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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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Go Where The Wind Takes You….

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s January Gathering: Winter Wonder; masked photo is Cliffs of Maine by Connla Freyjason; masked image of Odin by Hans Thoma, open domain; Quote by Lindsey Maxwell, author of Fenris: The Wolf and the White Lady, available via Amazon, and soon from Saga Press.

“Not bound to swear allegiance to any master, wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. 

Drop the question what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that Fate allows you.” —Horace, Roman Poet (65-8 BC)

I’ve officially decided to become a Viking.  Not in some culturally inappropriate “Brosatru” kind of way, but in the very real sense of what that word actually means.  You see, to those uninitiated in Norse Culture, the term Viking has come to mean an entire cultural period and the Norse people who lived during it, when, in fact, it was originally a job title, from the Old Norse vikingr based off of the root word vik (creek, or river).  The word could be used as a noun or a verb: as a noun, it meant a person who lived near a bay or harbor who sailed up rivers seeking adventure; as a verb, it meant literally to sail up a river seeking such an adventure.  When I say I’ve decided to become a Viking, I don’t mean that I’m preparing to run out and buy myself a seax and the oft-misrepresented horned helmet and take up sailing! No, when I say I’ve decided to become a Viking I mean that I have finally realized that I am a man living by a bay (Boston or Salem, MA; take your pick!) who has decided to live every day, not in the toil of flogging a day-job, but instead sailing upriver towards whatever new adventure awaits!

Ragnar Lodbrok gives excellent advice for the modern would-be Viking in the History Channel show of the same name:

Don’t waste your time looking back; you’re not going that way!

Last week, as I watched my social media numbers slip while I took some much-needed time away to settle things here in “unplugged life land”, a rather catastrophic realization dawned: I have spent most of the past twenty four years looking backwards.  Even at times when my afterlife has been its happiest, I have steadily cast a longing eye back on the “life I had before”, whether that backward glance was to remember money, fame, fortune, or the legacy-that-only-halfway-was.  Meanwhile, I’ve been gifted, literally against all odds, with the second chance at life that I have right now, right here, today.  Now, if that seems stupid to you–maybe even a little bit selfish–let me be the idiot who tells you you’re not wrong!  Those backward glances have only gotten more frequent, as I have attempted to whip Iaconagraphy into shape as an actual business. With every single newsletter unsubscribe, every single newsletter unsubscriber who labels us as spam without ever even opening the damn email in the first place, every item that never sells, and the daily lack of any Patreon subscribers whatsoever, I look backwards, and contemplate how things might be different if I was still the me that I was before. But I’m not that me, and I can never be that me again, and honestly, I don’t want to be him again. I like the me I am right now, right here, today.  

Looking backwards is just a waste of time and energy.  So, why have I continued to do it?  Well, there is, of course, that old saying: “Hindsight is 20/20“.  But is it, really?  For it to really be 20/20 (crystal clear; a perfect vision), it would have to not be tainted by our own perceptions.  It would have to not be colored by our own baggage.  And face it: neither of those two things is ever the case with us humans.  As we go through life, very few of us “pack light”.  Instead, we build up perceptions, and memories (both true and false) of how things once were, and amass more baggage than Rose in the movie Titanic!  And then we look backwards while life is screaming “Iceberg! Right ahead!”, and wonder why we keep hitting the damn thing!

A Viking doesn’t do that; a Viking “packs light”.  You cannot sail to the points on the map where it says “Here Be Dragons” while continually looking backwards. If you do, you will summarily be eaten by said dragons!  I’m sure your average, every day real Viking had plenty of regrets, memories, and mental baggage, just like the rest of us humans, but the overriding and very real to them concepts of the Norns, Orlog, and Wyrd kept them looking forward, instead of backwards.  In the mindset of the pre-Christian Norsemen, the past, present, and future were “ruled over” by the Norns: Urd (“What Once Was”), Verdandi (“What Is Coming Into Being”), and Skuld (“What Shall Be”).  Now, their understanding of past, present, and future was not fixed in a linear conception of time like ours; instead, they held a cyclical view of time that included things that had already happened (and, therefore, could not be changed), things that are happening (which can change “on the fly”, as it were), and things that needed to happen (which might change or might not, depending on a combination of past, present, and what we moderns might call “fate”).  Don’t get me wrong here: the past was definitely important to the pre-Christian Norsemen.  Urd (“What Once Was”) served to define who they were in the present moment, and nothing and no one could change that definition, which was based on past actions, past occurrences, past battles, both won and lost (on the battlefield as well as in life).  But they understood wholeheartedly that the past could not be changed, so why focus on continually looking backwards and fondly wishing for a change that could never come?  Urd was (and still is) Orlog: the layers of that which has become, and those layers are set in stoneOrlog cannot be changed anymore than the modern laws of physics. Wyrd, however, can change.  Paul Bauschatz explains in The Well and The Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture that wyrd  “governs the working out of the past into the present (or, more accurately, the working in of the present into the past)”.  In other words, the past doesn’t just influence the present, as we understand things within our modern concept of linear time, the present can also influence the past.  Since the very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result, it therefore makes zero sense to constantly focus on the things that cannot change–by looking backwards, into the past–but much more sense to focus on what can change–by looking at now and looking forwards, into the future.

That does not mean worrying about the future, however! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the difference between the expressions “I dread (fill in the blank)” versus “I am looking forward to (fill in the blank)” , but just in case you need a little extra help with those two concepts, here are their definitions:

dread: anticipate with great anticipation and fear; a strong feeling of fear about something that will or might happen.

look forward to: anticipate eagerly; to expect something with pleasure

Looking forward means going forth in life with exuberant curiosity about what might lay around the next proverbial curve of the river or bend in the proverbial road, as did the Vikings (the “job description”, not the culture, remember!).  The Havamal, the “sayings of the High One” (i.e., Odin All-Father) given to us in the Codex Regius (13th century AD) has this to say about worrying vs. looking forward to:

The witless man is awake all night,
Thinking of many things;
Care-worn he is when the morning comes,
And his woe is just as it was. –Stanza 23

In other words: worrying is stupid (“the witless man”) and a waste of energy that only makes you tired (“care-worn he is when morning comes”), and accomplishes nothing else (“and his woe is just as it was”).  Instead of lying around dreading what’s ahead, or even looking backwards at what’s come before, we should be actively participating in our present, in order to shape our future:

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
But a noble name will never die,
If good renown one gets.

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.–Havamal, Stanzas 77 and 78

Orlog is fixed, that much we’ve already established. Up til now, however, we’ve focused on how that relates to the past. It also relates to the future: it is certain and unchangable that every man will die. (Take it from somebody who knows that a little too well!)  It is what happens between those two fixed points (or, in my case, even after the latter) that matters!  In order to gain a noble name, one must get renown, which requires active participation–getting out there and viking in the verb sense of the term.  In order to be remembered for one’s “famous deeds”, those deeds actually require doing!  Over time (and, I’ll confess, in a lot of ways, I am still learning this), I have come to finally understand that the point of death is not when your physical heart stops beating; it’s when you stop doing things in this world. When you are no longer actively participating in life, whether through constantly looking backwards, or through worrying about forwards, then you are truly dead, whether you’re clinically alive or not.

Choosing to live your life in such a way that you “go where the wind takes you” is clearly not for the faint of heart, but the terms Viking and bravery have become nearly synonymous with one another in our modern world for a reason.  The actual maps of our world may no longer be emblazoned with the words “Here Be Dragons” in many places, but the maps of our lives most definitely are!  We can risk being eaten by said dragons, by losing focus in looking backwards at a past we cannot change or wasting our time worrying about forwards, or we can choose to loose the sails of the present and actively participate in battling those dragons (and fjording those streams!), like Sigurd battling Fafnir in the Volsunga Saga.  I choose the latter.

I’ve decided to become a Viking.  I’m not wasting my time looking back anymore; I’m not going that way.  Nor am I going to continue to lie awake at night, like the witless man in the Havamalworrying about forwards.  I am a man living between two harbors–Salem and Boston–who is striking forth daily on an adventure: the adventure of life!  And I will sail upriver bravely, no matter how strong the current; I will viking (the verb) every day, no matter the strain, or the pain. Because if there are deeds to be remembered, first I must do them; if there is renown to be gotten, first I must get it.  So long as we’re all still doing–still actively participating in life–we’re not dead yet, and it is high time I stopped living like a ghost, and sailed forward as the man that I am.