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.

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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.