Thursday, March 9, 2017

Havamal 57 : Be Wary of The Flames You Carry

It's no secret these days that Nazis are everywhere. The themes of nationalism and racism are rising to the surface once more. Now, more than ever, we must be wary of what and who we endorse, even tangentially. We can no longer afford to "explain away" questionable viewpoints from celebrities, no matter how large or small their reach.

The majority of Pagans will agree with the phrase, "Words have power." We're not just talking about spell-casting, ritual, prayer, or anything specific to religion. Every spoken word has the power to bind, to heal, to divide, to wound, to do any number of things in the right hands in the opportune moment.


via GIPHY
Like how a single word can make an entire generation cry.

Which brings me to today's Havamal verse:
57: One brand takes fire from another, 
until it is consumed,
a flame's kindled by flame;
one man becomes clever by talking with another,
but foolish through being reserved.

The surface meaning of this verse is a great piece of advice (like most of the Havamal, really). Basically, "If you don't talk to anyone, you'll never learn." However like everything else related to Old One Eye, there are layers at work here. Thoughts and ideas are spread through sharing, and what is the Internet if not the largest intangible "share" the world has ever conceived of? Just as the spark of new memes spread like wildfire when they take off, so too can fake news reports burn innocents. The Internet shows us in rapid-fire demonstrations every day just how apt the conflation of conversation and conflagration can be. So to be clever in this age means not only sharing and listening with others, but to be careful about which flames one allows to enkindle within them.
This One still believes the ending was shit.

Music has been a binding and collective force for every people, and every religion, from Gregorian Chanting in a soaring cathedral to mantras in a remote monastery. Music surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together. The songs we listen to can and will shape our worldview, whether we intend them to or not. This can be a serious problem if you're a metal fan. Especially a Heathen metal fan.

It's no secret Heathenry lends itself well to a isolationist, warrior mentality. Digging into the depths of that is another post for another day, but nationalistic undertones can often creep insidiously into songs of the Gods and Heroes of old. It's not just those trying to "take back" the sunwheel (swastika) or the "black sun" symbols.

Týr, a heavy metal band replete with Mjolnirs and runic symbolism in their art and band merch, discovered the hard way that even with millions of fans, some symbols are lost to the "good guys" forever. In 2011, tucked away in the "Lay of Thrym" album, was the song "Shadow of the Swastika." While billed as a musical middle finger to both NeoNazis and historical ones, the band was roundly accused of actually supporting racism and negative nationalistic messages.
You who think the hue of your hide means you are to blame
And your father's misdeeds are his son's to carry in shame
Not mine I'll take no part
You can shove the sins of the your father where no light may pass
And kiss my Scandinavian ass
Pages of the past
How long will they last?
A lie lost in the legacy of fools left us this parody unsurpassed
Pages of the past
How long will they last?
The shadow of the Swastika by fools' fears now for far too long has been cast
You who think the hue of your hide means you get to blame
The black for your own faults and so bring humanity shame
Make sure you count me out of the ranks of your inbred morons
With your sewer gas and kiss my Scandinavian ass
Týr - Shadow of the Swastika Source

There's a couple more verses, but you get the gist. While I applaud the premise of telling Nazi's where to put all of the Norse symbolism they plundered, the fact of the matter is, we're not taking it back, and we never will.
No, you're really not.
Týr meant well, I suppose, but some things have become so broken and corrupted that while they can be honored for what they originally were (and the Swastika/Sunwheel iconography really was sacred and Pagan) in a private context, they are forever tainted in the public sphere. Even out-loud-n-proud racists from that cesspit known as Stormfront think the effort was weak:
I love this band. However they've had to do a lot of bullcrap in order to cover their asses. For instance, they claim to be an anti-racist band (yeah right who the hell are they follin'). But every time a black tries to join (and they have), they turn them down. Also they never have any anti-racist themes in any of their music. The only song that comes close is Shadow of the Swastika. And that song is against racism perpetuated against whites. They just like to say that they're against racism because if they don't then bye-bye music carrier. (Source - Don't go here. Seriously.)
Do I agree that they're racist? No. Do I think they have some issues falling along the thin line between racism and nationalism that is a common issue in Folk/Viking Metal? Yeah, they do.

Just to pick on Týr a bit more, because they were one of the first Folk/Viking Metal bands I listened to on a regular basis, they're not even Pagan. They have the trappings and the accoutrements, the honest fans, and the message. I mean, I still get pumped listening to "Hold the Heathen Hammer High."

However, in a wonderful interview series with Dr. Karl Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog (KS below), the lead singer and songwriter of the group, Heri Joensen (HJ below), said the following:
KS – “Sand in the Wind” really seems like an atheist anthem, and some of the mythic songs like “The Ride to Hel” may use the mythology, but there’s an atheistic worldview behind them.
HJ – Yeah.
KS – Would you describe yourself as an atheist?
HJ – Definitely. It’s very difficult to sell atheism through mythology, but… Ha! It’s confusing, but there you go.
I’m definitely an atheist. I used to be Christian, just because that was the way I was raised. As soon as I thought twice about it, I realized that I didn’t believe in it. Then I got into the mythology.
You know, once you have one reason to scrap one mythology, it’s very hard not to use the same reason to scrap the other one. How do you go from Christianity to pagan? I think it’s impossible, at least while being honest – intellectually honest. 
 
While [KS] was interviewing Heri backstage at Paganfest, 
this Týr t-shirt was being sold in the concert venue

I can't fault Heri for believing what he does or even for merchandising/branding how he's done. It's obviously been wildly successful for the band to date. By the same token, my fervor for their music diminished significantly after this interview. Also, I get the Converse play in the shirt above, but given the long, long history of "convert the pagans" being a Christian battle-cry, they could've thought that merch through a little better.

I do love Viking Metal and there's some fantastic music being made right now, as well as some very questionable decisions by bands and labels. So I keep my ear to the ground, because it doesn't take divination to see that more problematic music will continue to creep into the public (and Pagan) eye.
Don't get burned.

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