There is a term that you hear when you come to Heathenry; “World Accepting”, and most of us think we know what it means when we get here. Simple enough, right? Like most simple things, it has layers of meaning, like an onion, that never really stop unfolding until you run out of life to experience. Maybe not even then, call me when I’m dead and I will get back to you.
We accept the world as it is. We do not rely on faith, to reject the evidence of our senses, of our experience, of our science. We accept the world for what it is, and as it currently exists. We accept that the glories, wonders, horrors, and ever day stuff of this universe are all stuffed into the space we move through in this life, and that we don’t have to turn our backs on this world, and each other, to develop spiritually.
That is one meaning, and perfectly true. It is not all of them. When Odin and his brothers found humanity, they found a thing that was not yet what it might be, that was not entirely without worth, but was little more than the promise of worth. Each gave to us a gift that we may grow towards that worth on our own. Odin’s gift was inspiration, and the little meddler has been using it to nudge us ever since. He accepts what few of us do; that we are what we are, and had best get on with doing our best on those terms. His ways are full of shadow, misdirection and guile. While it is reassuring he has not given up on us, he is little consolation in the daily grind. The unifying symbol of our faith, and the heart of our folk is Thor. That is not an accident.
Life is not what we planned, for most of us. There are times when you find yourself struggling with something you literally cannot possibly win out against, and yet, your need to do so cannot be denied. Duty and self-preservation demands you fight, or continue to strive towards a goal that you know in your heart you cannot possibly achieve. For this, you need to listen to Thor.
Not the brightest god, Thor is often tricked, but seldom fails at all. The reason is simple, as is his lesson. The Thunderer is the simple joy of life; the joy in the struggle, the simple unwillingness to give up, and the pure joy of being. Thor is not grim strokes and harsh oaths, Thor is ready laughter, and picking yourself up off the ground and trying again.
One of my favorite stories of Thor is his infamous fishing trip. Tricked into a bet with a Jottun, he sets out in a ship to fish for the thing that cannot be caught. If he wins, he redeems his boast, if he loses, he gives up the greatest life taker in the nine worlds. It is a trick of course. The fish is not a fish, nor a shark, nor whale, nor even a dragon, it is the Midgard Serpent.
Here he stands, fishing rod in his right hand, fending off the Midgard Serpent with his left, lashed to the mast of a ship that is coming apart at the seams. His fight with Jormunger will bring Ragnarok, and will end only with each of their deaths. This fight simply cannot be won, yet he refuses to lose.
Others might be grim and cold in the acceptance of their doom, but with a left armed punch he smote Jormunger shouting his joy, and with his right held hard the line as the serpent tried to flee again. On and on as the ship came apart, his simple joy in the struggle beat down the jottun’s will to win, as the jottun came to accept that Thor would kill them all, rather than lose. That Thor was actually enjoying the struggle, and would only grow stronger. Thor accepted what wyrd had woven, and got down to the business of simply being as truly and utterly himself as he could.
And he won. He could only win. He could win as he did with the jottun yielding the wager to him, and ceding his prize. He could win by fighting endlessly the battle to keep the serpent bound until they both lay slain. He literally could not lose, because he knew who he was, he accepted the world as he found it, and simply proceeded to do as he must without concern.
There is a strange thing I discovered a long time ago. When I was a child moving through the woods at night, I heard a strange sound in the darkness, and was afraid, for I did not know what it was. Then it growled, and I knew it to be a black bear (weighing twice what my dog and I combined did), and I relaxed. It was only a bear. It was only the Midgard Serpent. There is no thing known that cannot be faced. There is no thing unknown that will be unknown when you face it.
Accept the world as it is, let go the emotional attachment to how it ought to be, how it should be, how it simply must be, and accept it as it is. Then change it.
Our ancestors were some of the most cheerful folk in the nine worlds, in one of the starkest environments. They lived a hard life, and they lived it joyfully. They accepted the world as it was, and got on with living. When did we forget that?
This is not Plato’s world of perfect forms, this is the middle place, the muddy, untidy, imperfect place balanced between killing ice and killing flame, where there are ants at every picnic, and no such thing as a free lunch. It’s actually a pretty cool place sometimes. It has some good folks; buried among the dross you will find some true gems that will brighten your life forever.
It is what it is, and we are stuck here with each other, the way we are, not the way you wish we could be. Accept each other, accept yourself, and accept your world for what they are. Discard statements that begin with “If only”, because they are the burden you carry that steals your strength.
The gods knew our ancestors for what they were, and accepted them. Our ancestors know you for who you are, and accept you. Give yourself the same gift. Accept yourself for who you are, and get on with simply being the best at it you can be. Don’t waste time on attempting to be what you are not. Don’t get so hung up on what you wish others could be that between you grows the frustrated rage that they are what they are, not what you want them to be; that you punish them for not being the person in your head. That is unfair to them, unhelpful for you. Accept people and situations for what they are, and get on with dealing with them. Thor did not waste time wishing it was a whale or dragon on his hook, it was the Midgard Serpent. That is struggle enough without wasting his strength on “Should Have Been”, or “If Only”.
We cast our lines into the seas of chance, and frequently hook things far bigger and stronger than us. That is OK; really, it is. You don’t have to know how its going to turn out, simply accept the situation for what it is, know who you are, and get on with being the absolute best you can be and deal with it. Our ancestors maps were like everyone else’s; they marked the dangerous places with “here there be dragons”; the difference is, then included recipes for roast dragon. Not always a joke, but always laughing. That is the lesson of Thor.