If there has been a subtle trajectory to my recent journal updates (and at least one commenting reader has laid the theme right open) it is the importance of love in Heathen spiritual practice.
Generally speaking Heathen authors have had little to say on love. Plenty to say on honour, industriousness, fidelity and so forth. Plenty to say on being staunch, walking your talk, and all the rest. But very little about love.
Thus the common style of Heathen writings is brittle and shallow, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given that we are supposedly digging down into the guts of our spiritual heritage with this stuff. And worse, I often hear (or personally see) that these loud-mouths very rarely live true to their words.
It is possible that modern Heathen writers have avoided the theme of love because of the desire to distance themselves from association with Christianity. Christianity is (at least in theory) a religion which focussed heavily on love. Modern Heathens, struggling to free themselves of Christian influence, would therefore understandably avoid this theme.
However I think this avoidance comes at the expense of an important element of Heathenry. What binds generations together? What binds the gods to one another? What drives the desire to create, survive, evolve? What is the source of the inspiration for craftsmanship, ingenuity, and creativity? What gives hope in dark winters?
If you withhold love from a baby, not touching it or attending it, it will die. Indeed, without love you might well not even bother to feed the child. Without love, we are all baby murderers. That’s an extreme example, but you can see my point.
So can modern Heathenry proceed as it has, without any acknowledgement of love? All pre-modern, low technology cultures require love to survive – you’ve got to have a powerful motivation to keep going in the face of extreme adversity.
I do not think anyone can honestly call themselves a “reconstructionist” Heathen if love is not an important part of their life and thinking. And yet many Heathens I have met have not so much as reflected on this theme. They would rather embroil themselves in clichés, dogma and one dimensional thought.
When I first read Hex Magazine I was deeply astounded because never before had I encountered a Heathen publication with the necessary vulnerability and honesty to express love. It was deeply intimidating because it forced me to recognise just how much I had divorced love from my own Heathenry and replaced it with superficial gleam.
Even though I desperately wanted to add my voice to Hex it took some 18 months to teach myself how to write with the necessary raw honesty and therefore be able to offer the magazine anything even approaching the general standard of their articles. The thing that, to me, sets Hex apart is that it is edited and presented in the spirit of Heathenism with Heart.
Despite the adolescent grand-standing of so many Heathens, vulnerability remains a truer mode of being Heathen. When we are vulnerable to the whims of our deities; when we are able to respond to those around us rather than just react; when we are able to feel the painful contradictions of being a human being and keep going. To me this is the heart of Heathenry. This is love.
If we are serious about immersing ourselves in the cosmological experience of the ancestral Heathens, which means living the interconnected matrix of seasons, nature and time, then we need to carry ourselves with the greatest gratitude and respect. None of us can survive alone; we are deeply dependent on the world around us.
The old Heathens had a worldly religion. It required deep love of the natural universe and this love – I believe – finds its root in simply remembering that our existence is entirely thanks to the generosity of the natural world that sustains us.
But of course love is more than just having an open heart to one’s community, history and natural environment. Love is also a key to deeper doors. It can carry us into deeply magical realms; it can purify or purge us and thereby render us whole/holy; it can guide us into deep creativity, determination and joy.
When I remember to listen to my heart my life begins to make sense. When I forget my heart, stagnation or chaos follows. The heart is like a compass, pointing us to True North, reading the magnetic fields of love. No amount of Heathen posturing, dressing up or one-upmanship will ever get us near to the heart of Heathenry. We need love to do that.
Arguably Woden is a deity of önd, the divine breath that brings inspiration and ecstasy. This breath flows through the heart, feeding and nourishing it. And Woden is a god of the heart – for even though his ethics are truly beyond good and evil (and indeed in his purest form his force is more prototypical than even love or hate), he moves from the heart, whether it be love of wisdom, love of women, love of chaos or love for his children.
Perhaps the deepest motivation that guides Woden is love of creation – for even his most violent fury is a manifestation of abundant force, energy and change. He is a sinister god to be sure, but let us not slander him into total shadow!
For even though I am not always convinced that he has my best interests in mind, I still trust the One Eyed God implicitly. Because I have felt his heart. I have felt his love and it is a love more intense and explosive than any human heart could hold.
This vast power, this river of fire, this ardent desire, is available to anyone willing to sink down into the subterranean streams of Woden’s being. Charged with it we can travel anywhere in the worlds. We might find ourselves blooming like a tree that had been on the edge of drought-death and then suddenly lathed by cloud-burst.
I believe that modern Heathenry needs heart more than anything. It needs love. It is impossible to build community, to build cordial relationships with gods and land spirits, without love.
Too often modern Heathenry has been content to found itself on brittle dogma or rigid arrogance. The truth is that only our love for the gods, for the old ways in this new day (to paraphrase someone very wise), and for each other, can effect the alchemy needed to turn Heathenry from a quack fringe faith into a deeply soulful and fertile cultural movement.
And though it might not be directly obvious, this post follows directly from the recent Xylem & Phloem thread. The heart is a circulatory organ, and generosity – the power of exchange, energy circulation (Gebo) – was a fundamental element of old Heathen society. Without heart and love we can never be anything more than self-deceiving late modern nihilists.