Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No blog entry

So this last week with work has been busy and today was pretty crazy. I'll have something up next week on Christine O'Donnell.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Strength in Asatru

In Heathenry being a strong person is a major part of living in a Tru fashion. Standing against the challenges of life on your own two feet is a major virtue in Asatru with examples of such strength extolled in the sagas. A superficial reading would imply that machismo and physical prowess are most important but this misses the point relying on the commonly held stereotype instead of the true meaning. Real strength comes in many forms with some being less obvious than others as is very well-illustrated in the Lore. Many forms of strength show up throughout the Eddas and the heroic sagas like Beowulf and the Volsungsaga. In Asatru strength is seen as having the skill and ability to accomplish a task or overcome an obstacle.

The most common association people make with strength is that of physical prowess. The might of Gods and heroes tearing things into bloody pieces is an image that is hard to forget. Warriors were praised for their strength at arms and in battle for overcoming many of their foes. Tales of glorious battles and tests of might are common throughout the lore and the historical sources of the period. A superficial reading might convince one that the real strength on display is their physical power. Yet in some of the best demonstrations of heroes bringing down their enemies in battle it is not the strength of the warrior the saga emphasizes but their bravery in facing the foe. Thor charges ahead gladly into battle against many giants throughout the lore without fear of what is ahead. Beowulf lies in wait for Grendel in Heriot unarmed and unarmored, not flinching even as he sees the great monster tear one of his friends limb from limb. In the lore, while strength is the obvious thing being praised even more highly honored is the courage of the warriors facing their foes in spite of great danger.

Another form of strength not as commonly associated with the North in the popular imagination but just as important as courage to the ancients is that of wit and wisdom. It is through cunning and skill that many great triumphs are gained for both heroes and Gods alike. Wayland Smith, instead of seeking a rash escape from his island prison, instead waits and uses the tools available to him to fashion a set of wings to escape as well as take a brutal revenge on his captors. Sigurd, instead of charging ahead heedless of danger against the dragon Fafnir, sets a trap to spear the great beast from below in a pit. As one of the best displays of wit and cunning we have the theft of the Mead of Poetry by Odin through guile, trickery, and magical prowess. Wise men were just as important in the North as mighty ones. The number of verses in the Havamal extolling the virtues of wise counsel and keeping silent are many with heroes following similar examples of carefully thinking their way through problems instead of just bashing their way through.

Strength is not just having a keen mind or a brave heart but also having the courage of conviction to do what must be done. Following through with a necessary duty, performing a needed sacrifice, and putting what one has on the line for a higher purpose is an important form of strength that appears fairly regularly. While this may seem the same as courage there is an important distinction. Putting oneself in dangerous situations, while certainly a great risk to one's self, does not carry the same certainty of necessary sacrifice. To steel one against certain doom takes a strength of heart just as great as what is needed to charge into uncertain confrontations. The most famous sacrifice of all was Odin hanging Himself from the World-Tree for nine days and nights to win the wisdom of the runes. A sacrifice of Himself to Himself, Odin gave all He had for the sake of greater wisdom. Tyr's sacrifice of His right hand to bind the Wolf Fenris until Rangarok is in the same vein. Given the choice between Midgard's Doom and the loss of His hand Tyr willingly placed what was His in the jaws of the Wolf knowing it was for a greater purpose. Beowulf showed similar strength in facing the dragon that ravaged his kingdom in the twilight of his life going into certain doom for the sake of the Geats. Often what drew the line between heroes, Gods, and everyone else was being willing to press on in spite of potential loss or danger.

All these forms of strength share one common tie: they are all deeds performed by the individual and these deeds are ultimately theirs to do. All of these acts of strength are done standing on one's two feet and facing danger directly, not seeking others to do the job for them. While there are examples showing there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance or aid in the pursuit of an objective, Beowulf after all takes his bodyguard with him when he faces the dragon, it is that you as a person do your own deeds that matters. The deeds done are what define the Gods and heroes, not just their strengths. Even in the face of certain loss or defeat like that the Gods face at Ragnarok They still shoulder on, knowing that win or lose what matters is doing what you must and not shirking one's duty or place to let another do what is yours to make happen.

Ultimately strength in Asatru is anything but one-dimensional. Being a strong person is not just a matter of having the might, which can take many forms, but it is also doing right. Strength without integrity is the bluster of a bully and coward. Strength with honor is what defines the hero just as much as their deeds. Being strong is not just a matter of bulging biceps but staying true to who you really are and applying your strengths effectively. It is in this that true might lies.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Need for Paganism and Heathenry in the Modern World

There are many who would argue that the revival of long-dead belief systems in this modern day is nothing more than an exercise in escapism and anachronism, nothing more than LARPing given a philosophy. Some stand on more spiritual grounds, arguing from the belief that Christianity and modern monotheism is the right answer to the needs of humanity by addressing suffering and offering redemption and second chances. Others take the tack that its nothing more than superstition and the belief in some new set of imaginary sky-people that has no bearing on a modern, rational scientific age. Yet all three of these arguments are being made around the very large elephant in the room: Pagan and Heathen groups and belief systems, contrary to what our opponents would say, are growing quite steadily and rapidly with an estimated one million combined living in the United States today(1). If any of those arguments are correct then how is it that such allegedly anachronistic, irrelevant, primitive, and irrational beliefs are growing so steadily and quickly?

What the opponents, critics, and enemies of the modern revival forget in their arguments is that they've completely missed the point on all counts. Belief systems, ideas, and ideologies develop and grow because there is a need for them in society that must be filled. If there was no need in society for Pagan and Heathen ideas then they would not be finding the following they are. These arguments also forget that the current revival is one that was a long time coming. There have been upsurges throughout Western history of pre-Christian beliefs and ideas that, while limited in impact in their time, have ultimately been a part of the larger trends that are emerging now.

After all, if these ideas were no longer useful or relevant then the Illiad, the Odyssey, and Beowulf would not be part of high school English curriculums across the United States. The stories of the ancients would not be referenced or involved in books, movies, or plays. Great works like the Lord of the Rings, the numerous movies and shows about Greco-Roman Gods and heroes, or even in as mundane places as the Mighty Thor from Marvel Comics or roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons would not be the widely known cultural touchstones they are without these ideas and influences. Each, while not literal adaptations, draw on the same ideals as the pre-Christian sources they are based on or are inspired by. The heroes of these stories perform deeds and act in a fashion that would not be seen as out of place or unexpected in older times.

It isn't just in the stories that we see this influence. While there are plenty of people who are called to the revival by stories and ideas presented there it is when they get to the actual material itself that the real connection is found. Here you could again argue that the people seeking to reconstruct the ethical and philosophical ideas of the West's pre-Christian past are engaging in escapism and rebellion against modern society but this again is an argument that falls short. People who come to these ideas end up staying with them and remaining engaged in society. There are groups that do practice what is admitted to be roleplay and some degree of escape from society at large like the SCA or the Adrian Empire. These groups are also ones that have no particular religious ideas behind them and are left behind when the people who participate in them go back home. Pagan practices, on the other hand, don't stop when the ritual ends. There are Heathen and Pagan schoolteachcers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, and in the case of Dan Halloran of New York City elected officials active in society who live their ideals and beliefs on a day to day basis. A belief system that is irrelevant to the modern age, one that is nothing more than escapism, would not be one that would produce people who live those ideas on a day to day basis while participating in society in the same ways everyone else does.

The bottom line is that Pagan and Heathen groups, traditions, and organizations are here to stay not because they offer some kind of pacifier or easy escape but because they provide meaning and fulfill the needs of the people who come to them. That we are furthermore growing at the highest rate of any religious group in America and are on target to surpass Judaism in size if all of the Pagan and Heathen groups in the US were combined as one population by 2012 argues that we are anything but escapist primitives. The real question is not if this will be recognized by other religious groups in American and Western society but rather when and how it will come to pass.