Refreshing my perspective

I can be a worrier. My natural inclination is to internalise stress until it either tears me down or explodes out of me. One thing that helps me manage this is getting outside, being alone, and renewing my perspective on life. I am very fortunate to have a beautiful place to do this only five minutes walk from my front gate.

 

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This is the view heading south on my local beach. I live on the south west coast of the North Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand. The small island in this shot is Kapiti Island. I know it will be safe to leave my washing on the line today as there are no clouds lingering over the top of the island. To the right of Kapiti Island you can make out the outline of the South Island (we’re very imaginative at naming things down here! The Maori names are a bit more interesting: North Island is Te Ika a Maui – the fish of Maui, South Island is Te Wai Pounamu – the waters of greenstone). On a clear day you can make out the colours on the cliffs and hills of Te Wai Pounamu. Other days, you can’t even see Kapiti Island.

 

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The beach is scattered with pumice formed in the eruption that reshaped Lake Taupo around 1,800 years ago. This was the biggest volcanic eruption anywhere in the last 5,000 years and was recorded by the Chinese and the Romans. Seeing the evidence of such a violent event still lying on the surface of the earth today reminds me of the insignificance of our own lives and cares.

 

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More recent events have also left their mark. There is driftwood aplenty after the winter storms of the past two weeks. Sometimes those logs turn out to be seals carried further north looking to shelter from the weather. Today I could walk in bright sunshine in a t-shirt and light trousers. Last week there was snow down to 300 metres. As they say on many islands around the world, if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute!

 

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The boundless enthusiasm of my dog never fails to recharge my spirit. I never listen to music when I walk on the beach. The sound of the ocean is my music, and it’s also good to know when one of the sneaky bigger waves is coming!

No man-made structure could ever compare to the world around us. No words can recreate the feeling you can get by allowing yourself to feel what a small part you are of a greater of whole. It may sound strange, but I find great comfort in knowing that this world has gone, and will go on, regardless of me.

Who let the wolves out?

I love a good meme. They’re a great bullshit detector, as the bullshitters neatly label themselves as such. When it comes to Heathen related memes, just look out for a wolf and probably 99% of the time you’ve spotted a member of the “Brosatru”. This peculiar group are drawn to the Viking Age imagery of Heathenism and never really get much further than that. It’s all beards and brawn, and the wolf is a favourite image, but typically it is very misunderstood.

Most of the lupine imagery that can be found online identifies with the wolf. The wolf is cast as a proud and noble creature, symbolising freedom, loyalty and rugged independence. Now I am an admirer of wolves, they are beautiful, intelligent animals, but I think people are seeing what they want to see. Wolves are not bad-ass dogs. They are wild animals, and live as such. They have the attributes they need to survive, as do nearly all animals.

So why not exalt the virtues of a seal, or an ant? I’m guessing it’s because of the obvious cool-factor of wolves. Cockroaches may be the ultimate survivors, but big teeth and claws are more appealing to people looking for empowerment. Which I think is the crux of the matter. Do the creators of all these wolf memes and images really understand the context they are portraying these images in, or do they just wish they were apex-predators that didn’t get picked on?

This is where things get weird for Heathens. The wolf is not something you would actually want to be. The wolf is symbolic of the “other”. Heathenism is centred around human communities, and in pre-Christian times a wolf was something to be feared. It preyed on the resources of humans, and sometimes on humans themselves. A visit from a wolf was not a desirable thing, and to be likened to a wolf was to be an outcast. Think of the traditional tales of werewolves. This is also still evident today in any number of European fairy-tales. The wolf inhabits the world outside the community (often the forest) and embodies danger and threat. These stories have Heathen roots, and we are not the wolves!

In the Sagas, the wolf is frequently used as a marker of a berserker. Again, this is a popular image with many people today. Get yourself a t-shirt with “Berserker” emblazoned across the front, declare yourself a Heathen and job done. Except the original berserkers were not really seen as desirable sorts. The Sagas generally portray them as violent bullies, untrusted and disliked by the rest of society due to their anti-social behaviour and frequent use of force to take what they wanted without justification.

The wolves of Odin are not exactly puppy-dogs either. They are blood-thirsty, ravenous and feast on suffering. Is that really in line with Heathen beliefs? They have their place, but is it our place? Do we really want to identify ourselves with them?

Fenrir, the most well known wolf of them all, is hardly a role-model. Now I actually have a tattoo representing Fenrir on my forearm. It’s in a stylised, Viking-Age form, and I can guarantee pretty much everyone who’s seen it has no idea what it represents. They probably think of all the traits mentioned above, and imagine I see myself as some sort of wild loner (never mind that actual lone-wolves do not lead a glamorous life by anyone’s reckoning!) The truth is, my Fenrir tattoo represents the potential for damage and destruction that lies in all of us to a certain degree. It’s a reminder to me to keep in control of myself, to not let the wolf off its chain unless I’m prepared to live with the consequences. The head points toward my wrist, symbolic of Tyr and the loss of his hand feeding Fenrir. This represents duty, both its cost and the need for someone to do the hard things.

So, the wolf has its place. It is a potent symbol. It is also an intriguing and powerful animal. By all means download that howling wolf screen saver. Just make sure you know what you’re actually symbolising before you link it to Heathenism.

Good and Evil

I recently heard a question a teacher asked a student about an assignment centred on creating a fictitious animal. The teacher said “that depends. Is your animal an evil animal?” While completely innocent, and coming from a thoroughly decent person, those words were like finger nails on a blackboard to my ears. It’s little moments like these that remind you that you don’t subscribe to the prevalent viewpoint.

I would contend that most people, not just Heathens, if they gave it some thought, would find the notion that animals can be “good” or “evil” is quite absurd. Good and evil are human constructs. In the context of our society, they are more particularly a construct of Christianity and its related religions. Animals act for the benefit of themselves, or their own kind, driven by the biological imperative to continue their species. Sharks, for example, have no evil agenda to eat surfers and swimmers. They are just looking for a meal, or sometimes just looking. A shark’s mouth is very sensitive, and like a giant baby they like to investigate objects by putting them in their mouths. Unfortunately for us, we usually come out a little worse for wear when on the receiving end of this behaviour!

My point is though, the shark is not evil. We may not have enjoyed this interaction, and may understandably be wary of sharks in the future, but that is a standpoint informed by own needs (ie: staying alive!) Snakes are another useful example of this strange phenomenon of projecting human values on to animals. In the western world, the snake is a symbol of deceit, treachery and general “evilness”, thanks in no small part to the Christian bible. In China, snakes are considered wise, and their cool calculation is a desirable trait. How can both of these be true? I know how – because humans are making it all up! Snakes do not go looking for trouble. They hunt to survive, and they protect themselves. I doubt a snake has ever bitten a person that they weren’t either looking to make a meal of, or had messed with it first. And if looking to make a meal of something qualifies you as evil, then plenty of animals have a very strong case against us!

This characterisation into the camps of good and evil is also quite ridiculous when placed on to humans. Whether something is good or evil depends entirely on where you fit into the picture. When something furthers our own agenda, it is “good”. When someone else’s agenda clashes with ours, we drag out the “evil” label. I think quite often these labels reduce our thinking, and limit our actions.

Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that everyone should be allowed to push their own agenda to the detriment of others. Just because I think something shouldn’t be labelled as evil, does not mean I think it should be allowed to do as it pleases. Rather, instead of looking at the actions of say a terrorist group, or a bad neighbour (again, there’s a subjective term) as being based on some evilness, look to the motivations behind those actions. There will be some self-interest, or some form of self-preservation. Within those motivators will lie the key to understanding and countering whatever it is. To return to the example of animals, instead of waging a crusade against the “evil” shark, I would be better off to understand why sharks bite people and act to limit my exposure to situations where I could get bitten. This may take the form of keeping sharks away from me (eg: shark nets), or keeping myself away from sharks (eg: a swimming pool!), but either way will much more useful than trying to pick fights with sharks.

To flip that around, we shouldn’t necessarily limit ourselves to a restricted concept of what is “good”. Actions simply are. Whether they are good or not all depends on your role. In a Christian dominated society, the default mindset of the majority, even if they aren’t religious, is most often to define things as either inherently good or evil. They are programmed to see the world in this way, as it reinforces the Monotheistic agenda of “you’re either with us or against us. Pick a side and start battling for your soul”. Most polytheistic viewpoints come back to seeing the world as a more complex place, with many different parts of equal value all interacting with each other. What is right is only what is right for you in that moment and the consequences it brings. No one will cede their own free will or pay money for this viewpoint, however, so for the Monotheists, all us evil bastards must convert or die! What a business model 🙂

All this from one passing remark! Sometimes it’s exhausting being a Heathen 🙂

Self Reliance

Us Heathens like to regard ourselves as a self-reliant lot. When self-reliance is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is an image of vegetable gardens, home-made clothes and poor lighting. For some people that is their reality too. With Heathens by our nature being generally quite independent types, I wouldn’t be surprised to find an above-average representation of us among those striving to live the good life, myself included to a certain extent.

I think self-reliance goes a bit deeper than that, however, and is available to someone living in an urban apartment just as much as it is to those living off the land. In a literal sense, we all have a degree of self-reliance in the physical world. Some of us are better placed and equipped to meet our physical needs than others, but no one is truly self-sufficient. The complex nature of the modern world makes it very difficult to live at the extreme self-reliance end of the spectrum, and to do so means isolation from the world to a large degree.

What I’m talking about is mental self-reliance. This means thinking for yourself, making your own decisions and your own judgements. This doesn’t come easy. To be mentally self-reliant means taking on the responsibility of educating and informing yourself to make these choices. It also means taking responsibility for your decisions. It’s no use claiming to be a self-reliant person if you go looking for others to blame when your own choices don’t turn out as you planned or hoped.

Luckily for us, a Heathen mind set is well suited to self-reliance. Heathens are not instructed by doctrine or institutions, and our Gods do not dictate how we are to live. They do not punish us for failing to follow instructions, but nor do they provide us with instructions in the first place. Their own deeds may guide us, and we may strive to gain their assistance, but Heathens know they must stand on their own two feet. There is no comfort of a paternal God sitting on a cloud watching over us, but I’ll take the freedom any day.

This can run counter to the world around us. How often do we see people looking for someone to blame where there is no blame? How many people are held back by an inability to free their minds and empower themselves? How much wrong is done because no one will stand up for what they know to be right? How often are we scared to be different?

Take up the challenge to be self-reliant. Make your own decisions, and whether this puts you in agreement with the majority or not, at least you will know that the decision is yours.

Am I Less?

How do you place a value on someone’s spiritual belief? In the Heathen realm, there seems to be great emphasis placed on ritual. The more rituals you perform, the more Heathen you are. Group rituals seem to count more than individual ones. Am I less of a Heathen if I don’t dress up in robes, chant and follow someone else’s script? Does that mean I don’t believe what I believe? Is there any sense to this? Let’s examine it a little closer.

Heathen ritual is generally seen as a primary way to build a relationship with a God or Gods. Social rituals such as oath taking are different, as while they may include the Gods, they are grounded in the more immediate community of the participants. In fact, I think the social values of Heathenism are what makes it what it is. Without them, there isn’t so much to differentiate Heathenism from many other beliefs, which in many ways are just different cultural expressions of the same underlying fundamentals. Sharing the same core social and spiritual beliefs is what makes a Heathen a Heathen. So where does ritual fit into that picture?

I think that just because a person doesn’t perform any rituals, that doesn’t mean their belief is any less. I can believe the Gods are real, but if I don’t want to build a close relationship with them then I’m probably not going to perform any rituals. This doesn’t mean I believe in them any less. We probably all know a Christian or two who is devout in their belief, but only sees the inside of a church for a wedding or a funeral. The formal practice of their religion may not be at the forefront of their mind, but their belief is no less because of this. I think it’s true that rituals can help strengthen belief, and especially social bonds, but does a few minutes of ritual now and again outweigh living your beliefs in your everyday life?

For a solitary Heathen, there may be little point in the pomp and ceremony of a formal ritual. A simpler meditation or an action that feels appropriate to that individual can hit the essentials and be more meaningful to that person. If it is performed with a true intention, from a place of sincere belief, surely it as valid as someone else’s interpretation of a formalised ritual.

In modern times I also think there is also a lack of confidence in how to go about performing a ritual. We are basically restarting Heathen practice, so who’s to say what is right and what is wrong? How much is taken, consciously or subconsciously, from other religions? Individual, idiosyncratic ritual is not seen in major religions. Standardised ways of worship and ceremony are taught and carried out. Do we as Heathens feel we have to meet this threshold of formality to be a valid religion or system of belief? From what is known of our Heathen ancestors, we do know that practices varied from community to community, person to person, and that was perfectly acceptable.

I think each to their own. We all hear the Gods in our own way. No one can know our true feelings any better than ourselves. If we come from a place of sincerity, then that is the most important thing. Heathens have never had a central church or doctrine, which would suggest they weren’t too concerned about controlling individual practice. As far I’m aware, you can’t be “excommunicated” from Heathenism as there is nothing to actually be kicked out of. Wouldn’t the Heathen world be a great place if no one was spending their time telling other people that they’re doing it wrong?

Know The Enemy

It’s been a mad couple of weeks around the world. Terrorism is now a regular fixture of the news and the lives of people in many parts of the western world. Of course, it has been this way in other parts of the world for much, much longer, but for some reason seven people in London gets higher billing than 50 in Kabul or Baghdad. All these acts of terror are appalling, no matter where they occur and who they target.

The response to such events is always interesting. In northern European countries like England, you can see the Heathen heritage of these cultures. Communities unite, individuals fight back, and no thought is given to yielding to terrorists. What I find concerning is that the real agenda of these terrorists may be overlooked.

They must know that their targets won’t live in fear. Quite the contrary. Time and again all over the world we’ve seen people determined to show they will not be dictated to by such acts. But what also happens is that as communities bind together for strength, lines are drawn much harder than before. The mentality is “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”. A lot of innocent parties are caught up in this, and as a result are forced out of communities they are trying to integrate into, and towards the extremists. Terrorism forces people to pick a side, and once the battle lines are drawn, the battle proper can begin.

What’s a Heathen to do about all this? First of all, know the enemy. The enemy is not Islam. The enemy is fundamentalism. That goes for fundamentalism in all its forms: Islamic, Christian, and Heathen to name but a few. The rigid stance that does not allow room for any views other than its own is one of the most dangerous things in the world. It’s also very un-Heathen like. Our Gods and our ancestors did not claim to be all knowing, all powerful and the sole allowable reality. Odin was a seeker of knowledge, ever curious about the worlds. Even the much misunderstood Vikings interacted with many cultures without violence, and enriched their own in the process. Anyone using Heathenism as window dressing for hate-based ideology is no Heathen. They are just the hillbilly Taliban, and they give us all a bad name. Imagine how the overwhelming majority of Muslims must feel right now.

Don’t fall into the trap of picking sides in a contrived battle. Don’t let your beliefs, or others beliefs, force a conflict where there is none. Stand up and strike back against terror and fundamentalism, but don’t brand others because of their religion. The most Heathen thing to do right now would be to hug a Muslim. They could probably do with the support.

 

 

The Sticks and Stones of Blasphemy

I read this article today. What a strange world we live in! In 21st Century New Zealand, blasphemy is still a crime. What’s more, it looks like it will stay that way, despite some of the politicians in this piece actually speaking some sense. Blasphemy has been in the news lately after British actor, comedian and thoroughly interesting and entertaining man Stephen Fry was charged by Irish police following an interview he gave in 2015 (more on that here). This story has been picked up in many countries, and I suspect there will be a few that still have this archaic law on their statutes.

To my Heathen mind, blasphemy as a crime is utterly ridiculous. I think you can say what you like about the Gods, or God, or whomever. If they hear and care what you say, I’m sure they can deal with the matter themselves. However, I’m inclined to think the Gods probably follow that old saying “a wolf is not kept awake at night by the problems of a sheep”. Actions against a person because of their religion is a different matter, but really, what is the big issue with expressing a point of view?

Getting riled up because someone said something about your belief that you don’t like is stupid. True belief is not contingent on the approval of others. In the eyes of the mainstream, Thor has become a comic book character. That doesn’t change how I feel about Thor, they are entitled to their views. If they get hit by lightning, I may laugh, but I’m not going to blow anyone up over it. Imagine if Jesus joined the X-Men? We already know what happens if Muhammed gets a little flack.

This is at the guts of it I think. Monotheistic religions like Christianity, especially in the hands of fundamentalists, don’t like free thinking. They are set up to control people, even people who don’t believe. There is no room for anything that is off-message. The law is used to control something that in a Heathen world has nothing to do with the laws of society. It’s like a large scale Truman Show is going on, and blasphemy is the beginning of a slippery slope to independence and then loss of control. This line of thinking leads to the blind obedience and manipulation that creates ideologically driven terrorists.

Is your belief so fragile that any words of opposition are a threat that must be dealt with as a crime? Jesus H Christ, grow the fuck up! Prosecuting someone for blasphemy is religious persecution. If I don’t make any more posts on this blog, assume I have been burned at the stake!