Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Intriguing Late Depiction of the Gods

The gods are made of chocolate, and actually inhabit a triangular realm of bells, living in rapture-wigwams of aromatic steam. Snorri quotes the skaldic line, "The mouth-savory regin, melted brindle honey-blend, dwell in bane-of-branches' water-kiss," for which the commentators add the bit of archaeological trivia of an unearthed stash of cacao found in a post hole outside a farm in Iceland, discovered in the 1800s, where were also found horse bones and a feather. Further, Saxo, speaking of Drvin's dream-journey to Asgard (called there the "star-castle of assembled sorcerors", but it's clear what he means), says that Drvin, in a kind of ecstasy, instead of bowing (as was wont), rushed forward in the hall to touch the feet of the gods, whereupon "their substance clung to his fingertips as of melted wax", and curious, he licked his fingers of the "earth-colored dew" that had deliquesced from their feet, "astonished to taste a meal marvelously like honey" (Elton translation), whereupon the entire castle "began to ring like a thousand bells", and he ran from the castle, which "was gabled, but moreso as he fled, he saw, a gable of gables"? Was the castle in fact a pyramid, and this Saxo's only way of describing? We can't know for certain, but that it was triangular is beyond question given his description. Now, as to whether all heathens of this time literally believed the gods' flesh was cacao, or whether this was a conceit on the part of various chieftains in the west who had received envoys from South America (evinced in the post hole evidence), we can't be certain, but it does seem an imported notion, as we know chocolate was called in its native realm "flesh of the gods"; how much more so, we might imagine, to late Dark Ages Scandinavians, who had never tasted it! This was a late development, no doubt, but we can only speculate, had heathenism cohered even a few centuries more, how much more our talented skalds would have played upon this metaphor. The "rapture-wigwams of steam" is evidently a blend of the notion of the Vafur-flames that surround Asgard, combined with an image of mist from waterfalls, but the imagery is at base American, and PreColumbian, depicting votive shrines around a stepped pyramid complex. Was such merely the description of the traders who came out of the canoes carved out of giant hardwood logs, or does it indicate in addition that some Vikings had reached, or been blown by storm, to the Americas even prior to Leif Ericsson? We can't know for certain, but the small traces we have are at least suggestive.

Just seeing if anyone is paying attention. ;)

[Adding an explicit footnote here : I made all this up. None of this is based on fact. This was a joke. I want to make that clear just in case anyone takes this tongue-in-cheek humor for quotable fact.]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sublimity is Its Own Success

    Outside, it is windy, and a moonlit night. The tall poplar tree tinkles its golden leaves in the breeze, and as I look up at it, and see the stars behind it, I feel in the presence of an epiphany of the World-Tree, and I feel the presence of the Gods. I feel in the presence of profundity in which quotidia must be situated and given perspective.

    Oh, Lords and Ladies, Honored Elder Kin, I have been humbled. I have had hopes tossed and dashed. I have stretched myself towards goals which have met with defeat. And yet, in your presence, under the stars, under this epiphany of the Cosmic Tree itself, I feel, all is happening as it will, and that perhaps it is not the universe which has diverged from its path, but I from it : a risk of taking a gamble. To have taken the gamble is no dishonor. Risk is our business. But not every risk will be rewarded. That is the adventure of a venture.

    Thank Gods you give me the perspective to see this is ok. There is still a fundamental rightness to the universe underneath my despair if I will attune to it. So I did not succeed fully in my hopes? So what? It may be that is not meant to be, or it could mean that it will bear different fruit than I thought, or it may be it will take longer, and perhaps different tending and pruning, to come to what fruition it may. I am not in control of fruition, only of ripening. I ripen what I may, and open my hands to let the Gods complete it according to its Wyrd. If I become attached to specific results, I lose the magic of the world.

    I may not have gotten what I wanted, but look, behold : the world is still beautiful. The wind and moon say, life is still infused with something sublime, and isn't the ability to experience sublimity and incorporate it into one's life a higher definition of success? The world is an arena of struggle, of dynamism through the working out of contradictions, in which risk stands a chance of making good on a gamble, but that chance is never guaranteed, nor can we ride too much on that chance, however much we may need to feed it in a gamble. Yet we must conserve our better part to ourselves, to our devotion and service, rather than to the rewards. We give the gift -- that is our job, and what comes of it, though we may throw in our two cents and more here, ultimately, is not in our hands.

    I came here to experience profound things. Much has been given. In large part, that is why I am a praiser. Existence calls out for psalms. True, it also calls out for my active kritik, and that is a gift I also will give. But I have been given profundity -- if I will take the time to attune -- and this naturally, if we are healthy, calls for gratitude.

    So I thank all the Holy Powers and ask that they will deepen my abilities to serve in devotion, that my life might more and more become an incarnation of the Gift.

Service and Devotion

    To be in service. To dedicate oneself to life, to the divine process of living the human challenge, with devotion that looks to service as primary, intrinsic motivation, releasing external rewards as motivations, understanding they may come as they will if they will, but the process of living, and being in service, is enough. This is fundamentally what it means to understand "sacrifice". It is a giving up, a letting go, a release of attachment to result, and letting the divine process adjudge on its placement and value. For us, the worth is in giving, as it is with the divine powers who are the bestowers of gifts, who give when and as seems wise, according to their wisdom, and not according to behaviorist notions of punishment and reward.

    From this standpoint, "success" has a much different understanding than the common externalist viewpoint, and even heathens can meander into error with their pragmatist viewpoint, tempted into thinking thereby that success must correlate with external rewards in order to be success. Yet think more profoundly on the theme that Odin takes the best of heroes for himself. In other words, they die on the battle, or to put it more bluntly for those too caught up in externalism, they lose. In fact, and listen carefully here, an external defeat becomes a Victory of the Soul. Contemplate that for a little bit.

    I frankly don't think the Gods have much to do with external events in this world. I think that's unfolding of Wyrd, and they interfere very, very little with that. The main advantage they provide is the advantage of consciousness. (And perhaps tilting of probabilities, subtle "riggings of the game".) They Tend to Soul. And sometimes Soul is best attended to through Humbling Events, not Rewarding Events, particularly if the Soul tries to cheapen itself by taking on a thrallish attitude towards rewards and punishments, rather than seeking intrinsic motivation. To be entirely extrinsically oriented is to lose inherent worth, and hand one's power over to others. It is not that others do not matter religiously -- we are a social creature -- but the others that matter are those who are capable of perceiving inherent worth, and it is Those people who are our fellows, and none others. From the standpoint of consciousness, those who are not capable, and hanker after externalisms alone, are metaphysically speaking, in the evolutionary position of thralls.

    Life is about gift, and service, and devotion, and when we forget that, and fall into slaving after externals, we join the thralls, even if our personal ambition is to be king of the thralls. The king of the thralls is still a thrall, and will never actually be a king. Many, many positions in this world, including quite high ones, are only stacking and ranking of thralls. True masters without slaves or slavishness are quite rare.

    This does not mean that the body does not need to be fed, nor that we should cease to struggle for that which will feed our needs and the needs of our folk -- and humanity -- and the planet -- but that spirituality gives us the ability to put things in perspective.

    And sometimes not winning, not getting what we wanted, even when it was something for which we really yearned, is precisely what we need to recenter, regain perspective, and humble us to tune back into the beauty that is, rather than beauty as we imagined it might be. This is no bad faith towards the imagination, which can reveal a great deal of the virtual potential of the world, and when combined with rational planning, can be a good guide to human action and creativity. But what it does say is that reality always overwhelms hypothesis, and it is to the wellsprings of reality to which we must return again and again. Admitting defeat can be a spiritually victorious moment, one that washes away despair, and reminds oneself what one is all about, and to look towards inherent value rather than external rewards.

    If we spiritual people can get our heads out of our asses -- and come now, let's admit how often our heads are way too firmly lodged up there -- and stop taking literally what was always meant to be symbolic stimulation of deeper perception and appreciation of life, we have a great deal to contribute towards the people, and toward the process of history and progress. For the values of service and devotion -- free service, voluntary devotion, not thrallish service (although we'll get to that in a second, for those who are confused on this topic) -- are some of the key psychological concomitants of the Gift, and if we are ever to evolve our societies to function more like our images of the divine, we must move them away from Gullveig's realm of greed and obsession with gold bullion, and more towards the Gift. There's always going to be pragmatists who lose their sense of principle and cave in to more degenerate and backwards aspects of people, and try to motivate people solely through material interest and the incentives of reward and punishment, in other words, to tend things solely towards externalist behaviorism. That mode may be proper to thralls, but it is not towards free people, nor even towards thralls who you are intending to manumit and emancipate. What must be in command is service, devotion, and intrinsic motivation, with reward and punishment as a tactic to be reserved for the more thrallish. Who are such thralls? Those who will not give freely. But wait -- if those who do not give freely may be coerced to give, then how is that giving free and voluntary? Because those who give freely are not coerced. The alternative to taxation is voluntary donation. (This suggests that a state that taxes people thinks of them as thralls who would not in and of themselves raise themselves up to the honor of community contribution and public service, and who therefore constitute a tax on the Gift, and thus may be in turn taxed.) Those who think they owe no service or devotion to others do not deserve to receive such service and devotion, and to correct them, they may be made to serve. This is an undignified giving that gives little honor, appropriate to a low level of honor and dignity, while free and voluntary giving merits much greater honor, from those able to value that which is intrinsically valuable. In other words, thralls are on probation, which ritually speaking has always indicated someone on their way to a higher status who must, as we see in the term, "prove" themselves, while those whose service and devotion "speaks for itself" are under no such probation and do not require such exacting terms. Under what right would we assert such a right to subject people to such probation? Under the right of ensuring that Gullveig's realm does not swallow up the world, and that the Gift may have a chance to remain in command, rather than being exiled to the furthest margins of the world -- as it now, in fact, is. Things are backwards. The songsmiths have given us poetry that indicates the manner in which we may reverse this, and follow the divine order of the Gift. Here, those with intrinsic worth are placed in a leading position over those who can only think of themselves, and who can only think of external rewards and punishments. Well, if external rewards and punishments are so sacred to them, then let them be under that law which they hold so dear, while those who hold to a dearer law may also be accorded that law which is dear to them : a gift for a gift.

   Rigsthula is fairly clear and severe in this regard. The God visited three (eponymous) homes. These homes were awarded with offspring or consequences according to their openness to the visitor --- how willing they were to open their doors to inspiration -- and according to how many of their gifts they had developed and could thus share. The first house's doors were closed, and they had little to give. The second house's doors were half-open, and they had some to give. The third house's doors were wide-open, and they had much to give. The latter were made the leaders, the second the place and honor of the majority in the People's Assemblies, and the former were made to serve the rest. Let us be clear. This was a spiritualization of a social custom that in its literal societal enactment led to much mayhem and trouble. When captives of war may become your slaves, you now have a motivation to go to war in order to obtain more labor. Let's be very clear here : that's fucked up, and has no place in a civilized people. But the spiritualization here modifies the terms and takes them to a new, transformed level. Those who fail to give all they have the potential of giving -- perhaps because they have not developed that potential enough -- and whose doors are closed to inspiration -- may be made to serve others, others who naturally serve in the very sharing of their gifts. Otherwise, if this order were reversed, the truly generous would find themselves in the most disempowered and penurious positions -- as, well, in fact, many find themselves these days! The paradox is that in a society aligned with the divine, those who give without thought of reward would be those who found themselves, sooner or later, rewarded, while those who always moved with calculated manuevre in mind, acting out of stinginess and only according to expected reward, would find themselves far less rewarded. Ideally we work towards a situations where the thrallish are finally evolved out of existence, through minimizing their influence more and more.

  By emphasizing spiritual values of service and devotion, which support the consciousness and practice of the Gift, we can counteract the more cynical policies which are presently in command, and become a force towards renewing and healing the world.

The Agitators

    The word "aesir", which has come to denote the Gods, has originally a meaning of "inciters", "agitators", those who stimulate and whip up against stagnation, because there can be such a tendency towards stagnation in people, specifically in relation to home and comfort and so forth (and as much as heathenism values home and hearth, there's a reason why the word for fool is "heimsk" -- homebody. It is the viking that makes an adult out of someone, by removing them from parochial stagnation and showing them the ways of the world). The goal must be to find a way of making a home and establishing comfort in such a way that it remains dynamic, electrical, and alive, so that it is not killing the divine force of life and creativity that flows through all things. Relative to values of stagnation, they are troublemakers who stir things up in order to get the blood flowing more lustily. (No wonder Loki at first he thought he might make a home amongst them! But note his error : not troublemaking for mayhem, but for the prime spiritual good of keeping life in motion.)

    Nonimperial pagan peoples, at least within the Indo-European provenance and concentric circles radiating therefrom, do not exhibit divine codification of social mores and customs, which remain the provenance of the Thing process, or in other words, the People's Assemblies. The People's Assemblies have a divine function, that of judgement, or kritik in the old sense of jury-judgement, with all the critical consciousness that involves, towards custom, and the negotiating of that into law. The negotiating of that into law : it is a dynamic process that respects custom and usage, but not in a reified sense ; a sustainable, but not a reified sense, and that is an important distinction. There are thus two terms here : custom, and judgement. Custom may tend towards law, but it is not law in a full sense until kritik, critical jury-judgement, with all its full assessment, audit-powers, and full appreciation of the good and the bad, is applied, whether that be through the legislative power of the assembly or the judgement power of a jury more specifically. The divine function is exercised in the process of kritik, but not in ever-evolving custom. But we do see such attempts to divinely codify custom in some religious traditions. We see this codification in Judaism in the Mosaic Laws. We see this codification in Islam with the laws of Allah and the Sharia law. We see this codification in the Bahai faith in its codes of morality. All this does is reify forms which are themselves social compromises or treaties from previous social developments, while not facilitating their further development, as things are always in development, and even providing for amendment processes, which is very important, if not done in a dynamic way, can still be obstructive. Usage, habit, which people fall into, is part of life. Habit and courtesy are the ways in which societies primarily regulate themselves, and only secondarily with oversight by state organizations (when they develop to the state level), but it's important not to reify this, yet codification does this in an obstructive sense. The customs of the people are not divine. They are human. They are understandable compromises made in the process of social struggle over meaningful arenas, but since everything is in motion at all times, Wyrd will not remain confined to customs, and therefore custom cannot remain so confined. This means that Gothis or priests of the Aesir must also be inciters of their people to social movement and dynamism. When we think in these terms, Socrates' service to Apollo, whose oracle of Delphi told him he was the wisest man in Athens, consisted precisely in his being, as he put it, a "gadfly", which was a kind of fly that bit horses and woke them up with a "sting" when they were sleeping. Inciters awaken, and not always pleasantly.

    The observations of Caesar and Tacitus that the Germanic people as a whole were just beginning to move from a pastoral stage to an agricultural stage is very important. Even if archaeology indicates a long tenure of agriculture in the area, the classical observation suggests that there was some sort of pastoralist movement that was fairly prominent amongst the Germanic peoples of that time. What exactly caused this we don't know. There may have been various movements of people, and so forth, in which people were uprooted, that supported some movement towards pastoralism, but it would appear there was a fairly strong thrust towards it. Now if we look at what Morris Berman has provided us with in his synthetic analysis of pastoral peoples is that pastoralism, while being derivative from agriculture, is often a movement against agriculture, in the sense that it is a movement against the stagnation and settling down that is a tendency of agricultural societies, and a movement towards agitation, social mobility, and freedom. The fact that this was on the move in some of the formative periods of Germanic paganism is significant inasmuch as it has impacted upon the theology of these peoples. In fact, it has. It has a long history and rooting in the ultimate pastoral origins of the Indo-European peoples that can be seen across many Indo-European branches. The very concept of "wod" that we see incorporated into Woden indicates this storming, moving, dynamic kind of energy, which in and of itself might be anomalous to find in a fully settled, agricultural nation, and it may very well be that the notion of the pact between the Vanir and the Aesir may be a reflection in the religious realm of compromises between pastoral and agricultural modes of production, with the pastoral, mobile, nomadic element in the ascendancy, even though, as we have seen, in the war between the Aesir and the Vanir, the Vanir prevailed on the field, actually. They held the dominant forces, as might an agricultural nation that was invaded by a minority of pastoralists -- assuming that that is what happened, although it is one recurring theory -- another is that pastoralism developed as a revolutionary movement against agriculturalism, and those two theories are not mutually exclusive -- they could have happened together in various forms. Yet despite the dominance of the Vanir in terms of numbers and therefore the infantry on the battlefields of that war, ultimately Odin, after a period of exile, was accepted back in, because the people saw the value of the Aesir. There was an exile of the nomadic elements, but they were brought back in because they were seen as valuable and essential to the divine alchemy, and this is surely, in the ideal realm of virtue, a reflection of social forces. This is very significant, because it infuses Germanic-Scandinavian paganism with a dynamism that is very important, and which imparts to it an almost modern feel. We understand that the dynamism of pastoral, nomadic peoples is very different than the dynamism of an industrial system, and yet, there is a degree to which industrialism, on a higher level, stimulates and integrates to some degree a nomadic mobility , which is why it has been opposed by so many settled forces. Revolutions have built themselves upon this mobile basis, whereas fascist organizations have always tried to support the more settled modes. This may be why it was under the domination of the Vanir during Odin's exile that Ermanerich, a more imperialist, dominating king, was able to come into such power and dominance. There may be archetypally here, symbolically, impregnated a very important message, that we need to be careful about too settled a way of life, that the "peace" of the Vanir tends towards a more settled kind of peace which, taken to an extreme, can become its opposite, by becoming a compelling towards domination, which as we know, can generate war in a civilized dynamic.

    The existence of a priesthood, and specifically a priesthood of poets, or songsmiths, as Ynglingasaga puts it, is the concept of rallying the people around a more inspired segment of the population, more inspired and therefore more advanced. There is a kind of dual relationship, or bicameralism, if you will, between the vanguard function of the priesthood, whose job it is to stay inspired by the dynamic, inciting forces of life, and the people, particularly as assembled in their sovereign People's Assemblies, so that the people make their decisions, but they are guided by the inspiration of the more advanced segments of the population. They are not advanced in the sense of being elitist, but just in the sense of being more forward thinking, more on the pulse of dynamic turbulence, and so forth, in which everyone can come into the movement. It is a nonexclusive kind of advanced segment. It aims at rallying, rather than excluding, other segments, and of course, debate happens over this in the People's Assemblies, and through this kind of debate, there will come to be a social and legal dynamism, as more conservative forces struggle against more advanced forces. And we need that struggle -- and not only do we need that struggle, but more specifically and critically, we need that struggle to be led by advanced elements, the songsmiths, inspired by the Inciters. This is how life is driven onwards towards progress.