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.

Some Thoughts on Odin’s Path and the Modern World

Today is the anniversary of my berserker initiation. Fourteen years ago I stood in the ancient ruins of Dogtown, abandoned centuries ago and considered haunted ever since, and faced the ritual fire. In the years since that night, I have been asked why many times. I have answered that question several times, in other places. On reflecting on the experience today, I was moved instead of why to talk about the reason why the question gets asked at all.

The simple reason why people ask me this question is that today’s world is seriously lacking some of the Odinic values. Many people, even many heathens, do not believe that Odin has anything to offer today’s world. But it’s not as simple as that. You see, this is only one side of the issue. The other side is the other question I get asked by a very different bunch of people: why don’t I rely on the aggression of the berserkergang and the Odinic path more than I do? There are, broadly and stereotypically speaking, two kinds of modern heathens. Both of them tend to miss the true Odinic path in some ways, I think.

To understand the context of these questions, I have to share a little bit about my past. I was born in “The Armpit of the Nation,” that area of Massachusetts comprising the cities of Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and Lovell. It was an economically depressed area, all dying mill towns and gangs. My childhood was rather violent. I was shot before I hit my teens. It gave me a rather skewed understanding of the world, perhaps, but it also gave me a high tolerance for hardship and danger. It is a big part of what made me an Odinist. I needed power, and the ability to fight, and he offered me both. It also helped lead me to live the kind of life that I have lived since growing up.

I am, as I discussed in my last post, primarily a scientist. My life has largely been dedicated to pursuing my own scientific studies, even though there is no money in it. That is, after all, how I helped to redevelop the berserkergang as a living practice. As such, I know a lot of academic people, a lot of thoughtful philosophical types. Some of them are heathen. Many of them are atheist. Most of them are liberal. Many have been my friends. Most of them don’t get me, though. They find me scary, and violent, and they do not understand the “dark, risky” path that I have chosen to walk. They ask me why I am an Odinist. They ask me why I have become a berserk. To them, such things are insanities from a bygone era. And yes, this includes many modern heathens.

It seems that they don’t understand two things. One: the world actually is still a scary, dangerous place. Yes, they have the fortune to live in the better parts of a rich country, and can choose to pretend that such places do not exist. That does not make them go away though. A great many people aren’t as fortunate as they are. I got myself out of a bad beginning to life through the Odinic path. The things I have learned on that path have been of use to others.

Additionally, Odin is a god of much more than war. He is the god of inspiration, and also of science. (Which is just a specific form of inspiration-derived work.) Science depends on the eureka moment, the moment of insight when everything become clear and you realize how it all works. That moment can be deliberately triggered, through the practice of certain Odinic arts, and that is a skill of inestimable value to all forms of science. It is also difficult, and extremely stressful. The character development I have gone through pursuing the Odinic path’s more, er, vigorous aspects is of incalculable value in this too.

I have never much cared for the stupid little rules and popularity contests of society, so it was easy for me to make the decision to reject it all and live the way I wanted to. A big part of this has involved wandering the Earth. I live to see cool stuff. I live to discover secret things, and to set my eyes on sights never seen before. I have traveled all over the Americas and Europe, in both hemispheres. I have been privy to the secret rites of the Chanting Dervishes, and talked at length with an Isawiyaan elder, whose kind has long been thought to have vanished. I have walked through a necropolis on the other side of the world, explored caves running far beneath the surface of the Earth, been in a fortress with walls so thick they had internal highways, and seen places that look far more like alien planets than places from this world. I have partied with bikers and with crowds that contained fashion designers and Kennedies. (Bikers party WAY better.)

When you wander that far, you keep winding up in strange and even dangerous situations. I’ve had to intervene in domestic violence situations more than once. I’ve gotten involved in trying to get an idiot out of the dangerous situation with organized crime that she thought she could handle. I’ve been accosted by various street thugs and robbers. I have fought no holds barred matches against sumo-sized giants and special forces soldiers half my age, in a ring made of barbed wire. It hasn’t been a boring life.

Because of this part of my life, I have also come to know a wide variety of soldiers, professional sport fighters, thugs, borderline criminals, outright criminals, hookers with hearts of gold, lowlifes, noble hobos, vaudeville performers, and various other colorful characters. Many of these have been right wing. Many of them have been heathen. Many of them have been my friends. They don’t get me either, mostly.

I tend to end up having the same conversation with these people, too. For example, I was discussing my martial arts training with a younger fighter one day, and mentioned that my sensei had rebuked me sharply one night when I came to see him, expressing pride at winning a street fight. He told me that hand to hand combat, though a necessary skill, was a minor one, and only to be used as a last resort. He said that instead of pride I should feel shame, because I was not instantly aware of the situation well enough to manipulate it to be resolved without violence.

The kid found this puzzling. He asked for an example. So I told him about one of the more dangerous shifts I had as a social worker. I have been a security guard and a body guard, but I NEVER saw so much action as when I was a social worker. One night at the shelter for runaway teens, my kids came running in quickly, then sat down and behaved very well. This naturally made me suspicious, and I soon had the truth out of them: they had gotten into a gang fight with a gang that had proved to be more hardcore than they were, and they had fled. Upon further questioning, they revealed that they may not have lost them while fleeing the battleground.

Sure enough, the shelter was soon confronted with some 14 tough guys demanding that my boys come out and face the music. Calling the cops was no good. In that neighborhood, they never showed up in under 30 minutes, hoping things would resolve themselves first without risk to them. So I told my idiots that I was going outside and that if they didn’t stay inside, then if we all survived the confrontation, I would kill them myself. Because I had proved to them that they could trust me to look out for them AND to kick their asses if needed, they obeyed.

So, I went up to the end of the driveway and faced the other gang. Because I was alone, I had several seconds in which they would listen to me talk. After all, I obviously was not a threat. Because I have had, thanks to my sensei, extensive training as a Mentalist (read: Headologist, or Functional Amateur Psychologist) I was able to do what is known as a cold reading on several of them, particularly the leader. My single unarmed man bit bought me the time for it. So we chatted for a few minutes, while they aired their grievances and threats, and I selected a strategy. I berserked, but only a bit. Just enough to seem dangerous. And I told them, in a calm level voice, that they did indeed have the numbers and weapons to kill me. I also promised them that the first four across the line that separated us would die. I described how, in detail. And I promised them that I was not going to allow them to go after my idiots, even though, yes, they probably were the ones in the wrong.

Somehow, none of them wanted to be one of the first four. So they all held back. Once their hesitation went on long enough, I made it clear to the leader that he had lost control of the situation, and that it was time to move on. Not being a total idiot, he did.

You see, I had used a much better weapon than a gang of armed teenagers. I used Story as a weapon. I fed them a story that they would believe, that would make them choose of their own free will to behave as I wanted them to. What, a strange man confronting a gang of armed street thugs all alone, without any weapons? Talking like he has no fear at all? Well, they’ve seen that scene a hundred times, in movies and on TV. The obviously outmatched weirdo always turns out to be a vampire, or a legendary hit man, or something like that, and kills everybody. And, well, what kind of halfwit would BLUFF something like that, right? So they believed me just enough to lose their nerve.

The young fighter I was talking to asked why I took the risk I did. I am a skilled berserk, he pointed out, and could likely have simply scared them all off or actually kicked their asses (not bloody likely) rather than dissemble, bargain, and manipulate in a scheme that required me to be unarmed and alone. He thought it a foolish risk. He thought my sensei’s advice foolish. He said that I should have taken pride in my berserker nature, and my status as an Odinic priest, and taught them a lesson they would never forget.

I get questions like this from this crowd all the time. And similar ones, like why I pay heed to the moralities and beliefs of other cultures, or why I still hand out with elitist eggheads and never joined the armed forces and fought in a real war.

You see, this sort of heathen doesn’t really understand Odinic values in this modern world either. It is no longer enough to fight for the sake of fighting! That is a foolishness of the ancient world, a weakness that we would do well to leave behind. My left-wing friends are correct there. All lives are valuable, all lives should be cherished. An Odinist in today’s world SHOULD have handled that situation as I did. Odinists are expected to be heroes. Modern people are expected to have ideals. So I do not feel, as my right-wing brothers and sisters, that such sentimentality is a weakness. Indeed, I have found it a great source of strength. And because I am a hero, I will take risks to live up to those ideals. That means protecting the stupid teenagers I was responsible for from the consequences of their own actions. It ALSO meant protecting the attackers, if I possibly could manage it.

And you know what? I DID. I sent them all packing without ANYONE having to get hurt.

Particularly me.

All because I used a warrior’s BEST weapon: that 8 pound lump of grey goo in my skull. And this wasn’t an isolated incident. Since I graduated from my martial arts program, and got enough experience in the real world to have some worth as a serious fighter, you know what?

I’ve never had to fight. I have handled every situation that has arisen in the last several years by using my head and my words. And this is because I think I do understand a thing or two about Odin’s path and its relationship to today’s world.

My pacifistic, liberal brothers and sisters are wrong that only thugs and professional lawmen have need of the skills of war. Lawmen cannot be everywhere, and even privileged rich countries have many dark and bad things happening all over. Because I had the skills needed to fight for my life, I had the confidence to tackle a few of these situations. My more war-like right wing brethren are also wrong. Because I had the benefit of modern, peaceful, evolved ideals I could manage to resolve things, again and again, so that nobody had to get hurt. I survived to fight another day. My kids survived. Mission accomplished, minimum fuss, maximum efficiency. Because I could take the high road, and show that you could be a better person even in the face of danger, I could really make these kids listen when I told them that their lives could be better, even nobler, than the lives they were then living. It is because I see both Odin’s higher intellectual functions and his base warrior functions that I could do these things.

Of course, many of you dear readers are going to see this as a simple excuse to boast on my part. Somehow, whenever I have to talk about any experiences from either my scientific work or adventuring, most people leap to that conclusion. But I think that what I have to say here is important. Odin offers something unique to the modern world, something that it needs. Odin’s path allows everyone, even lay people, to receive some of the benefits of the warrior’s path, without the need to become a soldier. It encourages people to have heroic ideals. And it offers a way to uphold those ideals, without either weakness or compromise. Odinists can benefit from the perspective of both right and left wing, both liberal and conservative. Odinists can go far beyond the limits of either of these philosophies. And that understanding won’t be passed around unless people talk about something other than either the knee-jerk violence and warrior-responses of the right wing heathens or the often unworkable but still beautiful and all too necessary ideals of the left wing heathens.

I came to much of this understanding on a road that started on the night that I stood in the ruins of Dogtown, and held my hand in a fire, and understood what GOING BERSERK truly meant.

Odin and Science

Well, it’s been a while since I have been able to post. Life gets busy sometimes when you’re self-employed. However, after seeing this post on Odin and science, I got jealous enough to want to say something on the subject myself. I wish I’d written the post. The author covers the subject well, though, and there’s little I can add. However, because it is a subject that heathenry in general should be more aware of, I thought it appropriate to spread the word a little further.

I do relate strongly to Odin as a god of war, and warriors. The things that I have learned on this path are invaluable to me in all walks of life. But this is not the primary relationship that I have with him. Like the author of this post, I relate to him primarily as a god of science. The part I have played in the redevelopment of the berserkergang has been the part of a scientist. My primary interests in life are all scientific explorations of one sort or another. And it is Odin who guides me in these explorations.

Odin teaches understanding. He teaches being willing to make great sacrifices in exchange for knowledge. The skills that he teaches, particularly the transcendental awareness states of seidh and galdr, are of great use in the pursuit of science. His whole approach to the world is that of a scientist: exploring, experimenting, understanding. Odin is a god of the acquisition of power, and he well understands that knowledge brings power.

Anyways, read the post. It’s good.