Thursday, May 14, 2020

Art Contest – Midsummer 2020

Art by Eric Matzner (Canada), Adult First Place Winner, Midsummer Art Contest 2015

CONTEST

Welcome to The Norse Mythology Blog's ninth worldwide art contest! Although there was a Midwinter Art Contest in 2019, there hasn't been a Midsummer Art Contest since 2015. If you decide to enter, please be sure to carefully read the entire Contest Theme section so that you understand the assignment.

During the summer solstice on June 20, those of us in the northern hemisphere will experience the longest day and shortest night of the year. This may seem early in the season, but it’s really the middle. From this point on, days will get shorter as we slowly move back towards winter.

Throughout Northern Europe, there are local traditions that celebrate midsummer. Some of these practices preserve very old rituals. Your original piece of visual art should capture the midsummer spirit.

I strongly suggest doing some reading and research on myth and folklore before you begin your artwork. What characters and concepts can you discover? Can you think of a way to relate them to the contest theme?

If you need some ideas about mythology, browse The Norse Mythology Blog Archive. You can also click here to check out the past Midsummer Art Contest winners in the three categories: kid, teen, and adult. Most importantly – be creative!

CONTEST THEME: THE WORLD TREE AT MIDSUMMER

Your artwork entry must somehow relate to the myths of the World Tree and the celebration of midsummer.

During this difficult time under the shadow of the coronavirus, community is more important than ever. With so many schools and businesses shut down, with parks and beaches closed, and with baseball and other sports in limbo, it's all too easy for people to drift out of touch. It's vitally important for us to spend time reaching out to each other, to put in the work necessary to maintain our unfortunately divided communities.

In Norse mythology, the roots and branches of the World Tree connect the nine worlds. It's a powerful symbol of interconnectedness, of the many ways that all of us are in this together. The Norse myths portray the World Tree connecting not only humans but also gods, giants, dwarfs, elves, animals, water, earth, sky, the living, and the dead.

Your job in this contest is to find something about the World Tree that speaks to you and inspires you, then combine it with some aspect of midsummer as you create your own original work of art.

Art by Sheoaka F. (Australia), Kid First Place Winner, Midsummer Art Contest 2014

To get you started on your art project, here is how the Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson describes the World Tree, the cosmic ash tree, in his Edda (c. 1220).

The ash is of all trees the biggest and best. Its branches spread out over all the wold and extend across the sky. Three of the tree's roots support it and extend very, very far. One is among the Æsir [gods], the second among the frost-giants, where Ginnungagap ["magical void"] once was. The third extends over Niflheim ["dark world"], and under that root is Hvergelmir ["bubbling cauldron," a spring], and Nidhogg ["hateful striking one," a dragon] gnaws at the bottom of the root.

Beneath the Roots

But under the root that reaches towards the frost-giants, there is where Mimir's well is, which has wisdom and intelligence contained in it, and the master of the well is called Mimir ["rememberer"]. He is full of learning because he drinks of the well from the horn Gjallarhorn ["loud horn"]. All-father [Odin] went there and asked for a single drink from the well, but he did not get one until he placed his eye as a pledge.

The third root of the ash extends to heaven, and beneath that root is a well which is very holy, called the well of Urd ["what has happened," but also "fate"]. There the gods have their court. Every day the Æsir ride there up over Bifrost ["shimmering path," the rainbow bridge].

Animals of the Tree

There is an eagle sitting in the branches of the ash, and it has knowledge of many things, and between its eyes sits a hawk called Vedrfolnir ["wind pale"]. A squirrel called Ratatosk ["drill tooth"] runs up and down through the ash and carries malicious messages between the eagle and Nidhogg. Four stags run in the branches of the ash and feed on the foliage. Their names are Dain ["dead"], Dvalin ["delayer"], Duneyr ["downy ears"], and Durathror ["nap thriver"].

And there are so many snakes in Hvergelmir with Nidhogg that no tongue can enumerate them.

Caring for the Tree

It is also said that the norns that dwell by the well of Urd take water from the well each day and with it the mud that lies round the well and pour it up over the ash so that its branches may not rot and decay. And this water is so holy that all things that come into that well go as white as the membrane called the skin that lies round the inside of an eggshell.

The dew that falls from the tree on to the earth, this is what people call honeydew, and from it bees feed. Two birds feed in the well of Urd. They are called swans, and from these birds has come that species of bird that has that name.

[adapted from translation by Anthony Faulkes]

Three of the Old Icelandic mythological poems in the Poetic Edda mention the World Tree. You many notice that these excerpts are a bit difficult to understand without referring to Snorri's explanations.

Völuspá ["prophecy of the seeress"]

An ash I know there stands, Yggdrasil ["steed of the terrible one," of Odin] is its name, a tall tree, showered with shining loam. From there come the dews that from in the valleys. It stands forever green over the well of Urd.


Grímnismál ["sayings of the masked one"]

Three roots rest on three roads from under Yggrasil's ash. Hel [ruler of realm of the dead] dwells under one, under the second the frost ogres, under the third the men of mankind. Yggdrasil's ash endures adversity more than men know. A stag nibbles it above, yet at its side it is rotting – Nidhogg undermines it from beneath.

Hávamál ["sayings of the high one," of Odin]

I know that I was hanging on a windswept tree nine whole nights, wounded with a spear and given to Odin – myself to myself – on that tree of which no one one knows from roots of what it originates.

[adapted from translation by Ursula Dronke]

There are many tales of Norse mythology that you can read to inspire your entry. A good place to start is by reading Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, which retells the major Norse myths and legends in family-friendly form. You can download the book for free from The Norse Mythology Online Library; it can be found in the Retellings and Reinterpretations section.

You can do any of these things:

1. Illustrate some version of the World Tree and some aspect of midsummer
2. Illustrate the feeling of the World Tree and midsummer
4. Create something inspired by the World Tree and midsummer
5. Draw something connecting the World Tree and midsummer to other characters or concepts from Norse myth and Germanic folklore

You must do this one thing:

Include a short explanation with your entry detailing how your work relates to the World Tree and midsummer

Beware!

In this contest, Marvel Comics characters are NOT considered part of Norse mythology or folklore. Art with imagery from comic books or movies will NOT be accepted. Do some reading and research on myth and folklore, then base your imagery on what you learn.

JUDGES

I am very proud to announce the judges for this year's Midsummer Art Contest. These two are both extremely creative and insightful people, and I'm really glad that they agreed to participate this year. The three of us will judge the entries together.

Dom Reardon
I've been a big fan of Dom's artwork since it first appeared in the UK's legendary weekly comic 2000 AD back in 2002 and in its monthly companion the Judge Dredd Megazine in 2006. Dom has a truly unique and instantly recognizable style of black and white illustration that can be lyrically beautiful, deeply creepy, and shockingly horrific.

Dom Reardon's cover art for 2000 AD Prog 1447 (9 November 2009)

With writer Gordon Rennie, he is co-creator of Caballistics, Inc., a long-running series in the pages of 2000 AD that was introduced with this memorable blurb:
During the Second World War a department was formed within the Ministry of Defence to combat Nazi occult warfare. In the 21st century, however, it has long outlived its usefulness and its funding is scrapped. Enter reclusive millionaire rock star Ethan Kostabi, who has brought up its employees and, together with a handful of freelance ghosthunters, constructed a brand new outfit – Caballistics, Inc.

But the forces of the supernatural are not the only enemies that this disparate group have to tackle, for within the heart of Caballistics, Inc. are dangerous secrets that threaten to tear the organization apart...
I have to confess that, at one time, I had a deep and painful crush on the character known as Miss Hannah Chapter. The brilliant series was full of twists and turns, horror and heartbreak.

With writer Rob Williams, Dom co-created the spooky supernatural western series with the impressive title The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the Dead Left in his Wake) that began in 2000 AD back in 2010. It told the twisted tale of a dead gunslinger determined to get back to the land of the living in order to be reunited with his true love. Along the way, the series intersected with Greek and Christian mythologies, along with many other strange developments.

In addition to other work in 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, Dom has illustrated Vachss: Underground for Dark Horse and The Power of Five: Raven's Gate for Walker Books. He's also done artwork for the Wizards of the Coast games BattleTech and Magic: The Gathering. Back in 2004, he was named "Best New Talent" in the British Comics Awards.

In March of this year, Humanoids released the new original graphic novel Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen. In the tradition of British folk horror, the supernatural murder mystery features art by Dom, Jock, and Matthew Dow Smith.

You can learn more about Dom by clicking the hyperlinks above and following him on Twitter.

Utkarsh Patel
I'm very happy to have someone with Utkarsh's expertise and passion for mythology judging this contest. He teaches comparative mythology in the Department of Sanskrit at the University of Mumbai. His courses, workshops, lectures, and panel appearances have focused on Norse mythology, Greek mythology, and many aspects of Indian mythology and folklore.

What may be even more impressive than his fluency in multiple mythologies is his dedication to discussing the meanings of myth for those living now. He has spoken on the relevance of myths, how media transforms myth, ethical dilemmas in mythology, the interaction of mythology and religion, and re-envisioning ancient myth for today. He has also presented TEDx Talks on "Mythology and Feminism: A Case for Subaltern Narratives" and "Management and Mythology."

Cover of Utkarsh Patel's Shakuntala: The Woman Wronged (2015)

Utkarsh's first novel was Shakuntala: The Woman Wronged, which retells the story of a heroine from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata from a feminist perspective. The follow-up Satyavati retold the tale of another strong woman from the Mahabharata. His latest book is Kannaki's Anklet: An Epic from the South of the Vindhyas, which retells the the story of the heroine of the Cilappatikaram ("tale of an anklet"), the oldest Tamil epic poem.

Utkarsh has a strong online presence that includes This Is Utkarsh Speaking (on myths and their analysis) and his main website. He's co-founder of The Mythology Project, which aims to "dig into this rich cultural stockpile, piecing together the puzzle of our existence through archival collections, by researching living myths and traditions and conducting public lectures, workshops and courses for adults and children." He also hosts the "Mythology Comes Alive" series on YouTube for Saregama Music.

In addition to all of these places, you can also find Utkarsh on Twitter.

AGE CATEGORIES

There will be three winners in each of the following categories:

Kids: Age 12 and under
Teens: Age 13-19
Adults: Age 20 and up

RULES

1. Art must be done with crayon, marker, paint, pen, pencil, or digital materials.
2. Original art only; no photos or collage.
3. Art must be kid-friendly; no nudity or violence.
4. No copyrighted characters. Let’s leave the Marvel Comics to the professionals!
5. One entry per person, please.

HOW TO ENTER

Send an email to mythcontest@live.com that includes the following:

1. Your full name (kids can give first name and last initial)
2. Your age (as of June 13, 2020)
3. Your location (city, state/province, country)
4. A short description of your artwork explaining how it relates to the World Tree and midsummer
5. Your scanned artwork (as an attachment)

Seriously, don’t forget to include your art as an attachment!

ENTRY DEADLINE

11:59 p.m. (Chicago time, CDT) on June 13, 2020

ANNOUNCEMENT OF WINNERS

Dom, Utkarsh. and I will be judging the entries based on creativity and relation to Norse mythology. Do some reading, do some thinking, and make something original!

Contest winners will be featured on sites and pages of Norse Mythology Online

The three winners in each age group will be featured on the many sites and pages of Norse Mythology Online:

The Norse Mythology Blog

The Norse Mythology Facebook Page

The Norse Mythology Twitter Page

The Norse Mythology Pinterest Page

Your art and your description of it will be posted on all of the above outlets and will remain permanently in the The Norse Mythology Blog Archive.

June 17: Kid winners announced
June 18: Teen winners announced
June 19: Adult winners announced

Good luck to everyone!

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Forgiveness Ritual

Last year came to a close with an amazing series of performative forgiveness displays in the public sphere of North America. These ritualized performances tend to follow a basic pattern that is grounded in systems of privilege and power, of access and wealth.

The forgiveness rite usually moves through five steps.
1. Someone from a more powerful group does something morally abhorrent with negative consequences that primarily affect members of a less powerful group.

2. There’s a public outcry against the one who has committed the repugnant act.

3. The doer of the deed makes a (sometimes qualified) apology for the act and/or disappears from the public eye for a time.

4. The doer is publicly forgiven by one or more prominent members of a less powerful group.

5. Members of both more powerful and less powerful groups publicly shame any individuals who refuse to proffer forgiveness.
The public discussion over the interactions between George W. Bush and Ellen DeGeneres closely follows this form.

From war crimes to “partner in crime”

During his presidency, Bush led an American offensive after the September 11 attacks that featured torture, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and killing of prisoners in willful flaunting of international humanitarian laws. He promoted falsehoods in order to adjust the focus of military efforts away from Saudi Arabia (where fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were citizens) to Iraq (where major corporate donors to his campaign had oil interests). He supported a constitutional amendment against marriage equality, opposed the legalization of gay marriage, was against child adoption by members of the LGBTQ+ communities, and threatened to veto hate crime legislation that included attacks based on sexual orientation.

Poisonous Gases by McKee Barclay (c. 1915)

Protests against the Iraq War began in 2002 and continued throughout Bush’s time in office. The march outside the 2004 Republican National Convention was one of the largest in United States history, and the international protest in February 2003 entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history. Nearly one million protestors gathered in London’s Hyde Park alone. In the wake of Bush’s anti-LGBTQ+ actions and statements during his first term, even the members of the Log Cabin Republicans (“the nation’s original and largest organization representing LGBT conservatives”) abandoned him. The group’s board voted 22-2 against endorsing him for re-election.

After leaving the White House, Bush largely stayed out of the national discussion. He focused on writing his memoirs and painting portraits of people and dogs. He defended the use of torture under his leadership and said there was no need to apologize for misleading the public in order to advance a military offensive that led to 250,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan even as 4,200 U.S. service members gave their lives. He clearly took the disappearing option over the apology option.

Bush’s rehabilitation began when Michelle Obama began kidding around with him at public events. She called him her “partner in crime” and “a wonderful man,” saying that she “love[s] him to death.” Public forgiveness reached a tipping point when photos of Ellen DeGeneres having a great time with the former president at a football game went viral on social media in October. The comedian responded to online comments by performing a monologue on her television show stating that she and Bush are friends. She insisted that she is “friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs” and advised her audience to “be kind to everyone.”

After the first African-American First Lady and the television star who jumped over so many media hurdles set up against LGBTQ+ performers both publicly gave George W. Bush their love and kindness, how dare anyone else hold on to past grievances? My various social media feeds were flooded with posts from people across the political spectrum celebrating the healing qualities of coming together across the aisle and recognizing the inherent humanity that we all share, of setting aside differences of opinion and being friends with those who don’t subscribe to every element of our own personal belief systems, and – most importantly – forgiving mistakes of the past in the interest of building a kinder community in the present.

We all make mistakes, don’t we? How can we judge others and hold them to account for their past errors when each of us has our own trail of missteps? Comments like these are common in these discussions of forgiveness and calls for all of us just getting along.

What is the root of this distinctly American forgiveness philosophy? I believe it springs from Christian concepts of sin and forgiveness. Christ teaches that we should not judge others, lest we be ourselves judged. He insists that only the one who is without sin can condemn the sins of another. He instructs his followers to forgive any who wrong them, if the wrongdoer repents. Indeed, the idea of repenting resulting in forgiving is core to the Christian worldview.

Embracing the murderer

This worldview was on display in the courtroom after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger (a white woman) was found guilty of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison for killing her neighbor Botham Jean (a black man) in his own apartment. The brother of the murder victim and Judge Tammy Kemp both hugged the convicted killer. The brother mentioned God’s forgiveness. The judge gave Guyger her own personal Bible and cited a passage on salvation. Both the brother and judge are African-American. As in the case of Bush, members of the group victimized by the offender made a public show of forgiveness after the appropriate apologetic speech act – in this case tearful and regretful testimony on the stand.

The Promise II by Madeline von Foerster (2012)

This forgiveness metric is not necessarily embraced by those outside the American Christian sphere. While teaching a college course on religion and social movements, I told the students about my experiences hearing a Christian gospel singer repeatedly testify in various churches about his past as a drug dealer, about finding Jesus, about repenting his wicked ways, about asking Christ for forgiveness, and about being transformed by the love of the Lord. A student from India asked why the singer wasn’t arrested after confessing his crimes in a public setting. No matter how I explained that this is a standard narrative put forward in evangelical settings, the student was shocked that openly talking about crimes that went unpunished by civil authorities was considered a positive act in a religious setting.

Given this student’s response, I’m always a bit surprised when I see American practitioners of Ásatrú and Heathenry repeating the mantra of repentance and forgiveness. So many times, I’ve witnessed proud followers of the Old Ways evince worldviews that seem grounded in American Christian teachings. The idea that those who perform speech acts declaring repentance for past sins should be forgiven and embraced appears regularly when issues of politics (or things declared to be “political”) come up in social and social media settings.

Person X was a neo-Nazi for ten years, but he says he’s not anymore; he’s welcomed into a self-declared “inclusive Heathen” community. Person Y was a prominent leader in a hate group on the SPLC watchlist, but says she regrets it; she’s given a position of authority in a supposedly non-racist Heathen organization. Person Z has repeatedly and publicly insisted that the swastika and Black Sun are true symbols of Heathen pride, but now says they’re sorry; they’re hailed for their bravery. Anyone who questions the forgiveness process is accused of “inserting politics” or being against “inclusion.” Never mind that the objects of forgiveness are always white and the actions being forgiven always have to do with whiteness.

Does the confluence of speech act and forgiveness mark any real change in the person? Less than three weeks after the orgy of explicitly Christian forgiveness that followed Amber Guyger’s tearful testimony, the killer cop’s lawyers filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on appeal of both the murder conviction and the prison sentence. Those who have experienced the benefits of privilege don’t seem willing to face any consequences of their deeds beyond the forgiveness ritual – a ritual that so often displaces and negates any actual requirements of restitution.

Deeds, wyrd, and public theology

Is there anything in Heathen theologies that applies to these situations? The American Heathen credo “we are our deeds” and the concept of wyrd can offer some guidance here. If we truly are our deeds, and if what is done in the past and present determines what must happen in the future, then harmful action must be balanced and countered by helpful action.

The Norns and the World Ash Tree by Emil Doepler (1905)

Decades of hateful action in the service of white nationalist ideology are not somehow erased by a post apologizing to an all-white Heathen Facebook group. Odin does not say, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, but the one thing that never dies is that one apologetic comment made after being accepted into an un-vetted Facebook group actively seeking to boost its membership numbers by any means necessary.” How many years has that neo-Nazi or Bush or Guyger dedicated to building up the specific communities they spent so long tearing down? How much energy have they dedicated to making restitution to those that they harmed, rather than making self-serving statements within their own social spheres?

Part of the problem here is the issue of who is simply forgiven after taking a brief time out form public life or performing a basic public apology. After being caught out for three specific instances of wearing blackface and saying he wore it so often that he can’t remember how many times he did it, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau was re-elected as the prime minister of Canada. After multiple credible allegations of sexual abuse, Louis C.K. temporarily hid from the cameras before re-emerging in New York clubs as a performer. Do those without power and privilege receive the same forgiveness benefits?

While Trudeau brushes past the blackface issue, indigenous Canadians are imprisoned at disproportionate rates and receive incredibly harsh treatment while incarcerated. While wealthy investors move into the growing legal marijuana market in the United States, African-Americans are arrested and sentenced for marijuana use out of all proportion. While Harvey Weinstein sits in the audience at Manhattan’s Downtime bar as his team of lawyers prepare for his rape trial, comedian Kelly Bachman – a rape survivor herself – is booed for addressing the allegations against him, and actor Zoe Stuckless is escorted out of the event after confronting the Hollywood mogul. While black women are jailed for defending themselves from chronic sexual assault, wealthy athletes are protected from facing consequences for repeatedly committing domestic abuse.

There is an endless list of these examples, of the privileged being granted forgiveness while their victims are denied it. Reading the news stories, and seeing the reactions from American Heathens, I have to ask: should today’s Heathen religions be based on concepts of Christian forgiveness and on practices of punching down at the less privileged? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is no.

I believe that Old Icelandic poetry and Norse mythology are valuable as materials to be meditated upon, as records of ancient insights that can help us find our own insights into the problems of today. The texts that we spend so much time studying and reflecting upon do not provide narratives that follow the forgiveness process outlined above. To the contrary, they strongly emphasize the doing of deeds that benefit the community, the facing of consequences for harmful action, and the protection of those who are in danger from harmful forces.

My own Ásatrú worldview is grounded in a public theology* of standing up to hate as Thor stands up to the serpent that threatens the world, of facing down those who threaten our communities as Tyr faces down the growing danger of the monstrous wolf. The powerful ones who are willing to abuse the world for their own gratification do not deserve a forgiveness that is free of consequences. They do not merit an embrace without balancing their wyrd through equivalent right action and restitution to those harmed. This goes for past presidents as much as it does for the supposedly renunciant racists who seek entrance into our Heathen spaces online and off.

The next time this forgiveness narrative plays out, we would do well to reflect on our own reaction to the formula and participation in the ritual. We would benefit from asking ourselves if our religious traditions foster a fundamentally different perspective on the drama than the ones which surround us. If they do not, do our traditions really offer worldviews that are meaningfully distinct from that of the dominant culture?
__________________

* As defined by Korean theologian Sebastian Kim, public theology addresses the growing “need for theology to interact with public issues of contemporary society” and to “engage in dialogue with different academic disciplines, such as politics, economics, cultural studies and religious studies, as well as with spirituality, globalization and society in general.”

An earlier version of this article appeared at The Wild Hunt.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Pagan Worldviews in the Wider World

Twitter can be a lawless hellscape where regular use of the ban-hammer is the only way to stem the endless feed flood of political bots, anonymous stalkers, and extremist trolls. Elected officials continually violate declared community standards on targeted harassment while asserting that the platform is secretly erasing their followers. Extreme-right activists respond to posts by journalists and academics with grossly anti-Semitic and racist memes. Bizarre counterfactual conspiracy theories are promoted daily on the continually updated trends tab.

Twitter can also be a liberating forum for the free exchange of ideas and amplification of underrepresented voices that go largely unheard in mainstream media. Members of minority communities can clap back at the blue-check verified glitterati of cable news, print journalism, government, and academia. Stories that have been erased from the corporate newsfeed narrative can be shared and lifted to prominence. The wild and willful lies of politicians can be fact-checked and denounced in real time.

"Out into the Wide World" by John Bauer (1907)

A little while ago, two tweets made one week apart caught my attention and began bubbling in my brain.

“Christian mindsets” and “dangerous narcissism”

The first was posted by Soli, a Pagan in Connecticut who is Kemetic Orthodox, a practitioner of witchcraft, and an initiated hounsi in Haitian Vodou. She wrote that she had been pondering “ways pagans and polytheists can extract themselves from Christian mindsets.”

The second was part of a thread by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who quoted bell hooks on turning “spiritual practice into a commodity.” “I am struck,” writes hooks, “by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love in the context of community.”

Both of these tweets are a bit perpendicular to my own regular paths of thought, but isn’t engaging with new points of view why we spend time on social media? Well, no. We generally go online to have our biases confirmed, tell strangers that they’re wrong, watch cat videos, and try to convince others how interesting our lives really and truly (supposedly) are. It would be great if we actually were always open to new perspectives, however, and in this case, these two tweets did get me thinking.

On one hand, accusations of “Christian mindset” in today’s Pagan communities seem to generally be leveled against anyone who has a different opinion on a given subject. Anyone who has made a statement for or against gay marriage, racial diversity, reproductive rights, relationship to deity, modes of worship, or any of a host of other topics that get argued about in online Pagan spaces has likely had the charge leveled against them. The view being shouted down is said to be “Christian baggage” and not in accordance with the supposedly unified worldview of our putatively glorious Pagan ancestors.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a common habit of porting Christian frameworks into modern Paganism in the United States. Ex-Catholics build national organizations with ritual and hierarchical structures similar to those within Roman Catholicism. Ex-Mormons gravitate towards groups with a concept of elders parallel to that within the Latter Day Saint movement. Ex-evangelicals build intense personal relationships with deities that echo the fervent devotion to Christ within fundamentalist Christianity.

In many cases, the obvious influence of Christian upbringing is brushed aside by citing specific passages in, for example, the Eddas and sagas of medieval (Christian) Iceland – an emphasis on the primary religious role of written textual sources that is itself foundational across multiple modes of American Christianity.

If it is indeed a worthwhile project for modern Pagans to “extract themselves from Christian mindsets,” if part of becoming more solidly Pagan is becoming less subconsciously Christian, how do we perform this self-intervention without falling victim to “the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love in the context of community”?

I think the key is in the end of the quote from bell hooks: “in the context of community.” We can agree to disagree on whether “the practice of love” is a prime directive of whatever form of Paganism we each subscribe to; the central issue is developing religious understanding while avoiding the pitfall of navel-gazing self-absorption that is part of the heritage of American Paganism from the spiritual tourism of the 1960s, the “Me Decade” of the 1970s, and the crystal therapy of the 1980s. Maybe the best way to turn away from self-centered spirituality is to turn to the public sphere.

If Paganism today is truly distinct from Christianity today, engaging with public discourse may be a solid means of self-defining and clarifying the multiplicity of Pagan worldviews. By looking up from our texts, walking out of our circles, entering the wider world, and openly joining the flow of modern history expressly as Pagans, we can sharpen our understanding of what makes our own voices unique and necessary.

“In the context of community”

Rather than simply sniping at the privileging of Christianity in American public life and demanding diversity of representation, we can assert what positive effects the seating of Pagans at the table will have. If our local legislatures and other public spaces begin sessions or events with prayer, what do we have to say that is qualitatively different and special? What elements of our worldview can be expressed in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to the wider communities in which we live? By putting ourselves forward as willing to speak publicly at these sorts of social moments, we put ourselves in situations where we must drill down into our own beliefs and concepts and distill them into coherent and expressible forms.

Instead of only critiquing mainstream journalists from Christian backgrounds who write for corporate secular media but regularly and primarily cover Christianity as the default form of American religiosity, we can publicly lay out what Pagan writers have to offer that would improve the coverage of religious issues in the news. If journalists who come from Catholic families, Catholic high schools, and Catholic universities tend to privilege official voices from hierarchical religious organizations and mostly cover issues important to Catholics (abortion, death penalty, shrinking church attendance, whatever the pope did this week), what would journalists from Pagan backgrounds provide that would clearly improve news coverage?

If our diversity is our strength – diversity not just of practitioner heritage but also of belief, theology, practice, and organizational structure – how would that diversity positively effect what happens in newsroom meetings and what appears in print? By articulating the benefits of including Pagan voices in mainstream media, we clarify what is different and special about our worldviews.

Many of us have had negative experiences in educational settings, whether as students or teachers. A dean once told me that Ásatrú “has no validity,” a philosophy professor insisted that historical pagans were nothing but “poisoners,” and several noted scholars in medieval studies have stated that anyone studying Norse mythology is either a promoter of “whiteness” or an actual Nazi. If modern Paganism, historical paganism, and even the study of the written myths can be unashamedly slandered in educational settings, it seems obvious that Pagan representation is needed and that we can offer perspectives that are not only missing but willfully excluded.

The whetting of worldview expression in academic settings is, for those of scholarly bent, a fantastic way to clarify for ourselves what we really think about a range of issues. I know that formulating my responses to Christian writers assigned in divinity school was a great way to sharpen my ability to express my ideas coming from an Ásatrú perspective, and I have direct experience with the ways classroom discussions of multiple issues can become both broader and deeper when Pagan voices speak out and are heard.

This sort of sharpening doesn’t have to happen in an academic setting, but it does definitely help to address our ideas to a non-Pagan audience in whatever media we’re most comfortable in – written word, spoken word, video, music, or visual arts. So much of intra-Pagan discourse can take place via shorthand or with the assumption of shared conceptual understanding. By engaging in the wider public conversation, we have to fully articulate what can go unsaid within our own virtual or physical communities.

Just as the pressure of an upcoming performance or competition can drive a musician or athlete to take their skills to the next level, the spotlight of speaking out in the public sphere can push a Pagan to more clearly formulate and articulate what their worldview contains aside from so-called Christian baggage.

There are many paths forward, but I do think that Pagans who truly want to “extract themselves from Christian mindsets” would derive great benefit from addressing their own beliefs and practice “in the context of community.” It is not an easy road to travel, and there are both potholes and irate drivers on it. There is no magickal crystalline wonderland of self-actualization at the end, but instead a lifelong journey through multiple communities that can help us to understand what it is that we each mean by Paganism and what our beliefs and practices can offer to others. Your mileage may vary.

An earlier version of this article appeared at The Wild Hunt.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Art Contest – Adult Winners, Midwinter 2019

There was an amazing number of adult entries in this year's Midwinter Art Contest. We received wonderful pieces from artists in Colombia, England, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the USA.

It was very difficult for the judges to rank so many pieces that were all at such a high artistic level. For the first time since The Norse Mythology Blog began hosting international art contests back in 2013, both guest judges asked for extra time to rank and comment on the adult artworks. The fact that we ended up with a three-way tie for second place shows you how difficult this contest was to judge!

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Liam Sharp (comics artist for 2000 AD in the UK and a great many Marvel and DC titles in the USA) and Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir (Iceland's "friend of the elves and huldufolk"). I greatly appreciate the time that they have volunteered to rank and comment on the entries in all three age divisions. This contest would not be possible without their generosity and kindness.

The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and myths of the god Odin and the celebration of midwinter. Congratulations to the winners and to all who entered!

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

FIRST PLACE
Neilma Kavanagh
Age 49
Nascot Wood, near Watford, Hertfordshire, England

Neilma describes her winning entry in detail:
As I read the words Odin at midwinter, all I could see was Sleipnir careering through the winter sky leading his wild companions on their timeless chase to bring back the failing sun. This Yule, especially, the planet seemingly poised on a dangerous ledge of shifting climate, so many are suffering destructive deluges of rain and storms, whilst others are being threatened by spreading wild fires devastating natural wilderness and the world of men alike.

I have painted Odin riding through the darkest solstice midnight, on the back of eight legged Sleipnir. I’ve alluded to the Mari Lwyd, the horse skull of Welsh tradition. The Yule Father Odin is accompanied by his ravens: Muninn, memory, the memory of Yule past followed by Huginn, thought of the unwritten future. The chase is lead by Gullinbursti (“golden bristles”), the boar that glows in the dark made by the dwarf Eitri. Odin’s wolves, Geri (“ravenous”) and Freki (“gluttonous”) lead Sleipnir over the shimmering Bifrost bridge, which I’ve depicted as a purple and green aurora borealis.

As he rides across the heavens, mighty nine-branched Yggdrasil spans the worlds. You can see the four reindeer that chew its twigs flying in the background. You can also see the shaggy Yule goat, Julbocken, which delivers midwinter gifts in Scandinavia. I’ve included some mistletoe hanging from the World Tree, both in honor of Baldr and to reference local druidic Yule tradition.

Behind Odin and his wild animal company, the ghostly giant figure of Fenrir looms in the sky, reminding us that all things are part of the cycle of renewal. Odin may feed his wolves Geri and Freki in Valhalla, but when the final day of Ragnarök comes, it will be he who is consumed.

I’ve included some Amanita muscaria, otherwise known as fly agaric, the toadstool of the woods, at the bottom of the picture. I always think they look jolly and festive, and there are quite a few of the about in the woods near me at the moment. They usually appear at the end of November. These fungi are a favorite food of the semi-wild reindeer of Scandinavia who become intoxicated from the hallucinogenic muscimol it contains. Sámi and Siberian shamans are reputed to use this fungus in their rituals. I think this is why the reindeer are flying.
I really like this depiction of Odin. He almost looks like he's winking at us! It's interesting to see a depiction of the Wild Hunt using animals instead of ghostly warriors or other undead figures. There's a real sense of movement here, and the image of Fenrir adds a spooky sense of midwinter darkness.

Ragnhildur comments, "This picture is captivatingly full of joy and life! Really well painted, seeing the difference of fur and feathers of each animal. All the animals around Odin and the color combination is so meaningful. This picture keeps calling me to look again and again."

Liam writes, "The most ambitious by far of all the entries, and a delightful composition, too. I love the ghostly Fenrir at the back and the inclusion of fly agaric toadstools. There is so much symbolism crammed into the image without it looking at all cluttered. What’s abundantly clear is the depth of knowledge here, too. Neilma certainly knows her stuff! Well done!"

First Place: Neilma Kavanagh

SECOND PLACE (TIE)
Carl Olsen
Age 41
Oakland, California, USA

Carl explains his painting:
I’ve always liked the image of Odin as hooded/disguised wanderer. Odin is also known for seeking knowledge among the giants, so I thought an image of Odin tramping through Giantland in deep snow might be a fun aspect of the wandering/exploring Odin to play with.

Of course, the "giants" (jötnar) are not necessarily represented as "gigantic" in the myths and are treated more like a rival tribe/family with occasional markers of monstrousness (multiple limbs or heads, etc.) as needed by the story, but since we have the primordial frost giant Ymir (certainly gigantic) as well as not explicitly "giant" characters like Utgard-Loki (who is explicitly gigantic), I thought it would be nice to have someone of excessive stature peeking over the hill as a way of marking that this is an otherworldly journey, not just a normal stroll.
I'm a big fan of Carl's artwork. He won first place back in the 2014 Midsummer Art Contest with a beautiful image of Norse gods quietly and secretly observing a human celebration of the longest day of the year. Here, he has created a mysterious image of Odin that seems like the first verse of a longer mythological tale. There's a wonderful weight to the snow that the Wanderer pushes through and a fantastic sense of wariness on his face as he scans for signs of danger. Does he know the giant is there? I really want to know what happens next!

Liam comments, "I just love the atmosphere of dread here, and I feel cold just looking at it! Some journeys are hard but worth making. Odin cutting his way through the snow here – which would be nothing, of course, to the giants! – makes for a fine allegory for the quest for knowledge!"

Ragnhildur adds, "The beautifully painted snow has the real wonderful violet color of northern winter. One can feel how cold Odin must be wading through the deep snow, and with the huge dark jötunn lurking in the background, it really gives chills into the bones."

Second Place (Tie): Carl Olsen

SECOND PLACE (TIE)
Rebecca C.
Age 21
Gambolò, Pavia, Italy

Rebecca writes, "This was made in a series of three artworks, each representing a different aspect of Yule. In this particular one, I've presented Odin as Huginn and Muninn, his ravens. The hats are the symbol for Yule and they are inspired by the Tomtenisse."

This image shows great skill at creating textural detail, and the intertwining caps are reminiscent of the intricate and intertwining designs of ancient rock carvings. Fantastic!

Ragnhildur writes, "The ever-powerful two ravens of Odin with the fun 'tomtenisse' hats in old Celtic style. I really like this humor. Beautifully drawn."

Liam says, "I absolutely love this. The clever design of the hats is brilliant, and the whole piece speaks to an abundance of good cheer! Very charming, indeed. I would like a card with this design on to give out at this time of year. Great work!"

Second Place (Tie): Rebecca C.

SECOND PLACE (TIE)
Naoma Stiltner
Age 28
Huntington, West Virginia, USA

Naoma writes, "The painting portrays Muninn holding Odin's eye as a reminder that, even in the depths of winter, Odin watches."

I love the mood projected by this piece. It really gives a powerful feeling of the mystical dark of the midwinter season.

Liam comments, "So much atmosphere! The raven looks extremely pleased with himself. The glint in Odin’s eye is the final perfect touch! I love the suggestion of old man Odin also looking on as the moon in the background."

Ragnhildur writes, "The raven really stands out and shows that, even though we call the color of ravens black, they certainly do have many colors, depicting their many attributes."

Second Place (Tie): Naoma Stiltner

THIRD PLACE
Dawn Reynolds
Age 40
Franklin, Tennessee, USA

Dawn explains her work: "This is an idea of Odin that I painted after learning tidbits of Norse mythology. It is winter, and the animals travel at night by the moonlight, but it actually Odin guiding their way. The moon highlights a natural blonde that may be left in his hair."

The composition and color work here are excellent. Dawn really captures the magic of Odin glowing in the midwinter moonlight.

Liam writes, "Charming, festive, and lovely colors! I love Odin’s hair and beard. The wolf looks glad of his help!"

Ragnhildur adds, "Love the use of color, especially in the sky and snow. So much life."

Third Place: Dawn Reynolds

RUNNER-UP
Colin O'Dwyer
Age 51
Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland

Colin explains the symbolism of his piece:
The spirals represent male and female, and the spinning of the planet and the path of the Sun as it changes direction, the straight line being solstice. The earth, stone, and grass represent solidity, timelessness, and the oldest roofed building on the planet: Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland. Also, it looks like a shield and our planet.

I wrote the runes for Odin opposite a vague set of interlocking triangles in the thunder under the lightning. Then you have the universe, Asgard, infinity. The white at the bottom represents nothingness.
This is a fascinating piece that takes a completely different approach from all the other entries we received this year. It has a timeless spiritual quality that sets it apart and draws the viewer in to contemplate the meanings behind the myths. Well done!

Ragnhildur comments, "Complex symbolism with so much detail gives much to think about."

Liam writes, "Very clever design-work! This is the most purely symbolic of all the entrants and would certainly speak to those that know their mythology!"

Runner-Up: Colin O'Dwyer

Thank you to all the kids, teens, and adults who entered this winter. We really enjoyed everyone's work. See you when the next contest rolls around!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Art Contest – Teen Winners, Midwinter 2019

The teenagers are missing! Back in the 2015 Midsummer Art Contest, we only received one teen entry and awarded her first place. Despite receiving a very large number of adult entries in this year's Midwinter Art Contest, we again had only one entry from an artist between the ages of thirteen and nineteen.

With respect for all the thought and work she put into it, this year's three judges have decided to again feature the painting submitted by our lone teenage artist.

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Liam Sharp (comics artist for 2000 AD in the UK and a great many Marvel and DC titles in the USA) and Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir (Iceland's "friend of the elves and huldufolk"). I greatly appreciate the time that they have volunteered to rank and comment on the entries in all three age divisions. This contest would not be possible without their generosity and kindness.

The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and myths of the god Odin and the celebration of midwinter. This teenage artist created a wonderfully evocative work that expresses the feeling of both the deity and the season. Congratulations!

Note: You can click on the art to see a larger version.

FIRST PLACE
Gwendolyn Reynolds
Age 13
Franklin, Tennessee, USA

Gwendolyn describes her painting: "This is Odin. He is sad, and it is in the winter. I'm sure you recognize him and his friends. It is snowing, and his crown sparkles. His skin shows that it is cold outside."

The darkness of Odin's eyes is truly hypnotic. The symmetrical structure of the piece is quite striking, and I love how Gwendolyn made the snow really pop out from the painting's surface. Fantastic work!

Liam writes, "What a charming painting! I love the colors and Odin's expression. He does look cold!"

Ragnhildur comments, "One can sense the cold and loneliness in the dark northern wintertime in this picture. Even though Odin has his two raven companions, it is easy to feel the cold and darkness. The two ravens give a good sense of comfort, though, sitting there with the god to help him endure winter. Now the sun will shine a bit more every day, and life becomes easier."

First Place: Gwendolyn Reynolds

Adult winners will be announced tomorrow!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Art Contest – Kid Winners, Midwinter 2019

In this year's Midwinter Art Contest – the first competition run by The Norse Mythology Blog since 2016 – we received plenty of adult entries from around the world. So many grown-ups submitted artworks that the two guest judges have both asked for more time to rank them.

However, we didn't have so many entries this time around in the kid and teen categories. We've decided to feature two of the kid entries to honor the thought, creativity, and effort they put into their work. These two young artists each created something special, and we salute them both for what they did. Skál!

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Liam Sharp (comics artist for 2000 AD in the UK and a great many Marvel and DC titles in the USA) and Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir (Iceland's "friend of the elves and huldufolk"). I greatly appreciate the time that they have volunteered to rank and comment on the entries in all three age divisions. This contest would not be possible without their generosity and kindness.

The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and myths of the god Odin and the celebration of midwinter. These two young artists both created uniquely creative works of art, and all three of us wish them the best as they continue their artistic journeys.

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

FIRST PLACE
Zywia Wilkowska
Age 10
Ballinlough, Kells, County Meath, Ireland

Zywia describes her artwork:
My picture is based on the story of Odin giving away his eye to drink from Mimir’s well of wisdom. It also is associated with the winter solstice.

There is fire in the well, as the winter solstice is celebrated because of the days starting to get longer with more sunlight, and fire represents the sun. The eye is falling into the well as Odin gave it away. The snow on the ground and edges of the well was another reason for celebration when the sun came back; it blocked Earth from the people, Earth the mother of all life.
There is pine in the top right-hand corner, as it represents hope in the long winter months, that there is still life. The holly represents the Holly King, or Winter itself. Mistletoe, in the bottom left-hand corner, is a magical plant and represents peacemaking. And, most important of all, the ash in the upper left-hand corner is there as there was an ash tree over the well, and the ash is also the Tree of Life in Norse mythology, and the winter solstice is about celebrating life come back as well as the sun.
This wonderful work of art was the unanimous first-place winner in the rankings of all three judges. It has a wonderful structure and shows a great deal of thought. I really love the symbolism of the four different branches in the corners, and I'm especially impressed by the way the gaze of the viewer is pulled down into the well.

Raghnildur says, "A really interesting picture. It is so full of symbolism – the composition is so meaningful with the circle and the four magical branches. Really interesting and a bit scary with the eye there by the fire! But so powerful. The soft use of color gives a meaningful feeling of balance in the midst of a powerful, magical transformation of the god. Looks really promising for your future artistic work. Keep at it!

Liam adds, "Not only has Zywia shown great knowledge of Norse mythology, but this is also exceptional art from a ten-year-old and probably my favourite composition in the entire competition! Shooting the scene from above the well makes for a great shot that echoes Odin’s eye itself. Very well done indeed!"

First Place: Zywia Wilkowska

SECOND PLACE
Greta Karlson
Age 9
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Greta's father writes, "Greta became passionate about Norse mythology after reading Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase series. She has included her description of her piece as text in the piece itself."

I love a lot about this piece, including the fact that Greta spells her name with an exclamation point! It's interesting that she integrates the text of a scene in Asgard and a map of the mythological worlds as part of her artwork. I really like that she depicts Odin in a modern aspect instead of some sort of stereotypical Viking. It's a wonderfully unique and engaging creation.

Liam writes, "So delightful to see a nine-year-old this fascinated with Norse mythology. I love the clever drawing. Odin talking to his raven is particularly charming. Well done, Greta!"

Ragnhildur comments, "Your story is beautiful. It gives a personal feeling to Odin, with his wife and his ravens and the feeling of loneliness during the darkest time of the year – alone except for his dear friends, the ravens. The picture is so full of life on many levels. I love the bird. You can sense the wings flapping. Please keep practicing, Greta, both on your drawings and writing skills. It looks like you have a vivid storyteller inside of you, eager to come out. Allow them to fly free as a raven!

Second Place: Greta Karlson

Teen winners will be announced tomorrow!
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