Understanding The Seven Sermons to the Dead pt 1


In a eight part part series, I am going to examine the Seven Sermons to the Dead from a Heathen and anarchist viewpoint; I have the entire text here on a separate page. This series is going to examine the spiritual roots of the work, potential applications for the sermons in anarchist philosophy, and bridge the gap between all three of my disparate labels of anarchist, Gnostic, and Heathen.

The first sermon talks about discrimination, the nature of reality and the nature of created beings.

Distinctiveness is creatura. It is distinct. Distinctiveness is its essence, and therefore it distinguisheth. Therefore man discriminateth because his nature is distinctiveness. Wherefore also he distinguisheth qualities of the pleroma which are not. He distinguisheth them out of his own nature. Therefore must he speak of qualities of the pleroma which are not.

Interestingly this talks about the roots of discrimination. Both positive and negative our differences can be the cause of discrimination be it religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, or even gender. When we distinguish something we discriminate it from everything else. Discrimination however is not a dirty word, discrimination is a higher mind function, we all discriminate against others for either positive or negative reasons.

What is the harm, ye ask, in not distinguishing oneself? If we do not distinguish, we get beyond our own nature, away from creatura. We fall into indistinctiveness, which is the other quality of the pleroma. We fall into the pleroma itself and cease to be creatures. We are given over to dissolution in the nothingness. This is the death of the creature. Therefore we die in such measure as we do not distinguish. Hence the natural striving of the creature goeth towards distinctiveness, fighteth against primeval, perilous sameness. This is called the principium individuationis. This principle is the essence of the creature. From this you can see why indistinctiveness and non-distinction are a great danger for the creature.

The sermon goes on to talking about the dangers of not distinguishing oneself, or rather not being an individual it talks about “death” or as it is apparent the social death of an individual, the death of individuality. In our economic system and in other oppressive ideologies that destroy individuality and generate exploitative systems that are inhuman. Historically, it is a fact that individuality has been the root of oppression, but on the same token we are seeking individuation and freedom as anarchists which is part of what is being suggested in this sermon.

We must, therefore, distinguish the qualities of the pleroma. The qualities are pairs of opposites, such as—

The Effective and the Ineffective.
Fullness and Emptiness.
Living and Dead.
Difference and Sameness.
Light and Darkness.
The Hot and the Cold.
Force and Matter.
Time and Space.
Good and Evil.
Beauty and Ugliness.
The One and the Many. etc.

The pairs of opposites are qualities of the pleroma which are not, because each balanceth each. As we are the pleroma itself, we also have all these qualities in us. Because the very ground of our nature is distinctiveness, therefore we have these qualities in the name and sign of distinctiveness, which meaneth—

1. These qualities are distinct and separate in us one from the other; therefore they are not balanced and void, but are effective. Thus are we the victims of the pairs of opposites. The pleroma is rent in us.

Upon further examination, the sermon suggests that we have all of the qualities of the pleroma within us. To me this seems to suggest that because of this we seek to find the aspects that we don’t think we have onto others. I can find people that I think are more moral than me for example. This has been apparent even to my ancestors who had a tendency to other others

In approaching a worldview of Viking-age culture (say 7th century to 11th), it is not illogical, nor too cautious a step, to assume that men and women in those times occupied spheres of influence and roles that were perceived very differently than they would be perceived in the modern times by modern minds. Instead of systematized formal definitions, concepts were perceived as more organic, part of a greater natural whole rather than abstractions of the mind. I’m sure that people in those times did not think in terms of gender (even some modern languages, like Russian, do not even have a word for “gender”, yet people who speak these languages live their lives without missing that word, leading me to wonder whether it is an English-speaking postmodern invention).. but I digress.

We can see the romanticized concept of shield-maidens already appearing in 10th century, in connection to the valkyrjur. Eyvindr skáldaspillir in his Hákonarmál presents the valkyrjur as ideal, idyllic beings seated on their horses in full armor, leading the newly fallen hero and his band to the hall of the slain. Völsunga saga, often thought to be written down in 13th century though orally of course quite of ancient sources, makes a reference of ” ósk-mær “, commonly translated as ´wish-maiden´, again a valkyrie term of rather late origin. Perhaps a description based on the valkyrie´s function to choose the slain, thus an extension of Óðinn´s wish, or perhaps referring to valkyrjur being desired by the heroes who at times are portrayed having romantic ties with them (Helgi and Sigrún, Völundr and Hervör, Sigurðr and of course Brynhildr), or even desired by the slain fellas in Valhöll in their evergoing party.

I would like to bring up a book called ‘The Viking Way’ by Neil Price, archaeologist from Aberdeen. (The book is called so because it is an attempt to approach the Old Norse literary and material sources as being keys to comprehending the entire worldview of that culture, and of course it is much more than religion – it is a way of life, thus, the way). This book is virtually impossible to find now having gone out of print a few months after publication in 2002 (it was his doctoral dissertation on the archaeology of seiðr). (I do believe a second edition came out I’m not sure)

The reason I bring this up is that in his book, he surveys all the known names of valkyrjur, about 51 in total. When presented in a list, a few patterns emerge… the most obvious one is that a great majority of the names have to do with war and battle. On a closer look, still a great majority have meanings that have to do with not simply war and battle, but more specifically the aural aspects of that battle, the terrible sounds of war and violence that these names evoke… names such as Hjálmþrimul (helm-clatter), Randgniðr (shield-grinder or shield-scraper) – you can just hear the sounds of battle echoing in such names. Great many names occur in skaldic poetry and old Eddic sources that are better preserved than prose works, on account of their poetic rigid structures that keep the content intact against the tide of time.. even many sagas, though still very oral and old in origin, still remain glimpses into the post-genderized minds of the authors who wrote them down in medieval Iceland. It may be argued that poetic sources are more intact in their original form.

But back to the names of valkyrjur, names that suggest harrowing sounds of battle, the noises of war. Names that occur in sources that are much older than concepts of ‘shield maidens’ and ‘wish maidens’. Price suggests that originally, the image of the valkyrja used to be something quite different from the romantic ideal abstractions of maidenlike riders… originally, the image of the valkyrja was something much more terrifying and primordial – something like a female demon of battle and violence, riding the winds of war…

There is that chilly ‘otherness’ that this image evokes – it is less familiar to us, less domesticated, more feral and more unbound by modern conventions… yet war and battle was such an integral part of the Old Norse reality, and many supernatural creatures inhabited these realms of violence and bloodshed, no less than realms of peace and frith. There was a certain awe with which men regarded the primordial terrifying ‘other’. Consider the Nornir, spinners of the very Wyrd of all, consider the dísir and the fylgja who are always female… consider the valkyrjur, the helm-wights of terror who rode the skies of battle and could turn the tide of war as they wished… and now, consider even the one-eyed master of the mysteries himself, who is so strong in the magic of seiðr which has been often associated with female realm – whom Loki accuses or ergi behavior on Samsö. Rather than seeing it as a simple genderbender slur, is this not rather a hint of something much more deeper and profound? An allusion to that terrifying ‘otherness’ of Óðinn, to his being outside the perceived everyday norms, to his belonging to a much more different, much more ‘other’ Reality and dimension of existence? It brings up a connotation of liminality, and this I think is a more enriching interpretation of Loki´s remark, there is a greater and more terrible truth to it than simple ergi slur. It suggests some kind of taboo, something beyond the reach of everyday, and hence something terrifying in its ´otherness´.

The valkyrjur, those helm-wights, are liminal as well… Female yet warlike, female yet engaged in violence and bloodshed – it is their realm. Remember the Darraðarljóð in chapter 157 of Njála, female weavers of the web of the spear, on a loom of human body parts that drips with blood and gore. Far from a romanticized female weaving at her loom… Rather, a glimpse of an entirely different reality, where war and violence and magic were intertwined into one worldview… where apparitions ride the sky, brandishing fire-brands and heralding terrible doomful portents to come (as also we see in Njáls saga), where the Wild Hunt likewise haunts the skies, and where, during battles, supernatural beings ride the war winds and meddle with men´s affairs. This is that primordial, terrifying ´other´ aspect of valkyrjur that I identify with. As helm-wights, to behold the likes of whom in battle was like to gaze into the flames – as Völsunga saga puts it. A mindset and state of being inhabiting a liminal space and reality far beyond the familiar comfortable everyday.

Ye must not forget that the pleroma hath no qualities. We create them through thinking. If, therefore, ye strive after difference or sameness, or any qualities whatsoever, ye pursue thoughts which flow to you out of the pleroma; thoughts, namely, concerning non-existing qualities of the pleroma. Inasmuch as ye run after these thoughts, ye fall again into the pleroma, and reach difference and sameness at the same time. Not your thinking, but your being, is distinctiveness. Therefore not after difference, as ye think it, must ye strive; but after your own being. At bottom, therefore, there is only one striving, namely, the striving after your own being. If ye had this striving ye would not need to know anything about the pleroma and its qualities, and yet would ye come to your right goal by virtue of your own being. Since, however, thought estrangeth from being, that knowledge must I teach you wherewith ye may be able to hold your thought in leash.

The sermon concludes with this. The plelorma isn’t anything, we create differences through thinking about them. If you wanted my opinion Plotinus says it best:

“Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being. We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being; ugliness is in going over to another order; knowing ourselves, we are beautiful; in self-ignorance, we are ugly.”

Being an individual is beauty and more spiritually fulfilling than belonging to some soul crushing sameness promoted by authoritarians or some other person. The moment we deny our individuality for sameness is the moment we mutilate and kill ourselves socially. Heathenry and anarchism are the ultimate bridges between and individual and community and to deny our social roots is also social suicide, getting it done right is the important part.

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~ by ladycat123 on October 4, 2011.

2 Responses to “Understanding The Seven Sermons to the Dead pt 1”

  1. […] of the things that I mentioned in my previous discussion of the Seven Sermons was that individuality is an important part of spiritual meaning and yet we […]

  2. […] unity  and solidarity should we stand to increase our power and yet there is danger as implicated by the first sermon to give your self fully to a […]

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