"Fire and Ice: The Erosion of Identity"
By Michael Cunningham
C.S. Lewis once commented upon the mythology of Scandinavia as to being 'Lies breathed through silver', in contrariety to this remark I would elect that they are more 'Truths breathed through silver'. For they define a folk and the path from proto-historic environs in which there is a constant struggle of interpretation and interaction with their natural surroundings and incumbent anomalies. As such the hand of nature that our ancestors were exposed to translated the material into the mythological thereby preserving not only the lore of the Gods and Goddesses but also the identity of the folk about which they moved. Yet if that identity becomes threatened with erosion then how may future Ásatrúar perceive their rightful heritage if the material medium from which it stems becomes inextricably altered?
The oft whispered foreshadow of global warming will, I'm sure, be familiar to all folk. An increase in solar radiation and / or the subsequent effect of soaring gases vented by the combustion of fossil fuels may play havoc with a number of natural environments. Indeed several recent reports go so far as to cite that up to one fifth of plants and animals in colder regions of the globe may not be able to adapt to the rapid temperature changes associated with global warming. Russia, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Latvia could see forty-five percent or more of their forests, tundra and other key habitats vanish. Species which reside on coastal regions or islands may also be at risk from a rising sea level, range shifts and warming oceans. But are these occurrences peculiar to our age? The restless figure of nature has repeatedly shaken the development of human history in cycles of fire and ice - drought and deluge that reach far into the dim past of our folk.
The reports continue that flora and fauna will have to submit to migration seeking new, suitable habitats as the only key to continued existence. Those unable to move or adapt quickly enough, in some cases ten times faster than the last Ice Age, will find their species superseded by invasive or weedy species which are capable of rapid dispersal and growth. This migration also echoes that of folk in the past who responded to rising numbers in population, drought or deluge by moving to new areas thus abandoning their homelands.
In what manner does the projection of global change relate to Ásatrú? One example may be that of Switzerland, epitomized by its glacial mountains, but now those glaciers are becoming warmer and at a somewhat faster than glacial pace. They are beginning to melt. The founding of Switzerland coincided at the end of the 13th Century with the peak of a mini-ice age when the glaciers defined the nation in poem, novel and student song; the frozen Alps where also the country's natural defense. In Schiller's version of William Tell the Swiss hero advises his son: 'Yes, child, it is better for sure to keep at your back the glacier mountains than people who are bad.' The glaciers informed the image of the land and, in turn, the people of that land. If these glaciers erode then what of the inherited identity of those folk? So far global warming has only been sufficient to melt three of the country's glaciers, but the continued warming, which is expected to raise temperatures by up to 3c over this century, may yet spell doom for the remaining glaciers leaving in its wake a country plagued by floods and water erosion. If it is allowed that the nature extant in a religion may inform, in some manner, that religion and attendant myths and lore of its folk then how would a radically changing environment impact upon future generations? Boniface, in his zeal throughout Hesse and Thuringia, sought to deconstruct heathenism by crushing the heartwoods under alien stone edifices but could he ever have dreamt of the scale of devastation promised by global warming?
Just as the polarities of natural manifestation are of a cyclic fashion so, one finds, are the mythological structures of our soils where nature ultimately translates her rhythmic breaths into the myths and tales that lie at the heart of our folkways. These tales encapsulate many truths which in turn leads one from the deep proto-historic waters from which our folk first quaffed Óðinn's legacy through an ancient landscape which, I feel, we today are the embodiment of, in that our faith and its subsequent expression and longevity is not governed by external environmental aberrations. Even as the shade of change fleets across the lands of our fathers the new sun waits to rise upon the landscape within.