Reprinted from Bearclaw, February 21, 2002
JOY: the overlooked virtue
By Stephen A. McNallen
We hear a lot about courage and loyalty and many of the other
virtues associated with Asatru. But today I want to write about a quality
that gets less attention - joy!
Sometimes the pain of life seems so much greater than the reward!
Our lives go awry so easily - we lose a job, or a mate, or both...we get
ill...our fondest plans fail...everything we want to eat makes us fat! On
the bigger scale there is the list of social ills that afflict society in
general and us as individuals; crime, cruelty, poverty and disease are
pretty much constants of the human condition. Is it any wonder that the
Buddhists say that life is _samsara_, or suffering? Are we astounded that
they want to end their experience of life and suffering by getting off the
wheel of incarnation and renouncing selfhood altogether?
Here we come to one of the fundamental chasms of religious thought.
Asatru and other indigenous religions stand on one side of the yawning
divide, while universal systems like Buddhism and Christianity stand on the
other. We Asafolk are what the scholars call "world accepting" - meaning
that we feel that the world is basically good. We do not despise this
world while yearning for some more perfect bliss elsewhere. "World
rejecting" faiths, on the other hand, feel that the material universe is at
best a flawed reflection of a more glorious existence. Some, like the
Gnostics, have taught that the world is actually evil. Adherents to "world
rejecting" beliefs want to get off this plane of existence and never come
back. They'd rather spend eternity in Heaven or some other realm of
Yesterday, I was writing a new basic, introductory AFA flyer. In
my notes, I scribbled some of the most fundamental pillars of our belief.
Right there along with "The Holy Powers are our kin and our friends" I
found myself writing "The world is good. Life is good."
Coming from someone like me - renowned for pessimism, for
swearing at my computer, and for general grumpiness - that is quite a
statement. But I knew that it was true. I certainly didn't mean that life
is "pleasant" or "fun;" those are different things. Below the trials and
hurt, however, there is the essential goodness of life in Midgard. If you
don't believe me, think back to the last time you almost died, but by some
piece of luck survived. How did you feel? Ecstatic! Glorious! You
waltzed through the rest of the day with nothing bothering you, I'll bet.
Yelling kids? No problem. Bills? So what.
We forget all too easily that life is, below all the distractions,
essentially good. The remedy, then, is to not be thrown off by all the
distractions! Stop. Look. Put it in perspective. When you stop to
actually see a crystalline icicle melting, gloriously, in the sun; when
you feel your baby's breath on your cheek - you will not be tempted to
write it all off as samsara .
Does this sound too soft, too accepting? What about the idea that
life is struggle? What about the grim God of the Gallows? Not exactly a
joyous type, is he?
Yes, life implies a dialectic, a conflict of opposites. All doing
(as opposed to "being") is war. But why not enjoy it? "The warrior is
cheerful in adversity," I have heard. Overcoming obstacles is a great act.
Overcoming them with calmness is a greater deed. Overcoming the most
horrible opposition with joy is the greatest accomplishment of all!
As for somber-faced Odin...I am reminded of something Alice
Karlsdottir told me, many years ago. She had done a series of guided
meditations on the Goddesses and Gods, and her encounter with Odin
was most remarkable. He appeared to her not as a grizzled, scarred Lord
of the Slain, but as a handsome, sexy young man. Not unexpectedly, she
was surprised by this visage, and said so. Smiling provocatively, Odin
responded (I paraphrase) "Who would want to appear to young women in
such guise? I save the fearsome look for old gothar!"
Think for a moment on Odin's defining trophy, the Odroerir itself.
Do you remember the story of how he got it by spending three nights with
Gunnlod? The symbolism in this tale constitute a sort of "Teutonic Tantra"
- hardly a joyless science! When we consider Odin's inspiration, we all
too often try to put it into a box that says "berserker rage" or "magical
incantations" or "poetry." Ultimately none of these are adequate: We
underestimate Odin's gift of ecstasy if we think it is for the grim-faced
and doom-laden. His is a joyous wisdom, a glorious and delighted frenzy.
Odin, you can be sure, knows that life is good. And so should we.
In our daily meditations let us ask him to fill our cauldrons with his
might, and inspiration...and delirious delight!
The Buddhists want off the wheel of incarnation. Bless 'em, if
that's the way they see things. But for us? We like it here in Midgard!
The other eight worlds have their functions, but here between Asgard and
Hel, betwixt Vanaheim and Jotunheim, is where "it all comes together."
Some folks flee from strife. That is their way and their choice.
But for us, life's combat is joyful. Let us find that delight, and relish