Posted by: justblade | March 25, 2012

Light my fire – pondering kenaz

Kenaz has two major meaning associations – one, the torch or firebrand, from the Old English Rune Poem and the other, ulcer or sore, appearing in both the Norwegian and Icelandic Rune Poems. These juxtaposed meanings have been explored widely in most publications on the runes, including Pollington, Paxson, Gundarsson, and the list goes on. My pondering was sparked in a rather unexpected context – while I was exercising.

Exercise is not the first place I would have thought of for engaging in meditation, but it is certainly not unknown. It seems to crop up reasonably regularly especially in endurance activities as well as those requiring focus. I have recently started running and completed my first 7km run. I have come to enjoy the strength I find in my body as well as some time that is mine to sweat out listening to music that carries me along (in my case, hard dance/NRG and oldskool techno). While I consider that caring for my health is an important aspect of my Heathen practice, this is not a post about physical exercise per se. It is about blending the physical exercise with spiritual exercise and the interesting things that can come of it.

One of the components of my current training programme is interval training (intervals of one minute walking, four minutes jogging/running , for those that are interested). I was on an interval run yesterday and using the time to alternate between paying attention to my body in terms of maintaining good form and allowing myself to be carried away into other thoughts. This blend of association/dissociation was something that came up at a running seminar I went to before my first run and is something of a common experience. The apparent ideal is to maintain a 50/50 split – too much focus in the body is too hard to maintain and too much thinking about other things risks not paying enough attention to form and risking injury. I have found that I can associate well even while listening to music because I use music that I love dancing to, and that requires body awareness for me at least. Sometimes the music will also support the dissociating times for me, but yesterday I had a ‘light bulb’ moment courtesy of kenaz.

I had been musing on runes and the challenges I faced last year in too much ‘busy’ interfering with my desire to write and do other Heathen-related things. Thanks to a coupon gift of five sauna sessions at a local spa, I had been meditating on ingwaz a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure why kenaz popped into my head yesterday while I was running but it did. It was just over half way through my run time and was at a point of balance between feeling strong and limber while also starting to fatigue a little and feel sore in places. The following ramble attempts at a first capture of the ponderings. I hope to come back to this and tease it into a more coherent form.

Kenaz the torch – the spark and inspiration, a firebrand lighting the way, leading a march or signalling the beginning of the Olympic Games, spilling light into the darkness and creating a protecting visual field against the night. Hearth and home, warmth, comfort and light against the cold and dark. Heat that helps cook food and burn away the dross. See alongside this, kenaz the ulcer – soreness burning around my body, pain restricting and preventing, sapping energy, fear and self doubt eating away at my sense of competence and confidence. Kenaz turns on its side to form a fire pit blazing, seeing another kenaz, this time the sore, hovering above and then lowering down into the flames. Watching the flames consume the sore as it burns into ash and then nothing. Feeling the fire work its warmth through the shoulder where soreness has sat, slowly releasing strain and restoring free movement.  Feeling my body moving freely, fuelled by the fire of enjoyment. Kenaz turns into the torch again, lighting the way.

It was not a long meditation and was broken up by the interval structure when I did come back to my body to check my form and bring my heart rate back down so that I could exert myself again for the next running interval. The gym or out on a run are times I have to myself and no interruptions or distractions. Surprisingly perhaps, it also feels good to be doing ‘active’ meditation that includes association as well as dissociation time as a kind of embodied practice. Considering that I have done a lot of ‘practice’ while out dancing in the past, maybe this is not so surprising after all.

Advertisements
Posted by: justblade | December 28, 2010

Midsummer Madness!

This blog has been a bit quiet for some time, thanks to a lot of Life Happening. Perhaps this solstice feast is a good time to revive some good habits, including writing! A whole mess of public holidays and a break from work certainly helps as well.

Being Heathen in the Southern Hemisphere means that this is our Summer Solstice. I’ve never lived in a place where Midwinter has coincided with the wider cultural celebrations associated with December. It certainly puts a curious spin on the decorations, carols, food and activities most associated with Christmas in the countries that I’ve lived (Australia and New Zealand). It’s also a curiosity for many work colleagues and friends who ask what I’m doing for Christmas, to which my reply is “not much, as it’s not something I celebrate.” A response that is a huge conversation stopper, as most people anticipate a lengthy reply about catching up with friends, family and so on.

I read with great interest the post from T Thorn Coyle on why Christians should take back Christmas. She makes some solid points about the beast that Christmas celebrations have become, and from the perspective of a culture where they are at odds with the actual climatic season, it shows up just how removed they are from either the seasonal reason for the season or the nonseasonal religious festivals that have laid claim to this time of year.

For the places I have lived, the Summer Solstice has not actually been the height of summer – that tends to happen more in January and February. Celebrating the longest day of the year for me includes hailing Sunna at her height and seeking shelter against the excesses of her bounty – bushfires, sunburn and associated skin cancers, and the ravages of heat on people and crops. The public holidays help with a lot of Getting Things Done around home and garden, which the housewights definitely appreciate too.

Living in a different seasonal setting can be an advantage. I’ve found in years past it is a useful point to remind Heathens in other places that things are different in other places. Commenting that ‘it’s Midsummer here’ has been the start of many fascinating discussions on remembering diversity in Heathen experience and practice, that historical Heathenry was comprised of regional variation and was distinctively not homogenous.

If Shakespeare’s fantasy on the Midsummer theme is to be given any weight, there is a suggestion that this solstice is a similar time of thinning between the worlds as is commonly associated with Midwinter/Yule. Yule and the Wild Hunt have a firm grasp on many Heathen imaginations, and it is certainly one of my favourite festivals. I wonder about the corresponding procession for this time of year …

 

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnéd luck,
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long:
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

  • Puck, scene ii
Posted by: justblade | June 15, 2009

Frith

posted as part of International Pagan Values Blogging Month 2009

Many virtues generally discussed in ethics and moral philosophy are framed as qualities of individuals. Understandably, many Heathen values are similarly focussed on the actions of individuals, including honour, truthfulness, generosity and self-rule. The heroic poems from which many are derived focus on the actions of an individual (both good and bad), and as Heathens we are influenced as much by our current context as by values expressed in the lore.

Frith is different. Frith is a characteristic of a community, not of an individual. Our Troth volume 2 (rev ed)  has this definition of frith in the Word Hoard –

“frithful security or ‘reciprocal inviolability’ as Vilhelm Groenbech put it, Derived from the PIE root *priyas, ‘one’s own’; frith is etymologically ‘the state of affairs among one’s own kinfolk or tribe.’ Frith is sometimes translated as ‘peace’ but frith is not necessarily the absence of strife; as people in frith can and do disagree, and people may have to fight to defend the frith against outside enemies. Rather frith is a dynamic state of affairs, established and maintained by the bonds of oath and kinship, in which potential strife is channelled constructively and mutual respect is maintained. This is easier said than done.” (p. 499-500)

It contrasts with grith, which is also translated as ‘peace’ and ‘protection,’ however grith differs in that it is generally understood to be imposed by the mandate of one person’s orders, a law or custom associated with a place or event, and most often used in the context of truces, negotiations and specific regions where peace was enforced. (ibid p.502)

Frith presents an opportunity for Heathen values to be radical, in the sense of turning the focus to the community as a unit of ethical activity. Western ethical philosophy has traditionally also focussed primarily on the actions of individuals as ethical actors, and only by extension the actions of whole communities.  Frith is radically a quality of a community and cannot be imposed by an individual or edict. Where an individual mandates that people play together nicely then it is grith, not frith.

Many of us live in Western countries heavily influenced by individualism. Frith is a value that it is simply not possible to ‘do’ on one’s own. It is something that can only ‘become’ among a group of people. It involves building of trust between people and eschewing the ‘rugged individual’ stereotype enamoured of some Heathens early in the modern revival (and still cherished by some Heathens now). The process of creating Heathen community necessarily involves care,  compromise, reciprocity and even (shock horror) love to build trust, not imposing one’s own will on a group by force of physical strength or personality or by volume of speech. Trust in such a community, an innangarth, can be tested by the extent to which people feel comfortable to express themselves, argue, be wrong, make mistakes and remain accepted within that group. These are characteristics of a community by which a frithstead might be recognised. Frith as a community value gives Heathens the opportunity and poses the challenge to move beyond the individualism of the world around us and make a stand for bonds of trust between people not imposed by the will of one person or law, but are generated in the process of relationship.

That’s the value of frith. How about it?

Posted by: justblade | May 18, 2009

Heathen Syllogism

The Northern European Gods and Goddesses were worshipped by Vikings.
The Vikings were warriors.
Therefore, Heathenry is a warrior religion.

This syllogism gets trotted out in enough different places to be worth a bit of exploration. The concept of Heathenry as a ‘warrior religion’ is fairly frequently cited in Heathen as well as wider discourses. It is also a flawed proposition.

Why?

The same course of logic – syllogism – can be used to demonstrate that a cat and a table are both dogs, i.e. Dogs have four legs. Cats and tables have four legs. Therefore, cats and tables are dogs. It uses inference to determine a fact about a proposition from premise statements made by two other propositions. It is a type of formal argument that often elicits truthful statements, such as ‘All mortals will die, Socrates is a mortal therefore Socrates will die’ however can also fail spectacularly, as with the previous example.

The point at which syllogisms seem to fall down is often connected with propositions that are too simplistic to provide useful inference. The statement about the nature of dogs doesn’t take into account that other things may have four legs and that dogs are characterised by more than their four-leggedness. Variations on the syllogism using particular statements rather than universal statements can yield less absurd inferences, however both the premises still require sufficient specificity and complexity to make a sensible inference.

The problem with proposing Heathenry as a ‘warrior religion’ requires overlooking some significant characteristics of both historical and modern Heathenry, and by extension of the Vikings. Popular culture has created the modern figure of the Viking as a kind of heroic ‘work hard, fight hard, play hard, drink hard’ caricature (horned helmet optional). Some popular imaginings of historical Heathens depict the whole community of Northern European cultures as resembling this figure – women, men and children. I suspect this has been aided and abetted in modern readings of Roman accounts of the behaviour of the Germanic tribes they encountered as Rome endeavoured to conquer lands further into Northern Europe. The image of the warrior, either as carousing Viking or noble hero, presents an exciting figure for many to attach aspirations and seek to emulate. The warrior figure is one around which one can build many fireside and feast stories, while the ‘everyday life’ stories are frequently not recorded or remembered. The quest to categorise in this manner could also be seen to be influenced by writers outside of Heathenry giving a thumbnail sketch to a foreign audience, either Roman or scholars in the history of religions.

The question to ask then, is how accurate are the premises which are used as support for the inference that Heathenry is a warrior religion? It would be fair to say that some of the Vikings did indeed worship the Heathen Gods and Goddesses. It would also be fair to say that the Heathen Gods and Goddesses were also worshipped by Northern European peoples who were not Vikings, even among those contemporary with the Vikings. The historical record includes information that many Vikings had converted to Christianity, or as Kjartan is described in Laxdaela Saga prior to his conversion that he “feels more confidence in his own strength and weapons than he does in Thor and Odin.” 1 Something that is also worth keeping in mind is that what we have in the preserved historical information, literary and archeological, is, by its nature, partial. There are tantalising hints of other aspects of both the wider Northern European cultures and of the ritual life of these communities. One crucial aspect of many subsistence and agricultural communities is fertility and there are whispers of information about the beliefs and rites concerning these, however the sparsity of them attests to the disapproval these would have met among Christian historians.

Clearly, the warrior role model is personally important to a significant number of Heathens, and if this leads them to be honourable human beings then this is worth acknowledging. This seems to coincide with a proportion of Heathens who are current or former military personnel. Just as legitimately, there are followers of other religions that identify with the ‘warrior’ role model, even the apparently unlikely Salvation Army within the Christian faith. The difficulty arises when this role model is proposed as the only role model in Heathenry or somehow definitive of Heathenry as a whole and ignoring other options for Heathen paths or role models. Some propose the argument that there are many possible ways of being a warrior and that other people are not the only things that Heathens might fight – things that could include fighting injustice, against disease, for human rights and so on. This can certainly be a useful reframe of the general human endeavour to work for change, particularly because anger can be a great motivator. What it does not do is disrupt the role of violence in our cultures and the destructive effects that war and fighting mostly produce. Some may also see the implication that being a warrior is the only way to be authentically and fully Heathen, the breadth and depth of the human experience reduced to only one social role.

There are arguably just as many Heathens, historical and modern, who do not feel an affinity with a warrior role or for whom warrior imagery does not feature in the way they relate to the Gods, Goddesses and wights or in their experience of Heathen community. The ‘band of sworn brothers-in-arms’ is only one type of human social relation spoken of in the lore. The values of Heathenry frequently cited as ‘warrior values’ of a ‘warrior religion’ such as honour, courage, duty and virtue, are human values and are not restricted to a particular social role. Heathens, as do all people, have the opportunity to live by their values in every aspect of their lives. To idealise one particular sphere of human action sells us all short.

Some Heathens are healers.
Some Heathens are community builders.
Some Heathens raise children.
Some Heathens are producers.
Some Heathens are traders.
Some Heathens are Godmen and women.
Some Heathens are deciders of justice.
Some Heathens are warders.
Some Heathens are leaders.
Some Heathens are …

Heathenry … is a religion.

1 Laxdaela Saga (trans Magnusson & Palsson) p. 148

Posted by: justblade | March 16, 2009

Book Review – The Way of the Actor by Brian Bates

The Way of the Actor: a path to knowledge and power by Brian Bates, Boston: Shambhala Press, 1988

Did you know that when Alec Guinness met James Dean, he predicted that Dean would die within the week? How many actors do you know who have spoken of psychic, telepathic or ‘out of body’ experiences, or even casually mentioned the theatre ghost like it is the most normal thing in the world? What is that strange aura around people who can transform themselves apparently by strength of will to look different even without make up?

Brian Bates is better known for his work on Anglo-Saxon Druidry and shamanism, however he also hold a professorship in psychology at the University of Brighton, University of Sussex and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. The Way of the Actor is a record of the work he has done as a psychologist on the teaching faculty of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art interpolated with insights from interviews with established actors such as Charleton Heston, Liv Ullmann and Marlon Brando.

Bates explores the liminal nature of acting as an experience and as a profession. He delves into the historical love-hate relationship that exists in Western cultures for acting and situates this ambivalence with traditional acting’s connection with the spirit world and traditional shamanic practice. Bates suggests this is due to acting evoking* the spirit or character of another through the actor’s work – in an important way, the actor brings another person present through their performance regardless of whether the intent is ritual, magical or entertainment. Bates identifies this as shamanic due to the connection of such activity with the evocation performed by traditional/shamanic actors, practices which have not been lost to some cultures. Actors, whether they are character or ‘personality’ actors, share themselves with another presence during performance. This is where the liminality comes in.

A significant aspect of the way of the actor, identified as consistent between the personal narratives of many actors and a traditional society’s identification and setting apart of a ‘shaman’**, is that of being different, having an unusual life event or even experienced by others as fey/an outsider, which gives the actor access to other places, the spirit world, or other modes of being (whatever you want to call it).

“We have all felt ourselves to be outsiders at some time, somewhere in our lives. But perhaps this is a more important dimension of the actor’s experience. For, in traditional societies, being an outsider was not only a commin experience for the future actor. It was obligatory … The ‘otherness’, or outsider status, was considered to be the necessary prerequisite which opened the way for the young person to be connected with the spirit-world.” [p. 51]

Actors have a quality of unreality and historically been treated with suspicion because of this connection and their capacity to give so convincing a performance that they are able to deceive the audience as to what is the actor themselves and what is the ‘other’ speaking through them. This has lead to persecution of actors and banning of acting in various eras in christian church history, not only because of the connection with a previous religious tradition.

Bates also gives considerable time to the suspicion of actors and madness. Acting presents, in that traditional setting, the power to heal the rupture that gave rise to the actor’s otherness, that in creating a positive balance to overcome the breach, they heal themselves and become able to “achieve reintegration with the audience” [ibid]. Bates explores the various perceptions of actors as ego-centric, narcissistic and neurotic, utilising comments from actors themselves to dig into the practices that are required to produce good performances which give rise to the notion that actors are crazy. Perhaps the most significant of these is that actors show for all the world to see what most of us know within ourselves, that to some extent “sanity” is a performance we all do. Bates does however also make the important point that the actor (both modern and traditional/shaman) must walk the edge and stay on this side of madness, because the actor is required to be in control and exert balance on the performance.

Arranged through a series of concepts usually identified with that liminal activity of the traditional healer/priest/shaman, Bates presents a convincing picture of the way that actors continue to live this experience, even in the secular Western cultures most of us now inhabit. He sets out how modern actors are experientially connected with those he calls ‘primitive actors’ – presumably to get away in part from the accretions on the word ‘shaman’, but also to specifically identify it as a specific social and ritual role identifiable in shamanic activity but also in traditional theatres such as Noh. He explores such themes as charisma, transformation, seeing, dream, death, rebirth and mystery.

Liminality is not a concept Bates mentions specifically, but it would be a useful one to bring together the experiential and social aspects he explores in the way of the actor. Many of the actors interviewed talk about living on the edge in relation to their performances, and the psychological as well as physical dangers involved in their craft. Bates acknowledges himself as a scientist and the value in the scientific approach to knowledge. Actors, he goes on to suggest, “are more than just cultural luxuries, aesthetic appendages or upmarket entertainers. On the contrary, actors are essential for maintaining vital links with the imaginal world”. [p.204]

The Way of the Actor presents a fascinating study into a different way to connect with non-material/non-local reality in an accessible and ‘non fluffy’ form. It is unlikely to convert the stolidly secular Western skeptic to a mystical worldview, but may consider it an engaging insight into the psychosocial world of the actor.

* evoke – to bring here, in contrast with invoking ‘to call upon’
** I put in inverted commas because I feel the word is overused and has developed connotations in some new-age and pagan circles beyond the role identified in traditional societies.

Posted by: justblade | February 18, 2009

On Sacrifice, part 1

Know’st how to write, know’st how to read,

know’st how to stain, how to understand,

know’st how to ask, know’st how to offer,

know’st how to supplicate, know’st how to sacrifice?

(Havamál/Sayings of Har v144, Hollander translation)

This may seem a strange topic for an essay. We modern Westerners are unaccustomed to considering sacrifice as a good thing. In its current colloquial sense it has connotations of deprivation, self denial and asceticism, or loss and generally sadness about something we have to give up, or don’t have any more. Many of us have grown up in a world offering instant gratification, delayed repayments and interest-free periods. Sacrifice sounds too hard. It sounds like things one’s parents might have said about making sacrifices because the family does not have enough disposable income, giving something up, or quitting – all of which seem out of step with the prevailing culture. The only other echo this word conjures happens around Anzac Day and Rememberance Day, when we talk about the horrendous loss of life in successive wars.

“Sacrifice” derives from the Latin meaning ‘to make sacred’. The connection with religious rituals involving the killing of animals or humans to honour the God or Gods gives us the implication of the offering of a life for a specific purpose. However if we take this back a few steps and examine the core activity implied here – making holy and giving – we find opportunities for creating some positive meanings and strong relevance to both historical and modern Heathen ritual and devotional philosophy.

The first question for me is, then, ‘why give?’

Giving is a basic human activity. We create and maintain connections with others through the process of giving and receiving. Gifts are the shuttle that weaves the weft through the warp to create the bonds of the social fabric. We give in celebration, from obligation, in the hope of reciprocation, the desire to share what we have with those close to us, in recognition of need and out of generosity for the benefit of the wider community. It comes, then, as no surprise that humans should seek to create and maintain a relationship with the Gods and wights they encounter through giving. The enduring practice of giving something to divine figures in most religious settings, be that prayer, worship, offerings, or gifts and service to other humans and the community in the name of that divine figure, is testament to the power this activity has as a human characteristic. Giving and gifts create a particular resonance for the modern Heathen because of the emphasis on gifts and the processes and obligations of giving recorded in the literary and historical record. 1 The wisdom poem Havamál has a significant proportion of its verses devoted to the theme of giving and wise ways of balancing generosity and obligation. Arguably the most quoted is found in verse 145 ey sér til gildis gjöf‘ – a gift always looks for a gift. Another example of the exhortation towards reciprocity comes in the earlier section, verse 44 –

Veiztu, ef þú vin átt, þann er þú vel trúir,

ok vilt þú af hánum gótt geta,

geði skaltu við þann blanda ok gjöfum skipta,

fara at finna oft.

If you know that you have a friend and that he is true,

and that you will get good from him,

share your mind with him, exchange gifts,

and visit him often.

(Havamál Chisholm translation)

The verse at the top of this essay suggests key ritual activities within the historical Heathen context 2 and all have the potential to connect with the concept of sacrifice. The word translated as “sacrifice” in that particular verse is translated elsewhere as slaughter – further evidence of the intimate connection between ritual killing and our modern concept of sacrifice. There, however, is ample written and archaeological evidence of a wide range of possible sacrifices or offerings that reaches beyond this narrow concept of what constitutes ‘sacrifice’ both for historical Heathens, and by extension also for modern Heathens. The historical evidence and modern practice can be grouped into four broad categories – objects, food, animal and human.

Objects

One of the boons of recent archaeological work in Europe and Britain is the increasingly plentiful evidence of the place of object offerings in pre-Christian practice, stretching back to the Neolithic Period. Often referred to as votive offerings, many objects have been preserved in peat, bogs, at the bases of post holes and ditches, and in silt around waterways as well as around grave mounds or barrows. Thanks to the popularity of the BBC production Time Team, the book and television series Britain BC by Francis Pryor and other ‘wider audience’ publications on British and European archaeology, the average modern Heathen has greater access to sources, evidence and interpretation that in previous times was liable to remain the sole province of academia. These have highlighted the extent and role of placement of objects as making, marking and keeping a place holy as a practice that reaches into the earliest ‘prehistorical’ periods.

Within the group of object offerings, there appear to have been two types – used objects and purpose-made objects for offering. Pryor discusses both of these, citing many examples of both at a wide range of significant sites, particularly where relationship or propitiation may have been important. Examples of each of these types include finds at Flag Fen of carefully positioned intact pots and a small bronze dagger that had been pulled away from its antler hilt and placed in the shallow water 3 and a jadeite axe head found near the Sweet Track in Somerset, an item of beauty and such construction that it would shatter if ever used.4 These purpose-made votive objects are often either flawed, incomplete or manufactured in such a way that they would not be useable. Another example cited by Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology is of a find of around 100 miniature golden ships near Nors in Jutland. The suggestion is that these objects were never intended to be used and were created for the purpose of giving to the Gods or wights of the place where they were deposited. Simek also suggests that the kind of gift is influenced by the kind of response sought from the deity or wight. Of the showier ‘spectacle’ votive offerings, spoils of war often feature as object deposits in sacrificial bogs including weaponry, armour and even clothing.5 Ewing draws on written historical records to construe some elements of motive, perhaps a combination of symbolic decimation of the vanquished enemy and thanksgiving to the Gods for victory and according Them their due portion of the spoils.

While a significant proportion of earlier archaeological work focussed on ‘big event’ activities and votive offerings of weaponry, more recent work has highlighted more everyday objects and ‘homelier’ offerings that appear to be just as numerous. “It is easy to become diverted by the glamour of live sacrifice, ships and war gear from the fact that many sacrificial offerings appear to have been far more mundane in character.”6 Farm tools, pots and other everyday items appear just as frequently, and increasingly so with greater focus on people’s daily lives from academic archaeological work. Similarly, Pryor comments in relation to his work at Flag Fen that the sheer volume of objects “suggests that ordinary people played a direct role in what was going on.”7

Our Heathen forebears’8 enthusiasm for offerings of objects appears not to have been taken up with similar enthusiasm by modern Heathens. This might strike us as curious, given that it is arguably as accessible as food offerings as a sacrificial practice.

These days we throw our unwanted objects into holes, rivers, lakes, seas and anywhere we can find to get rid of the stuff. The environmental devastation of pollution creates a very different feeling about putting objects in places and leaving them there. Given the nuisance factor and potential detrimental impact of litter, depositing the types of objects that historical Heathens would have does not hold for us a sense of respect and gift to the spirits of the land or sea. The concern for anything left on the earth or put into water being a potential contaminant or cause of harm to the environment (including animals or other humans) is a very different world than that of historical Heathens.

The evidence we have is that historical Heathens used offering of objects to give worth, to enhance the maegen of a holy or important place, or indeed seek to propitiate the spirit of a dangerous place, which came to include coins as well. A bit of creativity has inspired some Heathens to consider how they might add value to a location through giving of hallowed objects within a public or natural space, through donations to a park or cause, or something else within their means which may be acknowledged ritually prior to, at the time of or in recognition of the gift. Some choose materials that will biodegrade or are likely to be ‘recycled’ in some way. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for some, giving their time might stand in place of an object. In a similar vein to the votive offerings of historical Heathens, many modern Heathens talk about such offerings having a symmetry with the God, Goddess or wight to whom they are being offered or the purpose or request for which the offering is being made. This has a huge amount of scope for developing and adapting a highly accessible component of historical Heathen practice to be relevant for modern Heathen practice.

1 Most frequently referred to in Heathen circles by the shorthand term ‘lore’ – sometimes capitalised depending on what literature is under discussion and the interpretive application to which the person discussing subscribes.

2 Rudolf Simek (1993) Dictionary of Northern Mythology, rev ed. sv “sacrifice” p. 272

3Francis Pryor (2003) Britain BC p.286

4Ibid. p. 131-2

5 Thor Ewing (2008) Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World, p. 26-7

6 Ewing p. 28

7 Pryor p. 286

8‘Forebear’ here meaning Heathens of earlier times, assuming no necessary familial lines of descent. In some respects, anyone who is living in an English-speaking context or where the dominant culture derives from one of the European traditions may be thought of as having Northern European forbears by virtue of being a part of that cultural context. Constituting community and belonging will be the subject of future essays.

Posted by: justblade | January 21, 2009

An Opinionated Heathen

This blog contains the words of one Opinionated Heathen as a way for me to query, research, reflect on, organise and celebrate my faith, practice, theologies and beliefs. It has come into being because I want to do this in a structured way to help myself, and may coincidentally be of interest or informative to others. One of my dreams is to write Heathen theology. I hold an honours degree in Theology and I want to apply the critical, analytical, hermeneutic and philosophical skills I learned during that study to this faith context. I believe Heathenry is worth it, I believe our Gods and wights are worth it and I believe it is a worthy offering that I can make to the Gods and fellow Heathens. This blog is a first step in my work towards this.

Why An Opinionated Heathen? Are not all Heathens opinionated? It is certainly a truism in the Heathen community to observe that for every six Heathens posed a question, you are likely to get at least two dozen answers. Many Heathens marshal many words to expressing their opinions in a variety of conversations, online, in person and occasionally in print. In my experience, this is most frequently happening in private conversations, or when they are public they remain ‘in house’ among other Heathens. Unfortunately also, my experience has included much slinging of mud and verbal incendiary devices because many people hold opinions about their beliefs passionately, and rightly so, and Heathenry has not yet constructed much in the way of frameworks or processes for containing differences or reflective and mutual discussion. I believe this needs to change for Heathenry to mature and grow beyond its current situation where basic explanation is still required to people from closely related traditions such as Paganism, let alone wider interfaith dialogue. I have also been a part of or read of some amazing reflections and theologising in private conversations, and yet the ideas, perspectives and opinions remain hidden from wider audiences, which does not help Heathenry move forward and grow.

Part of the beauty of theological methods is that there is no requirement to agree completely on every statement, reflection or concept. Dialogue, debate and struggle are integral to the process. Theology transliterates as words, sayings, discourse or talk about God(s). In examples from other faith traditions one can see theology encompassing a huge span from the mediaeval scholasticism and theism of Thomas Aquinas, biblical theologies, liberal and conservative theologies, the radical liberation theologies from South America inspired by Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, and more recent branches in process, postmodern, and feminist theologies. They may not always sit comfortably together, and yet they create a wider and dynamic whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

I believe Heathenry is capable of this, and more. And someone has to start somewhere.

My goal for this blog is to write and share my explorations in Heathen faith, beliefs and theologies through formal prose, in essay style appropriately referenced, informal prose and poetry. My wish is to incite, inspire and contribute to the development of a Heathen theology/theologies, to add to the maegen and hamingja of my kin, to build my knowledge and increase my writing skill and to honour the Gods and wights of my faith and tradition.

Categories