Monday, August 13, 2007

William Bainbridge on Ego and Wyrd

It's not everyday that you find someone who is able to express some of the most important ideas in writing with perfect precision. It's also not everyday that you find a writer who (clearly) thinks pretty much exactly the way you do about a subject as subtle and open to debate as Wyrd. William Bainbridge, a writer for the Troth organization, wrote a superb essay on "The Ego and Heathenism"- and it's one of the finest bits of writing this writer has seen in ages, for it goes not only into the beating heart of Wyrd, but also other topics that all Heathens (and all religious people besides) need to see.

Bainbridge points out that people often try to make "maps" or "Charts" of the "Soul" in various heathen and pagan faiths- and he doesn't really like this effort, for a very important reason- the web of Wyrd or Fate that makes up each one of us is a bit complex for this sort of endeavor. But he goes further- he says some important things, that I think cannot be repeated enough- listen to this pure magic:

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"...Approaching this view of human life from a Heathen religious standpoint, I find it both very difficult and unrewarding to fit this complex understanding of the individual into some fixed theory, diagram, moral lesson or comprehensive program of self-improvement. Life simply is too complicated to be meaningfully explained by such things, and in any event, does not work precisely the same way for each of us, since the balance of significant causes is probably different for each of us.

What is the same for all of us is the process of working out old causes and adding new ones, and also the web of causation that ties us all together in many and profound ways, some of which we can understand and some of which remain mysteries approached only through myth and metaphor. Each of us was created by a multitude of causes, each will ultimately be destroyed and dissipated by a multitude of causes, and in the space in-between, each will be constantly transformed by a multitude of causes. While it is tempting to identify with one or a few of them, and cling to them as to a seemingly sturdy raft caught in turbulent waters, to do so is fundamentally inconsistent with the way things--the way we--really are. The raft, after all, will break up in the end, and the only resolution that promises any stability is for us to understand once and for all that we and the waters are, at bottom, not separate things.

It might appear at this point as if the view of Wyrd presented here differs from a scientific/psychological viewpoint only in its acceptance of non-physical, "spiritual" causes, rather than remaining constrained with the need for tangible, measurable causes. But that alone is, I think, insufficient to make Wyrd an essentially religious belief. It is a pet notion of mine that two fundamental perceptions lie at the heart of religion as a human phenomenon. They can be neither proved nor disproved logically, but then, no one ever said that faith does not play a part in religion, and as things go, I am satisfied in placing my faith in them.

The first is that, despite all of the things that appear to us to be messed up in one way or another, the way life is working itself out in the universe is the way it is supposed to be working itself out; that is, life, being, and consciousness are supremely and unquestionably good. And the second is that the appropriate human response to the first perception is gratitude. The most primary expression of religion is to give thanks for the innate rightness of life.

Understanding ourselves in light of Wyrd, as patterns within the universal web of life and destiny, removes barriers that too often stand in the way of our arriving at the gratitude that impels us to give thanks. To get there, we must give up what we will inevitably lose anyway, and reach beyond ourselves to grasp what is, in fact, the true essence of ourselves.

This is admittedly an intellectualized, and some would doubtless add, tortured, expression of something that remains implicit, natural and mysterious in the lore. But I do not think it entirely different from the realization that led so many of the figures in lore, when faced with impossible situations, to express, not merely fatalistic acceptance, but outright joy at the prospect, not of survival, but rather of expressing in their own destruction an affirmation of life, and of all they had lived for.

Where it does differ, however, is in the fact that, because it is an intellectual formulation, it insists upon logically working out its own consequences: it is not enough to give thanks for the innate rightness of life; one should go farther, and participate in that rightness, strive to carry it forward. How that further obligation seems to me to work itself out in religious practice and personal conduct, though, is not much expressed either in the lore or in modern Heathen thought, and although I believe I have arrived at my conclusions through following a relatively traditional understanding of Wyrd out to its logical consequences, I also believe I have gone out on this particular limb about as far as I intend to for now, at least in public.

Be that as it may, I would close with the suggestion that Wyrd, not gods or ethics, might actually be the central mystery of Heathen religion; but one does not drink from her well for free, and having drunk, cannot become again the person one was beforehand."

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These words spell out, as close as human words may, the heart of true religion, and of everything I personally believe. He's right- Wyrd IS the central mystery of Heathen religion. Hail the Mystery of Wyrd, and the Gods that have arisen from it!

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