• Ryan Smith

A Living Tradition

Being a living tradition is one of the core ideas of the Way of Fire & Ice. What this means is this Way, along with your personal application of it, is always adapting to best meet the needs of practitioners while drawing inspiration from the example and ideas of the pre-Christian Norse peoples. If you imagine the Way of Fire & Ice as a tree then the past would be the soil its roots are planted in, the trunk the philosophical and spiritual core while the branches and leaves are the ways it adapts to meet the challenges of life. Even though there are central ideas that serve as the guiding values of the Way there is also plenty of room, both individually and collectively, for deciding how you apply those values.


To some this may sound like it defeats the purpose of what spirituality or religion means. In the eyes of most of society matters of the spirit are inscrutable, unchanging institutions whose roots stretch deep into the mists of time. They are often seen as immovable pillars defined by unquestionably fixed principles that define everything about them. To some extent this is true. At the core of all spiritual practices, this one included, are certain ideas and philosophies that define everything associated with them. Yet even with this trunk of central traditions spiritual practice is, and can be, something that is always in motion.


Modern Christianity is a good example of this in action. Even though most Christians will point to the Bible and claim it is the unquestionable source of all that is true about their religion what this has meant changes over time. If you were to transport a modern Catholic Christian back to Medieval Europe there probably are some things they would recognize while many other practices, interpretations or applications of Catholic doctrine would be unspeakably strange and unfamiliar to them. If you go back even further to the days of the Roman Empire there wasn’t even a concept of a single Bible that was the ineffable source of all religious knowledge.


The same is true in Norse Paganism for even more potent reasons. Unlike Christianity, which has direct links to its past through a relatively unbroken chain of practice, modern Norse Pagans are a revival of a form of spirituality that was almost completely wiped out nearly a thousand years ago. The closest we have to any sort of direct connection are surviving fragments of knowledge that survived in folklore, a handful of texts that didn’t fall prey to the ravages of time, historical accounts that were all written by outside observers whose knowledge, not to mention motives, of Norse practice was limited at best and a growing trove of archaeological finds.


Yet these limitations should not be a cause for alarm or some sort of challenge to the legitimacy of Norse Pagan practice. All forms of religion and spirituality have always been growing, changing and adapting over time. In our case this simply means we have more blank space to fill in between the handful of fragments available for crafting our mosaic. Where some might see emptiness others might see freedom to innovate, create and shape a new interpretation that merges the best of the old with the needs of now.


In the Way of Fire & Ice this open space is embraced. What we know of the lives, ideas and practices of the ancients is a jumping off point for developing meaningful applications of these older ideas. It is a source of inspiration for charting a new course forward into the shared challenges of today and tomorrow. Where you have material to work with, whether that is text or carvings on runestones, is a point of reference for developing answers for the places where the past falls silent.


This isn’t to say there is no place for the past or the wisdom of the ancients; far from it! After all this entire spiritual practice draws its origin from the ways of the ancients. A key part of the Way includes honouring the dead, both from the distant and recent past. Instead what this means is to give homage to what came before without treating pre-modern practice as some sort of upper limit or hard line on what we can and cannot do. It would both be incredibly arrogant for modern people to assume to claim the necessary absolute knowledge for making such claims when it simply doesn’t exist.


Walking hand in hand with the limits of historical knowledge are the deep mysteries of spiritual practice itself. To put it quite bluntly there is simply no way any one person could possibly claim to have greater objective, provable knowledge of the nature of the Powers than anyone else. The spirits of place and the deceased function in ways the living can only grasp the edges of. The Gods themselves are beings that are, simply put, completely beyond us on every level. They are entities whose knowledge of what we refer to as the sciences is so incredibly complete that they were capable, collectively, of crafting stars, galaxies, planets and life as we know it.


Any moments where people interact with them will always be filtered through the realities of the human condition. Needless to say, this puts them so far beyond the prejudices of daily life that suggesting the bigotries of modern people are even a concern to them is laughable. This also means any knowledge we have of the Powers is best gained through collective discussion and shared investigation rather than trusting in solitary revelation or wisdom handed down from on high.


Limitations of modern knowledge of the past along with the challenges of knowing the Powers, as this implies, are not the only reason why the Way is a consciously living, adaptive form of spiritual practice. Meeting people’s needs is the other. History since the time of conversion is, simply put, littered with the evidence of what happens when any sort of spirituality becomes an instrument for power over others. Part of what enables this is when adherence to the abstract takes precedence over serving practitioners. Every part of this world has been scarred by the whips and brands of authoritarian spirituality which, in every case, justified atrocities by invoking dogmatic adherence to specially authorized interpretations of the sacred.


It is from this desire to both serve the needs of practitioners and learn from the mistakes of the past that the Way uses the past as a springboard for leaping forward. Even though there are some core ideas and values that make up the essence of what the Way stands for these principles are points of reference rather than hard and fast dos and don’ts. These broad ideas leave room to you for interpreting how, exactly, you apply these principles and interpret the significance of the Powers. If there are methods that help you better understand the Powers and how to live your life then feel free to pursue them regardless of if ancient Norse peoples did so. The core question posed by living practice is, “Do my actions reflect the values of the Way?” and not, “Would the ancients approve of how I’m doing this?”


The ultimate challenge presented by living spirituality is taking charge of your own life. Following a living practice means everything you do is ultimately your responsibility. At the end of the day you have to, at least, be able to live with yourself and the weight of your deeds. While this may seem to be a heavy burden to bear it also gives you tremendous freedom. Letting your practice live, grow and change gives you the power you need to be the author of your life.

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