Monday, February 27, 2017

From a Certain Point of View...

Odin is a Thief and a Deceiver. Tyr is an Oathbreaker. I'm okay with that. Not exactly qualities to aspire to, though. Something that many Polytheists struggle with is the fallibility, the errors, or even the outright terrible behavior attributed to the Gods and Goddesses in the Lore.

Lacking the certitude of an "all-good" monotheist worldview, the myths and stories we have from pre-Christian times don't always seem like the noblest of deeds. There's a host of examples that can counter that narrative of "all-good", but on the whole, most monotheists still count their Deity as lacking character flaws. A debate on that is a different post for a different blog. This here blog is Polytheist Territory, and I'd much rather talk about Them, thank you very much.
I can't promise this power isn't going to my head.

Yes, the title of this post is the classic Star Wars reference, where a deception was created (retroactively, because we know how you work, George!) in order to achieve a goal. In Obi-Wan's case, the goal was to recruit Luke into the fight against Vader and the Emperor, without cluttering up his young, idealistic worldview with complicated morality conundrums. From a certain point of view, truth can seem malleable.

There's a couple verses in the Hávamál that are probably the most-quoted from the text:

76-77 "Cattle die, Kinsmen die,
the self must also die;
but the glory of reputation never dies,
for the man who can get himself a good one.

Cattle die, Kinsmen die,
the self must also die;
I know one thing which never dies:
the reputation of each dead man."
Translation by Carolyne Larrington - The Poetic Edda (Oxford World's Classics)

A nice sentiment. A pragmatic recognition of mortality (one would expect nothing less from a religion that "ends" in the death of Gods) coupled with a reiteration that deeds and reputation live on beyond a life. It's commonly modernized into "That which is remembered, lives." There's a wrinkle in these two verses that I feel doesn't get a lot of attention. In 76, it's pointed out that the glory of a good reputation never dies, the idea here being to encourage the reader/listener to get one, to ensure their own legacy. In 77, however, it's just "the reputation of each dead man." Good or bad, you will be remembered for what you've done. All of this rambling was to lead to a question that I've often pondered, but have yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion:

Is it better to be remembered for doing harm, having actually done good, or be remembered for doing good, having actually done harm?

How I'm picturing y'alls reaction right now.

Remember, I'm writing from the Heathen perspective here. Reputation is very important. "We are our deeds" are not just pretty words, but there is an implicit follow-up that many take for granted when using that phrase. It's implied that our deeds will be interpreted as we intend, and assumptions are never wise.

The most famous betrayal for a greater good involves Tyr and Fenrir. The Gods had come to fear the growing strength of the giant wolf, and needed to imprison Him to prevent Ragnarok. They commissioned an unbreakable thread and claimed they wanted to test His prodigious strength. They also claimed They would untie him if he were unable to free Himself from it. The Wolf mistrusted Their magical thread so He demanded someone place a hand in His jaws as promise that They would unbind him. Tyr swore they would, placed his hand in the Wolf's mouth, and promptly lost His hand when the great beast was left imprisoned, breaking the Oath to untie him.

The story that prompted my opening statement has to do with the origin of the Mead of Poetry. To really, really shorten the story, it goes like this:

After the war between the Aesir and Vanir was settled, both sides combined their spit in a special container, and from this vessel a being emerged, called Kvasir. This being was the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge, for there was no question He could not answer. However, He was killed by two dwarves, who drained his blood, mixed it with honey, and thus the Mead of Poetry was created. It was said that those who drank of it would have the gift of knowledge and wisdom necessary to compose poetry (a very difficult thing in historical context). The Mead eventually ended up in the hands of the giant Suttungr, who hid the entirety of it away in a place called Hnitbjörg with his daughter, Gunnlöð, guarding it. Odin found out where Hnitbjörg was, snuck inside disguised as a field worker named Bolverk, and wooed Gunnlöð for three nights. This "earned" him the right to three "sips" of mead. His three "sips" ended up draining all of the Mead of Poetry (of course), then he promptly transformed into an eagle and flew back to Asgard, returning with the Mead to grant it's powers to both the Gods and Man.
From our perspective, this is a good thing, despite the ignoble actions. Odin stole the Mead, he deceived Gunnlöð. For a greater good. However, we see public admonishment for these actions in the Hávamál, where we also see Odin admits to his deceit and poor treatment of Gunnlöð :

108 - 110
"I am in doubt as to whether I would have come
back from the giants' courts,
if I had not used Gunnlod, that good woman,
and put my arms about her.

The next day the frost-giants went
to ask for [Odin's] advice, in the High One's hall;
they asked about Bolverk: whether he was amongst the gods,
or whether Suttung has slaughtered him.

I think Odin will have sworn a sacred ring-oath,
how can his pledge be trusted?
He left Suttung defrauded of the drink
and made Gunnlod weep."
Translation by Carolyne Larrington - The Poetic Edda (Oxford World's Classics)

Dramatic re-enactment.

All joking aside, breaking a ring-oath is serious business. Oathbreakers got outlawed, which in old times, basically meant laws no longer applied to you. Anyone could rob, beat, and/or murder you without consequence. Oathbreakers ended up (in some interpretations) in an afterlife where Níðhǫggr or other serpents chew on their corpses. Yet here is the Allfather, admitting to breaking a sacred oath, and publicly called on it, his word questioned. Questioned by those who admittedly aren't his friends, but a reputation is a reputation.

A modern example of this dilemma is found at the end of The Dark Knight, where Batman takes the fall for Harvey Dent's murder spree in order for the city to 'heal.' He's done good deeds, but his reputation as a whole will remain as a criminal. It's only when he's granted a shot at redemption in the final film of the trilogy that we see his continued good deeds turn the tide of his reputation. What if the events of the third film never happened? From a Heathen perspective, his reputation is in tatters, but his deeds were good. What would define him?
The scowl, probably.

How to reconcile the ignoble behavior of the Gods with the morals and ideologies shaping the modern world today? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. There's interpretations a-plenty, a classic being that we're not supposed to emulate the Gods, and they only serve as cautionary tales. Another is the annoying (but no less valid) double-standard that the Gods are free to do lots of things because they're Gods, and thus they have a different set of rules that they follow.

Both of those feel too trite for me. Odin and Tyr (and Batman) did the best they could with the information and resources they had. They made choices, for the greater good, but all of it could have ended badly. In the end, I think the lesson to be learned is that deeds will be interpreted differently by different people. For mortals and the Gods, Odin's theft of the Mead was very much a Good Thing, while for the giants and Odin's reputation among them, it was assuredly not. For mortals and the Gods, Tyr's oathbreaking to Fenrir was absolutely a boon for the Nine Worlds, but I doubt the Wolf would agree it was "good."

We can look at our actions, our choices, and apply a simple rubric: Would the Gods be happy with our actions? Our kindred? Are we? Living with the consequences is something that can absolutely be taken from the stories and mythos. Odin didn't try to trick the giants again, but admitted his fault and lived with their curses and anger. Tyr didn't regrow the lost hand, it remains severed as payment for his deed. There's honor in admitting "Well, that was a fuck up." That is unequivocally something worth emulating. To show that our Gods can commit (according to a certain point of view) outright wrongs, and still do good? That's an ethos much more relatable than the infallibility of current monotheist understanding.

It's important to never act from willful ignorance. Know the facts, know as much as you can about the situation and what impacts your deeds may have. None of us can be Kvasir, knowing answers to all questions, so we have to do the best we can. All we can do is what we firmly believe is right, and let the chips fall where they may. That might mean we're injured, or maligned by those we wrong. It might mean we're praised by those we aid. It's possible that both will happen at the same time. Reputations are a tricky thing, the Nine Worlds are a complicated place, and there are no easy answers.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Hávamál 71: On Ableism and Tribalism

For my first real post, I want to address what I consider a flaw in a recent interpretation of the Hávamál's 71st verse. The verse reads:
A limping man can ride a horse,
a handless man can herd,
a deaf man can fight and win.
It's better even to be blind
than fuel for the funeral pyre;
what can a dead man do?

Now, the most basic interpretation of this verse is a simple anti-suicide message: No matter what your condition, "what can a dead man do?" has the answer of "nothing." There is no such thing as a "worthless" or "useless" individual. That's not where a Tribalist took this passage, however.

From a Tribal perspective, if I understand it correctly, the smallest unit of consideration when making important decisions is the Tribe, rather than the Individual. It's never what's best for me, but rather for us. It's the kith and kin that a group of Individuals have bonded with to better themselves as a whole rather than individually.

The post starts by arguing this passage is not advocating ableism. In that respect, they are not wrong. This passage is quite contrary to the concept of ableism, in that it advocates for the productiveness and usefulness of those injured or disabled.

 The interpretation goes off the rails when they start flavoring their Tribal worldview with Individual Exceptionalism (i.e. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps", etc.). 
To wit:
"Can't walk? Fine. Ride a horse. But don't demand that everyone else accommodate your limitation, and certainly don't insist that people can't have a blót out in a field because you can't get your wheelchair out there.
Born without hands, or lost them in an accident? Fine. Do something that doesn't require fine motor skills. But don't try to say that printing runes on an inkjet printer is "just as good" as carving them into wood and staining them with your blood.Deaf? Fine. Do something that's visual, or kinetic, or literary. Don't try to make the case that runic chanting or singing songs is somehow discriminatory, because you can't participate.

[...]

The point is, don't expect other people to change their own lives because of your condition. It's up to you, regardless of the specific circumstance, to adjust yourself and your expectations to your own condition. Whether it's psychological or physical, financial or educational, it's up to you to step up and do whatever you are able to do."
Get used to this gif. 

At first glance, this certainly seems to support the Tribe above the individual, because that's how it works, right? The Individual is expected to continue contributing to the Tribe, however they can, rather than expect to simply be carried along indefinitely, helpless and not contributing (a "welfare queen", if you will). Except this interpretation is the very definition of ableism, and counter to what I consider the heart of the wisdom in the verse above. It removes any burden of accommodation for anyone not fit or hale enough to participate. If a member of the Tribe is expected to host a monthly gathering, but a tornado takes out their house? By the reasoning in the above quote, that host is somehow still expected to "step up and do whatever you are able to do." How is that logical, or even polite?

Let's presume in ancient times, someone took an arrow to the...leg, and now has a pronounced limp, to the point where they can no longer participate in raids or the shield wall, effectively benching them for good.
I regret nothing.

Raiding was a prime source of income for many, and was often the means not only of establishing a name, but of providing trade goods for those unable to afford quality farmland in the harsh North where it was very much a premium. Now horses weren't cheap either, especially good ones that can handle a less-than-hale rider. Is our newly injured person expected to just find a new means of gathering income in order to buy said horse, so that they can then continue to be useful? It's much more likely that a member of the Tribe would have either outright given them a horse or loaned one to the injured party for an extended time. This is the Tribe looking out for the Individual, because (per the Hávamál above) that Individual can still contribute to the betterment of the Tribe, if given opportunity and means to do so.

In our Tribalist's interpretation, the Tribe seems to owe nothing to the Individual. They are lame, and they certainly can ride a horse. You know, if they have one. It's not just that the Tribe is placed above the Individual here, but that the Tribe will now leave the Individual behind, unless that Individual can keep up. A situation that Tribalism, as I understand it, is designed to avoid.

What's described is not a Tribe, but a collective of Individuals. It's the difference between a dozen cats and a pack of wolves. The cats may occasionally work together to achieve a goal, but at the end of the day, they are not bound together by anything more than that goal, and those unable to keep up with the group would be left behind. The idea that there is more to the group, the thought that there is an honest-to-Gods bond that compels them to help and protect one another, is what defines a Tribe. Ancient dire wolves show evidence of caring for the injured as a pack, rather than simply leaving them behind to whatever fate dished out. We can see it in Neanderthal behavior as well.


It's always been an easier argument to just move on, let "nature," or "the market" sort things out, trusting somehow that a soul of kindness exists in a ruthless pragmatist (Nature) or a soulless construct (the Market). Just how beneficial is a Tribe where a single accident is the linchpin that could mean never raising a horn with them again, because they insist on doing it in the middle of a grassy, muddy field, and now it's just tough shit for you, Wheels...

Stupid lizard probably would've hailed Loki anyway...

This is somehow supposed to be a reconstruction of a people who felt so strongly about kith and kin that there are over a dozen verses in the Hávamál about how to treat friends and and family well?

For example:

41. With weapons and cloth one should gladden one's friends
that is quite clear of itself;
those who give and receive stay longest friends,
if things last and all is well.

44. You know, if you've a friend that you trust well,
and from him want nothing but good:
share thoughts with him, and keep trading gifts,
go and visit often.

Are gifts only to be given to the healthy, friendships only maintained on convenience? Are they really friendships if that's the case?

What seems proposed instead is a pulling in close those who pass whatever tests and signs of conformity and ability those in power demand, and the rest must adapt or simply sit out (or leave).

Wheelchair won't work in the field? Maybe do a collection to get some modded fat bike tires that can make the trip. Recruit members of the Tribe to carry the individual to a bench set up in the field. The possibilities are numerous, but dismissing the member of the Tribe that can no longer participate in blót, or rune chants, or any other aspect of Tribal life as "out of luck" is not one that should ever be considered in a Tribe worthy of the name.

Ironically, this doesn't even fall on the old Tribal/Universalist fault line, because the argument is talking about those within the Tribe, those that have (supposedly) already been accepted, either in spite of their previous disabilities or before they occurred.

I'm not a fan of Tribalism, but if you're going to do it, at least do it right.
Just Saiyan.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hello World!


Welcome to my blog!

So who am I? I am a parent, a husband, a gamer, and a nerd. I'm a Feminist. I am an unapologetic tree-hugger. My political leaning is more than a little to the Left.  Though this blog will largely deal with topics through the lens of my very Pagan worldview, I will likely touch on a wide variety of subjects with a generous dollop of obscure pop culture references (and the occasional bad pun).

Specifically, I have a goal: to one day be worthy of the name Gothi. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's basically the accepted title for a priest of the Gods of the Norse Pagan pantheon. I've heard that if one can stand in a group of Heathens and claim the title and no one laughs, then you're good. It sounds simple in premise, but this is the "Religion with Homework." Simple isn't what we do. I don't expect this journey to ever truly end. (It's kind of an occupational hazard when you follow a God known as "The Wanderer.")

As for the name: I decided to be a bit cheeky and throw in multiple layers of meaning for the title of my little corner of the Internet.
Adventurous: This blog is nothing if not a risk, putting my name and words out into the world.
Git: I am a Gothi-In-Training -- just wise enough to know that I am in many things, still a child (or silly, or even incompetent). Also, I'm a programmer, so we've got some ogre-depth layers working in this title. Now, with all of that handled...Onward!