Putting the Gods First

One of the more mature and clear thinking polytheists has just posted an important reply to the most recent round of BS from some of the Righteous Radical Social Justice Warrior crowd. It describes the concerns and lives of those who are devoted to the gods first and foremost, and rejects the pernicious foolishness that says that all things, including religion, are primarily political.

Advertisements

Too Casual a Climate

 

Back in the mid nineties, my best friend in the world was a Lokian former street kid named Steve. Mad as a hatter, and also one of the most intelligent people I ever met. He had a complex, Kauffman-esque sense of humor. At one point, he started learning how to paint in an old-fashioned, realistic style. He wanted to develop a high level of skill and then do one, and only one, painting. He wanted to do Odin and Loki, in oil paint, sharing a bong, with Loki’s eyes and cheeks bulging out as he tried to keep his hit in. Subject matter like a poster from Spencer’s, in the medium of da Vinci. After that, he said, he would never paint again. He thought it would be the ultimate sacrifice, to Loki, to put so much work into developing a skill that was then never used but for one frivolous purpose. The ultimate absurdism.

You know what? His sacrifice could not be made today. You see, he thought that the whole point of the painting was that it was really transgressive. He thought that depicting the gods in such a casual, frivolous manner was really inappropriate, and not respectful enough. He was doing it because, as a Lokian, he viewed it as his duty to cross certain boundaries, and break certain taboos. Doing such a painting in the climate of his day would have made a real statement. Today? Not so much. Today, this kind of casual, frivolous representation of the gods is commonplace. Serious, supposedly devoted Asatruar put such images up on their websites, and share them on social media. Today, far too often, the gods are pictured as laughing stocks, as if they were just people.

I think we have lost something in finding such an attitude to be acceptable. These are our gods, people. These are our revered, ancient, ancestral traditions. They deserve a little respect.

And you know what? It’s a lot easier to cultivate a spiritual state of mind, and reach out for genuine contact with the gods, when you keep the space you devote to them in your head as something special.

Everything Furthers

If I had to sum up the heart of the Odinic path into two words, they would be these words:

Everything furthers.

An Odinist does not shy away from doing something that is hard, because effort is beneficial. An Odinist does not shy away from doing something that is painful, because pain is a most useful tool. An Odinist does not shy away from sacrifice and loss, because these things too can be beneficial.

When times are tough, Odin does not offer mindless reassurances that everything will be alright. He does not claim that every bad thing is part of some mysterious, invisible greater good. He does not promise an eternity of reward in some future existence. Instead, he teaches practical ways to use and benefit from the world as it is.

The wisdom that Odin teaches is the wisdom to see the benefit in everything. By that I do not mean some blind Panglossian optimism, I mean learning to use all experiences for your own benefit. Consider:

Have you been injured, and find yourself in constant pain? Then you have the opportunity to learn how to focus your mind, be productive, and keep your mood up under difficult circumstances. If you can manage to do these things, you will be sharper, happier, and more disciplined for the rest of your life.

Hungry? Then you have the perfect opportunity to use the clarity of mind that hunger brings to sharpen your meditative state, which brings mental health benefits.

Lost your job? Now you have the chance to work on your powers of persuasion, which will benefit you in all areas of life.

Have you been betrayed by a loved one? You now have an unparalleled opportunity to work on disciplining your emotions, on being productive even while heartbroken, on not lashing out in anger when you feel pain. Learning to do these things will make you a better person.

Are you suffering from depression? Then you have the chance to condition yourself to think in ways that do not reinforce the depression, and instead lead on to better moods. While medications may help, conditioning your mind to steer clear of depression naturally will be a much more effective treatment.

Everything furthers. The mind of an Odinist is like a bonfire: everything put into it becomes fuel. Good things, bad things, indifferent things, all become fuel. Pleasant things, unpleasant things, the mind of an Odinist takes all that comes his or her way and turns it to his or her benefit.

This makes an Odinist unstoppable. An Odinist does not run from fear, or pain. An Odinist keeps going long after everyone else has quit or collapsed. An Odinist can be knocked down, but cannot be kept down.

Some people find Odinists to be dark, strange, even unpleasant. They do not understand why we embrace pain and suffering the way we do. Let me tell you something. It isn’t masochism. It isn’t even really darkness. It’s more a matter of being able to recognize power and opportunity where most people cannot see them. Odinists desire growth, strength, intelligence, and wisdom above all other things, so we take advantage of everything that comes our way.

And you know what? Being able to see value even in scary, painful things means that fear and pain aren’t such big deals to us. It actually makes us happier, and more well adjusted in general.

Now, Odin’s way is most certainly not for everyone. However, his example is something that anyone can learn and benefit from. Especially when times are dark. All you have to do is remember that everything furthers.

May Odin bless you.

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 Power of Negative Thinking

People talk a lot about the power of positive thinking, and it does indeed have its benefits. I, however, often think I have gotten more mileage out of the power of negative thinking. Before you think I’m just being funny, let me try to put it to you from an Odinic perspective.

Life is hard, sometimes. Sometimes, it’s hard all the time. Occasionally it seems unbearable. Positive emotions such as hope can sustain you through these times, but the darker the times get, the more difficult it is to experience them.

Odin’s way shows another, surer, form of motivation. One of the paths that he teaches to his devotees is the path of the warrior. He is the god of war, and often gifts his followers with war-related skills and experiences. Another is the path of the ascetic. As his sacrifices at the Tree and the Well show, his particular type of mysticism utilizes pain and sacrifice.

Both of these paths make extensive use of negative motivation, negative thinking. Any fighter knows what it’s like to be knocked down, gasping for breath, vision a tunnel, stomach a hell of nausea, with the enemy still on his feet, strong, fast, closing in. It isn’t the power of positive thinking that comes to your aid then. It’s the cold, heartless voice from deep within, or far without, that says “Get on your feet, you pathetic weakling.” Any ascetic who has used the Fast Path, the Diamond Way, knows the point where all of your resources are gone, and all of a sudden you AREN’T resisting the pain any more, and there’s a moment of panic, and that moment’s enough to trigger a vicious cycle of doubt and fear. At that moment you are beyond self confidence. You are beyond hope. You are naked and alone before everything that ever hurt you. The motivation to hang on, re-establish the meditative state, and reach then end of the rite instead of giving up comes instead from sneering, mocking laughter at your failure. It comes from the fear of negative consequences.

This principle does not just apply to extremes of Odinic practice. Sure, use positive thinking, positive motivation, when you can. But do not neglect the power of negative thinking. Adopt the principle that “Everything furthers,” everything is useful when approached properly. Feel guilty about treating someone badly? Don’t just try to get over it, USE IT TO CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR. That’s what the emotion’s for, after all. Fearful of failing midterms? Don’t try to relax. Use that fear to drive you to go study some more, and increase your odds of passing. Feel a lack of self confidence? Don’t paint over the problem by learning to “love yourself as you are,” use the badness of that feeling as a goad to make yourself become someone with the skills and abilities to give them self confidence.

Negative thinking. Is it nice? Hel, no. But it’s damn useful.

Priest vs. Godhi

As long time readers of this blog already know, I am a priest of Odin. I get asked, periodically, why I refer to myself as a priest rather than a godhi. The answer is because I am not a godhi. And neither is anybody else, more or less. Yes, yes, I know that “godhi” is usually translated as “priest,” and most people use it as the ancient heathen word for priest. Trouble is, that’s not very accurate.

Godhis did indeed perform priestly duties. They had priest-like relationships with the gods and landwights. And they were so much more than that as well. They often functioned as lawyers, and a godhi had to be well educated in legal matters. They also performed many other civil functions, including acting as scribes and notaries. A godhi had to be a historian too. It was often mandatory that a godhi be a landowner, and possibly even wealthy. A godhi was not just any person who had a special relationship with the gods, you see. A godhi also had to have a special relationship with the community, had to be something of a community leader.

Leading blots and sumbels is one thing, being a godhi is something more. It does not help our people to disregard so much of the ancient ways just so that we can use some of the ancient words. That sloppy, “me-first” kind of thinking is turning our religion into a massive live action role playing game. This is the year 2014, not 914. Being a heathen today means living in today’s world while respecting and learning from the ancient world. Godhis are a thing of the ancients. I am a priest, because that is the way today’s world is.