Jenny Nyström’s depiction of the Germanic hero Sigurd
Traditional accounts of early medieval England, including the Anglian Chronicle and even the writings of the Christian monk Bede, posit that several early rulers of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms ultimately descend, quite literally, from the gods. Likewise too are many of the men who rose to rule the first incarnations of the Scandinavian nations said to trace their ancestry to the god Odin. This is a motif that, though particularly common amongst Germanic cultures, can be seen in historical accounts in many traditional cultures the world over: the Japanese imperial house of Yamato traces their lineage to the deified sun, Amaterasu-Ōmikami (天照大御神); the Sumerian King List, first scribed on clay tablets around the year 2000 B.C. describes “kingship” as having been “lowered from heaven”.
These royal characters share a pedigree that supersedes normal earthly reality and instead forces a distinction between them and common people, even those of noble birth, that cannot simply be attributed to their political station. Even the emperors of traditional Japan, once literally considered to be personifications of the sun by their subjects, are not really divine in the sense that beings of myth or orthodox religion are in a cross-cultural sense, as Emperor Hirohito himself proclaimed plainly at the end of the Second World War in his Ningen-sengen (人間宣言), or Humanity Declaration.
But what about those individuals whose lofty deeds furnish the folklore of so many cultures, whose divine ancestry is more direct, more recent? Those that the Roman poet Ovid termed semideī – demigods? Those characters endowed with abilities whose mysterious ancestry included more recent connections to the world of the supernatural, such as Hercules-son-of-Jupiter, the Finnish Gandalf-equivalent Väinämöinen, or the Irish hero Cú Chulainn, the progeny of the god Lugh? More intriguing still are those that Greeks such as Homer or Hesiod called hemitheoi (cognate with semideī), who were so considered not due to traceable divine ancestry, but rather due to their exemplary behaviour that mimicked the heroic powers of heaven so acutely that other mortals had no logical course of action but to consider them as existing in the image of gods.
At Halithaz we freely admit that spirituality from around the world, particularly Indo-European traditional beliefs – specifically those of the Germanic cultures – inform our perspective on all things. Perennialism, that is, the notion that genuinely Traditional spiritual customs from all cultures stem from a common source of divine inspiration, that universal monomyth motifs can be found that underlie parables much greater than the sum of any of the systems they stem from, is one of the core values that colour the Halithaz worldview. However, in certain instances, it must be acknowledged that there is an intersection between the common man, and that of the heroic one: a veil that, once crossed, can act as the impetus to catapult an individual of seemingly ordinary material substance into the realm of the divine, onto the hero’s journey. This is the same bridge over which Achilles and Hector travelled, that does not require the lineage enjoyed by Swedish kings or Japanese emperors, or the recent divine ancestry of Hercules or Cú Chulainn in order to be traversed.
Among these men is the greatest and most inspiring substance of myth. Some – through factors beyond their own control – find themselves endowed with divine power that sets them apart from mortals, while so many others are pressed by the duress of necessity and the daring that compels men of mettle to inject themselves into the trials that go beyond that of an ordinary life. Who can look upon the substance of these true demigods and deny their destiny as being anything but equal in mythic status to those whose lineage stems from the gods? The Italian Perennialist philosopher Julius Evola speaks extensively on the contrast between the chaotic, illusory state of becoming versus the predestined, autotelic and eternal state of simply being, and there is no greater example of the latter than in the mortal hero whose path could never have been anything less than finding himself a peer of the likes of Hercules. What makes such men, these hemitheoi, pass from ordinary reality into legend, and legend into myth, wherein they find themselves among peers of celestial origin? What makes a hero, a true demigod whose origins lie in the dirt of the earth rather than the dust of the stars, yet still ultimately of internal substance that vastly exceeds his phoenix origins in the ashes?
While the great monomyth, the hero’s journey, has been studied extensively and its process described in rigorous detail by philosophers, writers in the field of comparative mythology, and pundits of psychology like Lord Raglan, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, and most recently Joseph Campbell, one must also examine what traits these mortal demigods had in common, the substance of the internal alchemy that they underwent as they rode the whirling wheel that separates wheat from chaff, and turns ordinary men into beings fit to sit amidst the gods:
Courage – the spiritual fortitude to rise against adversity, to embrace the process of being in an Evolian sense, as if on a predetermined track, as opposed to the intentional state of becoming, of making some conscious attempt at waxing into something greater that the hands of fate clearly have not allotted oneself.
Will – that “thoroughbred quality” that, like the guards frozen at their posts in the ash of Pompeii that Oswald Spengler wrote about in his Man and Technics, is related to but far greater than the similar but inferior trait of duty, as it stems from an internal condition rather than an intentional adherence to an external norm or obligation.
Honour – the code of value-adherence, mutual and self-respect that led to such acts as the carving of one passage from the Swedish Sjörup Runestone, detailing in commemoration that one hero called Ásbjörn “[…] did not flee at Uppsala, but slaughtered as long as he had a weapon”.
Selflessness – the embrace of the destiny, and the acknowledgment that the spoils of war, the fruit of the other values, the glory and the ascendance to a level of notoriety and spiritual, heroic substance that supplants the status of ‘virtuous, competent man’ is simply a consequence of the process of being, and a supplementary balm to the frank act of embodying one’s heroic destiny.
When all of these exemplary traits are allowed to exist in the Uranian and static condition of simply being, similar in its quietude to the state of transcendental detachment that Buddhists of the Japanese Zen school might call Kenshō, or divine insight, those who look with speculation at the titans of the past will judge one’s life accordingly. No man of mettle, no hemitheoi of earthly body and aristocratic soul, ever asked for his lot, ever fought for the express purpose of becoming a fellow of those whose blood roils with the mercury of heaven, but rather found himself in the grip of the scales that measures renown and individual mythopoeism against the traits discussed above. The hero, the man destined to become myth with not a drop of material god-substance inside of him, does not look outward. Heroism was never truly the goal, and never should be. There was never an Achilles that killed Hector for spoils, that laid waste to Troy for the glory of doing so, but rather found himself compelled by his adherence to simply embodying the condition of his soul.
Those who cannot rise, those who mythify, venerate, and may eventually come to deify and to worship the cleverest shoots of this earthly loam, are those who, quite retroactively, decide who has won the right to join the rank of the divine. Through deeds and traits, through the ghastly and beautiful substance of heroism that drips like blood from the wounds of Christ, the wheels that make heroes from men simply being are greased and made to turn. There is no choice, there is no recourse, one must only answer the call of their own blood, and find that within the annals of genealogy, descent from the gods does not matter – so long as the seed of heroism rests inside the mortal body. Who can say that there is not some sense of parity between those like Hercules and those like Sigurd? When they sit next to each other, the blood of both teaming with the same celestial nature, potentiality or origin is no longer in question. There is only the fulfilment of the heroic soul’s destiny. .