The View From The Office

A slightly less spectacular view than last time, but still beautiful, and quite significant to me personally. I used to live along this road.

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Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time working in the garden of some former neighbours. I say garden, but this place is big. They have 11 acres all up, so not a farm, but they keep a few cows, and have at least an acre of landscaped gardens with no less than three ponds!

They are quite old now, and their property is up for sale. It’s a slow process with a place that size, and they aren’t in a hurry to sell either, so I could be working for them for a while longer. It’s nice being back in the old neighbourhood, enjoying the peace and quiet, the smell of cow poo, freezing cold wind, and the gentle hum of distant tractors.

Naturally, it makes me think of our old place down the road, and then I remembered this:

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A little over four years ago I had to replace a small gate at home. I put together this little creation, and decided to embellish it with the Jera (Harvest) rune. I’ve often had this rune represented somewhere in my gardens, either painted on a rock or constructed in some way such as this. I don’t know if it’s still there, as you can’t see this area from the road. I wonder if the new owners have any idea of its significance? I expect they probably think I was a huge maths nerd!

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Frith, Honour, Justice and Rage: A Modern Saga of One Man Losing His Shit

The story I’m about to relate to you is all true in every detail, except for the name of the Man himself. Although some of his deeds described below are a matter of public record, I will keep his real name out of it so that the first hand account I can offer is not easily searched online. This sorry tale reminds me of some of the Sagas of old. The events themselves may not be as dramatic (most of them, anyway) but it touches on many similar themes, looking at things through my Heathen lens, I think there is a biting commentary on modern life and values contained within. But I’ll save my opinions to the end, and for now will simply tell the Saga of Steve* (*not his real name. Gosh, that makes it exciting already, doesn’t it?) This is a Saga of two parts. The first is kind of mundane, but sets the scene and character, and things really (almost literally) explode in the second part.

I first met Steve about six years ago when I moved to a new district. Our daughters were in the same class at school and it turned out we shared a rather niche interest: miniature wargaming. If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable telling people you’re a Heathen or other religious minority, try telling them you an adult who plays with toy soldiers! Wargaming is a severely nerdy, slightly obsessive hobby that involves playing complex, long winded games with highly detailed miniatures that cost a small fortune and require a lot of time and effort to assemble and paint. It appeals mainly to middle-aged men or teen age boys (most people have a break in their 20’s, as wargaming is not conducive to attracting a life partner) who enjoy history, modelling, and strategy-type games that engage over-active brains.

It is also a hobby that attracts more than its fair of people with limited social skills. Steve turned out to be one of those, in a slow burning kind of way. Most of the time he was an affable guy. He had a good job, wife and two kids, nice house, and was excellent at painting and building models from scratch. He made things that could be used in museum displays or films. But he was also a frustrated guy. When it came to playing the actual game, he exhibited many traits you would find in a toddler, eg: his ambitions exceeded his abilities, he was emotionally unstable, and he lacked self-awareness. You see, while wargaming is a genteel past time heavily populated by geeky white dudes, it is also highly competitive. There are organised tournaments, ranking systems, rivalries and everything that goes with a cut-throat actual sport. Steve wanted to be good. But he wasn’t.

He said he just enjoyed the painting and all the other fluff, but that wasn’t true at all. He desperately wanted to be a top level player, crushing all before him as he lived out his suburban dreams of world domination. When it came to the particular game that we were playing at that time, I was considerably better at it than he was. Nothing special, but a solid competitive player with some decent results and wins against many of the top players. Steve would pick my brains incessantly, emailing me several times each day when he should have been working, bemoaning his lack of success and espousing all manner of theories on how he could turn the tide of miniature warfare.

I helped Steve. I helped him a lot. It benefited neither of us to keep having one-sided games. So I spent a lot of time trying to improve his game. He’s a smart guy, and on an intellectual level he could understand what he needed to do. His real problem was emotional. Whenever he felt a little bit of pressure, he would fold like a deck chair and all logic and reason and sound decision making would leave him. He would work himself into a right state, and make the same stupid mistakes he always made. But then, after a few days of feeling sorry for himself, his lack of self-awareness would take over and he was back, manic as ever and ready to battle his way to the top.

I got a bit sick of all this. The mood swings, the demands on my time, the tantrums and literal toy throwing that would occur when he brought about yet another self-inflicted defeat. I tried to play with Steve less. I suggested playing different games, ones that weren’t so competitive and that he knew better than me. But Steve was nothing if not persistent. He wanted to keep banging his head against that same brick wall.

One night, the inevitable happened, the event that I had been trying to head off. Steve took one beat down too many and finally snapped. His tantrum got personal, and I was the target. He didn’t get threatening or anything, but I kept one eye on him and one hand free as I calmly packed up and went home. I gave him a couple of days to cool off before emailing him. I told him if he was going to behave like that I wasn’t going to spend any more time with him. Well, that set him right off! I received a lengthy tirade in reply, that was so over the top I actually had to laugh. Steve demonstrated beyond all doubt that he had the emotional maturity of a five year old.

I didn’t see him again for some time, about a year I think. Word got round about his little melt down and I think it slowly dawned on him that perhaps he was the dick bag in this specific scenario. He tried to paint me as some sort of bully, but he forgot that all the people he was telling knew me, and knew him as well. He burned his own reputation. In fact, he even had the dubious honour of becoming a verb among the gaming community. For a long time, having an emotionally fuelled loss of self-possession was known as “Steve-ing it up”.

Awkwardly, our kids were still friends, our wives too. His wife was quite embarrassed by his behaviour. Eventually, she made him try and patch things up. He couldn’t bring himself to actually apologise for his actions, but I made an effort to show there were no hard feelings for the greater good. If there weren’t other people involved, I would have told him to get fucked. Life may be too short to hold a grudge, but it is also too short to spend time facilitating poor behaviour from self absorbed assholes.

Anyway, things were smoothed over for appearances sake, and I just drifted away from him. I had no respect for him any more. I didn’t hate the guy, and I would stop and say hello if we ran into each other, but I didn’t see any point in pursuing a friendship with him. I viewed him as a person of weak character. He also started his own business, which took up a lot of his time. Eventually, the happy time arrived when I didn’t see or hear from him at all. His kids went to a different school once they reached a certain age, and my life was a Steve-free zone.

Now for the juicy part. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day. A few weeks ago, my wife saw Steve’s wife’s car parked outside the District Court, which is near my wife’s work place. That’s not necessarily sinister in itself, but it was unusual for them to be out of town. Last week, I was reading the local paper and all was revealed.

Steve had been in court in relation to an incident that happened in August last year. A neighbour of his had been having a party, and Steve wasn’t happy about the noise level. Apparently, this had been occurring on and off for the past five years. Steve’s wife had gone over to have a word about it, with no success. Noise control was called out, and they deemed the noise to not be excessive. Steve wasn’t accepting this. In a fit of temper, he marched over to the neighbour’s house with a can of petrol and a box of matches. He threatened to burn the house down, and when the owner came out to confront him, Steve poured petrol over him, soaking him from head to toe. It took two men to restrain him until police arrived. How far he would have gone if he wasn’t physically stopped, I have no idea. I wouldn’t rule anything out.

He was initially charged with attempted arson, but it was later amended to assault and threatening to damage property. Initially, he was going to ask for a discharge without conviction, but on legal advice he pleaded guilty and was given 120 hours community service. I don’t think judges respond well to such brazen cheek! The judge also noted this was a “significant fall from grace”. Steve is also self-employed in an occupation that requires operators to be registered. I don’t know if his convictions will impact his registration, but at the very least he will probably never be able to legally own a gun in this country.

So, what to make of all this? Let me refer back to the title of this post, and address each of those themes, beginning with Frith. This whole Saga, like many others, is about what happens when Frith is broken. Steve himself clearly has little regard for maintaining the Frith of the community. Discussing this episode with people who know him, many other examples of Frith breaking have emerged. I won’t bore you with all the details, but they paint a pretty clear picture of a narcissistic individual with a strong sense of entitlement. He doesn’t seem to think the rules apply to him if those rules aren’t in his favour. His neighbour is also culpable to some extent in this. He may have been within his legal rights to have a noisy party, but knowing that it was disturbing the people next door, perhaps he could have been more considerate also. It’s hard to say without actually being there. But what is easy to say is that when we stop making an effort to maintain Frith, shit can go south quite rapidly.

Honour and Justice are quite closely bound together. Ancient Heathen concepts of justice are centred firmly on the honour of the aggrieved party. Justice back in the day was not really about punishing the wrong doer, but more about restoring the honour of those who felt they had been wronged (if you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend The Culture Of The Teutons). In a modern context, this approach creates more problems than it solves. Modern justice has a stronger focus on the offender and their punishment or restoration to the community. Victims are often neglected, and can frequently be left feeling like no restitution has been made to them.

This feeling can permeate through life and society, and people like Steve are a result of this. They do not want the modern legal concept of justice. They want revenge. They want honour. They don’t just want punishment to be dealt, they want to be the one dealing it out so they can feel some satisfaction. I can understand that, but I can also appreciate that that approach to conflict resolution does not work very well in large communities. We need laws, and we need to respect them. Sometimes, that means we have to suck it up when we don’t get what we want. We can’t appeal to the law and then take it it into our own hands when we don’t get the answer we want. Steve is a great example of this. He tried to resolve his issue with his neighbour through the proper channels, but he could not accept the decision reached by those authorities. So, he decided he was above the law and acted as he saw fit. His wish to appeal for discharge without conviction further underscored this attitude. Despite facing serious criminal charges, he still thought he was right to do what he had done and should not face any consequences. If he had any sense about him, he would thank his lawyer for persuading him against that course of action. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure pissing off the judge with a haughty attitude is not a good court room strategy!

Which brings us to rage. Rage is a modern epidemic. Mass shootings, domestic violence, random assaults and road rage have become sadly common place. I think rage should be distinguished from anger. Anger can be motivating. Anger can inspire us to overcome fear and do things that need to be done. Rage is the ugly side of anger, the side where the rational brain takes full leave and the primal surge of emotion takes over. Acting out of rage very rarely yields a good outcome for anyone involved. I have no doubt that Steve was acting out of rage when he poured petrol over his neighbour and threatened him. What if he had set the house on fire, or his neighbour? Would even he, a narcissistic and entitled individual, have been able to reconcile those actions in his mind?

Lots of us fantasise about taking extreme actions. Very few of us actually try and carry them out. Hopefully, even fewer of us feel afterwards that we should get away with it without consequence. Steve has, pardon the pun, scorched his reputation. Far from being seen as a victim in all of this, everyone I have spoken to now views him with scorn and wishes to keep a wide berth. His wife and kids will carry this with them too. The neighbour and his family have moved house. His children were terrified, which is understandable. They could easily have gone up in smoke.

What can we learn from all of this? The key thing I would take from it is this: life is about compromise. Shit happens, and assholes get away with stuff. But we can’t go around playing judge, jury and executioner. As evolved beings, we have a responsibility to stay in control, and take full responsibility for our actions. If you’re not prepared to follow through with it and deal with the aftermath, don’t go over to your neighbour’s house and try to set him on fire. Keeping Frith is not easy, and sometimes we have to bite our tongues and sit on our hands. In a society where the right to individual honour has been taken away to a large extent, we must accept that maintaining self-control is the most common fight we will have.

Dick Bag of The Month – May 2018

I’m starting a new feature here: Dick Bag of The Month! I’m resisting the urge to make it more regular than that, as I fear it may take over and I will have to change my blog name to Grumpy Old Heathen Embers. Anyways, once a month or thereabouts, I will highlight someone in the news whose level of dick-baggery (that’s now a word, you heard it here first) has risen above that of their peers and deserves a special mention. There will be a certain amount of sarcasm and satire, probably even some exaggeration for comic effect, but have no doubt that I sincerely mean the intention of what I write.

The inaugural Dick Bag of The Month award goes to professional golfer Webb Simpson. That sentence contains enough information to qualify him just on its own. He’s a golfer with a ridiculous name. (I loathe golf. It’s the sport of privileged, sexist, racist, antisemitic ass wipes, but that’s a separate issue. And it’s not even a sport. If you don’t sweat, it’s a game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just be honest with yourselves.) But wait, there’s more! This guy just pocketed $1.98 million for winning what is essentially an over blown pub game. Nice work if you can get it. He went into the final day with a seven shot lead, which from what I understand is quite a healthy advantage. It was basically his tournament to win or lose, and he went on to win it.

 

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Then he went into full dick bag mode. I saw him on the news tonight saying that having a big lead on the last day is what you want, but it was harder than he thought. Being so far ahead, he said he found it hard to stay motivated.

Let that sink in for a moment. This guy has a chance to win just shy of $2 million for walking around a giant lawn knocking a little ball into a hole, and he finds it a struggle to be bothered playing well? Has he considered for a moment how that sounds to the working poor of this world? What the single parents who work three jobs and go without food so their children can eat would make of his lot? Does he think anyone caught in the relentless grind of poverty, dead end work and simple survival would console themselves with the thought “hey, things could always be worse! I could have to try and stay focused on finishing my game of golf with a big fat paycheck at the end”. Even if he blew the lead, he would still go home with more money than many people make in a decade.

Fuck you, Webb Simpson. If you’ve ever had any real struggle in your life, you’ve obviously left it well behind you. If he’s expecting anyone to acknowledge the supreme obstacle he’s overcome by winning at golf, then his head is so far up his own ass his breakfast won’t know which direction to go. While I’m at it, while he’s recuperating from his immense achievement in the face of such adversity, perhaps he could consider getting himself a first name, instead of two last names. Seriously, is he a person or a fucking law firm?

So here’s to you, Mr Simpson, or Mr Webb, or Webb, Simpson & Co, whatever your name is. You, sir, are my Dick Bag of The Month. There’s no prize money, sorry, but maybe the children of Syria will take a break from being bombarded with chemical weapons and start a fundraising internet page for you. If any good has come out of this, at least those whining kids will finally have realised that there is always someone worse off than you think you are.

Happy Blogday To Me

WordPress reliably informed me a couple of days ago that Heathen Embers has now been in existence for one whole year. I’m not hugely into arbitrary milestones, but I thought I’d acknowledge this one. Keeping a blog going for a year seems more significant than a certain number of followers or posts, and I also want to recognise the contribution of you, the select group of people that make up my audience 🙂

I started this blog twelve months ago with no clearer aim than simply to write. I had all sorts of things racing around in my mind, and I needed to deposit them somewhere lest they cause my head to explode! So, I started writing. I also started reading other people’s blogs. Ideas formed, thoughts clarified, opinions were aired. For the first couple of months, no one seemed to care. I didn’t care too much that no one cared (ok, maybe a tiny bit) but eventually my tiny voice started to be heard.

Getting your first few followers is very gratifying. It’s nice to be noticed. If we didn’t want to be noticed, this wouldn’t be on the internet, would it? But what’s better than followers is the interactions the bring. The number of followers is not really a reliable indicator of the true audience of a blog. All it really signifies is the number of people who’ve clicked the follow button. I know I’ve got a significant proportion of my followers who only followed to get a follow back. That’s fine, that’s how they choose to grow their own blogs, and maybe they might read something here one day that exposes them to a different view of things.

But I’ve also got a great group of regular readers (Heathen, other pagan, even the odd Christian, including a Sunday school teacher even!) who comment and dig through old posts. I’ve had email contact with a few of you too, and through blogging have built some connections to people I’ve never met, and would otherwise never have encountered. A thoughtful comment that shows someone has actually read a post is worth more than any number of followers (although following is appreciated!) Thanks to everyone for your insights, challenges, questions, opinions and views. You’ve given me plenty of food for thought, ideas for posts and kept me honest with myself.

Not every interaction is happy and smiley though. It seems to be Heathen is to be political by default, and no topic is more than a step away from a racially charged rant for some individuals. My lack of racism has riled some people. Apparently, I’m also part of a global Jewish conspiracy due to my having a Jewish great-great-grandmother, and am actively working to undermine the proper order of the world. Who knew? Some people also think they can reason me around to racism with their impeccable logic and use of “facts”, even when I’ve clearly stated I’m not interested in debating the subject. Then they get all butt-sore when I tell them to go away. If anyone is considering sending me a comment outlining the case for Heathen-led white supremacy, allow me to get my response in now: go fuck yourself.

Over the past year, I’ve feel I’ve found my voice a bit more. This isn’t really a “how to” Heathen blog, or an academic commentary. I’m not qualified to fill those roles, and others are already doing it better than me. I don’t have any political or social agenda to push, other than tolerance and realism. I don’t have any lofty aims for the future. No plans for world domination here! I’ve found my posts to be leaning more towards my own personal experiences of being a Heathen in a largely non-Heathen world. Talking about how I view things through the filter of my own beliefs, and how Heathenry is relevant to me in a modern society, is where I think my niche lies.

Thanks to you all for reading, following, liking, commenting and generally participating with this blog. I’ve got no plans to slow down or stop blogging, although life is rather hectic at the moment and I don’t get near the keyboard as often as I’d like. I’ve found that the more I write, the more I have to say. The embers are still burning 🙂

The Outlaw Fallacy

The outlaw holds a complicated place in modern Heathenry, one that is often misunderstood in its historical light and twisted beyond all recognition in a modern context. Outlawry is one of those areas where traditional Heathenry is some what at odds with the generally accepted modern concept and idealisation, and this is only heightened by centuries of social and cultural disconnect.

When we think of outlaws today, we think of freedom loving, rough and tough, independent minded and living individuals. They live outside the law because they make their own rules, and have the will and ability to uphold their way of life and solve problems their own way. It’s an enticing vision to many of us, let’s be honest. Who hasn’t secretly wished they had the confidence and fortitude to step outside of what’s expected of them and live life their own way? Hands up if you’ve day dreamed about telling your boss where they can stick their job, strolling out the door and off to a life where each day is a spontaneous expression of how free and bad-ass you are? Keep your hand up if you ever wanted to be a pirate, a cowboy or one of Robin Hood’s merry men.

You can see how Vikings, the gateway drug to Heathenry for many people, fit into this picture. If you don’t quite fit into how society is run, and you would rather be doing things your own way, you’re ripe to be drawn towards the image of bearded savages who went where they wanted to, took what they wanted to, and generally just did what they wanted to. Now, we know that this picture of the Vikings is more imagination than reality, but the idea is there: I don’t fit into the world, and I’m going to align myself with a way of life that expresses my individuality and independence because I’m an outlaw.

And there’s the problem. Vikings weren’t outlaws. Heathens weren’t outlaws. Being Heathen in this day and age certainly does put you in a minority group and sets you outside the mainstream in many ways, but it doesn’t make you an outlaw. Being different and being an outlaw are two distinct things. Being an outlaw is not a fashion choice. It may be the result of limited life choices, but it carries many drawbacks and limitations that the majority of people would never choose over a stable and law-abiding life.

Even modern day “outlaws” aren’t really always what they seem. We have the stereotype of the wild-living criminal, but in reality most of them just have a different set of rules to live by in their sub-culture. This is in addition to obeying many of the laws of mainstream society so as not to unnecessarily complicate their lives. If anything, most outlaws have more laws to follow than the rest of us! Going as far back as the Sagas, being branded an outlaw was far from a desirable thing. You could have all the adventure and action you could handle in a legal way, there was no need to step outside the law. Rather, being an outlaw was more to be condemned to a miserable, lonely life, scratching out an existence and trying to stay alive.

This is where people tend to get confused when it comes to outlaws. They think being an outlaw means doing what you want when you want. What it really means is to live outside of society, away from the benefits and protection of law. It is a mistake to think that this is a trade off for not having to obey laws, as historically and currently outlaws are pursued by the legal system and held subject to the same rules as the rest of us. Far from having the best of both worlds, being an outlaw brings about the worst. In the days of the Sagas, outlaws could be killed with impunity. How glamorous! An outlaw today would not get much traction explaining to the police or judicial system that the laws of the land do not apply to them as they have opted out.

Being Heathen meant belonging. The name itself literally means a dweller of the heath, a person who lives in civilised settlement with others. The worst punishment for a Heathen was to be banished from the group. Outlawry was worse than death in some ways, as at least death could be honourable, or at the very least bring an end to suffering or shame. Being an outlaw was to be condemned to a life of looking over one’s shoulder, never being able to trust others and having to survive on your own. You were denied the fellowship and comfort of connection with your own kind.

But why then do people equate being Heathen with some kind of outlaw, outsider mentality? Obviously, Heathens are now very much the minority rather than the norm, and lots of people prefer to be part of a small, “special” group instead of going with the herd. I think the independence and acceptance of Heathenry appeals strongly to a particular type of person in this day and age, and those people tend to place themselves a little bit outside the mainstream. But being alternative does not make you an outlaw. You can resist social pressures and norms and still be a part of society. Maybe at the fringes, but that doesn’t mean you are free of the responsibilities of membership, nor do you forfeit any rights that membership brings.

The association with outlaws may be an over extension of this outsider mentality. It is also fed by historical and contemporary misunderstandings of what an outlaw actually is. This myth is fed by pop culture glamourisations of criminal life and the “lone wolf” image. In reality, wolves that live on their own are miserable creatures, consigned to a life of hunting small animals, hiding from larger ones, and usually dying of starvation. It is much the same with people. The real outlaws among us aren’t living enviable lives. They are the people who live in isolation in run down little shacks in remote areas. Yes, they may have “freedom”, but they also have to spend nearly all of their time trying to scratch out a meagre existence. There is a cost and benefit to everything.

Being Heathen nowadays may differentiate you from the majority, but it doesn’t set you apart from the world. Instead, it places you firmly in it. Heathenry is not a ticket to exemption from the rest of life. It brings an obligation to maintain order, meet responsibilities and to uphold laws – put simply, to maintain the frith of society. Heathens may view many things in life and the world around us differently to the modern majority, but we can all recognise the need to, and value in, contributing and participating in society. We have to do that in modern, diverse and multi-cultural contexts now, but sealing ourselves off will only lead to our extinction. To buy into the outlaw ethos is to reject what Heathenry is all about. (But I still want to be a pirate when I grow up!)

Nature-bound Paganism – An Introduction — ᛬ᛒᚨᛃᚢᚹᚨᚱᚨᛉ᛬

I’ve been blogging here for nearly a year, and this is my first re-blog, so you know it must be something good! I found this post to be very thought-provoking and clarifying for me at the same time. I hope you find it worth while too:

 

Paganism as a Modern Day Religion As I have talked about in my previous post about authenticity in paganism today, modern paganism will always be associated with the dichotomy of an old, mostly non-recorded religion from a thousand or more years ago that was shaped by very much different minds and the modern times, with […]

via Nature-bound Paganism – An Introduction — ᛬ᛒᚨᛃᚢᚹᚨᚱᚨᛉ᛬

The View From The Office

This was my view at work today:

 

Slightly wonky with the two shots side by side, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the view is not too shabby! Photo’s don’t really do it justice. They make everything seem smaller and more distant, when in person this view is very immediate and full of life. Everything seems huge. You can see for miles out to sea. You feel like you’re up in the sky, but the land is laid out like a vast carpet in front of you, with tiny cars, trucks, planes and boats going about their business.

Everything comes at a cost, however, and my price for this view was working all day on a very steep incline. This garden is pretty big, and if you drop something that can roll at the top, you best just start heading down to the bottom to collect it! The pile for the garden waste was also at the top of the property, and I was working about half way down, so there were many, many trips up the hill with a wheel barrow laden with weeds and branches.

When you do manual work, outside toiling in the fields, it’s easy to understand why obesity used to be a rich person’s disease. Not only could the working classes not afford enough food to get fat, they would have burned through a huge amount of calories just meeting their basic needs. I’m not complaining though. This work is keeping me fit and healthy, and every time I got to the top with another load I got to look at this spectacular view on the way back down. I will never work in a cubicle again!