Stephen A. McNallen
Most of us probably think we're doing pretty well, spiritually speaking, and maybe we're right. The typical Asatruar has plenty of good qualities - intellectual curiosity, the boldness to take a different path, and, we can suppose, dedication to a tough code of conduct.
Sometimes, being human, we do not live up to the best within us. Our nobility slips, we take the easy way out, and those character defects within each of us become all too obvious. It's at times like this we need to ask ourselves just how much we are a credit to our ancestors, and to the Holy Powers.
We've all made progress or our consciousness would be so meager that the contents of this page would hold no interest for us. It is equally certain that all of us have a long way to go; indeed, since the Gods and Goddesses represent idealized models for our own evolution, it can be safely assumed that we are all at the base of a mountain, staring at the snowy peaks of spiritual attainment towering high above us.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all applied ourselves to attaining the best of which we were capable? Think of all we could do - for the Holy Powers, for our Folk and for ourselves!
The Need for Evolution
Does it matter? If Asatru satisfies us as individuals, isn't that enough?
My answer to that last question is - "No." It's not enough just to sort of stumble along, failing dramatically to meet even the minimal standards demanded by our faith.
Here's why: We are trying to build Asatru as a strong, coherent way of life in the modern age. We have come a long way. We have turned away those addicted to negativity, or who have political, sexual, or other agendas they would impose on us. We have worked hard to attract normal people with real lives, jobs, and families. It's much better that it was in early days of the Asatru revival - but we can do better yet. Forging the sword of the Germanic Way requires high-grade ore, impurities burned away, tempered and hardened by spiritual discipline into a fine blade.
Asatru may be the last hope for the European-descended peoples. I won't attempt to justify that statement, but all the evidence - demographic, cultural, political, spiritual - screams that we, as a unique subset of the human race, are in trouble. We have a duty to the Gods, to the ancestors, and to our descendants yet unborn, to ensure the survival and status of our kind! To fulfill these holy responsibilities, we must develop our virtues, our capabilities, and our spiritual prowess to the highest possible level. Remember, the Gods and Goddesses of Asatru are not our masters…they are models for our own growth!
Years ago, I had a friend who was deeply involved in politics. He tried it all - newsletters, meetings, distributing literature, forming a community. But as the months turned into years he realized that there was a problem: Namely, the quality of the human material provided by the so-called movement! Some were stupid. Others were bright, but twisted with hate and negativity. Others were drunks, or incompetents, or cheats, or unreliable. Almost no one met the standards needed to form a functioning community of dedicated and idealistic activists.
Finally, my friend jettisoned the riff-raff. No more meetings. No more newsletters. No more entertaining bums and hate-addicts. His principles remained unchanged, but he turned to other methods to promote them. In the years that followed, he worked with a much smaller number of idealists, teaching meditation techniques for personal spiritual evolution. He accomplished more - for his cause and for himself - in the next year or two than in all the painful and discouraging years that had gone before. "Change yourself and you will change thousands!" he wrote. And he was right.
The way to purify the iron of Asatru lies in spiritual evolution. With effort, we can transform it into a fine steel sword with which to hack out our destiny.
Strangely enough, Ananda - a yoga community in the county where I live - provides a shining inspiration for us. Yoga is not really my thing, so it took me a few years to overcome my preconceptions about these folks. In time, I came to know quite a few of them, and I realized they have a lot to teach us. Members of this community are expected to meditate twice a day, and to abstain from meat and alcohol. Before they are allowed to become residents of the community, they undergo a year's screening process that involves living under primitive conditions and meditating a lot. Once admitted, their financial contribution to Ananda makes most Christians, and nearly all Asatruar, look like misers.
Of course, one can always dismiss this level of commitment as the result of brainwashing. Some Asatruar rationalize their own lack of effort - and lack of monetary commitment - as a sign of independence and freedom. Any attempt to get them to donate time, accept responsibility, or put cash into the movement is met with accusations of "greed" and "Christian-like" behavior. These are the Asatru wannabees who think they're being generous when they pitch in the change from their beer money. They would have only contempt for the yoga practitioners at Ananda, and insist they were misguided and exploited. But are the folks at Ananda mindless robots or hypnotized sheep waiting to be shorn by a manipulating guru? On the contrary, I found them intelligent, friendly, and dedicated. They are doing a lot of things right, and the root of their success is daily practice aimed at spiritual evolution.
I'm not suggesting we ought to become vegetarians or take up yoga - though maybe we should - but there are plenty of things we can do within an Asatru context to get our own evolution moving in high gear.
A Plan for Spiritual Evolution
We all need to work at improving ourselves - not randomly, not in a hit-or-miss manner, but in a systematic and deliberate way.
So how do you do this?
· Assess yourself
The first step is to take a look at where you are. Edred Thorsson, in his Nine Doors of Midgard, describes a procedure in which the individual makes two lists - one reflecting his or her desirable traits, and another of his or her undesirable characteristics. This isn't something to be done in a few minutes; a number of days should be given to this task. Simply put, the idea is to increase or strengthen the good points, and decrease or eliminate the bad ones. Some of you may want to assign a rune to each trait, and use that as a basis for affirmations or runic exercises.
· Stress yourself
It's easy for us to get into the habit of just going with the flow. Evolution, however, requires stress. Learn to push yourself in some respect every day. This may be physically, mentally, spiritually - or some combination of these. The important thing is to remind yourself not to take the easy way out.
· Strive to serve
Most religions have their individual components, to be sure, but we do not live in a vacuum. Our spiritual practice should not be so self-centered that we slip into a sort of narcissism, isolated from others. Our talents and capabilities should be brought to bear in service to the Holy Powers, to the growth of Asatru in general, and to the Folk.
· Exercise your spirituality daily
The Ananda people meditate twice daily, in addition to numerous other religious duties and events. Each of us should seek our equivalent of these daily devotions. My personal routine includes meal blessings, a washing/purification rite, Greeting to the Sun, meditation exercises concentrating on and manipulating the subtle energies associated with breath, and runic exercises. Most days include a physical workout, as well.
Your own practice may be different. The important thing is to find a program of self-improvement which you can maintain over a long period of time. An overly-strenuous regimen, which you drop after a few days, is not as good as a more modest one that becomes a long-term habit.
The future of Asatru depends on us. We are the metal from which the sword is fashioned. If we are weak, Asatru will be weak. If we are strong, Asatru will reflect that strength.
Today is a good day to start!
"Change yourself, and you will change thousands!"