There is a sense, particularly for those of us raised in Christian-influenced cultures (which we all are) that we have a certain responsibility for keeping the soul in good order. Within Heathenry, we are all subject to wyrd: causality and consequence. We are responsible for keeping the parts of our soul free of what I think a Hellenic might term "miasma," and also for working to strengthen our wyrd, and tend the quality of our souls -- our hamingja and maegen. We're not at the mercy of our Holy Powers and have been given an immense amount of freedom and power in crafting ourselves but we are responsible both for what we do, and what we neglect to do. The soul is something within each of us for which we are responsible. It is our spiritual duty to tend it by living rightly, honorably, and well. Spirit does not carry those same connotations and for that reason, I could not use it.
You talk a good deal about UPG (unverified personal gnosis; personal revelation not supported by any historical source) when speaking of the Gods, although you make it clear what is lore and what is not. This is a bit controversial in the Heathen community. Why do you feel it's important to share UPG with others?
I believe that direct experience with the Gods is at the heart of any authentic religious practice. This is what it's about. This is what should drive the faith. Without that connection to the Holy Powers, it's all too easy for a faith to become brittle and stagnant. I talk openly about my spiritual experiences partly in service to Odin, and partly because people who are loving and serving the Gods need to know that they're not alone. People who are coming into Heathenry and hearing all about the lore, the lore, the lore need to know that there is another side to the faith: having a powerful spiritual connection. They need to know that living a life of devotion and piety is also part of what being a Heathen is all about. We need our guides, our examples that we can turn to for a map, a way to thread our own path through the spiritual terrain in which we walk. Moreover, we need to know that this path has been walked before by many, many feet and that we're not alone.
Do you think that Heathens should be actively seeking UPG to compare to fill in the lost bits of lore?
Lore is a map. It's not the territory, and it's a terrible thing when people get the two confused. What we call lore was never, ever intended to be utilized as religious scripture and yet contemporary Heathens, coming as we do from a culture whose dominant religion is Christianity (and specifically Protestant Christianity), have insisted on giving "the lore" the same type of nebulous authority that the Bible holds for Christians, or the Torah for Jews. Our Heathen ancestors came from largely oral cultures, and I believe this approach would have been quite alien to them.
At the same time, we're blessed to have the various accounts and records, and the sacred stories. I just think there needs to be a strong caution against taking them too literally. Religion should be about the Gods and ancestors, not about a book. Lore is useful as a framework in which to place one's experiences but it isn't a substitute for those experiences. I think that as Heathens we should actively be seeking the manner in which we can best honor the Gods, ancestors, and land spirits. That may be somewhat different for every single person and can even include scholarly exegesis, but the goal should always be honoring the Holy Powers rightly and well, making (in some way) that connection.
In Exploring the Northern Tradition you mention entropy several times. In the chapter regarding personal devotions you say, "I often think that the process of spiritual emergence is an ongoing fight against entropy." So much of Heathen lore is about maintaining, restoring, remembering, and preserving. Do you think that entropy, and other "undesirables" such as death, illness, and misfortune, exist to propel us forward? To not allow humanity to become stagnant?
I think that so much of the lore is about remembering and preserving and restoring in part because the indigenous traditions of Northern Europe were essentially destroyed by the spread of Christianity across Europe. This was a religious genocide on a huge scale. We have a focus on restoration because that is the process with which we are engaged. We're putting down new roots and trying desperately to grasp and reconnect with whatever wisdom our ancestors held. So very much has been lost and we're at a disadvantage in trying to get it back because we have forgotten how to listen to the Gods and the dead.
On a more positive note, remembrance and preservation are essential. This comes out in honoring the ancestors. Our ancestors are the wellspring of our strength and wisdom. They are our foundation. They are our roots and our memory. One thing that I cherish about Heathenry is the respect that it gives to the ancestors, and the growing focus on honoring them consistently. This is so fundamental to a strong, resilient spirituality. Our strength lies in our memory, in who we remember, in the life that they bequeathed to us, in their suffering, their faults, their joys, their gifts, and the ways in which these things paved the way for our existence. Memory is essential.