Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Only a fool...

Not so long ago I wrote about morality, the gods and their behaviours in the lore. I concluded my examination and analysis of the mythic texts with a rather forceful entreaty that the gods had earned my trust and I had no reason to doubt their fidelity. I like to think myself as someone who is not a fool and so I also provided a caveat. This proviso was that my unequivocal statement was based upon my reading of the lore and personal devotion relating to the gods of Irish myth and culture alone. I stand by that statement, but so too do I stand by my caveat, because when it comes right down to it:

Only a fool would trust Odin
For his plans may be for the best
But what is best may not be for you
If you value a long life
Grímnir is best avoided
Honour and glory are his reward
But they are bought at a heavy price
I say this with the utmost respect and gravity, and my intention here is not to impugn the gods, to cast aspersions upon Their persons or to belittle those who are devoted to them. Rather, it is simply through a desire to understand Their natures and tendencies that theology and herumenics can be developed in a polytheistic context.

Not all gods have YOUR best interest at heart
It is made mention in the short stanza above, but it calls for a nuanced comprehension. Providing that the gods we are talking about are limited to those with which human endeavor coincide (i.e. gods that represent war, justice, agriculture, art, magic, love, law, government, sovereignty, child birth, the dead, etc.), because those with functions or associations outside the realm of human endeavor will more often than not ignore humans (and those gods who are malicious are best entreated with or avoided). Therefore I limit my scope to those whose business relates to our own, and it is in this context that a more nuanced appreciation is needed. For while the gods may seek to aid in our actions where our functions or desires overlap, this does not mean that they always will, or that our need outweighs Theirs.
If you want to be a warrior, par excellence; seeking battle, bloodshed and above all victory, then few gods will be as well suited to your endeavors as would Odin. Odin is a god of many names (over 200) and a considerable number of those epithets relate directly to his function as a god of war and battle. Yet there was always a purpose to war, a reason that he would incite hatred in the hearts of men and urge them to battle:

From "Auda's Art Blog"
More often than not, being one of “Odin’s Chosen” was as much a blessing as a curse; a life of fame and glory bought with blood and untimely death. This motif of glory and honour in exchange for a short life is one of the more common threads among the heroic literature of several Indo-European cultures and can be seen also in Irish and Greek sources. The All-Fathers motivation, however, is considerably different than those heroes desire for honour, he needs an army.

While the exact nature of where and how the concept of Ragnarök came into being, if its conception was wholly pre-Christian or mingled with Christian eschatology is debatable, what is not is that the mythic lore has been framed with this most awesome of inevitabilities. As such, it could certainly be argued that Odin’s entire motivation for causing war and strife is to collect the valorous dead and mold them into a fighting force to stand with him on the last day. In this light, Valhalla is best understood as a temporary reprieve and not as a final, paradisiacal “heaven”. Only death and slaughter await those whom Odin chooses, but by their valour and sacrifice is a future made possible. Often enough Odin would cause weapons to fail, provide disastrous military advice or other such nefarious ploys in order to ensure those he needed died in combat.
So while I believe the All Father is worthy or respect and devotion (even if I do not worship him personally), it behooves us to recognize that beings with a “long view” perspective of things will inevitably have their own agendas and purposes. So too is it worth realizing that even when our desires or needs overlap with Theirs, that we may be supported by those same gods in our efforts, our ends may be the price we pay for that support.

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