My Noble Nine

I seem to have started a discussion in two places–a Facebook page I created to try to collect local Heathens, and on TheTroth.org mailing list–about what are called the Nine Noble Virtues. If I understand the modern lore history I have read the last several days, these were first promulgated by the Odinic Rite and adopted later by the Asatru Free Assembly. They are often criticized as a modern creation, but given the texts we have to work with what is not a modern (re)creation? I learned in a podcast that many Heathens look down on this code as inauthentic, and that it is more popular in the midwest and south.

I don’t recall where I first encountered this code–in one of the primers, perhaps, Lafayllve or Paxon, or else Thorsson; I think the latter–but it immediately resonated with me. I was at a stage in my life at which all my preexisting structures were toppled, and I am a person who functions best with some structure. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and Spectrum Disorder, the polite, diagnostic manual term for the milder form of manic depression. This means my energy level and my emotions can be all over the place (although much better of late with medication, a see-saw instead of an octopus-arm, snap-the-whip thrill ride, thank you). No shame in that. These are well documented medical disorders, just not as obvious as the heartbreak of psoriasis; unless, that is, you caught me at a bad time and were sucked into what I call a chess-timer conversation. If you wanted to be able to talk in this conversation, that is, then I would need to be limited by a chess timer; otherwise it would be all Marcus, all the time working on perfecting his circular breathing so he could get that digeridoo he’s heard is so good for sleep breathing disorders and all that in one breath, no time to interrupt and have a turn.

Whew! I feel a bit “up” just having typed that long sentence. The point of this confession is that my condition became much worse over the course of a year-long commitment to a job from hell. The hours were governed by two antipodal time zones: Eastern and China Standard Time. After six months of developing requirements we began doing business-end testing of the new software. It was a train wreck as delivered, but we were pushed toward artificial deadlines which would only be yanked back at the last minute, after a two week “dearth march” to release. I became sedentary because the time I used to exercise became precious sleep, sleep often disrupted by work worries because of my condition.

I stayed a year because I became exceptionally good friend with my business partner. I was a contractor; she was staff. When it was clearly time to bail, the decision was weather I was going to dump all of my work on a single mother of two small children, mid-career, never having worked anywhere else in her adult life. She couldn’t just pull the ejector seat, unhide the online resumes, and wait for the recruiters to call. We because so close I would consider her kindred, not a religious affiliation but by all means a blood-sister, for we it was all blood, sweat and tears and a lot of long-distance handholding of each other to make it as far as we did.

Let’s see, I think we’ve covered fidelity, industriousness and perseverance, and loyalty to one’s kindred. All this is hindsight, but these virtues clearly apply. The job, sadly, broke me: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Bailing on my partner was almost as hard as bailing on my marriage, which was on much shakier grounds by the time that decision was reached. It was emotionally wrenching. Physically, I had gained 30 pounds from inactivity in spite of a generally healthy diet.  As a result, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. This is partly the weight but also a known “co-morbid disorder” (i.e., people with anxiety or spectrum disorder often become diabetic, or at least have blood sugar issues). This is largely stress, the psychological factor. And all of the combined stress greatly exacerbated my anxiety/spectrum disorder. What was previously diagnosed an anxiety disorder, an unpleasant tightness in the chest similar to a heart attack accompanied by feelings of panic, something I have managed most of my adult life, blossomed into something much worse.

So I find myself at the end of November, 2015 out of work and pretty much broken in mind, body and spirit.

When I approached the holidays stumbled upon Frau Holle, which eventually became the theme of the ex-voto shelf outside my house that doubles as The Shrine of Jazz and Heritage. I have a German neighbor who found it surprising and charming to find a figure from her childhood venerated on my ex-voto. When she asked about my shrine, I said something vague about, ” getting in touch with my German roots.” And as that door opened via the Internet, and Xmas/Yule, I was. Or rather, they were getting in touch with me. I went searching the pagan roots of Carnival for something to place on my ex-voto shrine and instead of the usual Greco-Roman stuff to which Carnival is commonly attributed I found Nerthus, pulled in her cart by a white bullock. Rather like the flower-draped white bullock figure that precedes the Rex parade every Mardi Gras Day. The door opened a bit wider, and I began exploring.

Clearly the mumbled remarks about getting in touch with my German roots held some weight. As a syncretic seeker universalist I had a altar but it was unfocused and, after the year from hell, rather dusty and disused. I was too busy bailing the lifeboat to do more than toss off a silent prayer to no one in particular for the strength to go on. As I began reading my way through the Internet on all things Heathen (sometimes manic episodes and the accompanying doggedness are a blessing, as it is this moment as I write). The more I read, the more I was attracted to this, the faith of my German ancestors. And then I stumbled across the Nine Noble Virtues. They resonated like the bowl bell the teacher sometimes strikes at the end of yoga: a profound, sustained note. I had health issues. I had issues with my children I needed to be a firm father to address when I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. I had a house that had not  been properly cleaned for months. (If you go through an entire box of Swiffers in a 10×14 kitchen, it’s time to buy a mop and bucket). Discipline. I needed discipline, and some outside structure to keep my ADD mind to it. I needed to recover the industriousness and perseverance of which I had been drained dry by the job. And as the AFA reinterprets hospitality, ” kinship is better than alienation.” I needed to rebond with and properly father my children who–while technically adults–both need some firm guidance at this time each in their own way. And that’s not just the AFA version of hospitality. It is also a form of fidelity, of faith in my children and the obligation fidelity also implies, the obligations to be a good father.

Nerthus and Frau Holle had some role to play, as did not doubt other deities who noticed me poking about in their lore and the vættir of my beloved oak grove,  but it was that simple code which sunk the hook and landed me for Heathenism. Count it up as a form of personal gnosis. If that was the revelation that opened up the door to Heathenism, so be it. It obliges no one else to say the Mjollnir blessing you would find below a few posts back. That prayer matters  immensely to me, speaking it as I don the hammer symbol of the God who among our fickle deities best exhibits many of the virtues is profound. I would not just be back from vacuuming and mopping (OK, Swiffering) if I did not have this reminder around my neck. I would probably be napping, to escape a few recent stressful events. And I cannot nap the rest of my life away. I have a life to rebuild, and to rebuild better: freed from the fetters of mortgage and tuition, free to follow the dictates of my heart and not my wallet.  If you find the Virtues trite, or unfounded in the lore, or perhaps they smack too much of a sect you dislike, that’s fine. A rising tide only lifts the boats in that particular harbor, and mine was lifted by them as they no doubt have lifted many others.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Thoughts on the AFA

Just to be clear, after much reading in my search of the Internet for lore and kindred, I where stand on this issue. I stand with The Troth.

From the Lay of Sirgrdrifmuál:

37. “That counsel I tenth,      that thou trust never oath of an outlaw’s son;…

38. “Seldom sleepeth      the sense of wrong nor, either, hate and heartache. Both his wits and weapons      a warrior needs who would fain be foremost among folk.

39. “That counsel I eleventh:      to keep thee from evil, whence’er it may threaten thee:55 not long the lord’s      life, I ween me. Have fateful feuds arisen.”

 

I am of the Folk, an unbroken line of almost 300 years since Johann Jacob Folse came from the Palitinate to Louisiana. Many of my folk stayed behind, and lived the horrors of the mid-twentieth century, when the spear was cast and men ran wild with the blood froth of madness, and the sun sign was made the crooked and broken cross.

I was raised in the tradition of the white south, in a land blooded by slavery. I was raised, not by my parents but certainly by my mother’s parents and my peers, to the ways of the white south. That wyrd is woven, and I cannot unwind it. I can face the future, bravely and with a clear mind and heart, and be the person I choose to be. I choose not to be what my grandparents and some of my childhood friends were, and likely still are.

I am of the folk but not folkish. I will Light a Beacon on May Day, and welcome all who welcome all to join me.

 

 

Mjöllnir Blessing

71slNgsJ2HL._UY600_Thor

Champion of Asgard
Warder of Misgard
Giant bane & friend of men

Imbue this Mjöllnir
with your noble virtues
so all know by this token
it is ever my work to be

strong & courageous
honest & honorable
self-reliant & industrious
disciplined & fidelitous
& ever hospitable.

Ward all those I pledge my troth:
my love, my kin, my kindred.
Grant me the strength to act
as you would in my place.

This Perfect Pinecone

IMG_20160229_093024015During my walk yesterday I stopped by my pine tree. It is a bit of a sapling along my usual walk path through the majestic oak grove that occupies the south side of Bayou Metairie. At some point in late January, I returned to the tree from which I’d taken a branch and respectfully spoke to the wights, asked forgiveness for taking the branch, and used a stick of Burt’s Bees plain lip balm to dress the wound I had made with my pocket knife a month earlier. Later, I returned and left a bowl of organic heavy cream and honey at the base of the tree, again thanking the wight(s) for the gift of the branch.

As I was walking yesterday, I stopped as I sometimes do to look at the branch I cut. The Burt’s Bees is dried up and still protecting the cut. Spring clover surrounds this tree, and I noticed that in one particular spot, directly beneath the cut I made and only there, the clover had set out its small, purple blooms. I took this as a favorable omen for my relationship with this particular wight. Just before I left, I noticed the perfect pine cone. And by perfect I mean if I were looking for a model for a mold to sell a million of them as Xmas/Yule decorations, this is the pine cone I would want. And there it was, lying just beneath the tree. It was open and so assuming it’s pine nuts dispersed to the ground or the squirrels, I picked it up to place on my altar.

All is well I think in my personal Sacred Grove. The branch I have is still green if a bit dry, and the  nascent pine cones have shriveled up. When  I need a fresh branch after I offer the one I cut in December on a Light the Beacon’s May Day bonfire, I will return to the same tree and this time start by asking permission and giving thanks for the tree’s offering of a twig for my altar.

You can probably see why my friend in Oakland suggested I investigate Druidism but I am fairly set upon the path of Heathenism, and sacred trees are certainly no stranger to the faith or in particular to my own German ancestors. We are, after all, ash and oak (or at least I like to think oak, as what I have read so far leaves the translation of Embla with a question mark, leaning elm; in my personal cosmology, we are ash and oak.  I have stopped thinking of the trees of my grove as brothers and think of them instead as mothers). I always stand ready for correction at this early stage, and if I should think of the wights of my grove as brothers, just let me know.

Until then, the pine come joins the branch on my altar, and I have to decide whether the cone goes on the bonfire as well later this spring. At the moment, I am very attached to it, but perhaps the tree wight meant the gift to be passed on to the high gods, and to give what is precious to one is the best gift regardless of its superficial, external worth.

 

The Lore in Our Core

I encountered Jose Ortega y Gasset’s famous line in a novel the other day: “Yo soy yo y mi circumstancia” (“I am I and my circumstance”) Meditaciones del Quijote, 1914.”  While he implies a dialectical tension perhaps not entirely in keeping with The Wyrd, I cannot mistake its echo in the statement. Spain was occupied by the Goths in the long ago, and they had a profound influence on the subsequent culture.

And then yesterday I encounter a series of excerpts from the letters of Vincent Van Gogh in which  once again the ethos of Heathenism seems to lie between every line even as he invokes Christian concepts.

He who lives uprightly and experiences true difficulty and disappointment and is nonetheless undefeated by it is worth more than someone who prospers and knows nothing but relative good fortune.
[…]
Woe-spiritedness is quite a good thing to have, if only one writes it as two words, woe is in all people, everyone has reason enough for it, but one must also have spirit, the more the better, and it is good to be someone who never despairs.

Everyone thinks of Van Gogh as a painter of France although he was of Dutch and so Germania ancestry. Am I seeing chimera where I wish to find them, mirage of water in the desert, a Lore overload spilling onto the floor? Or is our cosmos opening up its hidden, unforgotten patterns all about me?

I rather think the last, although perhaps I am suffering from an excess of enthusiasm. Then again just such an excess could be a gift of He Who Hung Upon the Tree for just such gifts, and I implored him just last week for inspiration in a specific circumstances but the gifts of the God’s do not always come neatly wrapped or on a certain date specific.

I believe in what I am seeing, the wisdom and ethos in unexpected places all around me.

First always, as sworn for my boon (a gift for a gift), Hail All Father for opening my eyes to the hidden wisdom all around me. And Hail Thor, Warder of Asgard and Migard, for the warrior wisdom of Vincent Van Gogh.

Marcus Trúasóngr