Updated: Aug 22
So far all of what has been covered focuses on the ideas and general principles of the Way of Fire & Ice. These are essential for understanding what it means and how Radical practice is different from other forms of spirituality. This brings the conversation to the last of the five points: living the Way. What is presented here is meant to influence and guide all aspects of your life. It does not start and stop with ritual observances, holidays and sacred symbols. These ideas saturate every part of your life.
It may seem obvious what this means. Of course someone who follows a particular form of religion or spirituality doesn’t stop being that person when they aren’t engaging in rituals or celebrating holidays. If the example of the Gods of Paganism in whatever form you follow shape your life then, logically speaking, most Pagans are always Pagans even if they’ve missed the last few ritual observances or their forms of honouring the Powers are unique to how they see things. Similarly the ethics at the heart of these practices likely always influence your personal conduct in one way or another.
The place where this gets really sticky is on bigger questions than regular observances, holidays and wearing the right necklaces. What do you do if there are things happening in the world around you, whether they are big or small, that are seen as unjust, unethical or otherwise wrong according to your beliefs? What if these actions are not ones that you or your friends are personally doing but are being done by others or in broader society?
Such questions are not easy ones to answer. Too many in the modern world have felt the lash of religious persecution justified by invocations of the sacred to cover for oppressing others. Whether you’re talking the bombed out shells of abortion clinics in Kansas, young queer people facing angry gangs of righteous bullies or veils torn from innocent faces on the streets of London there’s no question that using religion to justify attacking others is harmful and dangerous. It would, therefore, make sense to stand up to such groups and work with any who face harm from such persecution. Refraining from persecuting others and defending those who suffer from such harm is a direct, easy answer to these questions and is supported by examples like Thor’s defence of others, Beowulf’s aid for Hrothgar or Havamal 48 which says:
The lives of the brave and noble are best
Sorrows they seldom feed
But the coward fear of all things feel
And gladly not the greedy gives
But what happens when the harm being done is happening under the color of law or is the result of institutional decisions and trends instead of specific, discrete actions and you have to take your own actions to see justice done? If standing up to persecution is justified and causing such harm is not then how is taking action without direct provocation justified? One could argue that if refraining from imposing on others is morally justified then it would be wrong to violate this principle. Such an analysis, while understandable, is short-sighted.
Sometimes there are others in the world who do harm from a place of power and must be confronted. Taking action in these cases is very different from flipping the persecutors’ dynamic and taking up their whips to scourge the innocent. The reason is simple. Whether you are facing corrupt officials and leaders or powerful, seemingly faceless institutions who do great harm to others through thousands of small yet intolerable blows you are not acting as an aggressor or imposing on the innocent. That such injustice is happening is already a first act of harm. This justifies the necessary work to end the source of such injuries.
One good example of this are the recent actions by the group Extinction Rebellion in London in this past week. Over a thousand activists were arrested for blocking roads, disrupting traffic and shutting down large parts of the city. They claimed what they were doing was necessary to force the British government and other world leaders to declare a climate emergency and confront the growing crisis of climate change. On the surface what they did was not directly confronting the actual causes of climate change or the most guilty actors. Yet, in taking the actions they did, they forced attention to this broader concern, raised awareness and signalled a willingness to do whatever they could that is within their power to make change happen. By striking in ways that disrupted the mechanisms of normalcy they were, in an indirect way, attacking the larger problem.
Some, at this point, may then ask, “but what about the law?” This question assumes that obedience to the law, in all its forms, is an inherently good act while defying it is inherently bad no matter how justified that act may be. What it misses is law and morality are the same thing. Laws, in theory, are created by society with the consent of the governed to define orderly conduct. If the purpose of law is to ensure a just, orderly and safe existence for all under its power then any law which does not do this or, even worse, allows for the few to inflict harm on the many is directly contrary to this purpose. Even if an action is defensible according to the letter of the law if it defies this deeper, underlying purpose of equity and justice then the action is wrong regardless of legality. If there are laws which defend unjust actions then that law itself is unjust and should be defied until it ceases to be.
It is important to remember, as many others have pointed out, that many unjust systems were actually legal. The horrors of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which lasted for three centuries, were protected by law. The destruction of Native American communities in North America was sanctioned by the US and Canadian governments. The horrors of Nazi Germany, ranging from the persecution of LGBT people to the Holocaust and the deliberate starvation of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians and countless others in eastern Europe, were legally protected government policy. This was, in fact, invoked by many high-ranking Nazis during the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal to defend their actions and question the grounds for putting them on trial. None of these legal shields change that these actions were wrong and unjust by any measure.
This leaves it clear that taking action, sometimes even illegal action, in the name of the right cause or to end to harm against others is justified in the Way of Fire & Ice. You cannot simply stand by and do nothing when others are suffering or when your community is in danger. This is where living the practice is both most meaningful and most challenging. Taking up this form of Norse Paganism is more than accepting a specific method of spirituality that puts a lot of emphasis on meeting people’s needs, working in the now, always living and adapting and using the past for developing inspired adaptation. It means taking up these values to do right in the world, make life better for everyone and never accept good enough as the best that can be.
At first this may sound daunting. Not everyone can be a full-time agent of change. You should also not always be constantly switched on with no rest or respite from such work. If the point of working for a better world is to make life better then part of that means living your best life. Instead you should strive to do the best that you can, what you feel capable of doing and what you think is the most effective way to resolve the problem at hand. This could be everything from charging to the front lines of direct action to having the hard conversations about big issues with the people you care about. What matters most is always living the values of the Way in all aspects of your life as best as you can.