Spirituality thru scholarship
by Swain Wodening
I am going to try to set down my ideas on how scholarship can lead to spirituality. There is a basis for this, one of the Hindu paths is the path of the scholar. Another example is the Benedictine monks of the Middle Ages who were well read and had extensive libraries. However, I am not advocating that folks become hermits and just study the lore. To me that is unhealthy, and also I feel Heathenry is a community minded religion. You need to get out and associate with other folks in some way. Whether that be through night clubbing, hanging out with friends, volunteer work. . it doesn't matter. What I am advocating is that until one is an experienced Heathen, the lore should be a guide.
The steps are pretty simple:
1) Learning how to research the lore. This means learning how to use a library, get books on interlibrary loan, and so forth. It also means learning what to get.
2) Actually studying the lore. Reading the sagas, Eddas, and Old English poems, the Heliand and other continental sources. Also try to fit in the contemporary observers like Taticus.
3) Reading books on Heathen subjects by such scholars as H. R. Ellis Davidson. These books are largely interpretations made by folks that have spent years studying the ancient beliefs objectively. You can also include in these Heathen scholars such as my brother Eric Wodening, KveldulfR Gundarsson, Jordsvin, and Diana Paxson.
4) Applying what you learn to worship. At first this will be in simple ways- blotting and symbeling. Later you will want to take up study of the runes or spae if these are for you.
5) Synthesis of the lore- this is the final step. You take what you learned and have been applying and arrive at conclusions about Heathenry it self.
Many experienced Heathens can intuitively tell you whether something "sounds right", whether it would conflict in the lore. This is neither an objective or subjective process, but a combination of both. When you can do this, you are no longer acting on what you read or what you learned, but what you believe based on that.
This basic approach works on the following forms of evaluation:
1) Rational/scientific evaluation (objective observation.
2) Transpersonal evaluation
3) Personal/subjective evaluation.
The first approach is primarily used in initial study (steps 1 thru 3 above) while the second along with the first is applied to steps 3 thru 5 above. The third approach is only applied to number 5 above, once one has enough experience to trust their own heart as a guide in things Heathen. Thorsson describes these ways of evaluating the lore and beliefs in A BOOK OF TROTH, and I have expanded on them a bit.
Rational evaluation is obvious- it is basing what you believe only on proven facts. For example it says in the lore that Odin won the runes hanging on the World Tree. It is therefore easily proven through objective observation of the lore he did so according to ancient belief. On the hand were we to say Odin won the knowledge of seidhr in a drinking match, no where is this observed in the lore, and therefore cannot be proven.
Transpersonal evaluation is basically consensus of the Heathen community. No matter where you go blots generally consist of the same elements. They may appear in a different order, but for the most part the elements of a blot done by Carig Hranas Mot of St. Louis is no different than one done by Ravenswood Kindred of Indiana. The way blots were done was arrived at separately by a large number of Heathens using the Heimskringla account as a guide, and trial and error. Thus the modern blot is a result of objective observation of the lore, and application of it through about 30 years of Heathenry as a modern religion. There is never complete agreement on anything however. Yet for the most part it is one method of knowing how one should practice Ásatrú or Heathenry. Included in transpersonal evaluation however is also our society at large, and this can be very important. Thus even though einvigi (Old Norse for a duel) can be proven to have been fought by individuals in the lore, and most Heathens in your kindred may agree to it, it is not plausible because dueling to the death with live steel is illegal in the United States. Therefore the einvigi cannot be used as a means of settling disputes between Heathens.
Personal/subjective evaluation is using how one feels personally about things to evaluate the lore. Ideally it is formulated by the other two types of evaluation. But again, not necessarily. UPGs (Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis- ed. ) play a role here, as well as one's own feelings and experiences gained in childhood. Personal situations also play a role here. One may be vegetarian and therefore not wish to partake in a feast that requires the slaughter of an animal. Or one may have problems with alcoholism and therefore have to use lemonade in symbel instead of mead. With personal evaluation you are deciding how the information in the lore, and the practices of Heathenry as a whole affect you and your own beliefs.
Overall, the route of study above and the ways of evaluation can be outlined in three steps (again put forth by Edred Thorsson):
1) Rational discovery.
2) Subjective synthesis.
The scholarly study of the lore is rational discovery. You are using logic and scientific deduction to decide what the ancients believe and did. Allowing this to determine how you practice Heathenry is subjective synthesis. You are using the lore you learned to formulate your own feelings and belief. Enactment is simple, it is using what you learned and synthesized in daily life as a Heathen. Thus I learned how to blot from books, I then composed prayers of my own using what I felt about the Gods formulated from my studies and personal experience. Finally I perform the blot.
How can this process lead to spirituality? Well if you look closely, all of these ways at looking at study of the lore end in two places which are not mutually exclusive:
1) Enactment of what you have learned.
2) Personal/subjective feelings that decide how you practice.
Basically you are learning tools using logic and the scientific method to apply to formulating personal relationships with the Gods, your personal behavior in accordance with what other Heathens deem acceptable, and making yourself a stronger and better person. In order to achieve spirituality, one must do the deeds required. All the great religions of the world have rites and practices that lead to spirituality. Christians pray, Buddhists meditate, the ancient Heathens blotted. Modern Heathenry is no different. We can pray, blot, symbel, do good deeds. . . all of these form a way of communing with the Gods or fellow Heathens. In essence in studying the lore, you are learning the tools Heathenry uses to enact religious beliefs. Studying the lore also determines in part what Gods you feel closest too, and enactment does as well. A well done blot to Woden may result in a closer relationship to him. Knowing how to express yourself in writing a hymn or prayer may not only get the attention of the Gods, but other Heathens.
No one method of practice guarantees spirituality however. Study is merely one way and may not work for everyone. Some folks may find transpersonal relationships with other Heathens leads to spirituality for them. Others may find a UPG does. Regardless, scholarship does not harm the path to spirituality.