Once again I have been a guest writer for Heathen Harvest, this time exploring the Eddic poem “Grimnismal” from psychological, spiritual, and even political perspectives. Enjoy…
Once again I have been a guest writer for Heathen Harvest, this time exploring the Eddic poem “Grimnismal” from psychological, spiritual, and even political perspectives. Enjoy…
(Yes, I said IAT, not IOT, sorry, sorry).
Many Heathens of European descent are mortified at the prospect of being called racist – regardless of their political beliefs. This is understandable; the Nazis tainted the reputation of Heathen mythology and who wants to be associated with Nazism? Well, I suppose some people do, but I would like to think that if they’re Elhaz Ablaze readers then maybe they’re hip to the possibility that they’ve got some exciting growth opportunities (e.g. away from all that Hitler crap) when it comes to politics. Here’s a hint of how getting away from fascism might be good for Heathens currently enamored of it or its echoes:
“I have in this War a burning private grudge – which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler… Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Of course, outside of Heathenry, folk of European descent also tend to be mortified at the prospect of being accused of racism. Who can blame them? It’s a dirty word. Or wait…maybe there’s something about long histories of violence and inequality that persist right through to the present day. Oh yeah, we wouldn’t want to be seen as having anything to do with that.
And no, I’m not trying to invalidate all the kinds of suffering and even structural inequality that white people also experience. If you’ve known suffering, how about experimenting with the fine art of finding empathy for someone else’s? You might find it healing for you as well. That’s what they call solidarity, and it’s what our capitalist masters have been busily working to constantly undermine for a very long time now.
I’m sarcastic perhaps, and perhaps a little unfair. The reality is, racism has been a huge force in the world for a good few centuries, a central component of imperialism and colonialism, and of the gradual unfettering of the capitalist class as it inches its tentacles across the globe (but note that it doesn’t seem to have had much to do with Heathenism…). (Marx predicted that the exploitation of the proletariat would reach its apogee in the ruthless domination of developing world economies by Western corporations, and he was spot on). And there are plenty of European descended folks who are genuinely disturbed by this continuing legacy.
But I digress. European-descended Heathens are afraid of being called racist, and to some extent that’s very reasonable, particularly in light of the events in Europe in the 20th century. It is also very reasonable because some of us actually are racist. A few are hard-core, card carrying haters, but let’s set them aside for a moment and acknowledge that it is hard not to allow broader racist social narratives affect one’s mindset. Mainstream media – Fox News, CNN, etc. – makes a vigorous habit of pumping racist BS into our minds (though I would like to think that even conservative Elhaz Ablaze readers would be too sensible to muck about with the likes of Fox News!).
So this isn’t an article in which I wish to point the finger in a shrill, moralizing sermon (any more than I already have?). What I really want to do is quietly, soberly ponder the realities of racism in contemporary Western societies. And I want to invite myself and my readers to withdraw all projections on the issue. I’m not asking you to change your mind, or anything like that. Projections can be accurate or inaccurate, but either way we always have them (they’re the basis of our consciousness) and it is worth our while to withdraw them, to hold them out and evaluate their weighting and momentum, to evaluate the ways that they contort and construct our perceptions.
Isn’t it worthwhile to reclaim one’s mind from social conditioning, especially the banal and miserly conditioning that predominates these days?
If we can bring this kind of sobriety to the question of prejudice, we are first freed of the indignity of making excuses. For example, folkish Heathens on the racist end of the spectrum will try to say they are not racist simply by disputing the definition of racism. I have often seen, to pick a common scenario, the invocation of that magic phrase “separate but equal.” Such folk seem to forget that such language provided the scaffolding for Jim Crow, South African apartheid, and ultimately for the Holocaust as well.
So even if they genuinely do not wish to express a racist sentiment (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the argument), they might like to know that “separate but equal” is so steeped in histories of racism that it only makes them look worse, not better. And I feel genuinely embarrassed on their behalf.
Since it is clear that the issue of race (and, actually, many others too) makes Heathens of European descent go loopy (regardless of their political views), I would like to propose a quick and efficient tool for settling the question of where projection begins and ends. It is called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It won’t solve all our problems, but it will give some constructive grist for the mill.
The IAT was developed by Harvard psychologists and has been adapted to study all kinds of unconscious preferences (so there are actually many different IATs, depending on the subject at hand). They’re simple web based tests, and they rely on reaction speed to access the underlying preferences that surface once the conscious mind is distracted or overloaded. They’ve been robustly researched and validated, and if psychology can sometimes be rigorous and sometimes a farce, they’re definitely up over on the rigor end of the scale.
There are IATs for various aspects of racial, religious, gender, sexual identity, ability/disability, etc. prejudice. They’re a great tool for expanding one’s self-knowledge – even if we might not always like the answers!
I did 8 of the IATs tonight. Turns out I think Muslims are alright, prefer African Americans to European Americans, and I see Native Americans and Asian Americans as being more “American” than European Americans (being a European-descended immigrant to the US myself, this last result doesn’t seem so surprising). I found out that I have no preference in any direction when comparing young folk and old folk, but I do have a slight prejudice against disabled people, which is useful information and points to an opportunity for my own growth. Yes! I’m not afraid to admit my shortcomings.
I also found out that in a comparison of my views on Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, I was very positive about Hinduism and Judaism, somewhat positive towards Islam, and very negative toward Christianity (but not as negative as I expected). I’d still like to be free of all bias, even against Christianity. The false comforts of prejudice are much less valuable than the possession of true perception.
SO! Instead of mouthing weasel words about how you aren’t a bigoted Heathen, why not step on up and take the tests. I suspect some universalist Heathens might be embarrassed by hard-to-admit prejudicial peccadilloes , and more than a few folkish Heathens might be forced to wonder whether their racial or other convictions really are so rational after all. The best of both groups will aggressively pursue the question of how to grow and change, regardless of the results they score.
Since my results were pretty consistent with my progressive politics, I learned that I need to consider conservative opinions more carefully – not that this means I have to become politically centrist, but that I need to consider my bias and strive to see truly. If I really believe my way of seeing things is correct then I should not need to fear that exposing myself to other points of view might prove me wrong. “The prover proves what the thinker thinks” is a threat regardless of the content of one’s beliefs.
Take the IAT challenge! Most of the tests will not only tell you where your prejudices (if any) lie, they’ll tell you also what the general American population’s distribution of attitudes is as well, so you can situate yourself in the bigger picture. Sorry, its rather American-centric, and as a non-American I found some of them a bit tricky to make sense of at first. Yay cultural hegemony. But don’t let that ruin the fun they can nevertheless offer.
Maybe Death in June and their ilk could do the IAT for us all. And maybe so could their detractors. Maybe Steve McNallen could put his money where his mouth is and do a few IATs, since he still insists he isn’t racist no matter how many politically stinky bombs he drops. Maybe Heathen United Against Racism members would be willing to take the IAT and perhaps even have the courage to admit if they too have work to do on shifting prejudices.
This test won’t “prove” or “disprove” whether a person is “a racist” or “not a racist,” (a number of champions for racial justice have flunked IAT tests looking at racial prejudice, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done important and worthy work), but it certainly grants a powerful reality check, and it would certainly help separate out the lovers from the haters.
Look, I’m writing flippantly because the reality of prejudice in the Heathen community is enough to make me want to cry. I’ve seen a few haters, but also plenty of unconsidered projection and unconsciousness. I’d love to see en masse completion of the IAT, and en masse honest reporting of the results, and en masse commitment to step up and work on changing whatever prejudices and blind spots are revealed. Maybe we would end up with a more honest and (here’s my own bias speaking) more inclusive community.
Do it for social justice, for honor, or just for the sake of your own intellectual honesty or curiosity. Seriously, life is too short to let unconsciously held beliefs shape the course of our lives (whether those beliefs be politically charged or no). Just click the link and get cracking, and be willing to share your results (even if just with a few trusted friends) and what you’re willing to work on, whatever your prejudices turn out to be:
Do you really own your own beliefs? The IAT gives us a tool to help stop our beliefs from owning us.
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece which I intended to be the ultimate critique of folkism in favor of universalism (ironically I now feel it could benefit from being made still more comprehensive, but you have to start somewhere). Elhaz Ablaze was on hiatus, and the article ended up being posted at Heathen Harvest (thanks Sage!).
It went on to garner plenty of excitement; I received hate mail and love letters in even measure. I also received many promises of folkish rebuttals, though none materialized (which does little for the tattered intellectual credibility of the doctrine).
Recently someone added a new comment to the article, a brazen anti-Semitic ejaculation. It would be funny if it weren’t, as far as I can tell, dead serious.
I posted a riposte to this comment – and then realized that I had never shared the piece on Elhaz Ablaze itself. And seeing as this month has been grueling and I’ve not had time to write a new article for the site…it seems like a cheap way to dig my way out of the publication hole (part of the reason I’ve been busy is that I’ve been doing editing work on our forthcoming book).
So I hope you enjoy the essay, or if not, then I hope you are willing to at least consider its challenge and respond in a less silly, or even ugly, way than some others have (I gave folkish Heathenry some measure of benefit-of-the-doubt in the essay, but since then the folkish response hasn’t exactly been making it easy for me to maintain that stance). Anyway, here’s the link:
Climate change seems to become an edgier and edgier issue all the time. There seems to be an implacable rise in obscurantist pseudo-science and ideological hogwash trying to tell us either that rapid and destabilising climate change isn’t happening or that it isn’t the fault of human beings.
Well, I have little patience for such silliness, but even if these claims were correct, I am almost totally convinced that we should still be pursuing renewal energy development. There are many, many other good reasons to make the change other than global warming. Here are a few main ones that have occurred to me.
1. Peak Oil
Like it or not, fossil fuels are finite. We’re going to have to get more and more aggressive to find them, expending more and more technology and damaging the environment in new, cruel, and unusual ways. Cost will keep on mounting – can you say “diminishing return on investment?” Unless of course we just keep hiking up the prices (oh yeah, that’s what is happening).
And then, even after all that, they’ll still eventually be exhausted. Then what? Then we switch to renewal energy anyway.
So why not get ahead start and make the transition now? The sooner we get serious about solar, wind, and the rest, the quicker these options will be commercially viable in a major way and the sooner we can perfect the transition. The sooner we change, the sooner we get off the spiralling staircase of energy costs, and the sooner that “energy security” can be established for nations currently dependent on international fossil fuel supplies (no more stupid wars in the Middle East needed).
Clinging to a technology on the edge of obsolescence, especially out of laziness, fear, or simple lack of imagination, is bad science and bad business sense.
2. Environmental Degradation
Anybody remember a little disaster called Deepwater? Oil spills alone cause massive damage every year. Coal seam gas mining threatens to destroy drinking water supplies worldwide – and seriously folks, in the 21st century water is going the be the most precious resource of all, not oil or gas. Coal mining destroys massive swathes of land, and in the clutch of the Japanese crisis let’s not even talk about the horrors of nuclear power, which has erroneously been passed off as “clean and green” for some time now, but actually produces the most noxious and irreversible pollution of all (and requires more massively destructive mining, too).
Renewable power sources such as wind and solar, by contrast, stand to be far less destructive. They don’t need to consume more and more land and resources in order to keep producing energy. They don’t blow up or release vastly destructive toxins into the environment, the food chain, and our bodies. They’re not only better for the environment, it just makes so much more sense, economically.
Speaking of economics, fossil fuel industries are some of the most heavily subsidised on the planet. The numbers on coal and oil just don’t stack up so well once the tax-payer’s dollar is removed from the fossil fuel barons’ pockets. That’s in part because they constantly have to move on to new territories and new reserves to keep producing even the same amount of power. Whereas solar and wind are far more economical and efficient – once you’ve got the solar or wind farm going, you’re in business, all you have to worry about is maintaining your equipment.
So there you go. There are other good reasons for getting serious about renewable energy than these of course, not least the threat of global warming itself. But even if you don’t take climate change seriously, I think the other three reasons I’ve offered above are sufficiently compelling that I’d like to think you’d be convinced of the benefits of abandoning oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power anyway.
Here’s one final reflection on these issues that seems really critical to me. We are not separate from our planet, but a part of it. Fossil fuels do not take this factor into consideration; their destructive consequences (global warming or not) are analogous to defecating in the water one drinks. Renewal energy, on the other hand, is able to reflect and even take advantage of the brutal reality that what goes around comes around.
The longer we try to pretend that this basic law of nature doesn’t apply to our actions, the worse the consequences will be when Mamma Earth calls to collect on the debt we’re racking up.
Regular Elhaz Ablaze readers will be familiar with the name of one of our most consistent commenters: Von den Vielen Raben – meaning Of Many Ravens in English. Von den Vielen Raben is a gifted and rigourous thinker with a deep knowledge of matters philosophical and religious. He recently sent me the text of this article and I was bowled over and immediately asked if we could present it here at Elhaz Ablaze. It was originally presented in 2007 at a university conference.
~ Heimlich A. Loki
Pagan Mourning: Heidegger on the Passing and the Return of the Gods
By Von den Vielen Raben
§ 1 Preliminary Reflections
I am a neo-pagan by faith. My scholarly leaning, too, is toward the reaffirmation of the lost pagan meaning of being in Western philosophy, on which my PhD is based by interpreting the difficult works of Martin Heidegger. Fighting the metaphysical oblivion of the gods in philosophy on the one hand, and the oppressive pervasiveness of what Heidegger calls the “onto-theology” of the monotheistic traditions on the other, my self-esteem as a neo-pagan has for many years been bolstered by a sense of being on the progressive side of history, or the “history of being” as Heideggerians would call it. It was only in recent months that I came to realise that this understanding on my part was dangerously conditioned by the relative isolation of my Australian “being-in-the-world”. As Heidegger would have put it, Dasein, as the self-disclosure of individual existence, is nothing more than the inscription of finitude on being. It is the “there” of my mortal span on terra australis – or rather terra australis incognita in the history of philosophy. My Australian paganism appears to be a splinter phenomenon that is cut off from the wholeness of being that a pagan Dasein has always meant for me. In my needful reflection on the question of authenticity that now arises, melancholy comes into play. Can a pagan’s melancholy like mine be used positively to create what Heidegger calls mindful awareness (Besinnung) of the primordiality of being? Or is melancholy always determined by the abyss of loss, in this case the loss of the pagan gods in the modern culture of “universalism”, which Heidegger addresses in his private writings from the 1930s on the question of the “last god”?
It was mainly through my regular intellectual engagements with my German and Scandinavian friends in Sydney, most of whom live here only temporarily and therefore stay decidedly North European, that I came to learn of the complexity of the sheer historicity of being “pagan”. Introduced as a neo-pagan to North Europeans, I was asked on several occasions whether I was a neo-fascist. I am not one. Yet to many Germans who were born after the war, the word “Heidentum”, which can be translated into English as either “paganism” or “heathenry”, is associated with the reappearance of what some academics call “brown esotericism” on terra europa, but is no longer confined there. This kind of esotericism is “brown” because it is Ariosophy: the “folkish” occultism of the Aryan race which characterised the beginnings of pagan revival in Austria and Germany at the turn of the last century, and which was eagerly appropriated by the Nazis. Today, riding on the currents of international anti-Semitism that defines the neo-Nazi scene, Ariosophy finds its supporters as far east as the non-Aryan land of Russians and even finds curious resonance in the Islamic heartland of Iran, once Aryan Persia. In postwar Japan and Taiwan, too, neo-fascist groups continue to strive for the never quite complete Dasein of “honourary Aryans”. And the transnational Aryan ties go further still. Christopher Hale’s Himmler’s Crusade, published not so long ago in 1993, educates us about the Nazi obsession with Tibetans as primordial Aryans; and vice versa, the Tibetans’ initial receptivity to the Nazis that was not at all unfavourable. In view of these bewildering lines of current and historical developments, paganism becomes more a question of race rather that of the gods; or that of a racial and racialist religion. If I were in Germany today, calling myself neo-pagan would be to risk becoming identified with the revival of conflict-driven Ariosophy in our strife-torn world. The same applies to scholarly discourse on new religious movements. Academics and students alike will be familiar with the groundbreaking work of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, the Exeter professor of Western esotericism who valiantly tackles the question of the rebirth of paganism in this Ariosophical context. His two books, The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985) and Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (2002), are essential readings in any critical appraisal of pagan revivalism. Those who are timid at heart may be fully pursuaded by the didactice anti-paganism of Karla Poewe, the German-born Canadian anthropologist who in New Religions and the Nazis argues that any pagan revival in Europe ncessarily has a fascist agenda, in that it inevitably involves a radical struggle against Christianity, which is Jewish in origin. Published in 2005, Poewe’s book reflects the methodological leaning also of many German academics when it comes to the study of neo-pagans. Carl Gustav Jung’s controversial thesis on Germany’s deep fear of the return of Odin as descent into chaos and destruction may still be relevant today.
Already in 2003, Mattias Gardell from Sweden makes an assessment in his book Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism that nearly half of the Norse and Germanic neo-pagan movements in the USA harbour a racist worldview. In her recent article “The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)”, Australian academic Carole Cusack makes a less disturbing assessment of the Asatru scene, claiming that only some of its organisations take part in “right-wing politics”, while most are scholars devoted to the study of runes and the Eddas, especially Asatruars who are “folkish”, i.e. those who believe that spirituality and race are interwoven and organise their groups accordingly. Given that countries such as America and Australia are multicultural democracy, such position gives rise to fierce debates in contemporary Norse and Germanic paganism concerning the “folkish” versus the “universalist” approach. The “folkish” Asatruars will insist that Asatru is for whites only, whereas the “universalist” Asatruars will accept members on the basis of spiritual receptivity, independent of someone’s racial and cultural background. The cultural politics of the Asatru Folk Assembly, the first Asatru organisation in America and openly “folkish”, cause some controversy as its leader Stephen McNallen views the increasing Hispanic population in his country in terms of a war between the Norse and the Aztec gods. Another controversy was created when McNallen entered into a publicised dispute with the Native Americans over the remains of the 9300-year-old Kennewick Man, claiming the skeleton, discovered in 1996 on a river bank in Washington State, to be of Norse origin when intitial testings indicated it to be not American Indian. Yet scientists argue that using morphometrics to determine the racial origin of any paleoamerican remains is fraught with uncertainties. To this date the question of verifying the genetic markers of the Kennewick Man remains an open one.
What these two “folkish” controversies certainly reveal is the difficult problem of grounding pagan identity in the biologism of race. The Kennewick Man case has opened up new possibilities in archaeological reflections that question the usefulness of “race” as a scientific concept for archaeologists. The formation of Native American nations, for example, was not determined by race, but by voluntary associations of people over a long period of time, who shared a common notion of sovereignty in a particular topos. If we call Native Americans “pagans” – and many Asatruars do liken themselves to Native Americans -, then they are so by virtue of their history and their culture, not a racial identity that they themselves try to construct and assert. “Folkish” neo-paganism, then, is confronted with the existential problem of the abyss of identity construction, since racial markers are ideological inscriptions on the factical embodiment of Dasein and are therefore readings, not explications. Race explains nothing. Over the Kennewick Man the Asatru Folk Assembly fell into the same methodological quagmire of the type of archaeology practised by Heinrich Himmler’s Ahnenerbe, a SS institute founded in 1935 to carry out research on Aryan ancestry.
This is not to say that in determining the ontological meaning of neo-paganism, “folkish” ideas do not correspond to a hermeneutic horizon that requires a careful examination and engagement, especially for any Dasein who has a self-understanding to be “pagan”. In this regard, pagan scholars have much to learn from Heidegger’s attempt to wrest the primordial meaning of das Volk away from the contemporary racism and biologism of the Nazi society that he lived in. Heidegger is particularly relevant to a thoughtful approach to pagan revivalism, in that the profound distress caused by what he called the “gigantism” of the Nazi war machine led him to produce the first philosophical writings on the gods in Western modernity. Heidegger was the first pagan thinker in modern Western philosophy, yet his writings – they number over 90 volumes in the Gesamtausgabe – have not even been taken up in neo-paganism.
§ 2 The “Godding” of the Gods
In 1989 the editor of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrman, published Beiträge zur Philosophie: Vom Ereignis (Volume 65). It consists of Heidegger’s writings that were written in secret between the years of 1936 and 1938. It is therefore a sigetic work. Before his death in 1976, Heidegger placed great hope in its eventual publication, believing that it will be revealed to the world as his second magnum opus after Being and Time. The English translation of Beiträge did not appear until 1999, as Contributions to Philosophy: Of Enowning, and its impact on Heidegger scholarship in the English language has only just begun.
In Beiträge Heidegger moves away from the existential resoluteness of Dasein in Being and Time as the promising ground of authenticity in face of the ever-present possibility of death. In its place is the near-mystical appropriation of Dasein by the epochal unfolding of the meaning of being to Dasein qua being itself, which nevertheless stays away from being understood as any kind of being, including God. The ground of being is abyssal; its history, an interplay of nearness and distance, of memory and forgetting. Heidegger uses the emblematic notion of Ereignis – which in ordinary German means “event” but this is carefully avoided by Heidegger – to hint at the interpretive fusion of appropriation, resonance and opening that characterises the history of being and Dasein’s projection upon it. What Heidegger calls “being-historical” thinking, which he attempts to outline in Beiträge, is to be distinguished from historiographical research on the meaning of historical events. However, the disappearance of pagan gods from European life through the Christianisation of the West is one major historical occurrence that reveals a great deal about the nature of the understanding of being in the Dasein of Western men and women. It is the overall appropriation of this understanding by monotheism, which posits God as the creator of all beings, the summum bonum of being itself. To conceive of being outside God is impossible in Christian thought – and similarily in Judaism and Islam. But according to Heidegger, what this divine schema overlooks is the dualism of transcendence and immanence that has its origin in Plato’s doctrine of forms. Earth can never be that good, for it is only an imperfect copy of an original image that is not accessible to mortal perception. Existence on earth is a lack rather than fulfilment.
The attractiveness of paganism for many is the dwelling of the sacred in immanence. Sacred mountains and sacred rivers are existential truths. Seasonal changes and summer and winter solstices generate a yearning for connection with the divine; the same with major stages in human life such as birth, marriage and death. The gods and the goddesses that neo-pagans follow have qualities that humans can relate to, even if they are negative ones, as in the case of the Norse god Loki. While the Aesir deities are far superior to the mortals, their speeches and actions as recorded in the Eddas and the sagas that can enter the hermeneutic circle of Dasein’s understanding, providing a clearing in being that Dasein can project upon in its existential possibilities. Pagan theurgy is temporal, not eternal, but it is no less sacred because of that. For a pagan, no attempt is made to worship perfection. He or she understands the work of time, which is change. Death is embraced as a part of life, as a transition to the other world, or the beginning of a new journey; it is not seen as an imperfection in existence.
In Beiträge, Heidegger describes our fundamental attunement to the gods in terms of our guardianship of the sacred on earth. At the very least, this involves a distressing recognition of the struggle of world against earth in the rage of the “gigantic”, fueled in his time by the Nazis’ ambitions for planetary domination and control. Heidegger is against both political and technological imperialism; the idea of the Aryan “master race” repels him. For Heidegger, the pagan Dasein calls for creating conditions on earth that will see the re-establishment of the fourfold of gods and mortals, sky and earth, which is envisioned in Hölderlin’s poem “Germanien”. Heidegger sees in Hölderlin the finest example of philosophical thinking in the gathering power of poetic language. Unlike his Romantic contemporaries Goethe and Winckelmann, Hölderlin actually believed in the pagan gods as living beings and loved them, and his continued devotion to Christ caused an inner conflict that eventually claimed his sanity. Heidegger never declared himself to be a neo-pagan. Yet through the significance that he places on Hölderlin, it is very possible that the pagan character of Heidegger’s Beiträge was shaped by his reading of this great poet. “Germanien” was important enough for Heidegger to devote a whole lecture course to its interpretation in 1934. In this poem, Germany is depicted as a priestess who serves the gods and provides spiritual hospitability to all those who come to her:
Yet at the centre of time
In peace with hallowed,
With virginal earth lives aether
And gladly, for remembrance, they
The never-needy dwell
Hospitably amid the never-needy,
Amid your holidays,
Germania, where you are priestess and
Defenceless proffers all round
Advice to the kings and the peoples.
By 1934 Heidegger was sufficiently disillusioned by his initial involvement with the National Socialist restructuring of universities to come up with some form of resistance against the Ariosophical madness all around him. Through his lecture on “Germanien”, Heidegger offered an understanding of the German Volk that was radically different from the official Aryan revisionism that saw in the same poem the heralding of a pan-German nationalism. In “Germanien”, Germany is a Volk of the gods and their land is a gateway to the sacred. In another of Hölderlin’s famous poem, “Der Ister”, on which Heidegger also gave a lecture, this time in 1942, the Germanic goddess of earth Hertha is mentioned. Hölderlin describes the Germans as children of Hertha, a Volk with a profound relationship with nature. In this poem, too, Heidegger sees hospitability as essential to Dasein’s attunement to the sacred: Hölderlin describes the secret dwelling of the Greek god Heracles by the Danube – Ister is its Roman name -, to which the German people belong as much as the Rhine. The stranger Heracles has made his home in Germany through the graciousness of Hertha.
Hertha and Ostara are both Germanic goddesses linked to the fertility of earth and of those who dwell upon it. Ostara, unfortunately, was used as the name of the most rabid Ariosophical journal that was circulated in Vienna in the early 1900s. The editor of Ostara was Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, who made some name in the “folkish” milieu through the racial dualism of his “theozoology”, which depicts a worldwide struggle between the Aryans and the “inferior” races and the former’s eventual victory and hegemony. Prior to his rise to fame Adolf Hitler was a keen reader of possibly every issue of Ostara. Lanz’s choice of Ostara was based on his vision of Aryan eugenics. Ostara in Ariosophy is the divine mother of the master race to come. Himmler’s Lebensborn program was the later political manifestation of Lanz’s ideals. Both were anti-feminists obsessed with their fear of Aryan women losing control of their lust and producing children of mixed races. This fear has its resurgence in the “folkish” neo-paganism of the Asatru Folk Assembly, which discourages interracial sex and marriages. While not openly racist, this leading Asatru organisation believes in the separation of peoples so that the Norse and the Germanic blood can survive. Such racial politics is also advocated by the Thule Seminar, a rather secretive institute of the German New Right. Its founder Pierre Krebs claims in Im Kampf um das Wesen that multculturalism in Europe is a conspiratorial program of global forces encouraging the “ethno-suicide” of Germans and other Europeans. In this aspect Krebs is supported by Alain de Benoist from the French New Right, whose writings are translated into German by the Thule Seminar. Both men recommend a politics of difference based on “ethno-pluralism”, which in the meaning of the New Right is “folkish” separatism: they see any celebration of diversity on the same soil of Europe as dangerous and misguided. They also advocate neo-paganism as an anti-thesis to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but without actual adherence to any revived or reconstructed pagan tradition. In Krebs’ view especially, paganism is a metapolitical strategy aimed at bringing about a symbolic war between “Greece” and “Jerusalem”, such that Europeans will be reawakened as children of the Iliad and the Eddas, not of the Bible. This is nothing short of a violent rebirth in Christian Europe. In this process, Krebs sees Germany playing the role of the “inner Reich” of all European nations, instead of different European peoples deciding their own destiny. Hence the “folkish” appropriation of the ancient meaning of the “all-father” in the leading god figure of Odin, also known as Wotan in German.
All this is far cry from the paganism of Hölderlin and Heidegger. The biologism prevalent in some neo-pagan circles, potentially fascist, will find its critique in Heidegger’s Beiträge, who nevertheless is not against the notion of Volk as such. Volk for Heidegger is the proximity of Dasein to being, since it is what comes most ready-to-hand in Dasein’s being-in-the-world. It is the proximal access to Dasein’s selfhood. Yet in the present age of what Heidegger calls the abandonment of being, when the abyss beckons at Dasein for going under instead of surpassing and mastery, the existential nearness of the Volk is an illusion that can further distances Dasein from the primordial question of being. This is because the nearness and the distance of the Volk to Dasein is historicised in accordance with Dasein’s own understanding of being, which is highly problematised in modernity. Instead, it is through the uncanny of the stranger, and not the familiarity of the Volk, that Dasein can come to understand its selfhood. The stranger is not necessarily a member of the other Volk or race, as “folkish” thinking would want us to believe, but one who is aware of the daimonios topos of the truth of being, like the warrior Er in Plato’s Republic, who returns from the land of the dead to tell the living about the allotment of destiny to those who are to be born on earth. The stranger is someone who understands, and it can be anybody. For example, a “witch”. Or the ghostly loner that introduces anxiety and trembling into the question of the race (Geschlecht) of humanity in Heidegger’s postwar reading of Trakl. Our question is the encounter of this stranger among our midst and how we relate to him or her. Only then can a Volk be renewed in the clearing of being. Hospitality, however, is the essential condition for the stranger to exist; xenophobia, on the contrary, drives him or her to extinction. It is important for a Volk to be hospitable.
The Hölderlinian-Heideggerian axis of pagan revival is founded upon an understanding of being that has the openness and the reception of hospitability as its essence. And this renewal, which is also remembrance of being, cannot take place without the gods.
Reading Heidegger’s philosophy, then, opens up possibilities in neo-pagan thinking that are vital to the future directions of neo-paganism as a whole. This is a challenge when the philosophy of the New Right is enthusiastically taken up by neo-pagan organisations such as the Asatru Folk Assembly as justification of a pagan traditionalism.
This is an open letter to all the pompous fools in the Heathen and occult scenes who insist on clogging the airwaves with fatuous rubbish, thus preventing themselves and everyone else from benefiting from the riches of these worlds.
2,500 years ago Socrates established that he was the wisest man in Athens. How did he know? Because whereas everyone else claimed to have some knowledge of the world – yet in the face of his questions proved to be thoroughly confused and ignorant – Socrates made no such claims. He might have only known one thing – his own lack of knowledge – but this modest achievement was nevertheless more than anything that anyone else had managed.
Nothing has changed in 2,500 years. People insist on spouting off on all manner of subjects they are utterly ignorant about. You can pretty much apply the following formula: as stridence and certainty increases, intelligence and knowledge decreases.
For example currently doing the rounds of the Heathen presence on Facebook is a healthy done of Islamophobia. How can people whose religion suffered near destruction at the hands of religious intolerance proceed to adopt exactly the same kind of intolerance?! Invariably the characters involved reveal their utter ignorance of Islam as a historical, cultural, or religious force. If this is really such an evil religion, how come hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world manage to live perfectly peaceful, sedate lives? Are you really telling me that it wasn’t ok for the Christians to burn down the Heathen groves and temples, but that it is ok for you to want to burn copies of the Koran?
Of course any major organised religion, Islam included, is riddled with tremendous flaws, but that isn’t the point I’m debating here. The point is that these sorts of ignorant people, by indulging in shallow stereotypes and self-congratulatory hubris, have found a fantastic way to make themselves feel elite without having to lift a single finger or make the slightest effort. In fact, the more stupid, shallow, and pathetic they make themselves, the more elite they feel. What a perversely brilliant achievement.
On the other hand there are the spiritual demagogues who claim to be elitists, to be above the herd. Jung dismissed such silliness as an “inflation” – the sign of an ego that doesn’t have the maturity to handle cosmic forces. Invariably, however, such characters are of staggeringly modest achievements. Scratching at the fringes of society, looking over the threshold with envious resentment, these characters tend to become pickled in their own vile spite.
Or worse, they manage to fool enough hangers on that they get a reputation as some kind of guru. Their modest abilities and powers are diverted almost entirely into grandstanding, self-promotion, and self-congratulation. Either way, it’s an easy way to make yourself feel elite without having to make any kind of real effort…let alone actually be elite.
Well, to all these sorts of people, I am here to say: You Are Not Elite.
Want to know how I know? Cause the truly elite people don’t need to project all their hatred and fear onto an absent Other in a welter of hypocrisy and wilful ignorance. Cause the truly elite people don’t go on and on about how wonderful they are, don’t complain about how the world is out to get them, and don’t bother trying to attract slavish followers.
So the next time you feel the slightest bit of a delusion of bigotry or grandeur coming on, I invite you to reflect on the following examples of what “elite” actually means.
Carl Jung had a major hand in inventing modern psychotherapy. He healed thousands of lives personally, and maybe millions through his art and writing. He wrote 20+ HUGE volumes of earth-shatteringly profound writing, and was an insanely gifted painter. He opened the modern world to the question of spiritual life amid the mechanised horrors of two world wars. Carl Jung was elite.
Milton Erickson overcame the paralysis of childhood polio to become one of the most important figures in the history of psychiatry. Resurrecting hypnosis from the junk yard of stage show chicanery, he pioneered therapeutic techniques of such power, humanity, and sheer joy that it is hard to imagine his equal. Erickson could cure stroke-induced paralysis with a few minutes of (very intense) conversation. He could, while giving a speech, hypnotise just one person in the audience and give them a post-hypnotic suggestion and no one else in the room would even know. Erickson’s work and writing has transformed and healed potentially millions of lives, not least because other cool stuff like NLP evolved from his work. Milton Erickson was elite.
Beethoven composed the Ode to Joy when he was stone deaf. Carl Lewis won eight Olympic gold medals. Mozart wrote more music in his scant decades than most people could in a thousand lifetimes. Eugen Sandow was so strong he could wrap himself in chains and then shatter them just by flexing his torso. And 2,500 years later Socrates’ afore-mentioned analysis of the human predicament is still 100% accurate.
Get the picture? Unless you have these kinds of personal, professional, artistic, and spiritual accomplishments under your belt to back up your talk, you are not elite. You are just gas bagging. And the more empty bullsh*t you spout in the public spaces of the spiritual communities you inhabit, the more you prevent the actual magic and beauty of this vast and brilliant cosmos from manifesting in those communities, thus utterly defeating their purpose.
I am not elite either. But I am like Socrates: I know that I am not elite, and therefore instead of resting on self-satisfied, idiotic laurels, I strive to improve myself. Everything I do, whether I succeed or not, is aimed towards healing, growing, evolving, creating. I am no “better” than the morons I am here criticising: I will fall vastly short of the example of people like Jung or Erickson. And yet by acknowledging my limitations I will fly so much higher, humbly inspired by their example.
The next time you feel tempted to ignorantly attack an absent, excluded Other; or puff yourself up with a lot of victim talk or arrogant strutting, please instead come and read this little article. Think about what the people you admire (really admire, not just sort of admire) did with their lives.
And never forget: you are not elite. Keep that in mind and you, ironically, might give yourself a better chance of becoming so.
“In the East the wind is blowing all the boats across the sea,
And their sails, they fill the morning, and their cries ring out to me.
Oh the more it changes, well, well the more it stays the same,
And the hand just rearranges all the players in the game.
Oh, I had a dream: It seemed I stood alone,
And the veil of the ages, it goes sinking from my eyes like a stone.
Man, man, your time is sand, your ways are leaves upon the sea. I am the eyes of Nostradamus, all your ways are known to me. And these are the signs I bring to you to show you when your time is nigh…” (Peter Bellamy, “Nostradamus”, available from the Museum of Witchcraft)
Ok, I never did something like this before and I don’t know in which way magick can influence real time events of such a grand scale. But being the sorcerer’s appentice I am, why not try it? I’m talking about fighting the Gulf oil spil with Galdor or Chaos or Ceremonial Magic. I never believed (except in my teenage years) that doing a magickal ritual is enough to change the fabric of one’s Wyrd completely (sometimes it does). Here we are about to work on our collective Wyrd. What can be influenced by magick is a question of one’s sphere of availability and probably one’s Hamingja or ‘luck’. To enchant for low-probability events which lie beyond the range of possible options perceived at any one time isn’t wrong in itself. But I think that ritual must always be complemented by action. To paint the Helm of Awe on your forehead and then going into a fight without training and skills in martial arts won’t save you from being beaten up, if your adversary is a trained martial artist. Or another example: If the sole act of sorcery would make you win, why do all the African teams in soccer loose against a better skilled team from Europe? (They are supported by many sorcerers reportedly.) But conscious action and working focused on your objectives combined with magick will increase the chance to force the hand of fate. If a ritual is successful or not isn’t the thing, because you can never conceive all the forces of Wyrd that are at work. The only point is that you will get more likely what you want with magick than without it. I think the ritual for binding up and sealing the hole in the ocean floor that is causing the Gulf Oil Leak and for healing the associated environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico is also a working one does for oneself. Let me say it this way: Even if it has no effect at all or you don’t believe magick to be able to affect such things, it’s still a useful way to deal with one’s helplessness and to tansform one’s anger.
The mess caused by BP is a crime beyond imagination and it shows once again what huge damage the greed of a few irresponsible men without foresight and wisdom can cause to the fragile, beautiful, living ecosystem and to the Earth community. If there is an Anima Mundi, if there is an Earth Spirit, a Vast Active Living Intelligence System (Philip K. Dick), if nature is alive, with a Soul or a Life-Force that representatives of the Lebensphilosophie assumed to be a vital, non-mechanistic principle distinct from biochemical reactions — then the events that take place deep in the Gulf of Mexico in this very moment you read this, are far more than just pollution. It’s only one of many signs that humanity as a whole has taken a wrong direction towards extinction and that our leaders have lost the ability to listen to the inner voice of wisdom and to see the interconnectedness of Wyrd. They have been elected to serve their folk, but instead they have become the puppets of powerful megacorporations and their short-sighted interests of fast profits and an ideology of economic growth that has been decoupled from its purpose and thus degenerated to an end in itself. All this might sound quiet left-wing and I’m surely not propagating socialism, but I’m sorry: the (neo-)liberal ideologies have failed. Let’s move to something more useful, where free markets are embedded in an economic system and a cultural paradigm that propagates more than just the senseless accumulation of commodities for its own sake. Fehu is a mighty power that must be put into service of a higher good. But all this won’t be new to most Heathens, Wiccans, Druids, Pagans, Chaos Magicians, Technoshamans, Thelemites, Seeresses, Seiðkónas, Mystics, and various other Prophets and Prophetesses of Chaos of the 21st century. It’s the easier and lazier path to become cynical about the conditions humanity finds itself in. Taking responsibility is much harder. But even the most numb and narrow-minded pleb will understand that his children and grandchildren will have no future, if we don’t change our behavioural patterns and ways of thinking.
For this reason maybe some of you would like to go out into your local countryside, alone or with a few friends, and do some magic to help to bind the leak Deepwater Horizon (what a name for such a shame!) has caused. I have been made aware of this link by Nadine Drizzeq who is the US head of the IOT (Chaos Germans here) and sells useful stuff at http://www.iotbooks.com/, including the indispensable Hex Magazine. Her great article for Elhaz Ablaze is about Magusitis, a mental illness amongst magicians most of us encounter in some way at a certain point. The ritual for binding the leak, containing a Chaos Magic and a Ceremonial Magic version, can be found below, whilst others might want to “sing the galdor for the bindrune, and to work intuitively to heal the earth in their own way” (Nadine Drizzeq). Call up the Mighty Forces of the Æsir and wield your Hammer against the thurses!
Tonight I came home from work, ate dinner, and then got busy preparing some traditional foods – a bucket of salsa, a jug of beet kvass, and three buckets of sauerkraut! The more I explore the art of making food from scratch the more joyous it becomes and I wanted to share some reflections that came to me tonight.
First of all, getting into more traditional cooking is easier than it seems. At first having to work from raw ingredients, putting it all together by hand, seems intimidating for anyone used to pre-made supermarket convenience. But traditional cooking is like meditation – the effort invested quickly pays itself off and then starts raking in the interest on very favourable terms.
After only a little experience you begin to realise just how fun it is to make salsa or kvass or sauerkraut or whey & cream cheese. I feel deeply energised even though I worked all day and then spent more than a couple of hours in the kitchen.
I spent my time cooking listening to the music of Ironwood, which always makes me happy, and preparing food from raw ingredients involves a lot of repetition – cutting, and pounding the cabbage for the sauerkraut. This work provides brilliant doors for trance!
Everyone knows that repetitive rhythms can induce trance and in the process of my cooking tonight I drifted into some lovely and quite blessed states. I wandered through different worlds and I could literally feel the small wounds of daily life healing throughout my body from the altered consciousness into which I had drifted. What a bonus!
And of course it makes my soul happy to know that I am making fermented foods, which are super-nutritious and super-delicious and fun to make. My kind of traditionalism (small t used on purpose folks) is not ideological – I am neither against nor for the modern world, though I have many criticisms to make of it.
Rather, my kind of traditionalism is empirical in basis – for there is extensive and very sound science for the view that premodern approaches to cuisine are far superior to the high calorie, low nutrient rubbish so prevalent these days.
The fact that making food as healthy as sauerkraut (a far superior source of Vit C than any pill), or beet kvass (which cures allergy attacks, mouth ulcers, and jet lag with casual alacrity in my personal experience, as well as tasting divine) also connects me with the living experiences that shaped the mythic worldviews of old Europe is just beautiful, elegant even.
I really think that exploring such practices and ways is just as essential – perhaps more so – than even delving into mythology or runic artefacts or whatever. These simple domestic practices were and still can be the bricks and mortar which nourished the pre-Christian Heathen imagination.
You’ll notice that all the foods I made tonight – salsa, sauerkraut, beet kvass – are fermented foods. Fermentation is a fascinating thing. Before we had fridges we used fermentation to make food last – and it just so happens that fermentation (of which making alcohol is only a very small part) also loads up the food with nutrients and makes them super-easy to digest. A nice little bonus which we in our fridge-age unfortunately no longer reap.
Fermentation is essentially the art of letting food rot into something tastier, healthier, and longer-lasting than what it would be straight out of the ground. There’s something brilliant about the way this simple practice marshals the vast chemical complexity of food molecules.
One of the reservations I have about untrammelled technologisation is that it invites us into simplistic understandings of the world, since we begin to focus on what we understand and tend to forget that things are way more complex than we might like to think (a common problem that has been studied extensively in experimental psychology, and to which it seems even the most brilliant scientists have been found to be susceptible to).
But fermentation elegantly marshals the vast chemical complexities of food with a dead simple strategy – chop it up and let it sit at room temperature for a few days. Brilliant! I see fermentation as a brilliant analogy for various alchemical processes, and so as I make my fermented foods I experience it as a spiritual analogy, just as alchemists use the quest for gold as a physical metaphor for their spiritual quest for the philosopher’s stone, for enlightenment or healing.
This is one of those things that really illustrates the fact that spiritual life and everyday mundane life are not qualitatively different. They exist on a continuum and if we are imaginative, curious, and a little bit industrious we can shorten that continuum so that the spiritual permeates the everyday and the everyday permeates the spiritual. To me that is nothing more or less than animism in action, the gods living at one with our every breath. And isn’t that the whole goal of premodern spiritual paths such as Heathenry?
Incidentally, for those wondering, I’ve been doing more research on premodern lifespans and health. The only sound and genuinely empirical, quantitative study I found (other than Weston Prices’s work) looked extensively at fossils and human remains from before the current age, and also at contemporary premodern cultures (mostly hunter gatherers).
They found that the average lifespan under these conditions is in the mid 70’s. They also made some other surprising discoveries – for example it appears that infant mortality rates were not through the roof in these cultures!
From other archaeology material I’ve read – Barbarians to Angels provides some low key but very clear examples – it is clear that the premodern lifestyle produced good health generally, including good dental health. Monty Python’s mud-eating, snaggle-tooth peasants are hilarious, but they’ve maybe unduly prejudiced our ability to understand the lifestyles of premodern times.
This is all in line with Weston Price’s work on nutrition. His theory was that the premodern diets of many cultures were and are superior to modern processed diets because they are super-dense in nutrients and relatively low in calories – just the opposite of McDonalds, really.
Can anyone really argue with such a view? Certainly from reading Michael Pollan and Nina Planck it seems to me that rigorous research (and sadly much nutritional research isn’t) strongly supports this view.
So eating traditionally accords nicely with the modern scientific method, a perfect example of why “going back” to the past for inspiration can sometimes actually be much more scientifically sound than the reckless technical “innovation” to which we in the West are unfortunately quite invisibly addicted to.
Incidentally if you think you can’t afford to eat organic or small-farm grown you might like to look at what you do spend your money on…do we need cable TV, three cars per household member, 10,000 inch televisions, etc, etc? There’s more room in your budget for good food than you realise.
Raw ingredients, even organic or small-farm grown, have two other advantages – making food from scratch generally works out more economically than processed premade foods anyway, and also such foods (in Australia at least) are largely GST exempt, so its cheaper than you think.
Plus you can explore food co-ops, growing your own, etc, etc. If you are willing to use your imagination you can do it. That said, please don’t take my comments in a finger-pointing or moralising way. I’m hoping to inspire rather than harangue. Did I mention how fun and easy it is to make fermented foods?
Incidentally, from what I’ve read it also seems clear that premodern cultures traded food with one another extensively. The poisonous monoculture that lurks in this modern world is not a product of cross-cultural food munching, despite what some more ideologically based traditionalists might like to think.
Multiculturalism is not monoculturalism, and premodern peoples, from what I have read at least, loved to chow down on each others’ specialties.
Sauerkraut, that quintessential German dish, arrived in Europe with the Mongols. That doesn’t take away its special Germanic-ness, which has accrued quite legitimately over some nine centuries, it just reminds us that there’s a difference between cultural purity (which pretty much doesn’t exist and never did and is purely a modern fabrication) and cultural specificity (which clearly did and does exist since we can talk about distinctly unique and different groups, but which included intercultural exchange as one of its elements).
In other words, the isolationist tendencies of ideologically-based traditionalists are anachronistic and untrue to the ancestral ways – and do not in fact do much to safeguard the old traditions. How ironic.
As often is the case my writing jumbles together politics, philosophy, history, spirituality, mythology, domesticity, health sciences, psychology, and eating! We divide the world into neat categories but in doing so we lose our ability to understand it. As Mr Heinlein said, “specialisation is for insects.” My thoughts keep rotting up into more and more complexity and richness, and fermentation is a great metaphor for both the creative and the intellectual processes…
Up until the mid 20th Century, Christian missionaries felt it their duty to seek out isolated indigenous cultures, and effectively stamp them out. The missionaries often saw any customs and traditions, even language and modes of dress, as links to their old (necessarily evil) religions. Some governments also formulated policies to eradicate the language and traditions of indigenous peoples in order to expedite their assimilation into the dominant society.
By the 1970s anthropologists were alarmed at the rate of acculturation of tribal people in the Amazon and other remote areas of the World, and raised a new awareness of the importance of preserving and studying these cultures. By the 80s, some anthropologists were agonising over the fact that even the act of visiting an isolated society for study, would introduce unforseen changes in the very thing they were trying to preserve.
It was in this climate that the stories for Star Trek’s “Next Generation” were written. Many of these stories hinged around moral conflicts arising from the Prime Directive. This directive was their all important principle of non interference with less developed civilisations. In some episodes, anthropologists have to study their subjects from a hidden location. It is considered harmful for these societies to even learn of the existence of more advanced civilisations. This directive reflects the feelings of many in reaction to the previous injustices; that we need to hermetically seal isolated societies to save them from contamination from the modern world.
However, if we really take a good look at both of these extreme positions, the first assumes that the indigenous people have an inherently inferior culture, and are incapable of harmonising with their more numerous neighbours. The second assumes that the people are not even capable of dealing with the truth of their situation in the World. Both positions are patronising in the extreme. Neither of these positions give indigenous people any say in how they might prefer to deal with their futures.
Is there a middle way? If we discover a tribe that has never had outside contact, do we let the missionaries destroy their way of life, or do we quietly build a wall around them, so they will never know we exist? In reality, they can not remain unaffected by the outside World forever. Eventually, they will be forced to deal with the World. We have seen from historical experience, that culture shock nearly always leaves indigenous people vulnerable to the depredations of religious, political, or commercial exploiters. The only reasonable solution is to carefully prepare and inoculate the culture against the worst effects of outside contact.
The suffering and losses of indigenous culture have not been due to their inferiority or stupidity. They were merely caught unprepared, and at a huge disadvantage. If they had been forewarned and prepared, they would have been able to retain more of their original cultural heritage. Many governments are starting to see the value of this middle way, and now encourage their indigenous people to preserve their language and traditions while adapting to the wider society and its laws. Many indigenous groups are now turning back to their traditions for inspiration, and identity.
This adaptation does require change. Not all traditions should be preserved. A century ago, head hunting was common in remote regions around the World. Obviously, keeping some traditions would cause more harm to a culture as a whole, as outside contact increases.
In Star Trek’s early references to the Prime Directive, it was expressed merely as non-interference in the internal politics of other cultures. Later, it was expanded to express non-contamination of less developed cultures. This probably reflects the influence of some “postmodernist” thinkers of the time, whose version of “multiculturalism” saw a need to preserve cultural differences, even if it meant encouraging a kind of voluntary apartheid.
In the real world, cultures have always been changing. Complete isolation is a rare and temporary condition. Cultures change from within, as traditions are handed down and re-interpreted. Elements are constantly borrowed from neighbouring cultures and languages. There is no such thing as cultural purity, and therefore complete preservation is illusory.
Hopefully, most of us will have an interest in preserving, and even reviving parts of our own ancestral heritage. If we are to maintain these traditions, we must do so consciously. In the modern World, we have access to so much information, that we are free to choose what works for us. Many will don the trappings of various cultures as little more than fashion accessories. Others will be more deliberate and research their choices. In their search for connection, many modern individuals are emulating tribal customs, such as tattooing and piercing.
In former times, culture was absorbed unconsciously, enforced by the norms of society. Now, we have more freedom, but also more responsibility. However we decide to construct our own cultural background, we must do it in the context of the wider society in which we live, while still being respectful and knowledgeable about the cultures we draw from. To do less will merely result in an anachronism or eccentricity that will not really benefit anyone, and even trivialise or dilute the deep symbolism involved. If researched and applied successfully, it will be a source of pride and empowerment for ones self, and a benefit to the wider community.
I’m going to turn away from my recent thread on deconditioning to have a little rant about a theme I’ve been pondering for a while now: the relationship of Heathenry to Enlightenment and Romantic values. I guess I’ve been provoked by Sweyn Plowright’s article on the subject, as well as various other reflections, readings, and interactions.
There is plenty of material arguing the connection between Romanticism and Heathenry. It is an obvious intellectual link to make, the Romantics with their back-to-nature-and-paganism ideals seem like natural precursors feeding into the evolution of modern Heathenry.
On the other hand, we are told by various pundits, the spirit of Enlightenment has brought massive cultural dislocation, the injustices and perversions of industrialisation, the destruction of localised cultures, and an age of instrumentalist technocracy where the entire world has been stripped of its sacredness.
Whoa, wait a minute. The Enlightenment did that? The ideals of free expression, rational inquiry, and faith in humanity’s ability to grow and evolve produced all of the rubbish that fills modernity to the gills? Maybe I am missing something here. That doesn’t sound like a plausible theory at all.
I should jump in before I go any further and mention that I tend to side with the Romantics and always have. That’s as good a reason as any for me to write a piece which attempts to defend the rationalist current in Western thought: why imprison oneself in a single prism?
I think it is very cheeky to blame so many of the ills of modernity on the Enlightenment. Mass monoculture, the use of technology to engender sleepwalking populations, mass environmental destruction, global economic inequality that is orders of magnitude greater than it has ever been, the systematic violation of organic cultural orders and communities by nihilistic mega-corporations: these hardly sound like the Enlightenment ideal!
I think it is fair to say that the history of the development of the present predicament is a little more complex than just dumping the blame at the door of folks like Voltaire, who was such an ardent foe of injustice and cruelty and repeatedly personally put himself on the line for those values.
I’d like to see some of the more prominent Heathen windbags put to the tests that Voltaire bravely endured: I reckon they’d be exposed, in many cases, as little more than loud-mouthed frauds. Voltaire would abhor the way that the world has evolved, the way that so much of our modern technical genius has been built on and turned to unofficial but widely pervasive slavery. All these self-righteous anti-modernists who love to bitch and moan: they’re all resting on Voltaire’s laurels!
There seem to be plenty of Radical Traditionalists and the like out there who go on an on about how bad liberalism (surely the offspring of the Enlightenment) is, and how Romanticism is a much better taproot for cultural and spiritual rejuvenation in this time of nihilistic emptiness. Well they have some good points to make, but I think they fly off the handle and carry on a little too petulantly at times: here’s why.
Ok: the whole liberalism bashing thing. Without the tradition of free speech (to which Voltaire can probably take credit) we’d still be in a situation where arguing with the dominant paradigm would get one into serious hot water.
Radical Traditionalists and Heathens who rail against liberalism forget that without its “free speech” ideal they’d probably all be imprisoned, lynched, exiled, or burned at the stake (and their writings too…writings only possible because of the intellectual and educational traditions founded by the Enlightenment and promulgated through its ideological and technological offspring).
Of course free speech doesn’t actually exist in modernity because there are all sorts of unscrupulous powers in the world hoarding knowledge and the right to speak with authority. This is a hangover from the latter days of the Roman Empire, where in 381 Theodosius outlawed all forms of Christianity and paganism but for the orthodox Nicene formulation (there is a great book on this subject called, you guessed it, AD 381).
With this law Theodosius tore apart centuries of free debate between pagans of all stripes, and also tore apart the emerging view that even Christians should be allowed to have their say so long as they allowed overs to have theirs (it is worth remembering that in the early days of Christianity the religion was very different to how it is now).
Fast forward through a few centuries of backward Christian silliness and we find that the Enlightenment struck a bold blow (however flawed) against both autocratic power-mongering (surely a practice alien to the decentralised Heathen cultures) and the Christian monopoly on truth.
Without that assault: no attempt to clear a ground for freedom of expression. Without that attempt – and really it was always going to be deformed and lamed – the anti-Enlightenment, anti-liberalism complainers would all be dead or imprisoned or outlawed. Not that they would even have had the wherewithal to articulate their dissent in the first place, most likely. So a little gratitude where it is due, folks.
Romanticism: oh nature! Oh, poetry! Oh, feeling! Oh, the folk-of-the-land! Let’s all put on tights! Great, what a fantastic thing. I love it. I love Beethoven and Rilke and all that jazz. Well, maybe not the tights. How did they get in there anyway?
Then again, let’s face it: Romanticism is utterly obsessed with the notion of the Singular Genius who is going to save the day, the Ultimate Cultural Hero. At the same time it indulges all the most stupid excesses of human emotionality (Beethoven stands out as a particularly preposterous personality, go ahead, do some research) and loses the ability to distinguish between the base and the sublime. It all gets so bloody tasteless and pompous so easily.
Do we really need a bunch of Ultimate Cultural Heroes running around to save us? I consider that to be just as disempowering as the notion that we need Enlightenment-inspired “experts” to tell us what to eat or how to think (when anyone who is paying attention will have noticed that, for example, mainstream Nutrition Science seems to constantly have egg on its face as “certainty” after “certainty” of the last five decades of research gets torn to shreds…to reveal that traditional cuisines and cultures had it right all along – check out Michael Pollan’s great book In Defense of Food and prepare to get your mind blown).
I intensely dislike the idea of Ultimate Cultural Heroes, just as I dislike furrowed brows and grandiose misery. Have I indulged in this sort of silliness myself? Absolutely. But I was very young and stupid (as opposed to what I am now, young and stupid). The more I learn the more I realise that a furrowed brow is just…well, a furrowed brow. I’d rather be making silly faces because of how perplexed I am than because of how full of Romantic Genius I think I am.
Needless to say this sort of grandstanding is pretty alien to the old Heathen values, but it seems to animate certain modern Heathens with a puffed up silliness that the arch-Heathens would have howled in laughter at. I mean, really folks. I’m not going to name any names, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out the kind of notorious characters I have in mind if you are familiar with the Heathen scene.
The other problem with Romanticism is that it used history for its own, decidedly anachronistic, ends. Rousseau’s image of humanity’s original nature, for example, is a terrible piece of speculative anthropology (and incidentally, feeds nicely into liberalism, which just goes to show that you can’t always make hard and fast distinctions between schools of thought anyway).
Similarly, it is all very well to go on about how great the agrarian olden days were, but at the same time there was plenty of brutality, war, destruction, rapine, and all the rest. We haven’t solved those problems in modern times – quite the contrary in fact – but nor were they invented in modern times. Heathens love to go on about worshipping the ancestors, but you know what? A lot of my ancestors were utter jerks. It’s true, I’ve learned about my family history and/or known these characters personally and/or seen the effects of their actions on more immediate family. I’m not going to pretend my ancestors were all champs when they weren’t.
To me ancestor-worshipping is as much about settling the debts of wyrd they ran up and then dumped on their descendants as anything else. For those of us in this circumstance we can either use their nasty orlog as a crucible or we can drown like cowards. Read this book if you want to more know about that idea. Oh, and this applies just as much to mimetic ancestors – philosophers, artists, leaders, etc – as it does to actual relatives.
Look, none of this is to say we shouldn’t draw inspiration from Romanticism or any other cultural current in our attempts to make sense of this whole crazy Heathen gig we’ve got going. It is to say, however, that we’d look a lot less foolish if we declined to wallow in adolescent sentimentality. And if, in the case of liberalism, we had the good taste not to so self-righteously bite the lumpy and deformed appendage that feeds us.
Hmm…which inspires the image of Fenris munching on Tyr’s hand. I better stop now before someone accuses me of accusing other people of being giant-loving, Ragnarok-provoking so-and-sos. Which of course, they probably are without realising it. That’s usually how it goes, right?
Oh yeah, despite all this I still love John Ralston Sauls’ critiques of Rationalism and the like…but I think his perspective is probably more true to the Enlightenment than most of its actual offspring anyway…and probably a more useful expansion and development of Romanticism than any other, too.