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.

Scientific Magic

scimagcovertnWell, I just re-released my first book, Scientific Magic. Let me take a moment here to describe what it is.

I wrote the book as a response to the Dawkins/deGrasse Tyson type of pseudoscience. Don’t get me wrong: these guys are real scientists, and I have a lot of respect for the genuine scientific work they have done. I believe that Dawkins’ pioneering work in memetics will one day be regarded as a modern On the Origin of Species. I love the new Cosmos, and think deGrasse Tyson has done wonderful work firing up the imaginations and love of science that all kids have.

But when it comes to understanding philosophy and how science itself works, these guys unfortunately resort to the worst sort of pseudoscientific babbling, like that they complain of in Fundies. Neither of them seems to have a clue as to what philosophy actually is, and as such they keep screwing up their applications of the scientific method.

The practice of magic has long been looked at askance. With good reason. It has suffered from two major image problems: Descartes’ idiot dualism, and ridiculous fantasy books and games. Both of these things have firmly entrenched a belief in the public mind, that magic is some kind of undiscovered force that is responsive to the mind, yet escapes all forms of technological, experimental investigation. It is pictured as something nonphysical, that follows no rules of physics yet can somehow mysteriously affect the physical world.

This is, indeed, a ridiculous idea. Descartes’ dualism is logically indefensible. The model of the practice of magic that was based on it, and used for most fantasy books, movies, and games, is asinine. Science has shown that this theory is incredibly unlikely.

But that ignores the fact that this was never a definition of magic, or shamanism, or spirituality, that any culture that actually practiced it used. Yes, that’s right: Western science made up their own explanation, based on their own flawed philosophy, proved that it was BS, and so dismissed the whole subject as delusion. That is not science, that is simply asinine.

So I wrote this book to provide a more accurate, historical view of the subject. It presents the practice of magic from the traditional monistic idealism point of view, which eliminates all of the pseudoscientific objections held by people like Dawkins. It presents the practice of magic as a series of lessons in achieving extreme mind/body control and unlocking unusual mental and physical abilities. I present it as something much like the practices of the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and the Remembrancers from Dune and Neverness. Something scientific, logical, and based on simple biological, physical facts.

No, I am not a materialist. I am not an atheist. I hold a genuine ancient philosophical position that makes these distinctions meaningless. In Scientific Magic I try to present these ancient practices from the traditional point of view, the modern materialist point of view, and explain how there is no actual contradictions between the two, when seen from the proper traditional point of view. Above all, I concentrate on practicality. Believe my philosophy or reject it, this book will teach you techniques to improve many areas of your life in many different practical ways.

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.

The Screwtape Letters

I would like to take a moment to advise everyone to read The Screwtape Letters. Written by C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, this is without a doubt one of the most useful and insightful books on religion and living a spiritual life, ever. Although written by a Christian theologian for a Christian audience, this book is relevant for people of any faith. I have read it a dozen times and will probably read it many more. Each time I read it, I find new insight into my own spiritual life.

The book takes the form of a series of letter from a senior devil named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood. The letters advise Wormwood on the nature of sin, the ways in which human beings corrupt themselves, and how best to tempt people into evil. The book is clearly the product of a person who has great insight into the human mind and spirit.

It describes the small hypocrisies and lies that people habitually tell themselves in each other in such a direct and obvious way that nobody but the most dishonest will fail to recognize themselves in the description. It talks about how these small dishonesties are the seeds of the greatest evils, and the ways in which a person can slide from one to the other without even noticing. It discusses love, and the various things that masquerade as it, and goes into great detail about why it is precisely when things are the most difficult that devotion and sacrifice are the most valuable.

In short, it covers topics of interest and value to any person on a spiritual journey, or even any person who is just curious about what makes people the way they are. The sequel, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, is also well worth reading, and goes more into society and politics.