Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: June 2016

Hail, Lavrans Reimer-Møller

I was just informed that a long-time member of the Heathen community, Lavrans Reimer-Møller (aka Larry Miller) died on Wednesday of complications from cancer, at the age of 75. I knew Lavrans for twenty years or so, and although we had out differences and disagreements over the years (he was no saint, to be sure, and could be a stubborn and crotchety cuss), he was a true and good friend and will be missed.

Lavrans will be remembered as a skald, with his love of and talent for music, with which he graced many a sumbel-hall over the years, as well as making many presentations on the use of music in Asatru ritual. He was a scholar, producing the newsletter “Marklander” for many years, containing articles covering topics all over the Heathen spectrum, and producing his own writings on astrology within the Germanic world-view and a series of YouTube videos on the Nine Worlds. He was a craftsman, making and selling tafl sets and Germanic lyres; in fact, I think I might have bought his last lyre right before he passed away. It’s something I’d been wanting for years, and I am glad I was able to tell him just how beautiful it was when it arrived. Although he remained mostly independent throughout his time as an Asatruar and Theodsman, he was a fixture at various events throughout the region, most especially East Coast Thing, and was a member of the Normannii Theod for a time as well.

In his non-Heathen life, he was a radio DJ and college professor, as well as a musician.

Hel’s hall received a Heathen of fine caliber this week. I will miss you, my friend.


The stage is set

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Ishtarfest, a weekend-long ritual and sacral drama event put on by the Hands of Change Coven in New Jersey based on the Spring Mysteries Festival in Washington state put on by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. Due to unfortunate timing, this meant that I wasn’t able to attend any Heathen Midsummer events that weekend (our own tribe is celebrating next Saturday), but “I went unto the land of the pagan” with a specific mission.

As regular readers will know, I’m very much interested in ritual, ritual drama, integrating dance and music into ritual, and the like. This event promised to have all that in spades, and I was there primarily to study the logistics to see how I could apply it to Germanic themes. Fortunately my hosts were fully aware of, and fine with, my ulterior motive, and I have to say I had a wonderful time.

Ummm… yeah

The event itself was based on the Sumerian myth of the descent of Ishtar into the underworld to rescue her lover, Tammuz. It featured opening and closing rituals, and a smattering of “mysteries” classes (one for men, women, and… other) which I found extraneous at best. There was also a kids’ track, and a large number of children were in attendance (good on them for that!). A couple of vendors were there, but they weren’t exactly what you’d find at a typical Asatru event of this same size (50 or so attendees; pretty impressive). Reiki, “fairy readings” (by a “certified fairyologist” no less!), “22-strand DNA activation”, and some hippy-dippy poetry and prints. A reminder that these are not my people, but they meant well.

But the heart of the thing was the presentation of the sacral drama, which was a ritual unto itself, and the participation of the audience in said drama and ritual. And this is where the event shined.

The cast assembles

The drama opened with a presentation of the actors, who symbolically assumed the identity of their deities’/heroes’ roles by the putting on of a representative headdress. When they had the headdresses on, they were embodying the deity or other character. I have to say, when they put the headdress on Ishtar, I felt a real jolt of energy. There was live music (drums, flutes, and bells), and the audience was chanting (lyrics were provided in the program, another nice touch). It was a powerful moment, and I think it would have been better, on a metaphysical level, to keep the actress in “Ishtar mode” throughout the day. As it was, she was flipping back and forth between herself and the goddess, and the energy level visibly declined during the day. Keeping her as Ishtar for the day, perhaps secluded behind the stage with attendants, would have maintained the energy.

The happy couple

The audience was interactive throughout, by design, and it really worked wonderfully. There were several chants and songs, a procession involving both the cast and audience leading up to the wedding ceremony, and the dinner on Saturday was also the wedding feast, with Ishtar and Tammuz up on the stage as the happy bridal couple. In a wonderful bit of improv, people would tap their glasses to get the couple to kiss, just like in a modern wedding, and it was an absolutely perfect moment (they complied, of course). It really added to the verisimilitude of the ritual.

The wedding of Ishtar and

The consummation of the marriage was well done, too. There was another chant/song as the happy couple was concealed behind gauzy curtains and bits of clothing were tossed over the top. It was played for laughs (with a song centered around “who will plow her” that one person in the audience thought was absolutely hilarious in a completely self-conscious and awkward way), but it was still a very powerful moment ritual-wise. I know it’s certainly not for everyone, but a genuine hieros gamos at this point could have been incredibly effective. Play up the difference in sexual morality between our modern post-Victorian mores, and those of our pagan ancestors 4,000 in the past. I have to say I think the chortling person in the audience didn’t quite “get” the inherent sexuality of actual pagan religion. But as I say, it’s not for everyone.

Ereshkigal, goddess of
the underworld

The descent into the underworld was done again with a lot of audience participation, with the audience along the journey as well, in terms of the narrative. There was call-and-response built into the ritual at this point, and some very clever and effective staging to simulate the journey through the various gates of the Sumerian underworld.

On the whole, this was a very enriching experience for me on a practical level. I got a real chance to see how a big ritual drama like this plays out, what worked, what didn’t, and was positively buzzing with ideas on how to apply what I’d learned in my own Germanic context, with an eye towards staging various Norse myths and the like in similar fashion. Some random thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Cue cards. There were several times where the actors missed their cues or lines. Having someone in front of the stage with lines would have been a big help, I think.
  • Audience participation. There was one point in the wedding ceremony where the audience was supposed to chime in with a rather lengthy response, but it never happened because none of us were sure that we should speak up, and we were never cued. Make sure the audience knows when it’s supposed to speak.
  • Live music. So wonderful, even if it’s limited in the instruments. I think there was a bell that rang every time a god did something, and which also filled in the empty spaces. Nice touch.
  • When there’s a break between scenes (for instance, for dinner or to make time for classes), that’s the time for large scenery changes.
  • Integrating the feast into the ritual worked really well, because it was actually part of the wedding narrative. I could see doing the same sort of thing, either with a feast or a blót.
The gates of Ur, at the entrance to
the event

On the whole, this was a terrific learning experience for me, and I’m really looking forward to trying to pull off something like this in a Heathen context. There are plenty of myths that would lend themselves to this sort of treatment, and many believe the Eddaic poems themselves were originally intended to be performed. Thanks again to Hands of Change for the opportunity to observe this wonderful ritual production.


PHOTO CREDITS (counting from the top of this post down):

1,2,7: Taken by your humble author, copyright (c) 2016, all rights reserved
3,4,5,6: Courtesy Hands of Change Coven, used with permission, copyright (c) 2016, all rights reserved

The Superiority of Monarchy

In light of the recent discussions about kingship and monarchy, I thought this might be an interesting way to while away 45 minutes. I don’t quite consider myself a monarchist, but I certainly don’t have the visceral reaction against it that those in the G&R set do. It certainly couldn’t do worse than Marxism in the genocide department, for instance. Enjoy!

Beckett is Right

Those are three words I didn’t expect to see on this blog anytime soon. Regular readers will know that I’m not exactly a fan of John Beckett, his inane writings, or his odious opinions (see here, here, and here), and it’s pretty plain that he loathes me too. But I am also a man who is not afraid of saying that when someone I dislike happens to be right. And in this case, Beckett is right.

I refer here to his most recent post over at Pathetic Pagan, The Otherworld is Bleeding Through.

In this post, Beckett makes the point that there seems to be something in the air. There’s been a big increase in activity from the land wights, the gods, the ancestors, and other creatures. For more than a year, I’ve been feeling that “something big” is about to happen. As Beckett puts it:

Except that this is about the tenth such incident I’ve heard about over the past couple of weeks, and the second one I’ve been involved with personally.

Those stories aren’t mine to tell, but they involve ghosts, spirits, and demons; unexpected appearances of Gods and ancestors; accidents with no good explanations; missing items turning up in impossible places… and a green glowing bird.

Several people whose experience and judgment I trust have all said pretty much the same thing: the Otherworld is bleeding over into the ordinary world in a way nobody alive has ever seen. Midsummer is traditionally a time when the Veil Between the Worlds is thin, but Midsummer is almost two weeks away and this started several weeks ago. Or at least, we started noticing this several weeks ago. I get the impression it’s been going on for quite some time.

Lest you think this is some glorious wonder to celebrate, I’m not talking about “the Summerlands,” some Paganized version of the Christian heaven where a smiling Mother Goddess pours the sweetest mead from an endless bottle and all your ancestors dance merrily around a fire because death cleansed them of whatever made them so ornery in life. No, I’m talking about Gods with their own agendas for this world. I’m talking about angry ghosts, restless spirits, and meddlesome demons. I’m talking about dead who are just as much assholes as they were in life. I’m talking about fae that bear no resemblance to Tinkerbell, who view humans as annoying invaders and tasty snacks.

It’s well worth reading the whole thing, but that will give you the gist.

And he’s absolutely right. I’ve noticed a marked increase in what I call “significant” dreams. Land wights and other spirits that have been heretofore silent are all of a sudden accessible to me. Even the gods themselves seem more… approachable. Or at least more talkative. Beckett’s absolutely right; now’s the time to make sure you keep up your monthly or daily workings in honor of the spirits. They’re knocking at the door; now’s the time to open it up.

And on a more mundane level, there has been a dramatic, and I mean really dramatic, increase in people contacting our local tribe in the last few weeks, looking to come to an event or even join. I don’t know if it’s related, and I can’t say if other groups have experienced the same thing, but an increase in supernatural activity might well be linked to an increase in people looking to rejoin the faith of their ancestors, it seems to me.

This is a popular legend for a reason.

But Beckett’s second point is also very well taken. A lot of neopagans (and, frankly, Asatruar) seem to have something of a, shall we say, overly optimistic view, of interactions with the spirit world. It’s not all friendly wights, rainbows, and lollipops. Our ancestors’ stories, especially those that come down to us in folklore and fairy tales, are replete with wights and spirits that are right bastards. Our gods have their own agendas, and they’re certainly not above using us to achieve them. Not that they’re openly hostile to us; far from it. But they are gods, after all, and it is unrealistic of us to expect that getting you a job, or a girlfriend, or whatever is their top priority.

In fact, I have a theory about that. Complete speculation of course, but I think we’ve reached something of a tipping point, at least as regards Asatru and the Aesir. I think we’ve hit a critical mass. The first phase of the revival was just about getting established. Setting the foundation, Getting the word out that we still exist, putting together the organizations and infrastructure needed to support the second phase. Scholarship to put together the basics of belief and practice. But now we’re seeing the start of the second phase.

Phase II: Infrastructure and more

And what does that second phase entail? Just a guess, but I’m thinking mass awareness, first-generation leaders moving aside for the new generation, the establishment of real temples, large enough and stable enough local groups to support real community-building, and taking our place as an alternative, and certainly minority, but acknowledged and respectable religious alternative.

Is the current upsurge in spiritual happenings related to that? Have the floodgates been reopened, and now we’re living in a truly post-Christian world, where the spirits of polytheism are about? Maybe. It could just as easily be related to something really horrible, like an impending mass economic collapse, or a truly devastating attack by Islamic terrorists that results in tens of thousands or even millions of victims, or something else. Life is ordeal, after all. This might be a sign of a new ordeal to come, rather than a victory.

We’ll know in a couple of years which is so, methinks. But at least there is reason to be optimistic.

We’re a different religion

Asatru really is a different religion.

That might seem like a pretty obvious statement on the face of it. Of course we’re different. We’re not Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism. But that’s not really my meaning here. I’m really talking about the neopagan tendency to want to lump everything that isn’t Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism under the “pagan umbrella“. I’ve written about this before, but a couple of things really brought it to mind again lately.

First was a comment by John Michael Greer (former Archdruid of AODA), a fellow who seems nice enough, and certainly thoughtful and intelligent, but with whom I disagree on just about everything, but he encapsulated the thing about Asatru, vis-a-vis the rest of “the neopagan community” perfectly in a comment on one of his recent posts:

As for Asatru – well, basically the thing that makes me think it’s put down deep roots is that the great majority of people who practice it are just ordinary Americans who happen to belong to a different religion. Most of the Neopagan faiths have, if I may be frank, a theatrical air to them – the kind of thing you find in most deliberately alternative subcultures, which exist in large part to display one’s disaffection with the existing order of society – and those don’t keep well, once the shock value wears off people go looking for new ways to be disaffected and edgy.

I think that perfectly states the case. Of course, there are some Asatruar out there, especially the newcomers, who are out to honk people off, but most of them eventually grow out of that phase and become just ordinary folks who happen to worship Odin and Thor rather than Jehovah of Sinai. As another commenter on that same post put it, “On Heathenry — I had not really thought of it that way, but JMGs comments about its less theatrical appeal do ring true. Ever since the Heathens first started appearing in numbers at neopagan gatherings 20 years ago, they have always been a jeans-and-T-shirt crew.”

And that’s really true. We aren’t trying to be deliberately provocative, or counter-cultural. Hel, the political and social conservatism that many Asatruar maintain should be proof enough of that.

You have $10,000 to bet. Is this a Wiccan or
an Asatruar? Think quickly!

But another blogger (to whose blog I’m not going to link, as she regularly posts a lot of ignorant drivel and apparently whenever I link to her, her hits go up exponentially, and, really, just fuck her) recently posted a thing about the definition of Heathenry, and how it really doesn’t mean anything to do with Germanic religion or Asatru, and we’re all a bunch of idjits for thinking it does (and she tosses in a line to the effect that anyone who isn’t a Christian/Muslim/Jew is a Heathen, completely ignoring the negative historical connotations of the label, which I’m sure the Hindus and Amerindians and Yoruba really appreciate).

But in doing so, she also ignores completely the reason that those who self-consciously self-identify as Heathens, as opposed to Pagans, do so.

Yeah, I know the Atheists use “heathen”
too. That’s a subject for a whole other
blog post.

According to the dictionary definition, Heathen and Pagan are pretty much synonyms. “Country dwellers” or “bumkins” or “hillbillies” or something like that, with the added meaning of being non-Christian. So why do Heathens go out of their way to call themselves Heathens, and actively eschew the “Pagan” or “Neopagan” label, do so?

Precisely because there are cultural connotations of the word “Pagan” that go beyond the dictionary definition. Perhaps the dictionary will catch up with culture eventually (as it inevitably does), but in the meantime there are popular usages that have as much validity, precisely because they are how people use the term in real conversation.

And that reason is that those of us who choose to self-identify as Heathens don’t want to be associated with those who self-identify as Pagans. And we choose the word “Heathen” exactly because it is a Germanic word (cognate to ON heiðinn), as opposed to a Latin word like Pagan (cognate to Latin paganus). By choosing to use the Germanic-derived term, we set ourselves apart. It’s a subtle thing, and certainly not a distinction that is recognized by society at large, but it is a conscious choice, and it is done for a reason, even certain bloggers are ignorant of the origin of the usage.

Sometimes popular usage gets ahead of the writers of dictionaries. No, that’s not right. Popular usage invariably gets ahead of the writers of dictionaries. The fact that new words are added, and definitions constantly updated, is the proof of that.

But to get back to the point; Asatru (and Heathenry as a whole) really is it’s own thing. We’re not just another branch of neopaganism, we’re really not just Wicca with Odin and Freyja instead of the Lord and Lady. We have our own unique political and social culture, our own unique theology, and our own unique internal disputes. The fact that we happen to have a couple of things in common with those who self-identify as Pagans (polytheism, magic, and… um… buggered if I can think of anything else).

We’re not part of your umbrella. We’re a unique religion, just like Jainism, or Mormonism, or a hundred others. We attend your events because there are some historical ties, and some commonalities (as mentioned above), but that’s not nearly enough to draw us under your umbrella.

Can’t we be friends without you trying to absorb us, and in the process, feel like you then get to tell us what we can and cannot do?

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