Sunday, July 2, 2017

Notes to: The Love of Destiny

Material covered:

  • The Love of Destiny, by Dan McCoy
  • Introduction
  • I. Prologue
  • II. The Origins and Worldview of Monotheism
  • III. The Sacred and Profane
  • IV. Destiny
  • Glossary of Old Norse Words

  • "Our age clings so fervently to these dubious endeavors [science, modernism, postmodernism, 'purely utilitarian economics,' globalization] precisely because the nihilism and objectification manifested by them are, paradoxically, sacred to most of us."
  • "One cannot help but ask how much we have actually moved beyond it [monotheism] if we still insist on speaking of the sacred and the profane in monotheistic terms. Even if we no longer advocate the particulars of Moses, Paul, or Mohammed, their worldview is still the reference point by which we define our own, like rebellious teenagers whose identity circles around what they oppose. The task before us, then, is to craft worldviews and ways of life that are not monotheistic or dependent on monotheism, and which, instead, affirm the scandalous plurality of existence and its animating forces, as well as the perspectival and relational--rather than 'objective' or 'subjective' character of truths and values."
  • "The French theologian Alain de Benoist and others have rightly pointed out that these 'folkloric reconstructions' [i.e. modern paganism] can be little more than anachronistic if unaccompanied by a reconstruction of the worldview that constitutes the heart of polytheism."
  • "I say 'worldviews,' 'ways of life,' and 'alternatives' in the lural because there cannot, by definition, be only one answer to the problems we have inherited with monotheism. Such a response would be, in and of itself, monotheistic, just like the popular banter about how everything is 'subjective' rather than 'objective.' Rather, we need as many different polytheisms as there are people, peoples, communities, and landbases." 
  • Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not a Luxury: "Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought." 
  • "Rather than anglicize the names, I have left them in Old Norse in order to preserve more of their original, and to us strangely 'other,' charater, which forces the reader to approach these words and the figures and concepts they denote with fewer preconceptions."
  • "The reader will no doubt notice that I have refrained from citing sources. This is intentional. As Charles Olson said, 'Form is never more than an extension of content,' and a work that attempts to dismantle the objective-subjective dichotomy must, if it is to be effective, demonstrate a way of writing that blurs the line between 'objective' or scholarly writing and 'subjective' or creative writing. Citing sources seems uselessly petty in a work that is not primarily concerned with factual claims, but rather with mythic visions that contextualize any and all facts." 
  • "What I am presenting here, however, draws much more heavily from the oracular mode of writing exemplified by the great mythical poetry of the ancients, such as Homer or the Poetic Edda (or even the Bible or certain passages of Descartes, for that matter), works that were perceived to be 'self-evident' because they were sacred and divinely inspired." 
  • "As long as the devotees of Zeus or Artemis do not try to stamp out the worship of Aphrodite or Pan, nothing is amiss."
I. Prologue

  • "While the plot of our lives may be impossible to predict, the ending is as sure as it is calamitous: we, along with everyone we have ever known, will die and be eaten by other beings who are themselves, through no choice of their own, swimming in susceptibility to an infinity of great and small pains. When the story ends, it begins again and repeats itself throughout eternity. While even the most wretched of lives have their pleasures and perhaps even joys, the harrowing elements are at least as formidable as those pleasanter ones. What are we to do in the face of this injustice, this amorality, this blasphemous vulnerability that constitutes the basic precondition of life?" Well shit, I didn't know that I was reading Ligotti's Guide to Ragnarok. 
  • "For the past three thousand years, swaths of our species have answered this question by attempting to reconstitute, to reform, to 'save' the world according to a set of absolutist principles. These principles are ostensibly never derived from an ordinary perceptual engagement with the world of which we are a part, but rather from an 'otherworld' that is cleanly and coldly separate from our world. This is monotheism, the moralistic rejection of the world, as we experience it as entirely and hopelessly profane, bereft of any meaning of its own, in favor of this 'otherworld,' which is the sole abode of anything that can rightly be called 'sacred.'" 
  • "Where monotheism is a moral worldview, polytheism is a sacral one. The sacred is not remote from the world; it is the very essence of the world. All that is profane speaks to us of the sacred if we listen attentively enough, for the world we inhabit is the very flesh of spirit, its organic manifestation." 
  • "The polytheist does not wring his hands over the struggles and contradictions with which he is confronted, but confronts them in turn. Her overcoming of the world and being overcome by the world is the sacred's overcoming of itself." 
II. The Origins and Worldview of Monotheism

  • "Yahweh was a Supreme Being who was completely other than the world. He was omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, and had created this world singlehandedly and from the outside. The world was an artifact that received none of Yahweh's essence, like a shoe made by a shoemaker." 
  • "Mortality was the inevitable consequence of this binary cosmology. The sacred was no longer within the world, but resided in another world and was even against the world from without. Actions were no longer to be evaluated based on desire and practicality, the honest and elegant standards of thrushes, wolves, and cedars. Instead they were to be evaluated based on how well or how badly they facilitated the reform of the world as dictated by the One God." 
  • "The subjugation of the more-than-human world, its being brought into conformity with the 'image' of Yahweh, was now the imperative of the righteous." 
  • "Each successive generation thought of their way of life as 'how our people live,' just as all other peoples had their own somewhat unique ways of life and all other species had theirs. For the first monotheists, however, 'civilization' was coterminous with nothing but the will of Yahweh and his earthly servants. It signified a radical break with the rest of the world, one of the means by which the human faithful impose Yahweh's commandments upon a recalcitrant universe." 
  • "If we are to believe the modern heirs of this vision [that the dominion of humanity must extend over the Earth, or some such], the face of God must look much like the New York City skyline." 
  • "Adultery, theft, murder, lying, blasphemy, the obtainment of 'knowledge of good and evil,' and, ironically, covetousness, were 'idolatry' - lacking a legitimately divine archetype - and therefore intolerable and deserving of nothing but to be stamped out at any cost." 
  • "The sacred is that which, by, definition, cannot be questioned, but rather overwhelms and fills with awe. To subject an idea or a tradition to a skeptical and purely mundane method of analysis is to drag it into the realm of the mundane and profane, to cast it as something plain, unexceptional, and uninspiring." 
  • "Visions of ultimately reality were a 'spark' implanted in the 'soul' by these greater forces, an instance of communion with the more-than-human world." 
  • "The polytheistic or Platonic conception of the mind might be imagined as a forest or a steppe, with an openness onto the reciprocity and flow of the universe no different from the openness of a more tangible land. Aristotle, however, effectively created the modern notion of the 'individual,' cut off from these channels of give-and-take, with his assertion that all thought occurs within the human mind alone." 
  • "A myth is a myth precisely because of its impenetrability by reason, and this aloofness from questioning is what marks the sacredness of a myth." 
  • "Science is a quintessentially monotheistic religion, one whose origin, as with the other varieties of monotheism we have considered, lies in a profound hatred and fear of the world in which we actually live, and a moralistic desire to 'save' the world and bring it into conformity with a hypothetical and more tolerable 'otherworld.'"
  • Dawkins: "Science boosts its claims to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops on command, and to predict what will happen and when." 
III. The Sacred and Profane

  • From a polytheistic perspective, the visible world is not a negation of the invisible world of spirit, but its fulfillment. The words that William Blake chose to end The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 'Everything that lives is holy', apply to all that we perceive and experience, no matter how grand and luminous, no matter how vile and distressing." 
  • Tacitus: "Their holy places are the woods and graves, and they apply the names of gods to those hidden presences seen only by the eye of reverence." 
  • "Despite its origins in the Latin word mater, 'mother,' our modern word 'matter' has been invested with connotations of inertness, insensitivity, [and] barrenness. To call it 'dead' would be to impart to it too much life - it was never living in the first place. Against the Cartesian tendency, Meleau-Ponty described the visible world as flesh, within which all of us visible beings are intertwining sinews." What about 'unliving matter'? 
  • Ymir's tribe, the Jotnar or 'devourers,' are adept at shapeshifting, as are the gods and goddesses themselves." 
  • "The profane can be questioned, debated, proven, or disproven." 
  • "Knowledge of such tangible things as edible plants and economics is profane knowledge. The sacred, however, is sacred precisely because of its immunity to such demonstrations and proofs. Truths that belong to the realm of the sacred are myths, in the most exalted sense of the word. Myths are truths that are known a priori." 
  • "When a new myth is revealed to us, it arrives in a flash of ecstasy that overpowers us so completely that it would be all but unthinkable to question it." 
  • "Once a myth becomes lodged in our perception it cannot be removed except by another myth." 
  • "The very phrase a priori is our modern equivalent of in illo tempore, a phrase used by the famous scholar of religions Mircea Eliade to refer to the 'time before time' when the narrative myths of many polytheistic peoples from all over the earth are supposed to have taken place, such as the 'distant time' of the Koyukon or the 'dreamtime' of the Australian Aborigines. (This is in contrast to Judaism and Christianity, which mythologized history itself, much as does the modern notion of 'Progress.')"
  • "It cannot be emphasized enough that myths are not, however, 'subjective.' We do not arbitrarily choose them. They choose us, and it is from their having been disclosed to us, quite apart from our nitpicking reason, that they derive their sanctity. The whole of our perception points back to them, having proceeded outward from them in the first place." 
  • "Old Norse berserksgangr, which often involved shifting one's shape into that of a bear or a wolf."
  • "Odinn means 'Master of odr,' and Odroerir means 'Stirrer of odr.' Odinn's gift of his mead, then, was a gift of a corpuscle of his own essence, which intoxicated its recipient with some exceptional insight into the deepest levels of reality and thereby enabled him or her to become a master of the spiritual arts." 
  • "It [reason] has its place, yes, but its powers are really quite small when pitted against forces as formidable as divine intoxication." 
  • "When Descartes pronounced 'I think, therefore I am' to be a self-evident truth that could serve as the initial statement of a proof, he was in effect declaring, 'Here is my myth. It has been granted to me by my god, and its impulse is far mightier than my logic. Beyond this point I can question no further.' He then proceeded to construct an entire cosmology out of this and other such formative assumptions." 
  • "If there is one god and one standard of truth, and if that standard holds that 'A is B' is true, then 'A is not B' is naturally condemned to the outer darkness of objective falsehood. But if various gods inspire various myths, 'A is B' can be true according to certain myths, and 'A is not B' can be true according to others." John Keats called the ability to live in the midst of such competing ideas without attempting to reduce one to another 'Negative Capability,' and he saw this embrace of volatility as being an indispensable nutrient for creative achievement." 
  • "For a polytheist, the world is at the height of its singeing, tingling beauty and glory when it is also at the height of its volcanic dynamism. The polytheist sacralizes this polyvalence." 
  • "Truth is nestled inside this web of relationships, and as the web changes, so does truth. What is obviously true from one position in the web is just as obviously false from another, and there is nothing awry in this." 
  • "To perceive something is to already stand in relation to it, to be a participant in its life and it in one's own, even to have some modicum of agency in shaping its constitution. Truths, like rivers and crickets, are quintessentially worldly things that could not exist as themselves apart from those to whom they stand in relation." 
IV. Destiny

  • Regarding Yggdrasil: "Its regal heights were snow-capped." 
  • "The denizens of this murky pool [the Well of Urdr] were the three Nornir ('Cunning Women,' 'Witches,'), Urdr, Verdandi, and Skuld, 'vastly wise maidens' who set destiny on its course by carving runes into the trunk of the tree who holds all life in its sprawling arms and legs." 
  • "Germanic languages have only two tenses, the past and the present, and express something similar to futurity - which could more accurately be called 'necessity,' 'intention, or 'obligation' - through the use of modal verbs in the present tense ('I will go,' 'it shall be,' etc.). Necessity is not a true tense, but is rather an aspect or an outgrowth of the past and present tenses." 
  • "The water in the image is constantly in motion. It is taken up by the roots of the tree, nourishing it, sustaining it, and transforming it, and evaporates into the sky. There it freezes, and hail is sprinkled on the tree's branches, while water drips back as dew into the well, sustaining and altering the well in turn. The water cycle is the tangible disclosure of the cycle of time, which originates in the past, feeds the present and the necessary, and then, as the arc of the 'future' culminates by falling back to the past, changes the constitution of the past. The new past then proceeds upward into the new present, charged with new obligations." 
  • "These three terrifyingly powerful forces are the authors of the framework of destiny within which all of us whose homelands are found amongst the tree's branches and roots - men, women, gods, mountains, slugs - must, of necessity, live. The range of choices available to us, both in terms of actions and of thoughts is severely constrained by these three 'vastly wise maidens.' 'Free will' is a laughable idea in the face of their preeminence." 
  • "Destiny flows through us on its way into the present and back to the past, and we have the ability to harness and direct it along the way, like a bird riding the wind. We o not, however, get to choose which way the wind blows." 
  • "Our selfhood is our place in the flows and cycles of destiny. Just as many ecologists (who, like Darwin, are sometimes a refreshing counterweight to the dominant mythology of science) describe all life as being interconnected by a web, so destiny was often imagined as a web in the heathen Germanic religion." 
  • "Being, like knowledge, is inherently relational. We are ourselves and not anything else because we exist in relation to others in the past and the present, from our most distant ancestors to the most recent of acquaintances, in specific ways." 
  • "Merleau-Ponty went further and described perception as an 'intertwining' between perceiver and perceived wherein both have agency in shaping the other. The rabbit knows that her selfhood is edible because she is perceived as prey by the mountain lion; the lion, meanwhile, is reminded of his status as a predator when, even when he is satiated and exhausted, he sees the rabbits hiding or fleeing from him." 
  • "Our lives have meaning and purpose by virtue of their being swept up in this greater rhythm. It should go without saying that this is not, fundamentally, a purpose we choose, nor is it a purpose that will somehow ensure that 'everything will work out in the end' for our benefit." 
  • "We possess nothing as aloof and invulnerable as a 'soul.' We are weather patterns, flitting in and out of existence as blithely and with as little consequence as a cloud." 
  • "On either side of Ymir's abyss lay the last refuges of elemental ice and fire, the only remaining ruins of the cosmos." 
  • "One from their ranks, Loki, mated with the jotunn Angrboda ('She Who Bodes Anguish'), and from their union came three of the most dreadful monstrosities in the world: Hel ('Grave'), the death goddess; Jormungandr ('Great Beast of Sorcery'), the sea serpent who encircles the land; and Fenrir ('He Who Lives in the Fens'), a wolf stronger than any of the gods. Hel was tossed into the soil, and Jormungandr into the ocean."
  • "Tyr's hand was not all that he sacrificed, however; according to ancient northern European tradition, this blemish would have rendered him unfit to rule alongside Odinn, not to mention the dishonor of oath-breaking. The bound Fenrir was cast into a bog, far enough from Asgardr that the gods would not be troubled by the echoes of his incessant, enraged howling, and a sword was placed in his mouth to pacify his jaws. His drool became a foamy river, whose name, Van ('Expectation'), hinted that destiny had more in store for the wolf." 
  • "Loki had fled with a livid Thor in close pursuit. He manged to elude the thunder god long enough to hide in a river in the form of a salmon, but he was ultimately captured and taken to a cave. The gods brought his two songs to the cave, transformed one of them into a wolf, and had him murder his brother right there before Loki's eyes. With the entrails of his dead son, the gods bound Loki to a boulder and placed an enormous snake above his head to drip poison onto his face." 
  • "The last light the world ever saw was Surtr's fire. The black land sank back into the sea, whose waves closed over it and fell silent, and Ginnungagap prevailed once more." 
  • "The 'Twilight of the Gods' is manifested in every twilight, every autumn, every waning moon, every collapse of a civilization, every death, every wildfire, every mass extinction. Baldr reaches the height of his powers in every noon, summer, full moon, peak of a civilization, prime of life, and 'climax community.'"
  • "Even memory can only last so long. We in our superfulous historicity do not recur eternally. But the gods, the archetypal beings of whom we embody some small and incomplete part, and the cycle of their lives, are truly eternal, brimming with infinite significance, and worthy of nothing but unconditional - if sometimes necessarily painful and strained - affirmation: amor fati, the love of destiny. We do not have to search for meaning in life; just being alive is meaning enough in and of itself." 
Glossary of Old Norse Words

  • "Askr Yddrasils: The central pillar of the cosmos; the world-tree that grows out of Urdarbrunnr. All living beings dwell in its branches and roots. Its name is often given as 'Yggdrasil' or "Yggdrasill,' but Askr Yggdrasils is its full and more proper name." 
  • "Berserk means 'bear-shirt,' and is almost certainly a reference to shapeshifting into a bear, a common occurrence amongst those possessed by odr in the sagas." 
  • "On the eve of the Battle of Clontarf, the Norns (who are glossed as valkyries) are spied weaving the destiny of the battle and all who will partake of it. They use intestines for the thread, severed heads for the weights, and swords and arrows for beaters." 
  • Regarding jotuns: "Their distinguishing feature is their being forces of chaos, night, winter, cold and death, and also of the wilderness and primal wisdom. Their relationship with the two tribes of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, is highly ambiguous. The 'Devourers' and the gods are often enemies, yet they often intermarry and have other sorts of friendly relations." 

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