Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Embracing Failure: Lessons of Frigg

 

We are not raised to accept failure.  We are trained from birth to seek success, to define ourselves by success, to adapt and overcome, that there is always a path through to victory.  This is how we are taught to deal with a world that we must overcome to succeed.  It is good to teach the young that they must strive, for against anything but their wyrd they may triumph.

 

Note the caveat.

Wyrd weaves as it will, and against it even the gods may not stand.  At the end of the first war, the goddess Frigg had seen her best loved son, Baldur, the shining one, at the forefront of every battle.  First into battle, as he was ever first with a laugh, with a song, with a smile; his courage was as great as his heart and she lived in fear that his courage would lead to his doom.  Determined, now that the Aesir and Vanir were at peace and the Aesir held sway over the worlds, Frigg set to earn from every creature that lived, every thing that crawled, flew, swam, grew, or rooted in the earth; indeed from every rock and metal, every gem and stone, a promise to do no harm to her son.  She succeeded almost beyond belief in securing the oath of every thing that existed in the nine worlds, except for one.  Mistletoe.  It was only Mistletoe that refused to swear, and with an arrow of Mistletoe was Baldur slain, and winter came into our world.  The goddess blessed with the ability to see wyrd, the weavings of fate more deeply and truly than any other, a goddess with power and knowledge almost beyond all definable limits set out to protect her son, and she failed.

Frigg and Baldr

 

Why was no one paying attention?

We can all tell you about the revenge, about the consequences, and the saga are rich in detail about all of that, but what no one discusses is that the great goddesses Frigg, perhaps our most powerful goddess, failed at the thing most important to her.

 

We get told by the better instructors in first aid that some people are going to die anyway.  Then the rest of the weeks are spent working the premise that everyone is savable, and the only deaths you encounter in training are due to failures on your part.  When our soldiers fall in battle or training, the immediate call goes up to see someone punished, as if one of ours fell, someone must pay, because a mistake has been made!

 

No.

 

Death is woven into much of what we do, and there are a lot of things that you can do everything right and still get killed.  That is why we honour those who serve military, police and fire services, because they can make no mistakes and still fall in our service.  We honour ambulance attendants not nearly enough, as they have the unique chance to experience what our soldiers see too often as well; you can’t save them all.  Watching people die when there is nothing you can do about it sucks badly.  The longer you draw this out, the more it sucks.

 

Parents and sibling caregivers get a part of this too.  Like Frigg they have one (or more) they are responsible for, one that they must protect, defend, and provide for at all costs.  Death before dishonour is a great war cry, but in practice leaves either corpses or broken people in its wake.  We somehow forgot that even the gods cannot simply decree victory, that beyond a certain point, how much you have to lose does not actually affect your ability to win.

 

Sometimes the stakes on the table really won’t turn a pair of two’s into a winning hand no matter how you try to play them.  Sometimes you have given everything you have, and it is not enough.  What do you tell the person who has given everything they have, and it is not enough?

 

Society tells them to suck it up buttercup.  Family most frequently will tell them “You have always been the responsible one, I’m sure you will find a way”, or “Its not that bad, I’m sure you are exaggerating”.  The latter one comes most frequently from those family that dump their problems on you and walk away trusting that you will deal with them because you always have.  Family will allow you to get sucked dry by parasitic members of the family because “they need help”, all the while refusing to supply any of that help, or assist you when you get so overburdened you cannot cover all the commitments any more.

 

We have the lesson of Frigga, that even the gods cannot simply decree a victory, that some things really are beyond our ability.  We don’t like that lesson, we don’t look at that lesson, we don’t acknowledge that lesson.  We peddle the dangerous myth that if you love someone enough, you can make it work.
I tried that once, drove myself past all human limits.  It didn’t end Disney.  It ended badly, and the cost was far, far higher than it would have been if I would have acknowledged I was failing, accepted my failings, and saved what I could.

We are not taught to do that.  There is a shame in failure.  A stain, a blot upon your honour and name.

 

We are taught to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold the gods to.  Think about that for one second.  We expect each other to be more powerful and more perfect than the holy gods.  I am trying to wrap my head around how that got accepted as anything but complete and utter horseshit, and I am failing utterly.

 

To people living with chronic pain, depression, or physical handicaps the challenges of our normal lives are harder by about the same degree that walking would be harder if you were carrying a pack with 80lbs of rocks in it.  They can walk, yes.  They can sort of shuffle while you jog, and they will be able to power up a limited amount of stairs, the will is a powerful thing after all.  When you drop them off the side of the boat and swim for shore, understand that they will now drown.  They can’t suck it up, they can only suck up lake water as their burdens take them to the bottom.  Some things are simply beyond your strength, and there is nothing the will can do about it.  That is just that.

 
Against wyrd even the gods are helpless, yet we somehow fail to cut ourselves the same slack.

 

There are people out there suffering in silence, sometimes motivated by pride, but most motivated by shame.  They are busy drowning under their burdens because they have been taught that they are not allowed to fail, and to let go their burdens and save themselves would be shameful.  They will drown, they will break themselves, and guess what, that won’t save their burdens either.  Their dependants do not magically get cared for if they die in the attempt, they just end up short a caregiver.

 

Against wyrd even the gods are helpless, and even the gods fail.  You are not a god, cut yourself some slack.

Everyone else out there; understand we are ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM.  We are the ones looking at the family members doing the care giving and accepting the “I’m OK” from someone who looks like they are about to collapse, patting them on the hand and going back to your life, content someone else is dealing with those unpleasant things.

 
We are the ones telling parents that you have to “tough it out for your kids”, when they are telling you they are losing it, coming apart, not able to stretch their resources enough any more, and watching their house of cards come tumbling down about their ears.
We are the ones telling those who are struggling with chronic illness or pain to just “concentrate on the positive” or “be happy”, as if there is a dial somewhere in their head that allows someone to choose to be overwhelmed and coming apart or “happy” and until now they just never thought to turn it.

I live with chronic pain, so I know this particular dance.  I am doing OK, so this isn’t a cry for help from me, because when I needed it I wouldn’t have asked, and what I was getting was so not helpful, so it was for the best.  I include that remark for one reason alone.  For all of those who are going to read this and say this is whining from special snowflakes who don’t know what real struggle is like, I have lived through more shit than you can believe or I had any right to survive, and that honestly makes me the one who needs to stand up and say this now.

I should have accepted failure when the cost was something I could live with.  I didn’t and the cost was more terrible than I want to remember, but I don’t really have a choice.  Be smarter than me.

 

If the gods can fail, why do we not permit it in ourselves?  There is a saying in French:

“sauve qui peut” save who you can.  When you are going to fail, you can accept that and save what you can, or you can deny it and end up saving no-one and nothing.  There is no honour in this, only quiet despair, humiliation and loss.  There is no victory to be gained by going down in flames, no one will sing your praises, and everyone with you gets burned too.

Failure is sometimes your wyrd.  Accept when you face a challenge you cannot win, that you will not win, and devote your energy and your effort into saving what you can, getting out from under the inevitable results of that failure as many as you can

 

We treat failure like we treat death, but I will tell you a little secret that should be obvious, but actually isn’t; you can recover from failure.  Death is simply the end, failure is a bit like falling, it tells you the point at which you have arrived (flat on your tushy)  but does not say anything about where you go from there.  You can get up from fallen, can rise from failure, but broken and dead is broken and dead.  There is no way back.  Do you see what I am getting at?  Failure can be accepted when its results are best described as fall down, even fall down weeping, rather than fall down dead.  The first two you can rise again and go on to triumph, the last one….the last one is forever, and there is no going back.

Failure is not something we ever want, not something we are prepared to accept when the failure is for those we love, for what we are depended on to provide.  It will happen, unless your life is uncommonly blessed, that you will fail, and if you are really unlucky you may face the position of looking at a failure that you would rather die than allow.  Ask yourself; will death bring your victory?  Will death solve the problem you can’t for those you are leaving behind?  If the answer is not absolutely clearly yes, then you are faced with a cold choice.  Accept failure while you can still survive it and recover something from it, or lose everything by dying.  If you lose everything and live, you can actually go on to win some back.  Death really is the end of all possible aid you can give anyone.  Death is the end of possibilities.  Failure alone, is not.

 

We are told death before dishonour, we are told to put duty before our life.  We are told a lot of things, and then set free in the world on our own to sink or swim.  When there is no way to win, losing is what is left.  When there is no way to succeed, failure is what is left.  Not all losses are equal, not all failures are total.  Accept when facing what you can’t beat, that victory is not going to be yours, determine what you can save, and put your strength into saving what you can.  Swallow failure in all its ugly squalor, but wash it down with hope.  If you chose to accept failure when you still have options, you can do that.  If you attempt to deny failure when there are no paths to victory, you will lose everything, most likely including your life, or at least your ability to function in it, and never allow yourself the chance to find your way back.

Failure is a dirty word, but many necessary things in this life are dirty, humiliating and unpleasant.  Many things in this life are simply necessary to survive to get to the parts that make it worth living for.  Don’t let fear of failure destroy you.  Learn the lessons of Frigg.  Move all the nine worlds to do your duty but if that is not enough and you fail anyway; accept it.  Wyrd weaves as it will, and if it weaves a loss for you right now, save what you can, save yourself as much as you can, and hope to rebuild on the ashes.  Failure, even when it costs you everything you have now, only costs you everything if you let it end you.  It cannot take away what you will do tomorrow, nor next week, next year.  Give yourself the right to fail, and see if the right to rebuild gives you something you can live with afterward.

 

Frigg could not save Baldur.  Sometimes love is not enough, duty is not enough, pride is not enough.  We are no more powerful than the gods, and even they fail.  They showed us you can continue.  They taught us you can be worthy of respect, of trust, of love, after failure; even a failure to protect those whom you love more than your life.  We are so quick to learn the lessons of revenge on others, and so slow to learn the lessons of forgiveness for yourself.  Blame not the gods, they are marvelous instructors, blame ourselves, for we cherry pick our lessons, preferring blood and honour to failure and shame.  Failure and shame are where you start from to rebuild what you can, save what remains.  Failure and shame are ours too.  They are not pretty, they are not cheap, and they are not ever forgotten, but from such mean things can you rebuild a life.

Baldur grave

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Uncategorized

Systems and Circles

There is an odd dichotomy of views in the Heathen community.  We are as fierce a group of rugged individualist as you will find, and yet our ranks are filled with those who have dedicated a good portion of their professional and/or volunteer life to serving the community through “The System”.

We come together as a collective because we, as a group, have needs our individual skills cannot deliver to the level required.   This is a fact.  We require a medical system, because even if each of us had the skill of a multi-specialist physician (like unicorns, you may have heard of them, but few have seen one), even such a creature is but part of a large team of specialists requiring an immensely expensive infrastructure to deliver the required care.  We cannot do it alone.  We come together to collectively support a system that can most efficiently deliver this need to our community.  Granted I come from the Socialist North that does this through taxation as a pure collective effort,  while most Troth come from the Capitalist South where private enterprise under government regulation fills the same need in a different fashion.  We require a police force and justice system, because without them the enforcement of social order there can be only the rule of violence, and either the collective will determines the source of order through the (imperfect) rule of law, or the strong man who kills his way to the top will impose it through tyranny.  Either way, order must exist to protect our ability to produce and distribute goods, or we collectively starve to death.  Our choices are law (police and courts) or tyranny (KGB, Taliban, etc).   We have chosen to maximize freedom of the individual while maintaining collective order through the rule of law, codified by our elected officials (corrupt or incompetent as they may sometimes be), administered by the police (who frequently forget the people not in their uniform are who they serve, not the enemy), and overseen by the courts (who frequently forget they too are servants in the peoples house, but at least strive to serve the laws written by the peoples representatives).

I chose to serve my country as a soldier; taking individual responsibility for the collective defense of my folk, and those peoples who our elected representatives have undertaken treaties of collective defense through NATO treaty, or through short term UN resolutions for international peace keeping and war fighting efforts sanctioned by international agreement.  This is a common choice for both men and women in the Heathen Community.  Heathens and even Wiccans are far more common in the armed services than in civilian life, because to be what we are is to have taken control of your moral compass, determined who you need to be, and having determined what it is you believe, and support, determined what actions are required to turn belief into reality.  It is not enough for a Heathen to stand for something; he or she must take an active role in making what they believe in a reality, or stopping what they oppose.

Now we come to the second part of the collective effort, and the systems it requires; failure.  The greatest good for the greatest number is a guiding principle both of law and of civil organization.  The cruel fact of statistics is that it really is best for most people, and is the only way to run a society.  It is however NOT ENOUGH.

All systems have cracks through which people fall, because human beings are just that, human beings.  We are weak and imperfect, most people earning a paycheque put in enough effort to earn their wage, punch out and call it a day.  They leave the problems behind them when they clock out, and while they may bitch about “the system” they allow the system to take responsibility for its failures.  Those failures are people.  Those failures are not impersonal to those they affect.

As heathens we are community builders, we come together to build connections between peoples, to make ourselves stronger together than we could ever be alone.  As heathens, we understand this is about serving our duties to our relationships.  Duty runs in concentric circles, beginning with your closest family and extending outward along the lines of your duties and obligations until it reaches your nation and beyond that, the world.  It begins at home, and that is the single strongest relationship.  It begins there, and in the case of conflict, that is where it ends.

The Christians tell the parable of Isaac (Genesis 22 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=ESVUK ), where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Abraham bound his son to the altar and was mid way through the killing stroke when an angel appeared and stopped him.  It was enough to know he would kill his child on command.  This is a very Christian, Muslim, and Jewish tale, for their god places obedience above all.

Our own sagas are filled with men and women placing themselves in the way of the gods, in defiance of the gods, of the kings, of the community, when their family was at stake.  If Odin himself came for my children, he would know it would take the last drop of my blood before he got them, and my steel would be wet first.  Our gods tell us it is better to sacrifice never than too often, by what you receive determine what you must offer (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm p146).  We are told from our gods themselves that we have responsibilities to our own to look after first.  Look after your own, and with what is left, look to build relationships beyond.

The system is filled with professionals who can deliver a level of care far beyond my own competence.  The police and courts can offer community serving options beyond immediate violence.  Medical and mental health professionals can offer diagnosis and treatment options beyond anything I could hope to deliver.  The government agencies caring for our veterans have access to information I do not, have resources far outstripping any I have.  They have something else I don’t; something else you don’t.  They have the ability to look at one person they are failing and shrug.  “I didn’t make that decision”, “that was was not done on my shift, that was unfortunate”, “I’m not aware of who made that decision”, “I agree that should not have happened”, “I agree it says here that you should have been consulted”  These are all platitudes many of us have heard, when dealing with a system that has left our child, our disabled parent, a fellow veteran in trouble, fall through the cracks and end up with serious and sometimes terrible consequences.  The system can do a hundred things you cannot, but one of those is accept failing.  While we are capable of far less than the system, we cannot accept failure for those we love either.

What we can do, what we must do, is advocate for our own.  Where the system will accept failure, we cannot.  While the system can shrug and move on, we must not allow them to.  We cannot provide the thousand things the system can, we can provide the bur under the saddle, the nagging voice at the end of the phone, the willingness to go above, around, or through the obstruction to see that those we love have their needs met, that they do not go from loved one to statistic.  I don’t care what the other number is, if the system fails only  one in whatever, the other number does not matter when your loved one is the one; the one that they didn’t save.

Heathens understand our duty is to our own first.  In the event that the system failed our own; the community is on its own.  Where my community, state or nation has failed to protect my child, I will.  Where my community state or nation has failed my parent, I will not.  Where my community state or nation has failed those with whom I served it, I cannot.  Understand that I am loyal to my own first, and my community as I can afford to be.  I am Heathen.  I am not a system, I am a person.  I have those whom I love, those to whom I am obligated by that love, by my sacred honour.  It is upon that honour that I swore to serve my nation, so if my nation ever stands between me and those obligations, my nation will lose.  Duty flows in concentric circles outward from the hearth.  With what is left after our duties to our hearth are paid, we build community and the systems required to keep it.  The system exists to serve each of our hearths.  If it fails that duty, we must not.  If it has failed that duty, you owe it nothing in return, but must instead devote all of your energies to meeting as best you can, the duties the system in all its wondrous resources and ponderous nature, has failed to.

Heathens exist throughout the system as soldiers, social workers, lawyers, police, because we know the needs of the community are real.  Heathens also organize groups to help those the system fails, groups to help the homeless, groups to help our veterans, because we understand that the failings of the system do not relieve us of our responsibilities.  In the end, the system is not important.  Be it the Crown, the government, the constitution; these things in one hand, the needs of my child, my parent, my dearest friends in the other, you will find the weight of law is as of smoke compared to the weight of love and duty.

Father, husband, son, friend, citizen, employee, heathen community leader, is more than just a list of roles I play, or duties I have, it is a checklist.  This is the list of circles of my duties.  Citizen is fifth.  That is the proper place for the system, for if it does not serve my family, it is unworthy of my service.  As long as it is a part of serving the needs of my family, it deserves and receives all possible support.  The system is not something we serve, although larger than any one of us, it is a servant in its masters house.  It is our house, and the system is our servant.  It is part of our duty as citizens and as heathens to make sure we never let the system, this ponderous imperfect colossus, to crush those most vulnerable who are given to its care, simply out of inertia and laziness.  It is not ours to be silent, it is not ours to permit failure.  It is not enough to have tried.  Heathens understand the choice between your inner circle and the system is no choice at all.

John T Mainer

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Asatru, Uncategorized

Lessons From the Ashes

One of the more powerful poems we have is the Voluspa. It gives us the sweep of the mythic past, the context of the mythic future, and glimpses of the mythic future. When I was young, the glory of it all was stirring, as a young warrior, visions of the end times, and the final struggle were compelling. Like most young folk, I missed many lessons of the Voluspa, because I saw only the fire, and looked away from the ashes. Wisdom is supposed to be the greybeards (or grey-braid) stock and trade, for with the colour of ashes in our hair, comes the wisdom gleaned from the ashes of our own struggles.

To be young and idealistic is to speak of death before dishonour, victory or death. For many, the understanding that you can one day be standing in the ashes of all that you had cherished, and yet live. While everyone focuses on the fall of the gods and their ancient foes, the destruction of all that was, the Voluspa does not end there. Indeed, the end of everything is written in the beginning of things, even as the beginning of what will be is written in the death of what was. Life goes on. When almost all is lost, what is left is more precious. When you have given your all and failed; you yet live, you begin again.

59. Now do I see | the earth anew
Rise all green | from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.

60. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together,
Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.

Wyrd weaves as it will. There is no judgement given in victory or defeat, for the gods themselves fight the battles that are necessary, not simply the battles that can be won. Those who took the field at Ragnarok knowing their fate did so because it must be done, with the certainty that necessary was enough, victory was not. Because you cannot win, does not in any way suggest that you should not fight for what is important. Simply losing does not absolve you from the responsibility to keep going.

Growing up in the forest, I learned the lessons from the ashes. Forest fire is terrible, it kills everything in its path, searing the world bare of all life and construction. To see the devastation of the fire from the road is to see the magnitude of what was lost. To tread upon the ash is to learn a different truth. To stride among the ashes is to see bright green life setting forth again. In the fires of destruction are the seeds of renewal awakened. In the destruction of what was, are the seeds of what will be brought to life.

When we are young, we look to build a future and hope that it will last. Some die before their dreams, and some live to see those dreams burned to ash in front of them. Our ancestors were a hard people, but a joyous one. They lived in conditions in which death was common, security a dream that seldom lasted more than a brace of seasons, but they dared ever to rebuild, ever to love, ever to dream. They looked upon the ashes of all they had, clutched the few scraps they preserved to their chest, and began again.

We are not the people we were. Many who have endured hardships have learned hard truths about themselves, and found the taste of that knowledge bitter upon the tongue. Many look upon their scars and trauma, the wounds they carry internally and externally from their struggles, and think themselves weak. The opposite is true. In the light and innocence we hold many illusions about ourselves and our world. When twilight falls, and illusions fail, what is left is often less pretty, less perfect, less whole than we thought. It is real, however. When twilight falls, and the world we built falls with it, what remains? We few. If you are here to count the cost of what is lost, you live still. As our ancestors learned to look at what was lost, to shrug, and build again, so must we.

Young people look at the eyes with a thousand dreams of glory, and promise. In them are all the fires of promise. Old people look at the world and see the graveyard of dreams that were. Some dreams died aborning, some dreams flourished for a time, and some look to live on long after we past. Young people stand in the green of the forest edge and know that tomorrow will be better, old people stand in the ashes of loss and smile, for they know that with a whole lot of work, tomorrow can indeed be better. We need the dreams of youth that we try, the experience and initiative of the middle aged to make practical the dream, and we need the wisdom of the old to remind us that the ashes of loss are the seeds of dreams to be.

John T Mainer

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