Thursday, February 12, 2009

Odin's probably real

Even though today is Thor's Day, I got to thinking about Odin while walking my dog tonight. Actually, a bunch of tangential thoughts all coalesced into some thoughts that I'm going to attempt to express right now.

While walking Argos, I was listening to my MP3 player. To be more specific, I was listening to the soundtrack of Into the Wild. All of the songs are by Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam (which just happens to be one of my absolute favorite bands). I purchased it just a few days ago, as I just can't seem to stop thinking about that movie. Kirsti and I rented it a few months ago, and I liked it so much that I bought the Blu-Ray. After watching it yet again, I found myself compelled to buy the book, and then, of course, the soundtrack.

For those who don't know, it's all based on a true story of a young man who gave up everything he had so he could travel the country and live a spartan existence. He eventually went out into the wilderness of Alaska and was shot from a helicopter by Sarah Palin. No, wait, that's not quite right. Actually, he wound up dying of starvation while out there. One of the sad (or morbidly beautiful, depending on how much of a romantic you are) things about it is that he seemed to know that he might not make it back.

Of course, a lot of people dismiss him as being stupid for what he did. I wouldn't necessarily say that's wrong, but it's too simple of an answer. He basically was a man who sought absolute freedom, and he got what he wanted. And from what I gather, he wasn't harboring a lot of delusions as to just exactly what that might entail. (Although, and this is where his intelligence gets called into question, it turns out that there are a few things that he could have done while out there that might have prevented his tragic fate.)

So, it's true tragedy in the sense that it reminds us of the great potential that humans have while at the same time showing the reality of how we oftentimes wind up destroying that same great potential. His story fills me with a lot of conflicting emotions - hence the reason why I can't get it out of my head.

The aspect of his story that was swirling in my head today was the nature of, well...nature. This is a theme that's also well expressed in the movie Grizzly Man - another true story of man trying to live in harmony with nature. The thing is, nature is neither good nor bad. It simply is what it is. It can bring life, but it can just as easily take life. It's not out to help you, and it's not out to get you either. It can be nurturing, and it can be destructive.

During my prep period today, I started to put together some notes for a unit on Norse Mythology. Using a couple of books that I have, along with some useful websites, I started creating some notes about Odin. One thing that I found to be pretty interesting about him was just how downright capricious he was. He was revered, but nobody was under any sort of delusion that he was going to always be kind and generous. He was simultaneously known as The Allfather and The Destroyer - amongst hundreds of other names that run the gamut between those two ideas.

This is not too surprising. After all, the gods of the Greek pantheon could be pretty nasty sometimes as well. Zeus would favor certain heroes, but he had no problem making things miserable for others. Also, if you read your Old Testament, Yahweh is equally fickle in his dealings with human beings. (Don't believe me? Try reading Job!) Of course, when Jesus comes along, he's a little bit more of a kinder, gentler sort, but you still have that awful blood sacrifice and all sorts of other things that are tough to reconcile with the kind, loving God that Christians like to describe, despite the fact that their Holy Bible paints a pretty different picture.

I think that the ancient peoples had it right. After all, what were the gods but an attempt to explain what was not understood about the natural world? You know, that same natural world that trapped Christopher Johnson McCandless in the snow? The same one that put Timothy Treadwell in the belly of a bear? It only makes sense that Odin would be seen in so many different lights. Why should God be described as a being that's wholly loving, wholly caring? If He does exist, then he watches countless children die every day - and no arguments about it being a result of us having "free will" can ever change that. (After all, what free will does a child dying of malaria have? He dies because I've turned away from God? Does that really make God seem any more kind?)

Of course, neither Odin nor the God that most monotheists today describe are literally real. However, this god who supposedly loves you and wants nothing for the best for you? He's not even real on a metaphorical level. Give me Odin any day - at least you know where you stand with that guy.

(But as always, Heimdall can shove it.)

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