Metal heathens and ecstatic religion

Since the earliest recorded history (and probably before), some people have found a connection to the divine through dance and song. There are records of thse participating in the Dionysian mysteries engaging in what the modern world calls “head-banging” under the influence of music and alcohol or other entheogens. “The trance induction central to the cult involved not only chemognosis,[4] but an “invocation of spirit” with the bullroarer and communal dancing to drum and pipe. The trances are described in familiar anthropological terms, with characteristic movements (such as the backward head flick found in all trance-inducing cults) found today in Afro-American Vodou and its counterparts. As in Vodou rites, certain rhythms were associated with the trance.” [Emphasis mine. According to my textbook “Survey of Western Music”, injuries in the temple of Dionysus during such rituals were common.

Within Viking culture, the Viking Answer Lady provides an account of Norse music which uphold my hypothesis that there was a strong tradition of ecstatic music within Norse culture. In fact, the words of the Christians describing Viking music sound almost exactly like modern-day descriptions of heavy metal by non-metalheads. A few highlights:

“For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. It is not so much an articulate sound, as a general cry of valor. They aim chiefly at a harsh note and a confused roar, putting their shields to their mouth, so that, by reverberation, it may swell into a fuller and deeper sound.”

“In truth the barbarians shrieked out songs of praise of their forefathers with disorderly shouts.”

“Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig (in Denmark). The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.”

And a Viking king, who was possessed by the madness inspired by music:

“First he [the muscian] performed various pieces so that everyone was filled with grief and numbness. And afterwards the sound of the lyre forced them to an impudent and lively state of mind, then jesting tunes which made them eager to move their bodies and they commenced to exchange anguish for applause. Finally it enraged them to madness and rashness, so that they were seized by madness and in utter fury gave great cries. Thus the state of their minds was changed variously. Therefore when the music in the hall came to an end, they saw that the king was driven to madness and rage, so that they were unable to restrain him. Thus they were seized by excessive madness and powerfully overthrown by fury; according to their natures the men’s madness increased. And so overcome by the strength of the struggle, he broke their hold and darted forward, wrenched open the door and seized a sword and killed four of his warriors, and none could come near enough to restrain him. At the end his courtiers took cushions and from every side approached, throwing them over him until at great risk they all were able to seize him. When he regained his wits, he paid the just weregild for the warriors’ injuries.”

The article is here:

Ancient Germanic culture had some sort of ecstatic musical tradition that was strongly linked to warfare, ecstasy, and drinking. It was probably similar to the rites of Dionysus, given that both cultures shared a common Indo-European background. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstacy, and a figure who has similarities to Odin.

Therefore, I think the natural patron god for the ecstatic music tradition is Odin. As the Master of Ecstasy and the patron of fury, inspiration, and drunkeness, and as the patron of poets and musicians, he seems the natural choice. Odin’s Valhalla is the destination of the best poets and musicians as well as some of the fiercest warriors. His Einharjar fight with each other all day, then feast and drink together all night. Given the anecdote above of the king who killed his retainers in a fit of music- and alcohol-induced insanity, I think it is fair to say that Valhalla can be imagined as the moshpit of the afterlife.

Furthermore, Odin is the patron god of knowledge and scientific inquiry. I have yet to find a non-metal band which writes songs about evolution, biology, mathematics, and physics. Few other genres’ lyrics regularly include quotes from and references to Yeats, Emerson, Shakespeare, Nietsche, or any of the other great philosophers and poets regularly referenced by heavy metal artists. Odin as the god of poetry could hardly be displeased by the work of the greatest poets of recent generations- poetry which is set to the music of Woods of Ypres, Soulfallen, Shylmagognar, Agathodaimon, and other bands.

Odin is also the god who seeks to forestall Ragnarok. In this, he would have common ground with the entire section of metal that is obsessed with the death of this world. There are many stages of grief, and for those working through grief over the end of the world as we know it, denial is no longer enough and elements of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance start to appear. Many metal bands and fans are concerned with the environment- metal bands often donate to environmental causes, and many metalheads deeply consider and struggle with the ethics of things like eating meat. Metalheads (particluarly black metal fans) often identify with the Einharjar.

I follow Odin as the patron of ecstatic music and the berserkergang. I follow Frigga as the patroness of the other side of a balanced life- harmony and peace and love towards family, landwights, and allies. Frigga already knows all ends and has chosen to wage her battle for a future past Ragnarok through what I emulate through homesteading (to the extent possible for me right now). This is my heathenry. All of heathenry right now is a reconstruction of an ancient and long-dead religion. This is the path I choose to be a part of reconstructing.







Modern Feminism and Gender Sterotypes


I dug up this list of gender sterotypes to get a feel for what the general public defines as “masculine” and “feminine”. As a heathen, I want to compare these gender stereotypes to the lore of my religion. The gods I feel closest to are Frigga and Odin. As Asgard’s oldest couple, it seems to me that they present a picture of how the ancient heathens viewed men and women and how the genders complemented each other. I also want to compare modern gender stereotypes to stereotypes from the pre-Christian era, to see how they have changed over time.

I will start with the masculine stereotype compared to Odin. Odin fits the masculine stereotype very well. Even while fitting that stereotype, he has great respect for the wisdom of women. He practices the “women’s magic”, even though it is culturally inappropriate. While Odin can be a sexist, it is usually in the vein of seeing a woman as a worthy opponent whose cunning may exceed his own rather than a dismissal of the woman as childish.

We have little information on Frigga, but what we do know is that she is the ruler of her own hall. She can outsmart her husband, and while he wanders the nine worlds in search of knowledge, she sits at home, presumably acting on the knowledge of all ends that we know she possesses. She is quite capable of taking care of herself, her dependents, and her hall in the absence of Odin, and takes other lovers in his absence (just as Odin sleeps around on his journeys.)

Frigga is home-oriented, but has a falcon cloak that she can use as she chooses to fly over the world. One can assume that she is in charge of the home economy (the main source of wealth for the Norse), and oversees or takes part in the slaughter of animals. While Odin is the god of death and battle, using the natural aggression of humans to limit human numbers to what the ecosystem can support, Frigga is the goddess of the hard decisions of the home- infanticide, sending the warriors out to fight those who threaten frith, and the slaughter of animals to ensure both meat for the tribe and enough hay to support the remaining animals through the winter.

Frigga and Odin are both full adults. They are capable of acting in concert or independently. They are interdependent with each other, and work in concert towards the goal of ensuring that life survives Ragnarok.

We see a variety of roles and relationships between men and women throughout the lore. Our knowledge is limited by the lack of information on the women’s side of things, but we see plenty of models for feminine behavior. Freyja is an independent woman who knows what she wants and goes for it. We know little about Sif, but we do know that Frigga’s handmaids all have roles and interests. Skadi is a strong and independent goddess, not afraid to march on Asgard itself to defend the honor of her family. Among humans, we see great differences in the roles women play. Some women are ladies of the home, keepers of the frith. Others are fierce shieldmaidens. Some shieldmaidens decide to marry and change their methods of changing their world.

Among archelogical evidence, we find statuettes of women both as warriors and as ladies. We find women buried with looms and with swords. We find mass graves from battlefields containing the bodies of women who went to fight for land and riches alongside their male kin. We find evidence, both literary and archeologically, of women as ladies, as warriors, as wise seers. There is no one template that is right for feminine behavior, and the chief of the gods hardly holds to the template of masculine behavior. There have been male corpses found buried with feminine artifacts like weaving equipment. There are accounts of women who took on male gender roles.

In the modern day, I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the ideals of cultural and intersectional feminism. The stereotypes of nurturing, kindness, gentleness, and passivity about women are stereotypes enforced through violence and the torture of women who fail to conform to Christian culture’s notions of women as sweet, emotionally-driven children who need to be ruled by men. There is nothing liberating about these stereotypes.

Neither men nor women truly care more about the feelings of others. Neither men nor women are truly more co-operative or better at creating and maintaining healthy social groups. It is merely that women have been faced for hundreds of years by a culture which punishes bluntness and honesty, particularly from women. In response, feminine culture has become a place in which aggression is held back and exhibited in a more repressed fashion than is common among men. It’s personally not a culture I like, having escaped most of the indoctrination into proper feminine behavior myself.

And this is the crux of my problem with cultural and intersectional feminism- both ideologies make a virtue of the feminine stereotypes that are enforced against many women with violence. I personally see myself as more of a shieldmaiden type. I’ve always felt more comfortable fixing cars than bouncing babies. I love heavy metal and weapons and crushing my opponents into jelly in a good debate. I work as a tradeswoman while my husband stays home and takes care of our daughter.

I don’t want to be the feminine stereotype. I prefer directness and bluntness. I have no patience with emotionally-driven, illogical people. I think all humans should focus first on getting what needs to be done done, and then deal with our emotions. I place a high value on toughness, and on the willingness to engage in conflict for the good of the tribe. I value expressions of emotion which are beautiful and reflect creativity, thought, and skill (like heavy metal), but I definitely believe there are many times in life to “suck it up” and repress one’s emotions for a more appropriate time. This is what it means to be an adult- regardless of gender.

I feel like a huge part of feminism and the fight for gender equality and recognition for many different views of gender is the ability of women to define what it means to be a woman. I don’t feel that the stereotype of a cooperative nurturer fits me very well at all. However, I don’t feel that this makes me masculine or manly. Women have fought like mother bears defending their cubs for their children throughout all of history. Women have ruled wonderful co-operative tribes, and sent those tribes to war against those who threatened their homelands.

While cultural and intersectional feminists talk of celebrating womens’ unique abilities, I can’t help but feel that those “abilities” are nothing more than old stereotypes of women- stereotypes that leave no place for me and women like me. I don’t think a matriarchal society would be more kind and gentle than a patriarchal one. I think people are people, regardless of how they identify their gender. I don’t seek to have power over men for all the harm men have done. I seek equality, for gender roles to be guidelines for those who want them, not prisons for those who don’t.

Overall, I identify as a Marxist feminist (although I am not a socialist/communist). I’m pissed off at gender roles that assign me “woman’s work” after I get home from a full day at a “man’s job”. I despise the way in which some of the most important jobs in our society (child-rearing, home-making, and tending small family food production) are denigrated simply because it is profitable for society to pretend that they aren’t real work so women can be forced to do this labor for free.

I don’t see men as the enemy (although some are), but I see our culture as the problem. Women enforce stereotypes on each other just as much (if not more than) men do. And cultural feminism offers no solutions for these problems. I look up to women like those who took up arms to fight the French Revolution and to the Irish and Italian women who led strikes for the eight-hour day in the late 1800s in American. I see women who threw away the stereotype of women as passive and non-violent and fought for a better world for themselves and their families as heroes.

The world today is a scary place, and it needs a woman’s touch- the touch of a cunning family woman who puts her family ahead and plans for all ends, a shieldmaiden who fights those who would oppress her family, a cunning seeress who can see the future and work for the best end, and a strong frith-weaver who is unafraid to direct the battle to win frith- even at the price of peace.