David is a resident of Denmark, someone who caught my eye in his first email to me from northern Norway, where he was studying the Sami religion as an anthropology student. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person September in Denmark:
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What are your first memories of sensing a spirituality in living?
My first sense of what I would today identify as a religious impulse was related to various dim entities that frightened me as a child, and a feeling that the known, or consensual, world rested on the edge of a vast deep. I guess I had a vivid imagination like most children, and a somewhat nervous disposition.
As a young teenager I rejected religion entirely, being a diehard Marxist (although a somewhat anti-authoritarian one). I think I was looking for an entirely explicable and controllable universe, or at least some sense of absolutism, but I was still very fascinated with the occult and drifting towards Asatru, at first from a cultural angle. A good friend encouraged me to read the Danish author Erwin Neutszky-Wullf who became hugely influential to me, in his convincing use of mythology in relation to neurology and theory of cognition. At that point I began to realize that a number of feelings and experiences I had had, which were meaningless in the world in which I had grown up, were understandable in a religious light.
Explain what your spirituality is about…who inhabits it, and how it works on this earth.
Asatru is the most common ‘overhead’ term for pre-christian Scandinavian religion. It signifies an allegiance to the Aesir, the dominant family of gods in Norse mythology. I am normally cautious in using the term to describe myself, as it covers quite a few different attitudes, but it is a fast and somewhat handy indicator. Central to my religious life is a search for gnosis or enlightenment, a learning process, and the search for a feeling of connection with, or integration into the living universe.
Danish society is nearly entirely secular (if you ignore the Protestant state church, which has a wide membership but no real content), and to a degree Asatru is caught between the dynamics of remembrance and recreation. Of course it is a basic premise that the old religion is tied to landscape, climate and still in some peripheral way to culture, and for me it is the religious language that feels most natural, but the tradition that exists now is, in my opinion (many would disagree), a reconstruction still in the experimental stages. We have to learn religion all over, and it is almost impossible.
I was involved with a regional ‘blÃ3tlaug’ in my hometown, a loosely structured roup of friends who gather for seasonal sacrifices and festivities, but since moving to the city my involvement with this group has been minimal.
How do you balance/ make a peace with being in the modern world and being in the world of your spirituality?
I believe that ‘physicality’ is the world’s way of operating, or simply the human way of interacting with the in itself non-conceptual world. Physical experience is tied to a very large degree to conceptualization. Definition is what makes objects or entities register as ‘something’ instead of ‘nothing.’ Not all conceptualization, or experience, is communicable, but in everyday life our conceptualization is limited by a need for interaction. This is why it is reasonable to say that our language is the limit of our world. Hardcore materialism (in the most common, banal form) is simply a desperate insistence on a conceptual consensus. This is to say that as a religious person I have to avoid the present consensus, in order to allow the world to manifest in different ways.
The modern world, I suppose, is an inescapable evil â€“ it is where I am, and by default defines who I am, but by studying religious texts, or immersing myself in art, peripheral to modernity or from other times or cultures, I may be able to conceive of alternative worlds and possibly allow my ‘fylgje’ to construct an organic world that is more my own, and not a social neurosis.
This leads me back to the question of who inhabit my spirituality. A ‘fylgje’ is a personified personal destiny, very similar to the greek ‘dhaimon.’ I have at times been in contact with mine, but I find it immensely difficult to continually live in that state (of grace, perhaps) where my involvement with the world feels clear and directed.
It is possible to meet entities personifying the dynamic behind natural features (or concepts), and I think these entities are often described with surprising accuracy in “low mythology” as underworld dwellers, gods, giants, gnomes and the like.
Are their other religions/ doctrines/ folklore you have instinctively responded to with recognition?
To a large degree I think that religions are comparable and understandable in light of each other, but of course the problem is that the expression of different religious techniques and insights in words varies hugely.I find Gnosticism very appealing but in a somewhat backwards way. The concept of the world as a series of emanations from God, “the tendency towards coming into being”, is appealing to me.
Very bluntly put, all religions seem to me to express either a fundamental “Yes!” or “No!” in confrontation with the physical world. The Gnostics saw this world as fallen, as did early Christians and Buddhists, and were occupied with escaping the wheel of death and rebirth so to speak, whereas the vast majority of cultural religions (in a sense Archaic Christianity is anti-cultural) are occupied with the proper functioning of the wheel. So I think I subscribe to a degree to an upside-down Gnostic cosmology.
For someone who attempts to approach religion from a ‘practical/experiential’ angle Shamanism is extremely alluring as well. The occultism of the above-mentioned author, ENW, has also been a major influence. For a period, too much, in fact, so that I almost approached his writing dogmatically. Probably as a result of my excitement over finding a contemporary author so unique, who even promised an understanding of some of the things that occupied me the most.
What is your favorite time of the year and why?
There is not one particular season that means more to me than others, but I always feel animated during the transitional phases. In Denmark the seasons are fairly distinguished and the difference between the bright summer nights and the winter darkness is quite remarkable. I don’t think I could ever live in a country with a stable climate, or just one or two seasons.
How does nighttime feel to you?
I am even now a little bit afraid of the dark and my relationship to the night is complicated. I suppose there is an element of fetishism in every phobia and vice versa. The world seems to drop it’s guard in the night and the life behind things is sometimes more visible. I am fascinated by the darkness, but at the same time I get uncontrollable urges to run towards any light. We recently switched to wintertime and now it is dark outside already at 5 o’ clock.