Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tyr journal, Northern esotericism and politics

This blog started off as a review of Tyr issue 4, and that review arose out of discussions about the (unfortunate) appearance of White Nationalism in Germanic esotericist writings. So the post expanded into an argument that White Nationalism is by no means typical of the Northern mysteries.

Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition. Issue 4. 
Edited by Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan
Volume 4, 2014, ISSN 1538-9413, ISBN-13: 978-0-9720292-4-7, 6" x 9" perfectbound, illustrated, 430 pages.

Tyr is an extraordinary publication, unlike any other. On the back cover of each edition the journal's mission is outlined: 'TYR celebrates the traditional myths, culture and social institutions of pre-Christian, pre-Modern Europe. It includes in-depth original articles, interviews, translations of essential works by radical traditionalist thinks, as well as extensive reviews of books, films, music, and the arts.'
An answer is given to the question 'What does it mean to be a Radical Traditionalist?'
'It means to reject the modern,.'. materialist reign of  "quantity over quality," the absence of any meaningful spiritual values, environmental devastation, the mechanization and over-specialization of urban life, and the imperialism of corporate monoculture, with its vulgar "values" of progress and efficiency. It means to yearn for the small, homogeneous tribal societies that flourished before Christianity-societies in which every aspect of life was integrated into a holistic system.'
(Full mission statement at http://www.radicaltraditionalist.com/tyr.htm.)

The articles in issue 4 give a good idea of the range of topics covered in Tyr's four volumes (no's 2, 3 and 4 of which are still available).

The theme of religion from a Traditional point of view is taken up by Alain de Benoist, in 'What is Religion?'. He asks 'Do we live in the age of the 'death of God' or the 'return of religion?' He examines various models of religion - its psychological, sociological and biological dimensions, concluding that they are inadequate, and asking what the essential features of a religion are. He concludes with a return to the idea that 'we are quite far from the old gods.'... '"Deserted"' is the appropriate word... the divine has withdrawn from our world... a world where one exploits the Earth, no longer knowing how to honour it.'
Mourning the death of the living world of the old gods, he ends on a Heidegger quote: 'Only a God can save us.'

Nigel Pennick's article on 'Traditional Time-Telling in Old England' is one of those wonderful meditations that cuts across regular cultural lines to show what we have lost from our pre-Christian cultural heritage, and the extent to which we are recovering forms of that heritage appropriate for this era.

Claude Lecouteux is represented by two articles. 'Garden Dwarves' is an inspiring essay on the ways we build magic into our homes. Lecouteux is very worth reading on this topic - see his The Tradition of Household Spirits (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Tradition-Household-Spirits-Ancestral/dp/1620551055). In his other piece, 'Geiler von Kaiserberg and the Furious Army' he retraces the myth of the Wild Hunt.

Steve Harris's 'On Barbarian Suffering' examines the traditional mind-set in which disasters are visited on us by the gods, and traces this thinking into the modern world.

Stephen Pollington reviews 'Germanic Art in the First Millennium', asking pertinent questions about the magical meaning of decorations on brooches, sword hilts and so on.

Contemporary artists whose ways of seeing have been influenced strongly by Northern Tradition ideas are also represented. From Michael Moynihan's essay I learned of the 20th Century American artist Rockwell Kent and how the Northern mythos inspired and sustained him.

Other artist cameos include Cult of Youth's Sean Ragon, and Sequentia's Benjamin Bagby. If you haven't heard Sequentia's Edda [http://www.sequentia.org/recordings/recording23.html] then do make time to do so - it is an extraordinary re-creation of an Eddic recital which you will never forget.

Tyr's production values are stellar and, as you would expect, integrated with the content; even the cover has something important to say about culture. Benjamin Vierling's beautiful, moody painting shows a woman holding a baby warthog. It is executed in classic oil painting style. Vierling's comments on art show that he has no desire to be part of the game of money and fashion that fine art has largely become. The idea that art should be driven by fashion to the extent that it becomes an in joke between an elite of artists and Charles Saatchi is repulsive enough to generate all sorts of responses from art lovers. When her boyfriend resumed proper painting Tracy Emin called his work 'stuck'. Proudly, he adopted the label 'Stuckist'. Vierling clearly opposes the idea that just because something is done in a new style, does not make it intrinsically less susceptible to criticism.

So Tyr amounts to a unique cultural project, unearthing and making vivid the thoughts and feelings of the pre-modern era, some of which underlie the confused layers of modern culture, and seeking glimpses of pre-instrumental views of the world, of cultural layers in which the Earth is not just a 'resource' and people aren't just 'human resources'.

The allusion in the title to the god Tyr is another reminder of the transcendent principles of Tradition: Tyr is the Norse form of the Indo-European sky god. His name resounds thorough the Germanic languages and denotes a principle of justice and rightness. Tyr journal celebrates and demonstrates the breadth and depth of the gnosis that has been nurtured in Germanic cultures and written or sung in Germanic languages.

Amongst the ancient and modern stirrers of the gnosis are the psychedelic sacraments. Of course, the German speaking world was seminal in the 20th century revival of the psychedelic gnosis - one only has to think of Albert Hoffman, the 'father of LSD'. In Tyr 4 we have an article by German psychedelics expert Christian Rätsch on 'The Mead of Inspiration'. The good Doktor, author of numerous scholarly books on the history, ethnobotany and sheer importance of psychedelic plants, turns to the question of the ingredients of ancient sacred drinks, in which 'alcohol is little more than a preservative or a solvent'.

The topic of psychoactives continues with a pair of interviews with psychedelic pioneer Ralph Metzner, one conducted by Carl Abrahamsson and the other by Tyr editor Joshua Buckley. Metzner comes over as vitally interested in using the psychedelic gnosis, not simply indulging in it as a species of private ecstasis. This attitude is of a piece with a major theme in Tyr, and in German esotericism - the necessity of incorporating polar extremes into personal illumination, of exploring the world in order to reach one's own spiritual truth. Metzner also voices an evaluation of the spiritual role of psychedelics I share - that they provide a preview, what I used to think of as a helicopter flight up the sacred mountain. In a world circumscribed by crude, triumphalist philosophies of science such as that peddled by Richard Dawkins, many of us require that helicopter ride to gain the knowledge that experience of one's own truth from within is even possible.

This is the point at which to consider Collin Cleary's Tyr 4 essay 'What is Odinism?' This is a wide-ranging philosophical survey which illustrates how deeply-embedded in the culture of North Western Europe are the qualities ascribed to Odin. The issues covered include the Faustian model of Western culture via Oswald Spengler and the core Left Hand Path idea that a human being is potentially a god, or something even greater. Odin is of course the role-model for the aspiring illuminate in Germanic culture.

Cleary's account is also sensitive to the tragic dimensions of the Odinic myth - that we may, in emulating the god, become obsessed with knowledge and power, and thereby 'lose our souls'. This is of course the dark side of the Faustian obsession that has brought Western civilization its greatest triumphs, and its greatest disasters.

Cleary introduces some of Edred Thorsson's ideas, particularly the notion of Odinic consciousness as encompassing the whole world, in all its extremes. Odin gives us a model to embrace the universe and thereby find our own inner truth. This is a gnosis which does not in any way demand the abandonment of the world and the flesh; indeed, the Odinic seeker arrives at truth at least in part via the world and the body.

However, Cleary does not take this idea as far as Thorsson does with his Polarian Method. This is the explicit notion that we need to seek out extremes in our personal development, integrating the experiences of them into greater consciousness. It seems to me that this strongly implies that reasoning can not always be top-down, starting with general principles and deriving specific guidelines to action. I shall return to this point below.

Cleary's article is well-written and introduces some powerful and important ideas, but he does make a curious attempt at conflating Odinism and Odianism, right at the start of the piece. In a footnote, he justifies this, but he is either missing the point of the distinction, or this is a deliberate attempt to elide that distinction, with no real justification other than that he finds the word 'Odianism' cumbersome.

Cleary's footnote mentions Thorsson's reasoning, kind of in passing: 'by "Odianism", Thorsson means a particular path to which not all Asatruar will be called.'

Surely this is a good enough reason to maintain the distinction? The way of the Rune-Gild, called Odianism, is about self-mastery and higher consciousness. Religions, including Asatru or Odinism, have little space for such concerns because they are mainly there in order to make people feel better about themselves and their circumstances, to cater to a level of consciousness which is about following, belonging and conformity. Development of greater awareness, magic, awakening - these are at best peripheral to religion.

Why would anyone want to blur or undermine that distinction? To pretend that seekers after truth are really just the same as the faithful flocks of Asatruar? In the essay under consideration, he asks 'Is there hope for the Odinic-Faustian West?', and answers with an acceptance of ontological determinism - just admitting what we 'are' according to 'biological, historical, cultural and social' destiny.

This is a tad vague, but looking at Cleary's other writings, it becomes clear that he has a political agenda at least as important to him as his esoteric one. An essay at http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/10/asatru-and-the-political/ plunges us straight into the depths of that programme, with an opening statement:

'I regard Ásatrú and White Nationalism as so inseparably bound to one another that to espouse Ásatrú while rejecting White Nationalism is to involve oneself in a fatal contradiction (fatal, really, in more than just the logical sense).'

By "White Nationalism" he means:
'very simply, a movement which recognizes White people - people of European stock, in other words - as a distinct nation or race, with its own set of national interests, and that seeks to advance those interests.'

That advancement involves resistance to a selection of the lies of the ruling class, those that appear to privilege other 'races' above Whites. The usual is stated, about not hating other 'racial' groups, and Cleary makes some very general statements about differences, but then the mask slips, and another layer of language shows through:
'But so long as there are distinct human groups these [differences] are ineradicable (which is exactly what some Leftists have realized in advocating miscegenation).'

I haven't heard the word 'miscegenation' since I last read a novel about rednecks in America in the 40s-50s. Does anyone not stuck in some ultra-racist timewarp still use the word?

I mentioned the perils of top-down argument above. One of them is that if the conclusion of your argument takes you somewhere that is grotesque on a number of levels, then its premises or its construction must be wrong. It is better to start over again, using insights into one's own visceral prejudices and arguing directly from those rather than trying to cloak dubious political ideas in respectable philosophical clothes. The association of White Nationalism with Asatru, taken with the deliberate conflation of Odinism (Asatru) with the esoteric path of Odianism does just that, and so the motive behind that curious elision comes into view. And to associate the Path of the Mysteries with a political movement, particularly one that is capable of using terms like 'miscegenation' is, to my mind, repellent.

I hope it's clear from the above that while I am criticizing some features of the Germanic revival, I am doing so from the inside. A study of the topics broached in Tyr enriches many a person's magical world, and provides a growing undertow, a sense of belonging to something good, which started long before you were born and will continue, we hope, long after you die.

Currents of world-changing thought, visions of beauty and awakening, traditions of embeddedness in a magical universe that answers to the awakened mind; currents of social and political liberation, the recovery of better ways of living (in Tyr 3 there is an article on the Wandervögeln); these are just a few of the themes that have emerged within Germanic cultures and been written down in Germanic languages.

But there is also the Thursic side. Thurses are the stupid giants in the old Northern tales and they provide, as mythic truths often do, useful tools for thinking about the modern world. Thurses are characterized by stupidity. (See my blog piece Three Thurses For Thee, http://chaotopia-dave.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/three-thurses-for-thee-towards.html). Everything about them stinks of automatism and unconsciousness. They represent the undertow of human consciousness, the forces of habituated, ignorant resistance that lurk beneath the conscious will.

If White Nationalists, despite their attempts to make their ideology respectable, want to ban breeding between different ethnic types, then it is perfectly clear to me that we are in the presence of a Thurs, one powered by the faithful flock's philosophical leaders' encouragement of the flock's most childish fears. On its own level, that conduct looks to me like a dereliction of leadership, but quite aside from that consideration, I, for one, do not want any kind of political game polluting my esoteric worldview.

The main reason for writing this review has been to point out to those who may think that White Nationalism is typical of Germanic esotericism that this is no more the case than any of the excellent other currents given voice in Tyr. The mix of articles in Tyr 4 presents Cleary's views as just one of a richly diverse selection of outlooks. So there is no need to shun Germanic esotericism because of the political programmes of a minority of its writers. The world of Northern Magic is much, much bigger than that.

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