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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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Romantic Heathenry: You’re Probably NOT Doing It Wrong!

Digital background paper, most masks, skull mala, and mandala rub-ons: Samsara (currently available; click image to shop). Horned god, spiral rub-ons, and journaler: Imramma (coming soon). Layout by Connla Freyjason.

Tired of being told “you’re doing it wrong”? You’re not alone! By some Heathens’ standards, I’m still relatively “new” at this, having only arrived at the Northern Tradition in my own spiritual practice roughly a year ago. Before that, I was raised Buddhist/Taoist with a minimalist Christian backbeat, before becoming a Druid (from a Welsh Historical Reconstructionist background) roughly twenty years ago. I dabbled in Kemeticism (Egyptian Reconstruction) for about a year in 2001, but that only really spoke to me on the surface, so I pitched my hat back into the Druidic ring, until Spring of 2016, when (what seemed like an endless stream of) historical research to “validate” my Welsh Druidic Path led me to my first brush with Heathenry. I’ve been working with the Norse Gods ever since. For the record: They aren’t the ones who keep chanting “you’re doing it wrong”!

 
No, I didn’t run up against the “you’re doing it wrong” mantra until I started spending a lot of time writing and creating art for other Heathens. Those who follow the Norse Tradition are an interesting mix of straight Historical Reconstructionists (“screencap of where it says that in the Eddas, or it didn’t happen, dude!”), Pagans with a Norse base (“I’m surprisingly okay with Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis”), Ceremonial Magickians who “dress up” their practice in strictly Norse trappings (“A little bit of Chaos Magick applied to 13th century Runic sigils is perfectly apropos”), and Brosatru Tagalongs (“Look at me, I’m a Viking!”), to say nothing of the Aryan Poster Children (“If your ancestors were not of white/Scandinavian descent, you shouldn’t be here. No, I don’t just mean in this group; I mean, like, on Earth…at all…”). Pardon me for the over-generalization there, but if you’ve ever even stuck your toe into an online Heathen group, you likely recognize all of the above. You probably have also had arguments with parties from at least one or more of these over-generalized groups in which they’ve patently told you “you’re doing it wrong”.

 
Face it: “you’re doing it wrong” is why most of us became Pagans in the first place! One too many hits with the “you’re doing it wrong, and will be eternally punished for having done so” schtick is the number one reason why most of us decided to divorce ourselves from mainstream Religion in the first place, whether that religion was of the Judeo-Christian variety, or something else. So why in the heck would that attitude be suddenly “okeydokey fine” and perfectly acceptable, simply because it’s all dressed up prettily in Pagan/Heathen clothing? World’s simplest answer: It’s not!

 
Unless you’re one of the aforementioned Aryan Poster Children, chances are grand that you are not, in fact, “doing it wrong”. You’re just doing it your way, and if you cannot be a true individual in relationship to your Deity/ies, then whatever religion you’re practicing isn’t a true one. What do I mean by that? In the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

God enters by a private door into every individual.

Whether you choose to define your personal faith-practice as a religion, or whether you prefer the term spirituality, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, your personal faith-practice is precisely that: personal. Ultimately, you chose to walk this particular path, out of all the myriad paths available, because of who you are, as an individual. So the only “wrong” way to “do it” is if it requires you to act contrary to that–contrary to who you are, as an individual—or if it requires you to crush the individuality of others. In the end, if you’re “not doing you”, and allowing others to “do them” wholeheartedly and completely on the daily, then, yes, you’re “doing it wrong”.

 
There are, of course, certain linchpins that set what you and I are practicing apart as specifically Norse. These are things or themes which define what we are doing in our daily practice as something specifically not other faiths, such as Christianity, or Buddhism, or Islam. In March of 2015, the California Court of Appeal established three objective guidelines of what actually constitutes a religion:

  • It must address fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters;
  • It is comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief system as opposed to an isolated teaching;
  • It often can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs.

 
Addressing fundamental and ultimate questions includes providing answers to the “Six Big Questions” of human existence:

  • Who am I? (What defines me? Is there anything unique and special about me?)
  • Where do I belong? (Why do I feel so alone in this world? Where can I find acceptance? How do I form deep and meaningful relationships?)
  • What should I do with my life? (To what should I devote my life? What is my calling?)
  • How do I make the right choices? (How do I tell right from wrong? Ethical questions)
  • How can I be happy? (Is this all there is to life?)
  • What is the point of striving when life is so short? (What is the point of building something only to have it swallowed up by death?)

 

 

 

Obviously (I hope), different religions answer these Six Big Questions in ways specific to that religion. For example: the Christian answer to Who am I could be either “a child of God”, or a “brother of Christ”, or even “an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven”, whereas a Norse Traditional answer to that same question might be “I am a spouse/lover/child of Freyja (or other Norse Deity)”, or a “brother of Thor (or other Norse Deity)”, or even “an agent on Earth working to the benefit of the Aesir/Vanir/Rokkr”. In other words, how these questions are answered from a Norse Traditional perspective is part of what makes your path specifically Norse/Heathen.

 
The second part of those three guidelines, that what you believe in is “comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief system as opposed to an isolated teaching”, means that your faith-practice includes more than “edicts of behavior” or even an “edict of behavior”, but also includes a cosmological framework that includes an afterlife, deities, etc. Part of how we arrive at this “comprehensive nature” lies in how we answer questions five and six of the Six Big Questions. Again, this will be distinct from religion to religion. For example: Christianity is composed of far more than “an isolated teaching”, regardless of how many picket lines you see full of signs emblazoned with quotes from Leviticus. There’s more to it, as a faith, than the Ten Commandments, or even the Great Commandment of the New Testament; there is also a distinct cosmology (whether one considers the “spiritual landscape” of Heaven/Earth/Hell, or even the numerous hierarchies of angels), a defined Deity (or, as most Christians would likely not appreciate me pointing out: Deities, including God The Father, Jesus Christ, and Sophia, aka the Holy Spirit). By the same token, Norse Tradition/Heathenry consists of far more than simply the edicts of the Aesirian Code of Nine or even the Havamal from which it is (in part) based. There is, likewise, also a cosmology (the Nine Worlds), and a series of numerous defined deities and “spirits” (such as the Alfar, the Disir, and the Landvaettir).

 
Finally, a specific religion can be recognized by its own distinct formal and external signs, such as defined places of worship, specific religious texts, and the rituals it enacts. Christianity has the Catholic Mass, its churches (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, all of which generally possess architecture unique to the Christian faith), The Bible, and the common practices of tithing, praying, and performing acts of charity (when they aren’t “doing it wrong”!), while Islam has mosques, The Koran, and the common practices of praying, fasting, making pilgrimage, and almsgiving (again, when they aren’t “doing it wrong”!). Likewise, in the Northern Tradition we have the Ve and the Hof, the Eddas and Sagas, and the common practices of blot, sumbel, sacrifice, and prayer.

 
You may or may not be doing your Norse Faith the same way as the other Historical Reconstructionists, Norse Pagans, Runic Ceremonial Magickians, or even the Brosatru, but if you are answering the Six Big Questions with distinctly “Norse-motivated” answers; if you believe in the Nine Worlds, and in the Aesir, Vanir, Rokkr, Alfar, Disir, And Landvaettir; if you worship at a Ve, a Hogr, or a Hof via blot, sumbel, sacrifice, and prayer and use the Eddas and Sagas as your sacred texts, then your faith is distinctly Norse. It just happens to also be distinctly your own interpretation of the Norse Tradition, and if it is effectively answering those Six Big Questions, while in the process making your life and the lives of others better, then you’re definitely not “doing it wrong”!

 
In my own personal practice, I employ my own brand of soft polytheism, which is a sort of “polytheistic monotheism”, combined with “light reconstruction” and a heavy Druidic backbeat, with strong shamanic overtones. Lots of card-carrying Heathens would likely not only tell me I’m “doing it wrong”, but positively scream it! In fact, some might even disparage me even claiming the titles “Heathen” or “Norse Traditional Paganism” at all for what I personally practice, even though it definitely shares all of the aforementioned features of what would make a faith system distinctly Norse (or Norse-driven, Norse-derived, or even Norse-inspired). That being the case, I’ve recently begun referring to myself as a “Wanderer”, and to what I practice as “Wandering”–or, at least, I’ve begun doing so in private and with those closest to me. More accurately, a lot of what I practice might be termed “Heathen Revivalism” or “Romantic Heathenry”, in the same manner and tone as Celtic Revivalism: an attempt to practice a Norse religion or spirituality within the context of the modern world, while drawing from the historical reservoir of Norse Tradition and sometimes merging it with traditions and practices that are not necessarily strictly Norse in an effort to embrace the spirit of ancient Norse religion. This is my official invitation to you: come and walk alongside me, down this winding road together, for a mile or two or three. I will not tell you that “you’re doing it wrong”, if you’ll pay me the same courtesy. Nor will I try to tell you that my way is the right way for you, for it may not be. Ultimately, I do not own this road; only the feet that carry the heart that walks it. Some parts of this map may work for you; others may not. They all work for me, but your mileage may vary….

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Everyday Magick: gods, goddesses, and God: How Does That Work?

As those of you who get the newsletter already know, my Spirit Guides and I have been reading A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia M. Lafayllve, and last night, something in one of the chapters (over on page 118) really got us thinking (and arguing with the author from my desk chair), so I thought perhaps it was high time I did a blog post explaining how in our little corner of the world there can be gods, goddesses, and God (the Christian God), all at the same time. Lafayllve writes:

“…the innangardh/utangardh balance….is why heathens consider the gods and goddesses, and those related to them, as part of our innangardh (inner circle).  This is also why those outside of that pantheon are considered utangardh (outsiders; outside our inner circle; strangers).  The other pantheons do exist.  Polytheistic logic suggests that there is more than one everything, so it only makes sense that every other god and goddess exists just as ours do.  That said, heathen worship is for the Norse gods and goddesses, among others, and not generally given to those not in our pantheon.  Does that make another pantheon ‘less than’ or ‘better than’ ours? No–it simply means ‘different.'”

(Additions in parentheses are my own, to make it easier for the non-reader of this book to understand what Lafayllve is saying.)

Certainly, there is both historical and contemporary proof of this innangardh/utungardh “balance” of which she speaks–of insider versus outsider dichotomies between those who follow specific religions and the gods/goddesses/God of other religions.  Honestly, we see it every day in the way both some modern adherents of Islam treat modern Christians, and the way some modern adherents of Christianity treat pretty much everyone who isn’t a Christian (or their definition of what one should be).  If you watch the show Vikings (which is based on the story of Ragnar Lodbrok, a legendary Danish Viking King, as related in several Norse Sagas, Norse and Scottish skaldic poetry, and the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, which is considered the first full history of Denmark), you definitely see this insider/outsider dichotomy heavily at work in the relationship between Floki (the Viking healer/warrior, who frequently communes with the gods) and Athelstan (the transplanted Christian priest).  However, I would hardly call this a balance; instead, as you can see from this paragraph (and likely played out in the life around you), it is more of a divisive dichotomy!

To say that such a view doesn’t “make another pantheon ‘less than’ or ‘better than'”, in my opinion, is to live in a misinformed la-la bubble at best, and to attempt to literally support religious bigotry at worst.  If your own faith is regarded as “inside”–as close to you; as part of your extended family; as something worthy of reverence and respect–while all other faiths are regarded as “outside”–as foreign to you; unable or even forbidden to have relationships with; as unworthy of reverence and respect–how can that possibly mean that other pantheons (or faiths) are not “less than” your own?  How can your own not be considered “better than” those others?  Divorce this discussion for a moment from the talk of pantheons, and let’s put it in the perspective of people, and the actual bigotry that we’ve watched unfold in our past history:  at one time, African American human beings were seen by Caucasians as foreign to them, unable or even forbidden to have relationships with; as unworthy of reverence and respect–as outsiders.  (This still happens in some places, mind you, and in some places, the complete opposite is true, with African Americans now viewing Caucasians in this way.)  What happened in those scenarios? (or happens?)  The same thing happens when we view pantheons and faiths through this dichotomy. One need look no further than the current rise of terrorism to see that I’m right.

Reading this section in the book last night, it was a lucky thing our resident Hereditary Heathen, Fenrir, wasn’t the one “driving” (primarily in-body; in control of motor functions), otherwise the book likely would’ve flown across the room!  It was, in fact, difficult for the rest of us to even keep reading, because in our little corner of the world, such dichotomies do not exist, and we certainly don’t view these types of insider/outsider prejudices as balance! No, in our little corner of the world, gods, goddesses, and God coexist just fine! We practice what might be considered polytheistic monolatry or henotheism.

Those big words are just a “nutshell” way of saying that all gods are ultimately one God. The modern practitioners of Kemetic Orthodoxy (another Historical Reconstructionist faith, based on the practices of the Ancient Egyptians) have a particularly apt way of explaining how this works: because God (whom they refer to as Netjer, the Supreme Being) is so much larger than our teeny tiny human brains can fully understand (a good word here would be ineffable), God appears to us in various forms, almost like “deified compartments”, that are small enough for us humans to be able to understand and form close relationships with.  These “deified compartments” may come to us in ways that we are more able to understand from our present cultural perspective (such as Allah for the Muslims, who were originally Bedouin Tribesmen), or Odin (the All-Father of the Norse Pantheon, who was both warrior and wise-man), or they may come to us in ways that encapsulate a certain lesson that we absolutely need to learn right now, but might not learn if it were “dressed up” in typical “God-talk”, such as Arianrhod (from the Welsh Pantheon, who teaches us about Sovereignty, but also about not feeling shame), or Loki (from the Norse Pantheon, who teaches us to laugh at our own mistakes, but also teaches us the grave price to be paid when we do things that harm other people).

I have found, as I have worked hard in my capacity as an ordained minister, that when I talk a lot about Jesus Christ here in this blog or elsewhere, people literally tune out and turn off, but if I talk about things from my Druid-Craft perspective, I get more and more readers, and more and more people actively attempting to learn and better their lives.  I can talk openly about Lleu Llaw Gyffes or Odin–who teach many of the same lessons to us as Jesus–but if I talk about Christ, people effectively “check out”.  Having dealt my whole life with Christians who openly promote the very same “insider/outsider” dichotomy that Lafayllve contends is upheld by modern Heathens, I can’t say that I really blame those folks who “walk away” on the internet when you start the “Christ-Talk” or the “God-Talk”.  While I don’t have an issue with Jesus, about 90% of His supposed followers clearly missed out on pretty much everything He tried to teach them! Because of this, I can easily understand why when you start talking about “JC”, people literally fear that you’re “one of those people”.

I’m not “one of those people”, and neither are my Spirit Guides–not even my resident Hereditary Heathen, Fenrir.  When it comes to gods, goddesses, and God, there is no “inside” or “outside”. Ultimately, they are all expressions of One Big Being that is just too big for us humans to understand when taken all in one big gulp.  I don’t have to work to prove that as a fact: you can see it all around you every day in the way most strict monotheists treat not only other faiths, but also other people.  The information they’ve been fed, through the narrow view of strict monotheism, is just too big for them to understand, much less practice the very good lessons that are often within those specific faiths.  I do my best to try to teach those very same good lessons, only in language (and through gods, goddesses, and, therefore, ultimately God) that people who have been hurt by strict monotheism can fully grasp, understand, and put into practice for themselves (and for Deity).  The only thing that is outside for me (and, by extension, for us) is True Evil: anything, deity or otherwise, that goes against our Values, as defined previously.  I’m sure we can all agree that there is nothing evil about not being a bigot, religious or otherwise.

And that’s how this “works”–having gods, goddesses, and Gods, all at the same time.  If you’re interested in exploring Druid-Craft further, or if you’d just like to become a part of my Tarot and Oracle Card Customer Loyalty Program, please sign up for my newsletter, and join us on Facebook!  I try to live my life in such a way that there are constantly new things both to learn and to teach, and I would love to continue that journey with you!