“ᛏ Týr er einhendr áss
ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir
Time does not, and has never, suffered itself to be stopped on the whim of a mortal. If all mystified fatalism, be it twine-snipping hags at the base of the world-tree and the general stuff of soothsayers, has been stripped from our cold-fact cosmology, this central fact has never been, and almost certainly never shall, be doubted. The date of a man’s birth and of his death may be preordained or may hang entirely on Zufall, stupidity, and other waste-products of the human psyche, but its circumstances cannot be altered in fact.
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd; /
Petals on a wet black bough.” -Ezra Pound
Shortly after I was born, I, a rosy-faced eructation on Planet Earth, received the mixed blessing of being initiated into a certain Bohemian brand of Protestantism, whose believers, given the demonym “Moravians” after their hilled Czech homeland, practiced burial rites which, even in my ur-youth, I found unusual. The various other cemeteries of colonial Pennsylvania ranged from the solemn to the gaudy, painted, weeping Madonnas and glum little cherubs shaking their heads.
In the Moravian cemetery, however, every grave-marker stands flatly within the ground, overgrown with grass and punched in half from the roots of the ancient oaks nearby. The inscription on one reads that the deceased fought in Napoleon’s Grande Armée. How he died in Pennsylvania, I do not know. Every headstone is the same grey or off-white, engraved in the same minuscule font, the same unassuming rectangle. If we are to be equal in life, so be it, we are equal in our deaths, a miniature godly Commune.
One’s life amounts to a few stone inches in the ground.
Which realization, when dawning upon the ready-made, easy-mould mind of a Hussite boy, led inevitably to the dread conclusion that:
One’s life is worth only a few stone inches in the ground, if one lets it be so.
Petals on a wet black bough.
“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”
As I grew older, being the prim little high-school Moravians that we, my class/pew-mates and I, undoubtedly were, we often sang hymns, one of which remains in my mind.
“Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.”
It rankled me, and it rankles me still. A desperation to be subjugated. A thirst for a guiding hand. The surrendering impulse, a still-born martyrdom without martyr-makers, nobler to fall upon one’s sword than to brandish it.
I may be dubbed the most staunchly Anglo of Anglos for this outlook, but I do not care. What is pejoratively belittled as good-old-fashioned Anglo individualism is only pragmatism, pragmatism, and calculated irrationality; they are branded in my Angl-ified neurons. The true strength of a people comes from its connection to the ochre of its soil, the churned dirt-black entrails of tilled fields, spent labor, spilt blood, sprung hunting traps, spoken incantations. That is culture, from the Latinate colo, “I cultivate.”
The definition of culture given by T.S. Eliot in a volume of roughly the same title springs to mind: culture is many things, but it is not a plaything to be kneaded and groped by some white-bearded Abrahamic phantasmagoria. It is development, and it is supremely organic, mimicking biological rhythms; the castes, the distinctions, and the marks of excellence it births are relative geographically and temporally, but their essential sense is the same. Individual development is to be rewarded. The individual, alone, is left to strive higher, shoot farther, run faster. Among the Indo-Europeans, the sons of the sun-disk wandering the Eurasian steppe in Urzeit, this was the Alltag, the everyday, the state of bone-twisting hunger for wandering and expansion.
Consult Oswald Spengler for an (admittedly anachronistic) elucidation of this phenomenon:
“Denn mit der Organisation zu Unternehmungen trennt sich auch die politische und die wirtschaftliche Seite des Lebens, die Richtung auf Macht oder auf Beute. Es gibt nicht nur eine Gliederung innerhalb der Völker nach Tätigkeiten, Krieger und Handwerker, Häuptlinge und Bauern, sondern auch die Organisation ganzer Stämme für einen einzigen wirtschaftlichen Beruf. Es muß damals schon Jäger-, Viehzüchter-, Bauernstämme gegeben haben, Bergbau-, Töpfer- und Fischerdörfer, politische Organisationen von Seefahren und Händlern. Und darüber hinaus gibt es Eroberervölker ohne wirtschaftliche Arbeit. Je härter der Kampf um Macht und Beute, desto enger und strenger die Bindungen des einzelnen durch Recht und Gewalt.”
“For with the organization to undertakings, the political and economic sides of life split apart, the orientation to power, or to loot. There is not only a segmentation within peoples of activities, warriors and craftsmen, chieftains and peasants, but also the organization of entire tribes for a single economic calling. There must then have already been hunter, graver, and peasant tribes, mining, pottery, and fishing villages, political organizations of sea voyages and trading. There are, further, conquest-peoples without economic work. The harder the struggle for power and loot, the narrower and stricter are the connections of the individual through justice and violence.”
Even the smallest forest bush strives to dominate its weed-choked niche below the canopy. Vines grapple with poison tendrils, leaves expand like great deathly overhangs over one another until each withers in the darkness of the other. The struggle is always upwards. Differ! Excel! Do! Act! This is not blind competition: it is the encouragement of the highest common denominator, every aspect of life ordered, every individual simultaneously emphasized and subordinated, nobly.
The Prose Edda offers up a paragon for the ages in this regard, Tyr, the one-handed god. The Aesir wrestle with the brood of Loki, the wolf Fenrir, the prophesied killer of Odin. Although still young, he is powerful, and breaks through every fetter the gods attempt to place on him, gnashing and kicking in his fury. Entreating the aid of dwarfs of Svartalfheim, the gods fashion a third and final fetter, thin as a string but unbreakable, but face the daunting task of wrapping it round the implacable wolf. Tyr, war-god, mead-god, approaches the wolf, goaded by the dwarfs and his fellow gods, who insist they shall only have the courage to apply the fetter if he rests his hand in the wolf’s mouth. The fetter is laid on Fenrir, but not before the enraged beast severs Tyr’s hand off his body.
Imagine a sky without eagles, a savanna without lions. The meek are not blessed. I do not want a stone rectangle. Heaven may exist, it may not, egal, the question of an afterlife, a place to drag one’s saintly knuckles, is a moot one. The strength of a culture is the strength of its pantheon, and gods who cannot bleed have no strength. This is the choice of Achilles, this is Tyr’s wager: to live a short life full of deeds and glory, rather than a long one doomed to atrophy.
The mark of a thoroughbred is to stick one’s hand down death’s gullet, smiling hungrily.
“Reiss mich an deinen rand /
Abgrund – doch wirre mich nicht!” -Stefan George, “Geheimes Deutschland”