On Respecting Others: A Thought Experiment

I like Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of the main characters of the first season is a very honorable man. He is a high-ranking noble who refuses to hire an executioner. He exceutes criminals himself, as he believes “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”. I think this statement has a lot of meaning in our modern life. We live in a world where few to none of us do violence personally, yet on a large scale, we live in a very violent society that incarcerates a higher percentage of our population than any other country. We also use deadly military force around the world, all of it funded by the citizens of our democracy, most of whom deplore violence.

I want to propose a thought experiement, to give you a glimpse into my nutcase head. This post is a rambling one, please bear with me, as I’m trying to put into words my feeling of the deep injustice done by those who claim to respect the beliefs of others, but then push for legislation that would restrict those people’s right to live in accordance with their beliefs.

I hear a lot about “respecting other’s opinions”. I want to use this thought experiment to examine what that really means. Usually, respecting other’s opinions comes up in the context of a political argument that has flared up a little too hot. No one wants to be “that asshole”- the one who tramples all over the ideas of others.

However, I’ve always been confused by the attitude behind this phrase. What is usually implied is that one should keep one’s opinion to oneself, or only share it with those who mostly agree with it, and refrain from challenging the opinions of others too harshly. The idea is that when voting day comes around, everyone will be able to cast their ballot, registering their opinion with the government, and the majority opinion will be enforced. The idea of not getting too heated in discussing ideas one-on-one seems to go hand-in-hand with the ideas of sorting out our differences at the polls.

I want to go on record as saying that, to me, nothing on earth could be more disrespectful than this attitude. By voting for a set of principles (or a candidate who promises whose principles), you are authorizing a group of armed men (the police- and the military if things get too wild) to enforce your opinion on those who disagree.

If you vote to outlaw abortion, you are voting to have men with guns take away doctors who perform abortions, put them in cages, and deny them their livelihoods that they have worked years to build. If you vote to force bakers to bake gay wedding cakes, you are voting to force them to lend support to something that is against their religion. If you vote to ban gay marriage, you are voting to keep a person from having their medical decisions made by their lover, best friend, and closest ally- their partner.These are real choices, with real and heart- and life-breaking consequences for those involved. Do you really believe that those choices should be made by people who have never met the parties involved and are unaware of and uncaring about their existence?

If you are going to vote for things, and advocate for the state to do violence against those of us who disagree, is it not your solemn responsibility to argue with us about it first? To hear every point we can muster to support our cause? How on earth can it be respectful to advocate state violence against your opponents while hidden in a private voting booth, but refuse to give them the chance to change your mind on the street, at the dinner table, or anywhere else?

I’ll say this- I argue too long and too hard. I am aware of my faults, and this is one of them. But one thing you will notice about all my arguments is that they are based on the rights of people to be left alone. I rarely, if ever, argue that the state should force someone else to do or not do anything. I advocate for a greater legal respect for those defending themselves from others (and no, I don’t see that as a gun control issue so much as a legal issue, so everyone please keep your pants on). I advocate for the abolition or lessening of restrictions on issues such as drug and alcohol use, abortion, queer people, religion, and self-defense because I can’t stomach the idea of sending the cops after my friends who disagree with me to force them into my beliefs.I might argue that the state should offer a service, such as a road system or healthcare, but never that anyone should be forced to take advantage of that offer.

The problem is that we live in a society where personal violence is deplorable, but state-sanctioned violence is acceptable. Therefore, people who would never in a million years try to force another to follow their religion or beliefs feel that it is okay to pay and instruct the government to deal out that repression for them. I know many good, friendly, well-meaning people who are upset if they offend me, yet will happily vote to have the state do violence against me.

I’ll admit I don’t understand this mindset. It’s a part of the reason I don’t vote. I can see the desirability of a few basic laws, but I feel that politics right now is not about running a free society, but about whose cultural vision will prevail. And I don’t really want anyone’s cultural vision to prevail, even my own. I want to live in a diverse country, where Muslims and Christians and pagans and Jews and Hindus can all get drunk and argue politics and maybe have a good donnybrook to two, but no one can call upon the cops or the IRS or the military to enforce their worldview on the others.

This is mainly a pipe dream. I freely admit that. It is likely that so long as humans believe things strongly (which they should), the temptation to push those beliefs with coercion will prove irresistable to many. However, I titled this piece as a thought experiment, and that is how I intended it. I want to challenge you, me, and everyone else to think about what it means to vote for your cultural vision, and what it means to refuse to accept challenges to that vision and defend it in a free market of ideas. Perhaps this will explain to some of my friends why I go a little too far, or why I say I’m glad when you offend me, and congratulate you on your willingness to stand up and speak your mind. I don’t fear my hurt pride when you turn out to be right, what I fear is that you will take away my rights in a voting booth, behind my back, without even giving me the chance to explain my views, or to fight back at all.

 

 

 

The Eternal Battle

We know that Valhalla is the sight of the eternal battle, where the warriors leave the hall in the morning to fight eachother all day before coming back inside the hall in the evening to feast and drink. What does that mean? How do those who were willing to kill eachother outside sit reconciled inside, having a grand party? How are those whose only interests seem to be war and partying supposed to combat the wolf?

I would like to offer an interpretation of Valhalla. It is definietly UPG territory, and so I’m going to emphasize the offer part. My theory is this: that the eternal battle is a metaphor for life, while Valhalla is the corner of the afterlife provided for those sworn to the eternal battle between lifetimes.

Every day, when the Einharjar (those sworn to fight in the last battle and loyal to Odin), wake, they leave the hall. In this, I see a metaphor for being born. The souls of the warriors leave the hall and are born into physical form. In physical form, they don’t know what they are and they dont recognize their fellow warriors. Following their nature as lovers of frenzy, drunkeness, and inspiration, they become involved in the world. Being of a passionate nature, they have a tendency to fight for what they believe in, and for those they love. They are killed, likely by others who passionately believe in something.

Upon death, the Einharjar are picked over by the ravens. On their return to Valhalla, they are once more aware of their nature, and are able to feast and drink with others who share the same nature. It is not in the nature of the Eiharjar to give peace to their enemies or to refrain from conflict in the world, but within Valhalla there is a place of rest and companionship for those for whom life is a battle.

To me, this explains the sagas that have the same people being reborn over and over. Sometimes they even fall in love with someone else who they were involved with in a past life. If a person is reborn over and over with a similar personality, as these myths seem to imply, doesn’t it makes sense that those given to conflict and strife in pursuit of what they percieve as the greater good end up loving and/or killing eachother over and over again?

I think that this also makes sense of Odin’s role as a god whose motives for taking sides are not necessarily what most people would call moral. Odin’s favor is more likely to be won by cunning, competence, and battle-frenzy than by the moral rightness or the cause. And I think this has profound implications for the political sphere.

One thing that has always concerned me about Valhalla is that the “price of admission”is bravery, not the rightness of your cause. The valkyries pick over the dead on both sides of a battlefield, choosing the slain. Now, as modern people with a bit of distance, it seems easy to see how the retainers of Ugfart the Third and Ethelbum the Fat might put aside their differences over who was the rightful king of whatever tiny province they fought over. But let’s look at this is in a modern context.

If the valkyries pick over the battlefields, choosing the bravest, then it stands to reason that Valhalla probably has American soldiers, Nazis, Shaka Zulu’s warriors, John Brown, anarchists from the Spanish Civil War, Confederates, Haitian revolutionaries, and many more. No wonder they are fighting eternally!

I think that what brings people to Valhalla is a deep commitment to fighting for what they believe in, regardless of the odds. That trait belongs to a layer of the soul that is reborn over and over again, because it is a fundamental part of that soul’s nature. Within Valhalla, such people are stripped of their life experiences and all of the cultural brainwashing that made they believe what they believed. The dead Nazi loses his racism and sees only common ground with the Jewish resistance fighter who killed him in defense of his people.

I think that this is why, of all the gods, Odin is the patron god of female warriors. Odin is not concerned with the externals- race, gender, blah, blah. Odin is concerned with whether or not a person has the heart to face the wolf. Many will fight for something, for a cause they think they can win. The Einharjar fight for the thrill of the struggle, and for the love of something greater than themselves, rightly or wrongly.

Odin seeks those who will in essence help him cheat in fighting the wolf. The Einharjars’ role is to fight the wolf alongside Odin, in hopes of preserving what can be preserved of the world they love. Therefore, the traits that define the Einharjar are a refuseal to surrender in the presence of doom, stubborness, cunning, and a willingness to use any ends, including cheating, to preserve their world.

In every cultural and in every time, there are such people. And they often end up killing each other. My belief in Odin is that, in the end, all of these fighters are feeding energy into something, whether you consider it a god or an archetype, that represents the will to life and the ecstasy of enjoying it in and enjoying the defense of it from within the battle-frenzy.

 

 

The Quest for Knowledge and a Challenge to Fear

The quest for knowledge is central to the practice of heathenism. Odin, the chief of the gods, continually travels the nine worlds seeking knowledge. The ancient heathens were traders and raiders, seeking information about other cultures and preserving their knowledge of history and other lands in the epic poetry which we still look to for information in the present day. The pursuit of knowledge is important both for spiritual and personal reasons.

In the spiritual realm, much of the magic mentioned in the lore consists of deception magic. The strongest, most powerful fighter could not stand against his opponent if that opponent could fool him into fighting the impossible or inevitable. Just think of Thor’s journey to Utgard-Loki, where he blindly attacks mountains and attempts to wrestle old age.

The fact that Odin gave an eye and was hanged for knowledge, and that the lore mentions humans braving both physical and spiritual dangers to gain knowledge and skills from the dead speaks to the value which was placed on knowledge. When Brynhild meets Sigurd, one of the first things she does is share her rune knowledge with him. It seems that her knowledge and intelligence was at least as important a factor as her beauty in their romance. Their subsequent history underlines the point of the trouble that deception magic causes….

Spiritual knowledge is generally represented by the runes, which were won by the sacrifice of Odin. These are small signs which contain meditations on all aspects of life. The process of gaining knowledge and wisdom is a worth-while process, and one which every person must undertake for themselves. Although Frigga knows all ends, she doesn’t attempt to teach Odin all that he longs to know. Instead, she supports him in his journeys, even when she fears for his safety.

Odin continually travels to other lands to gain knowledge. He goes to the homes of giants who mean him harm, and has wagered his head for knowledge. This underscores the importance of gaining knowledge, but also brings up an often-overlooked point. Knowledge cannot be gained at home, safe within the circle of our companions. Knowledge is the hard-won product of exposing oneself to the worlds of other peoples, both our allies and our enemies.

And this is the point I’m making today. In this day and age, I don’t think it is necessary to walk into a radical Islamist training camp and wager one’s head to gain knowledge. However, to sit home and condemn all Muslims (including the ones who protested ISIS in London last week) from the couch is ignorant. To grow in knowledge, we need to understand the world in a way we can’t without a bit of dedicated study and experience of different cultures.

For example, when I was a scared kid, still somewhat traumatized by the 9/11 attacks, I took some time to read up on Islam, Middle Eastern history, and to meet some Muslims. I learned a lot, and my point here isn’t to tell you what I found and my conclusions. It’s to say that I did learn a lot. I met some really great people and some raging assholes. I changed a lot of my opinions based on what I learned.

My point in telling this story is to encourage people to step outside their comfort zone. I recently read a blog post by a heathen who claimed that because someone had a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, they were “obviously” sympathetic to Muslims and couldn’t be trusted. This struck me as very stupid. What sort of person makes a virtue of ignorance and refuses to trust the knowledge of an expert on a subject for no better reason than that person’s expertise?

So I felt the need to speak out against this sort of idiocy. The Havamal has some pretty sharp things to say about those who think they are smart yet never venture out into the world. The best way to learn about various people and cultures is to spend time among them, but with the caveat that not every sub community within a community represents the whole. For example, going and spending time among Orthodox Jews won’t necessarily help you understand the atheistic commie Jews I know. (I shouldn’t have to say that, but given how many people honestly think every woman in a hijab supports ISIS, it is apparently necessary.)

Not all of us can travel the world, but most places are a lot more cosmopolitan than you would think, if you take the time to seek out diversity. It’s worth a bit of a drive to visit a mosque and meet some real Muslims and hear what they have to say about the world, considering that Islam, Islamic radicalism, and immigration from Muslim countries are issues that we should probably be paying attention to right now. There are also many resources available to anyone with an internet connection (which, if you’re reading this, I assume you do). edX.org offers courses for free from top-rated universities. Coursera is less good in my opinion, and taking a course for free takes more work, but they also have an impressive selection of courses.

There are many different communities of people acting on the world stage right now. To make informed decisions and chart the best course for our country and our families, we need at least a basic understanding of the other people who inhabit the world. It our only source of information is the news on TV and Facebook, we are very vulnerable to manipulation of our information. Manipulation of our information leads to manipulation of our opinions, often in ways which spread hatred, fear, and malice.

We can never learn what we need to know if we are constantly surrounded by those who agree with us, or if we insist that those who disagree keep quiet in our spaces. We have to go and seek out the opinions of others, and face the challenges of new ideas. This will undoubtedly be a difficult process, and if undertaken honestly, will cause permanent changes in a person’s values and personality. Giving up faith and looking at the world with reason and seeking knowledge is a painful process. Seeing the world as it is, without the protection of our collective delusions, is horrible. There’s a reason Odin drinks so much…

So this post is not meant to be an end. This post is meant as a challenge. Learn another language, speak to those who you don’t know, particularly those you hate and fear. Bring back the knowledge you win to your community and use it for the benefit of your people. Remember that it takes courage to fight people, but it takes infinitely more courage to understand them.

“If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a thousand battles.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Maybe your enemies are not those who you fear, but those who taught you to fear… and that is as political as I’m getting today. This is my challenge to fear- that I will face what I fear, I will learn from it, and I will use what I learn to benefit my community. My challenge to you is to stand with me in this.

 

Prophets of Fear

The tragedy which just occurred in Orlando has brought to the fore tensions inherent in our culture. It is time to admit that we live in a culture of fear.

The man who massacred innocent men in Orlando was likely driven by fear- fear of homosexuals and possibly fear of his own identity as a homosexual. His crime is being billed as “radical Islamic terrorism”, to the point where one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was American. Omar Mateen was American, however, a part of our culture in which evangelicals have spent the past few months painting pictures of women being molested in the bathroom by homosexual or transsexual perverts.

It would be more comfortable for us Americans to pretend that our culture had no impact upon Mateen, and that his crime was solely the product of radical Islam imported from the Middle East. Many people will take that route, blaming Islam for Mateen’s crime. But Omar Mateen didn’t exist in a bubble. He had a job, he must have commuted, seen billboards, watched TV, and used the Internet.

Clearly this man was no brain-washed groupie, trained in Afghanistan or Algeria to see Americans as nameless, faceless embodiments of evil. He trained himself, to a large extent, using the internet to access information on ISIS. He reportedly used gay dating sites, personally knew gay men, and was a product of American culture at least as much as Islamic culture.

So perhaps when we seek to lay blame for his actions, we should look at the interweaving of these two cultures. I said earlier that we live in a culture of fear, and we do. We also live in a culture of denying responsibility. Should we be so blind as to miss that Omar Mateen, divorced twice over, might latch onto the idea, propagated not just from mosques but from mainstream churches in America, that homosexuals are a threat to traditional marriage? How much easier is it for a man to blame the “other” for his failures than to admit his own mistakes?

This is not an attitude we need to travel to the Middle East to find. Every day here in America, pastors and pundits blame the gays, the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, etc, etc, on and on, for the failures that we ourselves have cooked up. No one has the courage to say: “We cooked up the crisis in the Middle East. We created a culture in which family doesn’t matter. We let corporations move the work to sweatshops in third-world countries. We have failed to defend Mother Earth.” Instead, we pay a crowd of bull-shitters to tell us what we want to hear- pretty girls on Fox News peddling the smooth pill that our problems are someone else’s fault- lazy blacks, job-stealing Mexicans, hateful Muslims, perverted homosexuals- any story to keep us from having to face reality and responsibility.

Is it shocking that someone who was a failure, and likely afraid, would fall prey to our culture of fear? This culture of fear is not Muslim, it is not Christian, it is not constrained to one religion, race, or culture. It is everywhere. It can be seen every time an imam tells his congregation to fear Americans, every time a pastor tells his congregation to fear homosexuals, and in every news broadcast that sells itself by selling fear- fear of guns, fear of Muslims, fear of gays, fear of floods, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear, fear, fear…

We live in fear, we breathe fear, and fear seeps into our minds. 18% of the population suffers from an anxiety “disorder”. Yet these disorders are not abnormal- they are the reasonable result of a culture that continually pumps us full of fear. Fear makes us controllable, it directs our attention away from questions about how we want to live our lives and what sort of society we want into an endless defense against the things we fear. Don’t want Trump as President- vote Hillary. Don’t pay attention to her politics, don’t think about whether you really believe in a two-party system, just give in to fear and follow the herd. Don’t think about whether you want to work, just worry that you’ll be unemployed. Don’t think about where our food will be grown once California’s aquifers run dry- just buy “organic” lettuce.

We Americans are now living in fear of a thousand things. We try to shut out the fear- we make it impolite to talk politics, we pop pills, we go to church, we pay pundits to simplify the world for us, we pay self-help gurus to tell us we could make it better if we could just stop “defeating ourselves”. But deep down, we all know that it’s a lie.

Fear is now our god. The god the majority of Christians turn to is no more than their cobbled-together notion of “traditional morality”, the return of which would free them from the fear of a changing world. The god of the radical Islamists is the fear of the US drone strike. The god of the atheists is the fear that humanity will continue to act irrationally. The god of the racists is the fear of other races and cultures. “God Money” is nothing more than our own fear of failure- of being without, of failing our families and ourselves.

We worship our fear, make a virtue of our cowardice. Greed is “work ethic”, cowardice in the face of new cultures is “traditional values”, and fear of standing up for those who are different is “politeness”. It is time for this to end. It is time for us to stop fearing our failures and instead take responsibility. Let’s stop worshipping our fear and start believing in something. I can’t tell you what to believe in, but I can tell you that if what you believe in is an absence- an absence of gays, Muslims, immigrants, guns, drugs, divorce, whatever- you are worshipping fear. Right now we live in a world saturated with fear- have the courage to believe in something real. Have the courage to build something. The courage we need right now is not the courage to fight our enemies, but the courage to understand them.

Tribalism in Politics

My first introduction to tribalism was when my mother called my brother’s group of friends a tribe. They were the poor kids in a rich town, and spent most of their youth trying to get high and making trouble. In the end, most of them ended up moving out west together. The core group of friends live in the same town- across the country from where they started. They had ups and downs over the years, fights and reconciliations, but they still have each others’ backs.

As a kid growing up poor in a rich town and with zero social skills, I envied my brother his tribe. I saw so much shallow bullshit from the people around me. The upper-middle-class people around me growing up seemed to hold friends as acquaintances, chips to be traded around in power games. A family whose kid was in trouble with the law would lose social standing and be shunned a bit. A family with money was more sought-after socially. No one stuck by those their friends in rough times- that might drag down their own social standing.

I knew that I didn’t want that in my life. I have no use for single-serving friends. Anyone I feel is worth my time is worth fighting for. Otherwise, I’d rather be alone. I ended up marrying someone with very similar ideals. Though we had much to work out, we stuck together because we both believe that loyalty is the highest virtue.

As a child, I always envied my brother his tribe. As an adult, I’ve begun to build a tribe of my own. I rather dislike most of the human race, and my husband and I have chosen a few people we think are worth our time. We are trying to build up the other people around us. My dream is for my daughter to grow up in a tribe, as we believe this is the optimal state for human health and happiness.

To us, a tribe is no more than 20 or so adults and their children. The obligations of mutual loyalty would become onerous beyond a small group of people with similar ideals. We ally with broader social movements as we feel our interests demand. As union workers, we tend to favor the improvement of working conditions and pay for workers. As a tribe with ties to transwomen, we oppose the mistreatment of our friends. We oppose the use of racial sentiments to allow the setting of precedents which allow police brutality.

Our respect is not based on nationality or color or gender or sexuality. We respect a Mexican family man who has the courage and drive to come here and get whatever work he can to support his family. We do kind of wish we could send worthless Americans back to Mexico in exchange, but that’s not likely.

Overall, we are a group of people trying to work in our own interests. We are not racist, sexist, or homophobic. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) The other tribe I know of is my brother’s tribe, and while they tend to be a bit less liberal than my tribe, they are far from neo-Nazis.

All this makes me very upset by the current push by neo-Nazis to appropriate tribalist ideas. To be clear- a tribe is a tribe, in my view living in accordance with Dunbar’s number- so no more than a couple of hundred people. There are likely at least a billion “white” people in the world. Just from a purely tribalist perspective, the idea that “white” people form a tribe which requires mutual defense is ludicrous. There has never been and never will be a tribe of a billion people.

Furthermore, “white” people screw over other “white” people all the time. I’m “white” and my ancestors were kicked off their lands in Ireland and England under the Acts of Enclosure by “white” people. Then they were kidnapped and sold as indentured servants right beside the “black” people. It was “white” people who kept my ancestors out of businesses with signs reading “No dogs or Irish.” It is mostly “white” people who benefit from exploiting my labor in the current day. A “white” person or a company owned by “white” people owns my student debt, so they are currently screwing me. Why would I support a social grouping that has historically benefited from the oppression of my ancestors and continues to benefit from my current oppression?

The white supremacists seems to be using tactics used by many indigenous tribes for hunting. Many hunters in the days before guns would dress up as the animal they were hunting, covering themselves in the target’s dung to cover their scent and even wearing antler headdresses when hunting deer. It was a way of telling their prey “Hey, don’t worry about me, I’m just a deer like you. We’re buddies.” Then the hunters would creep close enough to kill the deer.

Similarly, white supremacists appeal to our “sameness”. But their end goal- like that of hunters- is to avoid defense mechanisms so they can divide us and stab us in the back. White supremacists also use herding tactics- getting the unwary panicked about something scary over in the bushes so they will run blindly off a cliff or into a corral to be slaughtered. It is the “herd mentality” white supremacists appeal to when they attempt fear-mongering tactics about their imaginary “war on whites” and “invasions” by refugees. I’m not a bison to be stampeded, and I reject the nonsense of fear-mongering politics.

There are tribes with which my tribe has connection- for example, my brother’s tribe. But even the big network of people who have the right to expect aid from me in times of trouble numbers less than a hundred people. Outside of that network, my tribe supports political and social issues depending on what they can do for us. Based on research, we generally tend left-ward in our politics, but that is not a hard and fast rule. We’re not going to be tricked into giving up our rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and a fair trial because those trying to deny us those rights are “white” and they are setting the precedent on “black” people. Once the precedent is set, the law won’t care about race.

I’ve recently heard a lot of noise about “tribalism”, which seems to mean different things to different people.  Some of the left seems convinced that a tribalist is automatically part of a neo-Nazi Wotanic wolf-cult. Some of the right seems convinced that “tribalism” means acting like a billion people of European ancestry constitute a tribe.

In my opinion, both are missing the mark by a wide margin. To me, tribalism is the only sensible reaction to a world where we are divided to make us weak. Our culture no longer values family, and our society is in the grip of what I call “The Cult of the Twenty-Something Consumer”. To me, tribalism means taking care of family and friends, regardless of what anyone else thinks of them. At the heart of tribalism is personal loyalty. That has nothing to do with race, gender, or any other external factor. The only important factor to us when deciding whether a person is worthy of consideration for tribal membership is whether they will show the same loyalty to us that we would show to someone in the tribe. (And they have to have decent taste in music…) No one is given false worth for pale skin that they did nothing to earn.

I’m speaking out here to try to reclaim tribalism for people who have researched tribes and have a basic conception of what it means to be part of a tribe. A tribe is not a political party nor is it a group of people with a particular skin tone. A tribe is a group with common values supporting one another.

As paganism matures, I suspect more people are going to see the benefits of a tribe in surviving as the system around us breaks down. Those who are making it in today’s world are the families and friends that stick together. Sticking together is humanity’s first line of defense in a hostile world.

 

 

My thoughts on landwights

A woman mixes flour and water in a bowl and sets it outside. After a few days, there are bubbles in the mixture and she brings in inside. She takes half of the mixture and mixes it into her dough, which rises and bakes up into delicious sourdough. She adds more flour and water to the bowl every week, feeding the mixture. In exchange for her gifts, the yeasts and bacteria in the culture change dough into bread to be baked every week for her, even helping glutenin and gliadin combine to form the protein gluten.

The woman also makes cheese from milk, using a culture of yeasts and bacteria to preserve and add nutrients to her food. Many foods are preserved by fermentation, which adds the nutritional value. The cultures benefit from being provided with food, and so the benefit is mutual. When the hard work of storing food is done, the woman sits down to dinner with her family, and they pass a horn of mead around. This mead is produced by a slightly different culture of yeasts feeding on honey and water collected by the humans.

As the food the family has eaten is digested, it is broken down by intestinal flora, which are bacteria which live in their guts. Without these bacteria living inside their intestines, the family would soon die because their bodies would be unable to properly take up (or in some cases create) some nutrients without this flora.

Outside the house, the compost pile is being digested by bacteria, fungi, and insects. In the soil in the fields, fungi and bacteria and increasing the productivity of the land. In the bean patch the family planted in the spring, the plant roots have nitrogen nodules produced by nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These nodules will decompose and provide bio-available nitrogen for next year’s crop of wheat. The family will eat the beans and plant more beans next spring, preserving their own lives and furthering the life cycle of the legume.

In the forest surrounding the farm, the trees maintain a social network. According to this forester old stumps are supported by living trees. All over the forest, herbivores eat plants and are eaten by carnivores, who in turn die and are decomposed by colonies of fungi and bacteria. Every part of the ecosystem relies on cultures of bacteria and fungi. In some areas (such as the Malheur National Forest in Oregon), individual fungi set up colonies ranging over several square miles that survive thousands of years.

Microscopic fungi or hundred year old trees, our world is populated by beings which maintain relationships with one another. We know that a wolf pack works to maintain the good of the whole and we can easily see that dogs and wolves have a spirit (by which I mean that they have some sort of existence beyond the physical- they think, they feel). Dr. Wohllben’s research in German forests suggest that trees also have a community, and many cultures have assumed that they have spirits also.

My understanding of the wights is that they are the spirits of things. While heathens a thousand years ago didn’t have microscopes to see bacteria and fungi, they weren’t dumb. They knew that something made the land fertile, something made bread rise, and that forests might have spirits that deserved respect. Probably any people making a living off the land would have observed the effects of organisms too small to see. Most cultures seem to have developed some sort of belief in land spirits, anyway.

My thought is that we are most able to experience the spirits of things which are closest to us. It is relatively easy to see that a chimpanzee has a spirit. Even the spirit of a dog is relatively obvious. I have a harder time with the spirits of trees, but some people claim to see them. A fungal or bacterial culture is farther away from a human experience, and is also harder to see as having a spirit. If they think and feel, it is in a way so alien to ours that we can’t even perceive it.

Obviously, this is simply my opinion on the nature of wights. It could be absolute BS. I have no idea whether the spirits of things are conscious entities or personifications of the forces of nature. Nor do I think it matters. Whether a species of bacteria mutates and adapts because it has a spirit directing its evolution or whether it is a random chance mutation that is selected for by the environment, the result is the same. Whether feeding a sourdough culture is merely a mechanical process or part of a gifting cycle is irrelevant compared to the benefit gained by both sides in the exchange.

A question I’ve considered is whether each tree (or fungi or whatever) has a spirit or whether there is a general wight, like a forest wight for trees in an area, or a culture wight for a culture. I think the answer is probably similar to the same question for groups of humans- does each person have a spirit or is there a spiritual force for the entire group? In the case of humans each person obviously has a spirit, but there is also an overarching group identity. I would guess that the same is true of trees, cultures, and packs or herds of animals. Each component has an identity, but it is (ideally) concerned with the good of the whole group. I think we are most likely to relate to the spirit of an entire group, especially in the case of cultures, since the group a whole has similar interests (reproducing itself and continuing its way of life) to the goal of a human group, making it more relatable.

As far as this concerns me, it means that I try to think about honoring the wights in the context of what the wight would want if it were the “collective consciousness” of the entity. For example, to honor a field from which I harvested food, and to return a gift for the gift which I received, I might give a day of my labor spreading manure (which will certainly benefit if not please the bacteria and fungi which keep the land fertile). To honor a forest from which I harvested wood from, I might apply some sort of natural tree fertilizer near the stumps of harvested trees.

I might be a nutty tree-hugger, but I think that this view of the world (as being alive, with each thing having an existence beyond the physical) encourages right action. If I have respect for my tools, I’ll clean them and take care of them and they will last twice as long. If I have respect for my dishes, I’ll wash them and live in a cleaner home. If I respect my domestic animals, I’ll give them room to roam. This translates into better quality food for me when I eat them or their eggs or milk. By buying into the gifting cycle, I create a better life for myself and my family, and this is worthwhile to me, even if I’m a nutty tree-hugger.