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