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An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind

All art and words by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy. Please click this image to open a new window and support us at Patreon.

In war, it is unwise to use your sword arm to pat yourself on the back.  Yet I look around at the current “war on discrimination” that is raging within the better half of the Heathen community, and over the past two days, I have seen a lot of people doing exactly that. In fact, I have even seen some people encouraging such behavior through memes suggesting that we all take credit for the Facebook ban of the AFA, even if we were not actively involved in making that happen.  On the flip side, even as this “victory” was taking place, I have sat back and watched as many of those same Heathens who espouse complete anti-discrimination policies (and I am firmly on the side of no discrimination of anyone ever) attack Christians and Christianity as a whole, and attack people for the virtues they are oathsworn to protect (even when they began their post with a caveat patently stating they didn’t expect everyone to uphold those same values).   We cannot pretend, as a group of people, to make war on discrimination while we vehemently maintain our own ways of discriminating against people.  When we do that, the only thing we’re patting ourselves on the back for at the end of the day is hypocrisy.

For those on the outside of the Heathen community, here’s a brief snapshot of what has been going on for the past year:

In September of 2016, Huginn’s Heathen Hof published Declaration 127, which is based on stanza 127 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”, from the Codex Regius, 13th century; believed by Heathens to be the sayings of Odin All-Father):

“When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frith.”–Translation on the HHH website

“When you see evil being done, call it out as evil, and show the evil-doer no peace.”–My Translation

This Declaration is accompanied by a sort of “petition”, which people and organizations may sign to demonstrate their complete denunciation of, and disassociation from, the AFA (the Asatru Folk Assembly).  Those who support Declaration 127 are essentially binding themselves to an oath that:

“While [we] fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right. We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.”

Further, Declaration 127 states:

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities.  We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do.  We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frith, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.  The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.  They are free to stand alone.”

I wholeheartedly supported Declaration 127. 

Why? What had the AFA done that was so wrong as to spark all of this?

The AFA has its roots in the Viking Brotherhood, which was founded by Stephen McNallen in 1972.  This, in turn, became the Asatru Free Assembly in 1974, which gave birth to two other major Heathen organizations: the Asatru Alliance and The Troth.  In 1986, the Asatru Free Assembly was disbanded because McNallen was apparently “too busy” to keep it going. Then, in 1994, he formed the Asatru Folk Assembly (the AFA of today), founded upon a Declaration of Purpose which includes, among other things:

2. The preservation of the People of the North (typified by the Scandinavian/Germanic and Celtic peoples), and the furtherance of their continued evolution;

10. Working to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. (emphasis mine)

A brief visit to their website (yes, I went there!) sheds further light on the AFA worldview.  Their statement of ethics includes the following (and I really couldn’t begin to make this stuff up):

“Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them.  We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships.  We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.  We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.” (Again, emphasis mine.)

So, clearly, the AFA is not only racist, but also anti-LGBTQ.  

Which is why it became blatantly obvious to me that I should support Declaration 127.  I mean, clearly, there is zero room in my heart for frith for anyone or any organization who is discriminatory towards people of color, other cultures, other faiths, or members of the LGBTQ community.  And the AFA not only discriminates against these groups that they consider “outsiders” (utangard), but they also muddy the waters for the rest of us who patently do not.  I have experienced this “muddying of the waters” firsthand: to many people outside of the Heathen community, the AFA represents what we all believe, even when they patently do not.  Add to this a large dearth in Heathen publications that are not either advocated by, published by, or have publishing rights owned by the AFA, and you have a recipe for situations in which simply carrying a book in a shop which is remotely associated with the AFA becomes grounds for accusations of Neo-Nazism. (It happens. It has happened. I witnessed it with my own two eyes.)  Such also becomes grounds for those who support Declaration 127 to not give those shops their business, even when said shopowners are in no way, shape, or form remotely affiliated with the AFA.

It’s a slippery slope that has been built, to say the least.

That slope becomes even more slippery when one ventures into the dogmatically Reconstructionist world of many of my fellow supporters of Declaration 127.  I personally reached a point where I no longer shared my writings or my art because “daily crucifixion” is not my idea of a “good time”. I have sat back and watched, stunned, as other people were attacked (to the point of fleeing a group) for having values (to which they were oathsworn) which mirrored the Nine Noble Virtues, purely because those virtues were supposedly first espoused by McNallen and his compatriots, and supposedly not directly derived from historical sources (even though every single one of the virtues in question appear directly in the Havamal).  I have read through countless posts railing against the dreaded “Christian-grafting”, and Christianity and Christians on the whole, even while also espousing a “show it to me in the lore, or it isn’t valid” attitude: when our lore is all a product of Christian authors, written in the post-Christian period.  In short, I have observed those very same people who were so opposed to discrimination constantly discriminate: against those who are “less Reconstructionist” than they are; against Judeo-Christianity on the whole (which, when you think about it, can border on Anti-Semitism, in and of itself), and against anyone who is so “misinformed” as to accidentally promote something which has ever been “tainted” by the AFA whatsoever (in a world where, until about a decade ago, the AFA was pretty much “the only show in town”, and largely remains such when it comes to quality published source material apart from the Eddas and Sagas themselves).  

Many among the supporters of Declaration 127 see this recent Facebook ban of the AFA as a victory, and on many levels, they are not wrong to feel that way.  However, I keep coming back to those last words of Declaration 127; those last words that were still floating in my head as I signed it myself almost a year ago:

“While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right…The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit. They are free to stand alone.”

Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook is neither fully recognizing their right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, nor allowing them to be free to stand for whatever principles they see fit.  Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook, while supposedly upholding the above principles, is bullying at its basest.  One cannot stop bullying simply by being the better bully!  Yes, there are places within the corpus of the Havamal that suggest “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and bust their heads open while you’re at it”: a thrice-fold sort of vengeance, to make sure things really get sorted and your enemies fully know “who’s boss”.  There are also places within the corpus of the Havamal that say “never trust a woman” and “beguile women with soft words”. We tend to downplay those latter verses, with the argument that we’re living in the twenty-first century, and such sexism has no place here.  Well, there is no place in the world in which we are presently living for thrice-fold vengeance, either. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless, and that is all such attitudes accomplish.

Maybe we have won a battle, with Facebook actively recognizing that the AFA fosters hateful attitudes and hateful speech, but we have not won the war.  So long as we are shackled to our own hypocrisy while at the same time patting ourselves on the back with our sword arms, when the next battle comes, we will have no appendages left available with which to fight!  A zero tolerance policy for discrimination needs be exactly that: a zero tolerance policy.  So long as it is still socially acceptable to point an accusatory finger at someone based on a difference in faith (anti-Christian, anti-Judeo-Christian), or to argue the concept of ergi as anti-LGBTQ as a point of historical fact within our faith-base that still holds true, we patently are not maintaining such a zero tolerance policy.  Instead, we are merely ignoring our own transgressions and shortcomings by loudly focusing attention on the transgressions and shortcomings of others. Until we stop doing that, we will never win this war; we will only serve to perpetuate it.

Declaration 127 is a great ideal, but like most “high ideals”, once you throw actual humans into the mix, things have a way of going terribly, terribly wrong.  I commend its author for what he was trying to do, when he created it, and put it out there to gain the support which it has gained.  I admire him for having the cajones to do something like that, because it took some serious cajones.  Anytime one voice rises up against the Darkness and tries to get others to join them in that fight, it takes courage.  I hope that you will all keep that in mind after having read this post….

 

 

 

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Everyday Magick: A Most Un-Beltane-y Beltane

If you’re Pagan at all, you know that next week is a High Day: Beltane.  In the Welsh Druidic Tradition, it is called Nos Galon Mai, which translates roughly to “Night at the Heart of May”, which always struck me as odd, because the first of the month is hardly the heart of May, is it?  In our Grove, we’ve traditionally celebrated the marriage of Bloedwedd and Lleu as a part of our “ritual festivities”, and the symbols of fertility, Sovereignty, and Divine Union that can be found within that treasured myth.

But if you break down the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, ultimately, it isn’t a story of any of those things–it’s a tale of betrayal.  And that’s pretty “un-Beltane-y”, to say the very least.  When you really break it down, it’s sort of on the same level as if Christians had a big important feast day to celebrate Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. I mean, yeah, that action was absolutely necessary to fulfil the Prophecy of the Messiah, but it still sucked out loud, when you really break it down, right?  The story of Bloedwedd and Lleu that comes down to us from the thirteenth century via the Mabinogion sucks on a Judas-Isariot-level, yet it is also absolutely necessary that it happen, in order for Lleu to truly claim his Sovereignty, just as Judas’ betrayal of Christ was necessary for Him to claim His.

So what is Sovereignty?  We’ve all heard it in the context of government–kings and queens are also called sovereigns, right? Or we’ve heard of the “sovereign state”: a governing body with absolute power.  If you take it back to the original Middle English (dating roughly to the period from which the Mabinogion hails), it means “alteration by influence of reign”–in other words, someone basically takes on a whole different set of natural characteristics when they become king or queen.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about a period in history when divine rule was an accepted “thing”; it was a fact of existence to people of that time that God Almighty placed whoever was on the throne on that throne in the first place. Also keep in mind that almost all of the extant Celtic Literature (and that includes the Irish ones) that we have to go on, and that mentions Sovereignty, comes down to us from this same period in history.

So, then, what is it, and how Celtic is it, as a concept, really?  How ancient is it as a concept? Is there actually any pre-Christian basis for it, or is this a Christian ideal dressed up in Pagan language?  Well, a bit of both, really…..

In modern Druidry (Historical Reconstructionist and otherwise), Sovereignty is still very much bound to the concept of rulership–of being king or queen of one’s own life.  We are all “altered by influence of reign”, but in order to reign in the first place, we must rule rightly.  So what the heck does that mean? It means to live one’s life as an exemplar of the Celtic Values/Virtues.  What’s an exemplar? It’s someone who is considered an example that deserves to be copied, which is what a good ruler should be in the first place, right? To use Christianity as an example for a moment: the reason that Christ is Sovereign is because He is an exemplar; we can see things in Him that should be actively copied in our own lives (which is what Christians are supposed to be doing with their lives: they’re supposed to be copying Christ).

So, going back to the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu–a story of betrayal, remember–what exactly are we supposed to be copying in it? Where or who is the exemplar in that equation?  If you don’t know the story, basically it goes a little something like this:  Lleu was the illegitimate son of Arianrhod (a Mother Goddess figure), and she was so embarrassed by his birth that she put a curse on him saying that he could never be Sovereign (or go through the rites of manhood which were at that time necessary to achieve Sovereignty).  She said he could never have a name, unless she gave it to him (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into giving Lleu a name); could never have a weapon (one of the Celtic symbols of coming of age as a man) unless she granted it (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into doing that, too), and could never take a “wife of woman-born” (so Lleu’s Uncles, who were also great magickians, gathered together flowers and herbs and made them into Bloedwedd, the Flower-Faced Maiden, so that she could be Lleu’s wife).  Ultimately, it’s a story that involves a lot of shame and trickery, and a certain level of entrapment (because all Bloedwedd really wanted to be was flowers, not a wife!).  So once she marries Lleu, Bloedwedd finds another man who treats her more like the flowers that she is, instead of like a wife, and she conspires with him to kill Lleu.

Because she is made of flowers and herbs, many Pagans (Druids included) have chosen to view Bloedwedd as representative of the Land.  In many Celtic tribes, part of the “coronation process” (the process of becoming king or queen) was a ritual wherein the one ascending the throne was literally married to the Land they would be governing (not just to the people who lived on that land, as we think of rulership today, but to the Land itself).  That view of Bloedwedd as the Land, combined with what we historically know about Celtic rites of kingship, is probably how this became “The Beltane Story” in many Pagan Circles and Druid Groves in our modern world.  But is she, really? I mean, is this just something we’ve all grafted on to this story–viewing her as representative of the Land–or is she really that, and if she is really that, what does it say (or should it say) to us that the Land (Bloedwedd) actively betrayed its Rightful Ruler (Lleu)?

If you’ve been following this blog and my Facebook Page for awhile, you’ve heard me speak of the Land often as part of the Sacred Three of Celtic/Druidic Tradition: the place of the Ancestors, and us.  Clearly, it involves a whole lot more than “just a bunch of flowers and herbs”!  That concept of the Land as the place of the Ancestors is the real reason why ancient Celtic rulers were married to the Land as part of their “coronation process”: it was a binding back to the Values/Virtues of those who had come before, and in order to be worthy to rule, one had to prove that they upheld that long line of Tradition.  Within the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, we find a ruler (Lleu) who is bound to symbols of the land (note the little L there), instead of to the Tradition of the Land (see what I did there?).  No wonder he wound up betrayed!

That level of betrayal is what can potentially happen to all of us when we hinge our lives on symbols of what we think are Virtues/Values (or what we’ve been fed are authentic Virtues/Values), instead of on the actual line of Tradition that is the whole of Human Virtue/Values.  When we get so caught up in symbols, we lose sight of what is Real and what is Right; we lose our ability to be worthy to rule ourselves, much less anyone or anything else.  That, to me, is the real lesson of “The Beltane Story” of Bloedwedd and Lleu.  So, what is Real and what is Right, and why should I or anyone else get to define that? Isn’t that also a very slippery slope?

What is Real and what is Right is respect for all other humans, regardless of the labels which society may have placed upon them, as equals, until proven otherwise. I don’t get to define that, nor am I defining that: it simply is.  What does “until proven otherwise” entail, then? It means until they have proven conclusively that they do not value you or treat you with that same level of respect.  Rightful Rule means looking back over the history of our Ancestors and seeing where they got this simple principle right, and where they got it very, very wrong, and then actually learning from their mistakes, so that we do not ourselves repeat them.  That is what it truly means to be “married to the Land”. Anything less than that is but a marriage to symbols–like that of Bloedwedd and Lleu–and will lead us nowhere good…..

I invite you this Beltane to divorce yourself from symbols (from labels; from the boxes we put ourselves and other people in), and instead renew your vows to the Land: to what is Real and what is Right.  Bind yourself back to the tribe that is Humanity; let go of your religious or political or racial affiliations, and realize that you are human, and so is everyone else, and that we are all equally taking this journey together.  Make a commitment to be a bit more kind; to put the word human back in the word humane.  Treat strangers as friends.  Give voice to the otherwise voiceless.  Take your place as king or queen of your own life, and defend your Sovereignty with conscious acts of loving kindness. If we would all only take a moment to do just this one thing, what a wonderful world this would be…..

(For those interested, the people in the accompanying image are my Ancestors–my Welsh-descended Ancestors, to be exact: my Grandma and Grandpa Wilson.)

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Advent Event: Fourth Day of Advent: Stop Judging and Love!

The fourth Sunday of Advent is a call to stop judging, in favor of loving.  Rule-keeping and labeling get us nowhere in life; they simply cause us to judge every single person we meet, based on this or that criteria.  When we are judging people, we aren’t truly loving them.  We aren’t practicing active compassion; we’re consigning people to their fate through verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical punishment.  That isn’t what we were put here to do! On the last Sunday of Advent, we receive the call to love:  to be unconditional in our affections with other people, and release all judgments, whether they are ours personally, or they have been gifted to us by the parameters of some religious institution, governing body, or family tradition.

One of the things you’re likely hearing a lot about this season is the supposed “war on Christmas”.  Apparently, if someone chooses to say “Happy Holidays”, thereby including all of the different celebrations that people other than Christians celebrate at this time of year (Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc.), you are “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  If companies don’t choose to put Nativity Scenes all over their products, apparently they are also “making war on Christmas”, or “taking the Christ out of Christmas”.  One of the biggest debates this year centers around Starbucks’ decision to simply feature solid red cups for their coffees this year, instead of the snowflakes that graced their holiday designs last year.  People have proclaimed that by doing this, Starbucks is joining the “war on Christmas”.  I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, red and green are the “official colors of Christmas”, and these cups are, in fact, red and green. Also, last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not a snowflake, nor is the snowflake one of his “official symbols”. Yet, according to these people, the “war” rages on.

In truth, these people who are pointing fingers and making accusations about the supposed “war on Christmas” are the ones who are effectively taking the Christ right out of Christmas, and they have absolutely zero clue that they’re doing it. I’m not sure if that’s sad, or simply stupid.  I guess in some ways, it’s both.  Why do I say this?  Because by being non-inclusive and not welcoming all people to the celebration by saying “Happy Holidays” where appropriate, they are being judgmental, and not behaving in a Christ-like manner (which is how Christians are directed to behave; that’s kinda the entire point of being Christian!). The same thing applies when they insist that every single scrap of holiday décor must include Christian imagery: let’s face it, if Christ had brought his ministry only to Christians, we wouldn’t have Christmas as a religious holiday in the first place! There would be no Christ’s Mass–which is what Christmas actually is; it’s a contraction for those two words.  And finally for those involved in the Starbucks coffee cup debate: it’s a coffee cup. There are millions of starving people in this world; we have wars raging across half the globe; millions of disenfranchised people (refugees) are homeless for the holidays.  As Christians, you’re supposed to be praying for them, not fighting over the decorations (or lack thereof) on a coffee cup!

Christ specifically ordered his followers not to judge, and yet here we are, living in the twenty-first century, surrounded by Christ-proclaiming people who judge people based on their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender assignments, their politics, and their alternative religious choices.  The end result? Negativity. Lots and lots and lots of negativity.  And with that, punishment: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual punishment in myriad manners, and on myriad levels.  Where there is judgment, there is no love.  Yet Christ also gave a very specific order about love:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” –John 13:35, The Message

Christians are supposed to love everyone, the same way Christ loved them; that’s how we’re supposed to be able to recognize them, as Christians.  Yet, fewer and fewer people in our society are willing to identify themselves publicly as Christians because so few Christians actually behave the way Christ told them to behave!

You may or may not be a Christian, or have been raised a Christian, but it’s pretty obvious what happens when we practice unconditional love, versus what happens when we constantly live from a place of judgment, isn’t it?  Whether he was the Messiah and Son of God or not (I personally believe he is), Jesus was right about a great many things, and one of those things was that we should love, rather than judge. When we go through life judging other people, we doom ourselves to likewise be judged, and nothing good ever comes of that, either. It just creates a never-ending cycle of backbiting, fighting, and arguing.  We’ve no choice when we live that way but to develop some pretty heavy psychic defenses: we have to put up walls, or we’re going to get repeatedly burned.

Unconditional love, however, trumps everything.  It can defeat any negative force that heads in your general direction, from the vicious words of a detractor, right up to an actual negative entity that’s moving stuff around in your house.  Love banishes fear, and very few negative things can effectively operate in our life without the power of fear.  Judgment, on the other hand, operates constantly from a place of fear.  People who are judgmental are afraid of anything different from them, or from the rules with which they’ve been raised. They live in fear, they act on that fear, and they foster fear in everyone else with whom they come into contact. They give the negative complete power over their lives, and they try to pour it into the lives of other people, too. That is not love. Fear and love can’t coexist, it’s as simple as that.

What exactly is unconditional love?  What does it look like? How does it behave?

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts [Spirit] always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.–1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Paraphrase in [] is mine)

Compare that to the way judgment behaves.  Judgment begins from a defeatist attitude; it operates from a place of wanting something or someone to stop.  Judgment cares more about a personal agenda, than about the welfare of others.  Judgment wants precisely what it doesn’t have: it’s way, or the highway.  Judgment constantly struts and has a swelled head, proclaiming its ideals as the one, true, right, and only way, and then shoving that way down the throat of anybody within earshot, with devastating results for those who refuse to obey or succumb.  Judgment is all about “me first”: again, it’s their way, or the highway.  Judgment flies off the handle, spreading venom instead of light when confronted with those who will not obey or succumb. Judgment keeps score of the sins of everybody, reveling when they beg for the judgments to stop. Judgment only takes pleasure in the flowering of the letter of the law, not the triumph of the Spirit.  It puts up with nothing, trusts only itself, always looks for the worst, living constantly in the past of old laws and old traditions that should have no control over the modern world. Unfortunately, the only thing it does have in common with unconditional love is that it also keeps going to the end. Other than that, it’s the complete opposite of love, unconditional or otherwise.

We are all luminous beings who were put here to shine–that means spreading light, not venom; fostering love, not fuelling hate.  We must not only stop judgmental thoughts within ourselves, we must try to practice active compassion by teaching others not to be that way, either.  Arguing with those people will get you absolutely nowhere–remember, that’s the one thing it has in common with love, judgment can also keep going to the end.  But we can lead by example, and it’s our purpose in life to do so.  If we aren’t doing that, we aren’t spreading light, and that’s what we’re here for.  So, love: love patiently, and love with all you are.  When faced with negativity, shower those forces with love.  When necessary, love fiercely, but whatever you do, do it with love.