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.

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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.

Heathenry and Philosophy

There is surprisingly little discussion of religious philosophy in heathenry. It is surprising because there are so very many different religious philosophies used in heathenry, that are often argued hotly about. When it comes to heathens, the biggest difference in philosophy is over the nature of religion itself. Do the gods and heavens exist literally? Are they just metaphors for life lessons? Are they Jungian archetypes?

While it might seem to some like this is useless intellectual indulgence, it has some genuine importance. The basic assumptions we make, our fundamental beliefs, shape everything else that follows after. Those who view the gods as Jungian archetypes see the world, and practice their religion, in a very different way than those who believe in the literal existence of the gods. These differences have real world repercussions in the ways that different groups of heathens interact.

Myself, I’m a monistic idealist. The best way to understand what I mean by this is to consider the question “What is real?” Most people would say that “physical” is the same thing as “real.” In other words, the only real objects are physical objects. This would seem to many people to be obviously so, but in reality it is a philosophical position known variously as materialism and materialistic positivism.

When answering the question, “What is real?” materialistic positivists will say that because everything that we can observe is made up of physical particles then physical objects must form the primary reality. After all, mental experiences occur in the brain and the brain is made of physical particles. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that mental experiences are the creation of the interactions of physical particles.

This is not, however, the most parsimonious explanation. It fails to take one observed fact about the world into account. The only reason that we know that everything in the observable world is made of physical particles is because we have the mental experience of observing them. There is no experiment on the observable world that has ever been conducted or ever will be conducted that does not end with “… and I know this because I saw/heard/touched/smelled/tasted it.”

In other words, the primary layer of reality as we experience it is mental, not physical. Physical objects, the entire outside world, is at its very foundation a special type of mental experience. Please note that this is not because experiments are badly designed. No experiment, no matter how cleverly set up, can ever change this. Reality is primarily mental.

To be fair, it is still possible that the materialistic positivists are correct. It could very easily be true that there really is a physical world out there and that all things, including mental experiences, are really physical. This explanation does fit all of the experimental evidence. The only difference between it and monistic idealism is that it is not as parsimonious. It makes one additional assumption that the monistic idealist position does not. The principle of Occam’s Razor indicates that monistic idealism should be given consideration at least equal to, if not greater than, materialistic positivism.

Because all that we know of the physical world is a special class of mental experience that is not like other classes of mental experience, all that we can say for sure is that both our experience of the physical world and our experiences of our own mental worlds are mental in nature. This is literally what the term “monistic idealism” means.

I believe that materialistic positivists make a mistake when they try to claim that they know for a fact that everything is really physical. They are making an assumption, a guess, for which there is no evidence, for which there can never be any evidence, and trying to pass it off as a fact. I think instead it is better to observe Socrates’ famous dictum. When I don’t know something I do not pretend to knowledge that I do not possess. Instead, I simply say “I know that I don’t know.”

Many many people throughout history have reported experiences of various gods and other spiritual beings. Have any of them proved that they have the truth about life, the universe, and everything? No. Of course not. However, as the experience of the physical world is just a certain class of mental experience, I have no basis for dismissing the experiences that people have of spiritual beings. Those are just different classes of mental experience.

Because I do not know enough to say that one of these views is true and the others are false, I do not claim that any religious belief is false. As a consequence of this, I accept all religious beliefs as provisionally true, at least until I get any better evidence one way or another. Therefore, I believe in Odin and the gods of Valhalla. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I believe that there is one true god, and Mohammed is his prophet. I believe that Buddha was enlightened and that Lao Tzu achieved great comprehension of the Tao. I believe in the lwa, and the orisha. I believe in the flying spaghetti monster. I even believe the atheists are correct.

We all have a small part of the truth. Nothing more. To claim greater knowledge than this is hubris, the act of an egotistical fool. I follow the way of Odin because I have a powerful connection with him. That is all. I do not expect anyone else to see the world the same way. Nor do I really care whether they do or not.

Does Valhalla Still Matter?

Over the years that I have been an active member of the heathen/Asatru community, I have often been questioned concerning my focus on the afterlife, on Valhalla. Many modern heathens seem to regard the idea of Valhalla or any other aspect of the afterlife to be superfluous, not relevant to life as a modern heathen.

This attitude has always puzzled me. If you have an actual belief in the literal reality of the gods and the afterlife, then having some thought for the afterlife does indeed matter. If you do not have an actual belief in the gods, or if your belief does not include the concept of an afterlife, both perfectly valid heathen paths, then having some thought for the afterlife still matters.

I do not actually have any solid belief in an afterlife one way or another. Having no direct evidence for or against the idea, my own philosophy holds that forming an actual opinion on the subject is unwarranted and intellectually dishonest. I do not focus on Valhalla because I have some real hope of one day going there. I focus on conducting myself in a manner worthy of someone who hopes to be chosen to go there because it makes me a better person in this world. I focus on Valhalla because I believe in the ideals of Valhalla, of Odin.

The einherjar, the chosen slain, seek perpetually to develop themselves. They train each day to better their arts and abilities. This drive, this desire to change for the better, is an invaluable tool in any and all endeavors I will ever pursue. The einherjar do not shy away from fear or from pain. The ability to face my fears and endure even great pain gives me great courage and confidence that will grant me victory in all of my endeavors. The einherjar know how to party, how to play. The ability to relax, let go of my inhibitions, and truly enjoy myself give me the ability to endure great hardship. They allow me to focus and work hard when I am at work. They give me a sense of humor, and the perspective to see that most things that seem like problems don’t really matter, and this makes me a better person.

It doesn’t really matter to me whether I go to Valhalla someday or not. But that won’t stop me from trying like hel to get there. When I accepted Odin’s path, I accepted it all, instead of picking and choosing the parts I liked. That includes the goal. It’s made all the difference in the world to me.

Heilsa

Heilsa. I am Wayland Skallagrimsson, author of the Uppsala Online website and several books on heathenry / Asatru. I used to be very active in the heathen/Asatru community. I took part in several forums, ran my own forum, published books regularly, and attended heathen gatherings and celebrations. In recent years I have had to drop almost entirely off the radar. The economic recession hit me pretty hard, and I have had my hands full just with survival. And frankly, I’m just not a social person, in any way. I am the solitary wandering type of Odinist, and I have my own path, my own work. However, a number of friends have pointed out to me recently that I could retain some involvement while keeping space for my own path by starting a blog on heathen issues. This seemed like a good idea to me, as it will allow me to write on a number of topics I had wanted to write on but didn’t necessarily have a place for. So welcome to my blog. The topics covered will be random, just whatever occurs to me when I sit down to write, but most will be related to heathenry in some way or other.