Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lightening



That which is Holy is preeminently that which is Real, which is that which has Meaning. Meaning need not be transparent - it may be (and often is) hidden, veiled. We need not know what the meaning of some thing is to feel that it has a greater importance, a greater "ontological weight," as it were. Such a thing becomes a center of reality, a locus from which meaning flows, and around which existence orients itself.

Let us take as an example a god's image: Þórr as he appears to us in the myths and related traditions from early times. He appears before us as a powerful man, in the prime of his life; red-haired and red-bearded, with blue flashing eyes of lightning-sheen and bristling brows. He holds in his right hand a hammer, the powerful thunder-weapon; on his left hand he may wear an iron mitt, the better to catch his hammer when it returns, red-hot, from its hallowing, deadly flight; about his waist is a girdle that redoubles his already gigantic strength. He drives a chariot drawn by goats, being too immense for even the gods' horses to bear. His parentage, by the king of the gods and the Earth herself springs to mind, as do the names of his dwelling, his wife, and his children. We think of the oak-tree and the oath-ring, the high and holy hills that bear his name - some of us might remember the red-berried rowan and the red-headed woodpecker - but we all think of the summer storm, and the rolling crash of thunder, and lightning's sudden flash.

In all of these things, individually, there is meaning, and the meaning of all of these things together is the god Þórr himself. Even the basic facts of his appearance must be considered meaningful: red hair and beard, blue and flashing eyes, a figure powerful, vigorous, and male - these cannot be considered mere accident, as we are used to thinking about appearances in these times. To be accidental, they would have to be meaningless.

But what is a god? What do all of these various things mean, if they mean a god? We should look for no easy answers here, no reduction to anything more easily graspable, as though Þórr might be merely a mask behind which hides... what? A meteorological event? An historical personage, amplified to godhood in tales by those who came after?

No. Þórr, Þunor, Thuner, Donar: these are the names by which we call a mystery. And this mystery responds, hears our prayers for rain, for protection, for strength, for the grain-ripening summer thunder, accepts our gifts and our praise. This mystery is one upon whom we call, to whom we pour offerings. The word for such a mystery is, in our language, a "god."(1)

So, then, a god is a god.

However, neither this seemingly-simple tautology, nor the statement that a god is a mystery should be taken to mean that any further knowing is impossible, nor that asking is forbidden. What it means is that purely intellectual knowing has a limit. The rational mind is important, it is a useful tool that must be used and kept sharp; but it isn't everything.

The meanings that holy things have - that gods have, that myths have - are much more than riddles for a sharp intellect to unlock. They are, however, things that can be felt on a much more visceral level, much in the same manner as one can be moved by a powerful work of art, by music, or even moreso by things made by no human craft: the sunrise, the welling sea, the rushing storm.

Even what we might think of as more purely human things: the awesome, bloody birth of a child; the sweet pain of love that sweeps you up regardless of your will; the raw anguish of death; in each of these, regardless of our modern desire to analyse and dissect these experiences into purely material causes and effects, there is mystery. In being able to accept the mystery as such, in being brave enough to not distance ourselves from the experience through a retreat into detached rationality, we experience the workings of a god, an intimation of meaning, of the Real.



(1) The word god comes from Proto-Germanic *gudam, a neuter noun (meaning it applies equally well to both male and female), which comes in turn from Proto-Indo-European *ghu-t-om, a noun formed from the participle of either the verbal root *ghu- "to call" or the root *gheu- "to pour"; therefore "a called-upon one" or "a poured-to one".

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pipe-thoughts


I find that I am sometimes anxious when I have no real need to be. I may simply lack the faculty of self-aware consideration at these times, preventing me from ascertaining - and then disposing of - the source of my anxiety. In such straits, a quiet smoke is often the best remedy.

Doubtlessly, the calming effect of the nicotine itself achieves the greatest share of this, but other considerations also enter in. For one, in order to smoke, I must retreat from the house to the outdoors. This removes me from the arena in which I face most of my stressful moments, and places me in proximity to the greater world of nature, which (especially on such a day as this) strikes me with its unhurried, contented going-about-its-business. That is a better sort of world to be part of.

As the breath slows, one takes notice of the speech of birds, and a meaning is sensed in the curling tendrils of smoke, a fiery counterpoint to the Cimbrian priestesses' eddies, blood of the earth and sea of the flesh.

Jünger's writings on drugs present me with a veiled, half-glimpsed truth, accessible more as a feeling than as the understanding of an idea. The same is true of his writing on danger, or (to be honest) any of it.

I am no mystic, obsessively yearning with a fiery passion to comprehend the secret meanings of all things. Instead, I content myself with a brief glimpse, half-hidden, easy to misinterpret as accidental. Rather than the burning consummation, my share is the ambiguous smile, the half-hinting glance.

Most would be discontented with such uncertainty, but I have made my peace with it. Within that there is an unhurriedness, and there is mystery there, the very stuff of the Holy. The ones who lived here before indicated with one word the mysterious and the divine, and the wisest of us have spoken of "allowing as how" and of "Entlassenheit." In the end, anxiety is emptied of its purpose.

Þagalt ok hugalt· skyli þjóðans barn
ok vígdjarft vera;
glaðr ok reifr· skyli gumna hverr
unz sin bíðr bana.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Still here!

And, in time for Easter, here's a recording of the Skírnismál, sung in the style of Norwegian gamlestev:


video


(Apologies for the recording quality; also, I was singing without a script, so some errors undoubtedly crept in).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ah, my poor, neglected blog.

I have been getting emails from Google saying that my domain name will be discontinued tomorrow. I don't know why, exactly, as I have been getting other emails that my domain-fee is paid in full for the next year. In any case, there is a possibility that Ordgethanc will cease to exist sometime tomorrow.

If that occurs, I have already saved everything, and will be renewing the blog again. And then, maybe, I can find the time to write down some of the swirling thoughts that continually addle my brain.

Fingers crossed!


Nick

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blood and Fire






Modernity makes much of the revolutionary. Modern nations have been founded upon revolutionary wars, and the concept of revolution continues to supply an aesthetic ideal for youth, a heady mixture of equal parts anger and hope. One suspects that, in the West, this desire for revolution is the desire to make real the mythos of the Day of Judgement, to bring the desired terminus and dealing of justice upon the unrighteous.

Experience recommends caution.

The ethic of the revolution is the ethic of the avalanche, or better still, of the forest fire. It is the ethic that sets off vast destructive forces with their own patterns of being and movement that do not pay heed to men. The revolutionary raises voice and hand against the old and, to his mind, the corrupt; some forests need the fire, and are better afterwards for it. Revolutions feed themselves, though, and are rarely sated by the achievement of their initial aims: the revolution is never complete enough, never successful enough, but must be furthered and protected from “reactionary” tendencies. Thus, the revolutionary ethic sees any growth, any striving upward as a thing to be put down, as an invitation to the flame. All must be burned for the revolution, all cleansed by fire, over and over again in more violent and frequent conflagrations until all is reduced to equality in the democracy of ashes.

For those of us seeking to rebuild after centuries, millenia of destruction, I think the better ethos to follow is that of the forester: to find a place to defend against revolutions, wherein to allow growth, development, the burgeoning complexity that abides in healthy, living systems, be they ecologies or religions; to plant one's deeds carefully and patiently, seeding what one wants to have flourish generations and centuries on. This must be long, patient work; what grows quickly does not stand long, and the sturdiest things grow the slowest.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Little Lighthearted Something...


... that I wrote the other day while working.

When first the heady ale of golden hue
From mash-tun into waiting goblets flowed
And foamy-headed wave of power true
Was brewed from sunlit fields with barley sowed
Then men from sun and barley sudden knew
A godlike joy that hearts and blood did fill
And drove them, all in wonder, fearing few,
Another draught to drink yet deeper still!
Now, filled with golden ale our cups we raise
To toast the breweress with a raucous round
And drink her health unto the end of days
The queen hop-garlanded and barley-crowned!
And after-time, when we have drunk our fill,
May joy resound in hearts and voices still!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

At the Court of the Axe


“First, let me tell you who we are.

“In ages past, a conqueror, an enemy of the Frisians summoned twelve Frisians to him. They were law-speakers, and he bade them to tell him their laws. They could not. As punishment, he gave them a choice: they could be put to death immediately, they could be enslaved, or they could be set adrift on the cruel North Sea, waterless, foodless, and rudderless. They chose the last.

“As they sat in the boat, cold, thirsty and starving, they expected to die. They thought of how they had come to be there, of law and lawlessness and tyranny. They asked their gods for help. Then, as though he had always been there, a thirteenth man was sitting amongst them in the boat. Upon his shoulder he bore an axe of gold, and with this axe, he steered the boat to an island.

“Upon the island he threw his axe, striking a hillock; from this hillock clear, sweet water poured forth, at which the twelve men slaked their dry-throated thirst. The thirteenth spoke to them there, and he taught them their laws, which tell how people are to live. Then, when he was done speaking, the man with the golden axe vanished as though he had never been there, leaving only an echo of his words in the ears of the twelve.

“They named that place Axen-t-hof,  ‘At the Court of the Axe’, and there the Frisians kept holy silence at the spring that had first flowed at the stroke of Fôsite’s axe, for that was the god who had saved them.


“We are named for that place: Axenthof Thiâd, the tribe of the place where a god taught laws to men, where a holy spring welled forth, where the holy silence was kept. That is who we are.”



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

Awe


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!