Bringing Forth the Gods of My Kin:
A Heathen perspective on the Hamingja, the Gods, Manifesting the Family Soul, and the “Problem of Other People in the World”
A Heathen perspective on the Hamingja, the Gods, Manifesting the Family Soul, and the “Problem of Other People in the World”
Copyright 2011 by Alfarrin
The First Fire and the Hamingja
When I became Heathen in 1995, it was on the coat-tails of what still amounts to the most powerful blot and burnt offering to Odin I have ever attended. That pyre burned as the sun came up, and it was piled with food and precious, valuable personal offerings. We gathered, spoke our words, drank our mead, poured our mead for the Sacred Guest, and we never knew then what a powerful thing we had done until years later.
At the time, I had no concept of what "Hamingja" was. Years later, I know it as one of the most crucial concepts and pylons which holds up the entire edifice of the organic and Ancestral tradition. Without a well-developed understanding of it, the soul of Heathenry remains obscure and distant. Without an understanding of it, your family and kin and friends are just people related to you by chance of birth or meeting, and related to you by genetics. With an understanding of it, a great divine reality opens itself up to view, a reality that both unifies, and makes particular; a reality that holds men and Gods, and every living thing, in its lasting grip. Hamingja is a reality that surges forth from the dense darkness of the ancient past, manifests in the deeds and persons of the present, and stands behind all things that come to pass.
It sounds a lot like Fate, and it should; the Fate-women, those divine beings called "Disir" are part of Hamingja. They see to the fateful comings and goings in every person's life, especially those two supreme and fatefully-loaded times: birth, at which time the birth-runes are marked on the soul and life-force, and death, when the Fylgja-Dis departs and returns to take a man or woman to the beyond, to dwell in deeper unseen regions of this strange world, or onward to whatever place or condition their Fate may have in store for them. Hamingja and the maidens of Hamingja are tied up with the mysteries of causality, which are other aspects of Fate- or Wyrd, for those who know better.
Hamingja is luck-force, but it is not something so simple as some inherited determining factor that will influence a lucky lottery ticket or the possibility of a traffic accident for a person. It is the sum-total of all wealful and woeful deeds done in the family line before, and the power of countless incidents and happenings that have affected one's ancestors. It is the force of life itself, truly; always protean, always shape-shifting, and always surging forth, like a river.
It moves through each person, and through each family, and through any grouping of persons that bond themselves together in any permanent or semi-permanent manner, sharing life and experience. Hamingja is there, and it does, among other things, determine "luck" as most people know it. But it does much more; it is much more.
People who become Heathen to focus on the Gods are missing most of the point of the Old Heathen way- it wasn't focused on Gods primarily; it was focused on family, clan, deeds, and living daily life. It was focused on the implements of daily life- weapons, tools, treasures, boats, the beasts of daily life- cattle, horses, pigs, and the like. It was focused on relationships between men, between men and women, between groups. It was focused on the business of being human.
What modern people don't understand is that all of these things were tied up with Hamingja, the subtle and ever-present force that could express itself in all those forms, particularly when relationships were established in a manner of holiness.
The Gods come forth from Hamingja, in the same way Ancestors do- a portion of a dead man or woman's life and power went forth into future generations through Hamingja, and so they could (and did) emerge both as newborn children, and as Ancestral spirits. The Gods, however, always stand behind the human Ancestors in the position of Godly Ancestors, responsible for the arising of mankind- and through this ancestral conduit, the Gods are here, now, with us.
When my friend Grettir and I burned that sacrificial bonfire and drank our mead, we were joining Hamingja together, though at the time we only felt it- we didn't know it, consciously or intellectually. From our fire, from our joining, from our deeds, from that time, from that place, a God came forth. And the purpose of that fire wasn't just worship, it wasn't just to "give worth" to our Sacred Guest; it was for something that Grettir needed to aid his family. And within a day, his family was blessed with the fortune we had hoped for.
Hamingja- nothing could be more holy, because holiness, power, force, these things are waves that emerge from the river of Hamingja. No one walks through life alone, ever. This could not be so; in each person is a share of Hamingja from the family lines that converge in them, and inside them is a portion of the sum total of their Ancestors. Who they were, what they did, what they loved, what they fought for, what power they had, what insight they had, and in a way, even the Ancestors themselves: these things are inside of you and all people, physically and metaphysically, in every iota of your flesh, blood, breath, and the immaterial aspects of yourself. No part of you can be apart from these Ancestral powers.
And within you is also found the mysterious "residing" of the Godly beings. There, inside you, like Ancestral powers from a "further and deeper" time, they rest. In most people, they rest in an unexpressed, largely unconscious way. In the being of the nithing or in the wicked, whose Hamingja has become so blighted with weakness that the flame of their connection to humanity and the past burns low, the Gods and Ancestors cannot make a mead-hall or a home.
But in most people, they are present, appearing to rest deeply in us. They are the sources of dreams you have and don't recall or understand. Their presence leads to that feeling of basic dignity, of conscious goodness and the desire for peace in you. They are the motivators to greatness, to risk, and all the powers that are quite strange and mystical in us, and which give impetus to imagination and industry. In those people who feel the urge- buried deep in Hamingja- to become Heathen again, to raise the banner of the Old Ways (not just the Old Gods) again, those powers wake up. They come forth. Every line of Hamingja has its Gods, just as it has its Ancestors.
One can never grasp the full impact of this awakening reality, this "coming forth", but one begins to experience it in all aspects of life- sleep, at times, becomes a portal of dreams about the Gods, and the Ancestors. Waking life becomes full of a strange yet familiar and subtle presence that a person might not have noticed before. Events take on new meaning. A new vitality starts to rise up. Inspirations arise.
One becomes stronger, more energetic, more honorable, more motivated to greater things. One becomes less able to emotionally tolerate the unconscious, honorless antics of the hordes of mankind who express no strength of Hamingja, and yet, one goes forth again, alone if they must, to live better than what they have seen before. One begins to live closer in accord with the noble standards of the Ancestors who have become long forgotten in our forgetful, shallow, and materialistic world.
Hamingja can be in "things"- it doesn't need human breath and life; we humans have relationships that run very deep with many non-human powers, and even "things". The sacred tree of a grove, the sacred stone over the graves of the Ancestral dead, the sacred treasures made by our kin, infused with the Hamingja of their creativity, and passed down to us; the hall of drinking and feasting made holy by the gathering of a kindred or a family- in all these places and "things", Hamingja is found, filling, swirling, enlivening. Even in inspired songs and poems, Hamingja flashes forth. And in the combination of all these things, wed to human beings and the beasts around us, the Gods of our Ancestors can emerge.
What Hamingja needs to really "come forth" as it did in the days of old is conscious awareness on our part, an awareness of what it is, and at times, who it is: when it manifests as a gathering of kin or friends, as a child, a wife, a husband, or even a beast made holy in the rites of the faith. When we know this, the quality of the mind changes, and with it, perceptions; we create a wide open field within ourselves for the manifestations of the fullness of Hamingja, for its fullness can come forth from any part, if the mind is well-prepared.
The Gods, The Allfather, Blot, and True Family
And that is what the Gods really are- beings who know and express the Fullness of the World-Hamingja. Each of us, and our families, we are partial streams of it; they are the whole, or should I say, they have access to the whole. Odin, as we know, sacrifices "his self to his Self"- his lesser self to the greater Self, and that greater Self is nothing more or less than the whole of Hamingja.
Through his sacrifice, he has access now to the deep, bottomless resources and powers of everything. In a direct way, he is now present to everything, at every place, to every person. This doesn't make him some abstract figure only; he is both particulate, and whole, at the same time- he is the Odin of the sacred stories and myths, and he is simultaneously the “Allfather”, the divine consciousness of the whole of Hamingja that encompasses everything, and which fills us with the breath that we draw, a breath he breathed into man and woman back near to the beginnings of things.
And in that wholeness, the other Gods are to be found, emerging as they will... and most importantly, emerging as we make them able, through our deeds and our understanding. Unlike the Christian faith, which presents humans as sinful, fallen, and helpless without divine grace, able to do nothing without the church and the god of the church except be condemned to hell, the Heathen way tells us that humans are literally capable of the Gods, because we are all together in Hamingja. We are one through the combination of deeds, places, treasures, things, beasts, kindreds, families, emotions, songs, and our sacred histories- these things make us capable, at any time, of the Godly life and Godly activity.
And when I say "Godly life" and "Godly activity", I am not speaking with cheap symbolic talk- I mean it literally, just as literally as I mean the Ancestral powers live in the being of each one of us.
Vilhelm Gronbech writes:
"Between man and God there exists no difference of kind, but there is a vital distinction of degree, the Gods being the whole Hamingja, whereas men are only part. The boundary between Gods and men is permanent, but varying in place; it is shifted downwards when men go about on their daily rounds of business, and it may be pushed upwards when they assume their garments of holiness, or sally out in a body to fight or fish. Only in the blot is the boundary line obliterated, but then during the feast there are no men, because the Hamingja is all and in all. The divineness of men when in a state of holiness is revealed by the metaphors of poetry: when the warrior is called the God of the sword or the God of battle, the expression is nothing but a matter-of-fact description. This same reality appears in the naming of woman as the Goddess of trinkets, and still more significantly as the ale-Goddess, referring to her holy office in the drink offering."
-Gronbech, Culture of the Teutons, Vol. 2
A person who understands what I have been saying, and what Gronbech has said perfectly, understands the essence of the Heathen way, both historical and modern. And Hamingja is the key to this most sacred understanding. It may be the key to unlocking the modern world's impasse, our loss of the real sacredness of the man, the woman, and of our deeds, the sacredness of our lands and our kin. It may be the thing that surges forth to spare us for a while longer, as we move into a future that becomes stripped more and more of sacredness and depth.
When I stand with my family, dressed in my long white tunic and ceremonial tabard, wearing the sign of the Sunwheel (that equal-armed cross which symbolizes the life-spirit that all are a part of, and the golden sun that is the supreme symbol of life in the heavens) and when I am there in that manner, surrounded by my people, invoking the Gods, pouring mead and ale in blot, I am bringing forth the Gods. Those with me are doing it. Together, we are the Hamingja and we call forth the Gods and Ancestors in a way that we could never manage individually, even though we can and do experience the powers in an individual way, from time to time.
In the mead and ale of blot, in the pouring, the drinking, the blessing and sprinkling, the division between "these humans out here" on the one hand, and the depths of Hamingja, the presence of the Ancestors, and the persons of the Gods on the other hand, is totally eradicated. Hamingja can, on these mighty occasions- and at others- express itself fully among us.
I am the father of a family; my wife is the mother of a family. In our children lies the entire Hamingja-legacy of both our lines, and in us, the lines that came before us. In us gathers the whole family-soul to which our children belong, and in us gathers a tributary from the river of the families that gave us birth.
In the persons of Mother and Father, of House-Dis and Hall-Warder, is found the entire spiritual family identity. In their children, the joined Hamingja surges forth anew- new (and very old) ancestral powers come to the forefront and empower human lives again. We are all united in this convergence of streams, in this joining of Hamingja. In my family, it takes on a specific identity- who we are, who we were, and who we will be. All of these things come together as one, in the present. Through my wife and I, the Ancestors watch over our children and join us in raising them and imparting wisdom and protection to them.
Even the "things" of the blot- the horn, the hammer, the hlautbowl, the hlautein, the white garment, the statues of Gods and Ancestors that might be used, the table, the flickering fires, in all these things Hamingja gathers, and from them it comes forth in union, as they are used together.
This is what we mean by "a holy occasion." It is holy because Hamingja comes forth into a new tangible, powerful expression, unique each time to that particular moment and place and gathering. These occasions- and these emergences of Hamingja- come forth because we decide to come together to make the occasion what it is. And the call for us to make that decision comes from the depths of Hamingja in the first place.
It is a perfect circle, spread across time and space, self-contained, and singing with power. It gathers the persons it needs to itself, and in that true "Ring of Troth", the Gods make their appearance. The Gods are tasted, smelled, seen, felt; they are present, fully. Only those who have experienced this can really comprehend these words, but those who have know that they cannot fathom ever falling away from these expressions again. The emotions they bring forth stir something indescribable, but precious.
Further concerning the Gods, Gronbech writes:
"In their nature, combining the neutral state of power with personality, they (the Gods) evince no particular divine gift, for this is the nature of life in all its manifestations. They reside in the holy place and in the holy treasures, but they may at any moment come forth and reveal themselves to their friends either in dreams or in the light of day. As power or luck the Gods are in Old Norse called Radh, and Regin- Radh means "rede", or wisdom and will, the power of determining and powerful determinations; Regin simply expresses luck and power. In their personal aspect, the Gods are named Ases, or in southern dialects Anses. In shape the Gods are in some clans male, in other families and localities female; their manifestation as women is naturally founded in the fact that woman generally represented a higher form of holiness than the average man. The question whether the Gods did assume the shape of animals is scarcely to the point. True, the divine power of the Hamingja walked the fields in the herd and prominently in the holy heads of cattle that were consecrated and qualified to be leaders of their flock or mediums of blessing; and in the sacrificial hall the Godly strength filled the victim of the feast. "
One of the greatest blessings of the modern Heathen way is this: I have drunk and eaten at such a holy feast, and come to know the Gods. What great fortune- what great Hamingja- that I should have been born in these times, bereft of Ancestral Wisdom, and yet, still had the luck and joy to find my way to such a frithful table!
Hamingja, Identity, and the Problem of Others
One of the most important truths that emerges into the minds of those who really understand these matters is this: we are not like “others.” There is an identity that comes from the deep layers of the world and the unseen that we do not share with everyone else in some perfect homogenized vision of "equality".
Other people, other families, other cultures- they do have their own lines and streams of Hamingja, and certainly those are a part of the whole. But we are not them, and they are not us, not on the level of particulars- that level that we must live on every day, according to Fate. In the experience and understanding I am discussing here, we come to know, in a very deep manner, “who we are”, as kin, as families, as cultures- but also even as individuals.
I am like no other; this way of Hamingja which expresses itself as me has never been seen before. But I am also not a “fully separate” being who can be made sense of- or have any true place or strength- without the broader context in which I am situated. I am also something and someone that emerges from the past, from the family, the Ancestors, my land, my life-situations, my children, friends, and allies- without this world, the Gods, all the powers that collect themselves together, my situation of life would never have been possible, and I make no sense apart from it all. This is the soul of the clan-understanding, the kindred understanding among the Ancients, and among people of honor now.
Some of the other people in this world still know their Hamingja in ways that we descendants of the Indo-Europeans have long forgotten, due to a millennia-long program on the part of the Church to erode our emotional and intuitive connection to our Ancestral beings and our Hamingja.
There are peoples on the earth who still have connections that we largely lack- and when I say "we", I am not speaking of most true Heathens, as much as westerners generally. But in having those connections, they also have a strength we lack, at the cultural level. While we do not care much these days to defend our particular cultural contributions to the world, nor defend the honor of the great things we have done (both in pre-Christian and post-Christian times) in the name of some guilt or even "political correctness", other cultures surge forth with great pride in themselves, and an energy that we often seem to lack in the west.
While we no longer protect our inner or outer borders from being washed away by a tide of humanity that cares nothing for our specific cultural needs, other cultures take painstaking steps to preserve their languages, histories, and even their own populations from excessive foreign influences.
None of these things calls for some ridiculous militant solution or revolution. What will solve this problem at its core is a re-awakening of a sense for who we are- a sense that only comes from the emergence of Hamingja on the conscious level. We have a place in this world, as unique and important as anyone else, and our contributions have been legion, even crucial, to world civilization today. We have a right to be proud and to insist that our voice be equal to any other.
This brings me to the last point that I would like to cover, which is the "problem of others", if you will. While some would look at the world with rose-tinted lenses (or just with lenses painted opaque), those of us who can truly see and feel, can see and feel that this world is not as kindly as we would hope. It certainly never has been, and it is doubtful to what extent it will ever be, especially considering that competition and conflict is a Fateful part of the fabric from which this world is woven.
While the Gods battle giantish forces for the preservation of the world, and we men and women battle (with the help of the Gods) the unbalanced powers in our own souls for the preservation of our bodies and minds and our families, there will always be battles in other places, too. Conflict as an aspect of reality was a thing that our Ancestors all over the Indo-European world accepted as given, as unalterable, and for good reason.
And it is true that, in a previous World-age, our Heathen Ancestors, when faced with others, had to make choices about how to deal with these "others" they encountered. The ancients had to deal with other cultures and peoples in the few ways they really had available to them: if "others" were a threat, such as when others stood in a position of resource competition with them, they either had to incorporate those others through establishing relationships and bonds of kinship with them, or they had to defeat them at the physical level, in battle, and absorb them or drive them away. When two peoples or cultures meet- two surges of Hamingja meet, two waves of the ocean of Hamingja; and then, absorption, incorporation, or conflict follows. At certain other times, they merely pass by one another, perhaps to meet again later.
And this was the way it was, in the distant past- all of our families, distant clans, tribes- all of them, and their larger cultural context (what we today call "Germanic", with all its variations), and up to the level of the entire people, the whole "folk" (what we now call the "Indo Europeans")- they all rushed forth, in whole and in part, into this world, and they conquered as they went; they incorporated beasts, Gods, lands, other humans, other nations, towns, villages, stories, and treasures into their group Hamingja, thundering along as they went, over many ages. If they couldn't incorporate those things, they might be swept away by them instead!
But still, in some form, they continued. Every group, race, tribe, or nation of man was like this, caught in the same drama of the age- moving through a world of hostility and strangeness, of friendship and conflict, and moving desperately down through the ages.
But to what? To now. To this day, this very day. The sweeping drama of the past has come to reside in you, and in me. And there are still identities, powers and movements of fateful force buried deep in the Hamingja of each of us. And there is a Hamingja collected in our unifying culture (such that it is) and in our families, our subcultures, and in our friends groups, our kindreds, our sacred congregations, in our military units, in our armed forces as a whole, in our fraternities and brotherhoods, in our financial institutions, and it just never ends. It seems so large to us while we are within it, but it is even larger than we imagine.
There are other cultures out there, still. Countless smaller tribes and cultures have been swallowed up by larger ones that exist today, and before that, they themselves had defeated and incorporated others. Hamingja is still present and accounted for- our defeated foes are still here with us, living through us. Those we made friends with, married into, and bonded with, they are here, too. Everyone's here. Nothing is lost, but much is forgotten.
And now, what? Shall we continue trying to gain dominance over other cultures, over other people? Hamingja in every particulate or group wants to be dominant, truth be told- when it expresses itself in the patterns of culture, in tribal identities, in the patterns of sacredness, even in a single human body and mind, it wants strength, preservation, and honor. And it seeks it. It will scorn others and only be content when the others submit to it and call it superior, or when the others at least admit it as an equal, and when it admits the others as equals, and kinship is established there between them- kinship that comes with sacred obligations, and a sharing of Hamingja, such that both become stronger and better.
Does this mean that we can expect a culture war that will only end when one culture remains? Does this mean that peace between religions (to make another poignant example of group-Hamingjas that have caused so much conflict in our world) is impossible? Christianity and Islam won't be equal to any; they will have submission, they will change all others, and absorb them, destroying any traces of the former religions they encounter. Throughout their history, these religious ideologies have done just this. Islam still desires to do it with great energy. The zeal-laced spirit of Christianity has largely been lamed in the west, and now faces its accelerating extinction, its own Hamingja expended and weakened by too many underhanded and vicious deeds (a fate that awaits Islam one day, as well, Gods be thanked.)
The Surging Power in the Present Hamingja-Age
So how can we deal with other cultures, but also other religions? I will state only my own belief on this matter. I believe that the world-age, the Hamingja-age, if you will, has changed. We are not living in Ancestral times, though we are our Ancestors. The Hamingja that was then has moved down lines of life into us, and it is here, now. But other deeper changes in Fate have taken place, and the World Age is different.
We humans have surged out to every border, in every land, and crossed every ocean. There are billions and billions of us now. Conquest is no longer a true working solution in such a world. Submission through violence costs too much now, and births too many dangers. Only what I have been calling "incorporation" can be the way forward- and I don't mean "joining forces" in this sense, as much as I mean recognizing that others simply have their place, and, insofar as they are not threatening to destroy all that we know is sacred, letting them be who they are.
Because the time has come wherein the Hamingja of the whole has reached a point it never could have been at before: we have all collectively embraced, on the mental level, a conception of the world that has never existed before, a world that is much smaller than our Ancestors thought, and now intimately connected and made tiny by the digital sorcery of this age. Hamingja itself surged forth from the primal beginning with no "goal" other than to be what it was- a whole- and to manifest a cascading exuberance of life and power. And it has carried human minds and bodies to the limits of the world.
The circle of kindred and relationship was expanded by our Ancestors as they fought and pledged and explored through the world, a circle made larger and larger by the ancients, until it came to include plants, beasts, Gods, lands, and then other peoples. This is what Hamingja inclines towards- recognized relationship, and always towards a broadening of horizons until all is encompassed, and all particulates know themselves as the whole- and yet, still exist as particulates made noble through the recognition.
Of course, relationships must be based on just principles; it is not possible to have a relationship with another person or being who means you the worst form of ill- but in most cases these days, these days in which moderation and compassion are possibilities more so than they were before, "relationship" can take on new dimensions.
As much as it pleases the fiery and ancient souls in us to imagine fighting and destroying those we feel threaten us and our own ways, sadly, the World-Age now makes new demands on us, and the "others" out there can have any dangers they sometimes pose to us eliminated in ways that don't include traditional violence.
With the inspiration and wit of the Hamingja and the Heathen group-soul, arguments, cleverness and intellect can stop enemies in their tracks these days (mentally, legally, socially, and even physically), and can even go further and change their minds and the minds of their children to be more sympathetic to our cause. All can come to see the sense in our notions of liberty and the importance of the uniqueness of identity. In this way, there are many ways to still win glory, and turn foes into allies- or at least banish foes to a safe distance that never need be crossed.
It is true that sometimes physical confrontations are unavoidable, in places, occasions in which we must defend ourselves and our ways from those who cannot or will not understand who and what we are. At times like that, the Hamingja emerges in strength and it must be channeled in the oldest of ways to eliminate a threat, though always keeping in mind the need for justice in our acts. Every human being has a natural right to defend the Ancestral force inside them, which surges forth from the depths and manifests a sacred imperative to live and be well, free of the contempt or scheming of others. When conflicts come, between persons or even communities or nations- the stronger Hamingja will prevail, one way or another. This was a sacred truth known to the Ancestors.
Whatever the case may be, I am Heathen, and I know what the Hamingja in me looks like, who it is, what it is, and what it wants for me and mine. As father of a family, I speak for our Ancestors and the Disir that follow within us, and the Fylgja-Dis that follows within me. My voice is the voice of grandmothers and grandfathers long departed, so I choose to use it as honorably as I can. All Heathens in my world feel the need, the burning urge, to stand fast for the Ways of their Ancestors, and they will represent their Ancestors with every day and night of their present life. That must and will be, until the true end of all Ages, and the world-rebirth.