High One, Just-as-High, and Third

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This week’s homework assignment  (besides continuing Our Troth Vol. 1) is to dive into the Prose Edda, particularly the Gylfaginning, to consider  the idea of The High One, Just-as-High, and Third in the context of my post The Lore and The One. I am curious to explore the idea that this tripartite aspect of Odin might be extended as a framework which in corporates The Axis (adopting Hendrix’s term over that of the jazz culture just because, well, I can), the Æsir and Vanir, and lasty the jontun, alfs, disir and vættir. Three is a sacred number throughout Indo-European culture, as my reading tells me, and for the our eldritch as well. It is not just a leftover scrap of my trinitarian religious upbringing, but rather something the Church took from IE culture to explain their divinity in non-Arian terms.

I am posting this publicly as I know my trusty Steward will have some thoughts, and I invite others to speak what you think of the idea as I read and meditate upon it.I will likely take my question to Odin, as he is much on my mind as I read his chapter in Our Troth with the crows calling lustily outside. That is my other burning concern: what my relationship as poet and writer from inspiration should be with the Alfather. This latter is a question I approach with some trepidation and eyes wide open

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Won’t bow. Don’t know how

This Mardi Gras Indian formula, part of a ritual exchange between the chiefs of meeting tribes, represents in context a powerful affirming statement by oppressed African-Americans. It comes to  mind when I read this line from  Our Troth, the epigraph to Ch. 8: “The god/desses are our eldest kinfolk, to whom we give the greatest love and respect, but before whom we do not kneel or bow.” [Emphasis mine] This is where my Promethean spirit finds a home with the Vanir and Æsir.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

The Lore and The One

You are trapped in that bright moment in which you learned your doom.

— Samuel R. Delaney, The Fall of the Towers

I have a friend who is a Humanistic Pagan, a concept which places humanity and its ethics at the center of the cosmos, around which whirls the wheel of the year and the forms of deities associated with it. Deity is archetype at most, something larger than ourselves and psychological as well as spiritual, with spirituality growing out of the psychological construct of the archetype out of a universal, human memory pool we share as we share basic DNA. [A friend corrects me: much of Humanistic Paganism is eco-centric, as he terms it. Fair enough.]

I take a rather odd, middle ground approach between the gods as primal beings and the gods as archetypes. My view partakes of both views. The deities are real to me in two senses, because we make them so, and because they are presentations of the face of what spiritual jazz musicians of the 1960s frequently referred to as The One, a form I have adopted. [Already someone is now rushing to the comments below to tell me I Am Doing It Wrong. Fair enough. I am not proposing my personal gnosis as Doctrine. We have no real doctrine in Heathenism, so I’m not sure how, precisely, I am Doing It Wrong but please feel free to explain.]

“…and the spirit of Fimbultyr moved upon the face of the deep…”
Snorri, Prose Edda*

The One** is a transcendent force, although concepts of omniscience and omnipotence suggestive of an over-mind with an interest in human affairs–the monist god of the people of the book–does not enter into it, at least not as I understand it. it just Is, somewhat in keeping with the Bookish notion of Yahweh: I Am What Am. I would not even assign it a personal pronoun. This implies the idea that it can be known to some extent, is capable of issuing dictates like the tablets of Moses which can be comprehended and ultimately obeyed. To the musicians from whom I borrowed the term The One the force is one of universal love, an external source only comprehensible through love and best represented by the figure of Jesus in the bookish tradition. Love is the one commandment, and they see a force of love permeating the universe.

Obedience. Commandments. This is where I part from my upbringing in the tradition of the book. I had rejected all mainstream religions not because I am an atheist, but because I am a Promethean. What I reject in the lore of the people of the book is the concept of a religious surrender, whether it is surrendering to the authority of the Holy Roman Church in which I was raised, or the surrender of born-again, Pentecostal protestant Xianity. I am humanist enough to reject gods which require surrender.

That is likely why I found a comfortable spot when the gods of my ancestors began calling to me this past Yule and Imbolc/Carnival. As I have read the lore and its glosses so far, I see in the northern pantheon deities which do not require surrender but would in fact frown upon it. Heathenism is a devotion of relationship, not surrender. Forget the old saying about having a “personal relationship with Xst.” We’ve all heard that but it requires that initial surrender, “let go and let god.” To the extent Heathenism can be said to have a doctrine of devotion it is one of personal relationship without surrender in the Bookish sense. This fits well with my Promethean tendencies which rejects religions of surrender.

From whence then come the gods and goddesses of our devotion? In my own semi-Arian-flavored heresy I go back to the creation myth, and invert it. Deity is a creation of man (drifting awfully close to humanistic paganism here, old boy), born out of an archetypal impulse to give comprehensible mind and form to the spirit of The One. This occurs differently across different cultures because the archetypical impulse must take a culturally comprehensible shape. What is culturally comprehensible varies as do the languages we speak, as people of Indo-European descent spread themselves about the planet. The gods and goddesses are real because we take the role of Ve and Villi, and they become. This does not lessen their superior position, because they are aspects of an ultimately superior One. They are more powerful than us, and take their spirit not from Odin but from The One. We simply give them form and mind we can, to the best of our inferior ability, comprehend.

Within that pantheon called Heathenism we develop relationships with these beings (with all of their projected foibles, and their ultimate mortality), and as I said above it is the basis of our relationship with them that allowed the call I felt earlier this year to take root in my Promethean soul. To simply accept the deities as primal in a literal sense involves a form of surrender I will not brook. If they simply Are, and are the true gods of our folk, then that is a surrender I am not capable of. To me they do exist because we give mind and form to the personal experience of spirit we find laying on the beach like bits of driftwood. This is a powerful metaphor, involving comprehensible bits (Ask and Embla in our lore) birthed by the vast and incomprehensible ocean. This partakes a bit of the anthropic principle, the idea that the universe exists in the form it does because it must be capable of perception by our minds to exist. This does not deny it other forms of existence. We are simply trapped in a dimension if you will which we are capable of comprehending.

To me personally deity takes similar forms–one which exists as the universe exists, as inexorably as gravity–because that is the form we are capable of comprehending. The same can be said of Jesus or Ganesha for people for whom that is a comfortable context. I was once a devotee of Ganesha after my own syncretic fashion, and could simply accept the story of how he got his head as easily as I could accept Ymir and Audhulma, Misgard and Asgard and its inhabitants. A system of belief both powerful (as an aspect of The One) and comfortable and comforting (as an aspect of our humanity, an aspect creation of which is a gift of the gods as in the creation myth, and being a gift of the gods ultimately a gift of The One) is what is needful, and which my own cosmology however heretical some may find it affords me. This extends to the vættir as well. The miraculous occurrences in my sacred grove of oaks–the face and the seated boar in the root boles, the not entirely random occurrences of wildflowers, my personal glimpses of the retiring anhinga spirit of the bayou–these are visible to me because of that reciprocal psychological relationship, and my personal relationship, with the divine.

To come full circle to the epigraph at the top of this piece, which over time has become my Swiss army knife for opening spiritual containers: I am trapped in that bright moment in which I learned my doom. Doom here is of course the wyrd, a very comfortable and intuitive concept to me, and so one I readily accept. I am trapped (in a kinder sense than the original, let us say “captured”) both by The One, and by my own gifted impulse of inspiration which gives It comprehensible mind and form. It is a bright moment because it partakes of The One, of the spirit Odin first breathed into Ask and Embla, and enables me to return belief in the minds and forms of the gods, a gift for a gift.

* The Wikipedia page listing the kennings of Odin lists Fimbultýr which it translates as “Mighty God,” citing a kenning in Völuspá (60)

** To turn again to pop culture, musical references consider Jimi Hendrix’s The Axis in Axis Bold as Love, and then think of Yggdrasil, which transcends Asgard and Misgard, which is both before creation and after Ragnarok. The World Tree exists outside the life cycle of the Gods and Goddesses. It is The Axis, represents the enduring One.

Eoster Glory

If Eoster dawn the sun should come
cloaked  in clouds of weathered grey
it comes proudly, wearing the weeds

of wisdom, bringing thunder and showers
with which it conspires to dress the world
in verdant splendor again and again.

The resurrection fern green on the oaks
will jewel glisten when in its glory
sun lords over flowers at spring’s  birthing.

— Marcus Trúasóngr

Fishing for Trouble

“23. The unwise man     waketh all night,  
         thinking of this and that— tosses, sleepless,     
         and is tired at morn:     nor lighter for that his load.”
         — The Havamal, trans. Lee Hollander

Morbid rumination is always my curse. I know enough of the ways of mindfulness to try to still the obsessive thought that possess me like a song stuck in the head, but when the djinn serotonin runs rampant in the brain it is hard to free the mind from dwelling on what seems wrong or fearful. Fifteen years as a project manager, trained to envision the worst and plan for it–always imagining the light at the end of the tunnel is a train–has programmed me too well, and i could not have chosen a worse career for someone of my particular melancholy complaint.

This verse resonates powerfully with me, and I pray to Thor for strength to confront directly the real troubles of the world with a spirit of clear joy in my wyrd, as he took the jontun’s challenge and fished manfully for the world serpent of Midgard Jörmungandr, an expedition that could only end in failure or death. Thor’s final, fatal battle with the serpent is reserved for Ragnarok, the final battle, and the God did not slay the serpent on his fishing expedition but did bring home with whales and the cauldron of Hymir in which the mead of Asgard is brewed.

My lesson from this verse is that the morbid worries that posses me must be put out of my mind until the proper, allotted time for dealing with them, and to confront them when they trouble me–as Thor lustily fished and fought Jörmungandr–with a clear spirit until they can be cut loose and returned to the deeps of my mind.

The Boar in the Forest

It is not a forest buIMG_20160310_111236729_HDRt a park. It is still my noble and holy grove. And it seems I continue to find things there that resonate like the bell bowl at the end of yoga, profound and sustained.

Hail Freyja on (arguably) her day!

 

N.B. When I went to leave an offering to the vættir of this noble oak on Friday, someone had draped another flower chain on the statue of the Lady. The resurrection fern was bright green with the rain, all was dripping quiet and everything was spring.