Rise From the Deep

“Beneath the modern, industrial world and all of its rationality, the world of intuition, dream, and madness is alive. And it is returning. As this world crumbles, the old world will burst forth and the gods will walk again. I will dream your ruin.”

From Ramon Elani

tree2

“Thus Odin graved ere the world began;

Then he rose from the deep, and came again.”

–Havamal, the Words of the High One

We do not choose the forms in which the gods appears to us. It is carved into the hidden heart of the dream inside of us. It was written there in the dreaming world, before this world began. Turn your back on it at your peril, for it is madness in either direction. We are striated and sedimented things. We walk this dead and rotten world, while we dance at the gates of dawn. I am a contingent thing, a breath upon the wind. But I am too the flames of distant stars, I am a torch in the night. I was there when the earth was born, I was there when the first dream was dreamed.

I am now, I am again, I am always.

The gods, like the trees, don’t care for a one-sided conversation. In the end, if they have spoken to us for too long without receiving a response, they will cease trying. To follow the gods is to speak to them, not to speak to humans of them, nor to listen to humans speak of them. To follow the gods is to follow the signs they give, not the instructions of any man or woman who claims to know them.

The gods are the land, it is said. They are in the land and of the land. It is said that if you are not of the land then you are not of the gods of that land. Fools! The fen and moor, fjord and glacier exist within us as memories. They are memories from the time before. My memories are not only my own. My memories are yours as well. My memories are the land itself. My memories, my dreams are the home of the slumbering gods.

If the gods are tied to those places, then I must only seek for them in my dream. For where is the land but within ourselves? What is our blood but the water of the earth? What is our soul but the spirit of the heavens? Inside and outside. The land penetrates us and we penetrate the land. Where do I end and the land begin? We think the ground beneath us is solid. We think we know what we stand upon. And yet, the world we know is fragile as an eggshell. We drift through currents of time and place. Beneath the modern, industrial world and all of its rationality, the world of intuition, dream, and madness is alive. And it is returning. As this world crumbles, the old world will burst forth and the gods will walk again. I will dream your ruin.

We go in to go out.

We go up to go down.

The gods sleep within us.

There is only one way to find them, only one path to wake them.

Dive down, dive down. Deep into the sunless indigo sea. The gods lie there beneath the gentle waves. In the dimness, among strange and antique shapes. Structures forgotten. Memories left to gather sediment. Suddenly, a one-eyed face emerges from the murky water. Grim and mad, blazing with poetry, dark with blood. I know him. I too have sacrificed myself. I have made a gruesome offering of myself. And whatever gifts I received, I received them shrieking. I too picked up the knuckle bones and I saw the world that will come, in fire and wolf blood. There is only one sacrifice that means anything. The self to the self! What else have you to offer? Who else is deserving? Hang yourself and rise again. Pierce your side with the spear and the soul shines bright.

The whisper is what he brought back from the gallows. A secret. That is his gift. Words. A magic unlike any other. Not the changing of shapes or things. You may change a shape but not the thing itself. For you cannot change what you do not know. What is a whisper but a thing known? What is a secret but a kept word? Thus the whispers are the knowing of things put together, of things in their way, and in their place.

He bade write on the shield before the shining goddess,

On Arvak’s ear, and on Alsvith’s hoof,

On the wheel of the car of Hrungnir’s killer,

On Sleipnir’s teeth, and the straps of the sledge.

On the paws of the bear, and on Bragi’s tongue,

On the wolf’s claws bared, and the eagle’s beak,

On bloody wings, and bridge’s end,

On freeing hands and helping foot-prints.

On glass and on gold, and on goodly charms,

In wine and in beer, and on well-loved seats,

On Gungnir’s point, and on Grani’s breast,

On the nails of Norns, and the night-owl’s beak.

What will I not write upon? What is it that is written on beak of the owl? The word vibrates that upon which it is carved. The whisper is a way of knowing. Nothing controls like knowing, naming, speaking, writing. In this is comprised his evil, his woe-working, his swift deceit. I name a thing, and thus I rule over it. My dominion is the word. What I write upon is my kingdom. With my words, I bind it to me. Whisper, whisper. And I will write upon the wolf’s tooth and upon the raven’s wing. And I will know them, and they will know my sovereignty. Deed follows word. Therein lies its power. The word is a movement upon the tapestry. A storm that is felt throughout the worlds.

Of what do the whispers speak?

They speak of triumph. To bless the sword, speak and write the name of the Sword God, who gave his wolf’s joint.

They speak of birth. To bring new life from the womb of the mother, speak and write the names of the Three Sisters upon the palm of the hand.

They speak of the waves and the terrible sea. To come safe across the whale road, burn and speak to oar and stern.

They speak of the nine twigs of glory. To overcome the worm, to bring forth the apple and the poison both.

They speak of the dire thorn. To bring evil, severity. Blood icicle. It is to be shunned and never written. It is a cliff dwelling thing and abhorred.

They speak of the branches that bind flesh and blood together. Blood to blood and bone to bone, speak and write upon the branch and tree that faces east.

They speak law and judgement. With word and thought, he weaves those sundered together.

And the last whispers of all, the ones that shall outlive the gods themselves. For one day, the god will come upon a man hanging from a tree. And he will know him. He will paint his whispers upon the dead man’s flesh and sing soft secrets to him. And the man will descend. He will go down. And he will speak the whispers back.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He lives with his family among mountains and rivers in Western New England. He walks with the moon.

More of his writing can be found hereYou can also support him on Patreon.

Anti-fascism and the Left’s Euro-Secular Arrogance

Fighting fascism cannot be done with cheat-sheets, graphics, or slogans; it must involve building vibrant, tolerant, and culturally-rich communities that refuse to discard spiritual meaning. And that cannot be done without interrogating the secular arrogance of the left’s “founding fathers.”

An editorial, from Rhyd Wildermuth

Perplexity, shock, and a revulsion she tried to temper with all else she knew of us rippled across her face after we said the words to her:

“We’re pagan.”

“But you two…you’re both anarchists and anti-fascists! How…how can you two also believe that stuff?”

We’d met through my partner. Both were in the same graduate history program; her work focused on the Nazi extermination of Jews during the Shoah and the ways those histories have been written since; his focus was upon the alternative occult and queer communities in Berlin that the Nazis both crushed and appropriated in their march to power.

Most of our bonding came from our life experiences, however. We were all anarchists, had done anti-fascist work, were all queer, and had lived similar counter-cultural lives. Despite all we shared, despite already being good friends, my partner and I had been quite scared of telling her what we believed.

The conversation which followed our confession was long and sometimes heated. But it was around a table on a balcony overlooking a lake, with food and tea and German beer, and because we were all friends who genuinely wanted to understand each other (rather than merely wanting to be heard), we not only stayed friends but became better friends.

I remember what she said to us that night, because it was the first time we’d ever heard anything of the sort: “this goes against everything I have known, but I believe you that it’s possible to be Pagan and not fascist.”

Especially to those with shorter histories in anarchist and anti-fascist spaces, this conversation might not seem very significant. But for me, more than ten years ago, it felt like pure freedom and hope. Before then, whenever I told other anarchists or communists in the US or Europe that I was a Pagan, the response was almost always something along the lines of: “Wait…you’re a fascist?” Those who didn’t immediately make that conclusion instead responded with words less accusatory but no less dismissive, such as “that’s all nonsense.”

I’d been derided enough times that I learned to keep my beliefs as private as possible. I learned to smile pleasantly when atheism and anti-religious dogma was repeated in speeches at protests and organizational meetings. “No gods no masters” was an unquestionable foundation of every anarchist gathering, never to be challenged. And though my entire experience of the living world ran counter to the secular-scientific atheist consensus in the anarchist and socialist groups I worked with, keeping silent about what I believed was better than being lectured, laughed at, or more often: labeled a fascist.

So when my friend (herself an atheist, an anti-fascist organizer, and later a curator of anti-fascist and anti-nationalist museum exhibitions in Germany) accepted my apparently contradictory positions (being against fascism, being deeply Pagan), relief flooded my soul.

Her acceptance gave me the confidence to broach the subject with others in political spaces. Though most of the conversations repeated the same dismissals (or worse) that I had experienced before, I was able to slowly find others who would cautiously confess that they themselves also held similar beliefs. I remember an IWW and Solidarity Network organizer telling me in an anarchist bookshop (after looking around herself first to see who might hear her say it) that she read tarot. I remember a leftist social worker who also did sex work admitting she kept an altar and did protection magic. And I remember meeting a burnt-out anarchist magician coming to life again upon finding someone he could finally talk to about his work.

European Leftism, European Atheism

There are several reasons we had all felt both embittered and scared of being open about our beliefs.

Most of these reasons are historical. Anarchism and communism were both first articulated in Europe during a time when being anything other than atheist marked you as anti-intellectual and aligned with bourgeois values. Proudhon, Marx, Stirner, Bukunin–pretty much all of the early philosophers of anarchism or communism (with Tolstoy a significant exception) were not just dismissive of spiritual beliefs, but aggressively hostile.

Any astute reader of the aforementioned paragraph, however, will note that the philosophers of whom I am speaking are all of European origin or derivation. This is an important fact, because the atheism that was carried into leftist thought was a European atheism. Being European, it bore with it utterly unnoticed colonial conceits. While many were influenced by indigenous (including Iroquois) forms of autonomous self-government and anti-colonial struggle, the European narrative of progress (which posits that all societies eventually “progress” from animist and polytheist beliefs into monotheism and finally atheism) prevented these philosophers and theorists from accepting the metaphysically animist nature of the cultures that inspired them.

This arrogance is what then allowed communists, anarchists, and socialists to argue that indigenous cultures would need to relinquish their non-scientific (that is, non-European) beliefs and worldviews in order to achieve full liberation. No gods no masters was not just a rallying cry but an imperative, and this has in no small part led many indigenous cultures to reject some leftist ideologies as continuations of colonial oppression.

This arrogance was rarely subtle in the leftist spaces in which I moved. I listened to socialists, anarchists, and communists (sometimes to crowds of thousands) say that First Nations and indigenous peoples of other continents must eventually come into the 21st century and “throw off the chains” of shamanic and other traditional beliefs. Never once did I hear this challenged in those spaces.

As non-indigenous adherents to reconstructed Pagan beliefs, my partner and I had even less ground to stand upon in these arguments. Though the “backwardness” of indigenous people gave them some time to change, we were white, which meant we were supposed to have moved beyond such beliefs centuries ago. We were “lifestylists,” according to the worshipers of Bookchin and  “immature” according to the Scientific Socialist currents birthed by Trotsky and Lenin. But worse than this, we are also “crypto-fascists.”

There is another root to this accusation. The history of Paganism and occultism in Europe during the 19th and  20th century is unfortunately rife with fascist forms. Esoteric fascists such as Julius Evola evoked Pagan forms in their writing, Theosophy and the Golden Dawn both had adherents who were sympathetic to fascist forms, and of course some Nazis attempted a re-invigoration of ancient Germanic religious beliefs. But socialists and anarchists also evoked Pagan forms, and the aformentioned occult traditions (Theosophy and the Golden Dawn) had more intersections with leftist groups than they did with the right (*a good source for more on this is Affective Communities by Leela Ghandi). Further back, as Peter Linebaugh has shown repeatedly in his works, leftist and anarchist resistance to Capitalism in Ireland and England often evoked ancient pagan gods (particularly the Whiteboys in Ireland and the Luddites in England) and pagan forms (such as May Day) as part of their resistance.

So while a case can be made that Pagan, esoteric, and occult forms are fascist and do not belong in leftist or anarchist movements, the exact case can also be made that they were important parts of leftist and anarchist movements from the very beginning. Thus, leftists who label Pagan beliefs as fascist by pointing to historical connections are only ever looking at half of the evidence, if they are even looking at all.

Why they would appear to miss that evidence has been addressed succinctly by post-colonial historian Dipesh Chakrabarty in his work, Provincializing Europe. Basically–European secularism is an artificial narrative, and it is one which attempts to overwrite its own non-secularism. Erasing traces of folk traditions and religious beliefs within European (and generally Western) societies helps European societies and intellectuals see themselves as more “advanced” and “modern” than the rest of the world. That is, this secular-atheism is a product of its own colonial arrogance.

The continuation of this arrogance in Anti-fascism

Anarchism, Communism, Socialism, and especially Anti-fascism has never really interrogated this arrogance. This becomes a particular problem now that we are seeing increasingly public displays of aggressive white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and extreme right rhetoric in the United States and Europe.

This rise is absolutely cause for concern. Unfortunately, the violence of their ideologies and their actual physical violence has initiated quite a few panicked and uncalculated responses to their threat, some of which spread patently false information. In such a panicked state, we can clearly see the symptoms of this un-examined arrogance.

For instance, consider this image from the U.K. group Brighton Anti-Fascists:

Text reads:” Know your enemy–NeoNazi symbols & codes Nazis and white supremacists often use codes and symbols to disguise their true politics. Memorise these symbols–if you spot one (of[sic] more) of them, you’ve probably got yourself a fascist!”
I encountered this image with great dismay after it was shared by another anti-fascist group. Dismay might not even be the correct word: I was horrified by the inclusion of one particularly image–that of the Valknut (third image from the left on the bottom row).

The Valknut is an ancient Nordic symbol found on stone work and textiles, and while its precise original meaning is unclear, it’s usually thought to have indicated the procession of ancestors and to honor warriors who died in battle. Currently, its most common uses are amongst those who adhere to Heathenism or Asatru, religions derived from Scandinavian and Germanic cultures. Some followers of these religions profess racist, exclusionary, and even fascist beliefs, but many more do not. I personally know several antifascist organizers who use this symbol, including one who has it tattooed on his body.

Claiming that the presence of the Valknut indicates that “you’ve probably got yourself a fascist!” is, therefore, no more true than claiming that a person wearing a cross is a child-molester or a person carrying a prayer mat in order to pray towards Mecca is a terrorist. That is, while there are Heathens who adhere to fascist beliefs, and no doubt there are fascists who adorn themselves with the Valknut, there is no correlation between the symbol and the violence of the extreme right.

The presence of the Valknut in this list of “NeoNazi symbols and codes” is not only misinformation, but it has other effects as well:

  • It damages the credibility of the anti-fascist organizations who disseminated it. Any reader aware of the much larger non-fascist and even anti-fascist uses of the symbol immediately understands that Brighton Antifascists don’t actually know what they’re talking about. People are thus less likely to take anything else they say seriously.
  • It causes unfair and damaging defamation of people who use the symbol and are not fascist, putting them into situations where they have to “prove” themselves not to be fascist.
  • It makes anti-fascism in general elsewhere lose credibility among those who are not yet politicized. Anti-fascists are often criticized for being “alarmist,” “fanatic,” and otherwise unable to distinguish symbolic meaning from actual threats; lists of symbols and codes that signify someone is a fascist increases this perception, and when those codes are demonstrably false such accusations become irrefutable.
  • It undermines years of work that anti-fascist Heathen groups (like Heathens United Against Racism/HUAR) have done to prevent their religious beliefs from being co-opted by white nationalist, supremacist, authoritarian, and explicitly fascist groups.
  • Perhaps worst of all, it increases the already-high fear and anxiety felt by oppressed peoples in a damaging way. The trauma experienced by those against whom the marches, rallies, and repeated identity-based violence of the various extreme-right groups occurs is already deep; inflating their fear through false information only helps those who wield terror against them.

The importance of this work

The Valknut is hardly the only symbol that that has been recently mis-labeled (see my previous critiques of such panics regarding the Tyr rune, red boot laces, the Black Sun and egoism, and the wolfsangel.)  And some of these mistakes can be ascribed to mere panic or a puerile fundamentalism that mistakes the symbolic for the real, much in the same way that Christian fundamentalists publish lists of “signs” your child is into the occult.

But a larger criticism is necessary.

The larger issue is that leftist, anarchists, and anti-fascist spaces in European and Anglo-American contexts have too long failed to re-evaluate their inherited Euro-atheist arrogance. The Valknut is an artifact of the pre-Christian cultural existence of Europe, one which has persisted into the present through folk customs and art. It’s part of the paganism that European secularism–especially now in its Anglo-American leftist forms–tries to forget it ever was. And by forgetting, it gives over those who find meaning in such things to the very fascists it claims to fight.

Much has changed already regarding the arrogance against Paganism and magical traditions in leftists spaces.  Some of this change is on account of my work and the work of other writers at Gods&Radicals, as well as more clear-thinking anti-fascist theorists such as Shane Burley. This collective work has brought us to a place where Paganism, witchcraft, and occultism are now much more accepted as authentic expressions of autonomy and resistance.

Heathens unfortunately remain too often smeared as crypto-fascist by anti-fascist groups and the larger public. Worse, these smears and misinformation campaigns comes at a time when white supremacists are actively recruiting in Heathen communities, making it much harder for Heathens to fight off their advances.

Knee-jerk assumptions, simplistic reductions of symbols and beliefs, and a willingness to discard spiritual and cultural symbols in our fight to stop a nebulous Fascist threat will not only lead us nowhere good, but will aid the recruitment efforts of the people we are claiming to oppose. It not only shows us as ignorant but willfully arrogant: our “enlightened” European-derived secular-atheism is the only true way, and any who find meaning in spiritual symbols are at best foolish or, more often “fascist.”

Fighting fascism cannot be done with cheat-sheets, graphics, or slogans ; it must involve building vibrant, tolerant, and culturally-rich communities that refuse to discard spiritual meaning. And importantly, greater acceptance of non-Christian and non-Atheist cultural and spiritual beliefs supports a much larger work: abandoning the colonialist arrogance which still sees European-derived civilization as superior in its secularism.

As this arrogance is abandoned, indigenous and colonized people will able to claim more space to articulate their animist and ancestral beliefs, without being dismissed as uneducated or backwards in leftist spaces. It’s this larger work we must be committed to, a work that cannot be accomplished by sacrificing the beliefs of others on the altars of purity or the fight against fascism, nor can it be accomplished without interrogating the secular-atheism of the left’s “founding fathers.”


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is one of the co-founders and co-editors of Gods&Radicals. His recently released collection, Witches In a Crumbling Empire, is available now. You can support him on Patreon, and listen to his podcasts with Alley Valkyrie, Empires Crumble.


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The Songs I Know

“The Spirit of the Depths had shown me how to awaken the dead,

How to bring forth the lost memories of the dream world,

How to touch the primordial power

That I thought I had banished from the world,

When I filled the womb of the gods with blood.

For the well beneath the tree is the well of dreams.”

From Ramon Elani

Odin-Norse-mythology-Wanderer

“The wheel of time cannot be turned back. Things can, however, be destroyed and renewed. This is extremely dangerous, but the signs of our times are dangerous too. If there was ever a truly apocalyptic era, it is ours. God has put the means for a universal holocaust into the hands of men.”

“The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning.”

—C.G. Jung

I am a man of extraordinary violence.

I am the one who roars in the heart of battle.

I am the At-Rider, who drives down my foe.

I am the Evil Worker, the Man of the Spear.

I ride forth.

I am the one of Gaping Frenzy.

I drive men to madness.

I am the Resounder.

I am the Master of Slaughter.

I am the One Who is Merry in War.

I am the Hanging God.

I am the bringer of Runes.

I am the War Father.

 

I slew my father,

He Who Existed Before Time,

The First Being,

The undifferentiated consciousness,

The Slumbering God,

Substance and spirit of the cosmos.

He was beyond good and evil,

Though he was grim and terrible.

How he howled in the abyss of night.

What memories drifted and floated through his mind?

In a somnolent universe, what did he dream?

Will, Thought, and Spirit arose in fierce arms.

With my brothers I sundered him and split him.

And his blood drowned the world,

It spilled over from the Yawning Gap,

It drenched the stars.

And a shining fragment of ice,

The Primal Cosmic Egg,

The heart of ice,

The pattern of all things,

The bridge between the seen and unseen,

Burned through the fabric of the world.

And the ice poured into the Realm of Mist,

And there his kin grew strong and proud.

And upon those frozen plateaus

A lost kernel was buried in ice

And its power dripped between the worlds

And formed a well beneath the Tree.

For god is in the egg.

Far_away_and_long_ago_by_Willy_Pogany

I have Nine Twigs,

I see beyond the nine worlds,

And into the endless cycles of time.

I have seen the devastation that will come,

I have seen the vision of the Wolf that will come for me.

The Wolf is always there in the darkened forests of my mind.

I know that he is my ruin and doom.

I know that he will bring blood and fire upon the world.

And I know that I will see the world born again in water.

The Gods are not immune to fate.

I follow my destiny.

I am the Son and the Father,

I am the Cold Sky,

I am the Wanderer and Deceiver.

Those who wander do not remember.

I seek my shadow.

He is the damp and the moist,

The One beneath the dirt,

He is the sacrifice and I am the blade.

In the hollow beneath the tree,

He remembers everything

For he sits by the pool

That is fed from waters that flow

From that savage realm.

I have forgotten,

The world lives through forgetting.

But he who dwells among the mosses and dripping roots,

He alone carries the memories of what I destroyed.

My hoary uncle,

Lost in an infinity of dreams.

 

And I went down to him,

From my golden palaces and joyful battles.

I went down beneath the tree.

And I found him there lost in his endless wisdom.

I went down

To become whole,

To repair the gaping wound,

To atone for rending the world.

As I had climbed the tree,

As I had hung myself from the branch,

As I had pierced myself with spear,

As I had gone up

To gain the power of the Runes,

To gain the power to bind,

To control,

To create order,

The fire of the sea and the path of the snake,

The horror of the clouds,

The ruin of the harvest,

The Cliff-Dwelling horror,

The Home of Mortification,

The grain that brings famine,

The Grief of the humanity,

The rivers of ice,

And the destroying Sun,

The One Handed God of Temples,

The adornment of ships,

The iron that bends.

As I went up for these things,

So I knew I must go down to complete myself.

For chaos must join order.

 

My ancient uncle made me look into the murky waters of the well.

And in the well,

I saw rage unconquerable,

I saw power ungovernable,

I saw a consciousness unreasonable,

I saw a force unstoppable.

And I knew that I was blind,

I could not see myself,

Could not see the way.

I knew what I had rejected,

The spirit of the womb.

Among the clouds and winds, the lord of the sky,

I had lost the earth,

The body of my father, who was also my mother,

In the landscape I had carved in his bones,

This truth was written.

The truth was etched into the mountains,

Into the fjords,

Into the forests,

Into the rivers,

Into the glaciers.

But I could not read it,

For I could only read the runes,

The language of artifice and doom.

I could not longer read the words of the world below.

And therein dwelt my weakness.

I had made myself strong

Only with the power of heaven.

I knew that I was spirit without body,

And the spirit is nothing on its own,

But my destiny is to walk both paths,

To walk in two worlds,

To walk in all the worlds at once.

 

And so I begged my uncle to drink from his well.

And I learned the Nine Songs,

And what my uncle requested,

I gave him.

And I took my hand and raised it to my face,

And my fingers dug into my skull,

And I ripped my eye from my face,

And the world became all blood,

And the tree shuddered above me,

And the gods wept,

And tears of blood dripped into my beard.

My grim uncle took the quivering eye in his hand

And he cast it deep into the well.

And I fell upon my knees

And I plunged my fingers into the rich, wet dirt

And I screamed

As the cosmos became one

Within my shattered mind.

And I saw stars exploding,

Galaxies being born,

I saw the dragon stirring.

I saw everything that had ever been and would be.

I felt fate burning me.

I saw that all my knowledge,

Was nothing more than an attempt

To impose something knowable

Onto a universe that defied me.

Or had defied me.

 

Then I understood,

That all my wandering had led me back to myself,

Back to this madness.

How far must a star travel through space

Before it finds the part of itself

That it once thought lost?

As my soul came together,

The child came forward:

The knowledge that transcends knowledge.

The meaning that surpasses meaning.

That which can only be achieved through

The cosmic union.

The Spirit of the Depths had arisen within me.

And for all my rune might

I could not teach it,

I could not share it,

It was mine to bear alone.

The Spirit of the Depths had shown me how to awaken the dead,

How to bring forth the lost memories of the dream world,

How to touch the primordial power

That I thought I had banished from the world,

When I filled the womb of the gods with blood.

For the well beneath the tree is the well of dreams.

And in my dreams was the only path of truth.

And a thousand voices spoke to me,

And I heard the destiny of time,

That will outlast the longest night.

And my Sun became darkened

And my Moon rose on the horizon of my consciousness.

And as I had once lost everything

Upon that gallows tree,

So I lost everything again,

Beside the well of dreams.

For I am the God that is to come,

I am the God that is becoming.

 

And my uncle smiled gently,

For he knew as well as I,

That his destiny was to die for me,

Though his kin would survive the great destruction of the world.

He smiled patiently, lovingly,

And he showed me the horn from which he drank,

The horn that signaled the end of things,

The end of my power,

The time when the wolf within me

Would step out of the shadows and engulf me utterly.

And my uncle touched my arm,

For long before the time of the wolf

He would be cut down

And his head severed from his body

And I would use my charms and herbs

Upon it and keep it with me always.

The_twilight_of_the_gods_by_Willy_Pogany

It’s coming now, it’s coming soon.

The world of dreams will swallow up this rotten thing.

Our lives and struggles

Occur as so much flotsam

Upon a sea of unfathomable depth.

Sometimes gracefully, sometime fully of woe,

We float, dreamless, through a galaxy of powers.

Countless pasts and futures, overlaid upon each other.

The world we walk through is part ruin and part verdant growth.

Cycles, which, though we may long to escape, shall never end.

The world drives itself to its doom, unrelenting.

I have given up separating dreams from wakefulness.

I have abandoned the task of assigning truth to one,

And illusion to the other.

Give me deep and muddy waters.

 

“Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.”—Hermann Hesse


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here. You can also support him on Patreon.

Is It Any Wonder?

These are my gods—my scorned gods, my shunned gods, my forgotten gods, gods whose continued breath pulsates in my own lungs and courses through my own veins, gods whose myths are like fires in my belly and my head.

From Tahni J. Nikitins, first published in A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing

Fenrir

Fenrir today is a shapeshifter: once a furious hurricane drowning a city, then the unchecked wrath of an entitled boy with an arsenal in his father’s closet, next the rage of a long overdue earthquake, and closely following, the hungry tsunami consuming coastal village after village. He knows all the shapes destruction takes, from the balled-up fist and the clenched jaw of a horrible husband to open fire in a tightly packed club to the howling tornado.

He is everywhere fear is bred: on reservations where people are fenced like cattle, where white men come to rape and murder and walk away free; where untold anger simmers under the surface of burning alcohol, numbing opioids, and therapeutic overdoses. He is the one who’s had too much but has nowhere to unleash. He is the woman in tears in her room with a pistol in her lap waiting for the police to crash like bullets through the door—who knows the color of her skin and the presence of her legally obtained weapon will be enough to ensure white cops kill her so she doesn’t have to pull the trigger herself. He is the last straw that snaps and breaks and leaves a widow in black—he is the breath that hisses, “You shouldn’t have fucked with us first,” with fists pumping like hearts behind bars.

Down where Katrina tore through—he’s there, too, bunking in the moldering ruins of buildings the city has no interest in repairing. It’s on the wrong side of the bridge, brother, and that’s where the wolf lives—the wolf in pants sagging on hips made narrow by hunger, by resentment, by hate. He watches shimmering skyscrapers rise on the skyline from a district where the pavement cracks and gives way to dandelions and grass and he knows, he knows that high up there is a man looking down and smirking at the people like ants below. He is the fury that is born from the loins of slaves—from the genetic rage imprinted deep in the marrow. He is the gunpowder that ignites in the weekly firefight on the corner where the cops clash again with the hood—he is the rush of adrenaline in the child’s brain as her mother wrestles her from the window. “Don’t look! Close your eyes, sweetie—don’t look.”

In the hearts of men whose fear overruns them with red—that’s where he thrives, in the hearts of cops who think they’re the last line of defense; in the hearts of white men who think they’re the only ones with the balls to lay down the law; in the hearts of those who are ready to lay waste to a family unlike their own. He grows strong when crucial protocol is skipped—warning shot, shoot to incapacitate—nah, straight for the kill. That’s where he’s at. In despising eyes who see the other as less than human and bare their teeth like ravening hounds thirsting for arterial blood—

He’s the heat that will wipe it all out. He’s the oil spill and the carbon emission and the rising tide—he’ll swallow the coasts and lick his lips and hunger for more. He’ll kick up another tantrum—a hurricane, a blizzard, a tsunami and more—he’ll tear it all down, with fire, with fangs, with blood.

Below Yellowstone he rumbles and yawns. Someday when the shores have been gobbled up and humanity has rushed inland, he’ll have them there, too—with a plunging earth, a gaping maw. He’ll be in the eruption, in the roar that will split the sky. He’ll be in the chaotic magma, in the stone and the ash—he’ll turn the skies black and circle the earth a dozen times more—hungry, always hungry. He’ll drown those the seas did not claim, in an instant—it’ll be gone, and in that moment, he will shine brighter than he’s ever shone before.

It will be his own glorious Ragnarok—the moment of destruction when his flame and his ash and his soot swallow moon and sun; when his magma blood drowns worlds and worlds and those who are left to cower in cracks and crevasses to wait out the storm.

In the chaos of it—in the midst of divine destruction—he’ll leave them one thing: from his slavering jaws runs red the river called Ván, the river named hope. But oh—oh what ruin there must be to make way for such a pretty thing.

Is it any wonder they turn away from him in terror?

Angrboda

Angrboda today is dressed in faded blue jeans—faded not by aesthetic washings and acids but by the sheer wear of the things; years of wear that has loosed the dye from the thread and pulled loose the fabric so it doesn’t cling to her thighs like it once did. They are patched at the knees and torn around the ankles, stained with the mud of a million marches and protests and riots. She is wearing a black leather jacket cropped above her waist and zipping at an angle, stitched across the back with a roughly hewn tree with branches and roots that expand into an encompassing circle. Patches that read “Protect the Sacred” and “No War But Class War” mark her shoulders like a soldier’s rank. The leather, zippers, and thread were bought with labor from friends of friends in gatherings across the nations and stitched together with her own coarse, callused paws. The patches were gifts offered up to her by drifters gassed out of protests in DC and Flint and in return she blessed them with the strength and fortitude to keep fighting through the tears and burnout and abuse.

She hides her ambiguous face, scarred by the battles she’s fought through the millennium, behind a bandana painted with gleaming sharp fangs. None will capture her face as she marches in solidarity behind the leaders of Black Lives Matter protestors, or as she hauls wheelbarrows full of canned food and clean water into sacred camps erected on stolen land where war will be waged against snaking oil pipelines and the warriors must be fed. Her auburn hair is a tangle of pseudo-curls and braids knotted along her scalp like a crest, a stray wisp tickling her high cheekbones as she works, as she lunges into the dog-lines of paramilitary contractors hired by corporations to protect their interests against the will of the people, taking the fangs of the dogs before the children and their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers—not to take, but to shield. Her eyes above the toothed bandana glimmer a fierce auburn to match her hair, sitting at a gentle slant above those pocked cheekbones, one of her thick eyebrows sliced through with two, thick white scars.

Under the bandana her skin is ruddy in a way that suggests her foremothers loved and danced and dreamed with the akka of the Saami. Perhaps they traded in magick and ritual and with it came a trading of blood and alliances and culture—a sometimes turbulent but often fruitful flow between the people of the icy tundra and reindeer and the people of the Ironwood. But who’s to say? Their stories lost to the ravages of time and the shredding wrath of the Christian empire—so much has become dust, but Angrboda of the Ironwood, Chief of Chieftains, völva of the trees and of the bones of giants, refuses to be lost to such dust and decay. She wears steel-toed boots for breaking the shins of imperial soldiers in riot-gear who take a stab at knocking her to the ground with bullet-proof shields or putting her in her place with rubber bullets and batons.

“I know my place well,” snarl her broken teeth as her refusal to yield strikes that vital primal cord in the bellies of hungry warriors and the hearts of overpowered police. “Know you your place so well as I know mine?”

For she fights beside the downtrodden, the weary who will not be broken, and she marches among the queer folks whose spirits push at the boundaries of their flesh, with the ones who love outside conventions and the ones waging war for the right to an identity. She who has birthed magick mystery and holy destruction and sacred death—she who will not settle with the dust, she comes out with tape on her knuckles and tattoos of the magick of the ancient gods engraved into her flesh and a battleax inked into her arm.

Is it any wonder they spit her name and reject her?

Sigyn

Sigyn today wears gray shades of blue with purple flowers braided in her ebony-brown curls. Her favorite jacket is a woven sweater bought for two silver coins from a young man and his mother at a flea market in Uppsala, Sweden—a young man and his mother with thick, dark hair, eyes deep and brown, skin dark and soft, and voices rich and heavily accented by their torn homeland of Syria. She touched the coins to the two small runes tattooed like tears on her cheekbone before offering them a smile and the money. They had lost like she has lost, and she blessed them that their grief might be eased, for she recalls the rending horror of holding her child’s mangled corpse in her arms—how she screamed into the ice-laden forest, screamed to shake the very walls of Asgard, to crumble the very halls that housed the privileged who dropped bombs without feeling the havoc they wreaked. After she handed them the coins, she extended her lithe pale hand to them. She took the mother’s weathered hand and leaned into her, to kiss her cheek and hug her tight, and she offered the same to the grateful son.

The jacket trails her like the robe of a priestess of grief, pulled over a loose-fitting gown of pale blue cinched the waist. She wanders bare-footed through the grass—through parks and the forest, through orchards and fields. Wherever she goes it is common to find her at the food pantry helping visitors collect what they need, or at the soup kitchen serving the hungry and the homeless. She rolls the sleeves of her knitted jacket up to her elbows so the inked, pre-Vikings Vendel key on the inside of her forearm is bared for all to see. She delicately fits a hairnet over her hair braided into a crown—flowers and all—and snaps on the blue latex gloves before serving up heaps of dinner to the unfortunate and the downtrodden. For those who reach out to her she removes her gloves to hold their hands while she speaks to them, to offer them smiles and sweet words.

These are not the only places she can be found: Sometimes she might be found tending to the elderly who have outlived their families, serving them hot tea and listening to their stories in the homes they’ve been confined to, her long legs crossed and her bare foot bobbing to the rhythm of their voices. Quite often she can be found playing with children without families, the wards of the state in orphanages waiting for a home—reading them stories, playing tag and hide-and-go-seek and whatever games the minds of children dream up; showing them the gentle kindness they’ve been so deprived of with hugs and snuggles and praise upon praise for every small goodness, every little accomplishment. She lets them adorn her hair with flowers and clovers and grasses and beads and when they’ve done her up she takes smiling selfies with them before teaching them to paint and draw and write out their feelings, their memories, their traumas. She brings to them worn soft toys and clothes from thrift stores so they always have enough to call their own.

Her neck is long and slender, her arms loose. She walks like a breeze through the door, down the street, past the store—a silver chain about her throat the binding to her husband and her sacrifice, the pitcher dangling from it collecting the venom of humanity’s fear, cruelty, and hatred as she goes. She is oh-so familiar with such venom.

And how much venom there is, these days—running freely in the streets, coursing through the veins of subways and trains. Racing like razors, shedding blood as it goes.

She, the gentlest—the lady of the staying power—has seen and tasted and been stung by too much venom to recall. She works it out through her breath, finds herself in the quietest corner of the forest she can and stretches to work out the pain of such venom in her muscles—tosses her knitted jacket over the branch of a thin tree and, in her white tank top and blue harem pants, does a salute to the sun at the tree’s base.

Her resistance is her active choice of gentleness, of kindness, and of charity. It is quiet and unassuming. It does not wage wars or pick fights or light Molotov cocktails or break windows with bricks. It cares for the self, too, so the flame does not dwindle and die.

Is it any wonder they have forgotten her?

Loki

Loki today wears his flaming red hair shaved on the right side and sweeping to the left. He keeps his shapely eyebrows thick but carefully plucked and he applies a sharp black wing to his eyes and blackens his long, long eyelashes with mascara. He brushes hot red lipstick onto his cat-curl lips, but doesn’t hide his galaxy of freckles under any foundation or blush. His clean-shaven jaw is strong, his nose hooked, his chin cleft, but his throat is slender, his Adam’s apple sharp.

The street is his own personal catwalk and all eyes follow him as he saunters past, a destroyer of monarchies in a delicate six-feet with his head held high and his body slender and waiflike. He is fond of tank tops that show off the tattoos of gleaming chains and binding runes that wrap his wrists and coil like serpents up his leanly muscled arms. He prefers a plunging V-neck to show off the serpent coiled around a heart on his chest, its fangs prominent and dripping. He wears skinny jeans and laced-up black boots, and he paints his fingernails the color of bruises.

His stride is a challenge to all he passes: try to bind me. When he catches the eyes of uncomfortably suited men with square jaws and traditional gold wedding bands he holds their gaze and bites his lip as he passes. The self-hatred their arousal ignites in them feed him like slow cooked pork loin and he goes on, proudly defiant in the face of this world’s lack of hospitality.

He issues all challenges equally: try to erase me. Those too fabulous for their own good cannot be erased and he seeks to prove it with his every move—his every glance a provocation of the unbound ethereal, a check in no box but his own, unmovable, untouchable by the mere hands of Man who seeks to contort and to control. No, any contorting he does will be on his own terms, and for his own pleasure.

Try to box me, he says with the sway of his hips and the toss of his hair as he smooths his lipstick with a tenderly manicured finger: any box anyone tried to fit him into he would tear through with his talons and teeth. Shredded cardboard—he’d burn it, he’d swallow it, he’d paint it and make it confetti and rain it down on his would-be jailers.

He is the one bound by his slaughtered love, forced to bear witness to the withering of his beloved in sacrifice to their union. He is the one who felt the burn of a thousand years of human putrefaction gnawing away at his flesh until he could no longer sense the pain—chewing away at his eyes until he could no longer see the horror. He is the one who was bound tight in a cave, in a prison fashioned by his once-allies, his once-brothers. He is the one who remembers the crime for which he was chained was not a murder, but wounding the egos of the ruling class.

Chained, he will not remain bound. Imprisoned, he will not remain confined. Shunned, he will not remain unseen: he bursts gloriously into the world, a flame too hot to simmer.

In a world that would see him erased, he will be all the bolder. In the face of those that would see him submit, he will bring his own whip. When those who would see him rigidly defined come for him, he will be as elusive as smoke—as slippery as water, a shapeshifting trickster laughing in the face of the prison of patriarchy, of capital, of empire, of dominion. In the face of it all, he’ll wield his own self as his greatest weapon.

Is it any wonder they shy away from him?

Gerdr

Gerdr today is wearing flowing pants of thin linen sourced from friends who grow flax and weave their own fabrics. She wears these with a green tank top of the same make. It lets through the calming breeze which carries with it the scent of the fields, farms, and the mill beyond her garden—a small patch of lovingly tended earth enclosed by a wooden fence she herself built. The wood she refused to pay for, but scavenged by the out-of-use railroad tracks by the mill for planks discarded for being misshapen. What waste, she thought, as she collected the wood and built with it a fence made multi-colored by the mill’s orderly marks.

Never does she wear shoes within the confines of her garden. Her feet, all callused and stained by the earth, are freely connected to the soil as she goes about her business—pruning her strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; collecting their fruits. Plucking pests from her tomatoes and chilis, she takes leaves from her herbs to hang to dry in the kitchen window. There are cucumbers for salads and pickling, lettuce and kale, sweet peppers, and more. She even has a fig tree which she climbs every other day during its fruiting season, collecting what she can.

She erects a small fence around her garden beds to keep the chickens from scraping up the roots. When the chickens are unleashed they peck up every little insect and slug and snail they can find—pest control which turns the pests into fertilizer. It is a hazard when wearing bare feet, but a hazard she gladly accepts, for the chickens also turn out eggs, and when they cease to do so they make a hearty soup.

Out back where she hopes to expand her garden she has goats clearing the worst of the brush and the weeds. These will give her milk. She has almost all the necessities to sustain her household and what she doesn’t have readily available in her own garden she purchases from the farms down the way: lamb, steak, pork. She has her fishing license available for when the craving strikes.

Every year for the vårblot she and her husband Freyr bless and consecrate the garden, not caring how much the neighbors see: they fuck on the blessed soil, stripped naked so the sun can kiss them, so the inked panthers that prowl her arms and legs can bask in it. Her hair the color of the turned soil spreads out on the ground, long and immense, while his shines golden and curling in the sun. When they are done, he spills his seed on the earth for the blessing, and besides, theirs is an infertile home—what purpose is there in bringing forth a child that will only die in one of a thousand endless wars?

Knowing what she knows about the slavery behind the food in the store, she does well to keep her distance. Rather than turn her pockets out for capitalistic greed she turns her pockets out for friends and when the coins come up short, she patches the gap with a barter or two. Better to feed the community than to feed the hungry monsters squatting over them, masturbating over the squalor of poverty with their filthy dollar bills.

She knows the value of a good garden and a few chickens. She knows the value of commerce between individuals and friends. Oh, how she loves the farmer’s market—where she can often be found when not in the garden or volunteering to support victims of stalking and to educate young men and women on the very real dangers thereof. At the farmer’s market she tests the fruits, leaves, stalks, and roots of the various kinds which she doesn’t have in her own garden. She lovingly selects her items, breathing them in and touching them gently to her cheek before making her purchases. Because she knows the power of a simple garden, of a simple farm—of a simple vote with a dollar.

Is it any wonder she is so overlooked?

Jörmungandr

Jörmungandr today is wearing snake leather boots and pearls, simmering cigarette perched on naturally fair lips, existing on the fringes of society—the liminal and the unknown. The serpent is unseen only insofar as society has allowed its erasure—from the reaches of 1420 to Chatīsgaṛh, those unseemly women, children, men, and others lingering on the edges, those impoverished, disabled, mad, and simple outcasts are called witches and punished. Those hanged, burned, decapitated, drowned, stoned, flayed, flogged, raped, and beaten for the indiscretion of failing to fall in line—every injury done to them, the serpent today bears. Oh how its tail has been whittled down to the finest strands—but still the serpent swims.

The serpent is wherever empire seeks to extinguish that which might undermine it: with healers, with witches, with women who freely exercise the power of their yes’s and their no’s, with men who don’t fall in line, with those who don’t fit inside the box. The serpent is with those whose subversion is their liminality, in the way they ride the borderlands between the wild and civilization, in the free-flow of their spirituality, their sexuality, their survival.

Scarred from the many injuries done to those othered by the driving empires of patriarchy, hegemony, and authoritarian religions, the serpent keeps on keeping on—seeking out space with those who retreat quietly into the forest, to listen, to work their peace or their vengeance. The serpent cares for those learning and tending in secret to the needs of the world weary—bringing the right herbs and right dosages to deal with unwanted ailments, to throw off curses and ills.

So often the serpent has been found with those who slip and slither just out of reach of domination and repression, those living in the nooks and crannies of the world, only just slipping under the gaze of dictators and priests. These days the serpent does an ecstatic dance in bars where there are no men and women, only vibrant bodies overflowing with spirit and soul that answer to the call of music and dance and passion. The serpent thrives among those outcasts to whom society has denied existence and identity—the serpent understands. The serpent knows.

But this is only where the serpent goes to burn off steam. The serpent is also found, still in snake-skin boots, wearing a lab coat and goggles and overseeing the Large Hadron Collider—accused of playing with black holes, tempting a wink out of existence, interrupting time streams, cross-fading with alternate dimensions, universes, realities. Pastors and priests and ministers world-wide have condemned the serpent’s work here as they have condemned it elsewhere: it will open a portal to Hell, they say, or it will attract the wrath of God.

Wherever there are those that are unwanted, or work done that is scorned, the serpent will be there, diligent in snake-skin boots and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

And where else would one of such liminality and mystery be if not at the very heart of mystery-work? Tampering with the particles of reality—seeking them, discovering them, unlocking them. It is not play, no—the very substance of all that is, all that has been, all that can ever be is no game. The serpent takes this work seriously, calmly, and meditatively—uncovering that which strikes terror into the hearts of god-fearing men and women, spawning whispers of the death of god and the crossing of realities. Really, at the end of the day, where is there greater majesty than in the unraveling mysteries of reality? Where else could a greater sense of the mystic and deafening awe be found than here?

A very serious work indeed. Of course, the serpent must seek out those liminal places of ecstatic dance and thrash in worship of it all—a dance that could crumble all the world to ash and dust.

Is it any wonder that they close their eyes and try to wish the serpent away?

Hela

Hela today is wearing a curt white button-up blouse and smart black slacks with a crisp seam and sharp heels that click on the floor. Her makeup is as clean and crisp as her clothes, each eye—the blue one and the brown one—sporting an expert and subtle black wing, mascara making her eyelashes full and long. Though her cleft lip has never been surgically corrected, she paints her lips a red that shocks in contrast to her fair skin.

She runs a business which puts people in the ground, or burns them, though she typically recommends the former. She does not embalm, but encourages the deceased to be given directly to the earth after the funeral—which she organizes quickly and efficiently while bodies are kept cold. She advises the grieving that the funeral is not for the dead, but for them—a ritual of closure and release, and she consults with them on how to most effectively achieve this ritual.

Her consultations are surprisingly touching. She holds the hands of the bereaved while they weep, she touches their shoulders and offers words of wisdom and reassurance. She has been in the business of death for untold ages through untold lifetimes and has become quite good at this. The grieving accept her condolences and somehow manage to find comfort in her words, touch, and gestures, despite her uncanny appearance. They never notice that through it all she maintains her reserved, upright demeanor—never fully investing in these energetic and emotional exchanges.

Once the plans have been settled and offerings have been accepted, the mourners return to their homes for a period of respite while she attends to her real work: preparing the dead.

Still in her crisp and professional dress, she pulls on her gloves and slides on a mask to protect her nose and mouth. She cleans the corpses with water that she has personally seen purified and sprinkled with lemon juice and grapefruit seed extract. She combs and arranges their hair beautifully, if they have any, and she meticulously trims their finger and toenails, collecting the trimmings in jars that she stores in her basement cabinets for later. She dresses them in fine, biodegradable clothing—or wraps them in thin biodegradable linens, according to the wishes of the mourners—and lays them in their simple, untreated wooden caskets or out on a table adorned with flowers. She treats all the bodies with the same reverence and duty as a priestess would treat an idol, even those that are going to be burned.

She does not inter anything in the ground that would not be a fit and suitable offering for the hungry earth. No formaldehyde, no wax, no chemicals. She is not in the business of dirtying the earth to comfort the living—and besides, such frivolities interfere with the true beauty and the true ritual of death: decay.

This is her truth, the truth of the artistic ritual that is death. For a corpse to be a suitable offering the earth must be able to reclaim it in a natural and timely fashion, without also consuming poison. She has no interest in jacking up the price of her services over something as petty as preserving a corpse for the sake of false calm in the face of death. Death, she knows, when corporatized and sanitized for consumption, is bastardized. It ought to be retained in all its grotesque glory: the consumption of the flesh, of the fluids, by brilliant fungi and bacterial cultures, by creeping insects and worms and creatures of the earth. There is an artistry in death which she hails, the wonder of desiccation which humanity has forgotten. And death, which lays even the greatest of empires low, is the highest of life’s rituals, not to be tainted by such simpering whims as Capitalism or contrived beauty standards. It is to be given over fully to the consumption of the hungry earth.

Is it any wonder they reject her?

At last there is I—simple, burning and burned out, exhausted, hoping to catch glimpses of myself in gods and knowing I should only hope to be so lucky. How I try to emulate my gods—and consistently, acutely fail.

I look for myself in them and find them nestled in me—dark gods, shunned gods, gods of the forces of nature and gods of subversion and inversion, gods that would see fit to see the world burn. I can’t help but agree—have you read the news lately? Sometimes my rage flares like a chemical burn that cannot be eased, a pain that has no direction, no outlet.

Small as I am, what can I do in the face of such a world? What can I do but resist, but offer kindness and comfort where I can and slashing fangs and swinging fists where I must? How can I not scream to burn it all to ashes, and how can I not flinch away from such violence? Every day I tend to the children of poverty and trauma and through me I feel Sigyn moving—and I come home with my vicarious trauma and toil in the garden at Gerdr’s feet and for a while I am able to let it go.

But Fenrir is carved into my flesh and my bones and my heart—I remember every fight, every rage—and I cannot or will not let him go. The rage is righteous. It is purposeful. But where does it go? Where can such a rage go—I try to fight where I can, meet my monsters with squared shoulders and clenched fists and I fight my fights with fierce Angrboda in mind. How does a warrior keep her steam? How does she not burn too quickly, or burn at both ends and become nothing more than ash and soot?

When I sleep I dream of Jormungandr, twirling and swirling in the ocean of my heart and my mind and I pray that the serpent goes out from me—out to those girls I see crushed under the weight of religious tyranny and social dogma, whittling themselves out of existence. I speak humbly and softly to them but when they look away I am pleading, screaming that they not let themselves be extinguished—and I am helpless to help them.

Then there is Hela. To take comfort, or to take fear? I do not know if she will meet me when it is my time—and the more I read the news the more I suspect all our time will come too soon—but I pray that she does. Some warrior I am, longing for rest in quiet dim Helheim, but who would wish to keep fighting after a lifetime at war?

These are my gods—my scorned gods, my shunned gods, my forgotten gods, gods whose continued breath pulsates in my own lungs and courses through my own veins, gods whose myths are like fires in my belly and my head.

Their mere continuation in the face of revulsion, of fear, of hate, is subversion. In the quiet and roaring rebellion of the universe and before it, I stand in utter, perfect, serene, and inescapable awe.


Tahni J. Nikitins

Tahni J. Nikitins is a long-time Pagan and a democratic socialist who studied in Sweden, traveled Europe, and majored in literature and creative writing.


This piece was first published in our journal, A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing. You can get a copy (print or digital) by going here.

Ancient Oak, Toxic Tsunami

On June 5th, 754CE St. Boniface was murdered by thieves who claimed their act was just. They murdered Boniface and his retinue as divine revenge for Boniface’s desecration of a sacred pagan site of worship.

In 723CE, Boniface, then a Christian missionary named Winifred, chopped down a Donnar-Oak (Thunder Oak). The massive and ancient oak trees found throughout northern continental Europe were considered sacred to Thor, the god of thunder and the protector of the common people. While chiefs and petty nobles worshiped Odin, his son Thor, a strong god who slays frost (winter) giants, brings fertile rains, and also happens to be the god of metal work, was the champion of slaves, peasants, and the common people in general.

St. Boniface’s official church narrative claims he was converting savages. He gathered the people around the oak and claimed that if he could hack it down without being struck down by a lightning bolt that the warriors had to convert to Christianity. He hacked the tree down and ordered the villagers to construct a church from its wood. Another instance of Christian cannibalism.

However, geopolitically there was a larger motive for his mission to the barbarians of Germany. Boniface had the protection and funding of Charles Martel, the Frankish ruler of what would one day become France. He was attempting to unify Gaul and gain recognition and blessings, not to mention cash, from Rome. Martel’s power-grab destroyed paganism and primitive communist tribes, and in their wake–and over their corpses–he spread Feudalism.

Boniface’s real mission among the pagans was an attempt to civilize them. Martel’s missionary sought extension of his benefactor’s power over his kingdom’s northeastern border. He later made the converted chieftains his margraves, semi-autonomous allies who in return for supplying him with resources and soldiers gained titles, his protection, and his backing in fights against neighboring tribes. Martel was facing an invasion from an opposing civilization on his opposite border in the form of the Umayyad Caliphate. He wanted security and a source of fresh troops from the pagan barbarian hinterlands of so-called Europe so he and his Christian leviathan could prevail over the Islamic leviathan which had recently crossed over the Pyrenees.

It is ironic that Boniface made a bet that he could desecrate Thor’s sacred oak tree without being struck down by the god, only to die later in life at the hands of a band of pagan highway robbers claiming revenge for their desecrated site. Some legends even claim it was the elderly druids of the felled Thunder Oak who had finally tracked down the saint to seek their revenge.

While the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Boniface, let us lovers of nature and haters of Leviathan instead celebrate the brigands who sought revenge for their lovely tree upon him.

Speaking of Leviathan and the Thunder god, it was Thor who subdued the great sea serpent Jormundgandr. The serpent who encircles the world and holds its own tail in its mouth (an ouroboros) is said to dribble blood and poison from its mouth. In the final days of the current age it will release its tail and will rise once more from the seas to fight with Thor. Thor will strike a killing blow but the serpent will fatally poison him and in its dying throes drown the world in poison.

Perhaps we should heed the warning and slay Leviathan before it poisons us all. Or perhaps better to evade its toxic desolation and the cleansing fires of Surtr (Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time comes to mind) and hide among the trees like Lif and Lifthrasir (life and life’s lover) and emerge when the fertile new age dawns after Ragnarok has passed and all the gods and leviathans are dead.

Anyways, let us defend the trees wherever they are (I find joy in how many sacred cryptoforests I have stumbled upon in the heart of urban civilization), no matter how majestic or humble their size, in whatever time we have left. We have little time before global climate change spreads deserts to the last sacred groves and ruins the ability of megafauna, including humans, to thrive without major technological intervention and dystopian geoengineering.

Let us become barbarians again, slayers of the Bonifaces of the modern age.

May the Yggdrasil’s roots undermine the skyscrapers, pyramids, and ziggurats.

With howls like Fenrir’s we will sunder the chains and bring dionysian riots to every hamlet, village, town, city, and megalopolis.

Let the great bacchanal potlach in which civilization is destroyed begin!


Vesuvio Urales

Vesuvio Urales lives in and haunts the coves, overgrown farms, crumbling textiles factories, and forests of eastern Massachusetts.

Sacred Violence and Our Hidden Monsters

“Violence is a sacred act, but by sterilizing it, by treating all violence as bad, we disengage from the process of death and renewal. We disengage from our own wild nature. We lose fertility in the soil of our souls and become a barren land.”

On the Nature of Violence, from Mathieu Thiem

There is an aspect of violence which is sacred that we have all but forgotten. We have succumbed to a trend in which rage, anger, desperation, pain and great struggle have been swept under the rug for the sake of higher ideals sterilized from the gritty reality of injustice and suffering.

When we really understand violence, we come to find that it points to the underlying conditions which have manifested it. Violence is merely the symptom of a greater problem. There are terrible issues with violence, don’t assume that I am somehow stating it is a good thing, but by lumping all kinds of violence into one category, we do a disservice to violence as an indicator of a deeper disharmony.

In many “pre-civilized” societies, violence was an inevitable part of the conditions of life. Such societies even ritualized violent wars to become the outlet by which conflict between tribes was resolved. Sure, people died in warfare, but far fewer compared to the wars of empire. Ritualization of violence was a way by which people could have a controlled and sacred space to confront the darker nature of themselves and society. It was a way of giving voice to their darkness so that they could hear the powerful medicine that lay embedded in its constructs. But when we have lost this ability to give voice to our shadows, when we have lost the ability to seek medicine with the intelligent connections of struggle and conflict, how then do we hide violence within our lives?

In civilization, where we eschew violence altogether (unless it is the violence of the State), violence emerges and interweaves itself throughout our society without most ever being cognizant of it. For instance, privilege is an act of systemic violence, money is an act of systemic violence, so too is class, rape culture, hierarchy, bosses, fines, taxes that pay for war and programs that oppress, coca cola, coffee, chocolate, gas lighting–the list goes on and on. Violence is interwoven within society in some very unnoticeable ways. We often don’t realize the weight of injustice pressed upon us, nor what we perpetuate in turn.

Instead of viewing violence as a moral problem of right and wrong, we need to view violence as an indicator of deeper cultural pathologies. Many of us feel a deep revulsion to the term violence, as many of us have seen its effects, but when I talk about sacred violence it tends to also have a near identical response, if not coupled with a kind of morbid curiosity. I challenge you to look into this feeling and its underlying conditions.

Sacred violence is less about committing violence against the other and more about understanding violence as an indicator of a deeper problem. We act in violence everyday, our lives revolve around violence. And there are many times we unknowingly commit acts of violence against another. This can be readily observed within loving relationships where partners or family members violate your agency or seek to control you by projecting their identities of you onto the world and yourself. There is a deep controlling narrative to human relationships that can be extremely toxic; however, these again are symptoms of a pathology that caused people to be this way. In many ways violence is the only way we know how to confront a problem, not because we desire to, but because we truly don’t know how else to act (if we are even conscious of our violent responses). It is only by engaging in struggle that the reality of the solution can be found.

This is the crux of the problem with anti-violence: it is merely avoidance. Rather than seeking to sterilize the problem of violence, why don’t we bring forth its sacred nature and understand it for the reality it is exposing? Why do we not use violence as a way of uprooting the problems before they turn into a hidden monstrosity?

When we look upon a weed growing forth from crumbling concrete, we recognize this as a beautiful resistance. We fully comprehend this act of violence as a mode of righteous resistance, and according to many who view violence simply as destruction, is that not what is occurring when nature tears down empires? Do we look down upon the thunderbird as it destroys a city? Do we curse the strong oak tree for burning up the mulch machine? Do we demonize the wolf for killing the deer?

Nature’s violence is embedded into its operations. This violence is not a malice, but a striving towards survival and liberation. If we are able to see nature’s violence as a beautiful resistance, an affirmation of life, then why are we humans alienating ourselves from this nature and setting ourselves apart from these acts of sacred violence? Humanity’s act of sterilizing the natural world goes right into our morality as well, especially that of non-violence.

Those who view the dandelion in the concrete as weeds are themselves the perverse. Those who see the oak tree as an obstruction are the sick. Those who build cities in the path of thunderbirds are not heeding the wisdom of the land. Those who want the wolves dead are the ones who are desecrating the world. Those who seek to sterilize nature and prop up the great virtues of civilization are the same folk that seek to desecrate nature and create a world of hollow human values.

It perplexes me to see people assume there is always a way to avoid violence. We seem to think that there is always a way to escape the consequences of our actions, but this is always a lie. Reality doesn’t play out that way. Our actions are embedded into the system from which we operate, and we will always be made to face them. The things that cause us to struggle and live in pain, these things that come from the culmination of our externalized suffering, ingnoring responsibility whether collectively or individually, these things will always come back to cause us the pain that we sought to escape. We cannot escape the results of our actions. We can not cheat the ending of all things. The suffering and death of life: this will always be our fate.

Why then pretend there is always a way out? Why assume that we can bypass the struggle and pain of violent reorganizations of society and the self? Whether we are responsible for it or not, life does not ensure there is a way out of suffering, rather we are all the victims of the past. We are all bearers of the cycles of violence committed against one another. This violence moves forward with us. As long as we seek to deny death and suffering a rightful place at the table of our community, we will suffer the consequences of dishonored ancestors. We will be haunted by the unvirtuous dead that rise up during our own Ragnarok.

The story of Fenrir helps to understand violence. Odin and the Aesir were afraid of Fenrir, the wild chaotic nature of violence, and they bound him up in fear and cowardice of the inevitability of their own frailty. They thought that by controlling the process of the violence of nature, they could forever be safe. But it was this very action of seeking to bind and hide away this violence that they made an enemy of it. Externalizing their suffering became the very cause of their demise. The binding of Fenrir was the creation of a monster: out of fear they sought to bind him, and from the binding he grew in ferocity.

Often the only way to resolve conflict is to actually engage in the struggle. We must actively seek to wrestle the violent aspects of our nature to gain the relational intelligence that can open up the doors of resolving that violence. Within society and ourselves there are monsters that come to light only through our struggle in conflict. To ignore these darker parts of ourselves is to ignore reality. They need an outlet. They need a stage on which to be played.

Try to sterilize this concept of violence and we lose the fertility of its composting. Violence breaks things down in a way that allows for new things to grow. Violence is a sacred act, but by sterilizing it, by treating all violence as bad, we disengage from the process of death and renewal. We disengage from our own wild nature. We lose fertility in the soil of our souls and become a barren land.

There is a wildness at the heart of resistance. A ferocity let loose when facing oppression. Capitalism culls this ferality out of us, it tames us by commoditizing the meaning of our lives. But we only need to let it run free. There is within our wild ferocious hearts a yearning for freedom. Our desire to sink our teeth into an oppressor’s neck is not the same old cycle of violence, but the natural cycle of life. This sacred violence that we crave is none other than the ritual of life feeding death feeding life. To sterilize this sacred violence with civility is merely a perverse ideal wrapped in the packaging of commodified desecration. So let the blood flow from where it may. Let your teeth sink into all forms of injustice and pull out the jugular for all to see.


Mathieu Thiem

Mathieu Thiem is a bioregional animist who spends his time studying the art of mythic living and running a blog called The Woven Song. www.wovensong.com

Collection: Heathenry

This is a new occasional series from Gods&Radicals where we’ll compile links to essays about specific topics for readers.

These will also be available as permanent pages and will be updated when new articles become available!

Articles on Heathenry, Asatru, or related topics from Heathen perspectives


Ruth Morong

  • Heathen Family Values: Many would argue that the highest ethic in Heathenism is to defend and bring honor to the family/tribe. But what does it mean to bring honor to the family?

Sophia Fate-Changer Martinez

Ryan Smith

  • The Call of the Vaettir: If we, as Heathens and animists, are to be true to our relationships with the world around us then we must take whatever steps are most necessary and effective to heal the wounds so many thoughtless actions have inflicted.
  • Heathenry and Democracy: Heathenry and Paganism stands at a crossroad in our history and development, and this decision point hinges on the question of how we should organize and govern our communities.

Shane Burley

Ginger Drekisdottir

Crafted Recordings Podcast

Christopher Scott Thompson

  • Honor: “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”
  • Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration

 

Heathen Family Values

A Guest Post from Ruth Morong

Many would argue that the highest ethic in Heathenism is to defend and bring honor to the family/tribe. But what does it mean to bring honor to the family? What is honor? Honor or worth, (in my opinion) is the just esteem in which a person or family/group is held by the community. (I’m going to explain how I see it in terms of family, but I think it applies just as well to any close-knit social group.)

To build up the honor of a person or family means to make valuable contributions to the community, which reflect well on the contributor and those associated with them (the family). To defend the honor of a family is two-fold: first, it means challenging those who would hurt or oppress any member of the family, and second, it means fighting for the right of the family, both as individuals and collectively, to gain honor and worth. Furthermore, in the combination of these factors, striving to bring honor to one’s family implies leaving the best legacy possible to our children and grandchildren (or our spiritual children).

In practice, building up the honor of ourselves and our families might mean studying to gain knowledge and wisdom to serve the community, building an ethical and respectable career, or undertaking community service. In the modern day, defending the honor of our families’ means fighting for every family member to be treated with respect and dignity. This means defending our right to be safe in our chosen occupation, to be paid fairly for the work we do, and our basic human rights. Defending the honor of our families means pursuing justice against those who have wronged members of our family. It also means fighting for the right to gain honor through education, service, or leadership, and to compete with others for honor in a fair contest. Above all, it means ensuring that there is a place for our descendants to live and a chance for them to succeed.

If it is true that building this sort of honor is the highest goal of a heathen, then there can never be apolitical Heathenism. Politics has the power to affect our lives and the lives of those we care about. How could we be so blind as to carefully reconstruct a heathen tradition for our children to inherit while letting the ability of the planet to support their lives be destroyed? How can we bring honor to our families without fighting for a world in which our families and friends are not being oppressed?

Furthermore, how can we build honor within our family by ignoring dishonor and injustice outside of it? In the sagas, there are cases of a criminal showing up on someone’s doorstep and persuading the householder to protect them on the argument that if they allowed the criminal to be killed while seeking refuge on the doorstep, they would be judged dishonorable by the whole community.

If it is dishonorable to allow a criminal to be killed on the doorstep, then how much more dishonorable is it to allow our tax money to be used to kill innocents? How honorable can it be to allow the poisoning of children? Or the exploitation of children in sweatshops? The ancient heathens were quite obviously active, engaged people, always promoting the interests of their families and pushing for the agenda they thought was right. Turning away from the world in favor of religion was not something they would have understood.

It is this definition of honor that leads me to be a “political” heathen. My family comes first and foremost in all matters, and right now, the future of my family is being destroyed along with the future of thousands of species which will not survive the industrialization of our world or the inevitable post-industrial collapse which will follow. We humans grow sick from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases caused by the crap diet that is all most of us can afford to eat. In fifty or a hundred years, even this factory style of agriculture will likely fail, leaving our children to starve. Those poisoning our water and our air, killing our pollinators, and laying waste to our food supply are our enemies.

A good heathen gives their enemies no peace. And yet I still hear the head-in-the-sand rhetoric about “not getting political”. “Not getting political” is giving our enemies peace. “Putting aside our differences” means giving our enemies peace while they destroy our families and the planet. Furthermore, there are many people in our world who face special oppression, beyond the destruction of our world and the general oppression faced by everyone who has to sell their life for money. Should the queers of the pagan world give peace to those who oppose their rights, or who support groups and politicians who fight against their rights? Should people of color give peace to those who would destroy the honor of any person who has the bad luck to be killed by the police? Should those of us who have friends and family who are Black, queer, or otherwise specially oppressed value the bonds of religion over the bonds of friendship and kin?

I know plenty of people will think I’m advocating for a “thought police”. I’m not. What I am saying is that if someone upholds a status quo that is literally poisoning my family and killing my friends (look at the death rates for Blacks, Native Americans, and transgender people), then I don’t need to invite them to my home or draw them into my family’s religious life. It’s not that everyone I work with in ritual needs to agree with me. It’s that a person can’t be working against my interests outside the ritual and then claim to be my kin within the ritual. The idea that the “community of faith” is more important than the “concerns of this world” is an idea rooted in the world-denying baggage of monotheism. It has no place in a heathen’s struggle to bring honor to themselves and their family.

I don’t care how someone identifies their politics. What I care about is whether a person is going to be screaming in my face when I go to Planned Parenthood, or donating money or time to some conservative Christian politician who seeks to destroy my religion and degrade the honor of my friends and family. Right-wing politics in America are based on denying environmental concerns and continuing the oppression of non-Christians, queers, racial minorities, and women. Right-wing politicians make a point of trying to deny the reality of climate change, force Christian prayer in schools, appoint justices who will discriminate against non-Christian religions, and restrict the rights of women. For pagans to claim that right-wing politics are not opposed to paganism is as silly and illogical as Caitlyn Jenner’s insistence that Republicans don’t oppose transgender rights.

This is serious. Politics is not a game that can be set aside for other “more serious” matters. Politics is life or death. It is the ability or inability of my children to survive. It is the hours I will have to work enriching someone else to feed my family, it is the amount of my money which will be stolen from my paycheck in taxes, it is how much my student loans will cost me. Politics is in the cost of my food, the time I have or don’t have to pursue my religion, and in the air I breathe, and in the water I drink. Politics determines whether I can teach heathenism to my child to whether social services can harass me for having a different religion.

The time has come to stop hiding our heads in the sand and face the world with the courage that can win a better world for our children. I can envision a different heathenism. One in which we make teaching true family values a main part of our religion. If we want a better world, or even a world as nice as this one for our children, our economic, political, and environmental system has to change. I believe this starts with changing our culture. It is my belief that heathenism has a lot to offer in developing a culture which respects the Earth, prioritizes the future of our children, and recognizes the value of other people, cultures, and traditions.

Heathenism offers us the long-term view- the knowledge of the struggles and victories of our ancestors, and the concern not just for our lives, but for the lives of future generations. I know that my ancestors fought for a better world and won worker’s compensation, the weekend, the eight-hour-day, equal pay for women, an end to child labor, and over-time pay. I honor my ancestors by fighting to maintain the rights they won. In the present, fighting for the rights of the working class might save my parents and grandparents, friends, and extended family from dying for lack of access to healthcare, unsafe work practices, and pollution-related diseases. In the future, fighting for a world that puts the long-term survival of our species above profit might lead to a future for my family. I honor my ancestors by defending and expanding the rights they fought for. I defend the honor of my family by defending our rights. And I leave a good legacy to my children by fighting for a better world.

Heathenism informs my struggle in that historically heathenism has put a high value on knowledge and cunning. We know that the head of the heathen pantheon was Odin, whose main interest seems to be in gathering knowledge and wisdom. Thor, the mightiest of the gods, was once defeated (in Utgard) by a giant who swapped a hill for his head (among other tricks). To see clearly friends and enemies and to recognize when an enemy is using deception was more valuable that might and strength alone.

In the modern day of red herring politics, gaining the background knowledge and experience to know what questions need to be asked and how the politicians and pundits frame the debates in ways that support their positions is critical. Follow the example of Odin and seek out enough knowledge to see the world clearly. Seek out information and perspectives from people you don’t like or trust. Wander outside your comfort zone and see what you can learn from people who might be hostile.

Heathenism is a practical (some might say cynical) religion. Heathens are concerned with the future of our families, and we value honorable behavior. These values imply that we must not shut out the problems of the world, but instead face them with courage. As the story of Thor’s journey to Utgard implies, our first weapons must be cunning, knowledge, and wisdom, or else all the might in the world can’t save us. We need to start using these tools that our religion gives us to figure out the true intentions of those who would win us to their causes.

This world desperately needs family values- the sort of family values that mean caring about what the Iroquois called the “seven generations”. Right now I look around and I see mostly people concerned about their own future, not the future of their children. I see people so unaware of the triumphs of our ancestors that they don’t see the need to defend things like over-time pay and human rights. They accept these things as natural, not as victories handed down to us by our ancestors and in need of constant defense by our generation.

It is my belief that our culture is poison. It is certainly poisoning our world. The heathen focus on family is one way to counteract that poison, but it will only help us if we are willing to take heathenism outside of the “religion” box and make it a living force in our lives. Which, as many people have pointed out, implies politics.

The alternative to allowing politics and heathenism to mix is to try to separate religion and politics- which means that we are left with a religion that we don’t allow to have any bearing on the deep questions of our time. By taking that route, we are guaranteeing the slow death of heathenism as a religion. It is unreasonable to cut off a religion from the life-ways of the people who practice it and then expect it to be able to survive.


Ruth Morong

I’m a Heathen and Radical. I’m a union construction worker with a useless college degree. My main concern is taking care of my family. In my spare time I listen to heavy metal and read books. My ranting is at Pursuit of Sol (https://pursuitofsol.wordpress.com/).


Have a guest post you’d like to submit? Or interested in joining as a regular writer? Contact us!

 

Heathenry and Democracy

 

Heathenry and Paganism stands at a crossroad in our history and development, and this decision point hinges on the question of how we should organize and govern our communities.

There are many who argue, in Heathenry and the broader polytheist and Pagan communities, for vesting leadership and decision-making in an anointed elite who will guide the rest based on their wisdom and superior abilities. They claim these ideas are rooted in the practices of the pre-Christian ancients and natural hierarchies even though, in truth, the argument they make is far more recent than they assume.

The position advanced by these would-be theocrats is rooted in modern political theory. In the liberal democratic societies many such Heathens, Pagans, and polytheists live in there is the central assumption of an unceasing, ongoing clash between democratic governance and rule by the few. Those who argue from one position or the other accept, without question, that humanity’s base setting is one of endless violence, rule by the few, and oppression of the many. They further claim that democracy as we know it is only possible in modern society and is a very recent development. Examples like Athens are seen as flukes or exceptions rather than the rule. One of the most eloquent expressions of this idea in American political philosophy is a famous passage from the Federalist Papers which says:

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

If this were true then it would be easy to assume that monarchic, strong-arm rule was the default for all pre-Christian, pre-modern societies making these arguments for new autocracies indisputable. Yet when one digs into the histories and lore of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples nothing could be further from the truth. Investigation into their past, their lives, and social organization shows the default mode of governance among these people was highly participatory and democratic. Power rested in the hands of all the people who made, enforced, and upheld the laws of society. The freedom of these peoples was maintained by them directly, not an external lawgiver or a benevolent state.

The best term for the form of governance used by the Germanic peoples is the Thing system, taking its name from the Old Norse word for these popular assemblies. Things were directly democratic assemblies where participants met under the open sky, debated great matters, passed laws, and resolved disputes. Every free person, man or woman, could speak before the Thing and seek redress of their grievances and in some cases even thralls were given voice and space before these assemblies. These Things were the bodies that made and deposed kings. The leaders of the Germanic world, quite contrary to the assumptions cultivated in popular culture, ruled at the behest of the Things.

This system was incredibly ancient and widespread among these peoples. The Roman historian Tacitus, in his famous Germania, wrote about the Things of the Germanic peoples living in the lands now known as Germany during the early 100s AD. According to Tacitus:

“In the election of kings they have regard to birth; in that of generals, 50 to valor. Their kings have not an absolute or unlimited power; 51 and their generals command less through the force of authority, than of example. If they are daring, adventurous, and conspicuous in action, they procure obedience from the admiration they inspire. None, however, but the priests 52 are permitted to judge offenders, to inflict bonds or stripes; so that chastisement appears not as an act of military discipline, but as the instigation of the god whom they suppose present with warriors.”1

Tacitus makes it quite clear this is no system of elective monarchy or people choosing which absolutist ruler shall lord over them but is extremely participatory, especially when one compares it to the oligarchic government of Rome during the same period. He goes on to describe exactly how these assemblies functioned and what they held power over:

“On affairs of smaller moment, the chiefs consult; on those of greater importance, the whole community; yet with this circumstance, that what is referred to the decision of the people, is first maturely discussed by the chiefs… When they all think fit, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on this occasion a coercive power. Then the king, or chief, and such others as are conspicuous for age, birth, military renown, or eloquence, are heard; and gain attention rather from their ability to persuade, than their authority to command. If a proposal displease, the assembly reject it by an inarticulate murmur; if it prove agreeable, they clash their javelins; for the most honorable expression of assent among them is the sound of arms.”2

They even held the power of judging crimes and assigning punishment:

“Before this council, it is likewise allowed to exhibit accusations, and to prosecute capital offences. Punishments are varied according to the nature of the crime. Traitors and deserters are hung upon trees: cowards, dastards, and those guilty of unnatural practices, are suffocated in mud under a hurdle.”3

He makes it clear those who administer such justice are chosen by and are accountable to the people:

“In the same assemblies chiefs are also elected, to administer justice through the cantons and districts. A hundred companions, chosen from the people, attended upon each of them, to assist them as well with their advice as their authority.”4

Such practices endured on the continent among Germanic peoples, like the Saxons who lived in northwestern Germany, who held true to the old ways. One description of these proceedings comes from the account of the Frankish Christian missionary St. Lebwin who reported the following on Saxon governance practices around 770AD:

“It was also the custom among the Saxons that once a year, they held an assembly by the river Weser on a place called Marklo. There come usually the chiefs from all the (twelve) different communities, as well as twelve chosen noblemen, an equal number of free men and unfree men. There they together renew their laws, pass verdicts on important matters of justice, and decided how to proceed in matters of peace or war that they had before them that year.”5


In the Scandinavian world the Things are an extremely well-documented phenomenon. One cannot go through the historical sagas of the region without tripping over Things at every turn. Great matters were resolved by these public assemblies and the people, not the kings, were the ones who held power. Two powerful examples from Scandinavian history are the cases of Hakon the Good and Torgny Lagman.

Peter_Nicolai_Arbo-Haakon_den_godeHakon the Good became King of Norway during the early 10th century through rallying the support of the people of Norway for pressing his claim. Central to his campaign was promising to restore the land rights they’d lost under King Harald Fairhair’s rule.6 After making good on this promise he then went before the people of Norway at the Frosta-Thing, a major assembly in Norway, and asked they convert to Christianity. The response from those assembled was not positive:

“As soon as the king had proposed this to the bondes, great was the murmur and noise among the crowd. They complained that the king wanted to take away their labor and their old faith from them, and the land could not be cultivated in that way. The laboring men and slaves thought that they could not work if they did not get meat”7

The main voice of the opposition, Asbjorn of Medelhaus, rallied opposition to conversion with this speech:

“We bondes, King Hakon, when we elected thee to be our king, and got back our udal rights at the Thing held in Throndhjem, thought we had got into heaven; but now we don’t know whether we have really got back our freedom, or whether thou wishest to make vassals of us again by this extraordinary proposal that we should abandon the ancient faith which our fathers and forefathers have held from the oldest times, in the times when the dead were burn, as well as since that they are laid under mounds, and which, although they were braver than the people of our days, has served us as a faith to the present time.”8

He then warns Hakon what will happen if he refuses to back down:

“If, however, thou wilt take up this matter with a high hand, and wilt try thy power and strength against us, we bondes have resolved among ourselves to part with thee, and take to ourselves some other chief, who will so conduct himself towards us that we can freely and safely enjoy the faith that suits our own inclinations. Now, king, thou must choose one or other of these conditions before the Thing is ended.”9 (emphasis mine)

According to Snorri Sturluson, “The bondes gave loud applause to this speech, and said it expressed their will, and they would stand or fall by what had been spoken.”10 Hakon was forced to agree and remained king of Norway until his death in battle against an invading army from Denmark. Following his demise Eyvind Skaldaspiller composed the Hakonarmal which ends with Hakon being welcomed into Asgard by the Gods who, according to the skald, say:

“Well was it seen that Hakon still

Had saved the temples from all ill;

For the whole council of the Gods

Welcomed the King to their abodes.”11

torgnyAnother example of the power of the Scandinavian Things occurs during a war between King Olaf Skotkonung of Sweden and Olaf Haraldson of Norway in 1018. The war between the two kings was going poorly and emissaries had arrived pleading for peace. When the matter was brought before the Thing of All Swedes in Uppsala King Olaf of Sweden angrily denounced the emissary and his foe, demanding the war go on.12 “When he sat down,” says Snorri, “not a sound was to be heard at first.”13 Torgny Lagman, a respected lawspeaker, then rose and delivered his response beginning with a recitation of the great deeds of Olaf’s ancestors before saying:

But the king we have now got allows no man to presume to talk with him, unless it be what he desires to hear. On this alone he applies all his power, while he allows his scat-lands in other countries to go from him through laziness and weakness. He wants to have the Norway kingdom laid under him, which no Swedish king before him ever desired, and therewith bring war and distress on many a man. Now it is our will, we bondes, that thou King Olaf make peace with the Norway king, Olaf the Thick, and marry thy daughter Ingegard to him. Wilt thou, however, reconquer the kingdoms in the east countries which thy relations and forefathers had there, we will all for that purpose follow thee to war. But if thou wilt not do as we desire, we will now attack thee, and put thee to death; for we will no longer suffer law and peace to be disturbed. So our forefathers went to work when they drowned five kings in a morass at the Mula-thing, and they were filled with the same insupportable pride thou has shown towards us. Now tell us, in all haste, what resolution thou wilt take.”14 (emphasis mine)

“Then the whole public approved,” says Snorri, “with clash of arms and shouts, the lagman’s speech.”15 King Olaf, clearly bested, says, “he will let things go according to the desire of the bondes. ‘All Swedish kings,’ he said, ‘have done so, and have allowed the bondes to rule in all according to their will.’”16

This system of social organization is even present among the Gods. Along with the mention of the council of the Gods in the Hakonarmal there are direct references to the Gods working in council in the Voluspa. Every aspect of the creation of Midgard was handled by the Gods meeting in council to resolve critical matters. As it says in the saga:

“Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,

The holy ones, and council held;

Names then gave they to noon and twilight,

Morning they named, and the waning moon,

Night and evening, the years to number.”17

They also met together to resolve their own affairs, such as discussing the question of how to distribute the gifts given by the residents of Midgard to the Gods:

“Then sought the Gods their assembly-seats,

The holy ones, and council held,

Whether the gods should tribute give,

Or to all alike should worship belong.”18

Such methods of decision-making are so ingrained in the Gods they stay true to government by council even in the face of Ragnarok and their own demise. According to the Voluspa:

“Yggdrasil shakes, and shiver on high

The ancient limbs, and the giant is loose;

To the head of Mim does Odin give heed,

But the kinsman of Surt shall slay him soon.

 

How fare the Gods? How fare the elves?

All Jotunheim groans, the Gods are at council;

Loud roar the dwarfs by the doors of stone,

The masters of the rocks: would you know yet more?”19

If the norm for these peoples was a system characterized by democracy, direct participation, and rule of the many how is it possible such norms were replaced by the autocracy of feudalism and monarchy? The first, kneejerk reaction of some would be to argue humanity’s base inclinations overtook their higher aspirations, bringing down the Things and their democratic norms. Yet this line of reasoning is one with no support from history.

The beginning of the end of the Things, such as those in Saxony, came not by internal decay and downfall but through sword and Cross. Beginning in the 770s Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, initiated a series of bloody, vicious wars against the people of Saxony to force their submission to his rule and Christianity. One of the many atrocities committed against the Saxons by Carolingian forces was the notorious Massacre of Verdun where an estimated 4,500 Saxon warriors and chiefs, who had converted to Christianity shortly before, were slaughtered without mercy. Frankish chroniclers claimed the Verdun River ran red with blood for weeks after the king’s cruel verdict. Just over a century later the Christian Emperor Otto would do the same in Denmark, forcing their conversion through invasion.20 Following conversion Denmark would be the only Scandinavian country where the people were forced under the yoke of serfdom. Many other ambitious warlords, like Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf the Thick, followed the same pattern of using Christianity to justify naked ambition, slaughter, and oppression, destroying all who stood against them.

There is little doubt the arguments for rule by the few and submission by the many have no weight or substance. As is shown in the history of the pre-Christian peoples Heathens draw our inspiration from power was widely shared and vested in the people, not crowns or thrones. As a new and developing religious movement we stand at a key turning point in our development where we can repeat the mistakes of the past by descending into clerical and personal autocracy or avert them through a bold, decisive stand for the ways of the ancients. It is clear those who seek to dominate others in the name of all that is holy do so at the expense of those they claim to guide and protect. Their arguments of natural orders have no basis in human history or behavior. Modern Heathens, Pagans, and polytheists should heed the example of the Things and live through methods, structures, and systems that reflect the needs & desires of all adherents, no matter who they are, instead of glorifying and elevating a self-appointed few at the expense of the rest.

  • 1  Germania, Tacitus

2  Germania, Tacitus

3  Germania, Tacitus

4 Ibid

5 Vita Lebuini, Hucbald

6  King Harald’s Law for Land Property, Heimskringla, translated by Peter Laing

7 The Frosta-Thing, Saga of Hakon the Good, Heimskringla translated by Samuel Laing

8 Ibid

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 . Hakon’s Death, Saga of Hakon the Good, Heimskringla, translated by Peter Laing

12  Of The Upsala Thing, Saga of Olaf Haraldson, Heimskringla, translated by Peter Laing

13 Ibid

14  Thorgny’s Speech, Saga of Olaf Haraldson, Heimskringla, translated by Peter Laing

15 Ibid

16 Ibid

17 Voluspa 6, Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

18 Voluspa 24, Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

19 Voluspa 47-48, Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

20 24-27, King Olaf Trygvason’s Saga, Heimskringla, translated by Peter Laing


Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a Heathen devoted to Odin living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism, a founding member of Golden Gate Kindred, is active in the environmental justice and anti-police brutality movements, and recently completed his Masters in modern Middle East History and economics.