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Category Archives: Faith & Magic

I walk a pagan path, but come from a Christian upbringing and have encountered some fine people who follow other religions and worldviews. I have met and made magic. For me, it is a branch of science as yet undiscovered but nonetheless real.

More Gods than Most

I’m a religious bloke, but it ain’t no-one’s business but me own. However, there have been expressions of curiousity, which I have been unable to fully meet. That’s the way of personal, eclectic polytheism. 🙂

Now, I have more gods than most, and powers abound from and beyond them. But behind them, far back in the mists generated by the destruction of Britain’s native religions, there stands a crone in a red skirt and a horned man in a homespun shirt. Two figures so indelible they must have scared the usurpers something fierce for them to wreak such havoc during attempts to erase their lore.

As (probable) manifestations of multi-aspected deities, we cannot do much more than guess at what they represented and how they were propitiated (and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying). So I, like many, walk an exploratory, subjective path in a world turned cold to the mass expression, appreciation and usage of the as-yet unquantified abilities collectively entitled ‘magic’.

I have striven for a while to formulate a decent answer to those aforementioned queries. But, in the end, I realised that song is better suited than any words I could assemble.

This track is as close as I can get to introducing the goddess who probably spends far more of her time being amused by my antics than any result I might prefer: the original version of Uriah Heep’s Lady in Black.

Blessed Be.

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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Faith & Magic

 

You’re Not Going to Valhalla, So Knock It Off

(Nabbed from the very worthy Not For Nothing blog by Matti Frost – check the blogroll for the link.)

I don’t write very much about religion, especially mine.  Most people who know me know that I consider myself a Heathen but I don’t make a big deal over it.  I don’t blot with a kindred, I don’t observe many holidays, and I rarely pray or participate in rituals.  You know what I do?  I read.  I participate in several online forums where the information flies forth like limitless mead.  One discussion on one part of the Hávamál can easily wipe out three hours of time that could probably better be spent actually doing things around the house that needs to be done.  But, that’s what many Heathens do once we get past the Hail-storm.  You know, whenever someone even mentions Odin the hail starts flying.  Alright, we got it.  You really like Odin.

When I first started down this path I wasn’t much different.  It was all Viking metal, horns full of inebriating substances, lots of hails, calling on the gods as if they were neighbors in my trailer park.  Sign of the hammer, that was a good one.  How a person raised Roman Catholic didn’t put THAT one together is beyond me.  But- all newbies trip and stumble.  We walk in with our eyes wide open.  We all follow those who went before us and sometimes we walk right into a tree.  The trouble is, most people don’t ever get past that point, and they simply superimpose Norse mythology onto, in most cases, Christian premises.

One of the biggest examples of this is the concept of Valhalla.  Simply put, if a person dies honorably in battle, a Valkyrie may appear and carry them off to Asgard where they will spend the rest of time in Valhalla.  Each day they will train for Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, by fighting, killing, and being slain, only to be resurrected at the day’s end to feast and celebrate with Odin in his great hall.  Sounds great, right?  Personally, I don’t think I would want to die over and over again… it’s a bit Promethean if you ask me.  But, my own opinion aside- ask yourself this:  Doesn’t this sound exactly like what most other religions say about martyrdom?  How many people who think they’re Valhalla-bound scoff at fundamentalist Muslims who believe that if they die in jihad, they will spend eternity in paradise with 72 virgins?  That doesn’t sound appealing either, virgins just won’t be good in bed, and 72?  Nevermind, I am off injecting logic into what is clearly a ridiculous concept.

As is the idea of dying and going to Valhalla. (Yes, I am using Wikipedia for basic definitions of things we can agree on, this is not meant to be a dissertation).

I hate to be the one to break this to a LOT of Brosatruars wearing hammers around their necks lifting weights to Amon Amarth, but you’re not going to Valhalla.  There are many reasons but let’s start with the first- why would you take that tale, or ANY tale from any ancient religion, in a literal context?  And, as a Heathen or Asatruar or even Odinist, how can you NOT see the parallels to the Abrahamic reward-based faiths?  That if you live this way or die that way, here is your eternal reward?  How can you not realize that  kings and lords and generals have always used religious fervor to inspire their warriors, especially when the odds were against them?  Maybe dying isn’t so bad if I can take as many of the enemy with me and earn a spot in Valhalla.  Believing in these things as a literal truth allowed those warriors to ease their fears of being hacked to pieces and left for the ravens.

There are other issues around the myth of Valhalla that need to be deconstructed too.  I’ve seen a lot of people lawyering about, saying things like, “well, in these days, overcoming ANY personal struggle can lead to Valhalla”.  “If I die defending someone I love, the gods will choose me”.  “If I live according to the Nine Noble Virtues, I can get in”.  Or, “Sorry, even if you were a great soldier, if you live to old age and die peacefully surrounded by your family, you won’t get into Valhalla”.  Before I tackle these, allow me a moment to smack my forehead against a stone wall.

There.  Now I feel a little better.

1.  Overcoming any significant challenge is the same as dying in battle.  No, it’s not.  It may be a significant victory, or, should you bravely fight cancer and succumb, how you fought the illness might be looked at with favor by your family, your ancestors, maybe even the gods.  But, nonetheless, it is NOT the same as being hacked to pieces while fighting tenaciously and honorably.

2.  If I die defending someone I love, the gods will choose me.  Not likely, unless you are already a skilled warrior who the gods want fighting at their side.  *I* could die defending my friends and family, maybe even take out one or two attackers in the process, but I’m not a trained fighter.  I am just okay with a sword.  I haven’t fired a gun since I was a teenager.  And, I hate fighting.  Valor alone does not make the cut.  Think about it, the number of Einhejrar in Valhalla is not limitless, and do you not agree that Odin would want the absolute best of the best riding alongside him into battle?  This goes double for the Facebookatru whose battles consist of arguing with other Heathens, hailing every image with a Mjolnir in it, and posting memes about honoring the gods while not really doing much to honor them.  Ask yourself honestly if you meet the criteria of being one of the best warriors in all of history, then you can talk about Valhalla.

3.  If I live according to the Nine Noble Virtues…  look, the Nine Noble Virtues are not the Ten Commandments.  They are not some sort of Heathen orthodoxy.  For those of your not familiar, the NNV are: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance.  They’re not bad things to strive for, but they are not unique to Heathenry.  You can find most of them tacked up on a wall in any Karate studio in almost every strip mall in the country.  Many religions and philosophies teach these things as good and desirable because they generally lead to self-improvement, but simply adopting this as some type of rigid code isn’t what gets you chosen for Valhalla.

4.  Even if you were a great soldier, if you live to old age and die peacefully surrounded by your family, you won’t get into Valhalla  There is a concept called the ‘straw death’ in which it’s seen as weak to go out of this life sick and bedridden, that it’s somehow more noble to die in a battle.  Back then, warriors who knew they were ill and dying would simply go into the first battle they could and take a sword through the heart.  Hey, it beats lingering around, puking and shitting all over the place until you expire in a pile of your own stench, right?  That’s why today, people are fighting for the right to assisted suicide, so they don’t have to spend their last days in agony, or worse.  However, let’s say you were once a great warrior who didn’t die in a battle.  You instead helped bring about a time of peace and prosperity to your land.  Your exploits were heralded and known throughout, but- by sheer luck, you get sick and die in your old age surrounded by your family.  No Valhalla?

So a guy with zero military training dies with valor defending someone he loves and gets in, but a seasoned veteran whose skill and knowledge of warfare eclipses that of many, nope, didn’t die in a battle.  That’s legit?

Do you really think Odin, who is also the god of wisdom, would see it that way?  Even with one eye?  C’mon.

But this all goes to the greater picture.  Too many of us are hung up on this idea of going to Valhalla when we die.  Why?  I asked myself one day if that was where I wanted to be and when I thought about it, I mean really, really thought about it- I said no.  If there is a life beyond this one, I don’t want to spend it fighting petty battles.  And yes, Ragnarok is petty, but that’s another topic.  According to the mythology there are many halls in Asgard, and there are eight other realms among the nine worlds.  If, like me, you don’t believe in this cosmology, there is infinite space, billions of galaxies, dimensions and other universes.  Is Valhalla really it?  Is there not something much, much bigger out there?  Dare to dream, folks.  Don’t stop seeking knowledge, and for the good of Heathenry in general, let’s drop the macho bullshit.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2014 in Faith & Magic, Quotes

 

Candle in the Night; Merry Xule

It’s winter solstice, the festival closest to my heart.

I’ve seen a lot of religious sniping this year – and I include the atheist fundamentalists in that – and it makes me sad. I see noble words and fine quotes, then next minute, it’s turned to sarcastic denigration and self-aggrandisement. Plus the one-upmanship of referring to festivals by their previous, supposedly previous or alternative names. Of course, these are all followed by the ‘place nicely’ and ‘why can’t we all get along’ apologists.

It annoys me so much I’ve just started calling this time of year ‘Xule’. It’s the Year’s End festival and it runs from the eve before the winter solstice to new year’s day. Xule. Tell your friends 😀

Wakee, wakee. We’re humans. We’re selfish, tribal and competitive. There are billions of us, all with differing opinions, societies and histories. Acknowledge that and put it behind you.

Greedy and powerful people of all religious persuasions and backgrounds are going to ruin this planet. Whether they survive the establishment of their richer-than-thou utopia remains a moot point. What is sure is that unless you’re a member of their various cliques, what they are doing will be very bad for you and your descendants.

We stand at the brink of an age of incredible progress. Or an age of despotism worse than any one country has suffered before. I hate to use such sweeping terms as ‘us and them’, but it’s becoming more and more relevant.

It’s winter solstice 2013.

Day 13.0.1.0.5 of the Mayan long count. The day of the snaking river that always changes without changing. It signifies the fleeting moment of eternal water. A good day for humility, a bad day for acting on self-interests. It lies in the first trecena of the Aztec sacred year, the thirteen days of which are governed by the primordial urge to create order out of chaos. The three treasures sought by wise men: speech, agriculture, and the family. The lineage of thought runs from seed to fruit to seed: these are good days to participate in the community; bad days for solitude.

It’s winter solstice 2013.

A time of resurgence, of turning your thoughts toward the coming year yet remembering the lessons and wisdom bequeathed by those you honoured at Samhain.

Light a candle. In the night but not against it.

Bow your head. A gift falls.

Respect be upon ye and blessings to those who look to thee.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2013 in Faith & Magic

 

Paraphernalia Not Required

As long as there is a heart in your chest and a sky above, you have a place of worship.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Faith & Magic

 

A New Faith

If I had suggested complete hardware replacement every year to my company, they would have quite rightly treated me like a lunatic.

I see we are about recieve the third coming: the iPad3.

The clever, nameless person who concieved the idea of marketing mobile devices as fashion accessories instead of traditional electronic equipment has my reluctant respect. He or she should still be shot, but my word, what a piece of moneymaking genius.

Marketing that keys into the same human drive as religious fervour. There are a lot of organisations envious of Apple. It is a singularly worrying trend that thankfully has not been emulated since. I can only believe that it will not be long, which is not a good thing. When you sit and consider the implications, they are terrifying.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Daybook, Faith & Magic

 

Letter to a Friend

  A friend turned to me for help with what could only be termed a ‘crisis of faith’. On reading my reply, I feel it had a few interesting points, so with the personalisation removed, here it is for your consideration.

Faith and magic are actually separate things, and belief or doubt in one does not preclude the other.

The world is a distracting place and the powers are at a low ebb, while gods & goddesses walk quiet yet ever present. In this time of material wealth that is best called the ‘Apparent’ world, there is so much science, and derision, and reality that you can indeed question whether faith and magic exist. The pagan path is experiential and subjective. Which means every person has differing experiences which are virtually meaningless to those who do not share similar.

Now, about this reality thing…

Magic is merely science that is unquantified as yet. Simple truth. Science changes as new discoveries are confirmed. To say that magic does not exist because it cannot be scientifically proven is narrow-mind rubbish. At a quantum level, observing an event can change it. Scale that up to a circle working where a group of like-minded folk use their will to enforce quantum level changes in reality and you may, I hope, begin to see something rather fine.

On a good day, time flies. On a bad day, time drags. Hang on. Time is an immutable scientific fact? Or is any time apart from that dictated by day, night and season merely an arbitrary imposition to help societies function?

Hmmm. So if time can be subjective, how about reality outside the quantum shenanigans previously described?

Take ten people to a performance. Ask them afterwards what they thought of the content, the presentation and the underlying meanings. Ten different opinions, probably with points of agreement, but some items will make others who were in the same place say “what?” because every experience is subjective.

So your reality is different from mine. We meet and act within a common reality defined by everyone… But it’s not the only one.

About the demands to ‘grow up’ and ‘stop being silly’? Is growing up defined by your need to limit your view to that of others? Indeed, modern society likes conformity. But it’s not necessarily real, it’s just the majority opinion. (At this point, let’s not look into mob mentality within these concepts, shall we?)

Compared to others, I have experienced very little. But what I have is enough for me to believe, down there next to my breathing, that there are greater entities that share this wonderful planet and far more things in the universe than science and imagination will ever be able to define. I believe that a man’s will can work wonders. Working magic is an extension of that will into the apparent world.

One day we shall walk and talk with gods. Until then I will bow my head as a cold wind passes going the wrong way, or a shooting star falls as I look to the heavens while feeling down. I nod to a fox as he passes and feel privilege as he does not change his course to avoid me, but treats me as a part of his world.

This is our world. We share it with so much. But the magic is there. You are looking too hard. Relax. There is no failure in not being able to see the fey, or have wonderful vision quests. Follow your heart and admit that you doubt. So do I. I question every thing I feel as arcane. But when the knowing settles as goosebumps on your arms or tingling in your gut, do not dismiss it. Learn to recognise it and then work out what triggered it. A gentle sensitivity can be blunted by time but it will never leave one who the paths have called. Just let it grow. Wander back to each other, if you will.

On nights of bright moon, get outside where you can see it, just on a balcony or a fire escape, where ever you can be alone and comfortable/safe, raise a glass and have a chat. The Lady knows her own. Walk a pagan path. One of them is yours, but there is no hurry. It’s not about arriving, it’s all about the journey.

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Faith & Magic

 

Any Sufficiently Advanced Magic is Indistinguishable from Technology

I’d like to talk today about technology, science, and magic.

Science is that art of discovering out how things in the world work through a rational process usually known as the scientific method. It’s make a guess, then test it; glass beakers over Bunsen burners; barometers tied to balloons; counting paramecium in a drop of stream water; digging up Babylonian batteries; control groups and double blinds.

I love science. I yearn to know the how and why of everything. As far as I’m concerned the goal of human existence should be to further the cause of science.

Yet by itself pure science is not terribly useful.

Figuring out Pi to another decimal place will not help anyone do their taxes. Knowing how many protons a copper atom has will not help you fix your car. Science only becomes useful when someone does something useful with it, i.e. when someone turns it into technology. Technology is applied science. Engineers take the theories and scribblings of scientists and try to turn them into bigger buildings and better mousetraps. Technology is levers and pulleys; generators and motors; pipes and circuits; missiles and plows.

Technology can be considerd a type of science.

Technology takes the raw discoveries of science and refines them into that which better our lives (hopefully). Science fuels technology; without the discovery of new things technology would grind to a halt (though we probably have a decent stockpile built to last us for quite some time). Without quantum mechanics we’d not have computers.

Technology enhances science as well. More advanced science requires more advanced tools, which require more advanced technology to build. We could not have discovered eurokerotic bacteria or the moons of Jupiter without microscopes and telescopes. So a feedback loop is created, where new science makes new technology possible, which in turn makes new science possible. Together science and technology can spiral ever outward into bigger and better things.

So where does magic fit into all of this? When we don’t know how something is done, we call it magic. Magic is ancient words and arcane writings; grimoires and shadow books; Loa and Manitou; chicken blood and mandrake root; rabbits out of hats; soup out of stones. A lot of people feel drawn to magic. It’s mystical and mysterious in all the ways science is not. Why is this, and why should you care?

I’m going to tell you a secret now. It’s something most good scientists know, but most laymen don’t think about:

All scientific theories are wrong.

Or at least none of them are right, not 100%. Or perhaps some of them are right, but science has no way knowing which, so we must operate as if all were negotiable. This is not a flaw of science, but rather its strength. Science advances when its theories advance, which could not happen if its theories were viewed as already perfect. Because we are aware our scientific model of reality is flawed, we can hope to improve upon it.

Many scientists can tell you why the sky is blue (Rayleigh scattering). A good number of these can explain Rayleigh scattering in terms of electrons and photons, and a few of those can generalize this explanation to the behavior of fermions and bosons. Yet no scientists can explain why fermions and bosons behave in this fashion. It’s magic! Science will likely someday understand this behavior better, but there will always be some fundamental principle to which we’ll have to say “it just is”. Magic lives on the frontiers of science; science might manage to push back these frontiers indefinitely, but magic will always wait just beyond.

Nor is this magic only found on the frontiers of science. When you step into an elevator and press the button marked “3” do you know how it takes you to the third floor? It’s magic! An elevator repair man might know what sort of gross mechanical parts are doing the work, but he very likely doesn’t know how the engine is constructed or why the pulleys pull. An engineer might know these things, but quite likely does not know the fundamental physical principles behind the operation of these things, or exactly how these things are put together to make the elevator move. A physicist might be able to tell you about the fundamentals, but little else of the process. In short, no one person knows everything there is too know about the operation of an elevator, yet we are still able to construct working elevators. This too is a sort of magic.

There is another type of unknown thing (aside from undiscovered things and things know collectively but not individually): things which we can’t wrap our logical minds around. There are conclusions we can draw and concepts we can devise which we simply cannot grasp on a completely rational level, eg. infinity; paradox; love. Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem proved that for any sufficiently complex system, there will be valid statements within that system that cannot be derived from that system. If our minds were simply logical systems then there would always be some things which they cannot comprehend, yet are still valid.

Yet our minds are not completely logical systems. This is often viewed as a bad thing (and often it is a bad thing, for much pain and suffering is a result of illogical thinking), but it has its benefits as well. We are not simple Turing machines and thus are not subject to the same halting problems] We can change our viewpoint and “step outside the box”. We have ways of understanding beyond traditional logic. Humanity has a grand tradition of dealing with that which is beyond our comprehension and beyond our ken; we have magic.

Science paints a good picture of reality. It is very carefully conceived and thus its answers can be trusted. Yet the picture is not complete, there are a lot of important questions that science cannot answer. Science can not tell you the meaning of life (though it might help you actualize that meaning). It can’t tell you what love is (though it might tell you what physical signs to look for). It can’t tell you if God exists (though it might tell you how God operates if he did exist). It can’t help you experience someone else’s feelings (though it might tell you what what’s happening in their brain while there were having said feeling).

Magic provides a different picture of reality. Sorcerers, witches, shamans, and priests have been dealing with these sorts of questions for millennia. They’ve been delving into the unknown and answering the unanswerable (not to mention questioning the unquestionable) long before Sir Francis Bacon. To get a whole picture of reality (or more whole, anyway) we need more then science and technology, we need this viewpoint as well. We need touch that which is beyond our current knowledge. We need to able to tap into our collective unconsciouses. We need to be able to deal with things we cannot understand. We need inspiration to guide our scientific progress and give our technological quest structure.

We all need a little magic.

Magic is an attemtpt to master the unknown. The scientific method is one way to do this. It’s one of the better ways, but is by no means the only way (or even the best way in many situations).

Really, science is a type of magic.

Original article posted by wheloc on the Everything Squared BBS on 19th September 2001.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Faith & Magic, Quotes

 
 
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