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.

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Putting on the Wolf Skin

frontcoverIntroducing my latest book, Putting on the Wolf Skin: The Berserkergang and Other Forms of Somafera.

The berserkers are legendary: mad, hairy Viking warriors who fought like wild animals, giving no thought to fear or pain. How did they perform seemingly supernatural feats – and what did they have in common with ancient Greek women dancing to exhaustion in pursuit of their god, or Vodoun practitioners eating glass while possessed by spirits, or Pentecostal preachers speaking in tongues, or even mad scientists walking the fine line between inspiration and insanity? Although arising out of widely varying cultures and worldviews, all of these people used heavily altered states of consciousness to enhance the functioning of their bodies and brains.

Today the berserkergang is being revived, drawing not only on ancient accounts, but on similar traditions around the world and throughout history. Together these practices are called somafera, “the body wild.” This book explores the many variants of somafera – including its martial, religious and intellectual applications – with a concentration on the berserkergang. The author shares his personal experiences as well as the results of decades of research. Both theory and practice are addressed, and examined from a unique combination of spiritual and scientific perspectives.

Available for purchase on Amazon.com, or direct from Createspace.

The Mystery of Sumbel

Noted heathen scholar H. R. Ellis Davidson once commented that the sumbel was perhaps the most important rite in ancient heathenry. It is one of the very few rites that we have any descriptions of. Stupid oral traditions. It is also one of the most unusual religious rituals in the world. I have long wanted to write something on the mystery of the sumbel, but was hesitant to, for reasons that will become clear below.

There are many different types of religion. Some go in for elaborate, formal rituals. Others utilize spontaneous, informal spiritual observance. The heathen sumbel, however, is a strange blend of both. Too formal to be a mere drunken banquet, too much of a party to qualify as high ritual, the sumbel has always been something of an enigma.

The key to resolution of the enigma lies in the nature of the heathen relationship to alcohol. Almost all cultures have one drug that is special to them, that is no mere recreational toy. Such drugs are used to gain access to the realm of the spirits in some fashion. They are called entheogens. Peyote is the entheogen of certain Native American tribes. Marijuana is a Rastafarian entheogen. Alcohol is the traditional entheogen of the heathens.

The key to proper entheogenic use of alcohol is to remember that it is like walking a tightrope. Too little, and you are not drunk enough to contact the spirits. Too much, and you are too drunk to contact them. The goal is that “golden glowing” state where everything seems a little bright, you feel a strange sort of energy and a close connection to everything, and feel simple joy. Sumbel included ritual recitations, and the goal was to recite them flawlessly, no matter how long the drinking had been going on. Proper sumbel meant finding this state and then drinking only so as to maintain it.

Sumbels took the form of feasts, or formal meals, with drinking. Family and religious groups celebrated together. There would be recitations of poetry, or boasts of deeds that would be accomplished. These had specific forms that had to be followed. While this was going on there would also be drinking from ritual vessels. This could include informal feast-style drinking, but it also had ritual formalism. The gods were toasted, as were local spirits such as alfs, dwarfs, and jotuns. One’s own ancestors might be hailed in this fashion as well. Noteworthy deeds of those hailed might be recited.

One of the reasons for alcohol’s enduring popularity is the intense social bonding that it encourages. It blurs the boundaries of the self, lowers inhibitions, and in special circumstances can make a group feel like it has become one. The sumbel is structured to take advantage of this. The informal, alcohol-fueled social gathering assists this softening of boundaries and tendency to oneness. It also relaxes and clears the mind. The repetition of formal ritual words engages the subconscious mind like all ritual does. The constant speech concerning the gods and ancestors keep the minds of the participants turned to them. When a sumbel works right, these factors come together and result in the gods and ancestors being drawn into the group gestalt, just like everybody else. It can result in the experience of becoming one with the gods or ancestors. It requires no advanced ritual knowledge or meditative skills, just the awareness and discipline to maintain a proper balance with the blood of Kvasir.

The mystery of the sumbel is the revelation of the divine in the experience of the physical. It is a blending of the sacred and the profane. Heathenry has no preachers because it needs none. Instead, all devotees may hold direct communion with the gods.

I have been hesitant to write this article for some time. You see, I don’t want it to be confused with something else that is out there. There are a great many lazy, egotistical “spirit workers,” “godhis,” and “seidhmen” out there who seem to have as their sole spiritual practice watching TV or movies while drinking beer and “talking” to their gods. This “ritual” is usually followed by blogging about how the gods are in said holy person’s social circle. The sumbel is not this sort of lazy, egotistical excuse to avoid devotion. It is instead a rather difficult mental and emotional balancing game, that results in having no spiritual experience at all more often than not. It takes practice to perform properly. Learning to do so means cultivating a good relationship with alcohol, the sacred blood of a god.

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.

The Culture War: One Heathen’s Perspective

I have a habit of starting my day slowly, by reading the news with a couple cups of coffee. An op-ed piece I just read about the culture war has got me thinking this morning. I think the piece is a great example of the failure of both of the dominant sides in the culture war, as well as the media, to understand the actual issues at stake, and the actual processes at work. I think that modern heathenry actually has a lot to say on the matter too, so I am going to lay out my thoughts here. After all, I’ll never become Most Hated Person in Modern Heathenry unless I talk about politics.

The opinion piece I read was by a social-conservative Republican, admonishing his fellow social conservatives to admit that they have lost the culture war, and that this is the real reason behind their string of electoral losses. The author believes this has happened because modern culture has become coarse, no longer values the family, and glorifies sex and violence. To this list other conservative pundits usually add the idea that most of America has come to depend on government handouts.

The flip side of this argument, which I have also seen a lot of recently in op-ed pieces, is that the social conservatives have lost the culture wars because America has come to endorse the social-liberal Democratic vision, which is supposedly based on inclusiveness and includes the notion that the government can improve society through legislation and massive social programs.

Actually, they’re both wrong.

Oh, the social conservatives have indeed lost the culture war, although it will take some time yet to make this obvious to everyone. Just not for the reasons that either they or the liberals think. To explain why they lost, let me offer a heathen perspective on the culture war. It has been presented to us as a battle of liberal versus conservative for so long that many people have forgotten that they are actually but two sides of many. To the heathen mind, however, there is little enough difference between social conservatives and social liberals. Both seem to be little more than different flavors of tyranny. To the heathen mind, the battle between social conservatives and liberals seems to be almost irrelevant. Many of us recognize that both are our enemies, politically speaking.

The heathen ideal has always been that of a society made strong because it is formed of powerful individuals. Observe the typical heathen heroes: powerful fighters and adventurers with great personal destinies. Observe the nature of interpersonal interactions through much of heathen history: every person is held to be personally responsible for their own actions. Disputes are resolved, as much as possible, between individuals, privately. While the individual was expected to have a regard for the social bond, and to have a sense of responsibility to others, the ideal of heathenry has always been individual liberty. The heathen mind is naturally prone to valuing freedom, I believe.

We well recognize the hazard that social conservatives present to us. They believe in a totalitarian form of social engineering that forces all individuals to conform to their particular interpretation of conservative Christian values. We remember their attempts in the nineties to unconstitutionally strip neo-pagan groups of their tax-exempt status under the grounds that they weren’t real religions. We remember the government supporting Christian churches financially, under Bush, while heathen Kindreds who applied for the same grants were categorically denied. We are aware that the military has forbidden the use of heathen religious symbols on military graves. We have grown familiar with all the dog whistles and code words that the social conservatives use, how “family values” usually means “hang the freaks” and that if these people had their way, they would outlaw our very existence at best and actually arrest or kill us at worst.

For many decades the social conservative tyrant has cloaked his speech, and made a pass at hiding his intentions. He passes laws that harm families, and the poor, and uses doublespeak to make it seem as if he is doing something noble and idealistic. He gives power to the wealthy, to big corporations, and made it easy for them to indulge any kind of discriminatory behavior that they want. He has set up an Old Boy’s Network that keeps people like him in powerful positions in society, while people like us are marginalized.

I remember a time after the Ice Storm of ’98, in Maine, where the massive power outages made a lot of refugees from devastated rural communities flock to the cities. I was one of them. I managed to find a room in a flop house, run by a nice old Christian lady and her family. One day, while I was out at work, she decided to use her master key to go into my room, ostensibly for some cleaning or something. She saw my heathen altar. She was waiting for me when I got back home. She let me know that she and her family were good salt of the earth Christian types, and that “your kind isn’t welcome here.” She admitted that I could theoretically try to fight the eviction, but that as we both well knew, those laws were meaningless, and written in such a way as to be unenforceable in almost all circumstances. She was right. So there I was, out on the street in the middle of the disaster.

Don’t get me wrong. This kind of thing is rare for heathens, and even more so for me. I’m white. I’m male. I have it pretty easy in this society. But I’m also not stupid. I can look around, and see plenty of others worse off than me, for much the same reasons. I see the raw deal that non-white people get in this country. Yeah, it’s better than it used to be in some ways. But it’s still bad. The same hatred of The Other Tribes that put me out on the street works against them, on a much larger scale, and all the time. I see the same is true for homosexuals, bisexuals, and the transgendered. FFS, the same is still true for women as well.

Because that’s the true core message of the social conservative movement: Destroy the Outsider! For generations they have whipped their people into a frenzy of fear and hatred with this cry in its many forms. And guess what? They’ve been reaping what they’ve sown. Because I’m not the only one who has seen that snarling hatred, both out in the open and hidden behind a false smile. I’m not the only one who has realized that there are a great many other subcultures and small groups out there who are also considered foes by the social conservative. For generations the social conservative has grown complacent in his power. He has become indolent and weak. We, on the other hand, have been growing strong. Our communities have been growing. Where once a heathen might go decades without meeting another heathen, today we have whole communities, children raised from birth in heathenry who now have children of their own. We have come to hate tyranny, and to value above all things the right to do with our own lives as we please.

And we have come to recognize our fraternity with others in the same position. I recognize that I have more in common with a poor Hispanic immigrant, or a drag queen, or an atheist, than I do with those social conservatives. And I have started to vote like it. Like a lot of other heathens have. Like a lot of other minorities have. We were never one group, you see, until the social conservatives made us one group. And THAT is why they have lost the culture war. They defined themselves as the enemies of all that is not like them. They gave us a group identity, and a common foe. Oh, they try to pass it off now as the ridiculous claim that American culture has collapsed, or that Americans have become economically dependent on government handouts, but that’s just a load of BS. Anything to avoid facing reality, or taking any responsibility for their own decisions. No, the truth is that they are simply going the way of all tyrants. They achieved social dominance through a ruthless program of eliminating all competition, they got lazy and blind, and their more vigorous oppressed foes have now become too strong for them. Nothing more complex than that.

The social conservatives are doomed. Every year that passes sees their numbers get fewer, as old age claims more of them. Every year that passes sees us Other Tribes grow in number. They have no real message other than hate, and they will disappear in a few decades more, though they will undoubtedly try to do as much damage as possible before passing away. However, this does NOT mean that their enemies, the liberals, should start declaring victory.

You see, the division between social conservative and social liberal is pretty irrelevant to many of us in this new social alliance. Many of us consider the differences to be little more than window dressing. To US, the most significant part of the culture war is the struggle between those who think that people should be controlled like dogs and those who value individual liberty. In watching the Republican Party, the most public face of social conservatism, go down in flames, we understand that the culture war is far from over. All we have accomplished is a victory over the first of our biggest foes. And to do it, we had to ally with another enemy. But many of us see that the liberal agenda is every bit as tyrannical as the conservative one. It is based in unwarranted government interference in almost every area of personal life. It places FAR too much power into the hands of a central authority. Where the core message of the conservatives was Destroy the Outsider, the core message of the liberals is Take Advantage of the Outsider. Not really an improvement. We still lose our freedom with them. We still are subject to the prejudices of the common culture with them.

Who knows if this new alliance of the Other Tribes will last? Beyond having some common enemies, there is little that binds us. However, the important point that liberals, conservatives, and the profit-driven media all miss is that the newly awakened political power is an ideology that is foreign to all three of them. It has beliefs that are conservative in some respects, liberal in others. It has many passionately held beliefs that are neither liberal nor conservative. One of its distinctive features is a David complex. You see, unlike conservatives or liberals, we do not much believe in rigid ideologies. We see them as prone to corruption. We do not have a vision for government or society that goes much beyond “people should be pretty much left to do as they wish.” We are therefore prone to seeing government as a tool, something that can change its form depending on the needs of the moment. Many of us in the Other Tribes have been voting together, lately. We have often voted Democrat. But don’t get cocky, Democrats. Let me use Godzilla as an example. You see, we see ourselves as Davids, tiny mortals living in a world of giant monsters. So we do what we can to get by. For too long the Godzilla that the social conservative movement has been has torn around flattening our cities and irradiating us with its Atomic Bad Breath. So when we saw a moment of weakness we allied with King Gidorah to take him down. But King Gidorah is also a giant monster. And now that Godzilla’s sinking beneath the waves, he’ll be our next biggest danger. The social conservatives have indeed lost the culture war, but the war continues.

Don’t let your guard down.

Poverty and Piety

With Christmas here, I get a lot of time off from work, and so have a little extra time to find out more of what’s happening in Pagan-land. The farce I just stumbled across seems to deserve a word or two, so that will be the topic of my blog post today. I’ve never read Tess Dawson’s blog before, but she seems like a clear thinker of a pagan, and she has recently written a valuable piece on how to interact with a god when you are not sure of the god’s identity. She offered the very traditional and level-headed suggestion that you leave out offering of food or drink that are not to be consumed, but devoted wholly to the god.

Totally traditional. This is how the ancients did it. Totally respectful and pious. Giving something to the god, something that you have to give up yourself, is a sacrifice, it is an act of devotion. Yet despite these facts, this simple commonsense recommendation has released a firestorm of petty bullshittery from a crowd of people with some serious cases of recto-cranial inversion. I’m not even going to bother addressing their complaints about leaving offerings you don’t consume, although I will mention that offering food to a guest and then eating it instead yourself would usually be seen as the very height of rudeness. No, I am going to have to address the comments made about poor people and religious devotion.

The worst offender seems to be this Aubs Tea person. She had the incredible effrontery to say a lot of insane things about poor people. But before I get started on that, let me mention: I’m dirt poor. Always have been. I am pretty much as poor as they come in this country. I sometimes go to sleep hungry. I often must choose between buying food or buying medicine. I cannot afford a car. I have spent a few weeks homeless, sleeping in some rough and dangerous places. So I know what I’m talking about when I talk about being poor and religious.

Basically, this Tea person is claiming that poverty makes it impossible for poor people to make any religious offerings at all, therefore having the expectation that the gods should receive offerings somehow classist and religiously inappropriate. She then goes on to declare that poor people are so emotionally beaten down that they cannot even be expected to perform simple devotional acts that do not require sacrifice. Apparently, in her view, poverty destroys the soul, so that things like prayer and temple cleaning are too much effort. This is, in her view, so endemic amongst the poor that even expecting religious people to be pious, and to devote some of their time and effort to the gods, is incredibly classist and offensive to the poor.

Seriously? Seriously??? WTF? I am calling bullshit on that, Ms. Tea. I am poor. I find your words to be incredibly freaking offensive. Not all poor people are beaten down, whipped curs who cannot even find enough spirit to honor the gods. Seriously, Ms. Tea, f*<& you. I have struggled all my life with poverty, and with keeping a devout religious practice in the midst of poverty. So have many others. Your lame attempt to paint us all as victims belittles our struggles.

Nobody but a poor person has the right to say this, but I am, and I do: poverty can be a great source of inspiration and strength. A terrible one, to be sure, but useful and even enlightening nonetheless. I am an Odinist. I use my religion to help me meet the struggle of poverty. Odin, my patron, teaches that hardship is valuable and I have held onto the teaching during those hard hungry times. I have seen it as a form of testing. I have used it to learn to do without unnecessary fripperies. I have used it to find enjoyment and beauty in even fleeting, small things. I have used it to find a center of spiritual equanimity.

I thank my gods for this. And as I love them, as I am grateful to them, I show them honor and respect. Even when I lived in the homeless jungle, as such encampments are called, I managed to pour out a little drink, or leave part of my own food for them. If this meant I went a little hungrier, then so be it. Wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice if I didn’t suffer a little. Indeed, I took PRIDE in this, I felt it made my sacrifices MORE valuable because they cost me so dearly.

Ms. Tea, poverty can beat a person down or raise them up. I am terribly sorry that it seems to have done the former to you. But don’t you dare go painting us all as having failed, like you, to cope. We are not all victims. We are not all weaklings. We do not all hide behind our poverty as an excuse to get out of doing anything meaningful for the gods we claim to love.

And seriously, you really think this: “If your heart isn’t in it, then don’t do it,” is good advice for poor people or, indeed, anyone? This is frankly the worst religious advice I ever heard. It is when your heart isn’t in it that devotional activity matters MOST.