Moderation vs. Abstinence: The Odinist View of Pleasure
by Viktor C. Lesson
Most parents have to deal with it--the scenario of a curious child playing with matches. In fact, this is so common the question is not whether or not you will have to face this situation, but how to respond. The popular method is to take the matches from them: scold or even spank, and make sure it doesn't happen again. Is this the right course of action? Would it not be better to teach a child proper uses for fire and respect for its power?
I brought this concept to a good friend of mine who agreed completely. He remembered from childhood when his Dad taught him how to shoot a gun for targets or edible game, how to respect it and handle firearms safely. Not only was it a valuable lesson for him, it was also a bonding experience between father and son.
At its core the above probably best represents the difference between Pagan and Christian morality. The latter is absolute, black and white. You are either a good Christian, who follows very specific rules on your way to heaven or you're on your way to damnation for all eternity. When 'sin' is committed you either beg Yahweh for forgiveness or suffer eternally, simple as that. It is a morality based on fear and the hope for a reward.
Odinic morality is different; rather than trying to dictate all personal actions, it seeks to educate and protect the folk. Telling your child to not play with matches might cause him/her to become even more curious as to what the big deal is and set the back yard on fire. I know I did this when I was a kid! Odinic scriptures give us broad guidelines, such as always keeping one's word, being honorable and trustworthy in one's dealings, and leave the details to a person's judgement.
It is useful to compare Odinic and Middle Eastern views of morality, because these three, including Islam and Judaism, are the frame of reference for the majority of
"Westerners." I'm not here to insult anyone's particular path, but to show why I feel the one I follow is best for me. You can make up your own mind about which one is
best for you.
From a religious perspective you divide the realms of pleasure into five categories: sexual pleasure, consumptive pleasures, pleasures of Nature, pleasures of the mind, and pleasure in friendship. We will address these accordingly. The first, sexual pleasure has in all faiths its limitations and allowances. First and foremost I must say that there aren't any limits on the ways a husband and wife can pleasure each other. In fact, the more ways you can come up with the better, for few things please the Gods more than a happy, healthy, and long lasting marriage. Odinic morality only limits conduct, which could do physical or psychological harm to the folk.
Many of these limitations are on acts that we would know were wrong if no doctrine anywhere had ever existed. Acts such as child molestation and rape are forbidden. There aren't any laws written in stone on the former, but do we need any? Such laws probably weren't created in early times because such disgraceful deeds were unheard of when Europe was still heathen. If such an act occurred, a kinsman would swiftly avenge it, so there was little need for dogma on that point. We know that rape was a capital crime in ancient Saxony, where the great Irminsul--the World Pillar stood above the Odinists of that land.
Few of us have to worry about these laws effecting our daily lives since we do not see them as limitations at all, but assumptions about what is right. There are four sexual limitations, which we are more likely to encounter in contemporary society. These are prohibitions on the practices of homosexuality, promiscuity, miscegenation, and adultery. It is important to realize at this point the origin of Teutonic Pagan morality. It was not the fear-driven precepts of a fire-deity, speaking from a Sinai volcano or burning shrubbery. This set of moral principles was based, rather, on the needs of practical society. There is no injunction to "honor the Sabbath," of which practice the priesthood would be the primary beneficiaries.
Rather, there is the injunction that sexuality by natural law serves two evolutionary functions. Firstly, it assures propagation or maintenance of the peoples adapted to the region, those who have a long tie with the land, like a Frisian seaman, whose lineage might be lost in the mists of history. Secondly, monogamous sexuality assures pair-bondings so that two parents are available to turn their attentions to raising a healthy, productive offspring. Pair-bonding families and societies supportive of them, as in traditional Japanese culture, have a very low rate of sexually transmitted diseases.
To the ancient Teutons being married by the age of 25 (ra Linda Bókpg.27) was required of every person, with the risk of banishment for those who violated this. Such a measure might seem extreme to us today, with our emphasis on personally having extra income and having fun, and on personal freedom. Modern Western societies serve notice as to what happens with a drastically falling birthrate. A people who do not replace themselves through responsible reproduction will soon be replaced in the lands of their ancestors by those whose numbers are not limited by personal responsibility or even the ability to feed the seven children each family expects to produce. Tacitus in his Germania explained the importance of the marriage union and of having children in Northern Europe.
Homosexuality was not a simple "taboo" to ancient Teutons. It was simply a practice, which failed to create children for the maintenance of the folk. If there is a natural law, a biological 'reason for being,' it is to create more of one's kind and to raise these offspring in a healthy manner in a healthy environment. The AIDS-stricken gay men at New York bathhouses who reported thousands of sexual partners were not fulfilling this basic biological imperative. The same is true of "straight" men and women who try to play a 'numbers game' sexually a risky behavior in a very practical sense.
In a spiritual perspective, procreation is the ultimate sexual union, and should heighten the matrimonial bonds in a way that is not available to homosexuals or persons who
use it for entertainment. The only known bisexual/hermaphrodite in our lore is the great enemy of the Gods and Goddesses, and Natural Order, the demon Loki
(Gylfaginning ch.14.Voluspa hin Skamma str. 13, and Lokasenna 23), giving us an idea of how North Europeans, whether from the British Isles, Scandinavia, or Russia
have viewed such behavior.
Miscegenation is spoken against in ra Linda Bók pg. 10 and Seiđr, paradigm §54. These acts have to be prohibited because they can be destructive from the very first moment they occur. It one mates outside their race and has a child, which can happen with just one coupling, then an entire genetic line has been stopped by an act of lust or severe irresponsibility. Collectively, when miscegenation occurs on a large scale, the result is genocide. We learn in modern ecological science to value diversity of sub-species and we are told that one of the threats to the red wolf is miscegenation with coyotes. Since coyotes have a high birth rate and can scavenge in a variety of climates, even living off human garbage, they can "export" genes and still remain a viable sub-species. The red wolf, which requires a less degraded environment, and lacks the coyote's numbers, loses some of its viability as a species every time one carries a litter of half-coyote pups. In a sacred analogy, it would only be logical for the Gods and Goddesses of a folk to create laws that proscribe self-destructive collective or individual behavior.
Adultery is similar to homosexuality in that it is a violation of the institution of marriage. It threatens the stability of homes and works against the proper rearing of children. "Without marriage," as the Odin Brotherhood tells us, "love cannot be a sacrament (because)... when there is no commitment men and women fall into the bottomless pit of erotic anarchy". The Eddas and other sources explain the terrors that await these debauchees. Teutonic theology used symbols found also in other religions, as in the Buddha's Fire Sermon, where the Enlightened One compares the reckless fulfillment of the senses to a fire, which consumes mental capacity and the ability to live in non-attachment. In Nifelhel, the Odinic realm of fog and darkness, which represents (as did "Hades" for the Hellenic Pagans) the unenlightened, base, self-centered, and materialistic mentality. Those nidings (law breakers) wade through heavy streams of venom, as the baseness of their compulsion to self-aggrandizement and petty gratifications 'stings' or 'burns' them metaphorically with its consequences, (Voluspa 38 and Saxo Grammaticus' Historia Danica Book VIII) whether those of STD's, unwanted pregnancies, or the pains of drug addiction. The consequences of amoral pursuit of lower pleasure at the expense of health, the health of one's tribe, or harm to another, are right here and now, although show to us through the lens of an afterlife.
There are sexual acts which are not prohibited by Odinic law which we may not agree with today. Different cultures and different times developed different types of morality. I am here talking about polygamy and incest. Few Pagan cultures did not practice these and the Old Teutonic literature has many cases presented. That all cultures' religions evolve different mores over time has a biblical parallel, as Joshua, an Old Testament hero, commits what would today be termed genocide repeatedly, which example is not present in the New Testament.
Odin, Himself, has had many wives and Viktor Rydberg in hisResearches in Germanic Mythology vol.1 (ch.84--90) gives evidence that Frigga is the daughter of Ladder--Ve, the brother of Odin. Thus, His senior wife is also His niece. We can neither condemn nor condone this practice for it is a representative of an earlier era. Modern science and experience have shown that incest can create genetic dysfunctions, so, as miscegenation, it would be a harmful practice.
Polygamy is a different story. Our North European ancestors may have thought this necessary, as so many males died in fishing or trading at sea or through warfare. I can't see any reason why anyone would have a problem with numerous spouses so long as all were in agreement and the oaths of the marriage rite were not broken. The difference between polygamy and adultery is that one is open and honest, the other a lie.
The next category of pleasure concerns those that are consumptive: alcohol, food, or drugs. Our literature is full of passages that warn us against the dangers of alcohol abuse. In Havamál, Odin, the high God, tells us that "A worse provision on the way he cannot carry than too much beer--bibbing; so good is not, as it is said, beer for the sons of men." (Had. l) Again, the sacred text reads, "A worse provision no man can take from table than too much beer--bibbing, for the more he drinks the less control he has of his own mind." (Had.12).
These aren't the only passages in Havamál, which speak against excessive drinking. The point is that All--Father does not preach abstention from alcohol. In fact, mead is all He consumes as explained, to us in Havamál 14, his once being "over--drunk" on it. Mead is the sacred drink to Odinists and all the characters of our lore. It is identical to the soma--madhuof the Hindus and the ambrosia of the Hellenists. He warns us to exercise caution and use moderation in our dealings with "the heron of heedlessness". Thus, moderation, not abstinence, is encouraged. In addition to this, throughout the Seiđr, we are shown vignettes of advanced practitioners of stahagaldr (whence Yoga derived later, when the Aryans invaded India), who modify their consciousness without any drugs.
He also warns against too much consumption of food; "his belly oft maketh the butt of a man" (Had.2O). Such edicts against alcoholism and gluttony serve as warnings to us, but are not "deadly sins." The Seiđrparadigms echo Odin's thoughts in an affirmation--"I can refrain from too much trencher (feeding) and too many cups."(§9).
Drug use is a highly controversial issue in the Odinic movement. Although there aren't any specific religious guidelines for this most Asatruar want little to do with the drug culture for we often equate it (and rightfully so) with weakness, cowardice, degeneracy, and the passive "hippie" movement. Yet, it is doubtful that any shamanistic society existed which did not employ some form of drug use.
Our religion, in ancient times, and perhaps in scattered practices today, was flush with shamans. Still, we are in a modern context, where any use of a mind-altering drug, even if ingested in a the same spirit as an Apache shaman, after days of fasting and meditation in order to prepare for passage (leidandr) can be construed by some self-righteous DA as "abuse." Even the spiritual life in its former fullness is highly regulated and many of its former practices proscribed in the modern plutocracy with its electronic surveillance of every citizen and laws against several private behaviors, which become victimless crimes. To avoid the federal gulag, the modern practitioner of shamanism must simply realize that this is a different world.
There is also evidence that they used some form of intoxicant to obtain their battle fury. However, we have to eliminate the possibility of any Odinist's using "hard drugs" because these are far too addictive to ever be used in moderation. Drug addiction causes one to lose all loyalty for anything accept their drug of choice; this includes alcoholism. Alcohol can be used socially and religiously without harm to anyone but only in moderation. This leaves us with the question of "soft drugs" such as marijuana, LSD, peyote, etc.
My personal philosophy is this: I will only drink in a religious atmosphere. I will not use drugs unless they are for medical purposes. Two facts of our contemporary world have to stop one: first, the police state, where even a private act can result in some New World Order storm trooper's breaking down the door to kill or arrest you for it. Second, I could only consider use under the guidance of an experienced Seikona or Seimadr, performing an authentic ritual of Seiđr (Nordic shamanism).
Taking pleasure in nature is the spirit, which informs Wagner's music in Siegfried's Rhine Journey from his opera, Götterdammerung. It is the finding of pleasure in observing, and being mindlessly absorbed in nature that inspires several of the gems, the passages which shine in the Seiđr, like Paradigm 28, "Without knowing, all is fresh, and the day's path to stream yet is filled with surprise, with wonder." Throughout the Eddas and The ra Linda Bók, as in the above, we read of a people's immersion in the beauty, awe, and immensity of nature.
It is the same with the life of the mind. Not only are the sagaic, eddaic, and Frisian records replete with mentions of scalds, poets, and sages, but we even see an intergenerational practice of passing on knowledge as oral history and theology to children. A good example would be in Seiđr Paradigm 45, "Frey's Man-at-Harvest went out with girl-child, gathering barley. Bronze-armed and strong, he had scythed: they had gathered and tied the sheaves. In a shade of stack he paused to tell her of Gods, of kings, of ships; memories from him flowed whilst she lay her head on his hard shoulder in the late-noon (afternoon) heat."
Bronze Age labyrinth pattern playing surfaces etched in level stone were found at Chaldon in Surrey, England. At Fünen, Denmark, the VimoseHrefatafl board dates from about 400, C.E. In the Gokstad ship burial of 900 C.E. are remains of a board with merels etched on one side and tafl on the other. Tafl (table in Old Norse), hrefatafl, or kongstafl (king's table) are the predecessors of modern chess, which would reach its present form in Castilia, as recorded in the Alfonso Manuscript of 1283, C.E. A board game, which later became asalto, was known as 'fox-chess,' or refskák in Icelandic. Obviously, people of the Odinic culture area enjoyed thought-provoking, mind-stretching games in their leisure. That they had books, also, even in an era when these were hand-printed on shaved-birch pages (bók in Norse, whence our English word, 'book'), is attested by the fact that the first Christian king of the Franks, Charlemagne, burned hundreds of volumes. His kingdom spanned much of what are today Germany and the Low Countries, as well as France. [An excellent treatment of board games can be found inSecret Games of the Gods by Nigel Pennick, 1989; Samuel Weiser, Inc.; York Beach, ME.]
There is the pleasure of friendship of being around one's own kind, where those of like inherent disposition are a comfortable presence. There are so many passages in our
literature on this it would be impossible to list them all here. The basic idea behind the Odinist concepts of friendship is reciprocity. Odin says in Havamál 42: "To his friend
a man should be a friend, and gifts with gifts requite, laughter with laughter men should receive, but leasing with lying".
An Odinist / Asatruar is loyal to his/her friends, 1oved ones, and family, but will not play victim to any of them. Generosity is one of our greatest virtues, but we will not be taken advantage of. You can see that the morality of this faith does not seek to suppress the nature of men, but rather to give direction and guidance in matters that have the potential for destruction. To sum up all of this we again look to Viktor Rydberg's Researches in Germanic Mythology Vol.1 where he is discussing the Helthing--the hearing for the newly departed where the Gods and Goddesses determine the afterlife destiny:
"The high court must have judged very leniently in regard to certain human faults and frailties- Sitting long by and looking diligently into the drinking--horn certainly did not lead to any punishment worth mentioning. The same was the case for fondness for female beauty, if care was taken not to meddle with the sacred ties of matrimony. With a pleasing frankness, and with much humour, the Asa--Father has told to the children of men adventures, which he himself has had in that line.
He warns against too much drinking, but admits without reservation and hypocrisy that he himself once was drunk, nay, very drunk, at Fjalar's, and what he had to suffer, on account of his uncontrollable longing for Billing's maid, should be a hint to men not to judge each other too severely in such matters (see Havamál). All the less he will do as judge. Those who are summoned to the Thing, and against whom there are no other charges, may surely count on a good ords tirr (imperishable judgement) if they in other respects have conducted themselves in accordance with the wishes of Odin and his associate judges: if they have lived lives free from deceit, honorable, helpful, and without fear of death.
This in connection with respect for the Gods, for the temples, for their duties to kindred and to the dead, is the alpha and the omega of the heathen Teutonic moral code, and the sure way to Hel's regions of bliss and to Va1hall..." (Hel or Hela is simply the Old Norse name for the Goddess of Fate and the Afterlife. She is in no way associated with Christian uses of the term "Hell.")
"If the judgement on the dead is lenient in these respects, it is inexorably severe in other matters. Lies uttered to injure others.. perjury, murder (secret murder, assassination, not justified as blood--revenge), adultery, the profaning of temples, the opening of grave--mounds, treason, cannot escape their awful punishment. Unutterable terrors await those guilty of these sins."
Our religion is not without a system of atonement. Rather than simply begging for forgiveness (which seems to me just too easy) our religion works by the concept known as afrad gjalda ("j" pronounced like "y")--"the payment of compensation." This can be manifested in sacrifice, though I should say here that we do not perform human sacrifices. Christian archeologists sometimes found condemned child-molesters or rapists and assumed, because this was one of Rome's pretexts for destroying the Pagan regions of Europe, that the deceased were evidence of "sacrifice." By this standard, a graveyard at a Florida or Texas prison dug up by future archeologists would convince students of this era that human burnt sacrifice, using the electric chair, to the Judeo-Christian war deity, known as Yahweh or Jehovah, was common.
If a modern Pagan sacrifices an animal it is to use as food, just as anyone who eats meat. Afrad gjalda is actually the recognition that one actually must work to right wrongs, not so different from the 'community service' alternative sentences handed down by more enlightened judges today. We think of 'sacrifice' in a different light today, too. We have the example before us in the Seiđr of the sacrifice of one's time, or the satisfaction of more immediate gratifications toward a higher goal or a higher understanding of pleasure.
Is it any wonder that the Roman Pagan goddess of justice (Justia) stands before the U.S. Supreme Court building? The philosophy of 'paying' for one's crimes which in ancient times would often actually require a payment of money, such as the weregild--"man-- payment" where one gave money to the survivors of the person he had slain, was common practice in Nordic societies.
Given our knowledge of ancient Northern European beliefs we have good reason to doubt that the punishments of Nifelhel are permanent. Perhaps the námaeli--"judgement of the damned" would always lie on the heads of those convicted (Had.76 and 77) but it is not likely that the Gods and Goddesses at the Helthing condemn people to eternal suffering. Most likely there is a sentence handed out, much like those in human courts, which were believed to be modeled after that of the Gods.
A person's pleasures had to be taken so as to harm none in the deepest and fullest sense. Pleasure must be in moderation and in a healthy context, which helps to preserve a healthy society and a mentally and physically wholesome person, living by natural laws, as typified and overarched by the divinely manifest laws of the Gods and Goddesses. We have, in the body of texts, and the isolated survivals of our faith in practice, the meta-example of a spiritual dynamic, which allows the individual's gratification of pleasures and the need to create and maintain a stable and functional society.
In his 1960 essay, "The White Negro," author Norman Mailer (best-seller was The Naked and the Dead) maintained that there a society had to choose between the orgasm and the family. Those who choose to be an orgiastic culture, could find themselves, like Jamaica, with 85% of children's growing up without a father in the house. This is not a criticism of that society, just the recognition of a very serious trade-off, as those same children may find the missing 'father' figure in an elder or more dominant peer, through gang membership. The Odinic theology provides for, we believe- and it is a personal valuation- the apportioning of personal pleasures so that they do not detract from the society's evolution. Healthy indulgence of the pleasures of the senses is encouraged. Being a servant to one's appetites, or their wrong indulgence, is proscribed.
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