Two weeks ago, at the height of the riots in the Middle East and elsewhere over a bad (and fraudulent) You Tube video, a friend asked me if I would be writing about the price of Rage and Anger in this case. I had thought about it, but I felt I needed to find the right handle. This is first and foremost a Heathen blog on Rage and Anger and not a place where I feel a need to argue politics or comment on Abrahamic faiths. How could I manage to stay true to that and still comment? It took quite some time to find the right approach along with struggling with various life issues. So, here it is:
Recognizing and accepting Anger and Rage (as well as other Passions) also requires taking responsibility for our actions in relation to them and recognizing the limitations we endure when angry or strongly affected. Most importantly, in this case, is that being strongly ruled by anger can make us very vulnerable to manipulation. While I will refer to modern brain science in this blog, what we see here is the very ancient technique of a demagogue manipulating a mob by using their anger as a tool to get the desired results. This goes back to ancient Rome and further and was, to a degree, why our Founding Fathers instituted the Electoral College.
Anger in this case can be referred to as Defensive Aggression. When we reach that stage do not handle what is sometimes called Anger Activation, we can end up: misreading the things we see, be too quick to anger, jump at the first option, give too strong a response or engage in impulsive or excessive behavior (1). These traits also make us easy targets for those aware of our feelings and limitations. Do we really want to work on our own leash or Gleipnir and then just hand it of to some self serving manipulator? I think this dishonors us, our work and whatever faith we are following.
So, as those either pursuing a “Fire” path or on one, what should we do? I am actually going to attempt to list a technique as I see it. This is a rather new thing for me, so feel free to comment or ask questions.
1) Meditate to get to a calmer state
2) Look at your Anger and seek the root cause and what is truly upsetting you
3) In this calmer state, judge how legitimate this Anger is. Is this something major that bears more action (injustice, threat, difficulty with a relationship, shameful and unacceptable treatment) or is this something minor that has escalated too far (cut off in traffic, random insult on the street, a friend’s thoughtless comment on Facebook)?
4) If this is a major issue, face the Anger and feel it. Then step back a few paces, leash your anger and use your Reason to determine a reasonable course of action. Use Anger or Passion to fuel your motivation and Reason and the counsel of knowledgeable people to determine the proper course of action.
5) If you determine that this is a more minor issue, the initial part is the same. Face the Anger and feel it, but when you step back look at the leash as a way for you to control yourself and prepare to move forward. The feeling was valid, but it is time to bank that fire and continue with more important things.
6) If this is an early attempt, make sure to celebrate your own success in leashing this. It is not always an easy thing to do this, especially if this was a major issue but even minor successes are important.
In time, I have found that while I still feel strongly and can get quite angry, the feeling passes quickly and I move on. I am also told that I am a much happier and pleasant person. In fact, some people refuse to believe that I get angry. I also feel more alive and empowered.
So, there you have it, commentary on the issue without any real religious or political views at all.
(1) Healing the Angry Brain, Ronald Potter-Efron, 2012, Chapter 3
I have found myself working a bit with Hermod lately. I think Hermodr is more complex than just a messenger. Looking at what we have from the Prose Edda (Yes, it is cribbed from Wikipedia).
Hermóðr appears distinctly in section 49 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning. There, it is described that the gods were speechless and devastated at the death of Baldr, unable to react due to their grief. After the gods gathered their wits from the immense shock and grief of Baldr’s death, Frigg asked the Æsir who amongst them wished “to gain all of her love and favor” by riding the road to Hel. Whoever agreed was to offer Hel a ransom in exchange for Baldr’s return to Asgard. Hermóðr agrees to this and set off with Sleipnir to Hel.
Hermóðr rode Odin’s horse Sleipnir for nine nights through deep and dark valleys to the Gjöll bridge covered with shining gold, the bridge being guarded by the maiden Móðguðr ‘Battle-frenzy’ or ‘Battle-tired’. Móðguðr told Hermóðr that Baldr had already crossed the bridge and that Hermóðr should ride downwards and northwards. Upon coming to Hel’s gate, Hermóðr dismounted, tightened Sleipnir’s girth, mounted again, and spurred Sleipnir so that Sleipnir leapt entirely over the gate. So at last Hermóðr came to Hel’s hall and saw Baldr seated in the most honorable seat. Hermóðr begged Hel to release Baldr, citing the great weeping for Baldr among the Æsir. Thereupon Hel announced that Baldr would only be released if all things, dead and alive, wept for him.
Baldr gave Hermóðr the ring Draupnir which had been burned with him on his pyre, to take back to Odin. Nanna gave a linen robe for Frigg along with other gifts and a finger-ring for Fulla. Thereupon Hermóðr returned with his message.
So, yes it is legitimate to say that Hermod is a messenger BUT this is the only case we have that shows Hermod doing this unlike Hermes in comparable Greek myth. In addition:
1) Hermod is allowed and ABLE to ride Sleipnir. This is not a small thing.
2) Hermod is really more than a messenger, he is sent to negotiate and act as a form of ambassador.
3) Arguably, Hermod shows that his talent is something akin to “Travel to Forbidden Places”
4) Hermod takes on a unique and difficult mission that no one else wants. In the end, he succeeds in achieving that mission but the larger operation fails due to no failure on his part. There is a certain Norse fatalism to this that appeals to me.
Hermod is the one called to negotiate difficult things and travel to difficult places and that is resonating more strongly than it used to. It is a warrior ethic of a different kind.
That does not mean he is the only Norse deity I honor, blot or pray too, just the most recent one.
On a frivolous note, I have found AC/DC’s Highway to Hell to resonate for Hermod. You may wish to drop some lyrics.
This post has been in the back of my mind for some time and both situations tie to a friend of mine (who I will not name) and how rage and anger sometimes need to be honestly given their due. The title is actually a phrase I used when a friend was trying to calm me down and truly reason with me over something that deeply offended and angered me. I had reached a point in my work where I was self aware enough to know that I needed to let my anger run its course and was not ready to discuss things. In a day or two it passed and I was able to talk again perfectly rationally but I knew, in that moment, that the time was not right. This was a rather hard won lesson that took years to truly understand.
“Reason Has Left the Building” means you acknowledge that you are very angry and you feel that and experience the power of the feeling while not acting in that moment. When I first coined the phrase, I was deeply offended by something that occurred at an event which I took as an assault on my faith and an serious offensive to hospitality and frith. Later, a friend (unaware of how offended I was) was pushing on the issue online and I grew VERY angry. But, unlike before I began my work, I did not let this seethe inside me (the issue of seething is important enough that I will post on that at a later time) but meditated, walked and FELT. I wrote my friend, still very angry and offended. Due to some phone issues at work, I did not get his call back in time for us to actually talk but the moment I heard his voice and the pain that he had offended me, everything passed and never came back. I could move on.
The point of this is that, in my view of the Fire path, we face the fires of our anger and walk into them but we do not let that POSSESS us. We can be wise enough to say: “Not now.” We can feel the fire, deeply and powerfully, and yet not act out of that fire.
Months later and on a very different issue, the same friend was very angry with another person. They felt deeply betrayed, angry and hurt. To their credit, they made a very conscious choice to stay in their anger and told friends that they really could only associate with those who shared the feeling. They made it clear how they felt and gave others a chance to step back without malice as they saw fit. It was a very honest and clear approach.
Of course, all of this is a very tricky business and I do not wish to make this sound easy as it most certainly is not. If you stay in your anger too long and do not have a way to work with the situation, your anger will slowly warp your perceptions and can ultimately cost you quite a bit. The longer you stay there, the more bitter you become and this can affect your health and lose friends. But, if you can master the technique, you will find yourself calmer in the long term as you learn to “catch and release”.
Anger exists for a reason. It is a defensive reaction. Feel that force but do not let it control you.
In many of the old sagas of the Norse, the berserkers are the villains of the piece. They become fodder for Egil or Grettir to put down as threats to the community. Some of this is historical and some fiction and entertainment. By the time many of these stories were written, berserkergang was punishable by lesser outlawry as was anyone who did not restrain someone berserk. The power one might be able to gain from such practices had been deemed too dangerous to the community (as well as a pagan practice). I have also seen valid arguments that these practices were a reflection of an older time when combat was more individual and the talents of a berserk were more useful rather than later when the Norse fought best as coordinated units. As a former soldier, this latter appeals to me but does not invalidate the technique. Rage and anger are part of us, part of our animal natures and the fight part of fight/flight that assisted in our survival.
In the stories where berserks are the villains, they are takers who use their brutal and violent natures against a more civilized populace. Whether it is using the laws of judicial combat to win land or trying to force themselves on women, they take what they want until a more controlled or stronger force stops them. When I first started dealing with strong levels of rage, it was these examples that terrified me (along with some other issues that I will address in a later post). I did not want to be the man whose friends and family feared him. The wretch that ended up in prison (or dead), with nothing to show for his life was something that somehow possessed me with great terror. Fear of me in the eyes of those I love was tangible. This was not rational, but then, strong Passions often counter Reason. (This is amusing as my initial realizations came from meditations on the philosophy of Stoicism, which values Reason before Passion.)
Now, to be fair, no one writing stories with villains tends to present the villains as family men so it is partially a metaphor. However, when dealing with the Passions and emotion, metaphor has great power. Rage and anger are generally defensive reactions to a perceived threat. That is their original purpose. Therefore, WHAT you choose to fight for and protect is a very important decision that affects how you are able to face your Rage. Love and devotion are powerful counterbalances. When we see a wretch on the news who “Runs Amok”, we generally see someone who finally turns his Rage inward. Even before modern mass shootings, such men rarely survived. They either died in the historical equivalent of “suicide by cop” or by their own hands in a sort of ultimate protest or act of despair as they still do today.
So, you need to find your Home Base and the things you Love. Home and family are the obvious ones but if that is not your path, find something else more than just you. None of us fights or strives alone. We are social creatures who need support and reinforcement. Having that positive force makes it much easier to control and dispel our Rage when it is inappropriate or an overreaction to events. Also, if we let those we love see our anger, we are further encouraged to make the chain that binds that rage all the stronger. It becomes the fire the makes us strive and work and not the conflagration that destroys you and all around you.
Love and Devotion are powerful checks on Anger and Rage. Find them, both within yourself in and in your life. Then, you move forward together with a family/tribe/whatever.
If you like a slightly more modern metaphor, look at the film Outlaw Josey Wales. (Yes, I do find classic old West tales have some similar elements to Old Norse.) It shows a man who lost everything is about nothing but vengeance. He joins a group during the Civil War to take that vengeance and ends up on the run at the end of the war. During the course of the film, he picks up a large group of “strays”. He is a fierce fighter but, in many ways, a gentle man. At the end of the film, it is this “family” that saves HIM. Our connections in life are what matter. No one stands alone.
The same is true in Rage work. There came a time when I had to face that rage and anger. I did not stand alone. I had family with me. No one is an island, remember that and find your home base. It will keep you alive and give you focus.