Friday, February 24, 2017

The AFA and me

There has been a lot of chatter in certain quarters regarding stuff that's been happening this week. I'd like to get the facts out there, so they're all in one easy-to-find place. 

I was asked to join a conference call last Sunday with two of the AFA's top leaders; Matt Flavel and Alan Turnage, ostensibly to discuss a book project I'd been working on for the group. It turns out the subject of the conversation was actually my child, who happens to be transgender. It was explained to me that it might be "bad optics" for the AFA to have a member of the leadership with such a family issue. I explained my thoughts on the matter, including the fact that I had no issue with AFA policy when it came to LGBT people as I understood it, and the reasons I was taking a supportive, hands-off approach with my kid, and offered to resign. They agreed it might come to that, but did express regret at the prospect. We agreed to speak again two days later, after the leadership had had a chance to discuss the matter, having heard my thoughts.

Last Tuesday, I was asked to resign, and did so, also explaining that I no longer considered myself bound by the oath of office I took last year at Winternights. I did point out that since there wasn't any actual disagreement on policy, this request must have come from a feeling that the AFA had the right to criticize or even intervene in specific choices made when dealing with one's children, and parenting strategies.

My family comes first, and even if I choose to not support a broadly political "transgender movement" that doesn't mean I'm going to not support my transgender kid. That's not a call the AFA gets to make on my behalf.

It's worth pointing out, since some erroneous information has been spread by a few people (who were not present on the call) that the phrase used was "we're going to ask for your resignation." Now, Matt might have meant "we're going to ask for your resignation from the clergy," but the actual words used were more general, and it was that request to which I acquiesced.

That's about it. I am no longer a member of the AFA, nor am I a member of the clergy. Time to move on.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hávamál 71

The lame can ride horse, the handless drive cattle, 
the deaf one can fight and prevail,
'tis happier for the blind than for him on the bale-fire,
but no man hath care for a corpse.

(Hávamál 71, Olive Bray translation)

I'm sure there are some who would look at this passage and see it as "ableism" or some such crap. But I see it as a celebration of people with disabilities.

Doesn't let anything get in his way.
Even his own twisted legs.
This is an exhortation to anyone with a disability to stop focusing on what they cannot do, and focus instead on they can do. Make the most of what you have right now, rather than wallowing in self-pity and (in a modern context) trying to lower everyone else's standards in order to meet your own abilities. Better to be alive and not fully able than dead!

This is the ultimate Harrison Bergeron sentiment, encapsulated in four lines of poetry.

Can't walk? Fine. Ride a horse. But don't demand that everyone else accommodate your limitation, and certainly don't insist that people can't have a blót out in a field because you can't get your wheelchair out there.

Born without hands, or lost them in an accident? Fine. Do something that doesn't require fine motor skills. But don't try to say that printing runes on an inkjet printer is "just as good" as carving them into wood and staining them with your blood.

Deaf? Fine. Do something that's visual, or kinetic, or literary. Don't try to make the case that runic chanting or singing songs is somehow discriminatory, because you can't participate.

The point is, don't expect other people to change their own lives because of your condition. It's up to you, regardless of the specific circumstance, to adjust yourself and your expectations to your own condition. Whether it's psychological or physical, financial or educational, it's up to you to step up and do whatever you are able to do. Don't expect the world to fall on its knees and accommodate you; a steep mountainside isn't aware of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The key is to be clever enough to not have to climb that mountain in the first place. Set things up so your strengths are important, and your deficiencies are minimized. And never ignore or hide them. Embrace them. Turn them to advantages.

But never expect that the world owes you an easy time. Because the world is going to laugh in your face.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: Myths of the Pagan North

When I first saw Christopher Abram's Myths of the Pagan North, I figured it was yet another retelling of the myths, maybe with a little analysis thrown in. Boy, was I wrong. This is a wonderful textual analysis of the various sources of northern lore, from runic inscriptions to skaldic poetry to the more familiar Eddaic poetry and Snorri's Prose Edda. In it, he discusses the pros and cons of each source, giving valuable insights into the timing and motivations for each, and uses specific myths as case studies to demonstrate how different sources treat the same material and how the myths themselves morphed over time in response to changing social conditions.

The chapter on the mythological value of skaldic poetry alone would be worth the price of the book, but his insights into how the stories changed as Christianity became more dominant, and his thoughts on the relevance of the myths to the practice of religion are wonderfully interesting as well.

Highly recommended.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Beyond the Eddas and Sagas

One of the things that I lament most about the state of current Asatru is the seemingly self-imposed limitation to look at written sources such as the Sagas of Icelanders, the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, and a handful of other sources (Beowulf, usually, and maybe Saxo and a few others), and then stop. This is usually supplemented by a little bit of information from archaeology, inscriptions, and the like.

I think this is an enormous shame and missed opportunity. There's so much other material out there of interest and relevance to our recreation of the religion of our pre-Christian ancestors*.

First, of course, there's medieval Saint's feasts. I'm finding this a very fruitful avenue of exploration, as has been seen with my investigations into Yule and other holidays on the calendar. Sure, most of it was documented way past the conversion period, but when we see Christian saints with uniquely Scandinavian, English, or German attributes mapped onto dates that coincidentally happened to be close to or on holidays celebrating the Aesir, it's worth looking into.

I mean, Christ on a stick! Can you look at Krampusnacht and think there's not a pagan undertone there??? And there's tons more where that came from.

Then there's post-Conversion folklore. This comes from several different sources; Scandinavia, Germany, Iceland, and England. All of which were centers of Germanic activity, either during the Migration Era or the Viking Age. There are princesses and trolls, and a ton of lore on how to deal with the huldufolk/elves, tomten/nissen, and the like. It's here that we see a lot of the day-to-day practices captured; how to deal with the landwights of stone, stream, lake, and tree, and the housewights as well.

It's worth digressing for a moment into a particular avenue of research that I think has incredible potential. That's the lore of the Pennsylvania Germans and especially the Amish. Two historical events did more than anything else to obliterate traces of paganism in modern culture; the Protestant Reformation and the Industrial Revolution.

With the coming of Protestantism (and its Anglican analogue in England), came a gut-instinctual revolt against anything that was perceived as "Popish" or Catholic. The problem from our point of view is that the Catholic Church, in its zeal to put an "official" church stamp on the whole of Europe, was more than happy to incorporate all sorts of local customs, many (most?) of which were pagan in origin, into their own customs. Thus, we see previously-pagan holidays completely co-opted by Saints' feasts, but the customs that accompanied them -- the songs, the practices, the games, the myths, and the food -- endured. With the coming of the so-called reformers, all that was swept away by an austere, even Puritanical in some places, stripped-down Christianity that lost almost all of that pre-Christian practice.

What the Protestant Revolution couldn't destroy, the social disruptions of the Industrial Revolution did short work of. Primarily by encouraging the old peasant class, in whose quaint customs and celebrations, handed down from time immemorial, a lot of potentially pagan custom survived, to move into the cities and take factory jobs. With the rhythm of the peasant-farming life disrupted, there was no reason to pass down the old customs that went along with it. Indeed, the energetic actions of the Victorian folklorists, both in Britain and on the Continent, were an attempt to at least catalog and capture some of this lore before it was lost forever by this process that was recognized at the time as destructive to these complex memeplexes.

Both of those disruptive forces are why the Pennsylvania Germans, and in particular the Amish and related folk, are so important to the work of reconstructionism. They represent a sort of crystallized "time capsule" into 16th century southwestern Germany. Because the society of the Pennsylvania Germans (especially the Amish) is so conservative**, it is incredibly resistant to change. It is precisely this sort of religiously-inspired agricultural life that has enabled certain pre-Christian beliefs and practices to endure, and that's what makes them such a treasure-trove of potential lore. If one is interested in continental German lore in relation to Asatru, one cannot ignore the Pennsylvania Germans.

And that includes the practices of Hexerei and Braucherei among them, which has very specific parallels to Scandinavian Trōlldomr magic.

And that brings in a whole other level of source material; the still-living traditions in Scandinavia (which seems to have gone through the Protestant Reformation somewhat less vehemently than their southern neighbors; a number of Saints still endure despite the general aversion of Protestantism to the whole idea). Don't forget that runes were still used in some of the more remote regions of Scandinavia into the 20th century, and there remains a whole body of lore (not to mention a large number of actual practitioners) who still practice the art.

Plus the whole grimoire tradition in Scandinavia. There are Black Books, Cipriania, and more. Did you know there's a spell in one of the books that mentions Odin and Satan drinking together in a hall? 'Struth!

Then there's nursery rhymes. The vast majority seem to refer to historical events or political happenings from the 16th and 17th centuries, but there are a few bits and pieces that seem to go back way further. It's a potentially great resource that, as far as I'm aware, hasn't been systematically studied. And there are a ton more nursery rhymes than I ever knew existed. I've been starting to collect some sources...

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There is of course the field of comparative mythology; the Vedic Hindu Indra has a lot in common with Thor, as of course do gods like the Slavic Perun. And oh my gods is there a lot of Slavic material, the surface of which has barely been scratched in an Asatru context. And of course I'm a huge fan of drawing inspiration and details from the old Christian penetentials, sermons, and Saints' lives; a lot of it comes from the Conversion era, but they often go into exacting detail as to what good Christians are not supposed to do. Absolute gold.

So for you, my dear readers, I implore you; don't stop with the Eddas and Egil's Saga. Never stop seeking out potential avenues for research, but also be wary of being too optimistic. Sometimes there really are coincidences, and sometimes something that looked like a good idea at the time pans out badly. Never be afraid to discard an idea that doesn't work out, no matter how cool it seemed at first.

* I say "religion" here, but it's probably more accurate to say religions, as there wasn't one single unified pan-Germanic pagan faith, but a complex of closely related practices, myths, and beliefs that varied quite consistently from tribe to tribe and geographical region to geographical region. Look, for example, at the use of the name "Holde/Holle", "Perchta", and then "Frigga" for what appears to be the same, or at least a closely related, goddess as one moves north from the Alps to Scandinavia.

** To this day there are Groundhog Lodges at whose meetings English is not spoken. And that's not just the Amish; that's the "ordinary" Pennsylvania German folk.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A comment on Tolerance

Tonight's comment brought to
you by this guy
So in response to my recent post on the Troth's finally forcing any remaining folkish Asatruar out of their midst, Carl Bonebright (who, judging from his FaceBook account, is apparently an anarchist, Norse Neopagan, feminist, TDS* sufferer, antifa supporter, and part-time Abraham Lincoln reenactor) assayed the following comment. I thought it was worth replying in a post of its own:
After the metric ton of whining about "maintaining frith" that has been a deluge from the Folkish camps for the last couple years, an oath to maintain frith is met with "But muh Folkish!"
Also, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of "tolerance" that plays well in memes, but doesn't fit reality. See here:
Not quite right, on several levels, Carl.

First off, the use of the word "frith" is incorrect. Fortunately, the Troth fixed their statement upon having that (somewhat embarrassingly) pointed out to them. So let's move past your first point, because it's not relevant and never was. They don't want frith (or whatever they want to call it) with people who don't agree with them; they want people who disagree with them to shut up and leave.

But as for "tolerance," I'm not the one who ever claimed to be a champion of tolerance, or who ever asked for it from you Norse Neopagans, for that matter. It's always people like you, and the Troth, who go spouting off how "tolerant" they are. So let's take that one off the table too, because you're just making it up.

That leaves us with your link, which is very interesting and appreciated, because it makes my point brilliantly. The whole argument in that article you link to is that tolerance does not extend to tolerating physical violence:
"If one side has breached another’s rights, the injured party is no longer bound to respect the treaty rights of their assailant — and their response is not an identical violation of the rules, even if it looks superficially similar to the original breach."
But what "right" is being injured by the fact that Folkish Asatruar** say they only want to worship with people who agree with the premise that "people should worship the gods of their ancestors?"

I mean, it's not like we folkish go around trying to disrupt Norse Neopagan groups, or gatherings, or rituals, or meetings, or whatever. We don't break up Troth blots that happen to have a black or hispanic present, saying "THIS SHALL NOT STAND!" We don't do any of that. We don't care what you do.

No, all we say is "we want to blot with people who think the same way we do." You know, folkish people.

How, exactly, is that harassment? How does that threaten anyone's safety, or their freedom to worship whatever they want to worship? How does my thinking "gee, that guy's pretty silly for wanting to worship my ancestors," or "you go worship with those Trothers over there, but please let me worship over here with my own folk" harm anyone?

He thinks this is literally the same as saying "we don't want
you in our ritual; go do ritual with those guys over there."
Does it make them feel bad? Feel excluded? Is that the "harm" you're talking about? Are you actually putting "they won't let me stand next to them when they pray to Odin; they insist I have to stand over here with this other group of people whom I actually like better" on the same moral level as "you're a non-Aryan, so we're going to put you in a camp and either work you to death as a slave laborer or just kill you with poison gas"????

Is your moral compass so twisted, is your world view so ingrained with the lie that "folkish = racist = genocidal maniac" that you can't see that wanting to worship with people who believe as you do is NOT the same as wanting to kill all those people with whom you disagree?

Do you not realize that it is precisely the people on *your* side of the argument that want to do those things to people with whom *you* disagree that you you accuse us of wanting to do? As far as I know, no folkish group has ever tried to disrupt a Norse Neopagan gathering, never tried to get a venue to turn them away, never tried to doxx their members, physically intimidate them, or anything else of the sort.

But your side has.

So don't talk to me about the moral superiority of your side, Carl. Everything you claim we want to do is stuff that your side is actually doing. Classic projection. All we want to do is worship with people who believe like we do. We've never tried to stop anyone else, other than to say "sorry, please go over there, because we want to worship with whom we want to worship." That's not stopping anyone from worshiping, and we couldn't stop them even if we wanted to.

It's not saying "you can't worship the Aesir." It's saying "you can't worship the Aesir with us." Can you even see the difference?

If you think that not being invited to an AFA event is somehow preventing anyone from worshiping Odin and Thor, you're just deluded. We just think they're wrong, and don't want them around (and news flash; "them" includes "you;" it's about what you believe, not what you are). Folkish = okay, uni = not okay.



* Trump Derangement Syndrome
** The only real Asatruar out there, and the original type in America, but that's something I covered a while ago elsewhere on the blog. Oh, no! Maybe my saying they're not really Asatruar is somehow psychically preventing from calling themselves that! Gods, what power the SJW's give over us.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Yule blot 2017

And here at last is the video from Skylands Asatru Fellowship's Yule blot:

It starts with animal guising and Odin hunting the various animals, selecting the Yule goat as the final victim, who will be sacrificed to Thor and who will bring the wishes of the gathered folk up to the gods on the smoke from the sacrifice.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Gods and Giants / Æsir ok Jötnar

Over at Son of Hel, one of his correspondents (called N H) said something which I'd like to riff off of (but by all means, please read Helsson's response as well; he replies to the whole email, and I'm going to focus on a single sentence). The line is thus:
Hela is not a Goddess at all because she has Jotun genealogy and noted in sources always as a giantess.
First off, it should be noted that "having Jotun genealogy" is by no means a disqualifier to being a god. In fact, the Aesir have exactly the same sort of ancestry:
He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. 
(I covered this topic in more detail as it relates to the question of folkishness vs. universalism last year, for those who are interested.)

So we have Odin, son of the jotun Bestla. We also have Hel, daughter of the jotun Angrboda. Not to mention Vidar, who travels with Thor and who will avenge Odin at Ragnarok, who is said to be the son of the giantess Gríðr. And Tyr is said to be the son of the giant Hymir.

If one is disqualified as being a "god," then the others must be as well.

N H also says that Hel is "noted in sources always as a giantess." But you know what? I checked the existing references that mention Hel by name, and can't find a single one that refer to her as a jotun* (neither, for that matter, are her brothers Fenrir and Jormundgandr so called). Gylfaginning, In fact, Grimnismal implies that she's not a frost giant, because it specifically separates them:
Three roots there are | that three ways run
'Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
'Neath the first lives Hel, | 'neath the second the frost-giants [hrímþursar],
'Neath the last are the lands of men.
So what makes a jotun, or ás, or van? Obviously it's not a simple matter of descent; if it was, Odin, Tyr, and Vidar would be jotuns, rather than Aesir. It's also important to note that the jotun or aesir group identity can be transferred; we see this repeatedly throughout the sources. First, Freyr, Freyja, and Njord move from being Vanir to Aesir. Then Skadi, daughter of the giant Thjazi, moves from being a jotun to being one of the Aesir after marrying Njord.

The best way to think of these categories -- Aesir, Jotunar, Vanir, Alfar -- is not as separate "races" or even family lineages. They are tribes, and just as human tribes can see members go from one tribe to another by marriage, so too can one move from jotun to asyngjar through marriage. Just as one can be born into the tribe of the Svear and join the tribe of the Geats by swearing an oath to their leader, so too can be born a jotun and later join the Aesir through oaths of loyalty. And so forth.

But the key here is that nobody is actually going outside their family boundaries. All of the players here can trace their lineage back through to Ymir at the very least, and often much further down in the ranks of the jotuns than that. So this whole issue isn't at all relevant to human races and ethnicities; these are groupings that in very real terms are social constructs, because they rely on a malleable identification that can be changed through recognized, and ritualized, mechanisms.

All this is why I'm very skeptical of the use of the term "god" in relation to these beings; it's too generic. In one sense, it's used to describe anything that is extraordinarily powerful, which would encompass both Aesir and jotunar. But it can also be used as a substitute for ás specifically, to differentiate them from the jotunar. But that brings into question whether beings who started in one category and moved to another can still count (which is what started this discussion in the first place).

So, much like the word "magic" is a clumsy generic substitution for dozens of words with very specific meanings and connotations, and carries with it a load of baggage that doesn't necessarily apply, so too do I try not to use the word "god" any more, preferring to use the more specific terms Aesir, Jotunar, Vanir, etc.

So where does leave us with Hel? She's definitely the daughter of a jotun and an ás who used to be a jotun. But she was raised into a position of authority by the chief of the Aesir, and was powerful enough to defy his wishes (refusing to release Balder from Hel). Nowhere that I'm aware of is she directly referred to as either an asyngjur or a jotun, leaving her precise categorization in doubt. Certainly not enough to justify the sort of sweeping generalization that N H made in his email to Lucius Helsson.

* If I've missed one, please let me know in the comments.