Do the gods need us?

Do the gods need us?

I have heard many opinions on this question, most fall to either extreme. There are many people who believe that the gods require sacrifice and worship, that it sustains them in some way. There are also many people who believe the opposite, that they do not need us at all. But what I would like to argue for is something in-between – our worship enriches the gods and affords to them the ability to act as gods on our behalf and on behalf of others.

When we sacrifice, we are passing some of our mægen (ON: magn, megin, megn), essentially our strength and power. That mægen goes to the gods in the form of whatever we sacrifice, be it votive or physical. We lose some of our might and strength by giving it up, and that strength passes to the gods. The thought then being that the gods share again with us in a reciprocal relationship of gifting. This shows that sacrifice is actually important, the gods do receive something from sacrifice. Yet I would argue that the continued existence of the gods despite humanity taking a great hiatus from their worship shows that they do not strictly need to receive sacrifice and prayer like some form of sustenance. Instead, I would argue that the gods are enriched by sacrifice and prayer.

Is a god not unlike a king? We treat them, or I hope we treat them with deference and respect as one would a king. But a king does not, strictly speaking, need to have subjects. A king could survive without subjects just fine as they are not necessary for life. Having subjects who pay taxes and tithe to the king however enriches the king and makes the king’s life far easier. The king in return provides his subjects with protection. Having subjects means that the king can act as a king; because is a king truly a king without subjects? Or are they merely a man making their own way in the world at that point? Without the taxes and tithes, could the king afford to protect the people?

I believe that gods are much the same. We sacrifice to the gods and gift to them and enrich them. In return, they guide and guard us as we go about our lives and they bless us in many capacities. It is my belief that they bless us in ways we cannot always see or know because their sight and vision is more far reaching. But I also do not believe they can do everything or protect from everything. In that way they are much like a king, doing what they can when they can, given the resources on hand. Gods do not, strictly speaking, need to have worshipers, but worshipers enrich the gods. Having worshipers means the god can act as a god; because is a god truly a god without worshipers? Or are they merely one of the many great entities inhabiting the spiritual world at that point? So instead, just as the king is a king because he acts as a king on behalf of his subjects, is not a god a god because they act as a god on behalf of their worshipers?

But this means that our sacrifices have meaning and importance; not to the survival or existence of our deities as they continued to exist perfectly fine without our recognition, but instead to enrich them and allow them the strength to act as a god to us and to others. Our mægen, our strength, becomes their mægen which they can then pass to us and to others as they see the needs arise. This is of course a topic with no definite answer, but perhaps this thought will be one which could add to the discourse on the subjects of why we sacrifice and whether or not the gods need us.
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The Heathen and Historigraphy

Historians are often products of their time. The historical writings of those living in the 1700’s take on the flavor of that time, the 1800’s much the same. There are flavors of historians like there are flavors of ice-cream, and each of those historians will take on their subject through different lenses. If you took for instance the Salem Witch Trials, these can be looked at through a religious lens, an economic lens, a class struggle lens, a gender lens, and oh so so so many others. Is any one of the lenses the one correct answer? No. The motives of these people do not always conform to our ideas and in some of these lenses, historians have been known to anachronistically place modern ideas on people who are decidedly not modern. In a sense, not all historians through all of time are created equal. Today we make rigorous attempts to remove personal bias and essentially strip away anything that is not factual or in some way based on facts. But because of this, it becomes very important to look at the historiography of a particular material – the history surrounding the particular historian, their life and time, and their biases; essentially the history of their history. And when you look at the historiography, many of these writers living in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had an agenda – Nationalism.

We’re not talking patriotism, we’re talking nationalism and there is a difference. We’re talking Nazis, fascists, eugenics, and the “we’re better than you are because our race scientists say so” nonsense. Romantic Nationalism was the prettier cousin of the nasty nationalism that we all know. Let me take you back to 1930’s Germany. We all know how this story turns out, but between 1933 and 1936 it would have primarily been seen as an era of Romantic Nationalism there. They were doing what so many other European nations had been doing, reinventing themselves based on nationalist thought. The general idea of it all went something like this – every nation had a racial identity or an ethnic soul of a kind that was in competition with every other nation. This is present visually in representations of say John Bull or Uncle Sam; these were the personified spirits of the nation. But the nations were all in competition with one another and the people represented that nation. Folks began to want to give themselves long and glorious histories of superiority then to show that they were winning this competition between nations. Thus, Romantic Nationalism was born. People could be patriotic then through more or less imagining their past in some idealized form. Think George Washington and the cherry tree, it’s a nationalist myth that romanticizes a figure from our American history. But this was not just happening in Germany and Italy where it went sour or in America or England where those romantic nationalist myths are still told. No, this happened across Europe and even elsewhere in the world. People began to give their countries pedigrees essentially, to write their people into the fabric of history and ensure their place was one of importance. This resulted in some fabulous works of art, literature, and music. It resulted in for instance the entire Ring Cycle by Wagner, the Kalevala would have been lost forever had it not been for Romantic Nationalism, and entire languages were saved because the people began to take pride in their national and ethnic heritage. But it also resulted in the marginalization or destruction of minority groups within those nations that adopted these views.

The issues go deep. The presence is generally seen to have been important for art and culture, but one area that suffered because of its presence was the historical discipline. Essentially we have a period of historians who mythologized their national past to the point that it became unusable. It was not history any more, it was imagined. They created stories out of it all and into those they wove half-truths and ample amounts of fiction. They also made wild leaps based on some fragment of truth so they could make It fit into a nice, neat narrative.

Enter Vilhelm Grønbech, a historian living in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. I’ll give you one guess where Grønbech fits. You got it, he was a romantic nationalist who died in 1948 and he wrote The Culture of the Teutons. In academia, if it seems too good to be true it usually is made up. This book is made up, or its filled with so much made up material mixed with half-truths and a little truth that the lies weave themselves into a nice pretty romantic nationalist picture. It was written in 1909 and generally speaking historians won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole because it is everything history today is not. It cites no sources, it is written more like a long winded talk than a history, it is a long flowing diatribe weaving a concise and imaginary picture of a broad Germanic culture that united the ancient heathens in Germanic comradery. The book is a lie that has been peddled so hard by certain elements that folks buy the lie; hook, line, and sinker. It is a lie that has been sold to us and repackaged now so often that many folks cannot see the truth of the matter. Romantic nationalism, while it produced some fine art, is toxic to history and historians; ultimately the same thoughts that fueled it also gave rise to the Nazis in Germany and to Fascists in Italy and its ideas are why we still have issues with folkishness and Nazism in Heathenry today.

A modern historian is trained to look for the nuggets of truth hidden in these works and to try and parse them out through rigorous attempts to trace back and confirm certain aspects. Essentially, if you read it in Vilhelm Grønbech or any other historian influenced by Romantic Nationalism, you cannot trust it. The reason historians will not touch it even if they are equipped to look through the falsehoods to find the nuggets of truth is that in the end all you end up doing is going on hunts for sources that get you to look around the source you were trying to look into. The heart of the matter is that if you can find a primary that he was using, why use him at all when his ideas were so skewed? And if you cannot find the primary source, was he just making it up to fit his narrative of a romanced national heritage? This is the same issue we find in other historians of that era. Jacob Grimm for instance wrote that monumental work Deutsche Mythologie in 1835 right at the forefront of this romantic nationalism movement. I love Grimm, I have read his work and have found many interesting things in it, but in the end I find myself working double time to try and confirm him elsewhere through primaries because he simply cannot be trusted all of the time and he too makes wild and unfounded leaps. He was a product of his time and at that time the historical discipline was much less stringent about citation and removing personal bias.

At the end of the day, Heathenry needs to learn a little more about historiography. The heathen reader needs to be able to spot bad scholarship and romantic nationalism and know it for something not to be trusted and generally to be avoided. It also doesn’t stop at the 1800’s because ancient sources have their biases as well. The heathen reader needs to be able to spot these things because if we let these falsehoods take root in us we will not be able to discern the real history from the imagined.

Eosturmonaþ

(For this ritual you will need grain and dirt from your home.)

 

Giddy are the hares in the field

Joyful songs are heard from birds in the trees

The land quickens,

Eostre has returned to us!

 

Hail to thee, Frumleoht, first light

Hail to thee, Blostmbærende, blossom bearer

Hail to thee, Beomoder, mother of bees

Hail to thee, radiant daughter of the Earth and Sky

Hail to thee, Eostre!

 

Hail to your sister, Sunne

She is glad for your return

And rides longer for your company

 

Hail to your mother, Eorþe

She is glad for your return

And ends her mourning

 

Hail to thee, Eostre

We rejoice for you have returned to us

And brought renewal and joy.

 

 

Eastwards I stand,

For blessings I pray,

I pray the Sky father, Tiw

I pray the Earth mother, Eorþe

I pray the joyous daughter, Eostre

That I may open this charm

Through teeth and voice

and through firm thought,

To fill this land with blessings,

To call forth, to wake these plants

For our worldly use,

And to beautify this green earth.

 

 

Erce, Erce, Erce,

Eorþan modor,

May you bless us here,

Our acres, lands, and fields

To growing and flourishing,

Propagating and strengthening.

Let shoots and shafts grow tall

Let roots grow deep

Both the rural crops

And the broad;

All in bright hues of green.

A bountiful harvest

For all earth’s crops.

May you grant to us,

The gift of growing,

That for us each grain might come to use.

May you grant us,

That this land be guarded;

Fortified against any and all fiends and foes,

And that it be safe against any harm at all,

From baleful blastings every one

Which may be sown around this land.

I bid that there be neither ill will,

Nor sharp tongue,

Nor galdor,

Nor cunning woman,

Nor crafty man,

That can overturn these words thus spoken.

 

(Over Dirt)

Hail to thee, Eorþe,

mother of men!

Be growing and fertile

Prosperous in Tiw’s embrace,

And bless this land for the needs of men.

 

Hail to thee, Tiw,

Over others you keep watch,

May your judgement be just,

And may words prevail over weapons.

 

Hail to thee, Eostre,

Bright-blooming,

May your stay with us this year be long and joyful.

 

(Over the grain in the bag:)

Land filled with fodder,

Mankind to feed

Brightly blooming

Let the earth take your gifts

And give you double in return

 

(Have given some grain to everyone in attendance before. On their turn let them “sow” their small amount of grain, let it fall to the ground on the earth as an offering.)

(As they drop the grain:)

Let the earth take your gifts

(As you give them a goodly handful of grain:)

And give you double in return

 

(with filled Horn)

Take this horn of mead and think on the green and growing earth, speak or give any offerings to the gods that you will.

 

(with filled Bowl)

Blessed become thou

Blessed become your land

May the gods and wights

grant to us their growing grace

That to us corn of each kind

May come to good

 

(Libation)

To Eostre, to Tiw, to Eorþe I give to you this Tiber.

From the gods, to the earth, to us

From us, to the earth, to the gods

A gift has been given.

 

The gods depart friends, blot is ended

Go forth with blessings strong and bright

Merriment awaits beyond the borders of this blessed weoh,

So drink, and feast, and laugh into the night

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Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy

Orthopraxy can be defined as correctness of practice.
Orthodoxy can be defined as correctness of belief.
These two words float around heathen circles and get mulled around. However, what do they mean in application to our specific religion?

In the local heathen group I practice rituals with there is an amazing diversity of beliefs. I practice Anglo-Saxon heathenry, however far from being a group of Anglo-Saxon heathens there are those who practice Pan-Germanic heathenry, Continental Germanic heathenry, general Norse heathenry, more of an Icelandic flavor of heathenry, and more of a Swedish flavor of heathenry. To take it further though, there are a few druids and one guy who practices Slavic heathenry. While many (but not all) gods overlap between the various parts of Germanic heathenry, there is little direct overlap between Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic paganism. Despite this diversity in belief, all of these people have come together to worship. The easiest explanation is that we’re polytheistic; if my gods exist then yours probably do to. But it is more than that. The practices of heathenry are not mutually exclusive to one another. A ceremony for Slavic Heathenry would look much like one for Germanic Heathenry; a Gallic ceremony will resemble these as well. The reason for this is that in general, we are calling to and praising our gods as well as performing some kind of offering. Our religion is orthopraxic, we follow a praxis or a set of practices that form the basis of our ritual actions. In fact, the orthopraxic nature of our religion has become quite well known and understood. Yet there is one misconception about this, it’s not only orthopraxic. Yes, there are correct practices, no there aren’t strict guidelines about which gods fall under the category because we’re polytheistic after all, however that does not mean we do not have correct belief.

While it is often said of heathenry that we practice an Orthopraxic religion rather than an Orthodoxic one, it is an over simplification. By this we mean that we share a set of practices and methods which we use to worship our gods. Heathenry and paganism are surely primarily orthopraxic, but that doesn’t mean all we do is practice a hollow religion. No religion is purely one or the other, there are elements of belief in paganism and thereby orthodoxy. The orthodoxy of heathenry and indeed paganism at large is not which gods you worship but instead the underlying understanding that the worship is meaningful. The concept of importance in this is do ut des – basically quid pro quo. The purpose behind gifting, offering, and sacrifice is to enter into a cycle of sacrifice and gifting with a deity or group of deities. The reason for this is simple, when we gift the gods with offerings and sacrifice, they influence events around us.

We do not sacrifice to the gods simply because they are there; we sacrifice out of the hope that we can forge a relationship or at least an understanding with the deity. Mægen is spent by us with every sacrifice we make. That mægen is sent to the recipient in the form of the offering. The deity then influences our luck as we go. I cannot say for sure the extent of the deity’s involvement simply because they could be very active in our lives and we might not know it. They could act to benefit our lives in a myriad of different ways that we simply fail to recognize. Furthermore, as my friend Wodgar pointed out – benign indifference can be positive too. That case could be made especially for sacrifices of propitiation or sacrifices to those to gods of healing while one is well.

Sacrifice without do ut des is rather pointless. If a person were certain that the gods did not exist or that they were uncaring or even just completely indifferent, why would they bother with sacrifice, prayer, offering, propitiation, or any other act of devotion? Acts in those cases would be a waste of effort, screaming into an uncaring void. Instead, we offer because we believe in the gods and in do ut des. This is our element of orthodoxy.

The Multi-Part Soul

The Soul

The modern concept of a soul as being a singular spiritual aspect of a person is not the way that these things were conceived of in ancient Anglo-Saxon society. For those ancient heathens, the soul was multi-faceted, made up of many different parts; each of those parts carried its own function. While no universal list of parts of a soul has persisted from Anglo-Saxon society, there are inklings of this which remain in ancient literature and within the language itself.

In a sense, the soul functioned differently based on what a person was doing or the circumstances of their being. In our everyday lives, this subject has bearing but not to the extent that it would alter things. In this way, we typically conceive of the soul in terms of our being in the moment. However there is much more going on in the terms of the Anglo-Saxon beliefs. Your very consciousness is wrapped up with your soul, your memories, your conscience, and yes your body too. From this idea, we will work from the seen and unseen outside inward.

The Lic:

What is the spirit without the body? What is the body without spirit? The two are necessary for one another to together create the being we are familiar with. On this level, the Lic is the body, the physical body.

The Ealdor (Æþm):

The Ealdor, or Æþm, is essentially the breath of life. Seeing as how your body remains living when your spirit fares forth, it can be surmised that the Ealdor remains with the Lic under the circumstance of dreaming and faring forth. Yet upon death, this aspect of a person’s soul leaves and is disconnected from their being. This ultimately connects it to and separates it from the Lic. It is an aspect of the Lic because the Lic cannot live without it; it separates from the Lic upon death.

The Hama:

The Hama is a bit tougher to get into and somewhat contentious. Hama means a natural covering, a membrane, like the skin shed off of a snake. Yet this meaning does not do the word justice in a spiritual sense.

The Norse connection would be with the cognate Hamr. Within Norse literature we see examples of this concept through the “Hamför” or a journey outside of oneself and in the Havamal Odin claims to know spells to keep witches from returning to their “heim hama” or home skin. Essentially, the Hama is that which is spiritually surrounding us in a covering. Yet there is some contention due to one aspect – does the hama leave with the person during the Hamför or is it a trip away from the Hama? The concept of “heim hama” shows us that the Hama was seen as remaining behind when a person’s Ferþ leaves their Lic because the spells Odin speaks of would prevent a person from returning to their Hama. Lingistics also helps in this regard; the snake sheds its skin (Hama) and leaves. So too does the person leave their Hama behind during the Hamför. To complicate the matter, one has a shape within themselves which can change its shape while faring forth called the Hiw. The Hiw is likely an aspect of the Hama, the internal aspect almost like an imprinted shape of it. Yet the Hama itself is also internally connected as an aspect of the spirit and can impact the person.

An example of this is babies; babies grow within a hama, within a membrane. Yet some babies are born with a caul, a membrane which remains over their head during and after birth. This caul was widely considered a sign of luck for hundreds of years back across Europe. Beliefs surrounding this persisted to modern times because I remember my own grandmother remarking that my grandfather was not only lucky but also prescient due to being born with a caul. The caul is likely a manifestation of an aspect of the Hama and it somehow influences a person’s luck and abilities. In each of these usages we get closer to a spiritual idea of a hama.

It is my belief that the truth about the Hama lies somewhere in between these things. The Hama is yes, left behind, but material exists to say that it also has something to do with the journey itself. To reconcile this, it is likely that the Hama plays a role in connecting the person to their Lic so they may return properly.

If the Hama impacts a person throughout their life, what happens to it after death? It is possible that the Hama remains after a soul’s passing and that it may then form the basis for hauntings. This could also account for the split destination for a person’s spirit being alternatively the mound or the afterlife.

The Hiw:

While it is commonly considered within Norse heathenry that the Hamr is being used to shapeshift, in Anglo-Saxon the term for the shape which changes is called the Hiw while the Hama is that which is left behind. Shapeshifting as a concept was not unknown in Anglo-Saxon sources because the idea persisted in folktales as well as through such concepts as the Werewulf. This could be an external shift, but most likely applies to the same kind of spiritual shifting as is seen accomplished by Odin. In the Yngling Saga it is given most clearly in that Odin lies as if dead or asleep while his spirit fares forth and changes its shape at will. This shifting of the spiritual shape is known to the Anglo-Saxons as “hiwung”. The Hiw, rather than being a distinct part of the soul, is likely just the shape the Ferþ takes outside of the Hama and Lic or an extension of the Hama outside of the Lic. Given the connection with the Hama, it could be that the Hiw naturally takes the shape of the Hama it is connected with but that it is malleable in ways that the Hama is not.

The Ferþ (alternatively, the Mod):

The Ferþ (also spelled Ferhþ, Feorþ, Færþ) can be translated as the spirit or soul and this is the part of us which is most akin to what we think of when we think “soul”. However, this aspect of ourselves is itself composed of other parts. Furthermore, this is not the only term for this particular aspect of oneself. The Mod and the Ferþ are both synonymous terms for the spirit, the inner self. The Ferþ includes the Hyge and the Myne.

The Hyge:

The Hyge is the thinking, considering, and judging part of the mind. It is our mental capacity for thought. It is also the conscience, the part of us telling us to do or not to do something. It can further be translated as the heart because it is with the Hyge that the ancient heathens believed bravery and courage resided. The Hyge is a part of the Ferþ, the inner self. The Norse connection here is to Huginn, Odin’s raven that represents thought. However, the thinking here in this case is not mere thought because our modern words and understandings have shifted since that point. Thinking in this case is deeper, it is deciding as well.

The Myne:

The Myne is the memories of a person and their ability to recall them. It is a further part of the Ferþ. The obvious Norse connection here is with Munin, Odin’s raven that represents memory. While we had to divorce our modern thinking from the ancient when it came to the Hyge, the Myne is much closer to the modern idea of memory without any major overhaul.

Folgere (m) or Fylgestre (f):

In Norse literature we find the Fylgja, a spirit attached to oneself but not of oneself. This spirit is typically seen as a sort of protective guardian. While not specifically attested in Anglo-Saxon literature by that name, the cognates for the concept of a Fylgja in Old English would be Folgere (masculine) and Fylgestre (feminine); the term means follower. These have been attested often enough in Norse literature and are often spoken of within modern heathenry to warrant including at least as a brief mention. They are not a part of the soul, but instead appear to be an external kind of spiritual protection.

How this relates to you:

It is not likely to keep you awake at night wondering on the multifaceted nature of the soul. Our conscious minds are far too concerned with other matters usually. In this way, we are likely to think of ourselves in the awakened state in much the same way as this drawing. The Lic is us, we are the Lic, and the Hama could then be thought of as surrounding us in much the same way that some other beliefs have considered an “aura”. Yet if we stop there, we miss the entire point of this.

Parts of self awake

When we sleep and dream, when we go deep into our own thoughts, where do we go to? It is both a religious and philosophical question. However, one thing is absolutely certain. The Anglo-Saxons believed that dreams came from outside oneself. You only need peruse the medico-magical charms of the Anglo-Saxons to see and understand that for their beliefs dreams were external and carried weight and importance. Many charms exist for preventing malicious attacks of various natural and supernatural forces on sleep. One could become æfsiden, come under the spell of witches or even have dweorgas or a Mære attack a person. The Anglo-Saxons also believed in the concept of spiritual travel and even spiritual transformation as can be seen with the idea of the hiwung. This term as well as plenty of lore shows the idea of faring forth outside of oneself – be that in dreams or in other practices. So if people can leave their body, what goes and what stays?

parts of self faring forth

In this diagram we get into the basics a spirit faring forth as best as can be reckoned by my understanding. There is too much lore in Norse sources to discount the Hama being somehow linked to the spirit faring forth. Yet the linguistic link points more to it being left behind, especially at death. The common point could be that the Hama stretches between the two and this could be somewhat supported by the Havamal when Odin tells of a spell to befuddle witches out of returning to their heim-hama. The implication being that return would otherwise be automatic unless tampered with. The further aspect to this is that tampering with the process of faring forth is indeed possible which makes it dangerous. The writing also says the spell could keep them from their heim-huga or proper mind, which I would interpret as being the mind of the person they were before faring forth, their original sensibilities. If your Hyge can be tampered with and your Hama can be lost to you, the prospect of faring forth could be dangerous indeed.

There are aspects that show one could also willingly or unwillingly split their Hyge from themselves as well and lay it upon another. While this could be metaphorical of your thoughts dwelling on another, it likely should be taken more seriously.

Parts of the soul after death

Very likely the most influential and important time that this subject becomes important is upon death. Upon death the Ealdor leaves the body. At some point, the Ferþ leaves the body as well. The Ferþ likely doesn’t leave immediately because otherwise what would the point of grave goods be? The Anglo-Saxons gave grave goods of a votive and literal sense. Gifts of transportation such as a horse or a boat are key to this particular aspect because why would it matter unless some kind of journey is implied in the afterlife. Why would a person be given grave goods at all if their spirit would find no benefit of them after death? Because of this, I believe that the Ferþ waits at least until burial before they travel to the afterlife.

The Hiw and the Hama provide a point of interest. The Hiw could be a part of the Hama or simply the shape of the Ferþ, either way it is unlikely that the Ferþ would be shapeless after death so the Hiw continues on. However, the Hama is sloughed off and left behind when the Ferþ leaves. This distinctly spiritual part of a person lacks its memory and its personality; it is a shell of its former self. Yet it is also a part of the person. It almost certainly retains their form – having held the form for so long why should that change? However, deprived of Hyge and Myne, the Hama spirit is now unknowing.

There is a unique aspect to heathen belief – the ancient heathens held an afterlife in a different world in their beliefs as well as an afterlife in the mound. How can they have it both ways? The Hama remains tied to the person’s physical remains while the Ferþ travels to the afterlife. This would go a long way to explaining how elves and wights were seen to have been ancestors – if the Hama forgets who it is, what is to stop it from becoming a wight or an elf? It would be semi-human, somewhat recognizable, but in many ways inhuman. This could easily explain the often confused nature of how ghosts and spirits tend to be described. It would also explain what reasoning there might be to visit a grave and talk to or offer at the grave itself – to perhaps remind the spirit who they were and to ease them.

This is what is meant by a multi-part soul. The heathen will end up in more than one location as part of their afterlife. Their Hama will be bound to this earth while their Ferþ journeys to the afterlife.

Sources:

Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online” March 21, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/

Inguing, Wodgar. “Lārhūs Fyrnsida” Parts of the Self, Accessed January 23, 2018. https://larhusfyrnsida.com/parts-of-the-self/

Miller, Sean, trans. “Anglo-Saxons.net” The Hávamál, Accessed January 23, 2018. http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=get&type=text&id=Hav

Sturlson, Snorri. “Internet Sacred Text Archive” The Yngling Saga, Trans. Samuel Laing. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/02ynglga.htmTop of Form

Contradictory Thoughts

There is an unfortunate problem in paganism today. Not the glaring problems we are used to but a deep down simmering problem. Most of us are westerners having grown up steeped within western culture. One of the core tenets of western culture is logic, it has been with us since the days of the Greeks. Basically, we abhor contradiction; we cannot have contradiction because it grates on our logical minds. 

Yet this avoidance of contradiction is not something found in ancient pagan societies, just look at how many overlapping and contradictory myths survived from them. Furthermore, if you look eastward this prediliction against contradiction is not found in Asian societies during their development or even currently in many cases. Buddhism, for instance, actively embraces contradiction quite often. It is annerving from a logical western perspective to read too deeply into Hindu, Buddhist, or even Chinese philosophies because they each embrace contradictory ideas. When we come across these ideas we think “hypocritical!” Yet we shouldn’t because those societies actively embrace the concept that two contradictory thoughts can be equally true and valid.

The Germanic socieies were not always so rigidly logical, there was a time that acceptance of contradictory thoughts would have been quite ordiary. Logic and hate of contradiction had to spread to Germanic societies with Christianity. It was introduced with acceptable philosophers like Aristotle; picked up along the way via Rome. Iroically those lingering seeds of logic sown all the way back then would sprout again in the Renaissance. Until then you can see the Christian use of the hate for contradictions in how fully they kept a tight reign on orthodox thought. They went so far as to burn dissenting opinioned people. 

Yet this was not a part of our ancestor’s heathen world view and it is becoming incresingly difficult to maintain belief of any kind in an incresingly logcal world if merely due to our advancements. Logic pains us because our rational minds have a very difficult time wrestling the complexities of belief in the divine and in the mystical while understanding science. They are seemingly impossible to balance without losing something from one side or the other along the way if you attempt to reconcile them.

Either we lose out on belief or we lose out on rationality and logic. But is it truly either or? It wasn’t always this way and even today isn’t this way in many eastern philosophies and religions.

The thing we have to realize as westerners is that the rules against contradictions were invented by the Greeks for use in debate and truly should not be applied to our religion. Believing only in the mystical is foolish in today’s world, believing only in the scientific is hollow and empty. Reconciliation of the mystical and the scientific deprives us of both. It is time to embrace contradictions for our own sake, for our sanity. 

The logical mind wrestles the mystical mind in western philosophy. So can a person believe in the magical and the scientific? Yes. Without reconciliation of the two? Yes.

If we accept contradictory ideas we can hold them equally valid and true.
The gods can be mere cosmic forces AND be living breathing gods.
The universe can have come into existence in a big bang AND have been crafted by gods from the corpse of a primordial giant.
People can have evolved from other apes AND have been created from fallen trees.
The earth can be a lonely blue speck in space AND be a mystical realm among a host of others.
Magic can be superstitious mumbo jumbo AND be completely true.

Contradictions are not world shattering in ancient heathen philosophy. They can be figurative AND literal because there is the world we see with our eyes and the world we see in our sleep. The Buddhists for instance believe the world is an illusion but hold the illusion true for them in the moment. Both are true and contradictory and that is fine.

To see as one or the other would rob us of the missing one. We cannot live solely in the literal nor in the figurative, we must have both for us to be functional and productive members of modern society and for ourselves in pagan belief.

Basically there is no reason that we should deny the mystical or the scientific; when the world requires science then apply the science, when the world requires the mystical or metaphysical then apply that.

I live a contradiction because it is what must be for my mind to function, contradictions are acceptable and necessary and this is alright. 

What they didn’t tell me about the solar eclipse.

People in ancient times wouldn’t have stared at the sun during an eclipse because there would be nothing to see. They would have only looked up for totality when the eclipse became visible. Without solar eclipse glasses the partially eclipsed sun looks completely round and fully as bright as a normal sun. The ambient light reduces in the surrounding sky but the sun itself remains bright and doesn’t look like anything is amiss. Leading up to the eclipse the sky took on the same sort of cloudy glow you get before a thunderstorm or a wind storm; it was the only real indication anything different was happening. In short, you cannot see the partial eclipse at all through the naked eye. The implication of this is that in ancient times people wouldn’t have seen the eclipse unless they were directly underneath its shadow. For those few minutes of totality it probably would have seemed like the world was ending. One minute the light is all stormy looking but the sun looks normal, the next the sun has completely disappeared and the world plunged into darkness being replaced by a pure white ring of glowing fibers. I knew it was coming because I had the exact timing, I had eclipse glasses to see the shadow transit, I had all the benefits and luxuries of modern science and it still knocked me to my knees when the sun disappeared. I felt the awe, I felt the terror, I was unprepared for the experience despite knowing what I was going to see. 
Knowing exactly what I was going to see did not prepare me to see it. There has never been a picture that I’ve seen of the corona that captured what it looked like in that moment. It was crisp, sharp, every strand visible. Pictures are a blury, glowing mess in comparison.

It was dark, but twilight dark and not pitch dark. There is a giant glowing white corona in the sky that is brighter than a full moon. It is dark enough to confuse animals but plenty light enough to see. I saw a bat, it was dark enough for the bat to come out but it was light enough to see the bat. Stars come out, but it’s the bright ones; you won’t be looking at the stars though anyway because you’ll be busy looking at the eclipse.

A partial eclipse is a cool bit of science when viewed with the glasses, totality is a full on religious experience straight out of ancient times.