The latest offering from the amazing duo over at Frithcast challenged their listeners to consider how our lifestyle informs our faith and how faith informs our lifestyle. If you have not heard of this podcast you have missed quite a lot. Suzanne Martin and Kate Coldwind are a pair of intelligent and articulate ladies who share their virtual campfire every fortnight with any who wish to join. Suzanne is a Heathen Gythia (in jeans) and Kate is a coffee powered Romanesque Druidry thing. They discuss things of a Heathen nature influenced by the Norse Pagan Myth-cycle.
In episode 73 they discuss lifestyle of a modern Heathen using the common (and popular) social media meme that shows an isolated cabin in the woods asking if you would give up something that seems be important to modern society (internet for example), or for a huge sum of money, to live in this cabin. The comparison comes in the form that most modern-day Heathens live a spiritually solitary life – like the cabin – isolated and dependent on their own resources. Which is also why a Heathen is likely to quite adamantly and emphatically like, share, retweet…whatever social media term you find yourself using for spreading memes. We are likely to desire the lifestyle portrayed by this scene…for reasons. Anyway, listen to the Frithcast. Bring your own marshmallows and cold knees, the ladies will provide warmth for your knees and great company and stories!
To consider how my lifestyle informs my faith, and/or how my faith informs my lifestyle, I believe I would have to define my faith. Something I have been trying to do for the better part of a decade. I don’t know that I truly have a faith. I see the gods and goddesses as more of a description of an idea; some concept that either was hard to explain or just was beyond human understanding. Some would call me a soft polytheist. I do believe that the gods and goddesses are real – all gods and goddesses not just the ones who are most familiar to me. I don’t believe that Odin is a physical being, but I do believe that the “spirit” of Odin can manifest in a physical way. So, I cannot say that I have a faith.
Yet I do believe that there is some type of metaphysical memory, or something like that, that exists in all of us. This could be the soul that many think of. I believe this is a form of energy. Energy, as far as we can understand physics at this point, can neither be created or destroyed, only transferred. What is has always been and always will be. Since energy can not be created there must exist a finite amount, therefore new life (new to this realm of existence) must be brought by some of that energy. This would give us our ancestral memory, or instincts; that which we know to be true but have no way to prove or justify. This is called hamingja and is part of ørlög and wyrd. I am not getting any further into these in this post – that is not the aim of this post.
Instead of a faith what I have is a strong curiosity for the culture, the society, of the ancient Nordic people. This I learn through many forms. The Sagas, the Eddas – Voluspa and Havamal primarily. I don’t see these as religious texts. Yes, they are stories about or by the gods and goddesses. The Havamal is the known as “Words from the High One” (this would be Odin). I do not believe that Odin wrote the words in the Havamal. I do believe that the concept of Odin inspired the words, but most likely no one person wrote the Havamal, but rather it is a collection of “You know what Odin would say” type of folk tales.
The concept that resonated the most with me from my studies of the ancient Nordic people is that of community. Family, clan, tribe…in that order…were important to these ancestors because their lives quite literally depended on being a member of their communities. Winter is harsh in the northern lands, and it is long (compared to what I know from Kansas and Arkansas). Having the support of a community was about survival during the hardest of times. Family was the first in order of importance. Kin – blood family and those who were accepted as blood family – came first. You were protected by and you protected your family. The clan came after. By clan I mean your family outside of the immediate kin. This might be your wife’s siblings or your brother’s in laws. Those connected to your family but not quite kin. Then the tribe. The tribe is all the kinships and clans who lived together – this would be the whole village perhaps.
The concept of Gebō – reciprocity – is part of this community. The belief that you have obligations to your community because your community has given to you. At the basic level you have obligations to your family for the life you have. The literal blood and being but also the material side – your Fehu (wealth). The community you live in offers many things that would be difficult, if not impossible, for you do on your own. The dangers of the wilds were a true threat in those ancient times. You were expected to become individually skilled so that you could best contribute to the community.
Honing a trade skill wasn’t meant to be for personal profit. It was meant to used to help your community grow, to be stronger and wealthier. The better you could make your family, the better your hamingja became to pass on. This is the concept that informs my lifestyle the most. I do what I do for my family. I go to work and have increased my personal worth to my employer to provide the best life for my family. This, in turn, helps to improve my community. The concept of reciprocity is being lost. We have many individuals who are improving their own lot but are not doing it for their community.
My next step is to become a teacher. Yes, as in public school teacher. I plan to apply for a Master of Science in Education (MSE) with a focus on guidance counseling in the fall. I feel this is a good next step in giving back to my community…whatever or wherever community that is.