Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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The Morality of Chaos

I've been reading Warhammer: Trollslayer. And today's google doodles have many alternate versions, but one is a fox. What do these two things have to do with each other? Read on.

Tom N. lent me his copy of Trollslayer because there's some transparently heathen content in it. Aside from the things copied from Tolkien, like the dwarf warrior character, which are ultimately derived from Norse mythology through the lens of Tolkien, there is also the point of view character's religion. Felix, the narrator and Gotrek's sidekick, worships Sigmar, a Thor-like god (whose worshippers have a few structures borrowed from Christianity, but not enough to obscure the meaning of wearing a hammer symbol around one's neck for protection.) 

I'm enjoying the episodic adventures of Felix and the Trollslayer. I loved the title right away, because I fight internet trolls (as an admin at the American Asatru Association's Facebook page and group.) It's a great kind of book for me to read for pleasure because it's a series of related short stories, so I can read a bit and put it down. 

This is the first book I've read purely for pleasure this year. Not to evaluate it for possible publication, not to review it, not to edit it, not derive information from it to use in a paper, calendar, or other project. So why am I writing about it anyway? Because there's something that bothers me about the world it's set in.

I've never played Warhammer. The trailer for the new Warhammer movie looks pretty good, but the trailer's orcs could easily have come out of Dungeons and Dragons, which was my first role-playing game as a teenager, so it didn't seem like an unknown world for old D & D players. For that matter, they could have come from Tolkien, so they'd be familiar to movie audiences who never played anything. So I wasn't expecting the Warhammer universe to make what seems to me, as an old D & D player, to be a fundamental mistake about the nature of chaos.

In this Warhammer novel, Chaos and its gods and followers and effects, including mutation, are equated with evil. The heroes fight and expose witches, and kill mutants on sight (ack, let's not have a Warhammer/ X-men crossover.) I'm used to see this kind of conflation of one thing with a totally unrelated thing in the wider world of real life, but I'm not used to seeing it in an RPG context. It seems startlingly out of place to me in that context, and that got me to thinking about how much the moral system taught to me as a teenager by AD & D affected the way I view real life. (So, yeah, all those fearmongers who said Dungeons and Dragons was going to lead kids to witchcraft may have actually been sort of right.) 

For those who didn't play AD & D, let me summarize. Players play characters with various characteristics, one of which is Alignment. Alignment is a spectrum along two axes, Law and Chaos on one axis and Good and Evil on the other axis. 

The AD & D Alignment chart matches up on the Chaos and Law axis with the Nolan Chart, which is the chart the Libertarian Party uses to show people whether or not they are Libertarian, by giving them The World's Smallest Political Quiz. The two axes on the Nolan Chart are Liberal (left) and Conservative (right) on one axis, and Authoritarian (also called Statist) and Libertarian on the other axis. Now, the Libertarian Party is not going to tell you that one or the other of the left and right positions are "good" or "evil," but it's adamantly on the side of chaos, that is, the side of freedom. It's pretty clear where various political figures in history fall on a Libertarian / Chaos versus Authoritarian / Law axis. The American Founding Fathers were all rebels against the lawful British government, but, they also believed they could create a better government. By better they meant one based on the ideal of ensuring freedom, so, even in creating a new government they were pretty far along the Libertarian/ Chaos axis, but not as far as say, Robin Hood, who fought against the evil tax collector but didn't think a replacement system of law would be any better. (OK, he's more legend that historical figure, but close enough.) Somewhere in between those two attitudes falls the new face of the US $20 bill, Harriet Tubman, who both fought for the freedom of herself and others and believed in changing specific laws to create more freedom. All those figures, of course, also fall pretty far on the Good axis in AD & D terms. CG, Chaotic Good, or Good/ Libertarian. These are people I admire. On the opposite side, LE, Lawful Evil, or Evil / Authoritarian, are figures in history such as Hitler and Stalin. The Alignment system gives me a perfect way to neatly categorize people and systems with good versus evil on a completely separate axis than law versus chaos. AD & D law and chaos axis maps perfectly onto Nolan's Libertarian and Authoritarian axis, and looking back, I think it was this recognition of a system I already understood from AD & D that led me to instantly understand the Nolan Chart when I first encountered it. 

So, what does all this have to do with foxes, and why is it on my heathen path blog? I was thinking about all this when I turned the computer on this morning, and wondering if I should write about it. Then this art popped up on my screen: a red fox, which is a symbol of Loki, in a forest of trees with white trunks like birch trees. I have novel-gnosis of the birch being associated with Laufey and of birch trees growing on her island, and a few other people have independently had the same gnosis. So, of all the random images I could have seen when I was wondering if I should write about chaos, I saw an image that symbolizes Loki for me. I took that as a yes.

My next few blog posts are going to be about events in 2014 relating to Loki. So it's fitting that I talk about how I view chaos in terms of morality first. Since I've run for public office twice, the first time on the Libertarian ticket and the second time for a nonpartisan office with a lot of Libertarian support, I think I've made my political views abundantly clear. To recap the relevant part of the story of my personal journey on my heathen path that I've been telling on this blog: Loki came back into my life in the aftermath of my second campaign loss in 2013, when I wanted to burn the system down. Since then, I've calmed down about it and have decided to dedicate part of my professional life to ensuring the election system runs properly, which is why during election seasons you will now find me doing technical support for voting machines instead of running for office. One of Loki's spheres of influence is chaos, in the sense of the field of chaos math. Too many people mistake chaos for evil. I don't see it that way at all. Upcoming on this blog: significant events in my life relating to Loki that occurred between April and June 2014. 

Image: One of today's alternate Google Doodles, a red fox amid white tree trunks. 

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 22 April 2016

    I'm glad to read that I wasn't the only one who related that Nolan chart to the AD&D alignment chart. I've enjoyed AD&D over the years though I honestly prefer Runequest. I think the chaos = evil thing is derived from Michael Moorcock. Specifically the Chronicles of Corum and the Elric of Melnibone stories. Thank you, you've stirred up some happy memories.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Saturday, 23 April 2016

    Thanks and you're welcome!

  • John Loving
    John Loving Saturday, 23 April 2016

    *waves at Erin*
    On Chaos, A chaotic alignment doesn't equate to be evil... Chaotic Evil... is more let us burn the village down because it will be fun and I like to watch people suffer I find it amusing, and as an added bonus we can pick up all the gold in the town. And really Chaotic Evil is the Lesser of the evils. Chaotic mostly means we are doing things for the hell of it and we don't have a moral compass, societies laws do not apply.
    Whereas Neutral Evil will have a more selfish purpose what's in it for me.
    Lawful Evil is the worst of them. Oh, we should burn the village down because, they are illegally using the kings land, see right here my uncle enacted a law that says so....
    So chaos is more Anarchist.
    Just wanted to put my two cents in here because I think there is quite a lot of confusion about this.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Sunday, 24 April 2016

    Hi, John. (waves back.) Yep. Thanks!

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