Friday, November 29, 2013

The Poor, the Downtrodden, the Oppressed, and Heathenry

Today, on this day best described as the apotheosis of American crass consumerism, I came across a very interesting post on the Wild Hunt by Pagan writer and activist Alley Valkyrie on the question of the poor, service, and how it fits in Pagan theology.  For those not familiar Alley Valkyrie has been long involved in a number of different causes starting with environmental activism before getting involved in Occupy up in Oregon and working with and for the betterment of Eugene's homeless population.  On top of this she's a very active Pagan writer and all-around awesome person whom I've had the pleasure to meet on one occasion.

So when she raised the very pointed question of if there is a narrative regarding the poor and downtrodden in Pagan practice as there is in Christianity it got me thinking.  I cannot speak for other practices as I am less well-versed in theirs than I am mine but I think she has a point in what she's saying.  In most modern Pagan practices there are no specific, easy to point to verses, lore, or Gods who have the same liberatory, uplifting spirit as is ascribed to Jesus in some kindlier interpretations like those of the Episcopalians, the Quakers, and Liberation Theologians.  Indeed it is far easier in many cases to find examples of Gods and Powers who seemingly stand on the side of the powerful against the powerless.  With no direct exhortations like, "Blessed be the meek" or "Blessed be the poor" one has to wonder if Heathen and Pagan practices have no space for those who have been dealt a bad hand.  I think this lack of direct, easy comparison in the case of Heathenry is more reflective of the different social circumstances facing the ancient Scandinavians and Germanics compared to those facing Jesus of Nazareth than it is due to any lack of a similar impulse.  In Heathenry there is a strong sense of duty to others in your community, both mighty and meek, that on this Black Friday deserves to be exhalted.

The first matter to discuss is that of differing socio-economic circumstances between the ancient Scandinavians and that of 1st century Judea.  In this time the peoples who lived in Scandinavia and Germany were often clustered together in tightly-knit tribes and clans living off the land as farmers, pastoralists, or a combination of the two.  Such tribal societies are the kind where every person has to pull their own weight, do their part, and look after the welfare and needs of other members of society.  The kinds of challenges they faced were different in many ways, usually dealing more with direct physical security or maintaining frith and harmony in the community, as the causes for poverty, deprivation, and suffering were very different from those facing more urbanized societies.  As a consequence they developed very unique social mechanisms, reflected in the lore, to address these problems.

The case of Judea was very different.  At the time of when Jesus of Nazareth most likely lived this region was a province of the Roman Empire and part of one of the oldest, most continuously settled and urbanized regions on Earth.  As such problems like homelessness, poverty, and similar matters took on forms that would be more easily recognizable to modern Americans than those that faced by ancient tribal societies.  This makes it easier to directly translate the idea of Jesus and his teachings into our immediate social context but it doesn't change that such ideas were not unique to the man, his culture, or the region where he lived and died.  This is not to say the ideas lack any validity; far from it.  The ease to which Christianity's ideas are applied to questions of modern social justice and poverty is partially because of this but also because of the urbanized social environment Jesus and his followers were operating in. 

All of that said we can now really dig in to what is, in fact, present in the lore.  Heathenry does have direct, relevant answers to the questions of poverty, suffering, and what we as individuals and as a society should do about it.  As I mentioned earlier there was a very strong mutual aid impulse in the pre-Christian Germanic tribal societies most strongly expressed in the hospitality custom.  As any Heathen will tell you hospitality is sacred.  In the societies of the ancients if a guest came to your door asking for hospitality the expected thing to do was to provide them with the best food and lodgings possible as discussed in the verses of the Havamal:

3. Fire he needs who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.

4. Water and towels and welcoming speech
Should he find who comes to the feast;
If renown he would get, and again be greeted,
Wisely and well must he act.1

As these verses very laconically express the justification of hospitality was very straight forward.  As it famously says later on in the oft-quoted Havamal 78 the measure of every person is their deeds.  Those who do praiseworthy deeds become renown for it and their honor grows while those who do shameful deeds are scorned for it.  The same logic behind Havamal 78 runs through verses 3 and 4 by putting the emphasis on specific deeds expected of a host before following with the words, "If renown he would get, and again be greeted, wisely and well must he act".  It also emerges later on when discussing conduct between friends, specifically the Heathen custom of exchanging gifts:

41. Friends shall gladden each other with arms and garments,
As for each for himself can see;
Gift-givers' friendships are longest found,
If fair their fates may be.

42. To his friend a man a friend shall prove,
And gifts with gifts requite;
But men shall mocking with mockery answer,
And fraud with falsehood meet.

43. To his friend a man a friend shall prove,
To him and the friend of his friend;
But never a man shall friendship make
With one of his foeman's friends.

44. If a friend thou hast whom thou fully wilt trust,
And good from him wouldst get,
Thy thoughts with him mingle, and gifts shalt thou make,
And fare to find him oft.2
In these verses, like those discussing hospitality in the Havamal and many other sagas such as the Skirnismol and the Hymiskvitha,  there is a clear demonstration of reciprocity and mutual aid as the central themes of such relationships.  What is most important about the custom of gift-giving is there is no indication or implication of quid pro quo.  In fact there is a later verse in the Havamal that refutes any such notion quite firmly:

52. No great thing needs a man to give,
Oft little will purchase praise;
With half a loaf and a half-filled cup
A friend full fast I made3

The point of these customs, as shown here, is coming from an understanding that mutual support and assistance is beneficial for all parties involved.  There is no sense of special strings or demands being attached to extending aid to friends or strangers; if anything gift-giving between friends and hospitality for guests no matter who they were are actions that are expected without question.  The Havamal itself puts best how important community, human companionship, and support was seen as here:

47. Young was I once, and wandered alone,
And nought of the road I knew;
Rich did I feel when a comrade I found,
For man is man's delight.4
This is thanks partially to a very strong concept that runs throughout the lore as best summed up in Havamal 78.  To a Heathen an action is worthy based on its own merits, not its consequences or the intent behind it.  Right action, rather than right thought, underpins Heathen practice and for an action to be right it must be justified, moral, and necessary in and of itself.  Whether or not the deed itself is successful is not relevant to the moral calculation; as is shown in many of the sagas heroes seek out mighty deeds for the sake of doing the deeds.  In the words of Beowulf:

Greetings to Hrothgar.  I am Hygelac's kinsman,
one of his hall-troop.  When I was younger,
I had great triumphs.  Then news of Grendel,
hard to ignore, reached me at home;
sailors brought stories of the plight you suffer
In this legendary hall, how it lies deserted,
empty and useless once the evening light
hides itself under heaven's dome.
So every elder and experienced councilman
among my people supported my resolve
to come here to you, King Hrothgar,
because all knew of my awesome strength.5
There's quite a bit going on in here and Beowulf, through the skald composing these words, is hamming things up a bit but the what and why are pretty clear.  Beowulf had heard of the danger facing the Spear-Danes in the form of the monster Grendel and so, at the urging of his kin and wise elders, Beowulf sets out to deal with it.  In particular he claims the reason why him was because he is renown among his people for his strength, making him just the person for the job of taking down the dangerous Grendel.  Now at this point one might argue he is nothing more than a glory-hound seeking self-aggrandizement and probably some kind of reward until he goes on to say this:

Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,
settle the outcome in single combat.
And so, my request, o King of Bright-Danes,
dear prince of the Shieldings, friend of the people
and their ring of defense, my one request
is that you won't refuse me, who have come this far,
the privilege of purifying Heorot,
with my own men to help me, and nobody else.6
Nowhere in his speech does he ask for, or show any expectation whatsoever, of any kind of compensation.  He's there because Grendel is menacing the people and this needs to be stopped.  After defeating Grendel Beowulf is given great gifts and treasure by Hrothgar but as shown in the earlier Havamal verses discussed this seems to be keeping in line with established gift-giving and hospitality practices.  The fact that he never asks for such a reward or shows any expectation of it says as much as the words the skald attributes to the hero.

In fact, quite contrary to the usual assumption of the ancient Scandinavians as ferocious manly chest-thumping individualist supermen, there is a surprising degree of empathy and sympathy shown for the less fortunate in the lore.  Leaving aside examples like Beowulf, the Loka Tattur, and others where Gods and heroes directly do battle against dangerous or hazardous forces there are many powerful, beautiful verses in the Havamal that deal directly with the question of poverty, human suffering, and loss:

37. Better a house, though a hut it be,
A man is a master at home;
His heart is bleeding who needs must beg
When food he fain would have7

Or here on the question of need and the impact of mischance on our lives, quite contrary to our modern consumerist assumptions:
 39. If wealth a man has won for himself,
Let him never suffer in need;
Oft he saves for a foe what he plans for a friend,
For much goes worse than we wish.8
As to the question of wealth itself the saga has this say:
76. Among Fitjung's sons saw I well-stocked folds,
Now bear they the beggar's staff;
Wealth is as swift as a winking eye,
Of friends the falsest it is.9
On the matter of material goods, best summed up in the adage of "clothes make the man":
61. Washed and fed to the council fare,
But care not too much for thy clothes;
Let none be ashamed of his shoes and hose,
Less still of the steed he rides.10
And most magnificently on the question of the relationship between the honorable and praiseworthy and suffering itself the Sayings of the High One has this to say:

48. The lives of the brave and noble are best,
Sorrows they seldom feed;
But the coward fear of all things feels,
And not gladly the greedy gives.11
Along with these sagas we have the example of Thor, the God of Thunder, Warder of Midgard, and Friend of Man who at one point is said to be the God of Thralls12, those who were enslaved to pay off a debt or as captives in war.  Nowhere, in any saga anywhere, does it depict Thor as discriminating who in Midgard he does and doesn't protect.  All of Midgard and everything in it, from the poorest and most downtrodden to the mighty and fell, are guarded by him.  For this Thor was probably one of THE most popular Gods among the ancient Germanics.  Based on the multitude of Thor-related artifacts uncovered by archeologists, and the quite credible theory the Thor's Hammer became a popular religious symbol as an act of resistance13 to the encroachment of Christian missionaries and kings, shows Thor was a very popular God among the common people.  In many ways Thor was held up in the conversion period as the direct alternative to Jesus by the ancient Heathens, an act that would only make sense if the ancients saw Thor as a credible alternative to the White Christ.  If one wanted a direct Heathen response to the famous:
Blessed be the meek for they shall inherit the Earth

It would probably be something like:
Hail to the poor, downtrodden, and the suffering!  They bear burdens beyond measure with might that knows no bounds!  Lighten their load as the deed is worthy and its doing lightens yours as well!

By now many readers are likely wondering why, exactly, these examples aren't as well known as they should be.  After all if Heathenry has its own robust potential and answer on questions of suffering, poverty, and oppression then why isn't it openly discussed, debated, and articulated?  This, I think, is for reasons that are unique to and bigger than the Heathen community.  In the case of Heathenry in particular one cause is thanks to the many voices in Heathenry who refuse to accept the world has changed since 1959 and, as a result, recoil in anger and fear from anything that argues for anything less than a distorted, unrealistic image of hypermasculine hyperindividuality.  This, however, is but one of many factors and is only the one that is specific in my experience to Heathenry.  Heathen and Pagan practices in the United States are often found wanting on these answers because Heathens and Pagans haven't made the time to find, articulate, and produce a genuinely Pagan or Heathen answer.  So much energy has been sucked up in mysticism and cosmology that both communities have completely lost sight of that one of the main purposes of spirituality is to provide answers, guidance, and succor for the problems of the here and now.  We must not, as a community, lose sight of these matters if we truly wish to be the best people we can be for each other, ourselves, and the world that we are all inextricably a part of.

1. Havamal 3 and 4, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
2. Havamal 41-44, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
3. Havamal 52, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
4. Havamal 47, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
5. Beowulf 407-418, trans. by Seamus Heaney
6. Beowulf 425-432, trans. by Seamus Heaney
7. Havamal 37, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
8. Havamal 39, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
9. Havamal 76, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
10. Havamal 61, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
11. Havamal 48, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows.  In the original translation the author used the word "niggard" which is a more archaic word that has the same meaning as the word "miser" or "greedy".  For those reasons I've opted to use the word "greedy" in the place of "niggard" for ease of communication and clarity.
12. Harbardsljoth 24, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
13. An Archeology of Religion by Kit W. Wesler p.228, University Press of America

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Dead alive depths divine
Darkness shrouded caress
Calling chorus rising
Comforting heart soothing
Softly embraced surely
Safe surrounded loved
Mound-dwelling might-making
Many stood growing good

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vikings, Valkyries, and Valhalla

In the Heathen community there is a great deal of discussion and glorification surrounding the  ideas of Valhalla, glorious death in battle, big burly Vikings, and of course the final battle of Ragnarok.  It forms a very powerful, intoxicating set of romantic images, ideas, and concepts which pervade the whole of Heathenry.  While there is little doubt in the ancient world the place and role of the warrior was highly valued in the modern day there seems to be a bit of misunderstanding as to what that actually meant.  Along with that we have the whole problem of a host of testosterone-poisoned minds who take it to extremes, issuing bold proclamations like, "Mine is not a religion of peace!" and other such declarations of whole-hearted, blood-lusting glorification of the romanticized image.  When one examines the facts behind Vikings, Valkyries, and Valhalla, most importantly the social context in which these ideas emerged, the picture becomes much less one of a civilization of burly bromancing boisterous bruisers and more a society where life was hard, times were tough, and everyone had to do their part.

The first aspect of these concepts worth discussing is the nature of war and warriors in the pre-Christian Germanic world.  Quite unlike the feudal period which would follow and the Roman Empire whose full-time professional legions were contemporaries to the tribes of ancient Germany the armies of the Germanic tribes were not groups of professional soldiers or made up of a specialized warrior caste.  As is described first in Tacitus it was expected for every free member of every tribe to own weapons, know how to use them, and be prepared to take one's place in the line of battle against the tribe's enemies.(1)  In practice it had far more in common with the Swiss citizen-militia system and the Classical Greek citizen-hoplite armies than it did to the later feudal armies led by soldier-aristocrats or the professional forces of Rome, Han China, or what is the norm in most of the modern world.

On the topic of leadership he notes there were particular chiefs and leaders who took charge in battle but these commanders were not anything like what we would expect.  As Tacitus relates these individuals drew their legitimacy from family ties, their own skill at arms and tactics, and most importantly the personal charisma to compel people to follow them voluntarily.  These were not generals who had power of life and death over their soldiers but simply more respected, honored members of their communities who commanded based on the voluntary obedience and respect of the warriors they led.  If anything they share far more in common with pirate captains in the Caribbean whose authority was only good so long as the ship was in combat and could, and often were, be deposed or even marooned if they were deemed unfit to lead by their crew.

Also crucial to understanding this system of leadership was the broader method used by the tribes in ancient Germany to decide policy, settle disputes, and make what could be best described as political decisions. This was handled not by the direct despotic rule of chieftains as petty kings but through what is known as the Ding or Thing system. A Thing was, to use modern terms for the purposes of facilitating understanding, very much like a direct democratic assembly very similar to the New England town hall approach to governance. In these Things any free person, man or woman, could petition for justice or make proposals. The Things themselves were presided over by an individual known to us as a lawspeaker whose duty was to recite all the laws the community had bound themselves to in previous assemblies. Their job was not to rule or dictate but to ensure process was upheld, the Thing proceeded smoothly, and all went in accordance with the law. Decisions on proposals, laws, and resolving disputes were handled by the Thing as a whole through direct vote of all members of the Thing. In this system justice was exacted, like it is in all societies, with the intent of keeping the peace and order in the community but not through the modern dichotomy of retribution and rehabilitation. The purpose of the Thing mediations and rulings was not to lay down the law but to keep the peace, ensure fairness, and stop fights and feuds before they started. It was after all attempts for redress through the Thing failed that a blood feud would begin and not before.

This system was not unique to the continental Germanic tribes. In Scandinavia, England after the Anglo-Saxon invasion, and Iceland similar processes, referred to as moots in England and Things in the Scandinavian world, were used for handling the affairs of society. What is especially striking about the Icelandic example is this was established in the wake of the importation of continental kingship to Norway by Harald Fairhair seeing many people fleeing to Iceland where they re-established them primacy of Things in the form of the Althing. The Thing model even shows up in the Scandinavian mythic and heroic lore with discussion of councils and assemblies being so common it is impossible to go through the Eddas or the Heimskringla without tripping over at least half a dozen examples of Gods and heroes resolving matters through council and deliberation as opposed to kingly fiat with the creation of Midgard as one prominent example(2). Even Odin, seen by many as king of the Gods in spite of lacking any such title or kenning asserting this claim, often leads by example or doing his own dirty work rather than issuing dictates or decrees for minions to carry out on his behalf.

The ultimate breakdown of this military and political system was not thanks to any particular flaws but thanks to the great socio-political transformation which was imposed on the Germanic societies first by the influence of the Roman Empire and then finally with the conversion of the region to Christianity. First, under the influence of the Romans, Germanic mercenaries returning from imperial service brought with them the ideas, methods, and concepts the Romans applied to government and war. The great upheaval and migration of many of these proto-states and their newly minted warlords during the collapse of the Roman Empire furthered the process on the continent before gaining full speed with the adoption of Christianity and its ideas of kingly sovereignty flowing from an all-powerful creator God.

A similar process would occur in Scandinavia spurred by the growing wealth and influence of successful Viking leaders who, like the Frankish, Saxon, and Visigothic warlods in Europe, found the power stratification and justifications offered by Christianity and continental kingship to be a much more attractive model for rule than the unruly, independent, and freedom-loving things. Even then with the adoption of these approaches the old political system did not fade away completely with Thing government continuing in Scandinavia well into the medieval period. In Anglo-Saxon England a similar system, following the original Folkmoot, was preserved in the form of the Witengemot until 1066 when it was swept aside in favor of Frankish-influenced Norman military autocracy by Duke William the Bastard of Normandy.

Just as the political systems which the Germanic societies operated under were never fully displaced by the imposition of crowns and crosses so to did the roots of the militia-based systems of Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia persist long after the conversion to Christianity. In England we have the example of the fyrd system where every landowner was required, like in the older days, to own and keep arms with the expectation of using them in defense of home and country. Two excellent examples of this system in action was first at the Battle of Stamford Bridge where Harold Godwinson's fyrd levies triumphed over the equally Christian Harald Hardrada's invading forces followed shortly after by the close, hard fought Battle of Hastings where the fyrd was bested not by the superior prowess of the invading Normans but thanks to a brief break in discipline which the Normans were able to swiftly exploit(3). Given how close the battle was it isn't hard to imagine it ending with William falling from a fatal arrow wound and Harold returning to London triumphant on Christmas Day. In Scandinavia a similar system, known as the leidang system was used by the Kings of Norway and Sweden as the backbone of their military forces. Under the leidang system the kingdoms were divided into districts with each district being obligated to provide a ship for war with a full armed and trained crew when their monarchs called for it. This system endured for centuries after, seeing use in periods as late as the Norwegian invasions of the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the 1200s.

Based on all of this and the fact that many of the Gods of the Scandinavian pantheon have some kind of warlike aspect it is clear there was a strong understanding that war, far from being a profession for the few or a special honor to serve, was very much a civic duty with every member of society expected to do their part. Even women participated in the fighting as the recent re-examination of Viking graves from the 9th century in northeastern England demonstrates. Such a conception of war was radically different from what we know today making it understandable why war and battlefield death was highly honored; to have such an end was to make the ultimate sacrifice for one's community against outside invaders or to redress a great wrong. Yet these facts and elements only tell part of the story. The other element, which the romanticized image completely glosses over, is that of the actual experience, difficulties, and conditions of the time and place in which these peoples made their lives. When one considers these factors, especially in comparison to the modern day, it makes even more sense why death in battle was seen as a good end.

The first thing one learns when studying the history of pre-Christian Scandinavia is how difficult it was to grow food in the harsh climate and rocky soil of the region. Food production was often meager and limited with starvation waiting in the wings of any bad harvest to swoop in. Infant mortality, as is the case in most societies pre-dating modern medicine, was spectacularly high with death in childbirth being one of the most common ways women died in this time. Surviving to adulthood and an age where one was expected to fight was an equally grim prospect for many constrained by a whole host of factors far beyond one's control ranging from disease to the weather and the fate of far-off trading expeditions. On top of this winters were a long, dark, lean time where it would not have been uncommon for one to succumb to cold, hunger, or go mad from extended isolation. Along with this was the hazards of working to make a living using hand-crafted iron tools which, while constructed with a high degree of skill, were also somewhat simple ones which were not as durable or reliable as modern machine-produced steel tools leading to many life-altering or even life-ending on the job accidents.

If all of this was not enough there was also the issue of disease. While the ancient Scandinavians in particular were clever enough to develop an approach for disease management similar to modern isolation wards in some ways this didn't change that in an age long before the advent of germ theory, antibiotics, and reliable vaccines the prognosis was rarely good and the odds often long. This could take many forms from the more conventional kind of outbreaks of plague or influenza to suffering from a festering infection thanks to a wound which could be caused by any number of things. Life was hard, often short, and dying a “straw death” of old age in bed would have been the exception rather than the rule.

Compared to this is battlefield death. To be killed on the field of battle, unlike these other possibilities, offers the promise of a quick death. Whether by bleeding out from an amputation, decapitation, arrows to vital organs, or stabbing it was very likely if your enemy hit you hard enough and in the right place you were probably going to go down quickly. Compared to drowning, freezing, or starving slowly one can imagine a sword to the belly or an arrow to the face would have been seen as a much better way to go. Of course there is another important matter in understanding the true significance of battlefield death: the same old problem of disease and infection. War, especially in the Early Medieval period, was an incredibly dangerous and quite unhygienic pursuit. Even the smallest cut, if not treated properly, could become infected leading to a slow, lingering demise while the warrior rotted away as a prisoner in their own body.

In fact, compared to death in battle, it was very likely if you were a warrior you were far more likely to die of secondary infections or outbreaks of disease than from an enemy's weapon; one grim reminder of this fact is that the first war in human history where genuine battlefield deaths outnumbered death due to disease and secondary infections was the First World War thanks to the combination of better medicine and more efficient methods for killing large numbers of people very quickly. Considering these facts dying as a warrior was no guarantee you wouldn't die in a slow, painful, and agonizing fashion. Given the options available going out clean on the field would have likely been preferable to the more likely, gruesome prospects.

This is not to say the warrior tradition of the ancients has no place in the modern revival of Heathenry. As we've seen it was a vital, essential element of their society but it was not the only one or seen as the most crucial. The problem running rampant in Heathenry today is that many Heathens, especially several vocal ones, have gone overboard and run in the opposite direction. In grabbing on to the glorious, romanticized warrior image crafted by clever skalds, Romantic nationalists in the 19th century, Victorian authors, and many other sources since then they have completely swept aside the genuine warrior traditions of the ancestors. One especially ironic aspect of this is the similarity between the depiction of the glorious reward expected in the hereafter by these Heathens and that of the common misunderstanding of the martyr's reward in Islam when one takes into account the rampant Islamophobia running wild among some the loudest of the chest-beaters.

What would be a more appropriate response than the massive overcompensation which has taken place would be to right our collective ship by re-assessing our priorities. Quite contrary to the assumptions of the Vikings, Valkyries, and Valhalla ethos there were many people, roles, and qualities in pre-Christian Germanic societies which were prized as much as fighting ability. The most obvious of this is the quality of being quick-witted and learned. There are many examples, with an instance from the saga of Erik the Red being an excellent case for analysis, where being clever and wise was praised even more highly than might at arms. The vast quantity of surviving art objects in graves, archaeological dig sites, and other places is a silent testament to the place and importance of the artist in their world. The multitude of surviving sagas, which are undoubtedly at best a minority of what was likely composed and sung in the ancient world, shows the importance of the skalds, poetry, and the knowledge needed to write such verses. One of the best examples of this is Egil Skallagrimmson who was as famed for his raucous exploits as he was for his skill as a poet. The high degree of skill shown in the craftwork of the ancient Germanics, coupled with practices like the naming of swords and ships, shows the importance they placed on good quality workmanship. Of course, finally, one cannot leave out the vital importance of those who do the necessary work that keeps society functioning like farmers, sailors, and merchants.

In re-centering the role and importance of the warrior tradition in our community we should keep all of these aspects in mind and remember above all else, prior to the onset of insurmountable social stratification during and after the Viking Age and overwhelming Roman influence and even for centuries after, defending one's community was civic duty. Every person was expected, when their community was threatened, to take part in the defense of their home, family, and society. In the modern day this same basic duty remains unchanged but the nature of the threats to those we love has. Where once it was possible to deal with a dangerous enemy with a sword in hand many of the challenges modern Heathens face are not overtly violent in nature or can be resolved through violence. This does not mean one cannot fight against such challenges, simply how one fights must be in the fashion that is most effective for resolving the matter. Issues like unemployment, ill-health, intrusive state power, prejudice, corporate greed, and community disenfranchisement remain just as life-altering and life-shattering as a Frankish invasion or a raid by a rival tribe. These problems do not march in ordered ranks or wear uniforms but that does not change these are things we must face now just as our ancestors struggled against the many threats to their communities.

1. Germania 6-7, Tacitus trans. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.
2. Voluspo 6-16, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows.
3. Kelly DeVries, Battles of the Medieval World, (Amber Books, 2006), 20-25.

City Pulse

City life, bright lit nights
Coursing wights, dancing sing
Weaving warbling winsome
Wonder whirling leaping
Lives laconic jive
Lurch tumble rise rumble
Buildings broad tall climbing
Brick steel mountains growing

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Breaking long building song
Budding shy slow arise
Light rolling leaking up
Long seeking far reaching
Open lighten outward
Order shifting further
Shapes awake shorn shadows
Shrink dance sink grow arise

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Rising falling roaring
Rumbling reaching soaring
Cashing sweeping calling
Carressing cavorting
Playing probing rising
Pressing falling brushing
Boundless endless burbling
Beckoning seducing

Monday, September 30, 2013


Build break batter swing shake
Bolster shatter raise high
Mighty hammer mover
Maker common people's
Life changer leveller
Loosing strength freeing lives
High low humble known
Hands holding strong standing

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rassismus, Heidentum und heidnischer Frieden

Link zum Artikel
übersetzt von Erin Banks

Während der letzten Wochen gab es eine geradezu virtuelle Explosion bezüglich der Aktivitäten, Diskussionen und Debatten, wenn es um die Frage des Rassismus in den heidnischen Religionen ging. Diese kürzlichen Diskussionen begannan Am 19. August als der Blog „Wer macht die Nazis“ einen Artikel über Stella Natura veröffentlichte, ein Rockfestival, welches von einigen Rassisten und Neonazis besucht sowie veranstaltet wird. Am selben Tag folgte der erste Teil einer vierteiligen Serie vom Circle Ansuz-Kollektiv, daß sich mit den Glaubensvorstellungen, Ideen und Assoziationen Stephen McNallens und der Asatru Folk Assembly befasste. Ein Wild Hunt Community-Update vom20. August berichtete über den Circle Ansuz-Artikel während der „Wer macht die Nazis“-Artikel auf sozialen Mediennetzwerken von einer Anzahl verschiedener heidnischer Blogger zirkulierte.
Vier Tage spatter postete Piparskeggr Skald, ein prominentes AFA-Mitglied, einen Blog mit dem Titel “Eine kurze Anmerkung zu meinen Assoziationen” auf Witches & Pagans, die er mit “Ich bein ein Mann, der freimütig zugibt, daß er sich am wohlsten fühlt mit jenen, die mir am ähnlichsten sind” began. Morpheus Ravenna, ein anderer Blogger auf Witches & Pagans, schob zügig eine exzellente Widerlegung namens “Wessen Ahnen” hinterher. Im Zuge dieser Kontroverse, die sich aufgrund dieser Einträge hochschaukelte, wurde Piparskeggrs Artikel komplett gelöscht, während Morpheus Ravennas Post ihrer Aussage nach aus folgenden Gründen herausgenommen wurde: „Er wurde letztendlich spezifisch von der Herausgeberin der Seite, Anne Newkirk Niven, gelöscht, um den Inhalt zu zensieren, da sie sich meiner Forderung widersetzte, die AFA als rassistische Organisation zu bezeichnen.“ Am darauffolgenden Tag schaltete John Becket sich in die Debatte auf Patheos ein, in dem er sich Ravenna und anderen anti-rassistischen heidnischen Stimmen wie Autor Thorn Coyle in seiner Verurteilung von Rassismus und rassistischen Ideologien im Heidentum, zur Seite stellte. Am Mittwoch, den 11. September, sprang auch Sam Warren hinzu und faßte gründlich die Trugschlüsse und Fälschlichkeiten rassistischer Praktiken auf Pagans & Witches zusammen; gleichzeitig lieferte er die einzige Online-Aufzeichnung von Piparskeggrs Worten. 
Der Umgang hiermit, besonders die Entscheidung von Witches & Pagans, Morpheus Ravenna zu zensieren und alle Aufzeichnungen von Piparskeggrs rassistischen Statements zu zerstören, ist leider häufig Usus in diversen heidnischen Communitys. Wie es oft verstärkt in der gemanisch-heidnischen Community vorkommt, wenn die Sprache auf Rassismus, rass(ist)ische Affiliationen oder faschistische Sympathien kommt, ist die Antwort jener, die Autoritätspositionen innehaben, fast immer, „Brecht nicht den heidnischen Frieden!“

Ungeachtet der bösartigen, moralisch widerwärtigen oder offensichtlich falschen Aussagen, die gemacht wurden, ist das wichtigste weiterhin, keine öffentliche Szene zu machen.
Die größere heidnische Community teilt ein ähnliches Unbehagen, das Stillschweigen zu brechen, einfach aus der Angst heraus, daß unser gemeinsames Boot sinkt, wenn wir zu viel öffentliches Ärgernis bereiten. Was diese Art der Erwägungen allerdings vernachlässigt, in Betracht zu ziehen, ist ob es tatsächlich eine gute Idee ist, einen steten und ruhigen Kurs beizubehalten, wenn jemand das Steuer an sich gerissen hat und mit Mann und Maus auf das nächste Cliff zusteuert. 
Glücklicherweise ist diese Einstellung nicht mehr gängige Norm, wie ja auch der völlig berechtigte Aufschrei demonstriert. Leider jedoch ist dieser Aufschrei, verglichen mit vorherigen Ereignissen, die Ausnahme der Regel.

Für jeden Heiden der sich zu dieser Problematik zu Wort gemeldet hat, gibt es um so mehr heidnische Anführer, Lehrer und Autoren, die aus der Angst heraus, den heidnischen Frieden zu brechen, Stillschweigen bewahrt haben. Dies trotz der Tatsache, dass jeder in der heidnischen Community, der auch nur etwas informiert ist und auf die aktuelle Mund-zu-Mund-Propaganda achtet, wenigstens auch nur eine haarsträubend rassistische Geschichte über Stephen McNallen und die AFA gehört hat. Ein persönlicher Freund von mir hat die Erfahrung gemacht, von AFA-Offizieren gebeten zu werden, NICHT seinen hispanischen Nachnamen auf der E-Mail-Liste der AFA-Diskussionen zu benutzen, da es Probleme bereiten würde. Ein anderer Heide erinnert an die Gelegenheit, als er und andere von einer AFA-Gruppe recht unverblümt darüber informiert wurden, daß dies AFA ihre Sicherheit beim anstehenden Blot nicht garantieren könne, ausschließlich aufgrund ihrer Hautfarbe. Zudem ist da noch der kürzliche berüchtigte Zwischenfall, bei welchem StephenMcNallen AFA-Mitglieder in Schutz nahm, die aufflogen, als sie eine White Power-Veranstaltung besuchten und der notorische Wotan vs.Tezcatlipoca-Artikel, der auf dem offiziellen Blog der Asatru Folk Assembly gepostet wurde.

Diese Verlautbarungen sind keine Einzelfälle; wenn überhaupt sind sie schockierenderweise gang und gäbe. Es ist nicht so, als ob es ein großes Geheimnis wäre, wie er (Stephen McNallen) wirklich denkt und wofür seine Organisation steht. Das einzige, wozu kürzliche Diskussion und Blog-Einträge beigetragen haben, ist alle Informationen zusammenzutragen; von allen Anschuldigungen und Beispielen von Circle Ansuz waren die einzigen Überraschungen für mich und andere Heiden sein Gemuddel mit den Afrikaner death squads (zu Deutsch: Todesschwadronen) und die Gerüchte über irgendeinen Coup on Forn Sidr Dänemark, die einige meiner skandinavischen Freunde von mir verstörenderweise als wahr bestätigt haben. Traurigerweise sind diese letzten Anklagen, die Circle Ansuz getätigt hat, weitestgehend entfernt davon, eine ungewöhnliche Ausnahme darzustellen, sie sind sogar direkt verknüpft mit vielen anderen Tatsachen, die über McNallen und Konsorten seit Jahren bekannt sind.

Wenn man diese kürzlichen Aktionen bedenkt, ist es meiner Meinung nach gefährlich dumm, sich an einen illusorischen Frieden mit der anderen Seite zu halten, den diese offensichtlich nicht einmal gedenkt selbst zu halten oder gar zu respektieren. Unsere Gemeinschaft wächst und wird zunehmend sichtbarer. Als Beispiel hierzu haben wir eine Umfrage der Indiana University of Pennsylvania, welche Wicca als fünftgrößte und am schnellsten wachsende Religion der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika klassifiziert. Auch wenn sich die meisten Heiden trotz deren großer Bekanntheit nicht als Wiccan identifizieren, so kann man doch konstatieren, daß Wicca zumindest eine gewisse Größe in der allgemein-heidnischen Gemeinschaft darstellt. Trotz allem scherten die Verantwortlichen dieses Uniprojektes in ihrer Unwissenheit oder ihrer Gleichgültigkeit der verschiedenen heidnischen Pfade gegenüber alle Heiden über einen Kamm, den des Wicca, und das war’s dann.
Auch wenn Wicca allein, welche immerhin die Spitze des Eisbergs der diversen heidnsichen Traditionen darstellt, in Amerika größer als der Buddhismus ist, impliziert es doch, daß die allgemeine heidnische Gemeinschaft noch größer ist.

Das Resultat ist, daß es sehr wahrscheinlich ist, daß das germanische Heidentum innerhalb der nächsten Dekade in den Blick der Öffentlichkeit gerückt werden wird. In der Popkultur sind Wikinger-verwandte Themen, die sich von den Thor-Filmen zu der Serie Vikings auf dem amerikanischen History Channel, bereits dabei, sich mehr in die Öffentlichkeit zu drängen. Zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt gilt die Aufmerksamkeit dem üblichen Wikingerkram, aber es ist nur eine Frage der Zeit bevor andere ernsthafte Fragen stellen bezüglich unserer Wertvorstellungen, Praktiken und dem Aufbau unserer Gemeinschaft. In dem Moment, in dem diese Menschen dann sehen, daß unsere Gemeinschaft nicht nur viele, laute rassistische Tendenzen hat, aber obendrauf auch noch der Rest der Gemeinschaft diese wie einen zwei Tonnen schweren unsichtbaren Gorilla behandelt, ist es unwahrscheinlich, daß das Gros der Gesellschaft irgendeinen Unterschied zwischen diesen Rassisten und allen anderen machen wird. Wenn Du dies schwerlich glauben kannst, spring nur einmal rüber zu irgendeiner heidnischen Gruppe oder einem Forum und frage, ob die Leute da denken, daß germanische Heiden alle Rassisten sind; Dir wird die Kinnlade herunterfallen, wenn die daraufhin folgende Flut an Kommentaren erst einmal abgeebbt ist, und diese kommen immerhin von einer Gemeinschaft, welche uns besser kennt als das Gros der Gesellschaft im allgemeinen.

Bezüglich dieser Problematik schreien die Rassisten und ihre Apologeten, Verteidiger und Wegbereiter, „Du bist ein Scheinheiliger! Wie kannst Du auf der einen Seite nach Toleranz verlangen, während Du völkische Praktiken auf dere anderen Seite doch anklagst! Du bist der wahre Rassist hier, nicht wir!“

Natürlich verfehlen diese Aufschreie und Proteste ihr Ziel komplett. Indem sie dieses Argument anführen, implizieren sie, daß all jene, die eine tolerante Position einnehmen, jegliche Auffassungen akzeptieren MÜSSEN, ungeachtet der Taten, Konsequenzen und Implikationen dieser anderen Positionen. Durch das Argumentieren, jene wären die wahren Fanatiker, die Rassismus und rassistischen Praktiken entgegenstehen, verdrehen sie die Bedeutung zweier bedeutender Worte in etwas völlig anderes von dem, was sie meinen.
Als Ausgangspunkt führe ich hier die Definition der Toleranz laut an:

1. Eine faire, objektive und freigiebige Einstellung denen gegenüber, deren Meinungen, Praktiken, Rasse, Religion, Nationalität, etc. sich von der eigenen unterscheiden; Unabhängigkeit von Fanatismus.
2. Eine faire, objektive und freigiebige Einstellung gegenüber Meinungen und Praktiken die sich von der eigenen unterscheiden.
3. Ein Interesse und Anliegen an Ideen, Meinungen, Praktiken, etc., welche sich von den eigenen unterscheiden; eine liberale, undogmatische Sichtweise.
Und hier ist die Definition von Bigotterie:
Subjekt, Plural Bigotterien.
1. Sture und völlige Intoleranz gegenüber jeglichen Glaubensbekenntnissen, Glaubensvorstellungen oder Meinungen, die sich von den eigenen unterscheidet.
2. Die Taten, Glaubensvorstellungen, Vororurteile eines Fanatikers.

Diese simple und sehr einfach zu verifizierende Konsultation des Wörterbuchs macht deutlich, daß zu behaupten, ein Individuum, das nicht von der entsprechenden Blutlinie stamme, auch nicht das germanische Heidentum praktizieren darf, und dies basierend auf keinerlei offiziellem Standard oder uniformierter Praxis, paßt einfach nur unter die Beschreibung Bigotterie. Weiterhin steht nichts in der Definition von Toleranz, was die Vermutung zuläßt, daß der Tolerante diejenigen tolerieren muß, die aktiv daran arbeiten, ihre Vorurteile anderen aufzuzwingen.

Hierzu werden Fanatiker die Behauptung aufstellen und Argumente anführen, daß ethnozentrische Bestimmungen für Spiritualität nicht rassistisch seien, da es zahlreiche andere Kulturen gibt, die dies ebenso tun. Sie führen oftmals sofort das Judentum oder native amerikanische (indianisch-amerikanische) Praktiken als zwei der bekanntesten Beispiele an. Auf dieser Grundlage behaupten sie folglich, daß jene, die gegen Rassismus sind, scheinheilig seien und argumentieren, daß tolerante Menschen Weiße dafür anprangern, was allgemein akzeptiert wird, sofern es nur von Nicht-Weißen verübt wird, und letzteres legitimiere folglich ihre Taten.

Dies stellt erneut eine grobe Verzerrung der Fakten dar. Wie ichvorhergehend dargelegt habe, können die Behauptungen bezüglich des Judentums und der Praxis indigener Amerikaner nicht standhalten. Im Falle der amerikanischen Ureinwohner war die Bedeutung des Blutes keine natürliche Entwicklung der vielfältigen Kulturen, die unter dem Oberbegriff Indianer zusammengefaßt werden, sondern wurde ihnen vom Amt für Indianische Angelegenheiten aufgezwungen, als Mittel, die letzten Überbleibsel des Widerstandes zu brechen, der sie letztlich beinahe völlig ausrottete und in Reservationen isolierte. Ähnlicherwise akzeptiert das Judentum Konveriten, selbst in den orthodoxesten seiner Denominationen.

Während es technisch gesehen der Wahrheit entspricht, daß eine ausformulierte Praxis basierend auf spezifischer Abstammung existiert, übersehen die Rassisten jedoch völlig, daß diese Abstammung nicht auf der ethnischen Herkunft basiert. Im Gegensatz zur Asatru Folk Assembly and anderen bekannten völkischen Befürwortern, die kein standardmäßges, konsistentes Maß, oder andere Form eines allgemeingültigen Ansatzes dazu haben, zu bestimmen, wie hoch der Anteil germanischer Herkunft sein muß, um ein Teil der Gemeinschaft sein zu dürfen, haben die amerikanischen Ureinwohner und das Judentum genaue Regeln hierfür. Im Judentum wird jemand als Teil der Gemeinschaft angesehen und ohne Frage in den Glauben aufgenommen, sofern er oder sie zumindest einen jüdischen Elternteil hat. Es spielt keine Rolle, wo dieser Elternteil her ist, welche Hautfarbe er hat, oder welcher jüdischen Tradition er entstammt, sofern ein Elternteil jüdisch ist, hat dessen Kind das Recht darauf, einen Anspruch darauf, einen Platz in der Gemeinschaft zu erhalten. In den indigenen amerikanischen Praktiken variieren die Regeln hierzu von Stamm zu Stamm, was sie jedoch alle gemeinsam haben, ist ein spezifischer, quantifizierbarer Anspruch, so z.B. daß der Erweis erbracht werden muß, einer bestimmten (indianischen) Gruppe zu entstammen. Sogar im Falle schottischer Clans, ein Beispiel meiner Herkunft, sind die einzigen Bedingungen für eine Mitgliedschaft eines Clans, daß man seine schottische Herkunft beweist und einen Nachnamen hat, der Teil eines anerkannten Clans ist.
Auf einer tieferen Ebene ist das Problem des Rassismus und der Rassentrennung in unserer Gemeinschaft nicht nur ein Problem des Mangels an Rechtfertigungen/Begründungen dem Anwärter und seiner Ansprüche gegenüber oder die Schande, mit der das Kollektiv der Gesellschaft das gemanische und allgemeine (nicht-germanische) Heidentum überhäufen wird, wenn diese erst anfangen wird, uns ihre Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken. Rassismus, Vorurteile und Bigotterie sind im Grunde allem voran nicht zu vereinbaren mit dem Kern germanisch-heidnischer ethischer Praxis. Als germanische Heiden werden wir von der Edda dazu angehalten mutig jeglichen Hindernissen, Streitigkeiten und Herausforderungen unserer Gemeinschaften entgegenzustehen, nach Wissen und Erfahrung zu streben, so daß wir als Individuen wachsen mögen und im Zuge dessen als Gemeinschaft, und jeden Moment zu leben in dem Wissen, daß unsere Ehre die Summe unserer Rede und Taten sind.

Diejenigen, die sich in oberflächlichen, künstlichen Vorurteilen suhlen, tun dies entgegen dieser genannten Werte. Indem sie andere aufgrund oberflächlicher Andersartigkeiten fürchten, entsagen sie ihrer Ehre und leben ihr Leben als bösartiger Feigling, der vor seinen Mitmenschen ängstlich zittert. Indem sie sich von großen Teilen der Welt abschotten, lähmen sie ihren Geist und geben Ignoranz, Kurzsichtigkeit und Dogma freie Bahn. Am meisten aber bringen ihre Rede und Taten, mit welchen sie ihren Haß porpagieren, nicht nur Schande über ihre eigene Ehre, sondern indem sie sich germanische Heiden nennen bringt dies ungewollte Schande über unsere gesamte Gemeinschaft.

Es ist lang an der Zeit für die germanisch-heidnische Gemeinschaft diesen ehrlosen Feiglingen entgegenzustehen. Sie haben deutlich gemacht, daß sie es als heilige Mission betrachten, so viele von uns wie möglich in ihre Fänge zu bringen. Die o.g. Situation in Dänemark hat gezeigt, daß ungeachtet ihrer und der Beteuerung ihrer Apologeten, den heidnischen Frieden (“frith” aus dem Altnordischen: fridhur) wahren zu wollen, sie niemals die Grenzen respektieren werden, die von anderen gezogen wurden. Viele bangen, was eine reinherzigen Bemühung, die Ehre unserer Gemeinschaft wiederherzustellen, hervorbringen mag und sehen den Preis als zu hoch an.

Doch trotz dieser verständlichen Vorbehalte haben die Ereignisse deutlich gezeigt, daß der Preis des Nichtstuns viel schwerwiegender ist als der Preis zumindest irgendetwas (dagegen) zu tun. Es ist an der Zeit, das Beispiel unserer überlieferten Weisheit, all unserer Ahnen und der Heiligen Mächte zu achten und die notwendigen Schritte zu unternehmen. Wie es so eloquent in den Sprüchen des Höchsten geschrieben steht:
Der ängstliche Mann
meint ewig zu leben,
meidet er den Kampf;
einmal aber
bricht das Alter den Frieden,
wenn auch der Ger sein Leben verschont hat.
Havamal 54 Die Edda - Vollständige Ausgabe in der Übertragung von Felix Genzmer, Diederichs-Verlag, 2003.

Racism, Heathenry, and Frith

Available in German, translation by Erin Banks

Over the last few weeks there has been a virtual explosion of activity, discussion, and debate on the question of racism in Paganism.  These recent discussions kicked off on August 19th when the blog Who Makes the Nazis published a piece on Stella Natura, a rock festival attended and endorsed by a number of racist and neo-Nazi acts, which was followed on the same day by the first of a four part series by the Circle Ansuz collective on the beliefs, ideas, and associations of Stephen McNallen and the Asatru Folk Assembly.  A Wild Hunt Community Notes update on August 20th reported on the Circle Ansuz piece while the Who Makes the Nazis article was circulated on social media by a number of different Pagan bloggers.

Four days later Piparskeggr Skald, a prominent AFA member, posted a blog entry titled, "A short note on my associations" at Witches & Pagans which began with, "I am a man who freely admits that I am most comfortable with folks who resemble me most strongly".  Morpheus Ravenna, another blogger on Witches & Pagans, swiftly responded with the excellent rebuttal Whose Ancestors.  Due the controversy which erupted over these entries the Piparskeggr piece was deleted in its entirety while Morpheus Ravenna's post was removed because according to her, "It was subsequently deleted by the site’s editor, Anne Newkirk Niven, specifically in order to censor its content, because she objected to my calling the AFA a racist organization."  The very next day John Beckett added his voice to the debate on Patheos joining Ravenna and other anti-racist Pagan voices like author Thorn Coyle in their condemnation of racist and racialist ideology in Paganism.  On Wednesday, September 11th Sam Warren joined in, neatly summarizing the fallacies and falsehoods of racialist practice at Witches & Pagans while providing the only online record of Piparskeggr's words.

The handling of this, in particular Witches & Pagans' decision to censor Morpheus Ravenna and destroy all record of Pipparskegr's racist statements, is unfortunately in many ways par for the course in the Pagan and Heathen communities.  As is often the case in the Heathen community whenever the issues of racism, racialist affiliations, or fascist sympathies come up the first response from those in positions of authority is nearly always, "Don't break the frith!"  Regardless of whatever vile, morally repugnant, or outright false claims are being made what is most important is not causing a scene.  The wider Pagan community shares a similar discomfort with rocking the boat for fear that if we cause too much trouble then we'll capsize our collective ship.  What this line of reasoning fails to consider is if keeping an even keel is a good idea when someone's hijacked the helm and is setting course for the nearest cliff.

Thankfully this attitude is no longer the norm as the fully justified outcry has demonstrated.  Unfortunately the recent outcry is, compared to previous incidents, the exception to the rule.  For every Pagan who has spoken out on this issue there are many more Heathen leaders, teachers, and authors who have remained silent for fear of breaking frith.  This in spite of the fact that everyone in the Heathen community who knows anything and pays attention to word of mouth has heard at least one hair-raisingly racist story about Stephen McNallen and the AFA.  A personal friend of mine has their experience of being asked by AFA officers NOT to use their Hispanic last name in their email handle on AFA discussion lists because it would cause problems.  Another Heathen relates of the time they were informed by an AFA group, in no uncertain terms, they could not guarantee their safety if they chose to attend an AFA blot solely because of the color of their skin.  There is also the infamous recent incident where Stephen McNallen completely covered for AFA members who were busted attending a white supremacist conference and the notorious Wotan vs. Tezcatlipoca article posted on the Asatru Folk Assembly's official blog.

These stories are not unique; if anything they're distressingly common.  It's not as if there is any great mystery on the subject as to how he feels or what his organization stands for. The only thing recent discussion and blog posts have done is put it all together; of the allegations and examples given by Circle Ansuz the only ones which were surprises to me and other Heathens were his palling around with Afrikaner death squads and the rumors of some kind of coup in Forn Sidr Denmark which some friends of mine in Scandinavia have confirmed as disturbingly true.  Sadly these latest charges Circle Ansuz has put forward, far from being an unusual exception, are directly in line with many of the other ugly facts which have been swarming around McNallen and his cohorts for years. 

Considering these recent actions I feel binding ourselves to some illusory peace which the other side clearly has no intention of respecting is foolish in the extreme.  Our community is growing and becoming increasingly visible.  As one example of this we have a recent survey by Indiana University of Pennsylvania which pegs Wicca as the fifth largest and fastest growing religion in the United States.  Now, granted, most Pagans do not identify as Wiccans and in spite of their high visibility it would be safe to say Wicca is at best a very large plurality in the Pagan community.  That said it is likely the minds behind this project, not knowing or being too concerned about the distinctions between Pagan practices, lumped a lot of Pagans under the Wicca umbrella and called it a day.  Even if they didn't the fact that Wicca alone, which is only the tip of the Pagan and Heathen iceberg, is bigger than Buddhism in America implies the whole Pagan community is even larger.

The result is that it is very likely Heathenry will be coming under the scrutiny of mainstream society within the next decade.  In popular culture things Viking-related, ranging from the recent Thor movies to the History Channel's series on the Vikings, are already making themselves more visible to the public.  For now most of the attention is on the usual stuff but it is only a matter of time before they start asking serious, probing questions about our ideas, practices, and the makeup of our community.  The moment they see our community not only has a large, vocal racist tendency but on top of that the rest of the community treating it like an invisible two ton gorilla it is highly unlikely broader society is going to draw any distinctions between the racialists and everyone else.  If you don't believe me just hop on over to any Pagan group out there and ask if people think Heathens are all racists; you'll be picking your jaw up off the floor after the first flood of comments subsides and that's coming from a community that knows us better than society at large does.

To this issue the racialists and their apologists, defenders, and enablers inevitably cry, "You're a hypocrite!  How can you call for tolerance on one hand while denouncing Folkish practice on the other!  You're the real racist here, not us!"

Of course these screams and protests miss the point completely.  In making this argument they imply those who take a tolerant position MUST accept all viewpoints regardless of the actions, consequences, and implications of those positions.  By arguing those opposed to racist and racialist practice are the real bigots they are twisting the meaning of two important words into something completely different from what they mean.

As a point of fact here is the definition of tolerance as per

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.
2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own.
3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

And here is the definition of bigotry:

noun, plural big·ot·ries.
1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.
2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.

Having consulted this very simple, easy to verify fact it is clear claiming that any individual who does not meet the appropriate blood descent criteria may not practice Heathenry, based on no actual set standard or uniform practice, fits squarely under the heading of bigotry.  Furthermore there is nothing in the definition of tolerance which suggests the tolerant must tolerate those who actively work to force their prejudices on others. 

Here they will try to make claims and arguments that racist, ethnocentric determinations for spirituality are not racist because there's plenty of other cultures that do it.  They are often quick to cite Judaism and Native American practice as two prominent examples.  From here they claim those opposed to racism are being hypocritical, arguing the tolerant are denouncing white people for doing what is endorsed when it's done by non-white people so therefore it makes their actions ok.

This is, yet again, a gross distortion of the facts.  As I've discussed previously citing Judaism and Native American practice as justification does not hold water.  In the case of Native Americans the blood quotient system was not an organic development of the myriad of cultures which fall under that broad umbrella but was imposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as one tool of many used to break the last vestiges of resistance following their near-extermination and confinement to reservations.  Judaism, similarly, accepts converts in even the most Orthodox of branches.

While it is technically true there is a definite practice based on specific descent what the racialists completely miss is this descent is not based on ethnicity.  Unlike the Asatru Folk Assembly and other prominent Folkish advocates who have no set standard, consistent measurement, or other uniform approach for determining the "correct" amount of Germanic descent to participate Native American tribes and the Judaic practice have very specific rules for this.  In Judaism one is considered part of the community and is accepted into the faith without question if at least one of their parents is also Jewish.  It doesn't matter where the parent is from, what color their skin is, or which Jewish tradition they come from if one parent is Jewish then their child has the right to make the same claim.  In Native American practice the specifics vary wildly from tribe to tribe but what they all have in common is a specific, quantifiable claim such as requiring proving descent from a specific group of people or verifying a specific level of verified descent from the tribe in question.  Even in the case of the Scottish clans, an example from my heritage, the only requirements for being a member of a clan is proving descent from Scotland and having a surname which is part of a recognized clan.

On a deeper level the problem of racialism and racism in our community isn't just an issue of the lack of justification for the proponents' claims or the shame society as a whole will heap on Heathenry and Paganism when they really start paying attention.  Racism, prejudice, and bigotry in many ways are head-first at odds with the core of Heathen ethical practice.  As Heathens we are encouraged by the Eddas to boldly face obstacles, struggle, and challenges to our communities, seek out knowledge and experiences so we may grow as individuals and as a community, and live every moment knowing our honor is the sum of our speech and actions.

Those who wallow in shallow, artificial prejudices do so in defiance of these virtues.  By fearing others based on superficial differences they forsake their courage living the life of the craven coward quivering in fear of their fellow human beings.  In shutting themselves off from vast swaths of the world they atrophy their minds letting ignorance, myopia, and dogma reign.  Above all else their speech and actions seeking to propagate their brand of hatred not only shames their own honor, by calling themselves Heathens it brings unwarranted shame on the whole of the Folk.

It is long past time for the Heathen community to stand up to these honorless cowards.  They have made it plain they see it as a holy mission to drag as many as they can into their fold.  The co-optation and purge in Denmark shows no matter what noises they and their apologists make for frith and community they will not respect the boundaries set by others.  This will not be easy, quick, or painless by any stretch of the imagination.  Many fear what may come of a genuine struggle to redeem the honor of our Folk, seeing the price as too high.

Yet in spite of these understandable reservations events have made it clear the price of doing nothing is far steeper than the price of doing something.  It is time we heed the example of the wisdom of the lore, all of our ancestors, and of the Holy Powers and take necessary action.  As is eloquently stated in the Sayings of the High One:

The sluggard believes he shall live forever,
If the fight he faces not;
But age shall not grant him the gift of peace,
Though spears may spare his life.

Havamal 16

Friday, September 6, 2013

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

The pattern is almost identical: the drumbeat for war heralded by the denunciation of yet another mini-Hitler in the making with serious sober-sounding pronouncements issued by serious sober-looking people.  It's Iraq all over again just change the names, remove the oil, add in a hulking Russian bear, and you're set!  Every one of these serious sober people is, quite conspicuously, silent on how America's last death and destruction-filled misadventure through the Middle East went implying by their lack of response that such comparisons would be preposterous!  Of course the Powers that Be who swore up and down on a stack of holy books that Iraq would have nuclear weapons in six months which turned out to be a weightless mirage couldn't be wrong twice, could they?

The fact is the situation on the ground is Syria is anything but clear-cut.  On one side of many you have Basher Assad, a Ba'ath Party strongman whose been ruthlessly butchering the Syrian people who rose up in revolt in 2011.  On another, and not THE other as the media tries to claim, are the Free Syrian Army, a group of alleged moderates whose alleged popular mandate and alleged secularism makes them the allegedly legitimate party that would be totally cool if they came into power, honest!  That is until you look a little closer and notice their hands aren't entirely clean either.  And finally, at least as far as the groups deemed important enough to be mentioned goes anyway, you have the Jihadi faction with al-Nusra as the most prominent example.  There's also probably at least half a dozen other smaller groups who enjoy support from one foreign power or the other, angry or opportunistic Syrians using the opportunity to settle some scores, tribal factions, local defense groups trying to keep everyone else from killing their family and neighbors, and let's not forget the ordinary people whose most likely aspiration at this point is to be somewhere that is not exploding.

Now why exactly is there a sudden rush to intervene now, when things are at probably their worst, rather than earlier around the same time the US toppled the Libyan government?  The reason that's been given is an alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government against Syrian civilians.  Already we have the United States and France lining up arguing emphatically and unequivocally they have PROOF Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.

Hopefully that proof didn't come from the same people who said they could prove Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, especially considering the UN investigators are saying it's going to be weeks before they have a conclusive answer.  Regardless the United States, even moreso than Iraq, would be going at it with very few allies to speak.  In spite of the public talk of dangerous dictators on a rampage international support is not forthcoming.  Even nearby Arab leaders, some of whom have condemned Assad's actions, are calling for a UN mandate for any intervention.  Even the American public is opposed with only 19% supporting intervention and a whopping 56% opposed to intervention in Syria.  And yet in spite of this Obama is going full-bore for military intervention.  Yesterday a Senate panel voted to approve intervention in Syria paving the way for the full Senate to vote on the matter.

In the voices calling for intervention many are making a lot of hay of needing to support the FSA, nevermind that the FSA is probably not what they say or think it is.  They raise the ugly specter of the Jihadi faction taking over and the dangers it would pose to global stability.  Yet nowhere do they address a much more pertinent question: why is the Jihadi faction the one taking charge?  Oh wait it's because they're the most battle-hardened, experienced fighters the rebels have.  And why is that?  Because many of them got the best military training in the world fighting the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Considering America's recent track record with interventions, from the over 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq and millions driven from their homes to the chaos and violence which has engulfed Libya since American intervention, maybe we should consider another approach.  The Syrian people haven't asked for the United States to come in and bail them out.  Given the recent track record of saving the village by blasting it to pieces it's understandable why.  The American people don't want their soldiers going into harm's way to bail out a loose alliance whose behavior is nearly as reprehensible as their enemies. 

But most important question is what gives the United States government the right to intervene?  How is it, other than overwhelming military might, that it is America's responsibility to police the world?  Considering how incredibly sloppy the Pentagon's track record has been in these so-called "police actions" one would think based solely on performance alone the badge should have been revoked a long time ago.  It's not as if our human rights record is so stellar, considering half the world's prisoners are Americans or the unprecedented pervasiveness of PRISM, that we can claim a special right to use force against others.

Ultimately the United States has no special right, duty, or justification to intervene in Syria beyond those of cold-blooded, cold-hearted imperial politics.  These wars of empire and influence have consumed some of the best our society can offer, wasted valuable resources and opportunities, and are only adding to the problem.  What the people of the United States do have a right, and duty, to do is act.  We must not stand by while bought and paid for politicians with bloody minds and bloodless hearts render more destruction.  This must happen in spite of the fact that it is doubtful the powers that be will heed us or pay any mind to the will of the masses. 

That is not the point.

The point is to remind the high and mighty, the meek and mild, and all in between that power comes from the people and the people together are a power that cannot be denied.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Branches of the World Tree

The Yggdrasil, the great World Tree of Scandinavian lore, is a very powerful concept in modern Heathen practice.  While some may deride the imagery of the world held up by the branches of a vast, cosmic tree as nothing more than primitive anthropomorphism.  To the modern, materialistic mind such an idea is just as laughable as claiming the Earth revolves around the sun.  Yet the dismissal of this concept is based on a very superficial understanding of what the Yggdrasil means.  Far from a primitive grasp at attempting to explain the universe the concept of the World Tree is a clear demonstration of the animistic mindset and its acceptance of an intimately interconnected universe.

The best source on the World Tree we have from the sagas is from the stanzas of the famous Voluspo.  Where exactly it comes from or what created it is never made clear.  Unlike the creation of Midgard which is described in considerable detail in the saga with the Gods making decisions by council(1) the Yggdrasil seems to emerge from the depths of time of space on its own.  Some have suggested it is possible the World Tree predates Ymir and the collision of fire and ice in the Ginnungagap.  As is described in Voluspo 19:

An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name,
With water white is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth's well does it ever grow.(2) 
The World Tree is said to hold up all of the Nine Worlds, from Niflheim and Jotunheim in the depths to Midgard at the art rising to the towering heights of Asgard, Vanaheim, and Alfheim.  Even though the inhabitants of some of these worlds are at odds with one another, with the most famous conflict being the one between the Jotnar of Jotunheim and the Aesir, this does not change that their worlds are equally supported by the same foundation.  Without the World Tree these worlds would have nothing to anchor or support them.  Watered by the Well of Urd, which is often associated with fate and wyrd, the Yggdrasil grows on pure possibility sustaining all the worlds on its branches.

When the World Tree meets its end in Ragnarok the great fire which consumes it does not discriminate what it burns.  As it says in the Voluspo:

The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.(3)
Nothing is spared.  Jotunheim, Muspelheim, Midgard, and Asgard all burn.  While grim and bleak this is understandable in an animistic, polytheistic context.  Unlike Abrahamic monotheism where everything is the product, whim, and creation of a single all-powerful creator who exists above and beyond their creation the Powers of Scandinavian cosmology operate on very different rules.  Like the Gods and Powers of other animistic, polytheistic cultures the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotnar exist within a greater universe which is governed by greater laws than their desires.  This makes them as intimately bound to the fate, workings, and health of the universe as everything else that walks, swims, crawls, flies, grows, and breathes.  If the World Tree, which is essential for holding up the Nine Worlds, were to burn then logically the worlds it supports cannot endure on their own.

This kind of understanding of the universe, rather than being at odds with the theories and arguments of modern science, is very synergistic with the discoveries of ecology and environmental science.  When an ecosystem is dealt great harm all living things which are a part of the threatened habitat suffer, even human beings.  Beyond this the concept of greater universal laws, principles, and axioms which impact everything in the universe is one which gels perfectly with physics and broader scientific principles. 

Just as the Nine Worlds are spiritually shaped by forces like wyrd and orlog we in Midgard are molded by the forces of gravity, electro-magnetism, entropy, and many others. Electro-magnetic forces, for example, bind together the universe through the charges which keep the atoms, elements, and molecules which make up all material things together.  Gravity holds all of it together in an elegant dance of heavenly bodies without which life on earth as we know it would not be possible.  As the Gods are bound by greater forces in the universe so to is physical bound by forces we are only just beginning to understand. 

In many ways the concept of the World Tree is a very powerful one.  Quite contrary to the assumption of primitive speculation the Yggdrasil is a beautiful expression of a holistic, interconnected view of the world which modern scientific discoveries have recently validated.  It is a very practical approach to reality which stands in stark contrast to the external creator-god narrative or the conception of a spirit-free universe.  If anything the World Tree, wyrd, orlog, and the concept of the nature of the Powers expresses a universe where all the things that live within it are free to find their own way.  Nothing lives under a giant microscope, scrutinized by a judgmental yet distant tyrannical father, or in an empty, uncaring cosmos.  Our universe is alive and always growing, changing, and becoming a greater expression of itself through the mutual interdependence of its constituent parts.

1. Voluspo 6, 9, 24, 25, Poetic Edda, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows
2. Voluspo 19, ibid
3. Voluspo 57, ibid

Monday, August 5, 2013


The last few months have been a fairly tumultuous time in the Heathen community going by the storms raging across the blogosphere.  Two individuals held up as leaders in our community have both been at the center of major controversies.  While there is a lot of debate happening on the specifics of each both instances share a common thread: power and accountability.  These troubling incidents have, in a roundabout way, stirred up discussion of what should be expected of those who would seek to lead the Folk.  Unfortunately this larger issue has been obscured by partisans, deception, and the all too easy mistake of missing the forest for the trees.

The more recent of these two problem children to stir up trouble is Galina Krasskova.  Krasskova is an author, a scholar pursuing a Doctorate, the leader of the Ironwood Kindred, and a very prolific blogger.  She is also known in the Heathen community for her advocacy of more unorthodox practices such as sacred ordeals, god-spousing, and god-slavery.  All of these have been discussed, debated, and in some cases derided extensively with a lot of charges flying around in every direction.  It is not these practices which are the cause of the latest upsurge of debate but statements made by Krasskova on her personal blog and the Witches and Pagans blog on the topic of belief.

On May 31st Krasskova published a blog titled, "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Theories".  While the theoretical basis of her argument that the Gods are real is one which most Pagans likely agree with, it is where she takes it that it gets messy.  In her entry she openly dismisses any talk of theories, principles, or ideas by asserting because the Gods are real none of that is necessary and in fact is a total waste of time that could be better used on devotion.

If this sounds very similar to the rantings of some more infamous preachers like Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell, or Ted Haggard then you're not the only one seeing the similarity.  But wait, there's more!

On June 8th she followed up with a more direct post, "Deity Centered Polytheism."  Here she eschews subtlety for the vulgarity of fire and brimstone denunciation, "We will never speak as one community so long as devotion to the Gods is being marginalized."  It is something of a newsflash that one of the most central practices of modern Heathenry, devotion to the Gods, is being marginalized.  Yet after making this bold charge Krasskova never quantifies it with evidence, concrete examples, or anything approaching empirical proof; not as surprising as one might think given her thoughts on, "fetishizing, I think, scientific empiricism" and rather ironically claims not to be anti-intellectual.  Her cries of marginalization, "an attempt to finish the assault upon our traditions that our ancestors faced", and her call for, "every devoted polytheist today" to "to stand up and draw a line in the sand" that says, "'you take your horse shit this far and no farther".

If you changed the topic only slightly it is nearly indistinguishable from the cries of Bible-thumpers bemoaning the "persecution" of Christianity in the United States.  

Quite predictably this call generated some serious blowback across social media and the blogosphere.  Many denounced Krasskova's words for their shades of Dominionist mentality.  A mere two days after issuing her proclamation of damnation she announced that she would be taking a month-long sabbatical, "in protest over the marginalization of polytheistic voices in the current community debate."

Obviously it wasn't the fault of the person who whacked the hornet's nest with a bat for getting stung.  It was all those stupid hornets' fault for daring to sting the bat-wielder for swinging their Louisville Slugger at their nest!  How dare they.

After taking the time to lick her wounds she jumped back in showing no hesitation, reflection, or anything resembling consideration of the facts, arguments, or circumstances facing our community by posting, "Warrior Medicine," on July 28th.  In it she rather casually reveals, "Do I love the community: um. no. really. no.  But I love what the community has the potential to be." 

English translation: when everyone does things and sees things the right way according to me then the community will be great.

Lost in all the sturm and drang of nonexistent persecution are two unanswered questions: what of those who are in the community and their needs?  What of the first duty of all leaders to put the needs of those who follow them ahead of their personal desires, interests, and ego?  How does distorting the facts, slander, and inciting needless strife serve the community's needs?

These same questions go untouched in the even more sordid case of Mark Ludwig Stinson, Chieftain of Jotunsbane Kindred.  On July 12 the Wild Hunt reported Stinson was suspended from his job as a police officer due to suspicion he was misappropriating funds which belonged to his mother.  At the time Stinson insisted he was innocent, claiming he would be exonerated of all charges in spite of questions regarding his mother's eviction from her nursing home due to unpaid rent.

Fast-forward to nearly a year later.  In a statement on his blog titled, "My Legal Situation Has Been Resolved" he announced, in spite of his claims of innocence, he had accepted a plea bargain which would involve no prison time and require full restitution of the stolen money.  He concludes by, ironically, announcing he would be writing a book, not stepping down from any position in his Kindred, and saying he hopes, "having this legal matter behind me, will allow me to be even more focused on my family, our kindred, and our efforts."

Following this statement Stinson refused to answer any question on the subject, showed no remorse, and very casually purged any dissenters from his web groups.  Rather than answer to the people who looked up to him, respected him, and in some cases follow him Stinson chose otherwise.

In both cases there is a clear lack of accountability at work.  Krasskova and Stinson were seen as major leaders in the Heathen community.  As one would expect of anyone in a leadership position they should be putting the needs of the communities they lead and inspire ahead of their greed and egos.  Instead they have done the opposite; rendering themselves accountable to none and brushing aside all who would dare question otherwise.  Through it all they stood tall, claiming to be good Heathens every step of the way while glutting themselves sick on the tainted fruits of power, glory, and adulation. 

Such behavior, in spite of their claims, runs contrary to everything our ancestors expected of their leaders.  Quite contrary to the high-handed behavior shown by their actions the ancients were very unforgiving of leaders they found to be wanting.  Commonly known as kings or chiefs these ancient leaders were very unlike the image of the medieval king decreeing life and death at a whim. As far back as the days of Rome leaders only assumed power with the consent of their people.  In the words of Tacitus, "They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority"(1). 

An excellent example of the limitations on kingly power and the enduring importance of accountability to the people comes to us much later in 11th century Sweden.  In the year 1018 King Olof Skotkunung came before the Thing of All Swedes and demanded the people of Sweden lend their continued support to his war with Norway in spite of the high cost.  In reply the lawspeaker Thorgny reminded the Swedes of how they had received previous kings who went against their people, concluding his remarks by saying:

Wilt thou, however, reconquer the kingdoms in the east countries which thy relations and forefathers had there, we will all for that purpose follow thee to the war. But if thou wilt not do as we desire, we will now attack thee, and put thee to death; for we will no longer suffer law and peace to be disturbed. So our forefathers went to work when they drowned five kings in a morass at the Mula-thing, and they were filled with the same insupportable pride thou hast shown towards us. Now tell us, in all haste, what resolution thou wilt take.

Then the whole public approved, with clash of arms and shouts, the lagman's speech.(2)
This stands quite contrary to how these scandals have unfolded with many arguing their actions should be excused.  After all, say those who hold such opinions, the service they've done to the community means we should forgive and forget. 

The ancients very clearly thought otherwise.  One cannot go through any saga of kingship in the Germanic world, whether you're talking the Eddas themselves, the Heimskringla, or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, without tripping over the regular admonishment that leaders were chosen by their people.  These leaders in turn when they proved wanting or, worse, had done irreparable harm to the needs of their community would be very directly removed from power.  No matter what one may think about the nature of Gods, wights, and giants it is abundantly clear the ancients never suffered the damage of the reckless, the abuse of the haughty, or the lash of tyrants without reply.

Many fear the tumult and strife challenging leaders would cause.  Those who fear it forget that for the harm they are avoiding there is greater harm continuing unabated so long as abuses of power remain unchecked.  As the Havamal says:

The sluggard believes he shall live forever,
If the fight he faces not;
But age shall not grant him the gift of peace,
Though spears may spare his life. (3)
As the old saying goes we get the government we deserve.  If we stand silent and do nothing when those who step up to lead do harm to their community, abuse their power, or render themselves unaccountable in any way to those who follow them then we only have ourselves to blame for failing to stand up for ourselves.  We must remember we are all free people who have every good reason to stand tall, strong, and proud.  Just as the Gods gave us life, reason, and essence so to did they refrain from imposing any limits or commands on our free will(4).  To forgo the use of such mighty gifts would be a shame and disgrace on ourselves, our community, and our Folkway. 

1. Government, Influence of Women from the Germania, Tacitus

2. Saga of Olaf Haraldson 81, Heimskringla

3. Havamal 16, Poetic Edda, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows

4. Voluspo 17-18, Poetic Edda, trans. by Henry Adams Bellows