by Stephen A. McNallen
from The Runestone: Spring 1985 #51
We live in an age which is, in many ways, overly introspective. Where our axe-swinging ancestors wrought results with bold action, we often find ourselves paralyzed by excessive analysis, and fail to define and to do the deeds required of us. Many things can produce this spiritual sickness, but one of the surest will-wasters is that old enemy, guilt.
Our forebearers before the Christian imposition do not seem to have been contaminated by this virus. While they might have regretted something they had done, they simply tried to put things right and resolved not to place themselves in that situation again. The gnawing, esteem-gnawing feeling we call guilt, on the other hand, they would have considered not only masochistic but just plain silly. Take Action! Solve your problems, or try to, and get on with life! Leave the mental moaning and the breast-beating for those who have nothing else to do.
Guilt, however, has it’s uses – not to the guild-ridden party, certainly, but to the church and state and special interest groups who wield power in our present society. It is a very effective way to control people. By making us feel bad about ourselves, by making us believe that we are evil or fallen or sinful, the various powers-that-be can manipulate our behavior in accordance with their wills.
What are some of the things for which we are made to feel guilty? Television actresses make us feel guilty for our wealth so that we will give that wealth away for the benefit of people on the other side of the globe. “Docu-drama” producers and writers of a particular ilk do all they can to make us feel guilty because of our Northern European heritage. All our natural drives and instincts come under assault. Anger? Bad because we are all supposed to be “mellow”. Ambition? Dangerous – it makes the inadequate aware of their failings. Sexuality? Nasty; God’s gonna get you for that! Prosperity, ancestry, and instincts are all to be forbidden us by the guilt-mongers. What can be more disastrous in the long term than breeding these qualities out of a formerly free Folk?
Our present thralldom has turned values on their heads; instead of condemning that which is strong and good, we should shun that which our inner selves know to be bad – cowardice, dishonor, and favoring the stranger over kin.
Make no mistake, guilt is a necessary tool for forging the brave new world, a world spanning society where all are to be androgynous, docile, and interchangeable economic units designed only to produce and consume and serve. No room there for joy in sexuality or passion of any kind or pride in ourselves as a people.
So how do we fight back? With all the usual ways of devotion to our gods and our Folk – but animated with a joy that consumes guilt and frees the spirit for action just as the severing of the “peace-strings” allows the sleek sword to fly to it’s owner’s hand! The best warrior is the joyous one who clasps his fate to his heart, who’s merriment in battle’s strife confuses the foe and strikes panic in their ranks. Let that joy flow into all the parts of your life so that is suffuses work and battle and play and makes all these diverse things one. Joy is better than guilt – and a sure antidote to it’s manipulative pangs.
Hard words to heed, easy ones to write! Holding onto joy isn’t east because we seem to have so little to celebrate. But is it the things outside ourselves which ought to give joy and grief, or is it the things withing us? If nothing else, we can revel in our freedom from guilt; in our will-to-act, and in our adherence to the troth of our heroic ancestors. These are no small reasons for joy!
We have the gods to inspire us. Odin, pragmatically breaking the rules to safeguard the worlds of gods and men; Thor, indulging his appetites without shame or fear; Frey and Freya, reveling in healthy sexuality; these are powerful, liberating models casting off the chains of restraint. By invoking them into our lives we can experience the joy of existence in a world where strength, ambition, competence, and pleasure are not fettered with alien, life-denying bonds.