Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Death of Innocents: Heathen Consolation in the Face of Tragedy

I've had quite a heavy heart ever since I heard of the killings on the campus of Virginia Tech. Such a tragedy forces everyone to reconsider everything they think about the world and this life. As a father who loves his own child more than anything in the world, I see the faces of my own daughter in the faces of those slain in this senseless massacre.

I'm a man of faith, and a Godi to my own family and religious community. I'm a Seid-worker who searches the depths of his soul and the horizons of this world for meaning. Despite what anyone says, faith is never an easy road to walk through life. You may be very comfortable with what you believe; you may spend a lot of money or time on it; you may show your devotion in a dozen ways, but faith- real faith- is not easy.

I believe, like my ancestors before me, that we are all descendants of the Allfather, and his family of Gods. I believe that we are also sprung from great natural powers, like the great Earth below us. I believe that the bonds of family, kin, and community should be foremost in our lives, because I don't think that human spirituality, morality, or ethics actually become real things until we fulfill them on behalf of those we love. Heathenry becomes a deep part of us when we look into the eyes of the people that we are experiencing it with, and living it with.

Still, at the end of the day, our modern world presents us with many distractions and reasons to doubt our own minds. Are we living well? Are we worthy of this life? Are we fulfilling our potentials? I have faith that a person lives well who lives honestly and who lives as much as they can for others. I have faith that we are worthy to be where we are, because Wyrd or Fate spun us onto these paths, for a reason. I have faith that we encounter what we need to encounter to bring our potentials to perfect fruition. Despite the difficulties that people of faith must encounter, I think that these difficulties are challenges that will make us stronger, and eventually whole.

I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a child in such a cruel way. To think that a hallowed place of learning could be violated with innocent blood; to think that people- the sons and daughters of parents just like me- could want to better themselves through education, and be sitting in a classroom, only to meet their deaths.

There's no words that can block the rushing river of grief that now wends its way through the lives of countless people, and no words that can make the rest of us feel safe with regard to our own children and our own family members. More than that, no religious belief will make us feel 100% about these events.

I can tell you what I believe, but it won't matter; they are just words. I could say that the man who did this was consumed by the natural and dangerous forces lurking in all of us; I can say that his feeling of alienation and his mental illnesses combined to break him free of the bonds of decency, affection, sanity, and love, and sent him rushing out to collide with the holy life-houses of other people, destroying them as he went. Like the giants who will one day destroy the world, giantish powers in this wretched man destroyed 32 worlds- 32 people- and finally himself.

What comfort does the Heathen faith offer us? What reason does it give for things like this happening? There are many reasons, but even the best-explained reason won't stop the grief. Still I am compelled to state what I must say: when we lose connection with one another, when we lose Frith, when people have a hard time finding the "place where they belong", these sorts of atrocities can happen.

In Frith, in good, rightful union with your family, friends, the Gods, and the land beneath you, you are safe. You have immense power for living, and a neverending source of sanity. I have a family that I love and who love me back. I have friends and a religious community that extend the same affection. Daily I have love, acceptance, and a sense of "being in place" re-affirmed, in many ways. In this great peace, I can easily grasp the value of human life, the value of friendship, and the value of religion.

The dangerous forces that live in me cannot overwhelm the Godly walls built in me, and maintained through this peace. The Gods are daily invited into my life to keep this peace holy and strong; the walls in me that protect my own mind and life are made red and fresh with the pourings from sacrifices, and the Gods live here. If you belong to a Kindred, or if you have a powerful relationship with the Gods, you have the same sort of protection, the same sort of stability. What's important to keep in mind is that anyone can have these things- Frith is possible for any person who can open themselves up to others and be unafraid to love and be loyal.

What did the murderer of these innocents have? It's clear from what has been announced that he was practically friendless, isolated, and troubled. I already know that he was not Asatru, not true to the Gods, nor consciously in their fellowship. He was an open, unprotected field, an unwarded home, an unguarded keep. Terrible powers were allowed to multiply and place their own cruel, oafish thrones and tables up in the hall of his inner self. With no support from friends or from spiritual powers, he had no place to go, no help to fall back onto, when the pains and defeats of life pressed down on him.

Many people in his situation would just take their own lives. But deep in us lurk forces that are infintely more savage than that. Fiery things of rage made plunder of his sanity and sent him to destruction, dragging down innocents with him. He couldn't see other lives as valuable; he was no father, so he could never have seen what I have seen- the vision of love in the face of a child, and the realization that this same love has been seen in the face of every child by other parents.

So the tragedy was woven, and it came to pass. This is the Wolf-Age, the last age of the world. Such sad things are to be expected, and doubly so in a world that has forsaken bonds of kindred and community, in exchange for the selfish life of the "new individual", who lives for nothing but himself and his own gain.

What comfort can my own faith offer me and to all people (for indeed, all are affected by this tragedy)? The comfort of knowing that what is good, noble, and dear will never be lost forever. 32 innocent souls are now walking the ghost-roads, the hel-way into the deep, restful realm below. Across the dividing line between life and death, I think they will rejoin with those who have gone before. I think that when this age is over, and a new age begins, they will live again. The Underworld of the dead may be a fearful subject to many, but in reality, it is the repository of all our hopes. There, safe in that deep place, rest the seeds of nobility, valor, and hope for a new world. In the web of Wyrd, nothing is ever lost.

We must not allow the news of this horror to go unheeded- we have to let it remind us to guard against our own corruption. We have to let it remind us to cherish our days and nights with our families and loved ones, because they can be slain at any time. Only our bonds of honor, trust, and love can build a bridge over death, and help us to never lose them. But that's also a matter of faith- and faith is a test in and of itself.

Can you trust the ancients? Do you trust that they knew what they were talking about? Balder the Beautiful was sent cruelly to the Underworld, in the prime of his long life, young and cherished. I've seen 32 Balders fall and go below, and I've seen many families, many parents, weeping and raging like Odin and Frigg wept and raged for their son. I've also heard the Seeress tell of a new world that will come when this one passes away, in which Balder rises again, returns from the deeps of the Underworld, to be in the daylight of the world again, and to be among his kin. I think the ancients were onto something with this; I don't think they made it up out of idleness, nor because they were just trying to comfort themselves.

Go watch the world die in winter, and then see the same myth take place when the green returns. It's okay to weep; the Gods themselves wept, bitterly. That's another necessary part of our lives and our Fate. Our ancestors had no problem telling stories of wights as Mighty as the Allfather and his Wife going through the pain of loss- emotion is not merely a human attribute. All beings in the nine worlds must feel pain and joy. What makes the Gods divine is their great wisdom in the face of pain and joy. We can have some of that wisdom, if we have faith that the story of our lives extends beyond the boundaries of life and death as we see them.

It's not hard to have Faith in the existence of the Gods themselves, or even spirits, when you experience them daily; but its harder to have faith, sometimes, with the idea that life is, ultimately, on the side of life. But that's just the faith I have. If I'm wrong, then I won't be around to regret it after I meet my own death, and I'll live a life of joy in the meantime. I invite everyone to do the same.

May the Allfather bless the slain and appear to them now in whatever form they need to see, to guide them to a restful place across the dividing line between this world and the other worlds. May they have peace, and new life one day.


Kathryn said...

I type this through my tears for those innocents so cruelly slain in Virginia. Your words were moving, and brought me comfort by reminding me of that which is easy to forget at such times. Down here in New Zealand we feel the pain of those bereaved parents as keenly as the residents of that small town.
Bless you for your words, and may the spirits of the berearved find peace in due time.


Eilish De'Avalon said...

I have lived in a house that has mourned for the loss off young people, my parents greived over the loss of three of my siblings, and now as a parent myself, I can comprehend the magnitude of their pain all those years ago much more clearly than as a child of five. May they rest in peace, my hearts go out to everyone affected by this senseless tragedy of the loss of innocents, may this bring us together as a tribe, as a community, for the world really is quite small, when it can send shockwaves like this around the globe, as far as Australia, and those of us who remember our own losses weep with those who shed fresh heartbroken tears. - Eilish

Hecate said...

You want to avoid making what I call "the mistake of Dobson" -- blaming your own personal dislikes about this culture for every bad thing that happens. But much of what you say is lovely. Thankyou for it.

Ule said...

Surely you've misread me; I'm not blaming my own personal dislikes about this culture for every bad thing that's happening. But the points I make about the need for closer bonds between people would limit this sort of violence and make it less likely. This isn't a personal dislike; this isn't my opinion; it's a truth about mankind and a failure of mankind. There are many reasons why many bad things happen. This killing was caused by certain causes that I believe are easy to see and finite. As a Heathen, I have to state my opinion, for my own conscience and for what I believe to be the good of all.

Bad things will happen in any world, no matter how close people are. But they won't happen as much in a world where people are closer. That much is for certain.