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James O’Meara reviews TYR, vol. 4

TYR Volume 4 for webview [1]2,057 words

TYR: Myth, Culture, Tradition, vol. 4 [2]
Ed. Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan
North Augusta, SC.: Ultra Press, 2014

Finally receiving the new issue of TYR, one feels torn between wishing that each volume could appear more frequently, or at least more regularly, and on the other hand, appreciation for the time and attention devoted to bringing out such unparalleled collections of articles, interviews and reviews of books and music devoted to the “Myth – Culture – Tradition” of the North by Messrs. Buckley and Moynihan.[1] 

This modern world — our world — is sick, the editors tell us, and everyone knows it. But they also have the answer:

[T]he resacralization of art and culture, of work and play, of the tribe and the community and the family and the home, of food and drink, of sex and the body. . . . Our task is to take these “human, all too human” things, and to make them sacred once again.

Hence the varied contents of TYR; such a task requires a consideration of just about everything, from ancient myth to the latest in Black Metal music, from “Garden Gnomes and House Spirits” (Claude Lecouteux) to “Traditional Time-Telling in Old England, and Modern” (Nigel Pennick).

With access to work of such wide variety and high quality, TYR is not afraid to lead off with big guns blazing: two substantial essays by Alain de Benoist and Collin Cleary.

Benoist’s “What is Religion?” (translated by our own Greg Johnson) outlines the main psychological, sociological, and, most popular these days, biological explanations of the phenomenon of religion, ultimately dismissing them all as attempts to reduce religion to a mere function, whereas “religion by definition exceeds any functionality,” being “undoubtedly what exceeds any functionality by managing gaps, uncertainties, otherness” (as Benoist quotes from Jean-Paul Willaime). He offers, “with much diffidence,” his own definition, which foregrounds religion as not only a “set of beliefs and practices” but also as, “[A] socially established worship which structures individual and collective existence by placing it in a universe of meaning, in a symbolic universe governed by an intangible reality.”

The lack of this, of course, is the cause of the social sickness the editors have called to our attention. Benoist goes on to discuss three characteristics of the current religious situation: religion no longer plays a public role, religion has been reduced to individual beliefs, chosen ad hoc and à la carte, and finally that religion has, paradoxically, attained a new “public” role, as just one special interest demanding attention from the state along with the rest.

Benoist concludes that the modern world is far from the gods, and it is questionable whether such a world is livable; as for answers, he modestly offers none, aligning himself with Heidegger’s despairing “Only a god can save us.”

Perhaps that god is . . . us? Collin Cleary, in “What is Odinism?” asks us to reflect on the uniqueness of the Northern tradition, in which the chief god, Odin, is not so much wise as a seeker of wisdom, who is consequently not worshipped himself but imitated: “[T]o be an Odinist is to be a lover of wisdom . . . Odinism is the path of divinization — the Odinist seeks to become “God” (supreme, all-powerful, all-knowing) just as Odin did.”

Dr. Cleary then embarks on a sweeping, Hegelian survey of the metaphysical underpinnings of such a task — man is the universe, the Whole, coming to self-awareness — as well as the practical steps involved, pointedly directing our attention to the controversially Traditional work of Baron Evola, as well as the decidedly un-Traditional work of Gurdjieff and some modern teachers of the practice of self-awareness as Red Hawk.

After such a bravura performance, the reviewer may feel a bit like a child interrupting the conversation of his elders. The reader may sense, however, some disconnect between the sections of “What is Odinism?,” the theoretical and the practical, or, in terms of the essay itself, the sprit that produces Wagnerian operas, space shuttles, and toasters, and on the other, the spirit that seeks, well, the Spirit; is there a Faustian spirituality, or is the Faustian precisely the non-spiritual, as is the world produced by it, the modern world that the editors of TYR proclaim to be sick?

Since Evola has been brought in to aid the seeker, we might cite Evola’s own judgment on Spengler’s Faustian idea in his autobiography, The Path of Cinnabar (which itself receives a typically erudite and fair-minded review within by Joscelyn Godwin):

[T]the ‘Faustian’ impulse — along with the drive towards exploration and unlimited expansion that manifested itself in the rise of Humanism and the Renaissance — [is] the consequence of an external and ‘horizontal’ projection of the metaphysical tension which had previously been directed upwards.

Or, as my own spiritual master, the Rev. Jesse Crawford of the MC5, would exhort us: “You must choose, brothers and sisters, you must choose!”

As Dr. Cleary points out, the Odinic tradition is unique in having a chief god who is not wise, or the personification of wisdom, but a mere seeker of wisdom; a philosopher, in short. But while this can be interpreted positively, as Cleary offers us — see, our mythology sets us a task, gives us a divine seeker to emulate! — historically, wisdom has been very low on the scale of Western values. The Gothic kings were proud to be ignorant of reading and writing, leaving that to their Greek slaves or clerics (another socially low caste, fit for weaklings and extra sons — an attitude still common among our own “elites” of the Bush family sort). As Cleary mentions, but does not elaborate on, Odin himself is mocked as womanish and effeminate. Even among the Greeks, it was proverbial that Thales was mocked for falling down a well whilst star-gazing, a story Hegel repeats and that I expected Cleary to do so as well, when he mentions Odin’s one-eyed view of mundane reality. Plato has a hard time defending the philosophic life in the Symposium or Phaedrus, and look what they did to Socrates!

The lights Cleary steers by, Schelling, Hegel, Eckhart, as well as my own dear Plotinus, are rare summits poking up now and then in the midst of the dull horizontal plane of Western thought, mocked and abused in their time, and then as now treasured by only a few Seekers. As Guénon observes, when presented with the kind of practical methods leading to enlightenment or immortality that Cleary outlines in his final part, the Western man (like the “New Atheists” Benoist discusses) demands “proof” of the reality of the “mythical” higher dimension first, rather than simply following the methods and seeing for himself: “The substitution of a theory of knowledge [philosophy!] for knowledge is the characteristic perversion of the Western mind.”

And the ultimate product of the Faustian West is science, which, as Benoist says, canonizes “the primacy of method . . . over knowledge.” Or in Zen terms, mistaking the pointing finger for the moon.

Of course, at this point, the Zen master, if not Dr. Cleary himself, would whack me on the back with his stick and shout “Stop talking, just practice!”

Perhaps the uniqueness of the West lies here: a people by nature sufficiently detached from spiritual concerns to find it more or less easy to throw aside their own autochthonous traditions in favor of a foreign creed — though Steve Harris might demur here; in “On Barbarian Suffering,” he discusses the ways that both Pagan and Christian sought to understand suffering by reference to a mythological context. The result, as Benoist says, is that

Christianity generated, in spite of itself, a society that can now leave it behind — a unique case in the history of humanity — and one cannot exclude the possibility that by doing this, it has completed its historical course, fulfilled its time.

In the same book, Evola gives his final accounting of Christianity; while Guénon and other Traditionalists sought to find, or re-activate, a supposedly lost spiritual current (to be found in some monastery or among Gurdjieff’s hidden schools), Evola ultimately denied it ever had one, being a spiritual imposture from the start, offering a fake initiation in the form of the white bread and de-natured wine of the so-called Eucharist, a substitution which Western man either couldn’t discern or didn’t care about one way or another.

Some, such as Michael Hoffman, might suggest that even the practical methods of work on self that Cleary recommends and outlines so clearly are themselves only a shadow of the real, “rockily practical” (as Alan Watts liked to say) methods of entheogenic shamanism.

To see what was lost, or thrown away, in our pagan ancestors rush into the arms of the priests and their creeds, Christian Rätsch, the world-renowned ethno-pharmacologist, discusses “The Mead of Inspiration,” while for the modern perspective Carl Abrahamson and Joshua Buckley interview a pioneering psychedelic explorer — the German-born Ralph Metzner, who, unlike the faux-Tibetanism of Leary or the Hindu guru-tripping Ram Dass, “feels a powerful personal connection to the myths and traditions of the North,” especially “the ultimate proto-shaman himself: Odin,” the “true psychedelic wanderer into the outer reaches of inner space.”

There’s much else here, but I must hurry on to mention the substantial sections devoted to book reviews and, a particular feature of TYR, music reviews. To revert to the Zen master again, I suspect he would think that reviewing reviews is “painting legs on a snake,” but I must give you some idea of the wealth found here, a useful combination of “I wonder what they’ll say about that well-known book” and “I never heard of this guy before.”

In addition to the aforementioned review of Baron Evola, Prof. Godwin also reviews John Michell’s How the World is Made: The Story of Creation According to Sacred Geometry, where he makes the fascinating point that

Unlike Perennialists in the Guénon-Schuon line, to whom religious revelation is the important thing, Michell puts the geometrical revelation first, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism . . . are authenticated by geometry, not the other way around.

Interesting in itself, one recalls Gwendolyn von Taunton’s suggestion, in “The Primordial Tradition” (in the first issue of Aristokratia, the only journal that might be compared to TYR in scope and quality) that insight into the unity of religions is an aesthetic, not metaphysical, experience, as well as the recent publications of the so-called Illuminati Conspiracy, advocating higher mathematics as the replacement for both religious faith and scientific materialism.

Godwin himself is reviewed, around his survey of Western esotericism, The Golden Thread, as is the Western esoteric historian Arthur Versluis (The Mystical State). The no-nonsense academic work of Ronald Hutton on The Pagan Folklore of the British Isles is faced up to, while Joshua Buckley exposes the hysterical “epidemiology” of Christopher B. Kreb’s New York Times-friendly attack on Tacitus’s Germania. There’s also German Appalachian folklore, and Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage.

Of equal size and importance to the books — and even coming first in order — is the music coverage. Although this is one of TYR’s most important services, I can’t say as I can really serve as a guide here; readers of some of my previous work may agree that I am no expert on music, especially what the kids are making. Why, even though I have several of Sequentia’s early music CDs in my collection, Joshua Buckley’s interview with Benjamin Bagby, “Finding the Voice of Our Germanic Ancestors,” revealed that I knew very little about Bagby’s long and extensive work as teacher, scholar, and performer (including memorized bardic performances of Beowulf). I was familiar with Ian Read and Fire + Ice’s heartfelt invocations of the Germanic tradition, without either sub-Tolkien twee-ness or “pretentious totalitarian bombast.” But as for the rest, I can only look forward to exploring the Lithuanian rituals of Kulgrinda, the non-metal metal of Agalloch, and the metal/neo-folk fusion of Australia’s Ironwood.

In the end, I can only hint at the challenging, thought provoking and inspiring work collected here; this is an essential purchase for anyone even remotely interested in the Northern tradition or the survival of the West.


1. The publisher, Ultra, announces within the availability of the three previous volumes in deluxe hardcover edition, including an ultra-limited slip-cased edition; well worth considering for those whose paperback copies, elegantly typeset and illustrated, are, like my own, riddled with notes and other marks of having deserved careful and frequent reading.