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!