Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Viking ship lands in Ireland after nearly 1,000 years

DUBLIN (Reuters) A reconstructed Viking ship pulled into Dublin on Tuesday nearly 1,000 years after the original sank off Denmark's coast, with its crew retracing the gruelling voyages made by marauding Nordic raiders to Ireland.

The Sea Stallion's weather-beaten, 65-member team set sail from Roskilde in Denmark on July 1 using oar and sail power, journeying over 1,000 nautical miles and aiming to address unanswered questions about Viking ship-building and travel.

Church bells rang out and a flotilla of sailing boats greeted the ship's entry into Dublin's port on Tuesday.

"You have come here on a voyage of discovery," said Dublin's Lord Mayor Paddy Bourke as the vessel and its volunteer crew of men and women docked.

Crafted from the wood of 300 oak trees, the 30-metre (100-foot) long, 4-metre wide Sea Stallion is the world's largest reconstructed Viking vessel, its builders say.

The original ship was built in Dublin in 1042 but sank 30 years later in Roskilde fjord, around 30 miles (50 km) south of Copenhagen, and lay there until excavation began in 1962. The Sea Stallion was completed in 2004 after work started in 2000.

The Sea Stallion's voyage aimed to mirror the conditions faced by the feared Nordic warriors who unleashed bloody raids on Ireland and England 1,000 years ago.

The ship's Danish captain, Carsten Hvid, said the toughest moment was coming into the Irish Sea, when high winds and 5-metre waves battered the boat.

"We put on our survival suits and prepared the life rafts," Hvid told reporters after arriving in Dublin. But he added that no one was washed overboard.

The vessel was towed for a small part of the trip. Most of the voyage was spent braving the elements on an open deck, with just a square metre of living space for each crew member.

Some of the assembled team spent stints on a support ship due to hypothermia or minor injuries.

"You were so tired, but you still had to work together. It has been a great experience," said Hvid.

In the old Viking sagas, it was not uncommon for captains to spend weeks, months, or even an entire winter waiting for the weather to shift in their favour.

"There was cold, lashing rain on some days from the morning until the following morning," the ship's project manager Prieben Rather Sorensen told Reuters.

"We did not have the time that the Vikings had as we had to be here today," he added. "That was one of the challenges."

Researchers will analyse film and computer data gathered during the voyage, and the vessel will go on display this month at Dublin's National Museum until next year, when a crew captained by Hvid will make the return voyage home.

Sorensen said he was already counting down the days to setting sail again. "It is like a narcotic -- you can't live without it," he said.

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!

The Heathen's Daily Oath

"I am not troubled by death and I wish to meet it. The Disir whom Odin has sent to me from Herjar's Hall invite me home. Gladly will I drink ale with the Aesir on the high seat. Ended are the hours of life. Laughing will I die."

-Ragnar Lothbrok's Death Song

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I address all of the Holy Kindreds, and the wights that dwell in this place, and I sing a song about myself and the world in which I dwell:

I am of the race of Ask and Embla, the offspring of Rig, and I speak in this sacred dwelling, in a distant time, from a darkening world.

Now, Garm bays loudly

And many have met their doom,

Now sleeping in the halls of Hel, her hue dark red.

This is the axe-age and the sword age, and sundered are many shields; this is the wind-age, the wolf-age, and the world-doom is not far off.

In these trying times, many have forgotten the ancestral Gods and few still give worth to the land-wights and the holy mound-dead.

Oaths are forgotten with ease,

Hearts are shaken like leaves in wind,

And few are Wyrd-wise enough to say what shall be from day to day and night to night.

This life is a field of struggle; I have faced adversity many times, and many times won good victories, though my luck did not always remain steady, and not always did I win through effort or act with honor.

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I address all of the Holy Kindreds, and the wights that dwell in this place, and I make this prayer to mighty Urd, spinner and weaver of the destinies of men:

Every man and woman's final day is fixed by the Fates; if today is my last, and this evening I walk down the Hel-way, do not look upon my failings, but upon the honor and worth I gave to you, and the faith I kept with those bound to me- let that be honor enough to give me shoes for the Hel-track and the guidance of my Fylgja.

Every man and woman's final day is fixed in the weave of the Norns; if today is my last, and this evening I walk down the Hel-way, do not look upon my misdeeds, but upon the love and deeds that bonded me to my family and kin, and the loyalty I feel for them- let that be enough to give me a coat for the Hel-winds and the blessings of my Disir.

Guiding and protecting spirit that walks side-by-side with me through this life, Dis sent from the side of the Allfather, Swan-cloaked maiden, do not abandon me to the forgetfulness of death nor to the fearful mouth of Helgrind, but be with me in my time of greatest need, for we are all Kin of Herjan. Speak well of me in the Halls of the Gods.

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If it is Fate that I should die through violence, let me bravely face it. Let the violence that shatters this body be the force that makes me worthy to be lifted to the Hall of the Slain and to sit with the heroes in Allfather's company; let the weapon that kills me bring me to life.

If it is Fate that I should linger and die of old age or sickness, let the Disir and my Fylgja stand over me, ready to guide me to rest across the waters, and let me be with those I love until I am no more.

I believe in mighty Asa-Tyr's Justice, the Justice that rules over all the worlds. I believe in the power of right action, and I pledge now, as I pledge everyday, to honor the Gods, reverence the Land and the holy powers within it, protect my family and friends always, and the wide family of life alongside them, and to uphold the Truth even if the cost to myself is high.

All my days, I have done what I thought was right, and I can offer no better account of my life.

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Gods of Allfather's family, Gods of the Vanir, powers of the deep world of Hel, let me share in your great wisdom. Let me gain the golden mead of poetic inspiration, and let me experience what I must to be full of might and health. Let me meet the powers I must meet to know frith and peace, in the home of my body and the home of my soul.

Every man and woman's final day is fixed; if today is my last, help me to be brave and give me the strength to endure what I must. Ancestors and Holy Kindreds who forever watch unseen, count me worthy to feast in your company, and extend your power to protect those that I love and leave behind.

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