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!

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.


Translation:



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.