Personal Reflections: My First Years as a Heathen and the Lessons Learned

My return to the native gods of my Germanic ancestors came back in 1983/84 when I was 12 years old, appropriately enough. I had fallen deathly ill for a 3 month stretch … in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis … test after test after test … the doctors at a loss as to what was wrong with me. The “geniuses” ultimately figured out, thanks in no small measure to my mother, that the medication that they had originally given me for whatever was initially wrong with me was in fact what was continuing to make me ill. But during that time, well, it was a lot of time to sit and ponder … a lot of different things, but most poignantly, my own mortality.

You know, a straight up and no-nonsense, “Am I dying?”.

Now, I was baptized a Catholic, went to Church with my father a few times before he carried on his merry way never to be seen again, was placed in Sunday school for, I dunno, a couple of weekends by my recently single mother, and went to Church on the very odd occasion with my maternal grandfather as a family thing. You could say I was “pop Christian” or “folk Christian”. I believed in a “higher power”, in God, and that being a good, believing human being pertained to one’s relationship with that higher power and one’s fate in the hereafter, but I was by no means “hung up” on religion … like some of the more hypocritical twigs of my maternal kindred — my grandfather not among them — who were the first to run to Church on Sunday and the last to do a good deed any other day of the week.

My religious worldview of the time consisted of various forms of Christianity, atheism, or “heavy metal Satanism”, incidentally. I had not even heard of Wicca, to say nothing of Asatru … a knowledge of which would not reach me until something like 1991, give or take a year.

So anyway, there I was, moderately Christian, 12 years old going on 13, wondering if I was going to outlive this illness or simply die a slow, completely miserable death. So, naturally one might think, I prayed to Christ … to be healed, to be saved, for mercy. I mean, I was a kid. I hadn’t ever done anyone or anything any kind of grievous harm. I was good-natured. And I was a believer to the extent that I understood it. So, why wouldn’t Christ heal me??? But he didn’t. And during this time I was also evolving a growing awareness of “the viking gods” as I called them at the time … enough to know that at one point in time these were considered real gods actually worshiped by men and not just … comic book characters or something. So I prayed to Christ “to find out”, ie. internal self-dialogue, if it was okay with him for me to pray to them. And in this internal dialogue the “pop opinion” came out as response; NO! And so as “prayers” of this nature continued over the days and weeks, moving through all that “it’s God’s will” nonsense, ie. that you suffer in your illness and maybe die from it, the threat of eternal damnation was ultimately introduced … and that was pretty well the straw that broke the camel’s back for this suffering little wretch. I’d had enough. It was wrong … this intimidation, this egotism, this sheer pettiness. And so, While I had by no means magically transcended the sheer terror of the threat of eternal damnation, which my long illness had given me something of a taste of, I was nevertheless resolved; and so I decided to pray to Thunor, whom I called by his Anglicized Old Norse variant, Thor, at the time. It was the same deal, this prayer, ie. internal self-dialogue, and I asked the Thunderer if I’d go to a good place when I died if I worshiped him. He told me, no … that one’s place in the hereafter has nothing to do with who one believes or does not believe in. And that only one’s deeds shall earn one Heaven or Hell. And on that note, still no more certain that eternal damnation didn’t still await me, I forsook Christ and swore myself to the native deities of my Germanic ancestors. And soon after, the cause of my illness was discovered and I began to get my health back in short order … though I milked the entire affair for the next five years so as to avoid going to school as much as possible … running with the tough crowd for the first few years, but going it more-or-less alone, as relative to my former “privileged” position, for the next few. Truth be known, I had very little structure and authority, ahem, “weighing me down” through it all and I ran as wild and as beset as a lone wolf; guided only by the warrior ethos of our ancestors as embodied in the myths (Eddic) and legends of our folk (eg. Walter of Aquitaine, Deitrich of Bern, Hrolf Kraki); which indeed, in hindsight could hardly have been more ideal in these modern times and those earlier years of the Reawakening. And needless to say perhaps, there were a lot of very important, very hard lessons learned during that stretch … about who was and who wasn’t “tough” for starters, starting with myself, and moving on to the nature of violence, hardship and adversity, and the true value of violence, hardship and adversity; not to mention getting real about the entire “quest for Valhalla” romanticism, which certainly has it’s place, I suppose, as relative to age-set and then profession, but for most of us the process flows from boy to wolf to man.

The Creation myth, and the nature of the divine as it pertains to the world of men, that I grew up with from 12/13 years old onward corresponded with my experience of life; each coming to inform the other as “resonant reflections” of the other. The belief that the Tivar are NOT all-powerful or all-knowing, any more than they are all loving or accepting. There are many, many other “spirits” in the Germanic cosmos afterall, spirits of nature, some of them quite powerful and all but heedless of humanity, breeding in me the understanding that a Germanic person would never ask in the wake of a natural disaster for example, “How could God allow this???” Rather we would thank the gods that, for all those that might have perished, so many yet remain. Indeed, the Norse-Icelandic Creation myth has it that the gods were not the Alpha. Nature just began to evolve, as the inevitable result of one of the infinite possibilities contained in the “pregnant void” called Ginnungagap … ultimately giving raise to it’s own polar opposite, as per the general pattern of Eddic evolution, in the birth of divine consciousness … as the end result of this aconscious process, to get all “Thorssonian” with you. But before that there was the birth of Ymir (Noisemaker) — Father Nature, as contrasted with Mother Nature/Nurture as embodied in the Eddic cow Audhumbla (Nourisher) — who’s multitude of offspring are said to be the very embodiment of hardship and adversity as found in nature. And it is from the synthesis of adversity and nurture that glory is born … glory being all but synonymous in the Indo-European tongues, and certainly the Germanic tongues, with divinity, with divine consciousness; from which Creation, as a thing distinct from “objective existence”, evolved.

In Germanic philosophy, the woes of life, the forces of adversity and transience, are a given. They might conceivably have to do with a god, sometimes, but this is not at all necessary or even common. They are simply the orlaeg of human existence within nature. For the most part, gods do not care about individual humans, save as they prove themselves to be exceptional and of benefit to the tribe, the evolution of the tribe being their only real concern … for the same reasons, I’d guess, that a farmer cares more about the well-being of the herd than any one animal within it (with the exception of what the pagan Roman’s called the “victim” of course, ie. the one set part by the gods). And really, from the native Germanic standpoint, the gods gave us the breath of life, creative consciousness, goodly form, the gifts of language and art and culture … the fundamentals and basic framework to handle our own affairs in this middle realm.

It often seems to me that people ask and expect too much of God/s, while at the same time dismissing or simply ignorant of the sheer abundance they have long since heaped upon us and which has served us well down through the ages and unto this very day. Prayer and sacrifice, as with magic and charms, are supplements to action, not substitutes for it. And bad things happen … because the universe is an inherently hostile place. From the smallest micro-organisms to the most humbling of inter-stellar phenomenon and at all points in between. You either rise to the challenges of existence … or you get crushed under them. There is no wishing them away.

The Thunder Beckons (written c.1989)

I was lost within a dark yawning void,
the taste of life bitter in my mouth
dreams shattered at an age far too young.
I cried out, but no answered.
For centuries I sat and withered,
waiting for a reply.
Then, just as hope began to fade
a low rumble of thunder echoed in the distance
Lightning flashed revealing a realm of gods, heroes and hope.
Soon, the lightning ceased, the gleaming spires faded from view,
but ever did the thunder beckon me onward!
Always offering the strength, to fight one last battle.
The will, to take one last step.
‘Til I stood at the gates of the Golden Realm.
Armed and gird, in gleaming mail,
And shining with the light of ancestral troth.

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