Theodish Thoughts

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

Category: politics

Reconstructionism isn’t Enough

I had an interesting conversation with a friend tonight, discussing setting up a reconstructionist tribe/group/whatever. While I, and the tribe to which I belong, are firmly in the reconstructionist camp, I can also say that it’s not enough to be reconstructionist.

Any group that is reconstructionist in orientation has to, unfortunately by default, take a side in the major fault lines in Asatru today, and have a strong answer as to why reconstructionism is compatible with those stances. Some of those fault lines include:

  • Folkish vs. universalist
  • Lokean vs. anti-Lokean
  • Gender roles
  • Radical individualism
  • Sacral kingship

Those answers do not, however, need to be “reconstructionism supports this decision.” It can be as simple as “the lore is silent or contradictory on this issue, but we as a group have decided X.” And that’s perfectly okay, especially since there are so very many gaps in our understanding of how our ancestors did things. It must always be done with the understanding that, if new evidence comes up, it will be duly considered, of course, and the door remains open to changing the way things are done. That’s one of the cornerstones of reconstructionism; being open to new evidence, and willing to change one’s beliefs and practices based upon that evidence.

One of the (justified, in my opinion) criticisms of reconstructionism is that we recons tend to be more interested in research than in practice. It is indeed a potential pitfall, and I offer my own tribe’s example as a way to avoid it. We follow a traditional holiday calendar, and tend to eschew modern holidays, “days of observance”, and things that are imported from Wicca such as the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. But we also do a lot of things that have nothing to do with strict reconstructionism; we have trips to folk festivals, movie nights, nature hikes, etc. Nothing that would, on its face, be considered “recon”.

The fact that we are reconstructionists doesn’t mean we cannot add to our practice, as long as we don’t contradict what our ancestors did. Too often, radical political ideas, or other far-out positions on any of those fault lines mentioned above, run up against the historical record. But short of extreme positions, there’s a huge spectrum of middle ground on many of those issues that can accommodate a reconstructionist approach.

So (to take the most prominent example), while I cannot point to any place in the sagas and say “this says blámenn should worship their own ancestral gods” (tortured arguments by the ultra-folkish to the contrary) I can also not point to anywhere that explicitly says they were welcomed into Norse societies as fellow worshipers of the Aesir (tortured arguments by the universalists to the contrary). Thus, there is ambiguity, and that is where modern sensibilities must fill the gap, and those must be decided by each individual or group.

It’s great to say that you’ll be strictly neutral on all such things, but I guarantee you will be forced to deal with it the first time someone insists on adding an “inclusivity clause” to your charter, or someone tries to hail Loki at sumbel. You cannot hide from these issues if you’re going to be anything other than yourself and your family. That’s why they’re so prevalent in modern Asatru as divisive issues.

Ultimately, within a reconstructionist framework, where you come down on those fault lines is immaterial, as long as you’re:

  1. Not contradicting what we know of our ancestors’ practice, and
  2. Are open-minded to change your own views in the face of new evidence or compelling interpretations of existing evidence
Which is not to say reconstructionism isn’t valid or viable. But there are gaps, and those don’t just exist in the more academic realm of ritual, the calendar, and so forth. The real-world practical stuff will intrude on you and force you to make decisions on these issues. 
My point is merely that, as a reconstructionist, you need to be prepared for when that happens. Because it will.

The Ten Commandments

So a few years ago, in an apparent attempt to squander hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending against lawsuits which will inevitably result in failure for the state, Arkansas passed a bill requiring that the ten commandments be posted in front of the statehouse. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Jason Rapert.

Yesterday the monument was installed on the State House lawn.

Hours later, at 4:30 AM, before the ACLU even had a chance to submit its lawsuit*, an apparently mentally ill man that professes “for our salvation we must have faith in Jesus Christ”** rammed his vehicle into the monument and smashed it into a zillion pieces.

Now, naturally nobody should go around illegally smashing property; I’m very much against it, and I hope this guy gets the combination of hospitalization and jail time that he needs and deserves. But honestly, guys in the Arkansas state legislature, this was a losing proposition from the start. I find it hard to generate a lot of sympathy. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why.

It doesn’t serve its stated purpose

The monument during its brief period of verticality

State Sen. Jason Rapert, the Christian zealot behind this whole mess, has stated in the bill (and which was parroted by Christian commentator Todd Starnes) that the reason for putting the ten commandments on the Statehouse lawn is because:

The Ten Commandments, found in the Bible at Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, are an important component of the moral foundation of the laws and legal system of the United States of America and of the State of Arkansas

Really?

Which commandments would those be? Is there a law in Arkansas about only worshiping Jehovah of Sinai?

Will the police arrest anyone making a graven image?***

Christ on a Stick! Is there a law against taking the name of the “lord” in vain?

Will the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Arkansas Division) beat people who keep the Wal-Marts and fast food restaurants in Arkansas open on Sunday?

If a child tells their mother to go fuck themselves, will they end up in juvie?

Killing, yeah, and stealing, too, but both of those are hardly unique to the Ten Commandments, Christianity, or Judaism. In fact, I can’t think of a culture that didn’t prohibit those, including, especially, pagan cultures, so it hardly qualifies as an example of the ten commandments being “the moral foundation of the laws and legal system”.

Adultery? Well, it’s illegal in the UCMJ, yes, but you won’t get locked up for it normally.

False witness? Yup, we’ve got perjury laws on the books, but see above about killing and stealing.

Coveting? That might be something Oceania’s Thought Police might like to be able to arrest someone for, but in this country, it’s not against the law to think. Yet.

So no. Nothing in those precious ten commandments has anything to do especially with “the moral foundation of the laws and legal system.” In fact, if anything, our current system of law has much more to do with Germanic common law, inherited from the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, via the English colonies. You know, juries, personal rights, due process, that sort of thing that most people would normally associated with “the foundation of … the legal system.”

It’s Inherently Sectarian

Most people don’t realize that there are a lot more than one version of the ten commandments out there. Jews, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, they all have their own variations on the theme. You pick one for inclusion in an officially sanctioned and endorsed display by the state, and you explicitly establish whichever denomination of Christianity you picked (and let us not even consider for a moment that Rep. Rapert chose a Jewish version, because he didn’t) over all the other ones, and all the Jewish denominations, you didn’t pick.

Unless you carved one with a zillion footnotes with alternate versions, wordings, and so forth. But That doesn’t make for a good, pithy, “my religion is what’s important, not yours” statement, which is exactly what this stupid monument was intended to do.

It says “screw you” to the non-Christians

Pretty much by definition, if there’s a monument that has been explicitly established by a state government, placed on government property, and that monument not only has the historical context of a particular religion, but actually says:

I AM the LORD thy god

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

You ain’t my “lord” Jehovah of Sinai. You’re just a jumped-up desert god from a foreign folk who somehow managed to glom onto a winning formula to lie to people and tell them you’re the only god out there (although Asherah might have a word or two to say about that). And then turn right around and contradict yourself by admitting there are other gods. You might be a fine god for the Jews, but you make a piss-poor one for everyone else.

And the legislators in Arkansas, not caring at all, of course, stuck their finger in the eye of every Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Atheist, Shinto, Amerindian religious follower, Wiccan, neopagan, and of course Asatruar out there, among many others. But they don’t care, because there are more Christians than the rest of us put together.

For now.

Fortunately the law is on our side, and the United States provides for protections against the sort of religious triumphalism that Rep. Rapert and his supporters were trying to impose. The reason we have individual rights and limitations on the powers of government is precisely to circumvent the sort of mob-rule mentality that says “there are more of us, so we can do what we want.” It is precisely to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Republicans used to be all about that sort of thing. I hope they get back to that core principle.

__________

* Which would win because, unlike the Texas monument it attempts to emulate, this hunk of granite isn’t in the context of a whole bunch of similar displays from a variety of religions and sources.

** Insert you-must-be-mentally-ill-to-be-Christian joke here.

*** Consider here the irony of making a graven image of the Ten Commandments. Ahem.

On Hervör / Hervarðr

Hervör getting the sword Tyrfing from her dead father

In Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of Hervör and Heidrek), we read of Hervör, a woman who spent much of her time living as a man.

Hervör is the daughter of Angantýr, who was one of twelve berserker brothers, and had in his possession the magical and cursed sword Tyrfing. At her birth, it was noted that she wasn’t like other girls:

Bjarmar’s daughter was with child. That was an exceptionally fair lass. She was sprinkled with water and given a name and called Hervör, but it was the opinion of most that she should be left outside, and they said she wouldn’t be too ladylike if she took after her father’s kin.

Needless to say, Hervör does indeed take after her father’s berserker-brothers.

She was brought up with the Jarl and was as strong as the boys. And as soon as she could do anything for herself, she trained more with shot and shield and sword than sewing or embroidery. She did more bad than good too. And when these things were forbidden to her, she ran into the woods and killed men for their money. And when the Jarl hears of this highwayman, he went there with his troops and caught Hervor and brought her home, and then she stayed at home for a bit.

Note that there’s no reference here to any specific gender role expectations that were being broken. Rather, the strong implication is that she is forbidden to be manly because “she did more bad than good.”

And note also that when she was captured after her adventure in the woods killing people and taking their stuff, she wasn’t executed, but merely brought into the Jarl’s home again.

She discovers the truth about her parentage, and of the magic sword owned by her father, and assumes the (male) name Hervarðr:

Then she got ready to leave alone with the gear and weapons of a man and made her way to where some vikings were and sailed with them for a while and called herself Hervard.

A little later, the captain died and this ‘Hervard’ took command of the crew. And when they came to the island of Samsey, ‘Hervard’ told them to stop there so he could go up onto the island and said there’d be a good chance of treasure in the mound. But all the crewmen speak against it and say that such evil things walk there night and day that it’s worse there in the daytime than most places are at night. In the end, they agree to drop anchor, and ‘Hervard’ climbed into the boat and rowed ashore and landed in Munway just as the sun was setting.

She then proceeds to challenge her dead father’s ghost for possession of the magic sword Tyrfing, and wins it through her boldness and courage in a famous episode often called Hervararkviða. She then goes on with her life as Hervarðr for many years:

Then she went to the ships. But when it got light, she saw that the ships were gone. The vikings had taken fright at the thunders and fires on the island. She gets herself passage from there but nothing is known of her journey till she comes to Godmund in Glasisvellir, and she stayed there over winter and still called herself Hervard.

… 

One day, as Godmund [a king of Jotunheim] was playing chess and was on the verge of losing, he asked if anyone could help him. Then ‘Hervard’ went up and advised for a little while until things were looking better for Godmund. Then a man picked up Tyrfing and drew it. ‘Hervard’ saw that and snatched the sword off him and killed him, then went out. The men wanted to run after him.

But Godmund said, “Settle down, there won’t be as much vengeance in that one as you think, because you don’t know who it is. This woman will cost you dear before you take her life.”

Note here that the king knows well that ‘Hervard’ is really a biological woman, but doesn’t begrudge her the male persona she has adopted. But her return to female life is presented as a conscious choice:

Then Hervor spent a long time in warfare and raiding, and had great success. And when she tired of that, she returned home to the jarl, her mother’s father. From then on, she went along like other girls, weaving and doing embroidery.

Now, it is important to note that this is one of the fornaldarsögur (“legendary sagas”), presumably dating from around the 13th century, with the oldest manuscript copy coming from the late 14th/early 15th centuries. Fornaldarsögur are not generally noted for their historicity (as compared to the Family Sagas), but rather reflect what an author 200 years after the Conversion imagined pre-Conversion society to be like.

However, it’s also important to note that this actually works in favor of the story of Hervor, at least in the general sense, reflecting reality. The oldest existing Icelandic law book, called Grágás (“Grey Goose”) specifically bans women dressing and acting as men almost exactly in terms that could describe Hervör:

Staðarhólsbók, one of the existing versions of Grágás, prohibits a woman from wearing male clothing, from cutting her hair like a man, bearing arms, or in general behaving like a man (chapters 155 and 254), however it does not mention behaving sexually in the male role.

But here’s the kicker. Staðarhólsbók was written about 1280 CE. That’s the late 13th century. Around the same time that the saga itself was composed, and nearly 300 years after the official conversion to Christianity. I believe the inclusion of those prohibitions are Christian, rather than Heathen, in nature. It would make a lot of sense; if the Christian author of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks wanted to portray life as it was in pre-Christian times, he would naturally have characters doing things that were anathema to Christians, in order to play up their nature as Heathens.

Hervör’s granddaughter, also named Hervör, dies as her
namesake lived, fighting as a man against the Huns

Just as the early law codes and penitentials guide us to pre-Christian practices through their prohibitions, so too does Staðarhólsbók, written well into the Christian era, and which specifically prohibits the practice of women living as men. What we in our modern world label as transgender.

That said, I am by no means trying to overstate the case and claim that this is something that was normative in Norse or broader pre-Christian Germanic society. It was doubtless a rarity, given the sparse sources that reference it outside of this late but detailed case. But neither was it something specifically banned or viewed as “unnatural”; gender and sexuality in Germanic society prior to the coming of Christianity was a much more complex thing than the reductionist Christians (and, much later, the very puritanical and sexually repressed Victorians who inform our ideas of sexuality to this day) might insist.

Historical pre-Christian Germanic society viewed sex and gender very differently than we do today. They didn’t share our Victorian squeamishness about the subject, and almost certainly didn’t view the so-called “traditional family” of a man, wife, and kids (the modern “nuclear family”) as normative, either. Families were extended, and the interrelationships between family members were very different than they are today (how many boys have the sorts of intense relationships with their uncles that are constantly described in the Sagas, for instance?).

I don’t say it was, or is, normative. I don’t say it’s something that was, or should be, embraced as a widespread thing. But it seems clear that at the very least women assuming male roles for a lengthy part of their life wasn’t completely unknown, and wasn’t banned (unless the specific individual was a complete jackass) until Christianity came along with its ingrained hangups about sexuality that we’re still dealing with today.

The Myth of Progress

This was progress to some people

Over at his wonderfully iconoclastic Archdruid Report, David Michael Greer last week posted a lengthy piece on The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism. In it, he basically makes the case that merely because things are different today than they were in the past, that does not make them quantitatively “better,” nor does it imply some sort of evolutionary imperative towards a given social or moral order that just so happens to be the one that predominates among a particular political subculture today. It’s well worth reading the whole thing (including the several delicious examples he gives of early 20th century “progressives” taking away rights for certain minorities that are now sacred cows among today’s left), but here are a few choice bits:

Those of my readers who followed the late US presidential election may remember Hillary Clinton’s furious response to a heckler at one of her few speaking gigs:  “We aren’t going back. We’re going forward.” Underlying that outburst is the belief system I’ve just sketched out: the claim that history has a direction, that it moves in a linear fashion from worse to better, and that any given political choice—for example, which of the two most detested people in American public life is going to become the nominal head of a nation in freefall ten days from now—not only can but must be flattened out into a rigidly binary decision between “forward” and “back.” …

Chronocentrism is pandemic in our time. Historians have a concept called “Whig history;” it got that moniker from a long line of English historians who belonged to the Whig, i.e., Liberal Party, and who wrote as though all of human history was to be judged according to how well it measured up to the current Liberal Party platform. …

It needs to be remembered in this context that the word “evolution” does not mean “progress.” Evolution is adaptation to changing circumstances, and that’s all it is. When people throw around the phrases “more evolved” and “less evolved,” they’re talking nonsense, or at best engaging in a pseudoscientific way of saying “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” 

We see this constantly and consistently in the bleating of the alt-left within neopaganism, especially within the Marxist crowd, that their political or social beliefs are somehow inherently better because they are newer than older political or social beliefs. The trajectory of history is of course part and parcel of the Marxist philosophy these pro-genocidal authoritarian losers embrace, but it sees full flower in discussions about folkishness, democracy, nationalism, and the like.

Bringers of progress

Stuck as they are in 1930’s and 40’s historical models, these Marxists (and anarchists, and whateverthefuckelse they want to call themselves) usually apply the blanket label “fascist” to such things. Even though, ironically, fascism (including, dare I say, National Socialism) is more properly a phenomenon of the left. But they generally mean traditionalism, which is by definition the antithesis of progressivism, which is the philosophy of “if it’s newer, it must be better,” that, also ironically, fuels the modern consumerist culture which so many of them claim to abhor.

Progress.

That flies in the face of the traditionalist view, which enjoys a definite overlap with modern folkishness, in terms of preferring local to global as a general rule, family structures that promote reproduction are preferable to family structures that intentionally thwart reproduction, acknowledging the fact that biological differences between men and women (both psychological and physical) are real and not something to be ignored or suppressed, democracy isn’t necessarily the most preferable form of government, representative art is preferable to abstract art, and most certainly that individualism is preferable to collectivism.

It might not be 100% optimally efficient,
but does that make it “wrong”?

But note always my use of the word “prefer” rather than “require.” It’s the left that is always trying to force other people to conform to some idealistic vision. And Utopia is always just one execution away.

I’m not by any stretch of the imagination claiming that all of those things are necessarily inherent in folkishness, which by my definition is simply the acknowledgement that race and ancestry is relevant to religion, and some religious faiths are inherently folkish in nature (although there are of course specific exceptions), just as some are inherently universalist in nature. Asatru, most forms of Hinduism, Judaism, and Amerindian religion fall into the former category, while Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Wicca, and neopaganism fall into the latter category. Unsurprisingly, claims of absolute truth generally come from the latter half as well.

However, there is a bit of confusion between, and a distinct need and opportunity to explore, traditions that are Christian in nature (due to Christianity’s hegemony over Europe over the last millenia and a half or so, depending on the locale), rather than, as I might have it, truly traditional Germanic views that predate Christianity.

Of course, this isn’t to mean that older is always better. That’s just as wrong as newer is always better. But there are a lot of older things that don’t deserve to be discarded just because they’re old, just as there are newer things that deserve to be embraced. Just because I approve of flush toilets, vaccinations, and space colonies doesn’t mean I have to also approve of the destruction of human biological diversity, Socialism, mass production, and the suppression of individual liberty to prevent someone else being offended.

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