Perchance to Meme

Jon Upsal's MemeEDIT 10/3/2013: I was politely informed by the author that his is not Jon Upsal but Joseph Bloch.  The “Garden of Jon Upsal” is the name of Mr. Bloch’s blog, and the title is a reference to Odin out of Danish folklore.  I am sorry for any and all confusion this my mistake and lack of due rigor may have caused.

So this week, someone decided to step forward and make an argument against the perceptions of racism that surround the various folkish perspectives. This man, Jön Upsal, put forth a lot of arguments.  To be plain about it, I think many of his talking points are weak and don’t address nearly so much as he seems to want them to.  To his credit, he did say that racism and folkishness could be paired together; he simply claimed that it was not as common as most people perceive.

In the next day or two, I will be addressing his essay and explaining why I do not feel his arguments hold water. This will be done in a manner that is both respectful and measured;  it’s really easy to point at someone and rip them apart using emotional rhetoric, but such actions will never address arguments.  Mr. Upsal accuses the Pagan community of making “false equivalencies and shill hyperbole”, so I want to address his complaints in a manner that is neither of these things.

Indigo FolkishOne of these issue that I want to bring up, however, will come across as hypocritical; his use of graphics.  The above picture is one that Mr. Upsal featured along side of the aforementioned blog post, and I think it’s intended meaning is easy to calculate; the broader Pagan community is simply looking for someone to label as a racist, and isn’t interested in actually talking about the finer points of things.  There is nothing about the man that indicates he’s a racist, other than a sign that has been put on to him.  In this way, the broader Pagan community is acting exactly like the very bigots they are claiming to be in opposition of.  As such, their arguements with the AFA are hypocritical and moot.

Mr. Upsal does not support the argument that this picture makes. He is quick to make complaints , but doesn’t actually say what these complaints are against.  He doesn’t bring forth the accusations, simply saying that they exist and are false.  The picture above is the closest he come to making the argument, and it does a horrible job of explaining itself.

And here is were we get to the place where a criticism of hypocrisy could be made.  It might go something like,  “But Harrison!  You post your memes all the time, often making jokes that support your articles!  You’re doing the same thing!”

No, I’m not.  The memes rarely (if ever)* exist to prove an argument, and they’re usually just throw away jokes.   A few of them have a kernel of truth to them, and use the “inside joke” nature of a meme in order to make that kernel into something that stand out a little more.  Even when that’s the case however, They’re not being made in the absence of actual proof, as I believe Mr. Upsal has done.

SagaSometimes I worry about how much I over analyze or dig into a given issue, and the memes are my way to balance all the angst and tension I feel I might be bringing up.  The antacid that helps quell the pain of a somewhat caustic meal.  Sometimes the jokes aren’t even there for my audience; they’re there for me as a way for me to address my own anxiety.

I have tried to attack a lot of big issues here, and it’s not always a fun time.  While I love the work I’ve been doing, and it’s something I hope to be able to make a living off of someday, it’s also work that leaves me conflicted, frustrated, and depressed a lot of the time.  Talking about all the negativity that I end up having to talk about actually takes a lot out of me, and I don’t have fun making the accusations I make.  I have been, thus far, pretty fortunate in the lack of negativity I have received for my words.  With every article I write, I wonder if this is going to be the post that opens up the gates of hate mail.

I take no pride or joy in saying a lot of this stuff.  I don’t have fun saying that the members of the AFA conduct themselves as if their organization was pro-racist.  I don’t enjoy saying that I think Steven McNallen has to either be racist or insane to believe the stuff he writes and publishes on his organization’s website.   I don’t even enjoy having to call out Mr. Upsal and saying that his argument is flawed, weak, and seems to purposely forget to address entire platforms.  I don’t like picking apart the Nine Noble Virtues, having to defend Loki worship, trying to explain why this nonsense between Universalists and Folkists needs to stop, or anything else. These aren’t fun things; they’re necessary things.

It’s important that we speak on these matter, because if we aren’t willing to have the difficult conversations about what our religion means than no one will be.  That means muckraking, and demands we call out people and hold them to account.  It means on insisting explinations be given by those who would make statements on behalf of huge chunks of the Norse Polytheistic masses.  It depends being even handed, passionate, and thoughtful.

40261192 The last think I want to do, however, is be a creature of misery.  I disagree with the notion that we can’t have meaningful discourse that contains a measure of levity.  Yes, these are heavy and ponderous issues but I see no reason that we have to be miserable and dour along the way.  When all a person does is fight monsters, than they risk becoming monsters themselves.  So I crack jokes.  I find the silly and seek out the absurdities in an effort to ground myself, and anyone else who might be reading my words.

The pictures I post on this blog aren’t made in leiu of the arguement.  They are rarely even made as part of it.  There are made to give us all a reason to smile because religion should be a happy thing, not the contentious thing it has come to be seen as.

They say that  a picture is worth a thousand words; I try to find the pictures that are worth a thousand words that proudce laughter, because those are the words the majority seems to need the most.

*I can’t find a meme that actually really made my argument for me, but I can’t deny that someone else might be able to make a valid argument that one did.  As such, I’m leaving the door open.

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Ethereal Edition: A Heathen’s Prayer

Odin WoodcutThe writing process is pretty odd for me, in that my train of thought is always two weeks behind me.  I need time to absorb and comprehend things, in order to really properly organize my thoughts.  This all sounds pretty simple and basic, but believe me that it gets kind of tricky at times.  A lot of times this means I’m responding to current events well after the curve.

It also means that I end up writing stuff at odd times, given the subject matter.  The prayer below was written almost entirely while I was in the hospital with my wife, as she took a much need nap during the process of having her labor induced*.  I’m sure that a prayer/devotional is coming for kids, for new father, and new mothers…but at the moment, my internal writer was stuck on pondering something else.

We are our deeds.  It’s one of the most sacred phrases within Heathenry.  I found myself considering it a lot as I put down my thoughts on conversion.  Some of these thoughts ended up shaping into a poem of sorts.  Unlike most of my devotional poetry, this one is not intended for the Gods.  Rather, it’s a piece of inspirational writing for for Heathens.

My deeds are within me,
And I within them,
From the very beginning,
To the very end,

What I have done and wrought with will,
Shall be my soul’s own true herald
What I have crafted with my own strength,
Can never be stolen or imperiled.

My wyrd and luck are mine alone.
The swindler finds it outside their reach
The frith I craft cannot be usurped,
It cannot be drained by a foolish leech

Lies that are told quickly sunder,
And time is the friend of honor,
The truth of my deeds will ever be found,
By every noble son and daughter.

As am I,
So are you.
As we are,
So are all,
Within every Hof
Within every Hal

* Mother and baby are both healthy, though my daughter was born two weeks early so she’s in the NICU at the moment.  She is perfectly stable however, thank Eir!

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Building the Bifrost, Part 2 – The Bad News*

One of the things I suspect that many writers might enjoy (or dread) is watching others react to what you have written and, if you are very lucky, discuss it.  For the most part, I’ve been truly fortunate to see some extremely good discussion follow some of the postings of my work.**.  My first venture in opening some dialogue on how we handle conversion to Heathenry didn’t disappoint in this respect, but I feel that consideration that it catalyzed produced more questions than answers.

Let me back up a bit.

The conversations around the previous post seemed to gravitate towards two points of view; either people had no idea what I was talking about and felt that I was coming to false conclusions, or they knew exactly what I was talking about and provided a story about their own experiences.  At first, I responded to the former group somewhat apologetically thinking that perhaps I had falsely characterized a local issue as something more widely spread.  As the number of people with upsetting stories began to grow and follow a very troublesome pattern, however, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t just me.  Essentially, they were given a homework assignment that consisted of a rather large amounted of dusty tomes, an apathetic suggestion about developing a thick skin, and than put to the side and largely ignored.


As Antonio Banderas is to Islamic Poets, is all of this nonsense to hospitality.

Where did that come from?

Unified concepts of belief are hard to come by in Heathenry, but we have a handful that everyone seems to agree upon the relevance of.  One of those is the social and spiritual responsibilities of proper hospitality.  Just about any two Heathens will agree that this concept is incredibly important, and even wildly dissimilar view points tend to have little difficulty in arriving at a similar definition of how to properly practice it.

It was validated countless time throughout sources ranging from the historical, to the anthropological, to the literary.  Hospitality was legion, being one of the building blocks of society.  It was to be given to kinsmen and strangers alike, and all evidence indicates that this was a philosophy that was in deed as well as in mind.  The Havamal, a book of the Poetic Edda that many consider an primer on the ethics of the culture, weighs in on hospitality often and at length.  So color me confused as to why a large portion of our number seem to feel justified in being hideously inhospitable to those who seek out our faith and the Gods that attend to it.  I see no evidence that the Heathens of pre-conversion Scandinavia and Germania saw themselves as the gatekeepers to Asgard.

There is no reason for this.  Our ancestors were proud warriors, unyielding farmers, and devoted kinsmen who stood strong in the face of adversity.  They were also engaging merchants, hospitable hosts, and were imbued with a fundamental dignity.  While they were unyielding to the winter, to the unknown, and to those who sought to harm them, they were not the uncompromisingly stoic muscle knots that some pretend them to be. When someone asked them about their Gods, they did not put up locks and barricades upon the doors of the Hof.

They were proud of their Gods, and I cannot imagine it was not a pride born of the exclusivity afforded to those who hold a secret.  It was the joy of a full harvest, brought in by kinship and aided by divinity and communal wyrd.  It was the pride of brothers, sisters, and cousins who could stand against a common foe, and stand as one.  It was strength born of commitment to generosity, communal good, and hospitality regardless of what that might have cost the individual in the short term

It was a pride that did had no use for the “pearls before swine” philosophy.  The Gods they worship did not need mortal gatekeepers than, and I do not suspect they need them now.  These are the methods and techniques born of other faiths, and we do not need them

This sign is completely unrelated to anything.

This sign is completely unrelated to anything, but since this post was kind of miserable?  I figured we could all enjoy a laugh.  This is a real picture of a real sign.

I do understand where some of this comes from.  I understand why we want to be better than the religious people some of us have grown up with and all of us have seen.  In reality, we are no better; our mistakes are different, but of equal value.  We strove to keep ourselves and our faith free from the damning and demeaning mentalities that come with proselytizing.  Perhaps in an effort to avoid some of the mixed blessings and pitfalls of the Wiccan influx of the 1990s and 2000s, some of us tried to firmly and quantifiable define what Heathenry was and was not.  Some of us plunged academic depths, in an desperate effort to bring scholarly credibility to our faith. We tried to stay far away from dogmatically interpreting the lore for others, as to avoid the worst of the hive mentality that such practices usher in.

I won’t say that all of it was for naught, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that almost none of that worked out in the way that we had hoped.  Where we were trying to foster respect, self-reliance, and unity we have instead harvested scorn, cliquishness, and division.  The scholars still laugh at our efforts as they always have, and we have forsaken proselytizing to the unconverted only to take up proselytizing amongst ourselves.

Our deeds, while noble in intent, have not yielded the results we had hoped for.  The range of Norse worshiping faiths has suffered for it, and I believe we are all the poorer for it

Now that I have the problems (as I see them) out of the way, let’s take a look at what we can do to fix some of this.  In a few days***, I’m going to take a good hard look at where some meaningful changes can start, and what we can do to make them stick.

*I swear to you that the title was not intended as a pun!  Had I thought of it before I started writing the post I might have made it that way mind you, but that’s neither here nor there!
**At least, the conversations that I see; if people are calling each other horse fuckers somewhere else, I haven’t caught wind of it.

*** Give or take a few years.

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The Depths: A Brief Conversation

With one notable exception, I don’t usually talk about my own UPG; no one asks, and I have no reason to go into it.  While writing a post, I had an interesting exchange that I feel needs to be shared.  The dialogue below is the closest approximation I can come up with.

“Why does the [the Divine] bother with mortals?  What do you need from us, if you’re as powerful as s you are?”
“I don’t know; why did you seek us out when you don’t need us in your day to day life”
“Oh…wow….you’re good.”
“How good of you to notice!”

Sometimes, the answers aren’t as complicated as we make them out to be

Proud Farming Tradition

If I had a nickle for every time I heard or saw someone talk about the warrior culture of the Norseman, I would make enough money that I wouldn’t have to worry nearly so much about that Patreon campaign that I keep banging on about.  I don’t mind that some of our ancestor could lay the smack down when so inclined, because that’s a pretty awesome thing.  Martial prowess is a worthy pursuit, one which I have full intention of pursuing once a few physical matters are firmly taken care of.

The thing I mind is when people forget that our ancestors were more than that.

Everyone talks about their warriors.  When are we going to talk about our craftsman?  Our farmers, merchants, and explorers?  It’s like these are completely dead spots on some people’s ancestral radar.  To hear some Heathens talk, all of our ancestors were warriors first and everything else just sort of fell into place.  It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten their there are Gods and Goddesses known for something other than their capacity to cause violence and devastation.

Truth be told, a lot of the mythology has characters that were far more than warriors.  Even those Gods and Goddesses whose providence included war were more than just warriors.  Odin is as much of a scholar as a warrior, and what farmer didn’t seek the rainstorms heralded by the thunder of mighty Thor?  Freya is a battle Goddess, but she is also a being of delight, passion, and ecstasy.  Than of course there are Gods of tactics, diplomacy, and brilliance that are just at home within the hearth as they were on the battlefield.  While Loki fits those qualities most assuredly, there are other divine figures to whom the terms are not foreign.

This was as much a European concept as it was a Norse one.

This was as much a European concept as it was a Norse one.

That’s just the mythology, too.  If we should view things with more then an iota of sense, it becomes clear that the farmers, craftsmen, and the traders were far just as important to the Norse worshiping cultures as the warrior.  How would a Norseman or woman eat?  What would they cloth themselves with?  I suppose people could put forward that they would raid for their food, but that’s a really bad idea!  Fighting on an empty stomach, against well fed man at arms defending their home wouldn’t have been a way for the Norseman to thrive; it would have been the means by which they met their end.  They needed wise farmers, strong craftsmen, and welcoming merchants, much as any culture in that time did.

Yes, they were some excellent raiders when they chose to be.  This was also what a majority of nations and societies did at the time, because might did made right.  If I have the strength to take something from you, and you didn’t give me a reason to not take it, than you didn’t have the right to have it.  Raiding wasn’t an invention of the Vikings; they were just one of the more skilled and romanticized practitioners of that prevailing economic model.


“Here is the tale of Farbolli,, sovereign lord of quality tools and master of profit margins” said no Skald ever….

We focus much on the warrior ways of our ancestors because the saga are powerful and exceptional pieces of literature that stir the blood and give fire to the imagination.  That doesn’t make them legion however.  The entertainment of a culture casts a reflection upon that society, but it’s an incomplete representation at best.  If you looked at our entertainment objectively, you’d come away with the belief that our society is based entirely on giant robots, cleavage, new brands of tacos, explosions, Joss Whedon, and rouge cops that have to buck the system in order to see justice done.  Certainly, all of those things call to something within our mentality*.  It’s just not the entirety of who we are, however.

The saga are about warriors because warriors make for good stories.  No one want’s to hear the tale of how Thor’s accountant calculated his deductibles.

My Grandfather was a warrior; he came back from World War II with the Silver Star.  He was also a craftsman, a lover of beer, a damn fine father and grandfather, and a crack shot on a pool table.  He was wise and intelligent, and filled with a resolve and compassion I still struggle to emulate.  I am proud of the man, because he is a man worthy of being proud of, with a legacy that I will happily pass on to my daughters.  He was a warrior, but I don’t remember him as that.  I remember him as everything that he was, both good and bad.

I remember him as one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, who also just happened to also be a warrior.

I’m not saying that all Heathens have a blind spot here; I’ve heard plenty of great speeches at Sumble, and I suspect I am not alone in this regard.  Time and time again, however, I come across people who only remember our warriors.  People who forget that, often times, those warrior were farmers and blacksmiths when the fighting was done.  I don’t understand why we keep forgetting the men and women who clothed them, fed them, and gave them something worthy of fighting for.

Hail the ancestors, whatever path they may have taken in their lives!

*This is especially true of Joss Whedon.

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Building the Bifrost, Part 1: What Converting to Any Form of Norse Polytheism Kinda Sucks

This article originally started as  a piece concerning the lore, and how we could better assist new converts to Heathenry in understanding and interpreting it.  As I began writing, I realized that our efforts to guide people into being good Heathens are woefully lacking not only on this front, but on all fronts.  As such, let’s take a look at how people come to our faith and how we may have been letting them down.

Bat SumbelYou see, the first piece of advice that just about anyone will give a new Heathen is that they should study the lore.  That’s not bad advice, but it’s often the only advice that people are willing to give.  While I am definitely frustrated that we collectively set the bar for entry at ancient, translated texts which themselves are recounts made by biased scholarship of another faith that would have no interest in respecting the original material, the issue at hand is far greater than that to me. It’s more than just having a bone to pick with people treating the Eddas like a work of holy scripture, though it’s definitely part of the problem.

Quite frankly, we throw people at the lore long before they’re able to use it in a constructive way.  We are setting people up for failure, because we don’t prepare them to digest the material with anything that approaches the appropriate context.  As such, they’re not gaining the proper lens in which to view the lore and, without that appropriate context shift, they seem to view in the only way they know how; the same way that Christianity regards it’s own lore

Our faith, like many Pagan faiths, has a population made up almost entirely from conversion.  These converts are, chiefly, from the Christian and Catholic faiths.  Of those who convert, most of the ones I encounter were born under a denomination that utilized harsh and uncompromising interpretations of the Bible.  Such groups twist and manipulate their hermeneutic interpretations in order to confirm their biases and deflect modern criticism.  Even should they come from a more liberal sect, the bible and it’s attendant cannon are held as the perfect, flawless, and unmodifiable word of their God.  This method of religious contemplation, while alien to my own thought processes, fits in line with the teaching and beliefs of Christendom.

When fledgeling Heathens use those same theological conceits with the Eddas and the lore, however, it’s not only non-functional.  It’s extremely damaging to their capacity to practice their religion in a meaningful manner.  Even if I were to accept the supposition that Snorri Sturluson was one of the latest true Heathens and a properly trained Skald?  His message was still covered and hidden, in order to evade censorship.  At absolute best we have a purposely distorted collection of myths and legends, which is riddled with holes and missing passages, with no translation key to see what is fabrication and what is not.  Such material does not a scripture make.

Yet this is the sort of paradigm we are encouraging.   By trying to encourage academic and intellectual self-reliance, we’ve accidentally created a system that hobbles those exact virtues.  Those who wish to learn of their new faith find themselves attacking a series of dusty old tomes, filled with archaic language and larger than life stories.  The ethical consideration within are from a bygone era, but a thoughtful person could take them an extrapolate a ponderous amount of modern meaning should they chose to do so.  is it any wonder wonder that many begin to consider the Poetic and Prose Eddas as they may have once considered the Bible?

success kid loreI’ve talked before about why the Eddas are not a holy text, but that was me merely talking about the consequences of a larger issue.  I didn’t realize that at the time, because I had become very fed up with people acting like the lore was immune to criticism.  While I don’t regret anything I had to say on the matter, I do regret not looking  just a little deeper.  I don’t think this issue started with those who converted to our faith but, rather, how unintentionally unwelcoming we’ve made out faith.  In the name of forcing people to “make their own way” and “to find the gods themselves”, we have left them unable to meaningfully gain theological independence.

People do need to find how they define the faith for themselves, but that doesn’t make the conversion process a solitary endeavor.  What they also need is help finding meaningful and spiritually fulfilling context.  Most of our social models are based around learning how to be Heathens first, and then joining the social dynamic.  Perhaps it’s time we consider turning the order of operations around, and letting people join the culture of our faith first and define their praxis second.

When next we talk about how to help new Heathens become great Heathens, we’re going to take a honest look at how some people think the flow of conversion should go and where they might be making mistakes they don’t realize.

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Patreon and Me

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folkenSo, I already alluded to my efforts involved with finding some way to turn my theological writing into a paying career.  Today starts my first attempt at that with my own account on Patreon.

My only complaint with Patreon is that I didn’t think of it first.  It’s sort of like the logical opposite of crowd funding, in that  services like KickStarter allow people to donate money to big, fuck off projects in order to get the results.  Patreon isn’t about the big projects; it’s about masses of awesome but tiny projects.  It’s about giving people the means to create amazing or wonderful things, so that they can put them in front of the people that enjoy them.  I found out about it’s existance via watching the nerd-tacular talent that is Smooth McGroove, and I immediately started wondering if this was something that could work for me.

A work related injury has me currently asking big questions of “what do I do next”, and I’d like to find a way to help support my family economically and watch my daughters grow up at the same time.  I want to do something I can be proud of every day, not simply something I can do well enough to be satisfied.  While I’m at it, I’d like to be able to show my kids that they can make a living on their own terms, provided they’re willing to do some hard work and never give up.  I want to try and make  an honest living writing about religious praxis as a polytheist, the beauty of philosophy, and about the Gods I worship.

So when I found Patreon , I was extremely excited.

Patreon works by giving content creators a platform to get support from the people that enjoy the things they do and create.  These pledges grant the creator a donation every time they create or do whatever it is they create or do.  In my case, I’m asking for support for each week (starting Monday 12:00amm and ending at Sunday 11:59pm) that I produce two piece of content or more.  Why say “content” instead of saying “blog post”?  Well, because I’m going to be expanding.  I have some ideas about doing YouTube videos, taking the forms of DIYs, readings from the lore, and publicly posting devotional work.  I want a platform to be out there that shows the beauty of spirituality, without the negative  baggage that most Western perspectives come with.

Don't worry; this is the closest I'm ever going to get to traditional Monetization.

Don’t worry; this is the closest I’m ever going to get to Monetization.

This is not a pay gate; everything I ever produce on the internet is free and will remain that way.  It will always be free.  I’m never going to make my words hide behind the almighty dollar, and insist that I be payed before you get a chance to see the work I produce.  If you want to help me along with that dollar, I’ll probably be able to write more words…and that would be awesome!   What you will never see, however, is a subscription wall between you and my work.

Please take a look at my Patreon page.  If you’d like to support the work I do here but cannot contribute financially, consider posting  this blog post on Facebook, re-blogging it on your own blog, or otherwise giving it a bit of social media oomph.  At this moment, I will be posting this to my own, personal, Facebook wall and to my tumblr and that’s it.  I’m not going to be trying to shove this down someone’s throat.  If you’d support what I’m trying to do here?  Tell your friends.  If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below.

Thank for your time, and wish me luck!  I have the feeling that this is going to be a bumpy ride!