Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: August 2009

Two New Wicker Man Sequels?

(Tip of the horned helmet to The Wild Hunt Blog.)

It turns out that the creator of the original 1973, terrific version of The Wicker Man is in the midst of making a sequel! But the news gets even better. It turns out he intends to make a trilogy, with the third set in Iceland and called “Twilight of the Gods”. Woot!

At age 80, Robin Hardy shows no signs of slowing down: “I don’t feel my age particularly. I’ve got several more projects I’m working on, including a third part of the pagan trilogy, ‘The Twilight of the Gods,’ set in Iceland, reaching back to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The Scandinavians had no written language when they landed in Iceland but they had a great oral tradition, great sagas, and that’s what inspires this, as the country of Iceland becomes a giant theme park under the aegis of a studio like Disney or Universal.”

“It’s not difficult for a conglomerate to take over a land of 300,000 people. Problem is: the Nordic gods don’t like the trivialization of their traditions and people start disappearing,” he continues. “The news is suppressed, of course, and all is denied, just like with the Iraq War, and the studio basically doesn’t care. But Icelanders, even the best educated, believe in fairies, and that fantasy is an extra dimension. You know how – in Wagner – the Rhine River rises and engulfs the stage? In Iceland, there’s a volcano that’s covered by a glacier. Occasionally, it melts on the underside. Basic geology. Huge geysers come up and water engulfs the countryside and the gods get the last word. Like so much, it’s based on truth.”

Read the whole thing here. (And there are pics, too!)

Much Ado About Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice has become a hot topic once more among the pagan community. Another Santeria practitioner, this time in Eulass, Texas, has won the right to practice his faith in the manner it proscribes. In this case, by the practice of animal sacrifice. His attorney, Eric Eassbach, has written a spirited opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending the practice and the lawsuit as fundamental to the principle of religious liberty we in the United States enjoy. And, in the latest turn of events, the city has asked the 5th Circuit of Appeals to re-hear the case, arguing that the ruling as it stands would require each municipality to judge whether a given religious practice was, in fact, valid, and such would impose an undue burden on the cities.

Well, I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot really comment on the substance of Eulass’s appeal (although it would seem to me that the obvious solution is to say that everything is permitted, unless it obviously threatens public health or safety; erring on the side of personal liberty seems not to be too much of a “burden” on government, but I’m more than a little libertarian that way). However, I am Théodish, so I can damn well comment on the near-hysteria and self-righteous bleating that has befallen the greater pagan community over this issue. Animal sacrifice is one of the most solemn and significant rituals in the corpus of Théodish Belief.

You see, I’ve attended a swine blót, unlike the holier-than-thou knuckleheads who are condemning the practice as sadistic, sinister, and sacrilegious. The comments on Witchvox.com on these stories are indicative. Just some examples: those who practice animal sacrifice are “sick and depraved”, and “human scum”. It’s “barbaric” and only serves to give ammunition to the enemies of paganism.

To be fair, there are also comments supportive of the practice, and the occasional principled few who say that while they don’t practice it themselves, they wouldn’t attempt to force others to stop. But it’s the Politically Correct, “I’m a vegan and you’re a horrible monster if you’re not too” crowd that irk me beyond belief. I have no problem with the notion that they have made a choice not to partake of animal flesh (tasty, tasty, animal flesh). I have no problem if they choose not to perform animal sacrifice; it’s not exactly widespread even within the Heathen community, let alone the greater pagan community. But the gall to be sanctimonious and judgmental, as if their beliefs and practices are oh-so-more “evolved” than mine, is unbelievable. Especially when it comes from followers of a religion that itself– completely beyond the scope of animal sacrifice– is constantly criticized as “evil”, “barbaric”, “depraved”, etc. The double-standard is astounding. You think giving up a millennia-long practice is somehow proof that your faith has “evolved” beyond mine? Guess what? The Christians and Muslims would argue that their faith is more “evolved” than yours because they have shuffled off the multitude of gods and goddesses, spirits, elves, etc. that you recognize and revere. Evolution, in this sense, implies superiority. The Christian view of religious evolution is wrong, just as the PC-pagan view is.

That the PC-pagans feel the need to outright lie about how the practice actually works is indicative of the hollowness of their argument. A real animal sacrifice is beautiful, powerful, and deeply spiritual. The animal is pampered, revered, and given every comfort. It is slain quickly and with the absolute minimum amount of injury or pain. Indeed, in both ancient Rome and modern Théodism, a panicked sacrifice would be an incredibly ill omen, and would render the whole ritual invalid. Pains are taken to ensure it does not happen. It is not a sadistic, blood-thirsty event. It is a solemn or sometimes joyous occasion.

Some actually bring up the canard of human sacrifice in this context as well. To them I say, yes, I would absolutely support the human sacrifice of criminals duly convicted under our criminal justice system. In fact, if I were ever convicted of a capital crime, my appeals exhausted, and I faced the prospect of lethal injection or death in the gas chamber, I would go out of my way to request that I be executed as a sacrifice to Odin; hung by the neck and pierced with a spear. And that is not just hyperbole. I am dead serious. If we accept capital punishment as just and necessary (and I do), why not let it serve another purpose as well? But this question is not about such outlandish proposals.

The human slaughter of an animal, preparatory to a feast (or even otherwise!), should not be outlawed merely because there is a religious component to doing so. The motives of those behind such bans are plain as day. On the Christian side, it is a fear of the growing power of faiths other than their own, which they see as undermining their control in the culture. On the PC-pagan side, it’s a complete lack of understanding that someone might, somehow, disagree with their “principled position” and not in the process be an inhuman (or inhumane) monster.

Dr. Charlotte Pipes: misguided fluffy-bunny or just opportunistic idiot?

It so happens that I read most of the essays on Witchvox.com as they come out. Many of them will have some broad applicability to paganism in general, and occasionally one will have some more specific applicability to my interests, such as traditional witchcraft, Asatru, or … runes.

This week, we are treated to The Origin of Runes by one “Brunehilde”. A quick game of follow-the-links brings us to her real name, which is Dr. Charlotte Pipes, a professor of music at a university in Louisiana, and affiliated also with the “Psychic Schoolhouse“. Turns out this lady has also been featured on the Lamplight Circle podcast, wherein she graced the world with a brief talk on the Elder Futhark.

In the latter, she leads off with the gem that there are runes to be found in neolithic cave paintings (4:50 into the podcast). It gets worse from there. Those cave-paintings are examples of operative magic, and are “prayer centers”. Runes are not an alphabet. Those little lights you see when you rub your eyes? Those “have got to be some kind of energy signature” built into the human brain (6:00 in the podcast), rather than just random firings of the optic nerve-endings, like every neuro-scientist on the planet seems to think. And “we think this may be how some of the early rune symbols came about” (7:00 in the podcast). We who? I don’t know of anyone who has been using runes in a serious manner for any amount of time who believes this drivel. Oh, and the runes were given to mankind by Odin. Sorry, Rig/Heimdall… Dr. Pipes just wrote you out of the picture. Oh, and magic? Nononono… that’s “just prayer” (8:45 in the podcast).

You get the point.

There is most certainly a magical tradition associated with the runes, and its workings were well understood by the ancient Germanic peoples. This is well attested-to in surviving inscriptions, literary evidence, and so forth. However, that does not mean that anyone is free to make wild associations willy-nilly about it. The magical tradition of the runes has its own internal logic, and trying to link it with whatever the latest fad in Newage pop culture is, is not only doing that tradition a disservice, but is also a disservice to those who think they’re getting information rooted in historical practices.

Thorn Magazine Going All-Digital

From their webite:

Despite strong enthusiasm for and interest in the work we’re doing, businesses have been unable to afford extra expenses for advertising and potential readers have had their pockets stripped by the Great Recession. Coupled with the usual enormous cost of printing and the spiraling postage rates, these circumstances have finally cornered us into an inescapable conclusion: we no longer have the cashflow available to continue printing this quarterly magazine. The October 2009 issue, Vol 1 Issue 4, will be our last in print.

While I certainly understand the necessity of such a move, I cannot help but be a little saddened. There is something substantive about a hard-copy magazine as opposed to the ephemerality of a website. The former could, in theory, be stumbled on by happenstance. You see it on a friend’s coffee table, or on the shelf of a local bookstore. The latter must be sought out, and even then, it’s going to be most often only the articles you specifically are looking for that will get read. With a print magazine, there’s far more opportunity to browse, I think.

But hey, it’s their magazine. I hope I’ll have a place in the final issue as I have in the others.

The Power of the People in Germanic Culture

The Swedes have the right to elect and likewise reject a king. — The West Gautish Law

With this simple statement, the ancient law-codes of the Western Gauts encapsulated a principle common across all Germanic cultures; namely, the limited nature of Germanic kingship, and its ultimate subordination to the will of the collected folk. The same principle was active in Norway late into the Viking Age, when King Hakon “The Good” was forced to acquiesce to the wishes of his people and give up his plans to convert the nation to the new Christian faith.

That the institution of kingship was universal to the Germanic peoples is today fully accepted by secular scholars (see, in particular, Chaney’s Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 8-11). It is similarly clear that, prior to the ascension of the Christian rulers in the North, that the kingship practiced within Germanic culture was relatively weak. Tacitus points out that the kings of the Germanii were not absolute rulers in the Greek sense, but very limited in their authorities, albeit vested with sacral duties (such as the interpretation of omens on behalf of the nation) that were relatively unique to them. This is also found in both the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian models of kingship, where the assumption of authority over other rulers is especially tenuous, and all are dependent on the goodwill of the ruled.

As a specific example, one need look no further than the Saga of Hakon The Good from Heimskringla. Most specifically:

The next day, when the people sat down to table, the bondes pressed the king [Hakon] strongly to eat of horse-flesh; and as he would on no account do so, they wanted him to drink of the soup; and as he would not do this, they insisted he should at least taste the gravy; and on his refusal they were going to lay hands on him.

There was, accordingly, no sense that the king was in any way inviolate. If he acted in such a way that his men perceived was contrary to the interests of the folk (in this case, due to his refusal to honor their religion), they were prepared to show him the error of his ways with their swords.

In an even starker demonstration of the power of the folk to force a king to their will, Heimskringla is replete with demonstrations of how a king, in time of famine or other period of ill-luck, would be sacrificed in order to change the luck that was afflicting the folk. The mechanism here was clear; the prosperity of the land depended on the luck of the king. When the prosperity failed, it was a sure indicator that the luck of the king had likewise failed, and the remedy was, simply, to find a new king. Even King Harald, before the Battle of Stamford Bridge, is said to have his “luck” flee from him, thus resulting in disaster for him and those he led to England.

We see here three specific points.

1) When a king’s luck fails, he can be replaced.
2) When the king bucks the will of the folk, he can be replaced.
3) A king was expected to periodically present himself before the folk, through the mechanism of the Thing or Folk-Moot. They could, by withholding their acclamation, force him to be replaced.

In ancient times, of course, “replaced” would most often be a euphamism for “killed”. A king that lost his crown would be an inconvenient problem at best, as he would doubtless endlessly scheme to regain it. But, as the example quoted at the beginning of this article demonstrates, it was not always intended to be so; the folk could simply disenfranchize a king, opening the throne for another whom they would select by acclamation.

In modern times, the fact that such replacement was even possible in theory should stand as a warning to all would-be despots. Unlike contemporary Wicca with its multitudinous “witch wars” and would-be gurus, modern Heathenry is fortunately lacking in such figures, perhaps specifically because it is not a place for such leaders to find a foothold, knowing that the average Heathen is one who would toss out such a one on his ear. Let us count ourselves lucky for that!

Are Pagans Businesses Exempt from Personal Responsibility?

I just had a most unpleasant experience with a seller of books related to paganism and magic of some renown; Fields Books in San Francisco.

It turns out that I ordered a hardcover book from them today, dutifully gave them my credit card, and figured I’d be reading it in a couple of weeks once it wound its way through the pathetically slow US Postal Service. Not so!

About six hours after placing my order, I get an email stating that the price on the website was in error, and would I mind either accepting a paperback version of the book, or coughing up an additional $55.

Well, the lunacy of charging $75 for a book that is just now in print aside (it is not, I must point out, some rare out of print item), I am gobsmacked at the complete and utter lack of customer service awareness that this incident reveals.

Consider this. If I had walked into a brick-and-mortar store, found a copy of a hardcover book and paid for it, walked out the door, and then gotten a call six hours later, asking me to return to the store and either pay $55 more, or trade in the book in my possession for a paperback, no one on this earth would have considered that a right and proper thing for them to do.

Why, then, is it considered acceptable just because it’s a website? If this had happened on Amazon.com, they would have swallowed their gum and given me what I bought at the price for which I bought it. I thought it was a law someplace. Are pagan businesses somehow not to be held accountable for their own mistakes? Any normal business would have swallowed the cost of their own mistake, changed the price on the website right away, and sent me the item I purchased at the price I was quoted. Not Fields Books, though. They are apparently some sort of charity, or think that I am (rather than a customer), and asked me to return my book or send them more money, despite the fact that it was they who screwed up and not me. In their reply email, they thanked me not to “trouble them” with my business again. No problem!

This is endemic in our society today. No one is willing to take responsibility for their own mistakes (or even to admit that they made one!) any more. One of the risks of operating a business is that sometimes, one will screw up and need to pay the price for doing so. For some reason, Fields Books thinks they are immune to that principle, and think that I should pay to make up for their mistake. I happen to disagree.

I have, of course, canceled the order, and will not only not be ordering any books from these people in the future, but I certainly will make a point of relating my own experience to anyone who happens to inquire about them specifically, pagan/magic booksellers in general. They need to man up and take responsibility for their own screw-up, and not expect it to be swept under the rug just because they’re pagan.

Any other business would be expected to pay for their mistake. Why not them?

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