Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hail the Goddesses and Gods of Spring

As we approach the vernal equinox, winter starts to lose her icy grasp and  spring slowly slips in. Spring for me means mud season, which isn't  something I or my livestock particularly enjoy. One of my goats gave  birth on the Ides of March to a lovely buckling.  I had to come up with  makeshift quarters for them and bring the kids inside at night due to  the cold and predators.  I'm now on kid watch for the last pregnant doe  of the season, which means checking on her every couple of hours.  Yay  me.  Hence the lateness of the blogs.

Here up  north, we're still in Skadi's grasp, although the winter goddess is  slowly relenting to the gentle hands of the spring goddesses and gods.   These goddesses and gods are powerful in their own right, and while we  may not know everything about them, I think we can make some good  assumptions about them.  Let's look at them.
Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Eostre or Ostara

If you want to start up an argument between  Heathens or between Heathens and Christians, mention Eostre, the Anglo  Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth. (In German, it's believed to be  Ostara.)  A goodly portion of recons think that Eostre was simply the  name of April and St. Bede suggested it was the name of a goddess when  it wasn't.  Christians will accuse you of trying to undermine Easter if  you mention it.  Nevertheless, if you wish to enjoy a feast day to  Eostre, do it. I have a whole post dedicated to Eostre and why I think she was probably a real goddess.

In Urglaawe, practitioners believe in the goddess  Oschdra (Ostara?) who  gives the Oschter Haws (Easter Rabbit) the  ability to spread color throughout the world in the spring. The Oschter Haws was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers where the Easter rabbit laid colorful eggs.

That  being said, if you're an Eostre believer,  celebrate with candy,  colored eggs, bunny rabbits, and chicks. (The candy, incidentally, is a  later addition of more modern times.)  Have fun and enjoy yourself.   Make an offering to Eostre for the spring.

Idunn

Idunn, of the golden apples fame, is the goddess of spring,  renewal, and immortality, is certainly a terrific goddess to honor in  the springtime. She's interesting not only because she's a powerful  goddess, who keeps the gods young, but she wasn't born into the Aesir or  Vanir (though you can make a case for her being Vanir, being a goddess  of fertility.)  She hails from alfar blood, making her one of the Elves.

She's  particularly important because without her, the gods would grow old and  die.  Her apples bring youth to those gods who do age.

Freyja

When talking about spring, I feel that you simply must  include Freyja.  Freyja is a Vanir and a fertility goddess.  Without  Freyja we would have no beginnings when it comes to new life. She is  literally the conception of life, and my own UPG suggests spring is  indeed her time. As such a powerful goddess, she has many roles: goddess  of war, love, beauty, seidr, and death.

Freyr

If Freyja one of the quintessential goddesses of spring,  Freyr is one of the gods of spring. One could make the argument  (successfully, I might add), that he is a summer god.  But Freyr also  has the duty of gestation and growth.  He is the male god of fertility,  but he is often associated with germination. It just makes sense he is a  fitting god for spring.

If you think about Easter  celebrations, you'll note that a traditional Easter meal is a ham.  No  surprise there.  I've read that Christianity was happy enough to  incorporate the pagan traditions of eating ham at Easter when ham was  originally eaten in honor of Freyr. As Heathens, having a traditional  ham dinner is certainly a great way to celebrate spring and Freyr.

Thor

On first blush, Thor seems out of place in the list of  deities having to do with spring. But the thunderer is certainly  considered a god who brings the rains which helps the fields to grow.   Little wonder that he is married to Sif, who is a spring/summer goddess  in her own right. Thor presides over the wind, rain, and even the  crops.  It makes sense that he is considered a major god and one who  presides over spring and summer.

Sif

If Thor brings about  rain to the crops, it is Sif, his wife, who receives the rain. She's  definitely a fertility goddess and an earth goddess.  The story about  how Loki cuts her golden hair and must find a substitute for her is a  suggestion that her hair is the wheat crops. (Incidentally, cutting a  woman's hair was a sign that she was unfaithful -- something to think  about when reading that Loki found his way into her bedroom and cut her  hair while she was sleeping.)  But, I digress here.  Sif is certainly an  earth goddess and spring and summer is her time.

Honoring the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Springtime  is a transition time. As modern day Heathens, we acknowledge that the  equinox is the first day of spring.  However, in ancient times, our  ancestors looked at spring differently.  Spring was believed to maybe start with Grundsaudaag or Groundhog's Day in Urglaawe tradition.  The groundhog replaced the badger or bear in German tradition.  While,  we're well past Groundhog's Day, we can hold a feast in honor of spring  and our spring gods and goddesses.

Sigrblot usually comes in April and is celebrated with offerings to Freyr and Freyja.  Most pagans consider May 1st as a celebration time of spring which  includes Walpugisnach.  While it may be a more modern interpretation of  the Heathen calendar, there's no reason why you can't enjoy it. Unless  you're a member of the recon rabble, there's no reason why you can't  adopt Heathen and pagan traditions your own holidays as you see fit.

I  mentioned coloring eggs and rabbits as part of the Eostre celebrations.  Even if there wasn't an Eostre, it doesn't mean that you can't take our  older Heathen traditions that survived and changed, and make them in  honor of the spring goddesses and gods you do wish to venerate.  I think they will be pleased.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

How Close are We to Following in the Gods' Steps?

I was doing research for my last piece on Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, which took me on a whirlwind tour of what science thinks about souls, the beginning of life, and other amazing things.  This is when I ran into a huge post about how scientists have been putting together the pieces of life, and are very close to creating an organism.

Holy shit.  What kind of implications does that have for religions, and in particular, Heathenry?

How Close Are We to Creating Life from Inorganic Matter?

How close are we to creating life from matter? The answer, much to my surprise is: very close. It seems that there are groups of scientists scattered across the world who have come up with pieces on how life may have formed. The TL:DR version is that there have been many theories but the one that seems to come closest is the formation of cells spontaneously given a group of chemical reactions. In fact, one scientist has created protocells with the ability to reproduce, carry a genetic code (RNA), take in molecules, and even compete against other cells for survival.

This has brought scientists to the point where they have figured out the type of environment necessary for life to arise. They have a pretty good clue what brought about life. They just need the right amounts of chemicals in the right conditions.

Holy shit.

Creation Myths

Every culture has some sort of creation myth to explain how life came into being. The Heathen version tells us how the gods appeared through the rime created from heat of Muspell melting the ice that flowed from Niflheim. Ymir, whose body eventually became Midgard, was the first frost giant born from the ice. Buri, the first god, was brought into being by a cow licking the rime.

I'd hazard to say that most heathens don't take our creation myths literally, but most accept Odin as the creator god of humans and the world.  Odin and his brothers, Vili, and Ve, created our world as we know it, and together they fashioned humans from trees.  Odin giving humans the breath of life, Vili giving us our consciousness and feelings, and Ve giving us our senses.

It's a nice story, but it is one that doesn't really play with science much, especially if we can cause the same chemical reactions and "breathe" life into things that are not alive. (Although one could argue that trees are indeed alive.  So, we have some issues here.)

So, Do We Throw Out Religion? Why the Hel am I Writing
This?

Religion, to a large degree, answers questions that have not been answered/cannot be answered by science. What if we do create life?  What then? Does that eliminate our gods--or any god?  I believe the answer is no.

I believe that our gods are metaphors for the Universe, itself.  I'm not quite pantheistic, but darn close, because, let's face it, science seems to eliminate a lot of the woo-woo in religion. And if we believe our senses and reason, it's the only thing we have to go on.  Hence, the Descartes, "I think, therefore I am."  We must start at some point, somewhere.  If they're wrong, then the whole thing is a futile exercise and we just may be some kid's simulation in a computer down in their mom's basement.

But Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest solution is often the correct one. Reality is reality and the processes that occur are strictly natural.  Despite all the universes in the multiverse, most that do not have our physical laws and would not support galaxies, solar systems, and life, we ended up with a natural 20 on the die roll. Luck, or something else? At some point, we just have to make sense of what we have and go with it from there, making changes to our beliefs as we discover more about our world, and how life came into being. 

Is There an Odin?  Thor?  Freyja? What about Tyr?

Actually, I believe that Occam's Razor is a guideline, and not an actual rule. I believe, give the weirdness of the quantum world, that our gods do exist in the other planes of existence that we cannot experience. I believe that they are controlling forces that we have seen expressed so perfectly in mathematics. And I'm not sure that they didn't affect our development in the quantum universe.  We know that a series of very happy circumstances brought about our life.  Who really knows if a single quantum flip was all we needed to create what we have?  And who is to say that Tyr didn't create the conditions, and Odin didn't cause the overall process to take form?

So, Are We Playing God(s)?

We are at a crossroads in humanity.  We may be able reproduce the exact circumstances that caused our life to evolve on Earth. A handful of cells, artificially brought to life, is suddenly both exciting and scary. These cells aren't necessarily something as complex as a human, or even an insect, but they stand for how far we've come.  In essence, we have done what gods have done: created life from a handful of minerals and compounds. On Earth, the life that appeared through a combination of chemical reactions eventually evolved into the creatures we see today.  So, it does put the question out there: are we playing god or gods?

That's an interesting question.  We may be bringing about life that could eventually become a larger, more intelligent organism through evolution, but it would take more that all the lifetimes of humanity to evolve something from our new creation to what we have present day. A bit more than 3 billion years, to give you an idea.  So, until we get hold of Idunn's apples, I think we can safely say that our god-like roll is fairly limited.
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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron! 
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 2)

For those of you that were waiting for this next piece, I am truly sorry I didn't get it written up sooner. I picked up the typical cold that turned sinus infection, and was feeling pretty lousy.  So, nothing written up last week.  This week, ADHD kicked in and I've been researching how science believes life came into being on this rock.  Truly amazing and fascinating shit.  But that is a post for another day.  I promised I'd take up heathen beliefs about the afterlife.  So, here goes nothing.

The Road to Hel is Paved with Bad Writing

I honestly tried to read the book, The Road to Hel. I couldn't, but not for the reasons you might think.  While reading it, my professional editor side kicked in and I was literally screaming over the writer's style. Now, I realize that it was published in 1914 when it was in vogue to write in passive voice, but I threatened to burn my Kindle if I read any more.  I've hidden the matches and started reading it again, because I know I should if I'm going to discuss this topic cogently. Right now I am about a third of the way through, which probably makes me a Bad Heathen, but there you go.

I did cheat and went to the section about the soul because to a large degree this what I'm talking about. So, I pulled out what I could and tried to put it together in a more coherent form.

Burial Mounds and Ships

Okay, so someday I will finish the book.  Really, I will.  What I did pick up from what I read was that burying one with one's goods was pretty common. I could see her conclusion that people apparently believed that at least part of you resided in the mound and lived underground.  The dead needed the grave goods to live well in the afterlife, presumably in the grave.

Well, okay, I can accept that view, I suppose.  However, our ancestors were just as smart as we are. They were amazingly observant when it came to the natural world. They'd know that the person who is dead rots and the grave goods either rot or get stolen. Not a surprise there. But like the person's body, the physical substance was probably not as important as the essence of it. Otherwise, you've got a pretty nasty existence as a rotting corpse.

My guess -- such as it is -- that the belief was that the food and goods sustained the person on the trip to the afterlife.  After all, there is only a limited supply of food there. Given that the afterlife continues at least until Ragnarok, if not for an eternity, even a king would have not a lot to live off of.

Of course, the dead would want their favorite things, including a ship, armor, weapons, and other grave goods.  So, we can presume that those things are placed in the chamber for the dead to enjoy their wealth once they arrived at the place they will go.

Nowadays, we still do this even in the Christian burials.  When my mom, and then, my dad, died, my family picked their best clothes to wear to the afterlife. When my dad passed away, my sisters chose to leave one of my mom's rings that my dad wore on his pinkie with him when he died.  They also left his wedding band on.  In Christian terms, it doesn't go with you.  So, what was the purpose of all that? Even now, people choose to be buried with beloved pets who passed away, with certain items that they held dear, or at least in good clothes.  And some folks insist on certain burials over, let's say, cremation or donating their bodies to science.  Seems pointless, if you believe that nothing except the soul travels forward.  All it does is show that people have enough money to waste on their burials.

Places the Dead Go

One of the interesting points that crops up in Heathenry is the concept that when we die, we can go to one of many places, including getting reincarnated.  I'll talk about each place and what I think of it all.

Valhalla

Certainly the most well-known afterlife in Norse mythology is Valhalla, the hall of the slain. According to Snorri Sturluson, it's Odin's great hall where those who die in battle fight and feast while waiting for Ragnarok. That is, after Freyja gets first pick of the dead for Folksvangr. In recent times it has been looked on as a type of Norse heaven -- and indeed, Snorri seems to treat it as such.  I suspect he took liberties of imposing a more or less Christian structure on it (Valhalla=Heaven; Helheim=Hell).  I suspect our ancestors looked at Valhalla differently.

I remember in college being told that only male warriors went to Valhalla, and everyone else went to Hel.  Totally incorrect, because there are other destinations. And I'm not sure women warriors would be excluded from Valhalla.  (My guess is that women warriors will go to Folksvangr. More about this later.

My thoughts about Valhalla are mixed.  Was it a place where the slain went?  Probably. Was is full of partying and fighting?  I have no clue. Was it heaven as we've come to know it? Probably not. It doesn't even seem to play by its own rules in Snorri's account of Balder's death.  (I mean, he was killed by a weapon -- do you really have to be on a battlefield?)  Balder dies a violent death and goes to Helheim, when you'd think he'd go back to Valhalla. I suspect there's a lot of information missing here.

Folksvangr

Folksvangr is Freyja's hall.  Freyja gets first choice in the slain warriors and they rest in the "field of the people." To what end? Does she lead them during Ragnarok? Do they indulge in a heaven-like afterlife?  Again, we know nothing. My instinct says that this is a place of rest until Ragnarok, and then Freyja leads them in the battle.  This is all a guess, which means I'm full of shit when speculating since I don't have a UPG to even back this up. My belief is that women warriors do go to Folksvangr. 

Helheim and Nastrond

Helheim and Nastond are in Niflheim.  Niflheim is considered a cold and dreary place, which probably is the reason why Helheim is considered gloomy as well. But descriptions of Helheim, particularly when Baldur is received by Hel, doesn't look so bad.

Helheim

Probably where the majority of the dead go in the world of Niflheim is Helheim. Seeing as it was considered beneath the ground, we can assume that this is where most Norse believed they would go. If you compare Helheim and Hades (of the Greek/Roman beliefs), we can see a lot of correlation between the two worlds. Both are places of rest for the dead. Both are guarded by hounds. Both have rivers (one requires a ferry; the other we have a bridge.)  I suspect that the concepts are very old and preclude either of the religions.  No doubt we inherited those beliefs from an older paganism that may have existed before the migrations.

Helheim seems to be a place of rest for most of the dead. Despite the gloomy name, it appears to be a place where you are reunited with your loved ones and do the things that we normally do in our lives. Graves are considered gateways into this world. Those families that are in a general region may apparently haunt places near where they lived.

Nastrond

Unlike the Christian hell, most people in aren't punished for their sins, with the exception of Nastrond. Like Tartarus of Greek and Roman Hades, it is a place of punishment for the worst criminals in Norse belief. Nastrond wasn't only written in the Prose Edda, but also in the Poetic Edda, so we can't necessarily blame Snorri for the similarity to the Christian hell. Nastrond is where Nidhoggr chews on the corpses of adulterers, oathbreakers, and murderers.

Ran's Hall

Those who die on the sea are destined to stay with the goddess, Ran. She takes sailors down to her hall where they reside. I have read something that states that they can travel the oceans, just as they had while living, but I honestly haven't done much research on this.

Hall of Particular Gods or Goddesses

I'm pretty sure that if a god or goddess lays claim on you, you can end up in their hall when you die, rather than Helheim. I've seen this mentioned more than once by Heathens, and my own UPG confirms it.

Reincarnation

One of the interesting beliefs is the Heathen version of reincarnation. You can be sent back through your family lineage if someone names a child after you. That's an interesting concept, which means you better be particularly nice to your kids and grandkids if you ever want to be alive again.

I have some general thoughts about this, but this post is huge, so I just better leave it for the next post. Suffice to say, I have had experience with reincarnated animals, which does give me hope.

So, Where Do We Go When We Die?

In my darker moods, the skeptic in me says we all go to be food for worms. But that's just my agnosticism occasionally breaking through. Regardless of our beliefs, death is a big unknown. That's where religion comes in -- to bridge the gap.  As I've said in my last post, it's not a democracy as to who goes where when we die.  If the Christians are right, there's a heaven and hell.  If we're right, we have many places we could go, but most people are likely to end up in Helheim with their families. We may be all right, or all wrong. Much of it is reliant on whether we have a soul, spirit, or something that can go on.

Which Brings Us to the Concept of the Soul

Apparently, our ancestors didn't do the Christian thing and have one soul.  Which is good, because it explains a lot more than the Christian counterpart.  However, this is something I want to explore more in-depth, which means you're probably going to get some heavy-hitting posts over the next few weeks.
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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron! 
 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 1)

One of the things that keeps cropping up from time to time is the question of death and what comes afterwards. As a person who is past middle age (unless I get to live more than 100), it's a question that preoccupies me a bit more. Once we shrug off the mortal coil, our very short lives seem pointless if there's nothing afterward.  So, I'm going to tackle this in a scientific and possibly philosophic view.  Stay with me on this. It may be a bit on the ugly side.  And, it's probably going to be several posts.

What Science Has to Say About an Afterlife

I was pretty sure what science had to say about the afterlife, but I wanted to make sure before I gave you some antiquated information. So, I decided to check the Interwebs for anything new on the subject, and apparently, there is. Seems there was a study finished in 2014 that looked at out of body and near-death experiences. As a scientist, I look at the conclusions people have drawn with full skepticism and will try to couch it in terms of logic.
"Q: I told you. You're dead, this is the afterlife, and I'm God.
Capt. Picard: [laughs scornfully] You are not God!
Q: Blasphemy! You're lucky I don't cast you out, or smite you, or something. The bottom line is, your life ended about five minutes ago under the inept ministrations of Dr. Beverly Crusher.
Capt. Picard: No, I am not dead. Because I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you. The universe is not so badly designed
." -- Tapestry, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Scientists and God

First, let's look at what scientists believe in terms of a god.  In 2005, about two-thirds of the scientists surveyed admitted they believed in a god, and presumably, an afterlife. This surprised me, because a large portion of what we see in the news suggests that most scientists are atheists, when they are in fact not.  You end up seeing more atheists (about 38 percent) in the natural sciences such as physics, biology, and chemistry and fewer atheists in social sciences (about 31 percent).  So, even in the disciplines such as physics, brilliant people such as Stephen Hawking who claim their is no god or afterlife are in the minority. In another study, some 76 percent of doctors believed in a god and 59 percent believe that we have an afterlife waiting for us.

Now, whether there truly is an afterlife isn't a matter of opinion.  There either is an afterlife or there isn't -- it's not a popularity contest where the most believers choose their fate after death. You may be the only person who believes that we all become weevils on the great celestial potato in another dimension, but if you're right, you're right, and the rest of us wankers are clearly wrong. The reality is that with our current technology, we won't know until we die.

Studies Suggest Something Else -- Maybe

In 2014, a study concluded that actually searched for an afterlife.  About 40 percent of people who were clinically dead and resuscitated had a near-death experience. One man who was clinically dead for three minutes could recall accurately the work being done to resuscitate him even though technically the brain stops working about 30 seconds after the heart stops. His experience was the "out of body" kind, where he was hanging out in the room "watching" everything.

So, this may be proof that when you're "mostly dead," you're still a little bit alive and aware.  Or it might simply be a delusion that our minds put together when we get jumpstarted.  Who knows?

Mostly Dead, or When are We Actually Dead?

To confuse matters, after you die, you aren't totally dead for days, if not weeks. The body goes through a type of rally where stem cells reactivate and try to get you living again, even if it's a lost cause. Some researches found live stem cells in cadavers that were 17 days old.

This, of course, gives us a gigantic problem.  Science isn't really sure when we're all dead.  When we die, we're mostly dead.  To quote Miracle Max, "Mostly dead is still slightly alive."
"Miracle Max: He's only mostly dead. If he were all dead, there's only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: And what's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his pockets and look for loose change." -- The Princess Bride
I bring this up because it begs the question of when our spirit/soul/souls actually leave. Do they leave with the loss of our conscious selves, or does it leave with our bodies once they're actually "all dead?"  Or do they hang around in the grave?

 Lost Souls

I haven't even touched on the quantum theory that information cannot be destroyed. Or the fact that our linear view of time is simply our way of dealing with reality, but in quantum theory, time is mostly irrelevant.  In some part of the universe, everyone is alive.  The fixed points are causes and results.

After all this much ado about souls and afterlife, scientists can't seem to agree on whether there is an afterlife or not. It pretty much falls under the "we have no credible evidence of souls, afterlife, or gods." Perhaps that is the place where religion fits in -- where science can't answer.  If, at some time science provides us with an answer, either yea or nay, we'll probably have to look at our ancestors' views as a way they explained the world around them -- just like we do today.
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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron! 






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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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron! 

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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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron! 

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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If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a patron of The Rational Heathen.  For about the cost of a Starbucks' coffee a month, you can get information not on the blog as well as early releases of the post such as this one.  There are other levels of support as well, so feel free to check it out.  What's more, you only pay for the posts you get.  So, if I don't produce anything, you don't owe anything.  It's a great way to encourage me to write, and to produce really cool things.  Join up at Patreon and become The Rational Heathen's patron!