Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

In the beginning, there was one

So far Christianity, Heathenry, and even the Greco-Roman understanding of the origin of the cosmos agrees.  Where the difference creeps in is what this meant to the monotheist versus the polytheist.  To the Christian, Muslim, or Jew, the beginning singularity is “big G God”, Jehovah, Allah, or whatever you wish to call him.  To my own Heathen ancestors he was Ymir.

 

The Judeo-Christian group sees the unity that begins as being worthy of all worship, as being the sole possible focus for devotion, sole source for truth.  We try not to giggle when this view is expressed, because those who hold it find deep meaning in it, and we try not to offend.  To us, it is literally impossible to comprehend why they think so.

In the beginning was Ymir, neither male nor female, neither good or evil, Ymir was literally all that was, and therefore it was impossible to determine self/not self, form and formless; impossible for identity to exist, impossible for awareness, virtue or vice to exist.  In the beginning the universe was one, physics agrees.  The big bang pretty much did away with unity, and gave the universe differentiation.  To the Christians, unity spoke and brought forth stuff because he could, and wanted to.  To the Heathens, and many other polytheistic pagans, the universe began with unity, from that unity came the first primordial beings, and their first act upon achieving identity was murder; from the destruction of Ymir was built the material world, and the primal forces that drive the interactions of matter within it.

Death of Ymir

 

We don’t worship Ymir; his slaughter gave rise to the universe, and made possible the ability for the universe to be experienced as form and formless were now separated, matter and energy were now separated, from the mist of Ginnungagap formed the spirals of galaxies, the birth of suns, the creation of planets.

 

The primal forces of fire and ice, creation and destruction, order and entropy are given name as Jottun, or giants to us, Titans to the Greek and Roman.  We know they are the primal forces of existence, and yet we worship them not.  They do not care; they are, their nature is pure and elemental, and no offering, no plea, no prayer will turn them aside from following their nature, so our ancestors didn’t bother trying.

Ice and Fire

The universe is more than matter and energy, there is something more to it, something spiritual.  There is a higher order, a deeper meaning, a thing that stretches beyond matter and energy, something that survives the transformations between states.  It has always been my belief that the rising order and complexity of the universe represents on some level the universe attempting to know itself.  Ymir could not know him/herself as in unity there can be no understanding of self, if there is no thing that is not self.  Unity is not perfection, it is indistinguishable from nothingness.  Unity is not divine, it is meaningless.

 

Our lore tells us from the Jotun or Titan came forth a new race, the race of our holy gods.  They did not create the universe, they were born from it as it increased in complexity, arising as necessarily and inevitably as gravity follows mass.  These beings, in our lore, these gods chose to put their will upon the worlds and the primal forces within it and create a place where ice and fire were balanced.  Those who study planetary formation and life sciences call this the liquid water zone, that place where liquid water can exist, and where, as a result, life can form.  Our gods did not kill off the Jottun, they created a place where the primordial forces were balanced, but they did not destroy them.  Oddly enough, it is the existence of life that stabilizes the liquid water zone, and leads to conditions on earth, rather than those of Mars whose water was bound by the oxidation (rust) cycle rather than the carbon based water cycle.  It is the existence of life, of the liquid water zone that allowed plate tectonics to continue, that allowed the cycles of fire and ice to continue on earth long after they died on Mars {1}

Dead Jottuns of Mars

The gods are not credited with creating life, only conditions where it could arise.  They are not credited with creating us, only seeing in us something that called out to them, and granting us gifts so that we could rise to achieve a higher understanding, both of our world, and of them.

We did not worship our gods always, nor were our gods always worthy of worship, or even interested in it.  There was a time before either of us existed.  There was a time when they existed and we did not, and there was even a time when we were far from being able to perceive them in any but the most halting fashion.

 

Are we not the universe written small?  What better model of the universe attempting to understand itself than mankind.  We who were given the gifts of inspiration by Odin have used that gift to seek to understand our universe, our place within it, our own nature, to find our purpose, and to wrestle with the truth that once we were not, now we are, and one day, we will cease to be.

 

Our gods are not eternal.  Every act of creation begins a cycle that must end in destruction, every birth prophesies a death.  Who better to be our guides in this mortal existence that gods who understand this mortal limitation, who chose to take that step to bind themselves to wyrd, to subject themselves to the wyrd woven by the Norns, to fate, to death itself, by daring to create this place of balance, by daring to limit primordial chaos and bring forth the order that made life possible.

 

There is no one face to divinity, for when the universe was one, it was unknowing, unknowable, ignorant, and as devoid of worth as it was form.  The gods and goddesses, the divinity as we experience and know it is not fixed and permanent, is not “as was in the beginning, and as shall be eternally”; the only thing that is eternal is the cold and silence of the void.  Non-existence is unchanging, existence is change.

 

My gods were not always, nor was my race.  Heck, the human race is less than 200,000 years old, barely a blink in the existence of the planet, less than that in the existence of the universe.  How long have we worshipped our gods?  Really a tiny fraction of that.  As a species, our understanding of our universe and ourselves has been growing as fast as our biology and our lifespan will allow.  As we grow, and as we have the luxury to explore our world and ourselves, our awareness and understanding grew, and changed.

Different gods found different tribes, some of these may well be different understanding of the same gods, shaped by different peoples experiences and understandings; some are just obviously different gods.  Its a big complex universe, if you want simple answers you will just have to accept being closer to wrong than right most of the time.  The truth is something we generally understand in painfully limited fashion, each new understanding being a halting step forward from the last, and an unimaginable distance from full comprehension.  Some of our steps are not advancements, but mistakes; that is the wonder of humanity, no matter how far we have come, each generation knows we have far further to go than any of us will live to see.

I am a hard polytheist, I accept that our gods are discrete and knowable entities.  I seriously doubt they are “eternal and unchanging”, nor would I find it worthy for them to be so.   We know from our lore that many of them are fated to die with this world, hopefully buying us a chance to save a remnant of a remnant.  As an aside, science reassures us that the planet we are on, which has enjoyed multiple planetary extinction events already, has a best before date, and even if we avoid unscheduled catastrophes, we will be seared of all life and atmosphere where our sun progresses into a red giant (oops, those pesky fire Jottuns of Muspelheim mentioned in the lore as proximal doom) before the sun collapses to leave the earth a cold airless rock spinning in the eternal ice of space (those pesky frost Jottuns born from Ymir who seek to return to the nothingness that was).  If we are bright enough, work hard enough, and refrain from killing ourselves off, we just might get some of the human race off this rock and out of this solar system so we, as a species, can out live this event.  The gods promise to buy us time, they don’t promise we will get our shit together and make it work, the lore promises a chance, but we still have the choice to screw up.

 

The universe was singular once; Ymir, unknowing and unknowable.  I can’t worship that unity, ignorance is unworthy of devotion.  On this I will just have to disagree with the Judeo-Christian view, as they are actually forbidden to agree to disagree on this point. This would be their problem, not ours, so I leave them to it.

 

Our gods did not always exist, our species did not always exist; we did not always understand the gods as we do in the last few thousand years of recorded history, and I am unsure whether this represents an actual change in our gods, or simply a change in our ability to understand both the gods and ourselves.  Like a lot of Christians with the question of the Trinity, I find this essentially unknowable question to be a source of both wonder and joy.  Maybe it’s a Heathen thing; but I find exciting the thought that every single generation from now until our sun burns out will have to struggle for itself to deepen its understanding of itself, the physical universe, and that which is a part of us that extends beyond the simple summation of matter and energy that describes the physical universe.

 

To those Judeo-Christians who claim to be worshiping the primordial god, the first god of existence; this is hardly a selling point to Heathens like myself, or to a Greco-Roman pagan.  Your claim to worship the one we know as Ymir or the Greco-Romans as Uranus is to claim to worship a being whose destruction created the universe we inherit, whose death was a prerequisite for the development of life, awareness, and spirituality.

 

Our gods, like our species was not always.  In the beginning, we were not.  In the end, when the universe reaches ultimate dispersal of heat death, or collapses back into singularity, I have no idea if we (gods or man) will still exist.  I do know that we represent the universe’s attempt to know itself.

The gods are formed of the primordial, the great divine power that drives the universe, and we, the most ephemeral of all mortal beings.  It is through us that the divine may experience our universe, and it is through them we can grow to understand the parts of us that will not die when our mortal flesh returns to the soil as ash or meat.  Together we grow, together we are greater, the parts of us that are not limited to matter and energy call to them, the parts of us that yearn to know, to understand, to love, to dream, to create, to dare and to achieve call to them; they shine a light into the darkness to allow us to see a little farther, to know a little more, to chose a little better.  We give them the sum of our choices, our experience, our life, and yes, our death.  Together we learn and grow, and if we are smart, lucky, and swift enough, perhaps some of us will continue to do so long after our planet is burned clean, and left to spin frozen in the eternal dark.

I can’t know.  All I can do is strive to make the world a little better, a little wiser, and trust that uncounted generations to come will do the same.  The gods will be there to guide, it remains to be seen if we will continue to listen.

 

{1} http://www.biology-online.org/5/3_water-cycle.htm

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1664679/

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Faithless Heathen

 

Odin PictureOne of the hardest concepts for me to adjust to when I came to Heathenry was the growing fear that I was doing it wrong, as the deeper into Heathenry I went, the less faith I had.  Now for those of you who are assuming that I was growing to trust the teachings of Heathenry less, or hold our gods in lesser reverence, I think it important to take a second to talk about the definition of faith that we inherit from a Christian European tradition.
Faith, in religious terms is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:
a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion

b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof clinging to the faith that her missing son would one day return (2) :  complete trust

 

There is a clear drive in the Judeo-Christian faiths to accept without questioning, to have faith, rather than trusting the things that you can see, that you can understand and test.  The name Islam means submission, and very much the definition of God Fearing Christian holds the same reflexive belief that human will and understanding, human knowledge and truth are nothing compared to the “revealed” truth of their god.  My understanding of Heathenry is greatly different than this.
The Hávamál has so very many lines about hospitality, about the building and maintaining of relationships, and yet the only line about what is owed that gods is simply it is better not to overdo it[1].  That hardly seems to match with the early Christian upbringing which tells us we have little to no worth, save through submission to God, and that just for existing we require punishment, and owe everything we may possess to God, and should be generous in offering to him, and his collectors at every opportunity.  As I grew older, this sounded more like organized crime, than religion, but the motivational basis was clearly one of appeasement of dread power, rather than anything resembling the reciprocal gifting cycle that a Heathen would recognize.

 

Here it is possibly worthwhile to have a look at the definition of hard polytheist.  A hard polytheist is defined as a person who believes the gods are discrete knowable entities, not all expressions of a single whole.  As a hard polytheist, I accept the gods have actual natures, knowable in some imperfect sense by us, and recognizable to us.  Our gods being discrete knowable entities has real implications in terms of faith.

 

I do not have faith in my grandfather, I met him.  I do not have faith in gravity, I can test its existence and describe in mathematical terms its effects.  I do not have faith in my gods, because I have gnosis, or experience which establishes their existence to me, much the way the existence of my grandfather was established to me.  I cannot have faith, for it is not rejecting the evidence of my reason and senses that is required to praise the gods, for as we deepen in our practice, we see more and more the touch of our Disir, our holy ancestors, the wights of the lands and waters, and the gods themselves in the world in which we live.  We do not turn away from the world to practice our religion, we do not turn away from the world at all.

 

Metaethics is the acceptance of a higher spiritual authority for moral choices.  This is accepted by many religions, and is the source of the word sin.  Sin is defined as disobeying gods will, not doing wrong, but disobeying the will of an entity which may be good or evil in nature, but to which you are deemed to owe obedience regardless of how the act itself might be judged in normal ethics.

We don’t really have that particular definition of sin.  We do have right and wrong, but they are not metaethically derived, but derived from the effects our actions have on individuals, communities and our world.  The Hávamál is not a rule book telling you what is a sin, it is a guideline for troubleshooting relationships and a set of principals that will allow you to operate ethically and successfully.  You will not choose between the ethics given us by the gods, and the ethics we understand from our own internal and societal moral compass, because what is left in the Hávamál is little more than ways to properly define the question or situation, so that you can judge the morality for yourself, and act accordingly.

 

I have heard the criticism that Heathens treat their gods too lightly, and this is a part of the Western European tradition as much as it is of Judeo Christian thought.  The gods of Greece and Rome were quite similar to the god of the Old Testament as far as the punishment for individuals and whole cities who did not offer fast enough, and rich enough, to prove their continued fear and sincere desire to appease the god or gods in question.  This was not a part of the Northern experience, not a part of the lore that is left to us.  There is little of the drive to appease, no body of lore that says the gods are planning to wipe out the entire tribe or city unless we offer richly enough.  I am not claiming superiority to those traditions, I am simply pointing out that while it is built into a lot of the Western European (read Christian/Roman) thought, it was never really a part of our folks fundamental assumptions.

 

God Fearing is a term we can address now.  We do not offer out of fear of our gods.  We do not fear them in the sense that we do not operate under the assumption that they are going to destroy our people or ourselves unless properly appeased.  That is not part of our world view.
We can laugh at the gods, for we do not fear the tribe will be ended if we tell a story, a myth of our gods in which they do something foolish.  Our gods really are great, and do not fear their power is slighted by such tales, and thus we do not fear reprisal for such things.

We do approach them with awe, with reverence, with wonder.  We can and do sometimes face them kneeling or otherwise abasing ourselves because we trust that our sense of worth, and our gods understanding of that worth is not threatened when we feel the need to make an offering of obeisance to one whose gifts, whose power, whose sheer wonder demands from us a gift of worth that we would offer no living man, woman, President or Queen.

 

We are driven to learn about this world, through development of our skills in science, technology, engineering, philosophy, art, history, archeology, astronomy, medicine, ecology and a thousand other disciplines by which we seek to better understand and succeed in this world we inherit and hold in trust.

 

We are given too to learn about our gods.  This is partly the study of the lore, the continual study of ancient archaeology to determine how much of what was once known we can recover, and by the communal and individual practice that makes up Heathen worship, community and at the more esoteric end, spiritual practice.
Again, this does not give us faith, it gives us greater understanding, and a lower requirement for faith.  The first scientists had to accept as an item of faith that the world was explainable through reason.  Those who followed afterwards did not have to accept this as faith, as the understanding had grown already to the point you could use the tools of your reason and senses to see for yourself, requiring not faith but understanding.  Not a rejection of reality to cling to an unproven and unprovable principal, but the acceptance of principals that corresponded to your best testable understanding of the world in which you live.

As a Heathen, I do not put much value in faith, and I do put much value in reason.  I do not put any value in meta-ethics, and expect to make my own moral choices, and bear the responsibility for them.  I do not live in fear of my gods, I do not hold myself worthless before them, nor do I offer to them out of fear of reprisal.

I form a reciprocal gifting relationship with the gods, with the wights, and honestly, with those in my community that I feel are important to me.  I approach my community with love, because for all that I put in, I feel I get back more.

I approach my gods joyfully, reverently.  I trust them, am inspired by them, sometimes terrified by them, and the further and further I go in Heathenry, the less confident I will ever be able to develop a perfect understanding of them, but understand that in attempting it I am developing a much better understanding of myself, and my role in my family, my community and my world.

 

I may be faithless, by the understanding of those outside the community, and many inside it, but I take this as a good thing.  My gods have taught me to trust what I can see, can know, can test for myself.  My gods have taught me that I am the one making my choices in this life, and I had best be doing so for reasons I accept deeply enough to have no regrets.  I gave up my faith for knowledge, my fear for understanding, and reserve my guilt for my actual failings, not for the crime of being born.

I am a lot closer to death now than I am birth, so as I look at that final shore, I am more and more at peace with the understanding I have gained in this life, and find that should that shore be reached tomorrow or twenty years from now, it holds no fear, and at least a little wonder.

 

I thank the gods each day for the gifts they gave me, including the courage to rage at them when my losses are too great to bear, and laugh at them when the world is too ridiculous to accept.  I am a Heathen, and accept that getting it mostly right is about as much as we can expect, and I hope when they bury me that I can at least claim that much.  I expect that I will have provided much fodder for gods, men, and certainly women, to laugh at all through my life, and possibly long after.  At least I had the wisdom to laugh with them most of the time.

[1] Hávamál

146. Better no prayer | than too big an offering,
By thy getting measure thy gift;
Better is none | than too big a sacrifice,

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm

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