for a more authentic freedom than the one we have been presented with- but where can we go to find more freedom? One place is in spirituality. And it is a very, very important place.

Spirituality- the religious aspect of a person's life- says so very much about how they feel and think. The entire worldview of a culture is heavily influenced by dominant religious strains within. A person can have great health, good intelligence, and ample opportunities to excel, but be ruined- and even killed- by guilt, shame, strange beliefs, and narrow-mindedness hammered into them by religious authorities. Never mistake it, friend (and I know you don't) religion can be a liberating factor, but also the most oppressive prison ever designed for a human mind.

If you have the heart of a Heathen, a heart that yearns for freedom in every aspect of life that you can personally manage, then you won't want too many people sitting around telling you what to believe about life, the universe, and everything. That's contrary to the "get out of my life" expectation of real freedom. This is why the organic spiritual approach of Heathenry is so appealing to people like you, and people like me. This is why Heathens prefer to worship under the sky, not in a church building. This is why we prefer solitude and the power to consider things for ourselves, more than a crowded room listening to a preacher.

Instead of a priest or bishop or minister telling you what you should believe, the Heathen way invites you to examine the fund of Ancestral wisdom and seek their guidance towards your own conclusion. This is an enormous freedom- an enormous "reduction of bureaucracy" as it were. So long as you respect the Ancestors for who they were, and take their wisdom seriously, you can't go wrong. You certainly won't be offending our Gods, for even the Gods only offered "good rede" or good advice to mankind about how to live- not commands.

All of these things I've been talking about should tell you something about what it means to "think like a Heathen." It means to have the desire to think for yourself, and to make your own way.

Now, I say this, and I mean it, but can't stop here; to make this statement about "thinking for yourself" is a good thing, but if you don't qualify it, it can fly off into the realm of the boring and immature. Kids are always being selfish and thinking they know everything, and not wanting to listen to their elders' good advice. "Thinking for yourself" in a wise way never means "ignoring everyone else." But it still expects you to make your own mind up.

Only a fool would think that they alone knew everything they needed to know to be guided successfully through every situation in life. Grettir's Saga tells us that
"Many have been brought to death by overconfidence." It's wise to seek advice and know your limits. And yet, one must be confident that they have the spirit of Gods in them, and be brave. This "middle ground" that we must walk is a challenge, but it alone gives us the peace and freedom we desire.

We value the wisdom of the Ancestors, and we value one another's inputs, because we share a big, complex world of many perspectives. None of us are truly self-sufficient, but as a community, and in friendship and respect for one another, we can approach sufficiency. The Ancestors are part of our extended community- they still exist, both inside of us, in the lore they left behind, and in the strangest of ways in the Unseen worlds. It is no shame to embrace the idea that it is good to seek guidance, even when we have the freedom (which we should have) to think for ourselves.

Without seeking out one another and the Ancestors for help in considering life's many challenges, we can't really consider ourselves "Heathens" in the best sense of the word. So freedom yes- but don't ever forget to know your limitations, and seek the wisdom of the old world and of other people to help you on your way.

Of the Resurrection of the Village

The return to a Heathen way of living and thinking is a spiritual return to the "old village"- we are freed from "distant authorities", whether temporal or spiritual, and our own homes and hearths become the center of family, authority, and spirituality. No one can stop this from happening; it is a conscious choice, and one that helps us to internally reverse the harm done by massive urbanization, consumerism, and dehumanization and deculturation of everything.

You can have a hearth where the Old Ways live again, even in the center of a city- trust me, it is possible. With your friends and kindred near you, worshiping our Gods according to your home-custom, and being free of unnecessary authority, you can find a place of great serenity. A Heathen's mind is not happy with everyone being forced into a huge herd, or with brainless conformity of thought, conformity of behavior, and conformity in other ways.

A Heathen's mind and heart don't like to see the earth turned into a massive factory, and they don't like the dingy, ugly ruins of the land left behind by untethered, unwise technological impact. Something in us longs for the peace of nature, for the bliss of good cheer and good company, being with our own, in safety and peace.

Do you know what is found in a hearth, in a kindred, surrounded by dear family and friends in the Old Ways? One of the ultimate lessons and blessings of the ancient religion: we discover that our deepest spiritual well-being and our real strength for living is in each other. Community, in this sense- a sacred sense- is another way of experiencing the power of the Heathen way. This experience is just as important as knowing the Gods. Revealed religions have their spiritual leaders to guide them through what they have been taught to believe are the "dangers" of the spiritual world, and even this life- but we only have one another. And in my way of thinking, we are way ahead of the game.

Most of us find that we have a desire to move "out" further, to be closer to the countryside and further from people, at some point. In a way, we all have the "going to Iceland" impulse, after a while. It's part and parcel of feeling and thinking like a Heathen, in my experience.

The Way of High-Mindedness

Now, before I move on to talking about particularly Heathen belief and behavior, I have to cover one more important aspect of "heathen thinking"- and in this case, it is the notion that was historically called (and is still called) "high-mindedness."

To be "high-minded" means to live like you have the most precious gift a being can have- the light of Men and Gods. And you do have it,
Bjarnharðr: the Allfather and his kin saw to that. We humans all have the light- the light that makes possible cooperation, creativity, bravery, nobility, reason, and compassion, but not all humans allow it to suffuse and shape their thinking and acting.

Now, this topic is important, and I have written at length about it over at Cauldron Born. At this point, please take a break and go read the essay on "Heathen High-Mindedness", which you can get to by clicking here. This topic of High-Mindedness is central to an appraisal of Heathen morality, both historical and modern. You might call it much "food for thought."

Being True to the Old Ways and the Gods: Acting and Believing like a Heathen

Heathens don't have a "set" of beliefs that they have to share in common, but they do all have beliefs. You can bet that most honor many of the same Gods- like Thorr, for instance, the Thunder God who is the living and powerful protector of Heathens both in this day and age, and in the centuries before now. But not all Heathens do honor the same Gods at the same times or in the same ways, and that's more than acceptable.

It was acceptable in the past, too- who you believe in and pray to really is your concern, though if your family or community is devoted to certain Gods or spirits, you would have had a duty to join your kin in those customs, and at least make a good showing of it. But no one could "make" you, and you certainly wouldn't get burned at the stake if someone discovered that you just weren't praying enough to the local community God.

I've talked at length about the Gods at Cauldron Born and in other places, but I feel the need to say something about them now. It is my perspective, but it is a perspective that I've found very useful. Most modern people don't understand the Gods, or what we Heathens mean by "Gods", because they have caricatures of the Gods in their heads. They imagine that the ancient Heathens really believed that a carved statue of a God was THE God, or they think that the ancient Heathens somehow mistook the stories about the Gods for the realities of the Gods.

Neither is true. A statue is a statue, a story is a story, and a God is a God. Now, a statue may remind us of a God, and help us to enter into a state of mind in which we can appreciate the God's power more; the statue can become filled with the power of a God, becoming an object capable of some amazing things, but it is still a statue.

A story can help us to understand something of the character of the Gods, and teach us important, wise perspectives about deep issues in life, but a story is still a story. It can be a sacred story, and we can gain so much guidance and peace from it, but it is still a story.

A God is a person- a non-human person who lives just as we do, though they often keep their homes in other "worlds"- perhaps other "planes of reality", to use more modern-sounding terminology.

Gods have life-spans that are far greater than human beings; they have the power to live as long as the universe-cycle lasts, and some Gods can regenerate themselves, or be regenerated by strange powers, after the cosmos finally ends and is reborn, which, according to the Ancestral wisdom, it must be and will be. The Gods clearly have powers that humans don't have- but then, humans aren't totally impoverished; humans are capable of great things, too.

The Gods can't live our lives for us, but they can affect reality in ways that humans can't, and can come to know things that humans can't know easily, and thus, they make good friends and counselors. The Ancestors believed strongly in not pestering the Gods- "better not to ask than to ask too much" Allfather advises humans, with respect to prayers and sacrifices.

Humans have in them all the cleverness and vigor needed to make good lives. Joining with the Gods as friends and as kindred is simply a reflection of our true relationship with them (we are kin to them) and it is to the benefit of both parties that such alliances be forged. That's why we do it. And that's a good reason. We keep the statues of the Gods around, and their sacred stories, because the Ancestors- who were very wise- found these things useful. And we trust them.

The Mystery of the Gods and Wyrd

No one really knows who or what the Gods are- they are beings, full persons, who dwell in this universe in another way than we do, and they are friends to man- but that's about all the hard facts we have. We know that they helped our Ancestors, and that they still honor our connections with them, through our Ancestors- it is said that they do not "forsake" their kin, in our lore. We know that they have a fateful, Wyrd-created purpose and role in the universe, as co-creators and maintainers of the universe. We know that they are good role-models for high-minded human beings.

We do know that the Gods came into being before humans did, in this universal cycle, but they were shaped by the same web of Wyrd that shaped us. They are "earlier" than us, and they had a hand in shaping us, but we share the same origin, ultimately, as the Gods. And we share something of their spirit in us, which they gave to us as a gift. All Persons (human, godly, or otherwise) have the same origin- the Web of Wyrd. All things have their origin in Wyrd.

I know you understand this "Wyrd" idea already, and goodness knows I've written enough about it. We will discuss it more, later. For now, it is enough to know that Wyrd is the timeless inter-linked web of power and causality and relationship that is responsible for the arising, sustaining, and passing away of all things, even up to the Gods and the cosmos itself.

Wyrd is, arguably, the central cosmological tenet of Heathenry. In fact, as we examine "what makes us Heathens", one of the things you will discover is that many other world religions don't have an equivalent to Wyrd. Our wise Ancestors gave us the amazing science of Wyrd, thus making us far more complete and able to make sense of our world because of it. When other foreign religionists want to explain why "something happened", they normally have to either trust some scientific explanation, or just say "God willed it"- and needless to say, the first of those has its limits, and the second is rather silly, 99% of the time.

The Gods can't be "doing" every damn little thing that happens. The sheer scale of the many worlds simply makes that so improbable as to be laughable. Can the web of power that is the universe not self-regulate and bring about causes and effects and changes without a celestial king or bureaucracy siting behind it and punching the paperwork? Our Ancestors thought so, and so did many others who were not our Ancestors, but who shared in the same primordial wisdom that our Ancestors enjoyed.

Wyrd is a system of event and a system of creation and destruction that even the Gods must use, must study and understand, and must live within. We must do so, as well. We don't have to worry about "why the Allfather let our child die" when a car accident takes our child from us- Allfather likely had nothing at all to do with it. It was Wyrd, the ubiquitous and inexorable power that rules over destiny and causality. It is a very mature and wise belief. It is also quite a bit less absurd than many others, in my way of seeing.

We don't pester the Gods; we invite them to join us in celebrating our kinship with them and with each other. We ask them for help when only they can give it. We honor them for the great things they do for the many worlds- such as protecting us from wicked powers- just as we honor great humans for the things they've done for us. Heathens have no reason to believe that the Gods are out there "messing with them" or "doing bad things to them" when misfortune strikes- the Web of Wyrd has more than enough entanglements to cause a lifetime of challenge for everyone.

When challenges come, we must endure them bravely and with fortitude- that is one of the chief Heathen values. It is a value that you will study yourself more over time. To put it in a more rugged way, you're expected to have balls when it comes to life pushing against you. No one can make you have balls, but in the old days, they were necessary- and I'd say they're still pretty necessary.

Living Right

Now, if you asked a follower of the white Christ what was included in "living right", he'd say something like "believing that Jesus is God and the he died for our sins, and following Jesus' commandment of love for god and neighbor." That's a good answer from a revealed religious perspective. But we Heathens have a different notion. Our notion is based far less on what you believe, and more on what you do.

Belief certainly plays a role. But Heathens never believed that the universe was flawed, or that the chief ruling power of the universe was angry at us, or waiting to possibly condemn us. How anyone could believe such a thing now is still a head-shaking mystery to me. Heathens did, however, think that certain principles of life needed to be understood and acted upon, if a person or a community wanted to assure the maximum chances of doing well.

And there you have it- there is a "right" way to live, a way which is "with the right order" of the world or the cosmos. No one can make you live it, but the Gods did advise us that if we didn't live that way, we'd have a harder time of it. Who wants a hard time? There are already enough hardships that we can't control, so why make it worse?

The principles of life have to do with cooperating well with others- being a good family member, a good host, a good friend, and keeping oaths that you make. This is a very important part of Heathenry, both historical and modern. But the principles of life are also tangible things. By this, I mean seeing the earth and sky for what they are- sacred and beautiful and powerful, great powers worthy of respect and worship.

By tangible, I mean the organic realities of life- recognizing nature as a sacred power, and recognizing our place in it. This includes seeing our bodies and our bodily processes as natural and appropriate- Heathens had no distrust for sexual powers, for instance. There's nothing wrong with the urges and feelings that spring naturally from us; the only "wrong" that can occur in relation to those things would be in how we may act on them in irresponsible, harmful ways. Having sex with a willing partner who isn't someone's wife or husband (unless they swing that way) is fine; rape never is. You can figure the rest out for yourself- it is organic and simple.

Being "right" with the principles of life means being a good human, and respecting nature, and respecting the Gods and Ancestors- because the Gods and Ancestors are not just Persons, but also Principles, in their own way.

When you understand that the Ancestors are important parts of your very being, and important parts of your past, you will honor them. To make a Blot or sacrifice to them, to fain or pray to them- THAT is how you put the principle into the proper place in your life. The same goes with the Gods, or with natural powers. You recognize them, and you honor them with deeds, and they are "placed" properly. Then, your life is filled with blessedness.

There are non-human persons- spirits or wights- that dwell in the land itself. Honoring them with blot and faining is another way to "respect, recognize, and place the principles of life properly"- in this case, recognizing and respecting the powerful processes of life in the land, for the wights of the land are very much associated with the principles of life expressed by the land.

But the key here is DOING. You have to honor them with words and deeds, not just belief. Wyrd is in beliefs, but the Wyrd becomes more tangible through your deeds, through your mind and body, and with that tangible manifestation, blessedness comes into you. This I have always found to be true. Never forget it,

But never forget that your own light and power as a human is just as important as your friendship with the Gods. You have a power which is natural to you- a power passed down to you from your Ancestors. That power gets stronger the more you act in accordance with High-Mindedness; it gets weaker the less you do. That power for living is crucial. We can never forget about that power and replace it with beliefs or Gods. Never. And the Ancestors said the exact same thing to Christian missionaries.

There is no room for human beings to forget their humanity and their own skill, power, and luck, and try to turn their lives over to someone else's ideas or Gods, or even some notion of "God". Such behavior is contrary to the Heathen way of being.

So What Makes us True to the Heathen Way?

Now, we've reached the end of this perspective sharing. After writing it out myself, I think I have an answer to our original question. This is my conclusion; you may have a different one. But here's what I think.

* * *

We are Asatru, True Believers in the Aesir or Gods, True to the Heathen Way, when we

1. Respect the Ancestors and Look to the Fund of Ancestral Wisdom for guidance through life-situations

2. Love Freedom and Seek Freedom

3. Live by the dictates of High-Mindedness

4. Understand Wyrd and don't blame our misery on Gods or other cop-outs

5. Recognize and place- through our deeds- the Principles of Life properly in our day-to-day existence.

* * *
All of these things are important, but if I was forced to pick, I would say that either the value we place on respecting the Ancestors and looking to their fund of wisdom for guidance, or our stance of valuing High-Mindedness would be the two most important things on this list, and the things that made us stand out the most as unique from the other religions of our world in the modern day. We certainly stand out in the west as the only "Ancestor Worshipers" left out there!

Yes, I'm liking this "five-point" perspective on being True to the Heathen Way. As you can see, it includes elements of thinking and believing and acting, but it's more than just that; it includes trust for the Ancestors. right deeds, and an expectation of nobility from ourselves.

I'm not suggesting that this is gospel, but it is based on much experience of the Heathen world, and a long consideration of our Ancestral lore. Nearly all heathens like to wear Thor's hammers around their necks, but no matter how people dress or what they wear, or what they call themselves, if they don't understand these five points- and actualize them- in some form, in some fashion- they are likely only playing Heathen dress-up. That's my perspective, and I'm sticking to it.

I hope you consider all this and get some good out of it. Please comment here below with your questions and discussion.

Raise the Horns!

Your friend, Ule Alfarrin