Monday, February 13, 2017

The Wight Stuff: A Case for Car Wights

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C.
Clarke.





Occasionally, I write something that I think is controversial, but ends up being controversial in ways I never expected.  Last week's post created a bit of a kerfuffle over, not the concept that we are doing blots wrong, but the idea that there could be car wights.

Seriously?  Seriously?

I'm not one to shy away from a good controversial discussion, especially when I think there is much to do about nothing, as Shakespeare would put it.  So, I'm going to dedicate this blog to the lowly car wight, who just might have been slighted by those who think it could not exist.

Ready for some fun?  Let's go...

First Understand Whence I Speak

Before I even get started in the entire "are their car wights?" debate, let's talk about my own beliefs on the subject of wights.  I am agnostic when it comes to wights.  I haven't met one directly, and while I've had some pretty freaky shit happen with stuff, I can chalk it up to something natural or at least some root cause that is probable.

So the argument of whether wights exist is largely an entertaining discussion to me.  It also means I look at what could exist and not necessarily what does exist. So, let's get started.

What's a Wight, Really?

When we look at legends and lore, we get a pretty interesting view of how our ancestors looked at the world.  The world was full of beings, seen and unseen, that either helped, harmed, or ignored humans. We can point to etins/jotun, trolls, alfs (elves), dwarves, and various nature sprites and come up with a statement, along with the Anglo Saxon definition of wight, to include creatures and things. Now, for the sake of argument, we can narrow that definition down to supernatural creatures since many of the folks who dislike the idea of a car wight are stating that cars can't have wights.

I would narrow it down further to supernatural creatures that inhabit only natural places, but this doesn't hold true for wights. Some wights don't live in rocks or trees or forests. Some live in barrows which are manmade, some live on farms and in houses, and some have been known to travel on boats.

Types of Wights

There are almost as many types of wights as there are ordinary critters in the world.  Not all the same rules apply to these wights either, nor have they all come from the same place. The alfar or alfs may be our male ancestors, just like the disir are our female ancestors. We have ghosts, trolls, werewolves, and zombies in our beliefs (call them what you will in Norse, if it makes you feel better.), so, we have quite the variety.  Some, most notably the alfs, can't touch iron. Others, such as the dwarves and etins work and use iron quite handily.

I bring this up because the obvious problems with some wights and iron.  It would obviously not be the type of wight who inhabited a car, so let's rule them out right then and there. Some wights seem to be bound to objects; some, like the huldufolk in Iceland, seem to be able to move out of rocks when told that a highway may be going through.

We can also take a look at magical items, including swords, and consider them wights of sorts because they seem to have their own will.  In these cases, swords that are imbued with will and spirits can certainly be constructs as well as wights. Why do I bring these up? This is important to consider when deciding if a car is a wight or not.  We can't look at one thing that matches the wight criteria and exclude others simply because we don't like the idea. The swords have undergone the blacksmith's fire in order to become something that humans can use.  Cars simply undergo a more modern forging and stamping.

Taking this One Step Further: Car Wights

Okay, so we know wights can inhabit human constructs, some can tolerate iron, some can travel and inhabit boats, and some aren't so strictly bound to objects.  Okay, then.  Let's look at the car, shall we?
  • Human construct?  -- Yes, but so are farms, graves, and homes.
  • Iron in it? -- Yes, but many wights are good with that.
  • Natural materials? -- Materials are made from atoms and molecules, many mined and reworked to served specific purposes.  But yes, it came from nature at one time.
  • Gives gifts for gifts? -- Yes.
  • Personality?  - Yes.

But what about magic?  As the science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What would our Heathen ancestors think of our technology if they were to step into our time? What would they think of a vehicle that has no horses or oxen to pull it? I submit to you, if we didn't teach them how cars work (teaching them would be a tough thing given the difference in culture and education), they're likely to think it was some type of magic.  Hence they would be considered supernatural creatures.

So, are there Cars Wights?

By the definition of what I've established as a wight, I've managed to at least suggest that cars could have wights, or even be wights. They have personalities.  They have quirks.  We name them. We give them gifts (fuel, care) in exchange for their gift (transportation). They are made from components of this earth. Obviously the car wights aren't alfs, given the metal, but cars could carry any of the huldufolk that could tolerate iron.  And our ancestors would think they were magical.  That qualifies a car as a wight, or at least something that would have a wight in it.

On of my patrons brought up the fact that cars don't have free will. I'll grant you that. But I'm not certain all wights have free will either. And given the fact that free will may be an illusion anyway, it's a moot point.  But a point that may or may not be relevant to the discussion. Some wights are tightly bound to their homes; others are not.  So, they do have to operate within the confines of their set parameters.

So, there may be car wights; there may not.  I've at least given a good case for why there might be. Whether you accept them or not is your choice.

Airplane Wights

As a postscript, I have to bring up airplane wights.  Why?  Because airmen in Great Britain during WWI had claimed to see gremlins damaging airplanes.  What's more, Charles Lindbergh claimed to have seen some sort of gremlin that kept him awake during his transoceanic flight. If gremlins aren't our modern day version of wights, I don't know what is.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Blots: Are We Doing Them Wrong?

I've been racking my brain about what to write this week.  So, naturally, the idea comes to me while I'm feeding my goats and other sundry critters.  Heathens do a lot of offerings and blots, but are they the right ones? And can we scientifically talk about "offerings" in the context of a more enlightened age?  Actually, I think we can, and I know I'm going to ruffle a few feathers with this, so hang on.

Let's Talk About Wights

One of the critters we give offerings to are the wights.  Wikipedia states:
Wight is an English word, from Old English wiht, and used to describe a creature or living sentient being. It is akin to Old High German wiht, meaning a creature or thing.
Now, granted, the concept of Wights in our beliefs tend to touch on those magical spirits that inhabit homes, land, and other places.  Technically, our gods could be considered wights, as well as humans, as the Anglo-Saxon term actually suggested a human being.

I'm rather agnostic when it comes to wights, although I seem to have had what could be construed as possible encounters with them.  But for the sake of argument, I'll talk wights like I believe in them.

Your Car Wight

Okay, with me so far?  So,  let's say the wights are the essence of some sort of "thing," whether it is a tree, stone, a piece of land, or whatever is around us.  We can consider animals as part of the "wights," in my not so humble opinion, and we may be able to consider everyday objects as wights as well.

"Wait a second," you say.  "There aren't wights when it comes to computers, dishes, or cars."  Oh, I would heartily disagree.  If you've ever worked on cars, airplanes, computers, or some other mechanical device, or operated them for any length of time, you damn well know each of them have their own distinct personality. You can drive five of the very same model and same year of vehicle and get a different impression of each.  Even from the factory.

Now, you may argue that cars obtain their "personality" from the persons who assembled it on a particular day, the flaws in the parts they might have, and the owners they have.  Okay, so how is this different from something living?  We obtain our basic genetic code and personality from our parents (Mom had something to do with our assembly), the flaws we have (you have arthritis or maybe a healed broken bone?), and the experience and care we receive growing up.  Hmmm.  That sounds like there are correlations here.

"But my car isn't sentient!" you say.  "It's a man made construct!" I'd agree with you, only to a point. Everything we see and use has been created from the same natural materials that came from stars. The metal that makes up the car was mined.  The fuel it uses is from plants and animals that rotted millions of years ago.  Everything in a car -- every molecule -- came from nature.  We did not create the mass, although we can rearrange molecules and change them into different compounds.  So, if you subscribe to wights at all, you have to consider your car is a wight.

Does My Car Need Offerings?

This is a silly question, but one that you'll have to look at seriously.  We certainly do make "blots" to our cars. We even have some very prescribed rituals for making sure they are satisfied and will give us a gift in return for our gifts.

Our frequent blots to our cars: we go to the gas station for fuel.  We offer our hard-earned tokens that symbolize our energy equation (money) in exchange for other energy (fuel), and we have a special requirement for how to provide the offering (open the fuel cap, prepay at the pump, insert the nozzle, etc.)  Less frequent blots: changing the oil, rotating the tires, getting a tune up, etc.  Often, these blots occur at a particular seasonal time: change summer tires to winter tires in the fall, change winter tires to summer tires in the spring, tune up the car late spring for summer trips, etc.

We offer these "gifts" in exchange for our car's gift: transportation.  Still don't believe the car is a wight?  People talk to them all the time.  They name their cars.  They grow attachments to them. Some people trust their cars better than they trust their spouses.   I remember back in college friends comparing the top end speed of their Volkswagen Beetles. Same era and virtually the same cars, yet they were very different.

Now, did these wights talk back or go rescue your ass when you got stuck with a bad date?  Of course not. That's not within their operating parameters.  But they have quirks and behaviors you can't ignore (especially when they hate cold weather).

Let's Take This One Step Further

So, if you're with me that cars and computers and airplanes can be wights, then it's not a farfetched conclusion to look at what we give them in return for gifts. We give them something they need in order to perform properly.  When I look at my goats, I know I need to feed them hay and minerals plus give them water, and assuming the goat kidded, I will get milk in return.  Gift for a gift.  Now, let's look at our nature wights and our gods.  This now brings me to the question: if we give offerings, what are we giving the gods and nature Wights that they need?

In other words:
What the fuck does a god or land wight need with mead?
See my problem?  We could make up some woo-woo stuff about the essence strengthening the land wight or the god appreciating the sacrifice. But I'm not sure that really works. In fact, I would argue that it may not do anything for the land wight. And a god? If a god is the essence of what he or she represents, I'm wondering if sacrificing things that have no bearing on what the god is would even be appreciated.

Now I may be full of shit here. But I notice that more often than not the gods favor those in particular areas who have made a fair amount of effort toward whatever they look to gain. Sure, there is blind, dumb luck like those who win who play the lottery, but with the exception of maybe the Lokeans, most of us don't depend on randomness in our lives.

So What Would Be an Appropriate Offering to the Gods and
Wights? (Or would Thor like a Tesla Coil?)

If we take the gods as personified metaphors, then we need to look at their function and see what strengthens their role.  Wisdom and creativity are two things that Odin would like.  Tyr is obviously the god of laws, so doing something toward upholding law and order is appropriate.  But then I start getting silly and seeing within my mind's eye Thor's glee at a Tesla coil.  Yes, somehow, I think he likes those.

When it comes to wights, the offering should be appropriate to the wight. If we can, we need to understand what makes that wight and that particular environment thrive.  That might mean clearing out noxious weeds on a piece of land, or maybe providing water during a drought, but in all honesty, I believe that if there are wights, wights are limited by the physical constructs they cling to. That means that they can only do what is prescribed by their form. A tree wight, for example, can only do things that trees do -- in the relation of gifts and giving. It can accept things that the tree can use, and it can provide what the tree can provide.  Anything else is asking something beyond it's reasoning.  It's like asking a dog to explain particle physics to you.  Assuming the dog knows particle physics (which, with the exception of a couple I know, don't), the dog can't tell us that he knows because he can't speak our language due to lack of a soft palate, shape of the tongue, and possibly the inability to understand English. (Although most dogs I know have a limited human vocabulary.)  So, I suspect is the problem with asking the wrong thing from the wights.

So, Where am I Going with this?

So, am I telling you to stop laying out offerings?  No. Am I telling you that my way is the only way? No. Am I thinking that we're doing blots wrong?  Maybe.  We got the concept of offerings from our ancestors, who may or may not have had an understanding of what the gods and wights wanted/needed.  After all, while there are many good things we learned from our ancestors, our ancestors got shit wrong all the time, especially when it came to science.  So they could've just anthropomorphized the gods and wights and assumed they wanted things that people want. But do the gods have needs that we as mortals can satisfy?

And then the question remains is, are they at all interested in what we give them?  I mean, Odin doesn't need Twinkies.  (Neither do I, but no one sends a package my direction, either.)  It may simply be the act of giving the gods something we value that works, and not necessarily the item. I can accept that.  But I do ponder the implications of today's musings and wonder if we're going down the wrong path with our blots.

Then again, the whole idea is the goats' fault, since I was feeding them. You can blame them.
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Monday, January 30, 2017

Honoring Ancestors: Do I Really Have to Worship Aunt Mabel?

 One of the things I like about Heathenry is the concept of honoring our ancestors, or as anthropologists would term, "ancestor worship."  But, honestly, if some of my relatives were a pain in the ass when they were alive, why would I want to draw strength from them when they're dead?  If Aunt Mabel was a bitch, and a fundamentalist Christian who was sure I was going to go to the Christian hell, do I really want to show respect for her?

Well, the answer is yes and no.

First, to Set the Record Straight 

I use the term "ancestor worship" loosely to describe the veneration of one's ancestors.  Merriam-Webster defines it as:

Definition of ancestor worship. : the custom of venerating deceased ancestors who are considered still a part of the family and whose spirits are believed to have the power to intervene in the affairs of the living.

Ancestor Worship | Definition of Ancestor Worship by Merriam-Webster

By the Merriam-Webster definition, Heathenry does indeed practice ancestor worship.  However, Heathenry beliefs aren't written in stone, and I'm pretty sure that there are indeed those Heathens who come close to, if not outright, worshiping their ancestors. Far be it from me to tell them to do otherwise. Then there are those who look at the ancestors with profound respect and honor them, but do not worship the ancestors as gods. Then, there are those, for whatever reason, abhor the idea of honoring ancestors,  especially close family members.  There are also those who do not know their ancestors, due to adoption or other circumstances.  All these people have their own valid reasons for what they do.

Now, if I offend you with the term "ancestor worship," get over it. It's just terminology that encapsulates the belief of ancestor veneration.  Don't get hung up on it. 

Ancestors: Like us, but Not

One of the foundations of Heathenry is respect for our ancestors. After all, they are a part of us, and we would not be here in our current form had we not had those particular ancestors. We have ties to them as kin that we do not have with other people.  And we recognize that even if our family members weren't the best, we still have thousands of generations of ancestors to call upon.

None of our ancestors were perfect; they all had their faults, just like we do. Some were criminals, some were saint-like, some were warriors, and some were just ordinary common folk. The Black Death did a lot to reduce the gene pool in Europe and Asia, so most of us can trace our lineage to nobility in some way, even if we have mostly commoners and slaves in our lineage.

So, when we honor our ancestors, we don't necessarily honor Aunt Mabel (who isn't your direct ancestor anyway, but who is closely related to you.) If she was that big of a bitch, you probably don't want to hear from her anyway, so you can skip honoring her but still offer respect for the line.

It's DNA and then some
Did you inherit your artist talent from a long-lost relative?

Our ancestors gave us more than their DNA. They gave us their experiences, for good or for ill.  One study showed that the brains of mice that experienced electric shocks and the smell of cherry blossoms changed and they showed fear of the cherry blossom odor. Fair enough.  Their offspring and grand-offspring showed the same fear of the cherry blossom odor even though they received no shocks.  Furthermore, their brains had the same changes that the original mice did.

Granted, it is one study, but there are other scientists who have determined that the methyl group (a type of organic molecule) attaches itself to certain genes, thus expressing that gene's behavior. Call epigenetics, these attachments and detachments were thought to only occur while in the uterus.  We now know that they can attach and detach while we're adults too, and can pass along the same genetic expressions. So, bad experiences can certain affect not only your life, but lives of your descendants.  Likewise, you're affected by the experiences your ancestors had.

So, what Does this Have to Do with Ancestor Worship?

So, you may be wondering that this has to do with honoring your ancestors. Oddly enough, quite a bit. You see, whether you are adopted or whether you know your line back to the Viking Age, you are the sum of your ancestor's genes and their experiences. Those experiences have been written and expressed in your genes. Your reactions -- and resiliency -- comes from those people, like it or not. You can modify your epigenetics in what you do want expressed by your behavior and your own experiences, but you carry the good parts and the baggage from those who came before you.

You can thank -- or curse -- them for what you are, but be aware that you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them.

What if I've been Adopted (or Don't Know My Lineage)? 

If you've been adopted, or perhaps you don't know your ancestors, you can still call on them for strength. You may not know them, but they may know you and may be pleased that you remember them in some way.  You can also accept your adopted family as your own.  Your family has left their marks on your genes in the form of epigenetics that will continue into your children and grandchildren, should you have kids. You may find ancestors along your parents' side whom you relate to, even if you have no blood ties with them.  You might just find an ancestor who will answer back.

What if my Family Sucks?

I've stated that I was switched at birth only half-jokingly to my parents (when they were alive) and my siblings.  They all seemed to take a dim view of that, but it shows you how different you can be from your family even if you share the same genetics. That being said, I've known people whose parents and grandparents were abusive to them and others, who in themselves are good people. Those people have no reason to honor or offer any consideration when it comes to honoring the people who abused them.  But the good news is that your ancestors are not just your parents, grandparents, or Aunt Mabel.  Your ancestors go back hundreds of thousands of years.  Not all of them were evil bastards.

Doing genealogical research can help you identify your past relatives. You may be able to find a few who are worthy of your attention.  Don't discount a spouse's relatives either. I've found relatives in my husband's past that are worthy of my attention, as much as some of my own ancestors.

Does the Rational Heathen Practice Ancestor Worship?

All this talk about ancestor worship sort of plays against the skeptic in me.  Hel, I'd probably still be an agnostic except for the experiences I've had with the gods. I've had some experience with my ancestors suggesting that they're still around in some way. My thought is along the lines that it doesn't hurt to remember those who have gone before us, and who may be helping us from time to time. I think it is a facet of Heathenry that we should all explore in our own ways.

And no, you don't have to worship Aunt Mabel.  Or anyone, for that matter.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Chicks Dig Warriors: The Viking Lonely Hearts Club

Let me start out this post by saying that I had half a post written that I intended to put up this week.  But when faced with more information, that research totally derailed my supposition. Which happens, oddly enough.  I am not too proud to say that sometimes I'm wrong.  (I can see the recons fainting as we speak.)  So, I was left with nothing, but as I was posting a third-party article due to some research into the other area, my warped brain came up with the title: Chicks Dig Warriors: The Viking Lonely Hearts Club. So, I'm going to write about why the Viking Age began and why our ancestors decided to rape, sack, and pillage -- as well as extort -- most of Europe.

Chicks Dig the Longboat

I ran across this article about why the Vikings raided: a shortage of girls.  Now, I get that young men were trying to impress the girls back home in the hopes of wooing them away from being a concubine to a richer and more powerful man, or maybe looking for the Viking equivalent of a mail order bride, (but one you had to go get). That being said, I'm going to put forth some other ideas that will probably suggest that it was a multitude of factors and not just polygyny.  So, let's take a look at what caused our ancestors to terrorize the Christians.

Polygyny, or Something Else?

It's easy to point out that a dearth of women would have caused a fair amount of unrest.  An article by the Telegraph points out that a South American tribe had more aggressive men when polygyny was practiced. They point to the Yanomami tribe and say the Vikings were like that, only the comparison doesn't fit well. The Yanomami are hunter-gatherers in the Brazilian rainforests. The Norse were primarily farmers in a very difficult place to farm.

Resources are very different between hunter-gatherers and farmers. Hunter-gatherers have few possessions--just what they can carry.  Quite often, the possessions are communal. For example, a cooking pot may be shared by the community. Therefore, there is more attention paid to the basic necessities of food, water, shelter, and, of course, reproduction.  Since food, water, and shelter are often already covered by the environment (especially in a rainforest), the need to reproduce become paramount when polygyny occurs.

While polygyny could have played a role in the Viking Age, archaeological evidence has shown that women have gone ashore with the men. If the men were really that hard up for dates, all they had to do was look in their own longships. If there were really women joining the men on voyages, then we can only assume that there were other reasons the Norse decided to raid.

It's All About the Resources

I'm a real fan of Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel.  In it, Diamond hypothesizes that it is the environment that shapes culture.  I really do believe that.  The contention for resources drove the Viking Age in ways that historians are still trying to piece together.  While mates are indeed a viable resource for discussion, I would add that there was more than simply looking for love.  I don't think that the Viking raids were the Norse version of a lonely hearts club. To come up with that oversimplifies things.  I really suspect that it was the lack of resources for survival that spawned the Viking age.

I did some quick research and found that in 1967 (that's as far back as I could find), the percentage of arable land in Sweden was just shy of 7.6 percent. In Norway, the percentage of arable land was even less at a bit more than 2.7 percent.  Now, granted, those are modern day numbers, with modern day populations, but even if we accounted for lower populations and less modernization, I'd bet the percentage of farmland wasn't that impressive. What that did for freemen was require them to work for someone else's farm in exchange for food and a place to live. Those who inherited the farm had a way to make enough food for themselves. Those who didn't were stuck trying to eek out a living. 

Land was at a premium in Scandinavia when it came to farming.  The Norse considered three slaves were the minimum needed to handle a farm with two horses and a dozen head of cattle. Unless you were an exceedingly wealthy farmer, the cost of running a farm was expensive, just in the cost of purchasing slaves alone. That's assuming you didn't go raiding for them, and in that case, you can rest assure that someone had to manage the farm while you were gone. So, in a lot of ways, having more than one wife was probably prohibitive for most of the common folk. Those with the real wealth could probably have several wives, (namely the royalty), but in a place with limited resources, it probably wasn't too common for everyone else. What was more likely is laxness in relationships.  (After all, if Sven is gone for three years, it's doubtful either Sven or his wife is going to remain celibate.)

So, land was a valuable commodity for the Norse populations. That left a fair number of those in the "Karl" classes looking for work and a way to better their circumstances.  Any increase in population would guarantee that there is a surplus of people looking for something to do.  That probably includes young men, and women, looking to increase their opportunities.

We've Seen this Play Out throughout the Middle Ages

Getting rid of the excess population is nothing new here. Throughout Europe, it was not uncommon for nobles to send their sons and daughters who were unlucky enough to be secondborn or later into the clergy. They did this to ensure their firstborn male heirs would inherit their estate without contention. Girls were used as collateral for forging alliances with influential families. Your family increased in wealth and stature by being associated with families greater than your own.  If you had several daughters, you could get in good graces by sending your youngest girls to the Church to become nuns.  Or, you could at least get rid of a daughter who for some reason wasn't marriageable by having her take the vows.

"Have Fun Storming the Castle"

So, let's say you have a bunch of young warriors (both men and women) who have no prospects in Scandinavia. They can either fight among themselves in various raids on other Norse groups -- which, incidentally, they did -- or they can go out and seek their fortune preying upon some hapless monks in Lindisfarne and look for some lands they can settle down in and start their own farms.  Seems to me the choice is pretty obvious. Why fight against people who you know are as good in fighting as you are? Why not fight someone else who isn't part of your clan anyway?  Makes perfect sense.  And yes, while it might be to gain more station and more goods (thereby more chance at finding a mate), the practicality of being well off is far better than working as a farmhand and hoping you'll have enough wealth to support a family. Having wealth from going Viking meant that you could possibly buy land and property in your own country, thus having a better future.

The Viking Longboat

The one thing that made all this possible was the advent of the seaworthy Viking longboat. Without that key piece of technology, I'm certain that the Norse would have stayed squabbling amongst themselves. Had it not been for such a fast and seaworthy craft, it's unlikely that we would've seen so much movement.

There are possibly other reasons for Viking raids, such as getting back at the Christians for forced baptisms and persecution. Those are certainly reasons worth considering. In a later post I may offer my analysis, but in the meantime, I'd argue that the advent of the longboat combined with the need for Norse free men and women to find a way to improve their fortunes was the real reason for the Viking Age.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Fiction: Hel Hath No Fury...

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Is it Time to Abandon the Irminsul?

Oh, boy howdy.  I know I'm going to get flack for this post, but the question has been brewing in my mind for some time. Every time I see stylized depictions of the Irminsul, I feel uncomfortable. Not because of the original meaning of the Irminsul, but what it has grown to represent due to the blatant misappropriation by the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists.

So, before I get into the reasoning behind my question -- and with all honesty, I do not have an answer to the question -- let's get into the history behind the Irminsul and why it is important to heathen beliefs.

Where the Irminsul Comes from

The Irminsul or Ermensul comes straight from the Saxons. Arguably it's named after Irmin, a
presumably main Saxon god who is linked either with Tyr or Odin, according to early 20th century historians.This is a largely reconstructed god and may or may not have existed.  Many later scholars do not think there was such a god, instead thinking that the Irminsul was more likely a representation of Yggdrasil or the World Tree.

Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried mentions the destruction of the Irminsul in this post, and also notes that the author who writes about it wrote the account 88 years after the fact.  He furthermore adds:
"The Saxon Poet writes that the Irminsul “was fashioned in the form of a huge column and contained a corresponding wealth of adornment,” but his account was written nearly 120 years after the destruction of the site. Such later sources must be treated with caution; sources contemporary with the Saxon war do not clarify whether the Irminsul was a carved column or a natural tree."
So, not only do we have a questionable god, but also we don't know if the Irminsul was a post or a tree.  And while it had a huge temple surrounding it, we really don't have any archaeological evidence determining what it was.  While we do have one possible image of it, it is a Christian depiction and not pagan art. This piece of art appeared somewhere between the 9th and 12th centuries, most likely by an artist who had never seen an Irminsul.

The Axis Mundi, or Pillar of the World

The Irminsul, and Yggdrasil, for that matter, is a form of the axis mundi, or the pillar of the world. The concept appears time and again throughout most religions. The axis mundi is the link between the heavens and the earth, forming a bridge like the bifrost from the mundane to the supernatural. Too many religions to name have this conduit, and the Irminsul appears to be a representation of the conduit. I agree with later historians, (rightly or wrongly), that it was the Saxons' form of the World Tree.

Corruption by the Nazis

It didn't take long for the Nazis to point to Irminism and Wotanism as their own religions due to the evolution of Heathenry in northern Europe. A great deal of emphasis was placed on the site of Externsteine where, I kid you not, a psychic Nazi archaeologist, claimed there was an Irminsul, even though there is no physical proof of one. Look up Karl Maria Wiligut sometime. This guy created the SS logo and was a spiritual counselor for Himmler.  Fun times.

The sign of the Irminsul and the meaning had been adopted by men such as Heinrich Himmler, who was big into the occult. During these dark days, heathens saw their images such as teiwaz, othala, algiz, and sowelu become part of the Nazi symbols. The Irminsul was offered as an alternative to the Christian cross.

Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Symbols

If you check out the JDL's hate symbol database, you'll be dismayed to find images such as othala, teiwaz, and other heathen runes to be part of the neo-Nazi symbols. You also may see something that looks like a skinhead crucified on a teiwaz rune. 

Oddly enough, it looks like an Irminsul. And I suspect it's intentional, as is the crucified skinhead looking like a mockery of the White Christ. Although I have no love for Christianity, the blending of the two images from two different beliefs, combined with the overall hate message has left me uneasy.  (Yes, I know Odin hung himself on the World Tree for nine days, but that was upside down. I really think this is a Heathen and Christian blending in a perverse way.) This combined with the obvious Nazi history of the Irminsul has corrupted it to the point where I'm not certain we can ever win it back without the soiled context. Look at the swastika and tell me that it is free from the Nazi taint, even though it was an ancient rune and symbol. It's foolish to think otherwise.

If you don't think it is still considered by the Nazis as part of the symbolism, I'll point to the recent vandalism at Externsteine by the neo-Nazis. They consider it part of their beliefs in a big way.

So, Where Does that Leave Us with the Irminsul?

So, where does that leave us with the Irminsul?  With all honesty, I haven't a fucking clue. It's the World Tree, the axis mundi, and a symbol of the Saxons. But do we use the stylized Christian depiction, or go with something else?  Do we even bother with the term Irminsul and call it the World Tree?  Given the shaky ground we're already on historically, do we even bother with it?  Or do we take it back somehow?  Maybe others will have a better idea which way to go with it, I sure don't. 

My own instinct is to let it die and stick with the World Tree.  It may not be the best solution, but it is one I am more comfortable with.  Either that or come up with a better depiction of the Irminsul which may be more historically accurate, and less, well..., Nazi.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Last Breath of the Old Year

Yule feels more powerful up north.  I say that from experience.  While you could feel the race of the season towards the longest night of the year in lower latitudes, it is definitive the further north you travel. Toward yule, we lose around 4 minutes of sunlight a day, but on the flip side, we start gaining it back at the same rate.

The Entire World Takes a Breath

This time of the year feels as though the entire world has slowed down and is taking a long breath.  If that makes any sense, whatsoever. The days are short.  The stars are bright in the frosty sky. The quality of light is different too.  Animals are working hard to find food; many of them have shown up on my land in the hopes of finding something edible.

This year, I've been working hard to get things done before the sun sets in the southwest horizon.  Even on the opposite side of the solstice, it feels like the magic of this special time of year is still in effect.

Return of the Light

Even as I say this,  on New Year's Day it feels like the light is finally returning. It's 12 days after Yule and we've gained more than a half hour of light.  Still, winter is here and Skadi will be bringing us some of the coldest days we've had in awhile. 

This year, we're prepared for the worst of it (we hope) with enough firewood for the winter.  Still, it is often a close run thing.   But the sun is returning, and every day is growing longer.  So, we have the promise of spring during this dark and cold time.

New Year's Celebrations

I've never really been one for New Year's celebrations.  We've often avoided "amateur night," as my husband blithely puts it. The fact that it is simply a man-made date on a calendar has much to do with it. Where you decide to end one year and start the next is largely subjective. Yet, much of the celebrations seem to follow our Yule.  New Year's marks the end of our Yule, and the beginning of our next year in our modern calendar.  (I write this as I hear fireworks and gunshots from my neighbor's New Year's Eve party from a quarter mile away. I'm in a rural area; gunshots are expected.)  It seems fitting to say goodbye to the year with the end of our Yule. 

I had written how Yule had been primarily a non-event.  That much is true.  Yet, I used the time to observe nature around me while I was getting the farm chores done. It really does seem like nature does take a breath during this dark time as we turn the corner and head into the light.

Hope you had a good Yule, and I wish you the best for next year.  See you on the other side.

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Images courtesy of Magickal Graphics.