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

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.

Devotion

On Thursday I struggled with a writing assignment, and returned to the mantel of my hearth atop which sits my altar of sorts with an offering of fiery red curry and a glass of absinthe for the All Father. I needed the breath of inspiration again, as I had asked the week before in a whorl of job interviews for a dream writing job. I did well in three interviews in four days, the right word always to hand. A gift was owing, and with it I asked again for help.

Later that day, at the end of yoga (when we are all laying on our mats pleasantly spent and deeply relaxed), I meditated on the gods, thinking of Odin and Thor (as I have just consecrated by a daily prayer a new Mjollnir) At the end, when the class chants OM, I say Thorn. I treat the yogic path now just as I do in Tai Chi, as an aspect of my faith. Tai Chi  I offer to Thor as that path is a meditative form of kung fu. It was born from the quiet studies of warrior monks in China. I still make the fist-and-hand salute when we circle up at the end, although that is not the way of my current teacher. My salute is the book and the fist, the way of my first teacher who was of a martial arts bent.

Before yoga, I was contemplating finishing cleaning the front of the house, putting away the boxes stacked in my bedroom and giving that part of the front of the house a long overdue dusting and vacuuming. As I lay on the mat in a great state of piece, meditating, I felt the presence of two figures i took at first to be Odin and Frigg. It was very clear to me, however, that the feminine presence was wearing a large necklace. It was then I realized that this visitation was the Lord and Lady, who are often on my mind as I walk among my blessed oaks.

The lessons I took from all this is that Odin is not tight-fisted with his gifts, so long as he is repaid in gifts. (I got the article finished, although the editor who asked for it has vanished. Another test. Life is a series of them). I also learned that the gods and goddesses come to one as they see fit, and the amount of time I spend among the vættir of my blessed oaks, passing the fountain statue I call the Lady of the Oaks, had opened a door through which the Lord and Lady came. Tonight I took my grandfather’s wedding ring, which I wore in my first marriage, and asked Odin to cleanse it of Xian oaths as I passed it through a candle flame. (My own oath I  broke, and have paid for it. I have frith with my ex-wife who is listed on Facebook under Family.)

Tomorrow I will wash away the soot and all the rings past with pure spring water, and offer it to the Lord and Lady, to rest on my altar until I am done. Thor I shall call on every morning when I lift my Mjollnir from that same altar (I actually can’t work the clasp except I stand in front of the altar, or in front of the bookshelf at my girlfriend’s where I brought a copy of the prayer and laid it this weekend.). I will call on Odin for inspiration, and Bragi for pure poetry. The golden ring, however, will rest there always, and be ever in my mind when I enter the grove of the blessed oaks, stopping always at the grandmother oak to pray that frith and beauty ever reign in that grove, so that I and all others may daily partake of it.

 

 

Light the Beacons

Living in the South, as I make my first outreach to The Troth steward and a local pan-pagan group, one of my concerns is obviously the possibility to turn folkishness into outright racism. Everyone raised in the south above a certain age is a racists. It was indoctrinated by elder family members and one’s peers from the earliest age, and it is a curse one struggles with as one struggles against alcoholism: one day at a time, never completely cured but stronger than the curse.

A group of heathens is organizing an event on Mayday called Light the Beacons. I let the Facebook post speak for itself:

On this coming May Day we call on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality. Whether you are lighting a candle in your home with your loved ones or are hosting a bonfire party open to the public we ask you help us shine a light on all the good work, good practice, and good people in Heathenry across Midgard.

As I have shared a few other ritual invocations of the gods (so far, but mindful of the strong women of the Heathen pantheon as well, and that sexism has no place; and I am drawn toward Nerthus as the embodiment of the The Lady in the Germanic feminine), here is a redrafted invocation after some helpful criticism from my region’s Troth steward.

Hail Báleyg

Baleful eye of the battlefield
Lord of the cohort of Asgard
Father of all troth knowledge

The Troth  of all—Æsir & Vanir,
lofty Jöntunn, bright Alfheim
& the Folk of the Troth—
are threatened by the crooked of Ásatru.
.
Shine your flaring glance upon them
as we light this fiery beacon of true troth
so that the glory of all Asgard
& the people of the holy troth
be unblemished in the eyes of all men.

In the beginning was the word

and the word was Poetry.

I found Bragi, before I had finished my first book, and was still lost in a maze of web links supplied by a knowledgeable friend. I understood the difference between the Æsir and the Vanir, in the most general terms: sky and earth, the realms of powers and fertility, an ancient conflict settled by the exchange of hostages, or was it settled? The earth is still subject to the capricious skies, sun and rain, wind and storm, drought and cold. But I digress. I do that; a lot. You will grow used to it or go away.

In my house I had a mostly disused and dusty syncretic altar, a mish mash of religions and appropriated saints and personal heroes with scattered candles and a bowl for incense. There were stones of no intrinsic worth except their mysterious attraction. There was a friend’s gifted tarot deck I didn’t care for when I tried it and the tarot did not speak to me. There was for a long time a medicine bundle made from Crow, gifted to my friend by her Navaho teacher and gifted to me when Crow began to call to me through my poetry.

“Lay me out
naked as I came
& I’ll Fly Away
laughing.”

I still saluted the crows when they called, bowing my head with my fist in what I didn’t recognize as a hammer salute, the movie’s idea of a Roman legionaire’s salute. I didn’t light the candles much anymore. The medicine bundle had gone to my daughter after talking with my friend, to protect my child from a malicious haunting I suspected was my own dead brother. (Drama. We do drama. You will grow used to it or go away).

I was drifting, away from the Green Man whose circlet picture stood atop the altar wall’s pyramid of images, higher than old One Eyed Jack lord of my beloved corvus, higher than the White Tara. The man in the wood. You may wonder why I am here at this solitary hearth if I cherish the man in the wood, and am not romping with the Wiccans, doing as I will so it harm none. It is because I am insatiably curious, and often search the internet for ancient and pagan sources of modern holidays. I know Yule well enough but fell into Frau Holle for reasons I don’t recall. (I often don’t recall; a cognitive disturbance. You will grow used to it or go away).

Outside my house on the north wall, facing the street and practially in in my urban house just below the window where I sit to write, is a small shelf that annually holds The Shrine of Jazz and Heritage, a few photos and a place for speakers with which I regale the visitors to the annual Jazz Festival across the street with real jazz, not the pop artists on the main stages they have probably come to hear. There is a bowl of sand for joss sticks if you wish to remember the artists who have passed on that I honor.

I put up a tiny altar to Frau Holle this past Yule/Christmas tide. A picture, a sprig of greenery taken from a tree on my daily walk, an electric candle. I found myself explaining to my German neighbor up the street how I came to have a figure from her Continental childhood on the shelf in front of my house, and mumbled something about honoring my German ancestors, for I am not really sure why I did it.

I found myself at Carnival (you might call it Imbolc, as they fell close together this year), once again searching the internet to remind myself of the pagan roots of Carnival. These I thought I understood, had researched in the past the ties to Roman Saturnalia, the wild festival that happens to fall in winter awfully close to Christmas. I am not precisely sure how Carnival emerged, except that the church frowned upon the revelries converted northerners put on for their twelve nights. Out of this, somehow, Carnival popped out between Christian Twelth Night and Lent. There is a tradition in the most prominent and solemn of parades, that of Rex, the king of Carnival, of a figure of a white bullock draped in flowers that precedes the rest of the parade of floats from which riders toss trinkets representing wealth. This bullock is attributed by the knowledgeable about Carnival to the Romans, as everything in the West seems to come from the Church by way of Rome by way of Greece by way of the East, be that Mesopotamia or Egypt. Take your pick.

That was when I found an image of Nerthus being drawn in her cart by white bullocks, and I thought of the oldest of parading groups (called krewes) which still build their floats upon old wooden carts. Somewhere a bell rang, and the next thing I knew I was reading everything I could find about Nerthus Germanicus and wandering into the realm of the& Æsir and Vanir, the Vættir and the other spectral forces of the Northern Cosmology.

I arranged a small altar to Nerthus on the shelf on the north front of my house, right upon the street. (The printed picture was not drapped, but the figure it in was not either, and I wanted to depict what looked like an unknown root of Carnival to the world, the cart of a goddess drawn by a white bullock).

I had stumbled, somehow, into the world of heathenism, or if you will Asatru. I promptly wrote a dear old friend who is a practitioner and prominent figure in the Bay Area pagan community, who was busy preparing for Pantheacon but managed to send me a long set of links and direction to read her good friend Diane Paxton’s Essential Astaru. That was not available on Kindle so I ordered a copy new and discounted from Abe Books, and selected another volume from Amazon available on Kindle, Patricia M. Lafayllve’s A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru which I devoured in two sittings.

Bragi, we seem to have forgotten about Bragi. I think I mentioned I was a poet and writer, or at least suggested it at the start of this post. In Lafayllve’s book I found Bragi, and taking my friend’s caution to be careful about Odin in a flurry of abrupt emails as she prepared to leave, I found in him a figure of poetry who kept Old One Eye’d Jack’s special mead, and was on his own a skald god and skald to the gods.

And before my friend left for Pantheacon, I wrote this, which more than my little, public altars marked my start down the path of Asatru and heathenism.

“Bragi—
word wielder
name speaker
tale weaver

Bless this vessel
its earth-hued ale
our gift from Aegir

Born of the grain
out of the earth
into our hands

gift from the earth
gift of the Gods
gift to the poets

may this blessed elixir
grant the skald gift
to my humble prayer.”

Intention:

“Nerthus—
Lady of the season
Mother of litters
Womb of all fruits

bless [my friend]
& all of her tribe
that they may be

closer to their chosen
dressed in ritual
gifted with wisdom

by a fruitful Pantheacon.”

And this is how we come to be sitting at my solitary hearth, friend, because something has brought you here, because we are on the same path to the North, learning the same faith, marveling in nature and drawn to the Vanir and Vættir. Have your come to teach me, or to learn something of what little I know? Have you come to rescue me from my solitary hearth, to lead me toward kindred? No hurry. Sit. Have a drink. Can I fix you something to eat? No, that’s not my chair, that is the comfortable chair, and you are my guest. Please. Sit.