Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Our Truth, Part One: The Heathen Legacy, the Modern Context of Heathenry, and the Myths of the Modern World

Modern Heathenry is a very young system of religious expression. While it is true that Heathenry has deep and ancient origins, it was largely interrupted for over a thousand years, before its rebirth and recension in the modern day. After such an interregnum, there remains a lot of work to be done on the level of "reclaiming" the legacy of the old days, while still operating successfully within the modern context.

When I say "modern context", I do not mean to suggest that we have to make concessions to modernist or christian-influenced sensibilities, even though some people in the various camps of Heathenry will accuse me of doing just that. No, what I mean by "modern context" is a simple matter of recognizing the realities of the times we live in, and situating ourselves within those times.

I consider such a recognition and situation to be a religious duty. Why? Because if we believe in the worldview of Wyrd- and indeed, as a Seidman, I certainly do, along with many other Heathens- then we have a duty to clearly perceive, understand and accept the perpetual spinning and expression of Wyrd or Fate itself. Fate in the broadest sense is nothing less than "that which is" and "that which becomes"- the manifestation of the entire world around us, the realities of the worlds seen and unseen, and all the beings within them; Fate is also seen in the procession of ages, from the dawn of ages to the Wolf-age and the Ragnarok.

As regretable as it may be to admit, the simple fact is that we no longer live in a Heathen time; the world has changed. The vast majority of people no longer have a belief in the Gods. While some (including myself) believe that we have swung back into a "new Heathen era", this is not to suggest that we can transform the world or the world-Fate back into "how it was before". Such an idea is nonsense; it's quite unthinkable.

One cannot return to a former time. The world-doom is steadily approaching and Fate is spinning out as it must. What we can do is lay claim to some of the wisdom of the former times, and accept that wisdom into our daily lives here and now, and allow it to guide us to nobility and insight, both of which are somewhat rare things in these dark days. It's also what I believe our ancestors would have wanted us to do. And we do it as best we can, working to honor what they honored within the context of the modern day. An example of this "in modern context" Heathenry is seen in the fact that most of us don't have the same connection to farm animals that our ancestors once had, so we do blots with ale and mead now, instead of sacrificing a living beast and sprinkling its blood.

This is an adjustment in form- not in essence- of the rite of sacrifice, which has nothing to do with any modernist notions. The world has changed; our relationship and closeness with food animals changed; and so we do things a little differently now. There is nothing mysterious or scandalous about this, nor is this any failure on our part in these modern times. We have not made concessions to "modernist" forces or animal rights groups, nor have we abandoned some subtle truth about sacrifice that our ancestors knew. We are still consuming a consecrated substance, and then sprinkling ourselves with some of it, thus fully actualizing and experiencing the power of blot or sacrifice, as much as any people who have ever lived experienced it.

There is no command somewhere in the surviving lore that states that the consecrated and shared/sprinkled substance has to be the blood of an animal; consecrated ale is every bit as capable of carrying the power of the Gods into us as consecrated pork or blood; to believe otherwise would be to make a dim statement about the power of the Gods.

Modern Heathens no longer live in tribes or villages that depend on the meat of sacrifices to supplement their diets; what's more important for our tiny kindreds and hearths today is to re-affirm our connection with the Gods regularly, and so we use a more common substance to facilitate the blot. Fate has delivered us into these times, and we live here, now. Wisdom demands that we situate ourselves in a fitting way. To do so is to honor the living and flexible wisdom of the ancestors which helped them to cope with and adapt to the world in distant times.

When I talk of a "new Heathen era", it's not a matter of some romanticized notion of everyone casting off the trappings of the modern and going back to live in Viking longhouses, and dressing and speaking in the manner of by-gone ages. I'm discussing a mental and spiritual era of wisdom-reclamation and recognition of the ancestral power and unique experience that we are all heirs to, while living in the modern day. I'm talking about having access to generations of pre-Christian life and experience, the very essence of the experience our ancestors had of the world and the Gods, which became encoded in their holy myths and sagas and lores.

Why is this desirable? Because it is a neglected chapter of human history that has much to teach us. It is also a fair tribute that we owe to people whose voices have long been silenced in what I consider to be an unfair and unwise manner. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are wiser now than people have ever been; such a "modern myth" may comfort us, but it is a dishonorable, vain way of thinking. The early Christians are a good example of people who bought wholesale into the myth that their new ways were far wiser than the old ways that they were working so hard to replace. Modern Heathens today make it a point to distance themselves from Christian thinking and to mentally and spiritually reject the "Christianization" that spread across the North so long ago, at least with respect to our own spiritual destinies.

But if we wish to truly distance ourselves from the tendencies demonstrated by these early Christians (and to the vast majority of Christians now) then we must guard ourselves such that we do not fall into our own species of vanity, a modernist vanity that leads us to think that we are wiser than the grandmothers and grandfathers, or that our modern day and its technologies represent a full scale "improvement" of the quality of human life, despite their costs.

Our modern way of life is only an improvement if you consider things like air conditioning, jets, and miracle drugs to be the defining factors of "quality of life". If you consider physical comforts and length of life to be the defining factors of "quality", then you must believe you live in the greatest times ever. However, if you think that love, as well as honest, fruitful connections between kin-groups, and a conscious, recognized connection between humans and the Gods is the factor that defines quality, then certainly you will join me in balking at the materialistic and hedonistic trickery that practically all modern people have bought into.

Because the simple truth is that the length of human life is not the most important issue, though we in the modern day, with all of our uncertainties about life and death, have been driven to believe that it is. To live 30 or 40 years in the strength of true bonds with other humans and the Gods is preferable to living 100 years suffering from the sense of isolation and alienation that so many people feel today.

To live a short life feeling "in place", having a deep sense of connection between yourself, the Land, the Gods and your kin, is one of Fate's most precious gifts, and it is a gift that less people find today than ever before. A short life of certainty about who loves you, and whom you love in return, and certainty about who will protect you and whom it is right that you should protect, is in my opinion far preferable to a century of wandering through a world full of people who would rather look at television screens or computer screens than at one another. "Family" has become something we spend half our time trying to escape, as opposed to that group of people we should be spending our time getting to know; and "friends" too often become the people we seek to gain some personal benefit from, as opposed to fellow human beings who are experiencing the same human journey that we all have to undergo.

In the place of true human bonds, we get cheap tricks, supposed miracle cures for the things that make us suffer, without ever once considering that what will truly "cure" the modern sense of angst, the thing we really need, is a recognition- literally a re-cognition- of who and what we truly are, who the Gods are, and what life demands of us.

As an aside, be certain that I'm not suggesting we go get baseball bats and smash our toasters and throw away our bottles of tylenol; I am not against improvements in technology; I simply don't believe in the "myth of human progress" in the way that most modern people unquestioningly believe in it. I also believe that the ideal of human life would be to have wisdom, happiness, and peace alongside our modern technological miracles. But sadly, the ideal balance never seems to occur. The main reason why is because we've been led to believe that material comfort and advanced technology would equate with happiness, when it certainly does not.

If you examine our way of life today, it's pretty clear that most people in the "civilized world" know more about the lives of Hollywood celebrities, more about writing long lines of computer code, and more about making mixed drinks, than they do about what life truly offers to them. We know more about doing our taxes, what clothing styles are "in" and "out", and the rules and regulations of organized sports leagues, than we know about offering love and support to our families and friends when they need it. In the end, many people end up knowing the in's and out's of office politics more than their own children.

We've been conditioned, consciously and unconsciously, to ignore the most urgent matters of human relationship, such as our many experiences with death, and replace them with distractions that keep us feeling dazed and comfortable. This is a result of losing the connection between each other and the world around us. To go back to the death example, most everyone has found themselves in the uncomfortable situation of being around someone who has recently lost a child or husband or family member, and finding themselves unable to approach the subject; at most we can cough out a fine "I'm sorry" to them, and then immediately look for an exit from the situation, or just wait in silence for the person to react and spare us having to talk further about the dead. Maybe you've said the name of a person who just died to one of their loved ones, quite without thinking about it, and found yourself suddenly shocked and embarrased that you said it, afraid that you may have hurt or awoken grief in the person.

On the flip side, maybe you've watched the "nightly news body count" happen all your life, and saw night after night of news reports about the 150 people killed in this mudslide or that tidal wave, saw the 80 people killed in this or that civil war, or the soldiers killed in this or that battle, and become numb to it. It's so hard to feel concern when it's people dying far away, even though most of us feel that we should react in some manner. But our reactions to death tend to fall into two camps: either extreme discomfort, a shock that smothers us in silence, or a lack of concern, a sense of disconnection, for the numbers flashing across the screen every day and every night.

And this is what I think most people's lives are like- numbers and images flashing on a screen, just an insubstantial light show, flipping from channel to channel in a disjointed manner, one distraction to another and finally getting turned off, with the programming and its information mostly rapidly forgotten. Do I sound over-critical of mankind? The only reason I make this comparison with most people's lives and television is because I once lived that way myself, though I hardly consider it "life" in any real sense of the word. I was fortunate to be approached by spirits and to have been shaken awake a bit from my slumber by circumstances of Wyrd.

As a result of my own vision, I know that there is a better way to live, but it requires something of us that we have to be willing to give; it requires genuine effort and it requires a willingness to admit that our modern day, and all its technologies, may not have all the answers. This is where Heathenry steps in and says "look back to the wisdom of our grandmothers and grandfathers- they have things to say to us that can help us see through some of the modern myths and spells that have trapped our senses."

For it is true that primal peoples had less of our distractions. The conscious experience of nature was far more immediate to them than it is to us today, for many reasons. Did they have problems, flaws, drawbacks? Sure, because they were humans like us. But most people who are realistic will admit that their way of life took less a toll on the world than our way of life today, and they were certainly less concerned with unimportant things and more concerned with things that matter, such as the well-being of their families and their task as human beings in a community of human beings.

Most importantly, they had a direct, conscious connection with the wisdom of the collective human past which came to them through the vehicle of Myth and Saga, which they whole-heartedly accepted and hearkened to- the same myths that the modern world rejects as "superstition" or belittles as primitive attempts to "explain the world" in the "best way they could", with the clear insinuation that we moderns have some new, better ways of explaining the world that bring us far closer to the "truth" than anyone has ever come.

But the reality is that our own modern myths aren't closer to any truth; in fact, a case can be made that they are further from it, because we have forgotten something essential about myths- myths aren't just about explaining the world; at their core, myths are about us.

We operate under the mistaken idea that ancient peoples thought just like we think today; that their myths were linear explanations of the world, like primitive scientific theories. But they weren't. They were stories born from a very different perception and experience of the world, strange stories capturing something of the essence of reality- a reality that we all share, and which is stranger than anyone thinks. The Truth about our lives and the Gods is beyond belief; it is stranger than anyone thinks, or perhaps can think. "Wyrd" is the ancestor of the word "weird" for good reasons!

Modern scientific myths give us very intricate and detailed stories about the world, and all its physical and chemical formation, and all its evolutionary courses, and they tell us about the vastness of the cosmos- but the never tell us anything about our humanity, about our humanhood. They fail to explain the fact of our consciousness, of our subjectivity; they fail to demonstrate how very material brain matter can give rise to something immaterial like the continuum of consciousness; and even though not a single science-myth believer has ever seen consciousness emerge from the physical matter of the brain, it is accepted by most- quite without evidence- that it must do so.

Instead of being open to all possibilities- including the possibility that there are aspects of the human being that simply cannot be explained in a "scientific" manner, they rest in a groundless faith that one day, following well-worn "scientific" methods, everything WILL be explained, and furthermore, it will be explained without recourse to all of the aspects of human life and mind that they don't feel comfortable with, like the idea of spirit or the Gods.

The modern myth-writers do not have the open-minded, flexible mind of inquiry that they claim to have; most are quite sold on the myth of materialism, and they see everything with those eyes. They see any and all religious beliefs as childish denial or superstition, and accept their own spiritual nihilism as a form of mental and intellectual "maturity", giving themselves a feeling of superiority over the other human beings who cannot let go of their "security blankets".

They tell us how ancient the earth is, but say nothing about how ancient we are, or how ancient the spirit is. They tell us how vast the cosmos is, but they say nothing about how vast the spirit and its creativity is. They truly know more about the chemical composition of rocks and oceans than they know about how and why to love other human beings. They know a lot about how to sustain a body in health, but not how to live or why. They know how to escape death for as long as possible, but not how to die.

And so it goes. Can any thinking person really believe that these modern myths are "closer to the Truth" than any humans have ever come before now? Even though these modern myth writers have been able to produce air conditioners for us, and brilliant combinations of chemicals to treat our diseases, and pretty light shows and telephones, have they produced what we really need? I think not, and the reason why is because what we really need is not "produced" through scientific effort; what we need is something we always have, something we are born with and something we die with. It's the very basis for the dignity that each living being is heir to. To discover this gift we carry with us through life and death is a matter of wisdom, a matter of re-cognizing who and what we are.

If we don't have this recogntion, we are wandering fools, who will be destroyed by their lack of recognition. If we do have it, then we are true human beings who are consciously made whole by the recognition. To look outside of us, or to the chemical composition of the brain or of the earth's crust in some attempt to "explain" us is a doomed enterprise.

To know Wyrd, to see Wyrd, is to see with eyes of completeness, to see all factors, not just a few that are assumed to be the "keys" to it all- in the worldview of Wyrd, EVERYTHING is the key to everything else, for all forces are inter-related. Does consciousness arise only from the brain? No. It arises from the world, not unlike the brain itself. Without water, fire, sky, trees, there would be no humans, no brains, no feet or hands. If you take away one strand of the web of Wyrd, the entire thing vanishes, unravels, falls apart, ceases to be. Every single thing depends on everything else. The Gods depend on the many powers; we depend on the Gods and the other powers. Within that web of powers, the Gods shaped many things, but they themselves arose from the web of Reality, and they are affected by it, in their own way.

Consciousness also arises from this web; consciousness is not in a "place"; it is a quality of the web of Wyrd, a timeless aspect of reality that is dependant on countless forces and affected by them, while simultaneously affecting them back. Your consciousness is just as dependant on the oak tree in your backyard, on the roaring of the ocean, on the stars in the sky, and on the laughs and smiles of your friends, as it is on your brain. To try and "explain" it further than this is folly; the web of Wyrd is simply too vast to manage an explanation with human words.

And indeed, what good would it do us if we were able to explain consciousness fully? Would this explanation suddenly reveal to us how to live and how to love? Would the explanation suddenly make us all good, dignified human beings? No. We would still be facing the same issues about human inter-relationship that we face now; we'd still be facing greed and anger and strife. We'd still face moral issues and we'd still be struggling to find happiness. Would the explanation of consciousness spare us from having to die one day? No. We'd just be dying with full knowledge of where our consciousness came from, which may or may not be such a great consolation to those who are undergoing the pains of dying.

Would this miracle explanation make us all happy and at peace? No, I don't think it would. Chances are, we'd just come up with a new pile of questions hiding behind our "answer", and start struggling over those. The momentary satisfaction we'd have felt from getting one question answered would be drowned out by new questions. This paper-chase would never end. My point here is that explaining human life is not nearly as important as living life well, as honorable people. You don't need to see a schematic or a diagram that explains where consciousness comes from in detail to live a conscious life of love, honor, and bravery.

So to look "here" or "there" for the truth is a function of the confused mind that paradoxically searches everywhere for itself while ignoring the one most obvious "place" where the treasure awaits; it's a madness of types, when you think about it. Why would this "place" be ignored? Because in our modern day, perhaps in common with many older times, few people have the bravery or the ability to give up on the effort of "outer" searching and turn inward, to a "place"- and by "place" I mean that way of seeing completely- that defies our hopes and expectations for what the Truth has to be, or how it must be found.

The search for truth is not dependant on how good of a fighter a person is anymore than it is dependant on how brilliant a researcher they are. It's not dependant on how well they can manipulate numbers or words, or on how skillful and talented they are. More than anything, people want to believe that on some level, the Truth can be reached if they "give it their best" or apply "themselves" against the "world" and force the world to reveal her truths. Ironically, these attitudes and brilliant applications of mind and skill largely stand in the way of a person being able to perceive the truth for the simple matter that they create, reinforce, and maintain false distinctions between "self" and "the world".

The most that a person will ever see, through their brilliant efforts, is a reflection of what they wanted to see all along, or what they thought they should see. They won't be writing a myth that reveals some truth; they will (despite their sincere belief to the contrary) be writing a story that covers the truth up; they won't be writing a myth about the world or even humanity; they'll be writing a story of vanity, and this is a common enough occurence nowadays.

I'm a Wyrd-worker, a Seidman. I don't see things in quite the same way others do, though I suppose anyone could say that about themselves with respect to the perceptions of others. True to my non-traditional approach to perception, I see people's quest to "understand the world" as a disguised form of their deep desire to know themselves. The curiosity that drives a scientist to "explain" consciousness is actually a symptom of desire for self-knowledge, for understanding who and what they are. The sad thing is that so many of these people also have extremely limited methodologies for arriving at the "truth", so many harmful assumptions about how "truth" must be arrived at, that their desire for it will never be satisfied. To want something dearly, to need it, but to steadfastly refuse the means of obtaining it- that is the true seed of eternal angst.

Sadly, when these same people educate our children and the next generation of our scientists and our next modern myth makers, they pass on their fears, their limitations and their angst, which then even creeps into the policy decisions of governments, and the prevailing attitudes of common people, and the decisions of corporate superentities. Soon the whole world is permeated by a deep, unexplainable sense of being lost, and based on a search that goes on endlessly, while the masses sit back and half-watch in their daily stupor.

Again, this is where the worldview of Wyrd steps in and explodes these limitations and offers us a cure- the only cure we can expect in this Wolf Age. It says this: the limitations that we suffer are only in us, not in Wyrd, not in Reality itself. To see the full picture of reality, to experience it in the whole manner which it must be experienced, is to find what we seek. Just because the world is near to Ragnarok doesn't mean that peace in the individual is impossible. To live in the new Heathen era is to seek wisdom and peace in the way of our ancestors, and to seek fellowship with the Gods who help us to find wisdom just as they helped our ancestors. The Path of Wyrd is one of the most profound gifts our ancestors gave to us, to help us find wisdom, and so we should give it our full attention, in every aspect of our lives.