Of his wit hath need who widely fareth
a dull wit will do at home
A laughingstock he who lacketh words
among smart wits when he sits.
–Havamal, st. 5
It has long been my observation that bigotry is stupid and hackneyed. When one looks back at, say, racist humor from the 1970s, one marvels at how anyone ever found the old jokes funny (though sadly it remains the case that there are still plenty of souls who would).
From the vantage point of how public discourse has improved, getting rid of racist humor has raised the quality of comic performance. This is marvelously ironic, since we’ve been assured time and again that “political correctness” would be the death of humor. Perhaps the folks preaching that line never noticed the observation I described above, namely that bigotry is stupid and hackneyed. Indeed, as comedians set bigotry aside they found their creativity flowed more powerfully.
One of the motifs of the Old Norse poem Havamal is its repeated admonishments to silence. There are two general aspects to this advice. The first is that even if you really are possessed of wisdom, it is still best to be cautious in speaking, to present oneself as “middle wise.” In Old Norse times, impression management was a matter of dignity, and being impressive had little to do with having a big mouth.
The second general aspect to the Havamal’s advice is that even a fool can pass without censure if that fool at least has the sense to keep quiet. Apparently there were a lot of loud mouths in Heathen times that needed to be told to hush themselves up.
(Which goes to show that the endless hordes of loud mouthed contemporary Heathens are probably more faithfully engaged in reconstructive Heathenry that they get credit for, though it is unfortunate that they are reviving aspects of former times that even the original Heathens would have preferred to do without).
You can almost imagine Odin (Havamal’s author by reputation) as trying to shut down some foolish interlocutor, perhaps at an important social function. “Shut it!” Cries Odin. “But –” says the fool. “Shut it!” Roars Odin. “How about if –” says the fool. “Shut it!” Shrieks Odin. And so on. Actually, if one were to substitute “back to the breath” for “shut it” one would have a pretty good approximation of anapana meditation. Maybe Havamal can also be read as a handy guide to technologies of enlightenment (well we knew that anyway). But I digress.
The point is, fools wag their tongues and do so thoughtlessly. Whereas the wise are considered in their choices of speech – not that they never say anything, but that their communication is deliberate and thoughtful. And also, if the foolish were to stay silent – well they might learn and grow and become better people.
Now let us return to my observation that bigotry is hackneyed and stupid and uncreative. Is it possible to be any of these things while also possessing wisdom? Probably not. We must conclude therefore that bigotry is part of the language of the fool, the language that Odin repeatedly silences in the stanzas of Havamal.
My (not entirely tongue in cheek) conclusion is that we have a clear reconstructionist mandate for telling bigoted Heathens to shut their mouths. And indeed, I think we probably have a responsibility to do so if we want to have a happy, healthy Heathen community; if we want a Heathen community that has maximum access to positive, creative (divine? Odinnic?) energy.
Your choice: be a hackneyed bigot, or be a conduit for the gods, spirits, and ancestors. Hmm, that’s a hard one (and surprisingly, for some people it really is…makes you wonder why they think they want to be Heathen).
If getting rid of bigotry makes for better comedy, I think it reasonable to expect the same holds for Heathenry. Certainly in my observation the shallowest, silliest antics in modern Heathenry come from groups like the AFA (anyone remember their hilarious space program?) rather than from the more serious, focused groups like The Troth. (And that’s before we even touch the new AFA leader’s all-but-card-carrying-neo-Nazi statements from last year).
Anyway, right now the political tide is bursting with stupid, petty hatred. Scumbags who want to tear down the very institutions and communities they have claimed leadership over will try to ooze their poison into every little corner of the world, including Heathenry. That’s not something to which we should acquiesce.
And those Heathens who were already on board the poison ooze parade need, more than ever, to know that they are being stupid, boorish, and hackneyed. If they won’t divest themselves of their stupid bigotries then I think the rest of us can assume that they have burning desires to be made laughingstocks (we have it on Odin’s authority, after all), and respond accordingly. Just as we must respond to that fragile little ego in the White House and his nasty little cronies…and then some.