Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

The Epicist School

At least in the circles I run in nowadays, I’ve seen a resurgence in activity by the people who are followers of/inspired by the 19th century Swedish author Viktor Rydberg. They’ve published books, they’ve expanded beyond his original texts, and they’re very, very vocal on social media. They’ve been around for 25 years or so (first championed by William Reaves, who is still very active in the movement), and now call themselves the Epic School, or Epicists, after Rydberg’s main thesis that the corpus of genuine Norse myths constitutes a single vast epic narrative, and that the key to understanding it relies on such an interpretation.

Dave Martel gives a definition of Epicism over on his YouTube channel (forgive his lapses in grammar; this is a car video, so I won’t give him any grief):

…Epicism was drawn from Viktor Rydberg, and it is now being continued by Mark Puryear and the Noroenna Society, and it has the innate, the inherent, the origin intent to look at the Gods as real, because They are real, to look at the lore as real texts, not just, you know, a bunch of crap, or myth, or whatever; these are real texts. … … to stop relying on academics, to stop relying on atheists, to stop relying on, on, you know, crap, so we can, ourselves, have a proper formulaic approach to establishing, understanding, and teaching our spiritual philosophy, which not only is real, it is also legitimate. And what this does, is kind of cuts out any possible nefarious intent. And it ensures that the formula is for us, by us, as Asatru, as Heathens, as Pagans.

I’ve got to say, when I hear “stop relying on academics” my warning lights go off immediately. It feels a little… culty. Urging people to not look at the work of accepted academics who’ve spent their lives researching a particular topic? Who are objective reporters who base their conclusions on evidence? Who’ve got access to sources that laymen simply can’t easily see? Who attend conferences, write for and read journals, and otherwise interact with one another to share ideas?

And what do they replace the entire academic world with? A single 19th century author, his theories, and themselves and their interpretations and expansions of his work. Doesn’t that sound more than a little like “don’t listen to those so-called experts; they’re all wrong, and we have the real answers”?

And the reason they eschew mainstream academia isn’t because of some atheistic (or is it Christian? – they are inconsistent on that point) plot to distort pre-Christian Germanic lore for some nefarious reason, but because those mainstream academics reject their (and Rydberg’s) main thesis.

If the experts say your theory is wrong, the problem must be with the experts! It’s almost like the Flat Earthers of Heathenry.

More to come, I have no doubt, because if there’s one thing the Epicists cannot stand, it’s criticism in any form. Personally, I think it’s a sign of insecurity, but that’s entirely just my interpretation.

Mummer’s Plays and Morris Dancing!

Well this was a wonderful surprise in my YouTube subscriptions today. Just in from Gering Heall, home of the King of the Gearings and founder of Theodism, Garman Lord, we have this wonderful Robin Goodfellow Mummer’s Play, with two pieces of Morris Dancing as entr’acte, from earlier this month.

Going through the content briefly, having the explanation not only of Mumming in general, but the specific themes present in this particular play, was perfect. Didn’t weigh down the audience with a lot of facts, but gave just enough to perceive the significance of what was being presented.

The interspersed Morris Dancing was also really nice, giving a quick break for the actors in the play to get ready for the next act, as well as giving the audience a diversion-within-a-diversion.

I personally find these sorts of activities wonderful additions to Heathen ritual events. Not necessarily as part of the ritual itself (although sacral dramas could certainly qualify), but as light-yet-significant entertainments (significant because of the hidden mysteries in the symbolism and dialogue of the plays themselves) to keep the assembled folk centered on the day, rather than on their phones. Plus it beats the monotony of yet another round of axe-tossing or kubb, while at the same time imparting wisdom for those who would seek it.

I’ve been banging this particular drum for years, of course, and have had some small success in bringing such things to my local community. I would love to see these sorts of traditions get much wider traction, and become a staple in gatherings both large and small.

As a caveat, it’s worth noting that there is nothing to indicate that Morris Dancing or Mummer’s Plays as we know them today date from the pre-Christian period. While there are some tantalizing possibilities, the threads are just too thin to hold up to casual pulling. But the pedigree of plays, guising, and dance as a general thing in Germanic Heathenry is undoubted, and when one is uncertain of the historical form, there’s no reason not to pull in something with deep roots in English custom.

EDIT 5/30/19 (and beyond): I replaced the original video with a longer version that was posted today on the same channel. It has the same Mummer’s Play and Morris dancing, but opens with a “Beating the bounds” ritual to hallow the area, shows a brief sumbl in honor of the King, and ends with a fire dance and a 19th century English garland dance.

Theodism as Mystery Religion

I was chatting with a good Theodish friend of mine, and the subject of hold oaths came up. Specifically, the reality that too many people who take (or even hear) hold oaths simply aren’t ready to do so, or don’t fully comprehend what it means, and yet do so anyway. The result is usually disaster, broken oaths, and a whole lot of misery on both sides.

It occurs to me that that’s a phenomenon we see not only when it comes to hold oaths in Theodism, but many other aspects as well. The whole concept of thralldom and rank, and of course sacral leadership, seems to be glossed over and accepted at face value, rather than truly being understood and internalized.

The specific causes for this sort of phenomenon are many, but I think ultimately it comes down to an attempt to teach Theodism as if it were a subject to be studied, rather than a truth to be realized.

This is where the concept of the mystery religion comes into play, in the context of Theodish Belief. The Greco-Roman mysteries are usually thought of in connection with initiatory rituals, and there are certainly initiatory rites in Theodism (the whole process of thralldom and freedom is, essentially, one long initiation ritual). But I’m thinking here of the way information is transmitted in a mystery religion.

Rather than rote lessons, or even intellectual understanding, in a mystery religion the initiate is exposed to knowledge using gnomic forms and allegory. Eventually, the initiate forms a critical mass of wisdom, and understands the mystery. Doing so internalizes the mystery in a way that merely reading it in a book, or even being taught it by someone mouth-to-ear, cannot. It is not merely knowledge, it is truth, and it is known to be so because the initiate has come to its realization on his own. All that needed to be done was to give him (or her) the proper groundwork, and let him put the pieces together themselves.

Of course, that doesn’t do any good unless the person(s) doing the initiation can recognize when this A-HA! moment happens and the student is really ready to be initiated. In the particular case at hand, that would be recognizing when the thrall is really ready to be freed. If the initiator/owner isn’t willing to have the combination of hard love and patience necessary, then the thrall is going to be freed too early, and end up taking a hold oath too early, with the result mentioned at the top of this article.

It’s also worth remembering that sometimes the student never achieves the realizations needed to become an initiate. Sometimes one remains a thrall forever, or drops out. That’s a necessary part of the process, too. That’s why thralls have no luck, and cannot pollute the luck of the tribe or the lord. If they “fail to launch”, no harm has been done.

One never does a favor to a thrall by freeing them early. One should never free a thrall merely to boost numbers. Thralldom is an important part — an argument might even be made for it being the most important part — of the Theodish experience. By reminding ourselves that thralldom should only be left once we recognize the thrall has finally come to the essential truths of Theodism on his or her own (i.e., has encountered the Mystery of Theodish Belief by being exposed to its practice), we go a long way towards ensuring that Theodsmen in general maintain the highest standard.

Landvættir, Fae, and Faeries

The topic of “nature spirits” and “fae” seems to have bubbled up on the neo-pagan blogosphere of late (for instance here and here and here). So it seemed perhaps timely to address a common point of confusion regarding Norse mythology; namely, where to the landvættir fit in to this question?

What might jump out at you from those examples is a maddening omission of definition. They purport to discuss the question of whether “faeries” and and “fair folk” and “fae” are “nature spirits” but none seem to go to the trouble to actually define any of those terms. We get muddled gems of circular reasoning such as “a nature spirit is a spirit of nature”, or (better) outright admissions that “I’m not really sure what folks mean when they use the term “nature spirit”.”

So I’m going to start my own discussion by defining terms.

  • Nature spirit: A supernatural being associated with a particular type or specimen of natural features, such as hills, waterfalls, streams, trees, etc.
  • Landvættr: An Old Norse term translated as “land-being” which take the form of giants and animals, and who defend a given region against aggressors. They generally help a territory (and particularly the head of that territory) in an unspecified manor (by assisting with its general prosperity), and if they are driven off (by a curse, or by seeing the dragon-prows of ships), that would bode ill for the territory and its leader.
  • Fae: Also known as faeries, and euphemistically as fair folk, little folk, etc. An Old French term (derived from Latin fata) for a class of spirits, possibly of pre-Christian origin, some of which dwell in natural surroundings, some of which dwell underground, and some of which cohabitate with humans. Some are friendly, some are hostile, and others are neutral towards humans.

So. Where does this leave us?

Well, by these definitions, which I don’t think are at all off-base, landvættir wouldn’t qualify as nature spirits; they’re not necessarily connected with specific or general natural features.

That said, some fae could be considered nature spirits by these definition, although by no means all. If we include (as I have in my definitions) house-spirits, then they are most definitely not. However, since we include (ditto) things like fossegrim in the umbrella of “fae”, and such creatures are connected to a single natural feature (a waterfall, in this case), it would seem that at least some of them definitely are.

There is, of course, a load of history that goes unsaid in these definitions and in the question itself. Without a doubt the human conception of these creatures changed over time (whether their nature changed along with those conceptions remains an open question), and the definition of “fae” expanded to include a number of creatures who a thousand years earlier would have been thought of as distinct beings.

Take, for instance, the alfar (elves). In pre-Christian times, they were seen as beings on a par with the Aesir, master craftsmen and powerful creatures. By the later medieval period, they had dwindled in both stature and power to more like the sprites we think of today. We still see glimpses of their former status in some of the Grail romances, however, where they are presented as powerful and human-like beings.

So I think the answer to the question lies in the need to carefully define one’s terms of use. Once that is done, the answers to such seemingly thorny questions become clear. That said, a certain ambiguity and morphing of the definitions over time is an undisputed historical fact, but whether or not such changes reflect actual changes in the nature of the creatures being described, or simply a change in the human perception of those creatures (or some combination of the two), remains an open question.

The Troth Says Loki-Dokey!

Well, at least nobody could say this was a surprise. The Lokeans have been applying steady pressure on the Troth for years, even through their Warder of the Lore, who is married to a Lokean.

The Troth, the bastion of Universalist Asatru in the United States (and elsewhere) made their official announcement the other day that the ban on honoring Loki at Troth events was lifted.

But more than that, there will be a Loki blót at the next ten Trothmoots, “in primetime”. Presumably that means Friday or Saturday night. This is supposed to be some sort of Schuld* in recompense.

The whole ideology of “everyone should be able to do whatever they want, and if you don’t agree you’re a bigot” has the Troth firmly in its grip. It will be interesting to see if the Troth actually makes it to the ten-year mark after this decision. I predict… chaotic times ahead for them.

__________

* Which I presume means shild in Rob Schreiwer’s never-ending campaign to convince people that his Amish Heathenry is actually equivalent to Asatru in popularity, like the use of the word “Sege” which means nothing outside the context of his couple of dozen followers. You’d think the Troth of all groups wouldn’t let someone who appeared publicly in blackface to have such influence, but not my circus, not my monkeys…

New Book: Heathen Garb and Gear

Another new book alert from Ben Waggoner! This time he has given us Heathen Garb and Gear: Ritual Dress, Tools, and Art for the Practice of Germanic Heathenry.

The book includes sections on Heathen Dress (including an entire chapter on the Case Against Garb, and another on the Case for Garb); Jewelry, Amulets, Symbols, and Designs; Hair and Grooming; and Stall, Harrow, and Hof.

Especially as someone who comes down solidly on the pro-garb side of the argument, but who is also very interested in anything to do with the practicum of Asatru and Heathen practice, this should be a terrific book. Very much looking forward to reading it!

Right on cue

And there it is, as predicted, the Lokeans lashing out against Karl Seigfried because of his post about Loki last week on the Wild Hunt. Apparently he got one credible death threat on Twitter (which has since been removed), and the Lokeans have put together a response/open letter.

And boy, does that letter tick all the boxes when it comes to the worst parts of pagan self-righteousness and martyrdom:

  • “Seigfried’s article crossed an important line from eccentric opinion to bigotry. “
  • “…Seigfried’s final two paragraphs… are essentially “a call to action” to discriminate and further marginalize all who hail Loki in their religious and devotional practices…”
  • ““Lokiphobia” is a word we wish we did not need to coin, and yet many members of our spiritual and religious community have been dealing with prejudice for years.”
  • “Many of us are women, LGBTQIA, have disabilities, or hold other identities that on the whole have made us targets within the larger Heathen community which has consistently held much more traditionally conservative views. “
  • “…discrimination against a religious minority “

All the words we’ve come to expect from whiners when they think they’re not getting the respect they haven’t earned, yet still deserve. Bigotry. Discrimination. Marginalization. -phobia. All the words that usually send certain folks into a tizzy, trying desperately to avoid sounding like the people they usually, themselves, condemn.

Congratulations to the Wild Hunt for not giving in to this sort of pressure.

Loki in the News

Over at the Wild Hunt, Karl Seigfried has an article up that attempts to conflate President Trump with Loki.

sigh

His standard left-wing hit piece journalism about Trump notwithstanding, I have to say I find myself in agreement with him on his characterization of Loki. I’m very certain such a high-profile denunciation of Loki as an object of popular veneration is going to cause a lot of waves in the coming weeks; Lokeans are nothing if not a vocal lot.

In general, I find myself disagreeing with Dr. Siegfried more than I agree with him, but looking at the actual points he makes about Loki, I find myself in agreement. He even (correctly) points out that the association with Loki and fire is a 19th century misinterpretation.

Here are some of the salient points he makes about this figure in the mythology:

  • “Loki is quite willing to place women in harm’s way in order to help himself.”
  • “Loki repeatedly privileges his personal desires and needs over the well-being of his community. “
  • “The opposition set up in the myths between Loki and Thor shows the son of Laufey as a figure who seeks to escape punishment for breaking the norms of the society, who indeed seeks to mutilate the very instrument of the enforcement of the law, as he interferes with the forging of Mjölnir and causes it to be made with a defect in the handle – the very place where the hand of the enforcer grips the instrument of justice.”
  • “Whatever the origin and entry points, the idea that Loki brings needful chaos to the otherwise stifling order enforced by the Norse deities isn’t borne out by the surviving myths.”
  • “I believe that the idea of Loki as the bound giant who finally breaks free to destroy the world is the root element of his character. I suggest that maybe we should support those who seek to bind the beast rather than cheer on his rampage. “

It’s a pity we can’t have a version of the article that omits the Trump-focused paragraphs, so we can have a clear and concise explanation of why Loki isn’t a good guy in the mythology, and certainly isn’t worthy of veneration by mortals.

New Moon October 2018

Little in the way of change from last month. The wind rising is such a standard effect at this point that I’m almost surprised it isn’t mentioned someplace in the lore.

Although fun fact having nothing to do with the offering, in researching the ON vindr in Cleasby-Vigfusson (because of course I would), I discovered that there exists a thing called a “wind-egg”. It’s a fully-formed egg that doesn’t have a yoke. Neat!

Nothing on a gust of wind being associated with land-wights, seidr, or anything like that, though, except for the seidr practice of raising storms, which I don’t think is quite the same thing.

At this point, I’m only going to post about the New Moon offering if there’s something particularly interesting or new to report.

A Personal Note

Although I’ve been eschewing active participation in Heathen groups, events, and group practices for many months now, I just formally left the last Heathen group to which I still belonged. It was a fairly easy decision, as it was clear that the group had changed radically in its mission and purpose since I originally founded it.

My plan to concentrate inwards, and focus on my own practice and researches, is unaffected, except perhaps in the sense that I have one less distraction in that facet of my life. It’s a liberating feeling.

I don’t rule out some sort of group activity at some point in the future, but it’ll be very carefully done.

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