The last three weeks saw us look at the fundamental metaphysical engine of heathen thought, Wyrd. I would now claim to be moving on to the next series, but that would only be disingenuous. As I will demonstrate over the course of this project, everything we do springs out of, and is supported by, Wyrd.
Only actions are real, for they impact the world. Wyrd describes the pattern, but in very specific and real ways, wyrd is the pattern as well. And only our actions influence the way the pattern takes shape. A brilliant mind, with deep insights into the nature and character of humanity and the universe, will, at the end of their life, have accomplished nothing of note and impact no one unless they turned those insights into actions. Even the actions of writing these words can have impact and shape the pattern of things to come. But even words, unless they inspire and are backed up by behavior, are merely words on a screen.
If a single act shapes the world around it, through the act itself and its myriad reactions, what happens if you repeat the act? What becomes of the reality of that act. A single act of kindness may get swallowed by the myriad of misery that surrounds it, but that act of kindness that goes on to be repeated, by another, and another, and another can go on to have an impact that brings about real change. Repetition of those acts increase the reality of those acts. Is there a more powerful symbol for life than a heartbeat? repeated endlessly across the world by life in all its myriad forms? The repetition of an act increases its density, it draws the pattern around it, and there we find meaning, and meaning is, as Eliade describes it in multiple works (Sacred and Profane, Myth of the Eternal Return), is the real.I propose a definition for reality: reality is that which affects the world in "real" ways, reality has impact. Reality has weight, or gravity, in the sense that things that are real change things around them in line with their reality.
For an example outside the realm of Heathenry (but, again, not outside Wyrd — wyrd bið ful aræd) one only look at the way in which the narrative of the American Civil War has changed and developed over the century and a half since it ended. Today, we believe, and rightly so, that the central motivating factor was slavery. But I want to suggest you put aside your current modern cultural blinders and step backwards into the heads of our ancestors. And think about a world where the supremacy of whites — that is particular whites — was a given. It was simply assumed by everyone dealing with the situation. Even abolitionists saw the racial identity of African Americans as being below that of "regular whites." The narrative during the war emphasized the need to preserve the union, and prevent secession. The question of Slavery wasn't decided until very late in the war, and at the time, bitterly opposed all the same. Objectively, slavery was a very real factor in the war, but for many people, it became ancillary to other reasons. Over time, those other reasons became the emphasized narrative, and the slavery question was de-emphasized until in the twentieth century, the popular narrative of the Civil War, both within the south and outside of it, was challenged. This coincided with the Civil Rights Era, when popular attitudes of white supremacy where challenged and ultimately removed. And suddenly, the reality of the Civil War was altered to fit the new paradigm of cultural thought.
Did it actually change the pattern? No. Once an act occurs, I believe nothing can change that act from having occurred. However, the pattern nonetheless shifted, becoming incorporated with later developments which ultimately changed the meaning of the pattern. The endless repetition of struggle in African American life, from the Emancipation during the Civil War until the often violent and contentious days of the Civil Rights Era, have lead to the questions of Race and American life to take on new meaning, a uniquely American meaning. With each victory over oppression, in the form of music, poetry, dance and food, or in the simple dignity of an honest days wage and food on the table, African Americans have been influencing the fabric of American Life and history in ways that redefine and reinvigorate the meaning and reality of American culture. Each act they make is an echo of that initial act of freedom, backwards and forwards through time, as events take on new significance for people as they evaluate that which has come before by that which has just come to pass.
What does the experience of African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries have to do with Heathenry in the 21st? First of all, it shows that while we are a Tribal, Folk centered religion, there are Universal principals that underscore all people everywhere. Wyrd is not strictly Germanic. It is a set of symbols that let those who have internalized them view the world in a unique way, and to see how those principles apply outside the realm of Heathenry, and apply to every facet of life.
Next week, I'd like to discuss how this idea of repetition applies to the concept of Ritual Action.
This is incredibly simplistic and does a huge disservice to the history of African America, to the preceding centuries of struggle leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and to the centuries of struggle that follow even up until today. However, this isn't an essay about those topics, and I hope that I may be forgiven my simplistic use of the narrative to illustrate how reality & meaning, inasmuch as they are different things, are influenced not only by events that precede it, but proceed from it as well. ↩︎
Whether it was a simple sack that was later embroidered with a words of a mother's love, or Athletes raising their fists in defiance of the cultural landscape of their times, these acts are all reflections of that struggle for freedom and autonomy. ↩︎