Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.
–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason
At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life. It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater: “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.
But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:
It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.
How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it? Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?
It is a reminder to look before we leap.
How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation? If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often! An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”. There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.
And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!
Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day. Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact. It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.
I’ve been working my way through a twenty-seven night runic initiation. The first nine nights consisted of working through Freyja’s aett (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gebo, Wunjo), but I have now begun working with Heimdall’s aett (Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Eihwaz, Perdhro, Algiz, Sowilo). Some would consider nine nights working with those particular runes to be a weighty–possibly even a profoundly negative–exercise. However, I am finding a peace within Heimdall’s runes that I never might have expected.
My ultimate guideline for the study of each rune has been stanza 143 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”; the sayings of Odin, Codex Regius, 13th century):
Do you know how to carve them?
Do you know how to use them to advise?
Do you know how to paint them?
Do you know how to prove them?
Do you know how to pray them?
Do you know how to blot them?
Do you know how to send them?
Do you know how to destroy them?
And within those first four runes of Heimdall’s aett, I have found a “recipe”, if you will, for getting through the more stressful times in life:
Rune of destruction and controlled chaos; of testing and trial which lead to harmony.
Advises against catastrophe, stagnation, suffering, and pain.
Proven by accepting those things which are beyond one’s control.
Sent forth as harmony in the face of opposition
Rune of resistance leading to strength; of delays and restrictions; of endurance, survival, determination, self-reliance, and the will to overcome.
Advises against deprivation, imprisonment, and distress.
Proven by standing fast in the face of trials and via innovation born of strength of will.
Sent forth as strength and compassionate endurance.
Rune of challenges and frustrations; of standstills and times for introspection and/or turning inward; of holding fast.
Advises against treachery, illusion, deceit, and betrayal.
Proven by standing still and seeking clarity.
Prayed: Be Still.
Sent forth as stillness and the ability to hold fast.
Rune of reaped rewards and fruitful seasons; of peace and happiness; of cycles and of change; of hopes, expectations, and successes earned.
Advises against bad timing, conflict, and reversals of fortune.
Proven by hoping and dreaming; by accepting and understanding the cycles of life in the Universe; by working hard to manifest one’s dreams.
Sent forth as peace and good seasons.
When faced with the stresses of life, it is all too easy to get caught up in them; to cling needlessly to the suffering and pain that they cause (Hagalaz). However, if we follow the example inherent in the runes Nauthiz and Isa, we may learn to turn tragedy into triumph by quieting our minds and hearts, and, as we endure, using the force of our will to fuel innovation. Jera promises that if we do this–accept and understand the cycles of the Universe–we will be gifted with reaped rewards and fruitful seasons.
Last night, as I sang the galdr for Heimdall’s aett, I was gifted with the bind-rune, depicted in the upper left of the image above, as well as the accompanying galdr and prayer. For those among our audience who are not working from a Norse base, I have also included Christian and Celtic-based cognates for the prayer. I hope it will help others have a little less-Monday Monday.
Sigyn, show me how to Overcome;
Gerdha, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Skadi may show me how to Be Still.
Rhiannon, show me how to Overcome;
Taillte, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That the Cailleach may show me now to Be Still.
Archangel Gabriel, Help;
Mother Mary, show me how to Overcome;
Saint Ruth, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Saint Elizabeth may show me how to Be Still.
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….