Saturday, August 24, 2013

Religion and Art

“The religious impulse and the artistic impulse are one.”

I was told this by my mentor early on in my Théodish career, along with a number of other pronouncements of wisdom which have all, over time, proven to be true. While I don’t think that all of my ideas on religion can be boiled down to this one, it does certainly loom large in the constellation of those ideas, and it has certainly informed much of my religious practice.

Art, as I understand it, is a manner of expressing that which is too large for the intellect. At a certain point, words arranged into logical statements lose their explanatory force, and beyond that there is no more reason, only feeling. Words themselves seem to come unmoored from their referents. Nothing fits. Nothing seems to be the right thing to say. No descriptions can covey the enormity of what is in front of you.

There are, of course, ways to express the indescribable, so long as sincerity is given more weight than certainty. These ways are poetry, music, dance, all that falls under the name of art. True art is the skill of expressing the indescribable, of relating something that the intellect falters with, of taking a flash of inspiration and carrying it in a vessel to others so that they may see it – feel it – too.

Emotions are ultimately ineffable, and so form the content of a great deal of art: love, in all of its moods and guises; longing; fear & awe; sorrow. Anyone who has truly felt love deeply – or truly known profound loss – knows that these are things more powerful than oneself, that they take one up and do with one what they will, and the thought occurs: behind something so powerful there must be a god.

The gods themselves are more ineffable yet; love and loss are known to the entirety of humanity, but how many have felt the presence of Wóden? How many have felt the eyes of Þunor upon them? These experiences – even when strong – are subtly complicated, difficult to express, and known these days to only a few. It is therefore very important that there be skillful artists who can bring us, in different modes and manners, a part of the mystery that is the being of a god.

I would like to introduce you to such an artist. Her name is Jesseca Trainham. After seeing a triptych of Wóden that she did for my friend Jeffrey, I contacted her and asked about the possibility of having some images of the gods made. This began a fruitful and warm conversation about symbolism, ritual use, and what, exactly, I wanted in an icon. The results are pictured below.

I am deeply grateful to Jesseca for producing such incredible works of art. These are now on the altar-shelf in my house's "holy corner" by the table, and I plan and hope that they will remain in my family for many generations to come.

If you wish to disseminate the images, please be respectful of the artist and include her name, so as to spread her renown. She is doing something important, and deserves recognition.

Ing icon - front
Ing icon - back

Þunor icon - front
Þunor icon - back

Wóden icon - front
Wóden icon - back

Thursday, February 21, 2013


A friend of mine asked me and several other people about our experiences of awe. I've had a few, and there is one that stands out, but I haven’t written about it publicly before. This is a story that I normally save for close friends, for those who know me well enough to know when I’m kidding about something and when I’m really not. It feels a little dangerous putting it out there for public scrutiny and anonymous skepticism; this is a private story. But I’m telling myself that hardly anyone reads this blog anyway, and going ahead.

It was the summer of 1996, after the end of my 2nd year at the University of Minnesota. I had started my time in Theodism in January, and had been freed from my thralldom at Midsummer. Shortly thereafter, I flew down to Texas to work on my grandfather’s cattle-ranch and in his steel shop – that was the arrangement we had in return for him and my grandmother paying for my room and board while I was in college.

There was a drought that year in Central Texas, and it hit the small towns hard: the reservoir of the little town of Wortham, where my grandfather’s steel shop was, had dried up. Little signs had been planted along the highway reading “Pray for Rain”. It also hit the cattle ranchers, and a lot of them were selling out. Our ranch had water from an underground spring that kept the cattle from getting too thirsty, but no rain meant no hay, and no way to feed the herd over winter (commercial cattle feed could be bought, but the price was steep enough to mean heavy debt, and maybe bankruptcy for a number of them). The people I talked to were tired with worry, and pretty much out of hope, but they still said “Pray for Rain,” echoing the signs along the highway.

During one week, we had cut what little hay there was, and left it to dry. That Saturday, I went with Jerry the farmhand to try and bale up what we could. I was pulling the tetter – a machine with spinning circular combs to fluff up the hay and make it easier for the baler to pick up – and I started on the outside edge, spiraling inward. The hay was so light on the dry ground that I sometimes lost my place, but I kept at it. Jerry started behind me on the baler, which picked up the sparse rows of hay and would occasionally open to let a 6-foot tall round bale roll out. Not often enough, though.

In the middle of the field was a rise tall enough that it hid the other edge. I was about three spiraling rows ahead of Jerry, so I stopped the tractor facing North, on the opposite side from him, where he couldn't see me, and shut it off. I listened to the quiet for a little bit, and then drank some cool water from my jug, wiped the sweat from my brow, and recited a Theodish hymn to the god Ing, which was the only piece of liturgy I knew at the time. I looked up at the sky and addressed my words to the god Thunor. I spoke about the drought, about the hardship it brought, and I asked for rain. In return, I said, I would write a hymn to Thunor, and I would brew a batch of beer and sacrifice half of it when I got back to Minnesota. Then I sat, took another drink of water, started up my tractor and drove on.

It was about an hour later when Jerry started having problems with the baler. The hay was getting bunched up and stuck in the intake. I helped him clear it out and we went on; I didn't think about it at the time, but that sort of thing tends to happen when the humidity is rising. Again and again I’d see him stopped, I’d go help him clear the hay out of the intake, and then we’d start again.

About two hours after I’d stopped and spoke my words skyward, I was rounding the rise in the middle of the field. There, as I turned toward the East, was a towering thunderhead. My eyes grew round, my jaw dropped open – I nearly fell off the tractor – and I felt rising up a giddy astonishment mixed strangely with an overwhelming fear. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to jump up and down and shout and point. I didn't know what else to do, so I laughed (a little crazily, perhaps) and kept driving my tractor, looking surreptitiously at the storm cloud as it grew nearer and nearer. The barely-suppressed giddy panic did not pass, and before long, raindrops started to pelt down on the dusty earth. They were huge raindrops, hard and bruising on the skin. We parked our tractors under a tree and ran for the pickup as the rain fell ever harder behind us. We climbed in, soaked to the skin and shivering, and began to drive to the house.

The whole way home, I stared out of the truck window grinning like a fool. One thought kept rushing over and over through my head: It’s REAL. It’s all REAL. I understood the gulf that was between the belief I felt at that moment and what I had felt prior to that day, which was more of a longing to believe. I had the sense of someone’s attention on me; the attention of someone so overwhelmingly huger than I could imagine that he could snuff me out as easy as breathing. This frightened me more than anything has ever frightened me before. I looked up at the still-storming sky, smiled, and said a Thank you under my breath.

There’s more to the story – I asked for rain more than once that summer, and it rained each time I asked – but the important part is that I made good on my offer: I started working right away on that hymn, the first I had ever composed. Although it wasn't very good (first works rarely are, I suppose), it started me on the path of studying the old poetic forms and composing the hymns I post here, which is a major part of my religious life. When I got back to Minnesota, my girlfriend helped me to brew that batch of beer (a blueberry stout, if I recall) and to sacrifice half of it as well. She, now my wife, is an award-winning brewster in her own right, and she brews (and sometimes pours) the libations over which I sing my hymns.

Here’s that first hymn, in all it’s rawness. Like I said, it isn't very good. But I still sing it when the thunderstorms come.

Smithe in smithem îsern smîtand,
Hit werthath warm, brand burnand,
Erme sterkiath, stivne kaltiand:
“Hâl thû Thuner, håmerhaldand!”

Ekkere bûra, thorstige, stûvige,
Fretlîke zerle, bênmîthige,
Kinda ondlêta, herde, hungrige:
“Hâl thû Thuner, triôwewerthich!”

In Threth-hâmum thâwlîke, êzenhringida,
Thuner almechtiga, unbeid, unbrêzen
Erthe sunu râdieth reinwolken,
Håmer klinnand, blixen liâchtand!

Thiu triôwe hî haldeth is îsern, êzen,
Êthe send wichtige and mein is mechtich,
Môd is mizil tô månnum bisitta,
Sâ anskîr thâ tiâga and wes forthfarand!

Smiths in smithies, iron smiting,
It grows warm, brands burning,
Arms strengthen, voices calling:
“Hail thou Thunor, hammer-holding!”

Farmers’ fields, thirsty, dusty,
Fretful farmers, bone-weary,
Children’s faces, hard, hungry:
“Hail thou Thunor, trustworthy!”

In virtuous Strength-home, oaken-ringed,
Thunor almighty, unbowed, unbroken
Earth’s son readies rain clouds,
Hammer ringing, lightning flashing!

The troth he holds is iron, oaken,
Oaths are weighty and main is mighty,
Courage is great to men beset,
So harness the goats and be forth-faring!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

For the beginning of Winter

Liâcht hochnisse• lêdeth mî thruch
diunkernisse dimme• et deis enda
dei wirthith kort• diunkernisse lang
wind wirthith kald• sâ wanath thet jêr.
Thet webb ik weve• worda thrêda
lâre-thrêdar lendze• lang ik hiâ spanna.
Êrist ik hûgie• êdilena formra
the skînath in rîmum• rinkar ethele
Hengst thene sterken• Hars thene gôden
folkwalda Frôda• frô in hôge.
Lange in berge• lidzeth kening
slêpeth in drâmum• sôthkening rîzes
diûpe hî drâmeth• hwenne diôre nêd
bêreth sîn liôde• mith bêrum thiûstrum.
Tô hôch-keninge• helenum liôdum
êdilum ûsrum• alfskînendum
jefta wî jevath• jernmôdige
walkumen wî biâdath• winternachtes
thiâd tôgadere• in thiûsternisse kêthath
quika âk dâda• kêthath tôsemine
warath ûs jî holda• wîtath ûs jî helena
sâ wî jû hugiath• sâ hugiath jî ûs
êdila ûsre• fora âmmêrmâr.

Light of memory leads me through
dim darkness at day’s end
day becomes short, darkness long
wind becomes cold as the year wanes.
I weave the web of words’ threads,
lengthen lore-threads, long I stretch them.
First I remember, of the first ancestors
that shine in songs, noble heroes:
Hengest the strong, Horsa the good
Fróði folk-ruler, the lord in the howe
Long lies a king in the mountain
the true king of the kingdom sleeps in dreams
he dreams deeply until dire danger
threatens his people with dark threats.
To the howe-king, to the hidden people,
to our elf-shining forbears,
we give gifts eagerly,
we bid welcome at winter-nights,
we call the people together in darkness,
the living and the dead we call together;
defend us, you true ones; guard us, you hidden ones,
as we remember you, so remember you us,
our ancestors, forevermore.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just in time for Midsummer, an Easter hymn! This one deserves some explanation. Based on comparative research, I strongly suspect that the Anglo-Saxon goddess Éastre / Éostre mentioned by Bede and the figure Gerðr from the Old Norse Skírnismál are the same figure. The line about Âstere baring her bosom hearkens back to Vedic hymns to Usas, and comparative evidence linking those to Latvian dainas about Saules meita (Sun's maiden), both of whom are reflexes of the same Indo-European dawn-goddess that Éastre (and Gerðr, I believe) is a Germanic reflex of. So, I'm drawing my ideas from all over the Indo-European world for this hymn, but I think the research is pretty solid.

Thruch nacht âk nêd· âk nevil-winter
threft ik thelde· âk thiûster swart
sôth ik sēke· and sunne ist forth.
Stemme ik withhebba· stênherta wintra
aska brand liâchtich· barnand liuchteth
waluberes wei· wither wandringe
dimma fora ûchte· in diunkre nacht.

Skîresta liâcht· skêneth âsta
luft forliuchteth· âk lagar alle
breid hia upbarath· bercht alsâ fior
wundersicht to âgum· thiu wîdkûthe
skînhande brêdeth· skînande ermar
gold-bâgade ermar· thâ glîath sâ fior
Âstere in âsta· êst undhelith
sumures frouwe· sēlich famne
boda thî bringeth· bôle bilofthe
skînanda skêna· to skikkeda dore
breid kum thû ût· bercht-sîrige
achta on and êna· ermum bâgum
andlova applum· unaldinge mith
efter nigun fulle· nachtum bidinge
on nevil-môre· nachtum bidinge
bidadest in lange· blôma-lôvia
in lâ bidadest· lustebâra
bidadest thû breid· bercht tô himile
on lustelika lâ· liâva mêtath
ermar thîne meiden· âuwe thû skêne
blezest thû breid· bôsem thînen
hlakkand springist· hlâpest blîthe
jerne gâ thû· tô gode bidande,
swâgerswester· Sunne stapith
hâge hlâpeth· ana halinge-dei.


Through night and danger and fog-winter
I suffer need and dim darkness
sooth I seek when the Sun is away.
I raise voice against stone-hearted Winter
like a shining brand lightens, burning,
the staff-bearer's way against wandering
before the dim twilight, in dark night.

Clearest light opens the East,
lightens air and all seas
a bride reveals herself, bright as fire,
a wonder-sight to eyes, the widely-known one
spreads shine-hands, shining arms
gold-ringed arms that glow like fire,
Éastre in the East reveals kindness,
Summer’s lady, blessed woman,
beloved, a messenger brings thee betrothal,
open the door to the shining emissary
bride, come thou out, bright-bedecked
(with) eight rings and one on arms
with eleven apples of un-aging
after nine full nights of waiting,
nights of waiting on the foggy moor,
waited long in the bloom-bower,
waited in the pleasant grove,
you waited, bride, bright to heaven,
lovers meet in the pleasant grove
show thine arms, beautiful maiden,
thou barest, bride, thy bosom,
laughing thou springst, runnest blithely
go thou eagerly to a waiting god,
sister-in-law Sun steps,
leaps high on the wedding-day.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seeing, Feeling, and Thinking

It has been said that small-minded people talk about things, the mediocre talk about people, and the intelligent talk about ideas. I think that approaches to religion, to the gods, can be divided in the same way. Such a division need not imply a hierarchy of ways of approaching the gods going from lesser to greater, although that hierarchy is often implied, which I want to get back to later.

First, there are the “things” of religion: cult objects, “fetishes”, idols, visual symbols, descriptions and iconography of the gods' apearances, parts of the physical world that are associated with specific gods such as mountains, rivers, and forests, and also living things such as specific animals or birds; in short, all of those ways in which divinity is approached through the senses.

Second, there are the “personalites”: specifically, the personalities of gods as we know them from myths, and with whom we identify, or whom we identify against; these are the ways that the gods are approached through the emotions.

Third, there are the “ideas”: theologies, mysticisms, or the web of concepts that might be associated with a particular god, and that form lines of conjunction and relation between gods; these are the ways that the gods are approached through the intellect.

Sensory experience being basic to our interaction with the world, the sensory part of religion is the first experience of the gods for most people: for instance, one might see lightening, hear thunder, see an oak tree, see the famous bronze figure of Þórr from Iceland and think “This is Þórr”.

Later on in the development of one's religious understanding, one might identify the figure of Þórr in the myths as the reality of the god, and reject the reality of what is available to the senses, as if to say “That was merely a symbol or a reflection of the reality, but this is the real Þórr.” This is where most people stop.

Some people might go further, and come to a theological understanding of Þórr, wherein “Þórr” seems to be a concept or a web of concepts, e.g. Force, Protection, Warriorhood, etc. one might then reject the mythological “person” of Þórr as likewise a symbol of the reality of Þórr, which are these concepts; the idea of Þórr is seen as the ultimate reality, of which the sensory and emotive elements are mere shadows and reflections.

It seems to me that this progression from sensory to emotive to conceptual is not enough, and there must be another level of understanding that very few these days have reached.

For one thing, the rejection of the visible, audible, and tactile apprehension of the holy for the emotional apprehension, and the rejection of the emotional apprehension for the conceptual apprehension, seems to privilege ever greater abstraction. If a linear progression of further abstraction is the key to understanding the Holy, then we might say that each god, even taken as an abstract web of concepts, is symbolic of some other thing, something beyond gods, and that we may as well then disense with the idea of gods altogether, and give idols, myths and theologies little or no credit for being about anything real. There exist such schools of thought today, and I think that that ground has been well-trodden, to the point that I have no interest in it as a direction of thought. I think there is another way, a more interesting way that does not result in the intellectual rejection of everything about our religion.

This is not to say that abstraction or intellectual understandings of our gods are going in the wrong direction; merely that they are incomplete. The problem lies in the rejection of the sensory for the emotive, the emotive for the conceptual. One who has reached the level of understanding gods as concepts must then make the full circle, and see that coming to know a god through the senses, through the emotions, and through the mind are all important: the idol, the mountain, the thunderstorm; the Þórr of the myths; the ideas and concepts associated with Þórr; all of these partake of the being of the god. Someone who has this insight can come back to the beginning, and see the idol, hear the myth, and know the concepts like they are new, and experience the presence of the god in all of these ways simultaneously.

There will always remain something of a god that is beyond knowledge, beyond human understanding, but exeriencing gods in things, in personalities, and in ideas, all together and at the same time, gives a broader and deeper understanding than any one of these singly.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Brief Thoughts on Ram Swarup

"Pagan renaissance is overdue. It is necessary for Europe to heal its psyche. Under Christianity, Europe learned to reject its ancestors, its past, which cannot be good for its future also. Europe became sick because it tore apart from its own heritage, it had to deny its very roots. If Europe is to be healed spiritually, it must recover its spiritual past--at least, it should not hold it in such dishonor.

"There is a lot for European thinkers to do. The task won't be easy, and it will require decades of fervent dedication and a lot of introspection as well. Europe has been subjected for centuries to a systematic spiritual Semitization. It will be no small task to change this situation. Europe shall have to rediscover its ancient sensibilities about its people, environment, animals, nature. Earlier, the European Renaissance of the 17th century was incomplete. It was revival of Greek and Roman literature and art-forms without Greek and Roman gods. If the Renaissance had taken its full course, it would also have become aware of its Eastern, its Hindu, links, but it was soon aborted. In fact, an opposite movement started, an anti-renaissance movement, in the shape of Protestantism, a movement of 'back to the Bible,' 'back to the Apostles.'

"I hope that the Neopagan movement will understand the importance and the immensity of the task. In certain Western milieux, Paganism has been welcomed because it was supposed to usher in sensuality and hedonism, sexual freedom. But those Pagans must understand that the ancient Pagan philosophers were great mystics and great moralists, and the European Pagan movement will have to understand Paganism in this way.

"I believe that Hinduism has a very important role in the religious self-recovery of humanity, particularly of Europe. The reason is simple. Hinduism represents the most ancient tradition which is still alive. It has preserved in its bosom the whole spiritual past of humanity. For self-recovery, these countries have to revive their old gods. But this is a task which cannot be done mechanically. They have to recapture the consciousness which expressed itself in the language of many gods. Here, India can help them with its tradition of yoga. In my book, The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods, I spoke of a new kind of pilgrimage: a return to the time of the Gods. Meanwhile, European scholars can do a lot. They should write a history of Europe from the Pagan point of view, which would show how profoundly persecuted Paganism was. They should compile a directory of Pagan temples destroyed, Pagan groves and sacred spots desecrated. European Pagans should also revive some of these sites as their places of pilgrimage."

-Antaios, June 1996

The most boring sort of post is one in which the author agrees fervently with a position without having much to add. This may be one of those boring posts.

Years before I read this, I had mused on the idea of cooperation between Hindus and Pagans of various stripes (although, being me, the musing was primarily about Hindus and Reconstructionists). When I read the above interview about a year or so ago my jaw dropped. Here was someone who got it, who understood. The last two sentences about Pagan holy places spoke directly to work I was doing at the time (a work which is still underway), the compilation of an atlas of Germanic holy places.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Swarup's position that the rejection of the native religions of Europe damaged the psyche of European cultures, an idea that I think should be further examined. In fact, I've long been of the opinion that certain aberrations or pathologies of behavior in the history of Europeans are related to the rootlessness, anomie, and consequent desperation caused by the conversion.

At some point, I'd like to go to the Hindu temple near my town, and see if I can strike up a conversation with a brahman on Ram Swarup, Reconstructionism in general, and Theodism in particular. Also, I'd just like to see the temple up close: the pictures I've seen look impressive.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Harvest Hymn

This is a few months late, but I wanted to show that I haven't been entirely idle. When I have time and fewer distractions, I want to find a way to post sound files of myself singing these hymns to the lyre, which will hopefully give you more of a feeling for them as works of art, rather than works of academic experimentation.

Wî hugiath ûta alde · êdere tîdum

eldiûre mêre, · êdilena rîmar:

wî goda hêrdon · grâtere mechte,

enste gôdere · tô offrerum:

urjetath wî ne · grâtena dêda,

nerendum wî thankiath · fora nêdhelpe.

Kumath mith Hâga · hêrlike Êse,

Êsinna alle · ethele mith Frîa!

Bakkenes brâdes · brêdera hlêva,

biâres brewenes · blîthmôdiges,

bêthera ondfâth · barmhertiga,

langlîvige · lof âk froude!

Herefedre wî singath, · hâgesta âk ferista,

warlde skeppre · âk weifara,

the landa lane · ûrlange geng

tô finda âk ofnima · fîand-handum

wîsdôm urstilen · efter wîch-grithe.

Geng sâ Baluwirza · bivia linda

ekkrum rîpe · Etenalandes,

mêdum brôthres · meda hôderes.

Nigun ther sturvun · in nîthslachta,

wrise thâ warth nû · wimmerelâs;

wimmede nigunfalde · nêta gêres,

mēde sumurlang · jēn mededranke

berge in, of breide · bergade, junge.

Slanga bilîke · smûgede hî binna,

upward hî flâch · ernlîke thana,

mede hî brochte · mêna Êsa;

breide thoch lâvde · bittere târar.

Thû heven-kening · fon hâchêdum siuchst

hwet biskiath elle · and thû skâwast dene;

in ûsere feldum · stath fôder gôd

fora hungerich hars; · kum Hâga tô ûs,

thi lest allra skôva · lêvath wî thî,

wesa walkumen · Wêda hâchsta

âka ik lof jâta · the ût lippum rinnth;

hî môd frîath · hî mênhêde stêrth,

fon thîne medejefte · sē mîn mûth â full!

Jef gôd âr jâ · jefst thû ûs êr

thâ jef thes eft · jêrum efter!

Folde wî singath · feste onstallde

môder gomena · âk môder goda,

full bist thû waxen · fethmes Êses;

thû erthe brâd · âk alberand,

ûseren sang hêr thû · onsiuch ûs hîr

unwrêthe âgum, · enstlike môde!

Jef gôd âr jâ · jefst thû ûs êr

thâ jef thes eft · jêrum efter!

Thunere wî singath · thrûthiga kampa

hwâm mith fîr-wurpna · fioriga hamre

bergiath thâ feld, · bringeth rîpe

geldene âre · gerstakornes,

hwît-berdades · hwêtekornes,

râd-geldenes · roggakornes,

gêt-fêdandes, · god-fêdanes havra,

ellik kornes · allera felda.

Mechtich ist sîn wald · mann tô helpa!

Thuner Ellemechtich · ûsere thankar hêr!

Loviath wî tô himle · hlûden dôm

wîheftiges · Wêdnes suna,

almechtiges · Erthe suna!

Jef gôd âr jâ · jefst thû ûs êr

thâ jef thes eft · jêrum efter!

Inge wî singath · ever-bald kampa,

waldande hêra · weinrîdande,

fretho thû bringst · froude mith and hêle

skiprîdere · âk skôfberand

the wela bringeth gôd, · walnissa alle,

rîza and sunde, · rein hâlsumen.

Under thînre walde · waxe thâ feld,

korn wal grôwe, · thet kind ekkra!

Under thînre walde · waxe swêga,

hrîtherfiâ grôwe · hôvedes kennes!

Under thînre walde · waxe thet folk,

wer-kind âk wîf-kind · wammum ûtberne,

megar and megitha, · mann uppa erthe,

thrûthige liôde, · thiâd ûrmechtich!

Jef gôd âr jâ · jefst thû ûs êr

thâ jef thes eft · jêrum efter!

Hrôpath wî ji hâga · hêrlika, ethela,

hêrath âk siath ûs, · hugiath wî ji âmmêr,

enst wî biâdath · edilena goda,

jerne wî offrath · grâtum êsum!


We remember out of old, early times

very precious tales, ancestors' tales:

we heard of the gods' great might,

of good favor to sacrificers:

we do not forget the great ones' deeds,

we thank the saving ones for help in need.

Come with the High One, lordly gods,

all noble (beautiful) goddesses with Frige!

Of broad loaves of baked bread,

of blithe-mooded brewed beer,

receive both Gracious Ones,

long-living praise and joy!

To Army-father we sing, highest and first,

world's maker and wayfarer

who walked the over-long road of lands

to find and take from enemy hands

wisdom stolen after battle-truce.

The shaker of shields walked as Bale-Worker

to the ripe acres of the land of giants,

to the meadows of the mead-warden's brother.

Nine died there in hate-slaughter,

the giant then became reaper-less;

nine-fold reaped the user of the spear,

a summer-long payment for a mead-drink

in the mountain, guarded by a young bride.

Like a snake he crept therein,

upward he flew, eagle-like, from there,

mead he brought to the gathering of gods;

though he left behind bitter tears for the bride.

Thou heaven-king, from the heights thou seest

all that happens when thou lookest down;

in our fields stands good fodder

for a hungry horse; come High One to us,

the last of all sheaves we leave to thee,

be welcome, highest Wóden

as I pour praise that runs out of lips;

he frees the mind, he destroys falsehood,

may my mouth be ever full of thy mead-gift!

If ever before thou gavest us good harvest

then give thus again in years after!

To Earth we sing, firmly placed

mother of men and mother of gods,

full art thou grown of a god's embrace;

thou broad and all-bearing earth,

hear thou our song, look upon us here

(with) unwroth eyes, favorable mood!

If ever before thou gavest us good harvest

then give thus again in years after!

To Thuner we sing, powerful fighter

whom with far-thrown, fiery hammer

protects the fields, brings the ripe

golden ears of barley-corn,

of white-bearded wheat-corn,

of red-golden rye-corn,

of goat-feeding, god-feeding oats,

every corn of all fields.

Mighty is his power to help men!

Thunor Almighty, hear our thanks!

We praise to heaven the loud fame

of the hallowed son of Wóden,

of the almighty son of Earth!

If ever before thou gavest us good harvest

then give thus again in years after!

To Ing we sing, boar-bold fighter,

ruling lord, wagon-riding,

thou bringest frith with joy and hail,

ship-rider and sheaf-bearing

who brings good wealth, all of wellnesses,

riches and health, wholesome rain.

Under thy power may the fields wax,

grain grow well, the child of fields!

Under thy power may the herds wax,

cattle grow of the hoofed kin!

Under thy power may the folk grow,

man-child and woman-child born out of wombs,

youths and maidens, men upon the earth,

a powerful people, a greatly mighty tribe!

If ever before thou gavest us good harvest

then give thus again in years after!

We call you high ones, lordly ones, noble ones,

hear and see us, we remember you always,

we wish for good favor of ancestors' gods,

eagerly we sacrifice to the great gods!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Change and Continuity

These days, one finds everywhere the notion that change has overtaken the world in the last few centuries. From the scientific advances beginning in the Renaissance and the erosion of faith in the dominant Christianity that accompanied them, on to the technological advances that enabled the Industrial Revolution and its attendant upheaval of societies’ means and aims of production to this day, change has been the byword of existence for quite some time. This change has been accompanied everywhere by philosophical trends that first lauded the dawn of the Age of Reason and the unshackling of human labor and intellect, but which have since gone to describing with horror the Age of the Titans, of Technology without Purpose, of the Machine.

These philosophers and their criticisms of the modern world deserve to be taken seriously, and the upheavals that occur with the greater changes in society are keenly felt when and where they happen; I’m thinking mainly (but not solely) of the change from primarily rural agricultural societies – and hunter/gather societies in many places – to primarily urban factory/technology/market societies that started with the Industrial Revolution and has continued until today, and all of the other changes that that greater change entails. It occurs to me as I write that this great change, whatever it might be, is not finished, and might never be finished until human life is snuffed out by the excesses and imbalances set in motion by this change. Suffice it to say that we have not yet entirely “changed over” into the mode of life that would seem to be the logical end of this particular centuries-long trend, and I’m not sure that we really ever entirely can (regardless of how much we might damage, in the meantime, by trying).

So, this is our “changed world”. One of the early victims of this “changed world” has been the authority of Christianity, a result that a Heathen like myself might well praise. However, it hasn’t been merely Christianity’s authority that has suffered, but the authority of religion itself in Western culture (Christianity itself having uprooted the authority of other religions). That result is, I think, less than praiseworthy, and has resulted in a number of unforeseen consequences which I won’t elaborate on here; I think that religion is, on the whole, a good thing (despite some highly pervasive bad examples of it), and that its loss is the loss of something ineffably valuable.

Many people disagree, of course, both on the worthiness of religion itself and, in a perhaps softer disagreement, on the role that religion ought to play in this “changed world”. People who, like me, pursue the practice of ancient religions and cultures often have to deal with the question of these religions’ and cultures’ relevance in the modern “changed world”; this is true for “mainstream” religions as well, for instance Catholicism, which has an uninterrupted history of practice going back to the Roman Empire. The question of relevance is ostensibly even more serious for religions like mine, which do not have such an uninterrupted history. For instance, people can (and do) question to what extent early Germanic culture, even only Germanic religion (as though the two were separable), should or could be brought into the modern “changed” world. Others argue that there is no place in this “changed” world for old religions like ours, which are better forgotten.

This whole line of thinking raises some questions for me. I think that there are many criticisms that could be raised about this point of view, not the least of which being that it is based upon a linear notion of progress that is ultimately derived from a specifically Judeo-Christian view of time. That is, the notion that things change over time generally for the better, and that one neither can nor should want to “go back” or “turn back the clock” is not a matter of objective fact so much as one of a worldview that is strongly pervasive in Western culture, but by no means universal or necessarily correct. One could simply (though certainly not easily) change how one views the world, and the criticism from the notion of “progress” loses all meaning.

In general, I see the role of religions like mine as having the same relevance in the modern world as a vaccine in a diseased body. If we are not a product of the main trends of the last few centuries, it is because these trends represent overall decay of a body that was, I think, already sick; Western Culture – seen as a whole – invited its own decline by its excesses and its poor foundations. Our goal is not to revive Western Culture; this goal is taken up by other radicals than us. No: we, and people like us, are here to revive the cultures that preceded Western Culture and which were, to greater or lesser extents, incorporated into that Borg-like collective. We are rebuilding cultures that were once viable and able to survive vast changes, because we think that they can be that viable and hardy now. Also, importantly, we revive these cultures because they are ours: they belong to us as an inheritance from our beginnings, and conversely, we belong to them as well.

Or, from another perspective: we are – to whatever in Western Culture remains of the organic cultures that preceded and were incorporated into it – something like an immune response, a reaction from within Western Culture to break free of this artificial thing and to return to a kind of culture more natural to us, more in line with our own manners of being. From this point of view it can be seen that the movement towards religions like ours has its roots in the Romanticism of the 19th century, which was a reaction against the industrialization and urbanization of the time. Romanticism, which inspired great art, also inspired a great deal of scholarship; it began the scholarly interest in pre-Christian European religions, in native European religious and cultural identities. Romanticism’s art and scholarship inspired the interest among some people to go back to practicing pre-Christian European religions. We, therefore are part of that same current of reaction against, rejection of, modernism and its tendencies to dehumanize and denature.

So, now that I have attempted to establish our roots and our place in and relation to the modern world, does this reaction against the changes of “modernity”, changes that now seem to define the everyday existence of many people, have any hope of success?

To answer that question with a question: has the world really changed that much, and are the evident changes fundamental, or merely on the surface of things? To many, these will seem like ridiculous questions. It seems obvious that the world has changed, doesn’t it? One might point to all the technology we have, and what it allows us to do, as evidence of the world’s fundamental difference from how it was a century ago, much less a millenium. I am uncertain whether technology is capable of changing existence in a fundamental fashion (or even the fundamentals of our experience of it), but technology certainly seems to have changed things: more powerful scientific tools give us a greater knowledge of physical existence; communications networks allow us to know what is happening around the world in an instant; weapons technologies allow us (at least in part) to wage war from afar; agricultural technology “liberates” the vast majority of people from having to grow food for a living (although I am by no means convinced that this is a good thing). All this is so, but I don’t know that any of these things really “change” the nature of the world in any fundamental sense. If anything, I think that technology gives an appearance of change that is ultimately a distraction from the underlying continuity of things, and thus from an interaction with - and understanding of - the underlying and eternal things about reality.

Nor do find much evidence that human nature has changed. People still have the same instincts and emotions, and largely want the same things as they always have. The change that people feel in the world is, I think, rather in their understanding of and relationship to the world. As an example, there is the notion that things are reducible to material, mere matter with no other meaning or existence than as objects to be shaped and transformed by human will. This kind of thinking enabled the Industrial Revolution, and the results of that revolution continue to lead to that kind of thinking.

This kind of sea-change in people’s understanding of and approach to the world leads, I think, to the flourishing of many lines of thought that would have been clearly absurd, if not unthinkable, in previous eras. I find that many people these days have a number of ideas that they seem to hold precisely because they are at odds with old wisdom. Of course, such a thing only makes sense from the point of view that states that things are fundamentally different now than they ever were before. If that isn’t true, though – and I think it’s not – if things haven’t really changed all that much, then old wisdom is still useful, especially in circumstances where the seeming newness of things has apparently deprived people of any wisdom whatsoever.

And that, when it comes down to it, is what religions like ours really are: old, traditional wisdom, ways of understanding and interacting with the world and with existence that we firmly believe have a great deal of value in the modern world; and this not despite the fact that these ways are old and from another time, but because of that very fact. Part of how people like us serve as an antidote to modernity is by questioning the modern rejection of traditional wisdom. Religious projects like ours are predicated on the belief that the world has not changed so much that traditional wisdom is useless, and that traditional wisdom helps to remedy the alienation from the world that is part of modernity.

In another essay, I hope to look at the implications the ideas in this essay have for how people these days approach the practice of ancient religions. Specifically, I would like to look at the fear of or disdain for tradition that I’ve seen among some Heathens and other Reconstructionists, and how that is contradictory and ultimately self-defeating.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Song for Ing

Nû ik wille êria · thet ethelike god,
felamechtigen frô, · felajeftigen,
êrstera keninga · aldera tîda.
Thû liâchtich Ing, · lofsang ik biâda,
sêlich forsta, · singe ik thî!
Hweder bist ferne jeftha nēi, · frethojeftich hêra
hweder on himle · hâge thû wenast,
hweder on erthe · enstiga thû ferist,
jeftha on sêwēge · salta overwegist,
hêr âk harka · holda sange,
frô, kum thû hîr · froude tô winna!
Jevejern thû bist · âk jeftfrôlik
gold thû strewast · sâ gerstenkorn,
selover thû siest · tô sunum manna,
walichêd dêlest · tô wera bernum!
Heleth hreddande, · hars thēra sunne,
skînande widze · âk skîrefax,
stîflik stôdhengst, · stêpa manna,
âr twifaldich, · everbald wîgand,
skôf op skilda, · thîn skip oppa sê,
heleth hêlende, · oppa himle thîn skip.
Walda skettes · âk warlda god,
rein thû sendest · riuchta tîde,
sunnanskîn skikkest, · sôthige therve,
full waxith folde · in fethme godes
wellena wechsta · wera tô nette;
thruch mecht thîne · mēda waxe,
enstlike ekkrar · âra kornes,
grēdland brêde · fora gersande fiâr,
thet ûs werthe nôgede · nâta âk berna,
êtes âk metes, · ele sterkere,
biâres âk brâdes · efter bē endath;
twerfôta âke, · twistinge misgâ,
fiûwerfôte âke, · furga fulle beren,
rîze âke · unriûre, sinich;
sunde ûs selle, · sumures heleth,
lîfdegar lange, · lustelike jēr,
fretho ûs fremma · Felajeftiga,
wesa ûs jevajernich · thet wî mugath jevajern wesa,
frîhand mith friôndum, · frôlik mang kenne,
thet wî mugath thanklik wesa · thî âk thâm godum;
fora jevene jeva · wî jefta witherdwâth,
thet twiska ûs friôndskip, · frô Ing, stande!

Now I want to honor that noble god
a greatly mighty lord, generous,
of the first kings of old times.

Thou shining Ing, I offer a song of praise,

blessed prince, I sing of thee!

Whether thou art far or near, frith-giving lord,
whether thou dwellest in high heaven,

whether thou farest on gracious earth,
or crossest on salty sea-wave,

hear and hearken to a gracious song,

lord, come thou hear to win joy!

Generous thou art, and gift-joyful,

strewest thou gold as barleycorns,

silver though sowest to sons of men,

dealest wellness to men’s children!

A saving hero, horse of the sun,

a shining horse and bright-maned,

a resolute stallion, a helper of men,

a two-fold ear, a boar-bold fighter,

a sheaf on a shield, thy ship upon the sea,

a healing hero, upon heaven thy ship.

Ruler of treasure and world’s god,

rain thou sendest at the right time,
sunshine sendest, a true need,
the earth grows full in a god’s embrace

with desired growth for the use of men;
through thy might may meadows grow,

gracious fields of ears of grain,
broad grasslands for grazing cattle,
that we may have enough of cattle and children,
of food and meat, of strong ale,
of beer and bread after harvest ends;
may the two-footed increase, may discord diminish,

may the four-footed increase, may furrows bear full,
may wealth increase, intransitory, lasting;
give us health, summer’s hero,

long life-days, pleasant years,

grant us peace, Generous One,
be generous to us that we may be generous,
free-handed with friends, happy among kin,

that we may be thankful to thee and the gods;

for gifts given we give gifts in return,

that between us friendship, lord Ing, may stand!