Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pattern and the Ineffable

Fractal Trees

I recently had a couple of house-guests from Sweden, very good people whom I'll refer to by their initials, M. & S. They were curious about my religion, and I was happy to discuss it. M. is working on a doctorate in engineering and, like many Europeans with a scientific background, is essentially an atheist - albeit, importantly, one who feels no need to evangelize.

M. shared something with me that I felt was essential: he said that, to him, nature is the most important thing, and that it is beyond our descriptions of it in disciplines like biology and physics. I agreed, and have been following the train of thought that sprang from that conversation, and finding its connection to my view of things.

Over several years, I have come to see existence as a vast, indescribably complex pattern, made up of other vast, indescribably complex patterns. By "indescribable" I do not mean "unknowable"; in fact, these patterns can be described ad infinitum, but never exhausted, never completely, finally defined. They are not the sorts of things that one can draw a circle around and say: "This is it, all of it." There is always something more.

These patterns, furthermore, constantly interact with one another in patterned ways on all scales: from the level of the smallest subatomic particles all the way out beyond the largest scale humanly imaginable.

What we tend to think of as the natural world is the level on which we can see those patterns of existence clearly, moving by something other than human volition. Yet, thinking of "nature" as a category distinct and separate from "culture" or "humanity" is misguided: those same patterns flow and interact in human societies, and even within individuals.

Myth can be seen as a kind of metaphoric or aesthetic understanding of these patterns. I do not mean either of those adjectives dismissively: myths are true in that they relay truth, and they do so concerning things that cannot be expressed better in any other way, due to the vastness, the inexhaustibility of those truths, their inability to be circumscribed or contained within human thought.

And here we come to what is, for me, the crucial point: the gods are these patterns. I do not mean this in any way that suggests a "just" or an "only," or as a definitive discovery of what the gods "really are". Both sides of the statement are equivalent: these patterns of existence are the gods.

This means that in their movement, in their patterned interaction, there is volition and purpose. The gods's deeds shaped Being in that time-before which is always happening; the patterns of existence create existence moment-by-moment. This is saying the same thing twice.

The manner of sensibility that creates art - the putting-together of sensation to show a whole, a reality and meaning that goes beyond the sensations to something larger and deeper - is the same manner of sensibility that myth speaks to. It is something that relies on the feeling of a connection between different things, thereby gaining a subtle intimation of the whole that is the nexus of those connections.

The almost word-associative attributes and connections that make up our descriptions and understandings of a god (oak-hammer-goat-thunder-red-iron-storm-wagon-battle, or spear-king-wise-army-horse-raven-noose-wolf-chant) are the putting-together of the parts of a pattern into a whole that is felt at a level deeper than the intellect. Similarly, the ascribing of personality to these patterns is not merely "personification," meant dismissively as an epiphenomenon of human psychological structure, but rather the noticing of a pattern.

Think: you have known someone whose personality reminded you of a meadow of flowers in Spring; or of the distant-but-nearing rumble of thunder as the sky darkens; or of a forest dying on the edge of a swamp; or of hard ice driven by a cruel wind. You yourself have embodied some of these patterns of personality, or any of several others.

At this point, those who are fond of describing the gods in terms of Jungian archetypes - and thereby saying things that I think Jung would not - might say: "See, the gods come from within you!" I would amend that statement, and thereby the implication: the gods come to you from within you. Your ability to "know" a god, to feel in any manner close to a god, is dependent on the recognition of a part of the same pattern within yourself. The implication is important: you yourself (or all of us as the "collective unconscious") are not the source of the gods. Rather, these patterns of existence that are gods extend throughout existence into you yourself. The myths that occurred "back then" also occur "out there" and right here, and within yourself. To know that - more to the point: to feel that in the core of your being, in the very heart of your heart - is to experience a hierophany, a self-showing of the Holy. When this happens, you must greet the gods who are there.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Veiztu hvé rísta skal? Veiztu hvé ráða skal?

I'm going to move slightly away from my self-imposed rule of not posting about current happenings, and offer a small aside on things that I consider important in scholarship, most especially in the scholarship partaken of and engaged in by Heathens.

The title of this post is, of course, from stanza 144 of the Hávamál (145 or 146 in some editions), and is translated variously as:

"Knowest thou how to grave them? knowest thou how to expound them?" (Thorpe 1866)

"Knowest how one shall write, | knowest how one shall rede?" (Bellows, 1936)

Different translations give the reader a different sense of the meaning, obviously, and one should always refer back to the original (or to a trusted source who can read the original) to get at the actual meaning of any of our source-material.

A few days ago, Dr. Karl Siegfried published a post at this site intended, I think, to suggest that cooler heads ought to prevail in the recently ire-filled arguments across, around, and about Heathenry. Well and good; people with differing political views ought to be able to speak and listen with each other on the basis of their shared religion - if they actually do share a religion in common, which is a topic for another discussion.

However, in his post, he offered up the following, concerning the Hárbarðsljóð:

"On the other hand, the progressive pagan crowd is faced with the inconvenient truth that the one thing the wise god and the protecting god agree on is that it would be fun to rape a young woman together."

When I read that, I had to stop and think for a moment, because I certainly don't recall that from reading the Hárbarðsljóð. I decided that I would go to the source - the poem itself - and see if there was any reference to the rape of a "linen-white girl." Here is what I found, from stanzas 30-33, which seems to be the episode that Dr. Siegfried is referring to:

Hárbarðr kvað:
"Ek var austr
ok við einhverja dæmðak,
lék ek við ina línhvítu
ok launþing háðak;
gladdak ina gullbjörtu,
gamni mær unði."

Þórr kvað:
"Góð átt þú þér mankynni þar þá."

Hárbarðr kvað:
"Liðs þíns
væra ek þá þurfi, Þórr,
at ek helda þeiri inni línhvítu mey."

Þórr kvað:
"Ek munda þér þá þat veita,
ef ek viðr of kæmumk."

And my translation:

Hárbarðr said:
"I was in the east
and I spoke with a certain someone,
I played with the linen-white one
and I had a secret meeting
I gladdened the gold-bright one,
the maid enjoyed pleasure."

Þórr said:
"Thou hadst for thee then a good maiden-acquaintance there."

Hárbarðr said:
"Of thy limb (could mean arm or leg, could mean penis, I think the double entendre is intentional)
I would have been in need then, Þórr,
that I would have held that, the linen-white maid."

Þórr said:
"I would have granted thee that then,
if I had come with."

As is easily understood in the first strophe, it seems like the "linen-white girl" was pleased with her arrangement with Óðinn. What, then prompts Dr. Siegfried to describe this as a rape? Is it the verb helda, (1st person past subjunctive of halda), to be translated "I would have/ might have held"?

Perhaps he was making an interpretation from a particular translation:

Harbarth spake:
32. "Thy help did I need then, Thor, to hold the white maid fast."
(Bellows 1923)

The interpretative leap from that to rape seems a bit far for me, but I suppose I can see how someone could get there, particularly without the ability to judge translations against the original text.Perhaps I'm being a bit hard on Dr. Siegfried here; his doctorate is not, after all, in Germanic studies, philology, comparative religion, or anything of the sort. Notwithstanding this, he is regarded as somewhat of an expert on Norse Mythology, and writes some fairly interesting articles on this topic on his blog. Certainly, a doctorate is not required to pontificate on any subject whatsoever: here I am pontificating without ever having received a doctorate, myself.

However - and I think this is very, very important - I think that it is vital for those who speak authoritatively about Heathenry and Heathen topics to know what they are talking about, and to avoid the temptation to speak authoritatively about that which they know not. Otherwise, it's not so hard to mistake an account of a mutually pleasing seduction from a bantering poem replete with word-play for two gods enthusiastically discussing gang-rape.

And also, of course, Heathens should require that their experts actually do know what they're talking about, whether they hold doctorates or not.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Patterns of Being

It's important to think about the correct relationship between people and gods. It can be a hard thing for modern people to grasp - especially in a time when no one seems to be sure that any gods exist - but gods are much more than we are; they are much more real than we are.The modern mind rebels at this idea, sure that certain affronts to human dignity are inevitable once one accepts it. Not being a Humanist, human dignity is not my foremost concern, it is true; but I am concerned with how one should rightly live, in a manner that brings happiness and satisfaction, and that is in accord with Truth. Bear with me, be patient, and I will explain all. The question of the correct relationship between men and gods is a part of - and, I believe, a key to - the larger question of how men are to live rightly.

But I mentioned Truth just now, and maybe I'll focus on that first.

In the Sanskrit word 'r̥ta' and the Avestan words 'aṣ̌a' and 'arəta' we have an Indo-European term (*h1ertus) meaning something like "well-made-ness" that has a few cognates in other Indo-European languages: Latin artus "joint'; Greek αρτύς "arranging, arrangement"; Middle High German art "innate feature, nature, fashion"; Armenian ard "ornament, shape" to name a few. In the Indo-Iranian languages, the meaning of this word has been elevated to a term for universal truth. Looking at the word's etymology, I think that the underlying concept is something along the lines of "the well-fashioned nature of existence." The case has been made by others that this is a concept of Proto-Indo-European religion; regardless of whether their word for this concept was *h1ertus, a related term, or something else entirely, I think that the idea is ancient.

Our own mythology gives us the image of Being as a woven cloth, and we give one name to the web and the weaver. (Interesting: the image of weaving is also used in Indo-European poetic traditions for the fashioning of poetry, as are the images of building a ship or a chariot, and r̥ta and aṣ̌a may have originally been terms of the chariot-makers' craft.)

The gist is this: Being is well-crafted, wondrously made, and strong. The word 'truth' itself is related to words meaning "strength"; to be true is to be strong, well-founded on the strength of Being. In finding truth, then, we seek the patterns of Being, the ways in which it is woven. It is no accident either that the same root that gives us 'truth' also gives us 'tree', another image in our myths for Being: wondrously complex, beautiful in its form, and strong. Yggdrasill shakes at Ragnarǫk, but does not fall.

So, the structure of Being is Truth, and in discovering the patterns of existence we learn about what it means to be. The gods are not outside of that structure, or those patterns. They dwell within it, are more aware of the patterns than we, but they are here with us. The whole is, to us, a mystery, and can only be glimpsed, felt; but some things may be known for certain, and upon those truths that we know we may build the right way of being for ourselves, within and resembling the whole as a branch is part of and resembles the whole of the tree.

The gods, being wise teachers, teach us patterns of Being that are good for us to know. One of these patterns is related in a story in which Wóden told Gárman:

"My religion is gift-giving."

Now, doubt springs easily forth in the modern mind, but taking Gárman's own words to mind that 'belief' in a Germanic context is more properly thought of as 'allowing as how,' let us simply 'allow as how' the story could be true, and give more attention to the wisdom within it.

"My religion is gift-giving" said the god. And this particular god has spoken of gifts before:

Vápnom ok váðom· skulo vinir gleðjask
þærs er á sjálfom sýnst
endrgefendr ok viðrgefendr· erosk lengst vinir
ef þat bíðr at verða vel.

"With weapons and clothes should friends gladden each other, those that are most beautiful in themselves; a giver-again and a giver-in-return are friends longest, if that abides to happen well."

and also:

Vin sínom· skal maðr vinr vera
ok gjalda gjǫf við gjǫf
hlátr við hlátri· skyli hǫlðar taka
en lausung við lygi.

"A man should be a friend to his friend and yield a gift for a gift; men should take laughter for laughter, but lying for lies."

It seems, then, that the proper relationship between men and gods is one of gift-giving: they give to us, we give to them in thanks and in hope of further gifts, but primarily to maintain this freely-giving, open-handed and open-hearted relationship of reciprocity with them.

But the relationship with the gods is not the only relationship we should hope to maintain: there is also our relationship with our families, the living and the dead amongst them; for us Théodish, and certainly for others, there is the relationship to one's fellows; there is the relationship to other friends; there is the relationship to the lands in which we live, to the seen and the unseen dwellers in the land with us. All of these are important, and all, I think, rightly call upon us to give gifts.

For reciprocity is the acknowledgement of a connection. It is through the pattern of reciprocity that we are connected to the larger pattern of patterns, to the great weaving, to the strong Truth of well-fashioned Being.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


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


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:


(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!


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!