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From time to time, I've been looking up stuff on different Heathen activities, including games and other pastimes. A while back I mentioned Glima, as it was apparently practiced everywhere, as the sport form is quite safe to do. There are a couple of other interesting finds along those lines.

I looked up Kubb, the Swedish block-throwing game. At first, it would seem to be a 20th-century invention. But then I found that it was similar to another game which goes back farther, and another one going back even farther, and so on. All versions involve setting up the target men in a row (except for the Russian one that puts them together to make a crude sculpture), and throwing a stick (usually underhand) to knock them down. And it looks like the original target pieces were horse's anklebones, while the original throwing stick was a horse's shin/'cannon' bone. Variations of the game exist from Russia, through Finland and Scandinavia, and into Germany, though no current versions survive in France.

Another game I checked was Tafl, the northern European chess-like board game. There are/were versions of it from Scandinavia to Britain, using the same basic rules, and varying things like board dimensions and starting positions from one area to another. Although there is a cursory resemblance to the Roman 'soldier' board game, the rules and play are different, so it seems to be a feature of Heathen culture rather than something done in all parts of Europe. It is a reconstructed game, as various historical records have been compared in recent years, and consistent rules have been figured out and tested.

Good, fun stuff, and hopefully more to come in the future.
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As I've been studying more and more historical swordsmanship and European martial arts, I find more and more how drastically wrong public perceptions are on these things. For martial arts in general, and swordfighting in particular, the vast majority of practitioners and 'experts' don't really know the facts about the arts they study. This is especially true with medieval/renaissance swordplay, to the point where everyone in that field of study who calls himself a 'master' is clueless and/or deliberately misleading people; a tremendous amount of discoveries have been made that show how far off the public's and Hollywood's perceptions are. Many such 'masters' are known to only have studied a few years and make many beginner's mistakes, while a few such people who are accomplished sport fencers assume that they already know everything worth knowing about swords, and are either grandiose or dismissive about historical sword use. Some 'masters' try their hand at sparring and get beaten every time, while most claim practicing under realistic conditions was never done and should never be done, as a way to hide their lack of skill. This rant might seem to be a bit much, unless one sees the incredible arrogance of some of these guys.

Over the last several months, I've been working intensively with the medieval German wrestling system, and what I've found is nothing short of amazing. However, in the last week, I've noticed a striking similarity between the wrestling techniques in the old manuals and various karate and kung fu positions and techniques, but with a notable difference. To make a long story short, what one usually sees in a typical karate dojo are moves that are taken completely out of their original context and put to vastly inferior uses. This is why too many karate champions get stomped by your average untrained bar brawler. Conversely, many weird-looking moves become much more practical when one sees that a particular move is a body slam, a throw, a takedown, a stomp, a full-body arm break, and other moves that one usually sees in a serious fight without rules. This means that all the 'great masters' with their elevated titles and endless pompous arrogance who are still making the same stiff-arm moves in empty air or at a distance from an opponent are still just clueless dorks making the same mistakes for generation after generation. The lack of use in wartime conditions that degraded sword use in Europe has similarly degraded countless Asian martial arts that are now just art or sport forms.

This isn't to say that those disciplines have no benefit, because many of them do. Sport fencing, collegiate wrestling, traditional boxing, Chinese Wu-Shu, Capoeira, etc. will put you through a serious athletic workout, and give you many basics of coordination, timing, distance, and so on. Judo, Aikido, Tai Chi, Wing Chun, etc. will give you better sensitivity. And many arts are practiced to provide beauty and peace of mind. But they are not combat disciplines made for no-rules fighting where random weapons and multiple opponents may be present. And too many scammers have been taking advantage of people by making inflated claims. For a long time, people who deal with realistic combat (veterans, SWAT cops, bouncers, and so on) have had complaints about odd things from Asian dojos that don't work in the real world. Now with seeing the original context of many moves, we can see how things went wrong. There's nothing wrong with saying "oops, that didn't work out so well" and making some training changes. The problem is when one tries to cover up mistakes or pass them along by being less than honest. Dorks.
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Yes, I'm on Facebook along with every other netizen on the planet, and I play some of the games on there, including Viking Clan and Fairlyland. Something I've noticed is that Heathens who have an idea on what Heathenry 'should' be end up gravitating toward a Facebook game that reflects their view of the world. Granted, many people simply play the games and enjoy them for what they're worth. But when you know someone who thinks a particular way and is vocal about it, it's not surprising that they'll be where they feel most comfortable.

So, how are Heathens 'supposed' to be? Let's take a look.

Viking Clan lets you be a stereotypical character where you go on battles and adventures, gather chieftains, build alliances, coordinate attacks, get berserk boosts, gain money, land, and weapons. It is fitting for Heathens who see the religion as a community activity, along with oaths, mead, boasts, mead, challenges to holmgang, mead, booze, hooch, more mead, roaring to the sky, telling others they're doin' it wrong (TM), beer, and more mead. RRRRRROOOOOOWWWWRRRRR!!!!! ;)

Fairlyland lets you have an elf or fairy in a small garden, where you grow different kinds of plants to gain skill and attract various kinds of wildlife, including mythological creatures. It sounds tame almost to the point of boredom, except that people can help each other out, help water each others' gardens, spot wildlife, grow herbs, work on herbalism and alchemy, play a mushroom game, etc. It involves more planning and strategy as your skill level progresses. It appeals to those who like gardens, plants, animals, elves, fairies, herbalism, magical witchy stuff, friendly neighbors, quiet gentle progress at one's home, and the sense of wonder we all had as a kid.

The difference between the two worldviews also parallels differences between Aesir and Vanir. There is strength in alliance, personal challenge, and conquest. And there is strength in patience, protection, and compassion. There are outward successes that we publicly celebrate, and there are successes most deeply felt at home. It's interesting to see how these views show up in some of the most popular games on the largest online social network.
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I was talking with [livejournal.com profile] vanirpriestess about about Surt vs. Frey, and I was thinking about each in a broader context, and then something clicked. And it completely changes the scope and meaning of Ragnarok.

We generally understand that the gods aren't literal, human-sized anthropomorphic representations walking around and hanging out in pubs. Rather, they represent forces, principles, ideas, and changes in the world around us, which is whey they are gods and not just random strangers on the street. With this in mind, we see Frey not just as a male figure, but also the fertile things in the world that he represents, such as new plants growing from the earth, strong trees, new baby creatures, and so on. Conversely, Surt isn't just just a big guy doing a fire dance, but represents the destructive nature of fire, even in indirect forms such as volcanoes (like Surtsey island in Iceland). It becomes apparent that one force (fire) tends to damage the other one (flora and fauna). Taken on a larger scale and modern scenarios, the biggest fire-forces in the world today are mass industrialization and pollution, and the largest representations of flora and fauna are ecosystems, such as forests; it is clear that one is quite destructive to the other.

The amazing thing is that in Ragnarok, this duality isn't just with Surt and Frey, but with the other gods as well.

Odin is killed by Fenris. When one thinks of Fenris, it's usually in terms of raw, uncontrolled rage and its destructive consequences. When one thinks of Odin, some things that come to mind are knowledge, wisdom, effective battle strategies, etc. It's not hard to see that uncontrolled rage in someone displaces and ultimately consumes more rational thought, usually with terrible consequences.

Thor is killed by Jormundgand. Thor isn't just big and strong, he's a loyal protector, with a lot of compassion for those he protects. Jormundgand, being a giant serpent, has the same essential traits of other large serpents--cold, unfeeling, operating entirely on killer instinct. The most cold and unfeeling forces in the world today are large institutions and bureaucracies that blindly follow their own internal policies, with mind-numbingly destructive consequences that produce pleas for more humanity. Thor's traits are seen in both individuals and groups that have a big heart and wish to protect others. In modern terms, it's not hard to see how unaccountable institutions attack and kill compassion in a society.

Tyr is killed by Garm. The representative of law and order is destroyed by an uncontrolled force that consumes whatever is before it. It's easy to see how base human emotions can destroy society through loss of law and order.

Taken as a whole, Ragnarok is an allegory for the inner conflicts in people and society. We've also seen a dramatic example of this in recent history. The Fenris vs. Odin battle was symbolically represented in the rise and activities of Hitler. His first name was Adolf, after the wolf. He was an angry person and a passionate speaker. He mentioned Wotan in disparaging terms, and imprisoned and killed Germanic pagans. And his furious obsessions with extermination and conquest ended up destroying his military progress, as well as rational thought among too many people that were involved. And to this day, that fury of hatred still haunts Heathens today, as we continually have to keep educating others that we are not the Nazis.

There has been talk of Christianity being an influence in the Voluspa, but rather than being a rendition of Revelation (which it doesn't really represent), we can see the addition (seen in the Hauksbok but not in the Codex Regius) at the end referencing the Christian God. Rather than a symbolic look at human nature as in the rest of the text, it's a comparatively clumsy (a half stanza at first) insertion that nods to God, suggesting that it's part of the Biblical struggle. But if it were only an odd version of Revelation, that leaves open too many questions, not the least of which is why pagans would be repeating and ultimately writing down such a story. However, since many parts of the Eddas deal with human nature (and very directly in the Havamal) and symbolism was used very directly (such as with Thor and the Giant contests), the tale of Ragnarok makes more sense.

Even if taken as direct prophecy, we can already see today how certain forces are destroying other ones (e.g., traditional living vs. modern urbanization, pollution vs. ecology, preparations for survival after war or government collapse, etc.). It still means that ultimately, humanity will continue even after many current things are destroyed. There is a notable lack of humans involved in that battle, as they are only mentioned as survivors, so the view of some that they will be directly involved in physically battling Giants in a literal battle between gods is a bit misplaced. In other words, the warning is to take heed of human nature, especially in yourself, and prepare to survive interesting times.
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Following up on my interest in Urglaawe, I've been looking into Der Belsnickel, a Pennsylvania Dutch version of Santa Claus that isn't the big jolly guy. Instead, he's thinner (although still wearing fur, as the name suggests), and goes from house to house, rewarding good children with snacks, and punishing (usually just threatening to punish) bad children by whacking them with a rod or bundle of twigs. Usually it was used to scare children and keep them in line.

The Santa Claus that we see everywhere only came after the publishing of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and associated artwork. Prior to that, the figure was shown in several Germanic countries as tall, thin, wearing blue, often wearing a brimmed or pointy hat, who was called Yule Father, Jultomte, Julnisse, or other similar names. It's pretty clear that they were versions of Odin. And while the Puritans banned Christmas when they arrived here, it was up to the early German settlers to bring the Yule tree and associated traditions that we enjoy today. Yet even after the big red Santa became popular, the Belsnickel tradition kept going for a while in the Penna. Dutch communities. At one point there was even a large red Santa holding the bundle of twigs. Today the tradition continues with someone dressing up as the Belsnickel and brandishing the twigs, just enough so that kids have a tangible reminder to stay out of trouble. But he also hands out snacks for the children, and also often gives to the poor.

A modern form that is becoming popular in stores is a Santa doll or ornament in dark, heavy furs, without the red, without sleigh or reindeer, and sometimes with a gift bag and/or a rod. This 'old-school Santa' is a lot closer to the Belsnickel than the usual one; to Heathens, it's the one that looks more like Odin. It's a nice contrast to the usual sea of red during the season, and it's certainly nice to see more Heathen lore creeping back into our culture.

Odin--he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake...
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Congratulations to Dan O'Halloran for his victory in NYC. After facing religious hostilities (and even racial hostilities) on top of the usual political difficulties in elections, he finally won. This should be good for Heathen PR, as well as the greater pagan community. Now everyone can get back to seeing him as an individual, and judging him on his performance in office.


Nov. 2nd, 2009 08:37 pm
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As mentioned elsewhere, I've been reading up on Urglaawe, the Pennsylvania Dutch form of Heathenry. And I'm glad I took more than just a quick glance, because I've uncovered some cool stuff.

What makes Pennsylvania Dutch different from other German immigrants is that they first arrived in the 17th century, leaving war-torn areas in Europe for a new life in America, and they quickly settled in, identifying with America rather than Germany, while keeping their language (a different dialect of German) and culture alive at home. They were the first to publicly protest slavery, they were among the first to volunteer for the Revolutionary War, they developed inventions such as the Pennsylvania/Kentucky Long Rifle (which had a decisive impact in the war), served in all major wars, gave us several words in American English, etc. Why my interest? I'm descended from them via my father's line, and I'm doing some research to find more family members.

The language itself is worth noting. When the founding fathers of the country talked about the German population, they weren't talking about modern High German from major cities with loyalties to Germany; they were talking about the Pennsylvania German population that had been there for about a century and were loyal Americans. Their language was (and is) different from standard German, and there's been little contact with their cousins in Europe. If you're used to seeing modern German, the written language looks a bit odd. But if you start pronouncing the words, and interesting detail emerges--it shares many words and details with Anglo-Saxon, in a 'Germanized' form. There used to be a lot of speakers, but the language has declined since the 1950's, and now most speakers are Old Order Amish and Mennonites. The non-Amish speakers are fewer in number, but are still around in communities scattered across the northeast US. It's not as prominent because they consider it rude to speak their German when other non-speakers (i.e. English-only) are around.

In terms of culture, the Pennsylvania Dutch have kept many old Germanic traditions alive. Hex signs, rune working, spell working, herbalism, folk healing, calligraphy and illumination, traditional music, recipes, brewing, farming customs, stories, and other arts are still living traditions. They were brought over centuries ago and have been allowed to prosper in a land of freedom. This provides a good basis for reconstruction of Heathen practices from early Germany, as they weren't subject to the same pressures of war and religious conformity. Those that settled here were Christian, but it was much more syncretic (rune and spell working, etc.). It looks to be interesting and informative.
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Happy birthday [livejournal.com profile] nicanthiel!
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I've noticed that with me and many friends, there will be a number of friends and acquaintances who will all have basically the same name. For example, when I was in high school, I knew far too many Brians. Brian G, Brian F, Bryant B, Brian B, Bryant G, Brian R, another Brian, and another Brian, etc. For others, its running into too many Crystals, for another it's an abundance of Michaels, and so on.

So, what's the name (or names) that you keep running into with people you know?


Oct. 4th, 2009 08:17 pm
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As some of you may know, I'm a language geek. If I spend enough time around a certain ethnicity, I get curious and start looking up their language and culture. I learned some basic Japanese in school, and took classes in Chinese while working at a Chinese computer company, because I just had to know what the conversations were that surrounded me every day. And it was a great experience. But for some reason, I'd known about Korean for many years, but never really got around to it, or had the need to. Until now.

We've all seen the stereotypes of Koreans, either as manic Tae Kwon Do stylists, overachieving students, surly shop owners, or makers of inexpensive cars. But as with everything, there's much more. After spending time with various local Koreans, seeing their local churches, and seeing a substantial amount of Korean in "Lost", I finally got curious enough to start learning the language. I didn't have a pressing need, just a persistent desire to know more. So I started with a phrase book, then read online resources, watched instructional videos, etc. And what I found is pretty cool.

Korean is grammatically similar to Japanese, but uses a lot of Chinese vocabulary. And my prior exposure to both those languages has been helpful. But I found out something else. Instead of using tones or long words to distinguish meanings, it uses a richer vowel set, including more "Germanic" vowels. And the native Hangul script is far easier to understand and pick up than Chinese writing. So it ends up being a sort of "easy Chinese". And when reviewing episodes of Lost that have a lot of Korean, I've noticed some nuances that didn't make it through translation to subtitles. The language is accessible and a lot of fun. I've used it on occasion with Koreans I've run into, and half of them are surprised that I knew some of it, and wanted to know how I was learning it. It's been rewarding, especially considering how little effort has been involved so far.
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I've got plenty of politically relevant opinions, but for now, let us simply remember what happened, not just those that died, but also the many heroes who lived and helped.
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After looking up some stuff on Lost and Oceanic Airlines, I found this:

...knives... ;)
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I've found what I believe to be a cool Heathen cultural relic that survived the conversion. In the church, it was known as the virge, wielded by a Virger/Verger. During services, the Virger would direct the congregation like an usher, but held a sturdy stick mounted with a metal ball, for pointing, directing, and sometimes whacking (unruly people or animals). What's distinctive about the virge (and it's descendent, the ceremonial mace), is that it is a durable stick or rod, and the metal ball on the top is the same diameter as the stick. It is either otherwise unadorned, or else topped with a small symbol such as a cross (in a church) or some other symbol of state. The symbols on top have changed to suit each place where it is used, but otherwise the basic instrument has been unchanged for many centuries. The office of Virger has been combined with Sexton (tending and maintenance of church grounds) and Usher

What's also interesting is that, as a ceremonial mace, it has been a symbol of kingship, such that early civilian uses of it were frowned upon by lords, and that in parliamentary use, it is carried by the sergeant at arms, and placed in a certain location to open the legislative session, as well as removed to signal the close of the session. This is different from a scepter (which tended to be a long thin staff) or a Drum Major mace (which is also long and thin). It's a symbolic phallus that's meant for occasional use as a weapon.

When Frey's importance is considered as a primary deity in many parts of Britain and Scandinavia, such an instrument makes sense. It makes one wonder if the parliamentary use is descended from a similar use at a Thing (Germanic governing assembly), where the god is symbolically brought in to oversee the session, and the god keeps order if necessary through the lawspeaker (or a sergeant at arms).

Here are some pics.

A church virge and the Mace of the United States House of Representatives.
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...such as this:

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A couple of days ago, I found out something fascinating about the Michael Jackson HIStory promo video. The opening speech and choral music in the video are in Esperanto. The speech (translated) says (in part):

"... everyone of the world builds this sculpture in the name of worldwide motherhood and love, and the healing power of music."

The same guy (the construction foreman) later says (translated) "Come here!" while motioning to others. The green star symbol of Esperanto shows up as a giant metal star, the metal star on Michael's shoulder, and the star on the caps of the (multi-ethnic) soldiers, who instead of saluting, do Michael's dance moves at the Arch of Triumph.

Looking at the video in this context, together with the cinematography, it's a beautiful work of art with a sweet message, that of healing music conquering the world and bringing joy.

This copy of the video has the Esperanto captioned, after about a 50-second intro with some comments in French (e.g. filmed over 10 days, costing 7.5 million francs, where the Esperanto starts, etc.):

It's too bad that critics of the video never bothered to look at the positive messages and symbols, and foolishly said it was celebrating fascism or dictatorship.
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It was only a generation or so ago that we were living in an analog world. Writing with pencils, computing with slide rules, using manual typewriters and spirit duplicators for copy, taking dictation with shorthand and steno, television and telephones with simple circuits, listening to the radio with a crystal and a "cat whisker", learning semaphore in boy scouts, creating light with carbide lamps, playing card and board games made from simple materials, etc. Yet we were able to produce nuclear power, go to the moon, make advances in computing, and so on.

Now everything is digital. Yes, pretty much everything. Quick, easy, cheap, and common. But then we worry about power outages, industrial pollution from electronics manufacture, loss of common skills (e.g. penmanship and spelling), dependency on megacorps for supplies and updates, and other concerns. Many of us try to live greener, not just in power consumption, but also in better contact with people and nature. And yet the loss of many of these skills has happened so rapidly that many are having to use the internet to regain the information.

Some individuals have decided to make their households independent of the power grid, either for cost or for preparedness reasons. Having solar panels and generators is a solid step in that direction. But I think it would be complementary and just as helpful to have lower-tech items around (and enough practice to use them). Who knows what kind of manufacturing or distribution crises will interrupt supplies, or what kind of energy tax will make many items cost-prohibitive?

I'm not advocating a sudden, backward change. But I do think that it's a good idea to reconnect with some older versions of stuff we use--stuff that some of us remember as kids. Play some poker around a table. Dust off the Scrabble or Monopoly box. Play the Dictionary game. Try out some candles or lanterns for setting the mood. Improve one's penmanship or calligraphy. Sketch some pictures. Try shorthand as a "human tape-recorder". Learn fire by friction (can only be learned through experience). Talk around a campfire. Learn the ways of the local weather and critters. Tell time by the sun and stars. Try out sailing. Learn to ride horses.

No need to be complete Luddite, but there's something to be said for simple stuff that works. And in the years ahead, it can come in handy.
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A rare sword from Bamburgh Castle (Northumbria) from the 7th century was both advanced in construction and showy in appearance:


While the techniques of layering were known by both Celtic and Germanic tribes at the time, and different compositions of steel were welded together in a native form of pattern-welding, this find was unusual in that it had two additional strands in the construction, which would have made it exceptional in both beauty and strength. A Saxon Excalibur? :)
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