Highway to Hel
A New Set of Virtues?
In the best circumstances, religious traditions evolve out of that constant, ongoing process of negotiation, because the gifts of both sides of that equation are needed for a religion to be healthy, humane, and whole. Of course, saying that is one thing and actually doing it for any extended period of time quite another. I think that perhaps our ancestors, coming from a predominantly oral culture, one that had evolved organically over generations, managed it better than we. They had the benefit of having a religion that was a family tradition. We, charged as we are with restoring and reconstructing are fighting a battle quite alien to their religious life. They had generations of religious structure and an inborn sense of cohesion that is better able to allow for ecstatic devotion, growth, and change. We of necessity fear it, because our structure is still in flux, still in the process of being consciously, maybe a little too self-consciously, restored. We don't have the same level of stability that was quite naturally part of our ancestors' religious world. Added to that the fact that we're a generation of converts (to a minority religion no less) and that leaves us with a certain reactionary sensibility that I believe would have been quite alien to our pre-Christian Heathen forebears. But again I digress.
I think that we get the devotional life we deserve, the one that we put time, effort, and energy into developing. Of course, I realize that the concept of devotional work itself is also a site of immense conflict within contemporary Heathenry. That being said, there are more and more people coming into this body of religions who want more than to be told "go read the lore." They want more than what can be found in a scattered corpus of medieval texts that were never intended to either be used as religious scripture or as a substitute for actual devotional experience.
While the NNV provide a good solid foundation for folks trying to gain some sense of what Heathenry is all about and how to do it "right," I think developing interiority of practice requires a little something more. Granted, for some, maybe the NNV serves exactly that purpose and nothing else is necessary. For others, in addition to the NNV, maybe there is a hunger that requires moving beyond that initial foundation. Essentially, the really important spiritual work is done alone, in the darkness of our own spirits, after all. We wrestle with ourselves and our place in relation to our Gods alone. No one else can do this work for us. It is the portion of each man or woman on Midgard to battle this out alone and that is a frightening thing. The NNV are great guideposts for getting one started and seeing one through the initial struggles of developing as a responsible spiritual person. There are other, equally important mysteries though, and we do ourselves a tremendous disservice by ignoring them.
Now some people may not want the type of engaged spirituality that I am proposing. The idea of devotional work, of moving beyond purely Midgard consciousness, may be anathema to some Heathens. That's okay. Working to make Midgard better, to live rightly and well as a Heathen in the here and now is an immensely worthy calling. It's fundamental to the reconstruction of our ways. It is absolutely sacred work as much as that of a shaman or priest.
Many people are meant to delve into Midgard life, to do with living what the mystic does with praying and devotional work. They're two sides of the same proverbial coin. Midgard people are the roots and sturdy trunk of the Tree, absolutely essential for what they bring to the art and craft of living. Without sturdy roots, a tree cannot thrive. Others, our mystics, our Deity owned, on the other hand, are meant to move amongst the branches, to look away from Midgard into other worlds, other realms, looking toward the Gods with a fervor that sets the worlds ablaze. They are the ones meant to bring the Tree to flower, these are the ones who supply the nourishing sap that feeds those roots and helps them grow, just as those roots provide the stability without which the tree could neither stand nor flourish. Without both root and fruit, body and sap, the Tree would wither and die. Both support its weight and wisdom from two separate ends.
The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.