Issues with Ancestor Worship

I want to talk about worship today. Heathens have a lot of different ways of worshipping. Some heathens are intensely devoted to one of the pantheonic deities. Some are involved with the whole pantheon, but not one deity in particular. Some worship local spirits such as the landwights. Some worship their ancestors. Whatever their focus, for most heathens, worship is a matter of paying respect to, learning from, sacrificing for, becoming empowered by, and doing the work of the focus of their worship. A lot has been written about the gods and the landwights in heathen worship, but not enough has been written about ancestor worship. And, because it needs to be, that’s what I’m going to do today.

Ancestor worship is not a huge part of my religious life. My ancestors were, for the most part, rather unpleasant people. Horse thieves, murderers, bank robbers, treasonous Confederate guerillas like Quantrill’s Raiders, and genocidal maniacs like Charlemagne. But there have been some admirable ones too, including engineers on the Apollo 11, a volunteer with the Flying Tigers, explorers, mystics, and artists. So I have always included an element of ancestor worship in my own practices. It was not easy for young me to figure out the proper way to do it, faced with such a, shall we say, mixed bag. And as I was a young heathen in the early 90s, there was not a lot of guidance on the subject, for heathenry was much smaller and more underground in those days.

After much thinking, especially about what the Nine Noble Virtues indicated, I decided on some things. From what I could see of heathen ancestor worship in those days, I did not like the two dominant approaches to this problem. One way heathens of the day took was to just decide that everything their ancestors did was worthy of respect and praise, and to define their sense of right and wrong in a way that allowed them to feel pride about everything their ancestors did, no matter what it was. I have always had contempt for people who went this route. Defining your sense of right and wrong entirely so that it makes you feel good and prideful is pathetic, the act of a lazy narcissist with only a tangential relationship with reality. This is the route favored by Folkies, white supremacists, and douchebags everywhere.

The other common solution was to pick and choose which ancestors were honored, hailing and taking pride in the best and pretending the rest did not exist. This whitewashing of one’s family history seemed dishonest and irresponsible to me. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel honesty. This way is not honest. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel courage, and standing up to do what is right even when it is difficult to do so. This approach is cowardly. The Nine Noble Virtues counsel industry. This approach is lazy.

Instead, it seemed to me that if I was going to take any pride in the good parts of my ancestry, I must also take a measure of responsibility for the bad parts. If I want the counsel and spiritual energy of my ancestors, my family orlog, I must take on ALL of my inheritance. I must pay for the gift I receive from my ancestors by paying a part of their debts.

Of course, ignoring my ancestors altogether seemed a valid approach too. No reason why a person should be in any way responsible for the debts of their ancestors, BUT, if that’s the approach you want to take, then you have no right to go feeling pride in your ancestors, or praising them at sumbel.

So when the rites of remembrance come around, I not only hail and speak the deeds of my honorable and praiseworthy ancestors, I also raise the horn to the bad ones, and speak against them. I praise the worthy qualities of my dead, abusive father and also speak contemptuously of his weakness and violence. I praise the cleverness and freedom of my bank robbing Old West kin and also denounce their evil ways and the harm they caused. I acknowledge the power and conquests of Charlemagne, and also pour out the rest of horn I raised to him, a grave discourtesy and insult, because of his genocidal ways. I hail all of my ancestors. I even have a small bead basket from a tourist trap in Kenya on my ancestor altar, because it was made near the Olduvai Gorge, where the human species evolved, so it is a way of bringing my mind to focus on ALL of my ancestors, going all the way back.

This approach has consequences in my day to day life, as well. Sometimes, when it is hard to do the right thing and nobody will ever know if I don’t, I remember my grandfather who crossed the sea to go protect China from the Japanese invasion by signing on with the Flying Tigers, risking his life to help people who were not his people when nothing in the world was forcing him to do so, and I draw strength and resolve from him. When living in poverty becomes difficult, I recall the wild and free lives of my outlaw ancestors, and draw strength from them.

And this approach also means that when I have seen Folkie jerks trying to drive newcomers off of heathen forums because they were not 100% white, I had to step up and speak up for the newcomers, and argue with a bunch of jackasses about how the old lore does not in fact support their racist bullshit and actually opposes it, despite how very much I hate wasting my time arguing with halfwits. My approach means that whenever an important matter affecting disadvantaged people came to the vote, I took the time to go vote despite being an anarchist who tries not to vote as a matter of principle. My ancestors who rode with Quantrill’s Raiders have a debt to pay, so this seems an appropriate way of paying part of that debt.

And that, Gentle Reader, is what real ancestor worship means. If you want to draw pride, wisdom, and strength from your ancestors, you have a right to. That is what orlog means. But with that right comes a responsibility, and the requirement sometimes to make sacrifices and be courageous. Thinking badly of those of my ancestors who were bad people does not require me to think badly of myself. I can take pride in the good parts of my ancestry not despite the bad parts, but because I recognize which parts are bad and work to oppose them.

Morality, This World, and the Next

Some years ago I wrote a post about the heathen concept of morality. I was always dissatisfied with it, and felt I should have developed it more. Recently, I have done so.

Heathenry is unusual amongst modern religions in that it does not offer anything like a “meaning of life.” The gods do not really have a greater purpose for us, nor is there anything like a “divine plan.” The gods created us, not because they wanted us to do something in particular, but because creating life is something that gods do. They have standards of behavior that they approve of, and things that they disapprove of, but they do not give humankind a code of morality that they are expected to live by regardless of the real world circumstances they face. They are willing and sometimes eager to help us better ourselves, but they do not reward or punish based on who and what we are.

This no doubt sounds odd and even disturbing to the followers of more mainstream modern religions. These religions tend to see morality as something with a divine origin, forced onto an unwilling and amoral humanity from above. “Without divinely-given moral codes,” they argue, “people will fall into chaotic, evil, amoral behavior.” “And without fear of divine judgment,” some of them add, “there is nothing to make people engage in good behavior.“ Such a lack of divine meaning, purpose, and guidance, these people believe, means that there is no meaning or purpose in life. It leads to nihilism, they say, and to personal lives, families, and civilization itself falling apart.

There are some problems with this view, however. When a religion is centered around a god offering rewards in the next life in exchange for suffering in this one, it incentivizes people to live for the next world, and to abandon this world. It leads to a toleration of suffering and evil because of the expectation that everything will be made right in the next world. When good behavior is motivated solely by fear, it is not really goodness. It is just an imitation of goodness, an act with no more meaning than the tricks of a dog who expects a treat for performing them well, or who fears a beating for failing to do so. This kind of worldview encourages people to be false, and dishonest. It also encourages them to do no real work on their character or understanding of morality, because a premium is placed on the appearance of goodness rather than truly being good. It encourages a mindset that does not like taking risks, preferring security and comfort instead. It encourages a dissatisfaction with physical life, as the attention is turned to the next life. It promotes an attitude of intolerance, and preoccupation with appearance over substance.

When people who are raised in such an environment lose their religious faith, the worldview that faith gave them must inevitably turn toward nihilism of a most unhealthy sort. If some god was the only basis for morality and you no longer believe in or follow that god, then there must really be no morality after all, and no real good or evil. The belief in divinely-appointed morality and divine judgment set up exactly this kind of black and white dichotomy.

The heathen gods show us a more nuanced view of the world, however, and I think that this is one of the greatest strengths of the heathen religion. The gods constantly fight against the forces of chaos and destruction as personified in many jotnar and wights such as the Fenris wolf and the Midgard Serpent even though the gods know that they will eventually and inevitably be defeated by them at Ragnarok. Despite knowing that they and the universe are doomed, and that ultimately nothing that they or that anyone else does will matter, they fight anyways. They know that it is better to keep struggling to win than it is to surrender. They do not see a higher purpose, yet they do not surrender to despair or nihilism.

Instead, they go the route of what is sometimes termed anti-nihilism. They know how cynical and pointless and cruel the world is, and decide that that means they have to create their own meaning and values and to stick to them tenaciously, heroically, no matter the odds. They know how pointless and unrewarding life would be if you didn’t.

And, by example, they teach us to do the same.

We heathens, because we do not bother with divine codes of good and evil, concern ourselves with much more practical considerations when it comes to making moral decisions. We have a single, simple, utilitarian standard to apply: who does the proposed action help, and who does it hurt?

This single standard makes for some very interesting consequences. For one thing, it makes people be concerned with the real life consequences of their actions. It makes them have to try to do genuinely helpful things or at least avoid genuinely harmful things. This standard does not allow for any moral weaseling of the sort that divine codes of good and evil do. It does not allow one person to harm another with the excuse that it is for his own, ultimate good as determined by some alien, divine code of behavior. The harm cannot be counterbalanced by some greater good that will supposedly be done someday, in the future, in another life and another world. It encourages us to care about THIS world, and the real things that happen to real people.

The other thing that this utilitarian heathen standard does is encourage the creation of an individual set of values, by each and every one of us. Because values do not objectively exist, the determination of how to judge help and harm can only be made by a person who has created their own system of values. This encourages intellectual engagement with the world, and with philosophy, and the higher functions of the mind. It encourages the development of a sense of personal responsibility. This can lead to a much stronger society, one that is engaged with the world instead of withdrawn from it, one that is concerned with personal development, one that has a strong sense of personal responsibility. It can lead to a society that is fully and vibrantly alive, instead of waiting until after death to start truly living.

This is the most significant gift that I think that heathenry has to offer the larger world around us. An approach to morality, values, and meaning that is grounded in this world.

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Now for the necessary disclosures. Those who paid attention in, or took, philosophy class will recognize that some of what I write above is similar to Nietzsche[i]’s ideas about morality, the Ubermensch[ii], and the Last Man. That is because I also took philosophy in college, and inevitably read Thus Spake Zarathustra. I did indeed find myself influenced by some of his ideas. Our religion is a reconstruction. The ancients, thanks to their stupid oral traditions, did not leave a lot of their beliefs or philosophy explained for us. So we modern heathens have to interpret the fragments we have in terms of our modern understandings, and this is how I interpret them. I think the similarity is not solely due to that, however. Nietzsche was a German philosopher whose thoughts sprang from a tradition of beliefs that is distantly rooted in the ancient heathen ones. It makes sense that the ancient beliefs would find a good expression there in some ways.

Here are the lessons I have learned from the example the gods have set, and from understanding that there is no objective meaning or purpose to life, and no objective morality:

  • There is no point in clinging to pain. Let it go when you can.
  • Don’t fear loss and pain. They are unavoidable. Use them.
  • Don’t always take the easy way.
  • Accept things as they really are, and do not try to fool yourself into believing either wishful thinking or pointless pessimism.
  • Enjoy good things when they come your way.
  • Don’t cling to good things when they pass from you. It just leads to more pain.
  • Endure suffering when circumstances make you suffer. Don’t whine about it, even to yourself. Use it.
  • Is it a big deal? No, it almost never is, really.
  • Be selfless when you can. Things are more pleasant all the way around that way.
  • Be fair and just, but temper those things with kindness. No particular reason why you should, objectively, but subjective counts for a lot. Why not try to make the world a better place?
  • Never expect a reward. You probably won’t get one anyway, so why be petty and set yourself up for disappointment? Instead, learn to get value out of your own good deeds, for yourself.
  • Try not to be an enormous #^%$#. The world’s unpleasant enough as it is. Why make it any worse?

These ideas seem no worse to me than anything commanded by one of the divine-fiat religions. The heathen gods have taught me to think for myself, and to make my own rules. They have taught me that there is no real meaning or point to life, and they have also taught that that just means that I am free to make up my own. After all, if there is no objective meaning to anything, then any meaning you can come up with is at least no more invalid than any other.

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[i] No, Nietzsche was not a Nazi. The Nazis tried to pervert his message to their own ends, but he is actually on record as saying that, if it were up to him, he would have all anti-Semites rounded up and shot.

[ii] Bonus nerdy digression: Well, it is really only sort of similar to his concept of the Ubermensch. He did indeed believe that the Ubermensch would reject divinely inspired morality and concern with the next world, and create their own system of values that would be concerned with bettering the physical world. However, he seems to have believed that the Ubermensch would be a singular being, a person who not only did these things but had such a connection with the rest of society that he could transform it.

Extra bonus nerdy digression: Then again, you could interpret all that stuff he wrote about eternal recurrence as meaning that the Ubermensch was simply an ideal or template that, in a perfect society, everybody would follow. I dunno. I long ago gave up pretending that I really understood Nietzsche.

I mean, the guy’s writing was pretty freaking rambling and incoherent.

A Temple in Iceland

Well, it looks like the Folkie Fool Brigade is at it again. This time, they’re going after Icelandic heathens. The Icelandic heathen group Ásatrúarfélagið has recently announced plans to build a temple in Rekjavik. To true heathens, this sign of our people’s resurgence in the modern world is a reason to celebrate. A bunch of Folkies in America and Germany, however, have seen it as an opportunity to show the world what incredible douchebags they are.

You see, Ásatrúarfélagið seems to actually try to practice their religion. You know, be actively involved in the world and address modern issues informed by the wisdom of the gods and the ancients. As such, they are outspoken proponents of LGBT rights, and they have also come out against animal sacrifice. Both things seem to have upset the Folkies, who are far more concerned with trying to control other people’s private lives and fighting a lost culture war than actually being heathen. In a vain attempt to make themselves the Popes of the heathen world, they have threatened to come to the new Icelandic temple and vandalize it if the Icelandic heathens don’t start doing what the Folkies tell them.

So I wish to publically reach out to the Icelandic heathens and wish them well in their dealings with these fools. I wish them to know that real American heathens are not like this. We simply go about our business of living our own lives and practicing our own faith. I wish to explain to them who these people really are. They are not heathens. They are not even religious. They are a sad bunch of socially conservative hatemongers who are terrified of the progressive changes that modern culture over here has been experiencing. They have merely hijacked the symbols of our faith to use as a rallying point for their dying cause.

Good luck building your new temple, my brothers and sisters. Wes thu hal.

Journal Article Published

I recently got an article published in Walking the Worlds, an academic journal of polytheism and related issues. This issue was about building regional cultus in a modern context. That is to say, about how polytheistic religions change from place to place to incorporate local religious foci. Ancient polytheistic religions such as heathenry often had different local deities for different lands and even for different towns. Every article in this issue discusses how such practices fit into modern polytheistic religions.

My article discusses how the ancient heathens incorporated local sacred rocks, trees, and spirits into their religious practices. It describes the modern local cult that has grown up around the Lobsterman statue in Portland Maine, and how it has been incorporated into local polytheistic worship.

The issue is also filled with a lot of other great articles by renowned pagan authors. To order individual issues or subscribe to the journal, go to their website.

Getting Started

When I first came to the heathen path, some twenty years ago, it was very difficult to know how to get started. Back then, before the Internet was much of a thing, you had to search the local bookstores and hope you got lucky if you wanted to find any useful information at all. You might be fortunate enough to find a local group of pagans that included another heathen, if you lived in the right area, but this was probably too much to hope for. Many heathens back then had to make their way on their own, without much guidance from others or from quality books. (Thanks to Llewellyn Press, there were unfortunately a lot of useless and worse than useless books, though.)

Today, things are much better. There are a lot of resources online. There are many heathen groups that modern heathens can go to for help. That does not always make it easy for new heathens to know how to get started, though, because there are now so many voices that it can be difficult to know who to listen to. To help with this problem, I will share here the way I got started on the heathen path.

  • Read the primary sources, the Eddas and the Sagas. These are the oldest written records of what the ancients believed, so they are the best source for understanding the ancient ways. No amount of reading what other people have to say about these works will tell you as much. If you can, read multiple translations, to get a better sense of the original meanings. You must also remember: these stories were recorded by Christian scribes. While they were attempting to preserve a historical record of a vanishing era, there were parts of heathenry they liked, and parts they didn’t like. Because of this, they skipped a lot of things, like goddess lore. What we have left are more the beliefs of the ancient heathen warrior caste rather than the entirety of ancient heathen belief. Helpful hint: read the Hollander translation of the Poetic Edda. It not only retains the original meanings best, it keeps to the ancient poetic form pretty closely too.
  • Pray often. Nothing will bring your mind and spirit closer to the gods than regular prayer. Begin each day with the prayer from the Sigrdrifumal, that begins “Hail the day, hail day’s sons….” Make the sign of the Hammer over every meal, and say “Hammer, please hallow this food to my might.” This is an ancient blessing. Make the sign of the valknut over alcoholic drinks. This is a more modern blessing, but it fits.
  • Make a traditional altar. The ancients used piles of stones for altars, and poured offerings over them. River stones would be most appropriate.
  • If you are devoted to a particular god, do work that advances the god’s goals. An Odinist might write poetry, for example, or practice the martial arts, or join the armed forces. Someone devoted to Bertha or Perchta might weave.

Just following these practices is a good start. After a couple of years of such practices, you should start developing an idea of how to go further.

Wes thu hal. May the gods bless you.

The Real Vikings

Vikings: giant, hairy manly men who rarely bathed and made most of their money by raiding other countries. The society of the Vikings was a heavily male dominated one that was heavily insular, worshipped strength and viciousness above all else. It was a society where might made right, manners were unheard of, and intellectuals were derided as wusses. Right?

Wrong, actually. Dead wrong. About as far from the truth as it is possible to get, as a matter of fact. The picture painted above describes only the modern, popular culture image of Vikings, made by people who never cracked open a history book in their lives, but did read a lot of comic books and pulp fiction. The real Vikings were far more complex and interesting than that. They were also surprisingly modern in many ways.

To start with, Viking men were peacocks. They wore fancy, bright colored clothing and covered themselves in jewelry. They bathed a lot by European standards of the time. They combed their hair and styled it. They styled their beards too. In fact, hair styling was so important to Viking men that combs are a very common find in their graves. Can’t go to the next world with messy hair! Viking women tended to be much more plainly dressed, and not as given to ornamentation. The men were definitely the display gender.

Vikings only rarely went viking, or pirating, which is what the word means. The Viking Period was actually only a tiny fraction of the history of the people commonly called Vikings. Even at the height of the Viking Period, most Viking nations made 60% or more of their income from the manufacture and export of textiles. That’s right: not only were the Viking economies never driven by Viking raids, they were actually mostly driven by women. Most of the time, Viking men preferred to farm. Raiding was only undertaken under desperate circumstances, when the crops and economy were so bad that their families might starve. As soon as there was any other choice, they stopped raiding. Although all men and most women were expected to know how to fight, most men were not warriors.

In fact, not only were the Viking economies dominated by women, by their societies tended to have a strong feminist bent. Nowhere in the ancient world were the rights for each gender nearly equal. Make no mistake, they were still tilted in favor of men, but women were closer to achieving full social equality with the Vikings than with any other ancient culture. They had absolute right of divorce, could own property, lead families, and even serve in government. In the home, a wife had more authority than her husband, at least theoretically, by custom. Women were actually considered to be inherently more in touch with the spiritual than men, and were often highly influential as advisers and prophets. The female deities were actually seen as stronger and more capable than the male deities in many ways. Every time Odin goes up against the will of Frigga, for instance, he loses, for all that he is the god of victory. It is from goddesses and human women that Odin gains the bulk of his power and knowledge, not from other males. If one of the gods wants to be able to fly, they must go to a goddess, Freya, for that power. If they want to keep their immortality, they must receive it from Idunn, another goddess.

Why, then, are modern images and stories of the Vikings and their gods so dominated by warrior-themed, male oriented stories? Simple: the stories were recorded by Christians. The Viking traditions were oral. The only reason we have anything written down is because of Christian scribes, after the Vikings were conquered. The heavily patriarchal Christians particularly hated the goddess lore, and stories centered around women, so they simply didn’t write much of that down. All we have left now are fragments and hints of the original, much wider body of lore, but what we do have points to a much more gender-balanced picture.

Nor was Viking society insular. Popular depictions of the Vikings show them cut off from the rest of the world, stuck largely in their own. Many ill-educated people, particularly Folkies, even depict this supposed isolation as being the result of a powerful cultural racism. This picture, however, does not match what history shows us. The Vikings had colonies as far off as North America and Africa. They had trade relations with Greece. They, as mentioned above, made most of their money from trade with other nations. They were actually a well traveled people.

And not only were they well traveled, they were in many ways downright cosmopolitan. They were well aware of other religions, other ways of looking at the world, and they loved them. Real Vikings enjoyed the experience of interacting even with cultures radically different from their own, and adapting elements of those cultures that they took a liking to. One Viking king put “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet,” on all of his coins, in Arabic. He was not a Muslim, but he did have trade relationships with Muslim nations, and admired their culture so much that he wanted to imitate some of the trappings of that culture. Upon meeting the Greeks, there is reason to suspect that they adopted major aspects of Greek religion, including changing their male deity of fate to three female deities, like the Greek Fates. Upon encountering the Romans, they adopted many of their titles and forms of government. Bronze Age Denmark was the social and artistic capital of the known world.

This cosmopolitan attitude toward the world was reflected in Viking philosophy. They adopted a remarkably rational perspective about religion and human knowledge. The Vikings saw the world as vast and mysterious, and did not seem to think that any one person, or any group of people either, for that matter, could have absolute knowledge of The Truth. They did not view their religion as the result of divine revelation. They did not assume that it accurately described the whole of the world. They conducted their affairs like they believed that other people, other religions, other ways of looking at the world, were also potentially valid. They knew theirs was not the only way. Not only did they adopt elements of other religions, they would even take part in foreign religious ceremonies when traveling to other lands. This practice was so extensive that the early Catholic Church even had a special rite, called Prime Signing, that allowed visiting heathens to go to Church when in Christian lands.

In some ways, the Vikings were so open minded and accepting in their world view that they even make modern nations look backward and repressive by comparison. Archaeologists in England have found a statue of a one-eyed god, clearly Odin, with both male and female genitals. Although modern Western nations are only just beginning to address issues of transsexuality, the ancient Vikings were comfortable enough with it that they ascribed a transsexual nature to their chief god. This does not mean, by the way, that the Vikings were completely accepting of trans people, or homosexuals, or other non-standard forms of sexuality and gender identity. They still had their issues. They were, however, comfortable enough with them to have an open and recognized place for them in their world view.

The Vikings were a truly fascinating people. The world has changed a lot since their day, and heathenry itself is in many ways a completely different thing. But still, were an ancient Viking somehow brought forward to this day, he would not entirely find himself a fish out of water.

We Have To Have Standards

Right-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I value other religious and spiritual traditions, and many different points of view about our own traditions. Left-wing leaning heathens tend to hate me because I insist on maintaining standards, and not automatically putting every other belief on par with my own. Certain perennial debates have recently surfaced again in the larger pagan community, leading me to think that it’s time to remind the more strident and knee-jerk left-wing types why they dislike me.

We need standards, people. I respect that everyone has the right to their own beliefs and opinions. I believe that even beliefs and practices that I personally find ridiculous can contain genuine worth and even insight. These things do not, however, mean that all beliefs and practices are themselves worthy of my respect. I have a right to my own beliefs and opinions too, including the opinion that this or that idea is really freaking stupid. People have the right to believe any damnfool thing they want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend it isn’t a damnfool thing to believe.

There is a fair amount of mysticism of one sort or another in the heathen community. Seidh workers, berserkers, thules, godhis, and more practice some sort of communion with the gods or lesser spirits. Many private devotees experience a divine presence in prayer, or have their prayers answered through omens or revelatory experience. This is, after all, where the concept of the UPG (Unusual Personal Gnosis) comes from. This is a good thing. The ancients were a very spiritually oriented people, and wide embracing of the spiritual in daily life means that we are finding their ways again.

This does NOT, however, mean that any and every claim of mystical experience should be given equal weight. Any and every culture that uses a spiritual practice of one sort or another has very strict standards about what did and did not qualify as a genuine mystical experience. We need such standards as well. Because frankly, we’re drowning in drivel. So let me here offer what I think are a reasonable set of standards, mostly cribbed from those of traditional mystically-oriented cultures and supplemented by my own experience.

How To Spot Fake Mysticism

1) Actual historical mystics have experiences of speaking to gods, visiting other spiritual realms, and communing with spirits only after years and years of difficult, rigorous, and even dangerous training. Did you learn to travel to Asgard after a weekend seminar? You’re a fake. Did you set yourself up as a seidh-worker after a week-long intensive? Then you’re full of $&!^. Have you been studying out of Llewelyn books on your own for a year now? You may have some talent, but you don’t have the skills to be claiming anything, Buddy.

Yeah, yeah, there are powerful natural talents who don’t need training. But such people are VERY RARE. They are the Van Goghs of the spirit-worker world. You seriously claiming you are THAT good? Ha. And double ha.

Look at Vodoun. Vodouisants regularly have spirit-possession experiences. However, not every devotee has one, and even then, it is considered only to be possible with large, well-trained groups working in unison. Are you seriously trying to claim that you alone are more powerful and knowledgeable than every Vodouisant ever? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

2) Actual historical mystics, even the powerful and talented ones, have such experiences only rarely. The Buddha is held to have been visited by a particular god THREE TIMES in his entire life. And this was taken as proof of the Buddha’s great spiritual power and enlightenment. Even when everything is set up just right in a Vodoun ritual, even highly experienced horses cannot expect regular experiences. Even the greatest of heathen heroes have been visited by their gods only a few times in their lives.

Do you claim that you are more enlightened than the Buddha? Do you expect us to believe that you are more talented than each and every Vodouisant in the world? You think you are so much more awesome even than Sigurd the Volsung that Odin is in your social circle? Go away child, grown-ups are talking.

If you claim your practice lets you speak to the gods at will, if you blog about your spirits sitting down to watch TV with you every night, if you claim to get infallible answers from the Outgarths at will, then you are a fake. You are impeding both heathen progress and the overall progress of the human race.

3) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is THE gold standard of every traditional spiritual practice ever. Including ancient heathenry.

The ancient berserks claimed to become possessed by spirits under certain extraordinary circumstances. Not just anybody could demand that their claim to being a berserk be taken seriously, though. They had to demonstrate enhanced strength, reflexes, and combat ability. They had to demonstrate GENUINE fearlessness (think about what that meant to a Viking). They often had to perform extraordinary feats, such as fire resistance.

Seidh workers couldn’t just claim the honor of the title, they had to produce results. As in, actual relevant answers to questions, solutions to problems, etc.

Vodouisant horses claiming to be ridden, or possessed, have to demonstrate the actual presence of one of the lwa. After all, a god should be able to demonstrate miracles, so a claim of possession is only validated when the ridden one chews glass, resists fire, has hot pepper extract blown into the eyes without flinching, etc.

Tibetan Bon shamans have to demonstrate such feats as drying wet towels draped around their bodies while naked in the snow in sub-zero temperatures using only body heat.

You say you talk to the gods? Prove it. Put up or shut up. A person who claims such advanced spiritual powers and knowledge can back those claims up with actions. A person who can’t is a fraud, a buffoon, or both.

4) Actual successful spirit work requires constant practice. The mental state that is required is not at all easy to get into, even with a lot of experience. It requires maintenance with serious, regular devotional practices that involve a lot of time and effort. One sure-fire way to spot a fake mystic is if they have the free time to post daily blog entries about themselves and their supposed spirit work, or if their spirit work consists of watching TV while thinking earnestly about them. If you have such abundant free time then you probably aren’t doing it right.

5) If the gods look and act exactly like you expect them to, and if they reinforce the things you have already decided to believe, you are not having spiritual experiences. What you are experiencing is called “the imagination,” and everyone can do it.

Real mystic experiences are transcendental. They leave you in tears, or laughing maniacally, or passing out from the sheer overwhelming SUCHNESS of everything. They blow your preconceptions away. They force you to see things as they are whether you want to or not, and they constantly challenge your beliefs about yourself, the world, and the nature of the gods themselves.

6) Do you talk constantly about your experiences? Do you constantly demand validation of your experiences from others? You’ve had no experiences. The true spiritual experience is powerful and personal, and the person experiencing it almost never feels like sharing it. It is far too personal, and difficult to put into words. A person who has had a genuine spiritual experience KNOWS it, and does not seek to have everyone affirm that it was genuine.

7) Anyone who has become a god-spouse to Loki shortly after one of the Marvel Thor or Avengers movies has come out is a fake. This also applies to any other works of popular fiction that use names or images of gods and spirits.

It is possible for someone to hear The Call through such a medium, yes. But it is not bloody likely. In general, such characters are fictional characters used to tell a story. They usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual god or spirit portrayed.

Look at Marvel Loki. He has NOTHING in common with the actual Loki from the ancient stories. Marvel Loki goes into a lovely hammy speech about the evils of freedom. Actual Loki is all about freedom. He may even be THE god of freedom. Marvel Loki betrays his kin. Actual Loki pranks his kin and betrays outsiders, but does not betray kin who have not betrayed him first. Marvel Loki is an enemy of Asgard, actual Loki is an agent of Asgard. So to all you Marvel-inspired Loki spouses: you don’t know a thing about Loki.

We need to have standards when it comes to spiritual experiences in this religion. If we don’t then the traditional ways of personal and spiritual development will be hijacked by people who are deluding themselves, lying, or even essentially LARPING. There is a lot of value in the old ways, the spiritual approach to life. Anyone can benefit from it, anyone can take up the spiritual path. However, not everyone will succeed. Worth proves itself. Heathens believe that deeds are more important than words. Those who genuinely have something of worth to add to our spiritual lore will prove it. Those who will not are not worth listening to.

Post Script

And speaking of standards, I wish to add a word here about religious standards apart from spiritual practices. Not everybody who says they practice our religion does. We need to be open to other beliefs, other points of view, yes. But if these points of view are radically different from the traditional ones, then they are not representative of traditional beliefs. Humanist heathens, and chaos magicians, and especially xaos magicians, are not heathen. They believe that they can believe anything they like about the gods and heathen ideals. They believe that worshipping the gods is nothing more than building up thoughtforms in the head. These people will, for instance, worship Marvel Thor and demand to be taken seriously by traditional heathens.

They have a right to their beliefs. It is a valid enough spiritual tradition of its own. However, it is essentially atheist, and not in any way heathen. They are free to use our images and names, they are part of their heritage too. But this does not mean that they have the right to be considered actual heathens.

Frith and Faith

My grandmother recently passed away after a long battle with a variety of illnesses. As a devout Lutheran she disapproved of pretty much everything I believe and do, but was respectful and classy enough to keep it to herself. As I am 3,000 miles away from her funeral and wake, I wanted to hold a minni for her. (In case you are not heathen, the minni is the rite of remembrance, something like a religious ritual and a wake combined.)

This presented me with something of a dilemma. I had spent the last few years living with her and helping to look after her, and wanted to do something to honor her and find closure on that chapter of my life. However, she would not want heathen prayers said for her, the intercession of a heathen divinity, or any suggestion that she might even theoretically be involved with such things.

So I compromised. I did not ask for Odin to ferry her safely to the other side. I did not ask any heathen god to bless her. I did hallow the ritual space by the Hammer, and asked Odin’s blessing over the ritual drink. Then I offered my grandmother traditional toasts, speaking memories of her life and the ways she had affected me, such as introducing me to the runes.

It is a strength of the heathen religion that we can respectfully accommodate other religions, other views of the world, while remaining true to our own. During our time together I often had to alter my practices or my speech in order to accomodate her beliefs. Just as she did, in her own way, for me. It was not an imposition, it was a matter of respect, of frith. Wes thu hal, Mimi.

Odinic Mysticism

I have been an Odinist for decades now. In that time I have often approached the Old Man for guidance in my spiritual development. Although mysticism is often frowned on in the modern heathen revival, it has always had a place in both the ancient and modern versions of the religion.

Let me take a moment here to give my definition of the word, as it is tossed around far too often for far too many different purposes. In addition to the mysterious union and the ecstatic experience, which is a whole topic itself, I believe that mysticism is a science, devoted to the analysis of the inner self, the subconscious and preconscious minds, and how these matters apply to behavior. It is designed to optimize the inner self, in order to bring a wide array of benefits. For one thing, the self knowledge that it brings can cure or ameliorate many psychological illnesses. It can change a person’s instinctive reactions so that they handle most situations much better than they normally would, maximizing the gain they get out of every situation. It helps a person approach even great pain and loss with equilibrium, and it minimizes suffering. It can improve physical health and speed healing times. It can improve physical capacities, increasing the effective strength that a person can use, via greater muscular coordination and hormonal changes. It can improve reaction speed and hand-eye coordination. And much more.

Of course, almost all knowledge of ancient heathen mysticism was lost during the Conversion. Stupid oral traditions. Fortunately, though, as mysticism is a science it can be approached via the scientific method. Meaning that simply observing myself, forming hypotheses as to why or how my inner mind was working, and then testing those hypotheses would carry me a great way. The few hints from the ancients we do still have served as touchstones. I freely studied every other mystic tradition the modern world had to offer. And I asked Odin to guide these pursuits. The result has been of great benefit to me, so I will here try to summarize, very briefly, the things that I have learned over the years.

The ultimate purpose of the mystic’s path is to develop the shift in perspective necessary for awakening the Svipal-self. Svipal, one of Odin’s names, means “changeable,” and the person who has awoken the Svipal-self has no permanent self or personality in the sense that most people understand those terms.

Of course, there is a lot of simplifying going on there. The idea of “awakening the Svipal-self” is not really correct. It’s something of a lie. But it’s a very good lie, and conveys more accurate information than trying to describe it truthfully would, as that would require dozens of pages. You see, the thing is, the Svipal-self is never asleep. You can never be separated from it. It is present in everything you do and think.

The Svipal-self is the original mind, the mind as it was before dualistic, conceptual thinking began. In other word, it is the basement level of the mind that lies deeper than the part that thinks in terms of things as being “this and not that.” It sees things as they are, without naming them, without being limited to a single point of view concerning them. The Svipal-self does not follow after feelings or thoughts, trying to hold onto them. The Svipal-self does not reject feelings or thoughts, trying to push them away. Instead, the Svipal-self allows feelings and thoughts to arise naturally, develop naturally, and pass away naturally, without interference. The Svipal-self is pure observation. It is the Odinic nature that everyone carries within them. Like Odin on the High Seat, nothing is hidden from the sight of the Svipal-self.

It is unfortunately very easy to be mistaken about the Svipal-self, though. Many people confuse it with the ego, the image of the self that everyone carries around in their own heads. However, the ego is not the true self, it is just a map. The map is not the territory, it is just a map. The ego is the product of discriminatory, conceptual thinking. The ego is this, and not that. It is the product of a limited perspective. Paying too much attention to it will produce only delusional thinking. Because of this, it is necessary to absorb certain lessons, to break the habits of thought that lead to such confusion. In this sense the concept of “awakening the Svipal-self” is an accurate depiction of heathen mysticism. The process of unlearning bad habits of thought and ending the narcissistic fascination with the ego is kind of like waking up.

There are many different causes of these bad habits of thought. The senses are chief amongst them. The human mind has evolved to pay a LOT of attention to the senses, as that is how one survives in the physical world. This causes the mind to think in an analytic and definite way. Emotions also give rise to these bad habits of thought. They are by design a form of dualistic thinking. They cause the mind to pay attention, to view everything in terms of the emotion. Beliefs also cause the same effect, all kinds of beliefs.

These aren’t in and of themselves bad things. You need your senses to get around. You need feelings to guide and fuel you. You need beliefs to make even minor decisions. The trouble is THAT these things are good and necessary things. We have to use them, even rely on them, in order to do anything at all. So it becomes so very, very easy to forget that all of these forms of perception and thought are limited, and convey only aspects or parts of the truth. It is easy to forget that they are merely useful tools, and that they cause blindness and ignorance as much as they produce knowledge and clarity. Once a person loses the habit remembering that these thoughts are only images, tools, approximations created by the mind to further survival and some kinds of pragmatic functionality, then bad habits of thinking are firmly established, and Svipal-nature is confused with the ego.

The need to disrupt these habits of thought are a big part of why the Odinic path is so difficult, so full of challenges. The concentration, surprise, and fear that Odinic challenges bring disrupt the normal flow of thinking. There is nothing like danger and hardship to clear and focus the mind. This stops the bad habits in their tracks. It may last for only a moment, or only until the crisis has passed, but with enough interruptions, better habits of thought can be learned.

The key thing to remember about the Svipal-self, at least at first, is that it has nothing to do. It is not like the ego, a thing that is full of desires and plans for fulfilling them. There is nothing at all that the Svipal-self feels that it has to do. However, like the bit about awakening the Svipal-self, this is also a convenient and informative lie. The surface interpretation is almost entirely wrong.

It is true that the Svipal self has no goals to pursue because they are enjoyable, or good, or noble, or even the right thing to do. The Svipal-self does not do things for the reasons that motivate most people. These motivations are based on limited, conceptual thinking. The goals are not truly understood, and misfortune often results.

Instead of doing things for the reasons that most people do them, the Svipal-self eats when hungry, and sleeps when tired. The Svipal-self will return a lost wallet to its owner because his or her own knowledge of the social bond, and the concepts of honor and orlog, prompts that behavior. The Svipal-self will teach when someone who can benefit from a lesson is nearby, and learn when a lesson is to be had. The Svipal-self acts in these ways naturally, in exactly the same manner that water rolls off a leaf.

It is important to remember that a person awakened to the Svipal-self is not a person who tries to do nothing. Such a person is not a person who tries to live simply. A person who has awakened the Svipal-self does not try to get rid of everything that is unnecessary or try to leave things as they are. These are also all deliberate actions, conceptual goals. When the life of a person who has awakened the Svipal-self requires simplicity, then that person will live simply. It is neither more nor less complex than that.

I do not mean to imply, by the way, that I have made any great strides in awakening the Svipal-self. These are just things that I have come to understand. There is a HUGE gap between an intellectual understanding and actually living something.

Personal Responsibility

Hello, everyone in Internet Land. Today I want to talk about the return of James Arthur Ray and the notion of personal responsibility. For those of you who don’t remember him, he was a New Age con artist who ran some pseudo-Native American “sweat lodge” ceremony at which a few people died. He went to jail and has recently been released. This has caused a lot of discussion amongst pagans.

While I normally find the doings of New Agers and con artists both to be too dull to pay attention to, some of the commentary made by members of the pagan community has really been getting on my nerves. It all started with a comment made by an unusually clear pagan thinker, that he had little sympathy for the people who died because A) their deaths were their own faults, not Mr. Ray’s, and B) their deaths occurred for really stupid reasons. The backlash his comments sparked was simply jaw-dropping, at least to this heathen.

Let me first make my own position clear. I am of very much the same opinion myself. These people, of their own free will, chose to give this obvious con artist their money. They chose of their own free will to go to his lame little sweat-lodge ceremony. They were the ones who chose to remain in the sweat lodge despite their own physical discomfort levels and health warning signs. They are the ones who chose to remain for the incredibly stupid reasons of not wanting to seem weak, or look like they weren’t team players.

Furthermore, they also chose to do no research into sweat lodge rituals themselves. They chose to do no research into health issues, and they also chose not to ask their own doctors about whether or not they were fit to take part in this ritual. They chose not to question why a supposedly Native American ceremony was being run by some sleazy white guy. They chose not to question why this guy, who was claiming to have the secret to vast financial wealth and material success, was spending his time hawking cheesy fake Native American ceremonies instead of parasailing behind his own personal yacht off the shore of his own private island.

In short, these people died due to greed, an appalling lack of common sense, a desire to look tough, a desire to fit in, and an utter lack of awareness of their own limits. In other words, this was a clear case of Darwin in action. They chose to act stupidly, and they died as the result.

Yet despite such clear evidence of epic dumbassery on the part of these unfortunate departed, most pagans responding to this opinion declared themselves shocked and outraged at such supposed “victim-blaming.” Some people even went to far as to say that such opinions were the same as blaming rape victims for being raped.

Seriously? Let me offer a heathen perspective on this matter. The relevant issue here is personal responsibility. To heathens, personal responsibility is considered a serious subject indeed, coming as it does from two of the nine noble virtues: honor and self reliance. To the heathen mind, every competent adult is fully and solely responsible for the consequences of their own actions. Adults do not depend on nannies. They do not depend on other people to look out for them, clean up their messes for them, or shield them from the real-world consequences of their behavior, as if they were children. To the heathen way of looking at the world, if there is no personal responsibility then people will become as children: foolish, incompetent, dangers to their own selves and everyone around them.

This insistence of treating these people as victims instead of fools is remarkably childish, but it is actually even more disturbing than that. It is a sign of the ever-growing victim mentality that has been spreading through modern society. It’s easy to be a victim. It doesn’t require any work, introspection, or personal responsibility. So lazy people seek out every opportunity to play the victim, to get cheap sympathy and care that they don’t really have to earn. As this becomes more common, a culture develops around it, a culture that reinforces its warped values by always offering unconditional sympathy and concern for anyone who presents themselves as a victim, and even everyone who just runs into bad luck or the consequences of their own stupid decisions.

This culture of victimhood has become widespread, especially amongst the younger generation. It has created a complete and absolute lack of personal standards. In this toxic culture nobody is assumed to have any intelligence or common sense. Nobody is assumed to be able to make mature and responsible decisions. Everyone is expected to give over all of their risk assessment and personal protection to other people, such as the government or corporate entities. This culture of failure believes that nobody is capable of taking care of themselves, and that anyone expecting people to be is engaged in the terrible crime of victim-blaming. To these sick people, being a victim is practically a badge, a prize to be won.

These people want the world to be a sandbox. They never want to have to take risks, or to do the least little bit of personal development or work. They never want to have to grow up enough to take care of themselves, so they just decide that it’s somebody else’s responsibility. They want a world where they are free to be as childish and irresponsible as they want, protected by Big Nanny, praised by other willing victims for their victimhood.

There needs to be standards. There needs to be the expectation that people are, by and large, responsible for looking out for themselves. People need to be expected to grow up, or they never will. This kind of sick victim mentality needs to be opposed at every turn, lest the rot they represent spreads any further than it already has.

And really? Comparing the simple assumption that there needs to be minimum standards of personal responsibility to blaming rape victims? That’s just wrong. And incredibly insulting to rape victims. Women do not consent to be raped. These fools consented to sit voluntarily in an unhealthy environment, completely unrestrained and uncoerced, until it killed them. Not even remotely the same thing.