by Collin Cleary
Counter-Currents Publishing, 2015
As a lifetime “non-believer” who has been delving into Germanic heathen worldviews and traditions for the past year or so, Collin Cleary’s What is a Rune? pulled a few ideas together for me at the right time, introduced some evocative concepts that I’d like to revisit in visual art, and inspired some new questions. I’m certain I’ll come back to the book and re-read portions of these essays again and again over the coming years, but I thought I’d post some initial personal reactions, as I know many of my readers are interested — either intensely or casually — in Germanic paganism.
I concentrated on the essays that were particularly relevant to my own interests — also the first four essays of the book. (“What is a Rune?,” The Fourfold,” “The Ninefold,” and “The Gifts of Odin and his Brothers.”) As Greg Johnson mentioned in his introduction to Cleary’s philosophy, they build on his discussion of achieving an “openness to the gods,” from his earlier work, Summoning the Gods. “What is a Rune?” presents a tighter, more accessible and more definitive handling of this line of thought.
For me, Cleary is building on an idea that first struck me while reading Thomas Carlyle’s essay, “The Hero as Divinity” from On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. For our ancestors, the world was a more magical place.
Lightning, for instance, wasn’t something you learned about in school or from a photograph — it was real and immediate and alive and they saw it with wonder the way children experience it before they are taught a story about what lightning “is” to modern men. Modern men think of these things as ideas, first, but our ancestors knew things intimately. A grown man would not simply see a tree and identify it against a field handbook of trees, he’d know it. He’d know how it would burn, how to use its wood, its bark, its fruit and seeds and sap. He’d know how it would grow and how it felt to be surrounded by that particular kind of tree in wooded silence.
It is not so difficult to see the world this way, once you’ve escaped the urban or suburban commerce-scape.
It’s not hard to see “MOUNTAIN” as alive and magical when you’re on one, and it’s easy to stop thinking of “FIRE” as a chemical reaction when you’re sitting around a fire under the stars.
Like Carlyle, Cleary makes some fascinating points about what he calls the “numinousness” of the world before it was “explained” by science. In fact, he makes a point that a “world” is not “earth,” but that it comes from the Old English weorold, meaning “man-age.” Our weorold is defined by our perception and conceptualization of it, and understanding our ancestors means attempting to understand their weorold. Cleary wonders whether we can ever truly understand their world while living in the modern one, and says, perhaps wryly, that, “our hope lies in Ragnarok.”
This point reminds me a bit of arguments often made against the paleo diet — that we can never truly eat as our ancestors ate, because so much has changed in the world. Critics of paleo often imply that because one can’t exactly replicate the diets of our ancestors, the idea is foolish and presumably we should all just resign ourselves to a diet of Twinkies and Mountain Dew because that’s somehow more authentic to our time. Most serious paleo authors I’ve read have understood that we aren’t hunting aurochs anymore. The basic idea is to better approximate the macronutrient ratios of our ancestral diets (though there were many different ones) and stop eating so much processed plastic food synthesized more for profit than for human nourishment. That’s not so unreasonable.
And neither is aiming to approximate some of the ideas our ancestors and incorporate these ideas into the way we live our lives. Exact replication or reenactment would be asinine and masturbatory — at best a cute hobby. We are men living now and we can only be men living now, in our own weorold. The point is to use the past to inform the present, to live vital lives, inspired by the lives and ideas of our ancestors. This is not so unreasonable.
Cleary also writes about the importance of thinking mytho-poetically when interpreting the runes and stories of our ancestors. This comes easier to some than others — artists and musicians and filmmakers and writers of fiction think poetically already. However, one thing I would like to see Cleary explore in the future is the idea of acting mythopoetically.
In one sense, we can do this, as I mentioned earlier, by getting out into what is left of nature and experiencing it away from modernity. Ponder Laguz while floating on a lake, while you’re experiencing it. Fish the lake. Boat it. Wade in it. Swim in it. Know it.
In another sense, isn’t a major motivation for performing ritual to act mythopoetically? Hasn’t the point of ritual in many religions been to leave behind the mundane and connect to something timeless and elemental? Modern men can use primal sounds and fire and blood to separate themselves mentally from the modern world and experience a mindset that is still full of magic and wonder. We can never, as Cleary points out, truly live in another age — nor should we try — but we can employ ritual to build a bridge of understanding that can inform and enrich the way we live today. To quote Cleary, “…dwelling in [that] world means poetically giving birth to the world itself,” and ritual is a means to use poetry and myth to birth — or one might say, “start” — a new world.
I know and have known many highly intelligent and creative men with an interest in ritual and the occult, and I’ve come in contact with a lot of total fruitcakes, but ritual and the occult seem to attract some particular kinds of thinkers. I’d like to read a thinker as lucid and methodical as Cleary delve into the idea of ritual as mythopoetic action, and could even envision a ritual drawing directly from his conceptualization of the Fourfold and Ninefold.
As I am still very much an entry-level student of Germanic mysticism or heathenry or whatever you’d like to call it, Cleary’s insights into the Fourfold and untangling of the Ninefold were enlightening, even exciting. The association of Muspelheim and Niflheim with solve and coagula, in particular, stood out, and I now link Niflheim not only with ice, but with serpents and retraction, pulling in and unification. Cleary offers similar oppositional concepts for the rest of the nine worlds, and his interpretations breathed a lot of life into them for me.
Since readers often write to ask for book recommendations, I’m going to include What is a Rune? on a short list of readings and lectures which I’ve found particularly helpful as introductions to Germanic heathenry, in a progression.
- Prose Edda
- Poetic Edda
- “The Hero as Divinity” from On Heroes and Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, Carlyle
- “What is a Rune?” from What is a Rune?, Cleary
- Reading the Past: Runes, R.I. Page (for non-mystical, historical context
- Runelore, Edred Thorsson
- Lecture: “The Children of Ash: Cosmology and the Viking Universe,” Neil Price (Youtube
- “Editorial Preface,” TYR 4, Buckle
- “The Fourfold” from What is a Rune?, Cleary
- “The Ninefold” from What is a Rune?, Cleary
- “The Shape of the Soul: The Viking Mind and the Individual,” Neil Price (Youtube
- “Life and Afterlife: Dealing with the Dead in the Viking Age,” Neil Price (Youtube
- The Road to Hel, Hilda Roderick Elli
- Barbarian Rites, Hans-Peter Hasenfrat
- “What God did Odin Worship?,” Summoning the Gods, Cleary
- “What is Odinism?,” TYR 4, Cleary
This isn’t a meant to be a definitive list, as I haven’t read everything I want to read yet, but I think it will be helpful for others. Everything here was recommended to me by someone, so I’m just passing along the recommendations.
Finally, here’s a meme I created and shared around while reading these essays, from a passage I particularly liked about Odin. Please feel free to share it.
The “Start The World” and “Violence is Golden” patches have all shipped out, and most have been received. I ran into some mail merge and postage issues, so a few of them came back or were never received. I’ve re-shipped every missing order I’ve heard about but if you are in the US and you have not received your order, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Still getting the hang of mass mailings and I want to make sure everyone gets what they ordered before I make any more available.
UK and Canadian guys – let me know when/if you get your order, so I can gauge whether or not International mail is going to be timely and reliable enough to be worth the effort.
Thanks to the guys who sent in photos. These were just a few.
I’ll probably order another run of patches in June for those who missed this run, or want to order more.
Also, since I’ll be doing some traveling, making gainz, meeting like-minded men and participating in all kinds of things this summer, I set up a new Instagram account @starttheworld. Follow me there, as I’ll be using it more than Facebook. (Better photos, less fake “news” I don’t care about)
My review of the new Mad Max movie, and a reaction to claims from feminists and others that it is some kind of “feminist action film” has been posted to RADIX Journal.
RIDE FOREVER IN VALHALLA, SHINY AND CHROME!
“I prefer to not to use the words, ‘let’s stop something’. I prefer to say, ‘let’s start something, let’s start the world’.
– Peter Fonda, 2011
I’m putting 150 of each patch up for sale to the US, Canada and the UK at my new big cartel store. I expect both to sell out pretty quickly. I will also be putting up the remaining 40 or so limited edition Way of Men art prints from Danger Press (their stock is sold out) but I’m still trying to figure out shipping costs. They will be available in a week or so.
I downloaded Jonathan Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch and started reading it the morning it came out. I stopped two chapters in, because I had to head to my boxing class.
Gottschall and I aren’t the same, but we know something about each other.
When a man on the far side of thirty-five decides to learn how to fight, he’s got some reasons. He doesn’t do it because he’s already good at it, and he doesn’t do it on a whim. He’s not trying to keep his lunch money away from the school bully and it ain’t about impressing girls.
When you’re in your twenties, if you have any sense of self worth, you figure you could to do just about anything if you really put your mind to it. After that, you start to realize that doors are closing behind you, and you can see more closing doors in front of you. Thirty and forty aren’t nearly as old as they seem when you are twenty, but they aren’t twenty, either. You can probably still do almost anything, and you can still surprise yourself, but you know that you can never go back and do some things as well as you could have if you’d started earlier. Fighting is one of those things.
Gottschall did two courageous things in the process of writing The Professor in the Cage. First of all, the man took a fucking MMA fight. That takes a plumper sack than you’ll find between four average football fans. It doesn’t matter if he won or lost. And that courage only reached its pinnacle in the octagon. As he wrote in one of my favorite passages, it would have been much safer to avoid training altogether:
“The very last thing I feel like doing most nights after dinner is getting in a series of fistfights with a bunch of twenty-year-olds — is doing anything requiring strapping armor to my genitals. But since I began work on this book , trading punches with twenty-year-olds has kind of been my job , and so I drag myself to the gym like a shift worker dragging himself to the factory. I limp onto the mat feeling tired and old, and after I warm up and get going . . . I have so much fun. The blubbery, congested sensation of incipient middle age gives way, and I feel young again, and strong. When I’ve competed well, and especially when I’ve held my own in the sparring, I leave the gym feeling so awake, my whole system revving with something purer than a runner’s high. I drive home knowing that I’ve been going through life half asleep, and I feel a euphoric gratitude for my living muscle and bone and blood.”
The visceral joy of a man being a man, of this beautiful thing that we are losing and that fewer and fewer men will ever feel or know or understand — it is right there, exposed and palpable.
The book wasn’t all like that. Gottschall’s accounts of his fears about training and fighting felt overplayed to me, and were a little cringey in spots. It even seemed like he wanted to lose his fight — like it was a kind of good-guy writer’s martyrdom. But he still fought, and I’d buy him a beer for that.
Social courage, on the other hand, is a lesser form of courage, but the metaphorical beatings come from more angles and the bruises hang around longer. If only the bitchy snipings of critics were as clean and simple as a punch in the face…
The second courageous thing Gottschall did was dismiss a lot of civilized groupfeel about gender, men, and violence. While he unconvincingly argued that manly bloodsport is no threat to the feminist project, he convincingly argues that men are and have always been more inclined to violent competition than women, and that it has as much to do with nature as it does with nurture. The increased male tendency to pursue violent competition is not merely verifiable in our species, it is consistent with animals with similar reproductive abilities and behaviors throughout the natural world. “Across species,” he writes, “most male aggression is ultimately tied to a shortage of female reproductive supply relative to male demand.” We do a lot of the same “monkey dances.”
And humanity hasn’t “evolved” past the point where this sort of male violence is no longer necessary, as many spoiled and sheltered airheads like to believe — it is simply contained and suppressed by state-sanctioned violence.
Wrapping up one of several entertaining and informative tangents in the book, this one on the rise and fall of dueling culture, Gottschall makes the point that the disappearance of the kind of honor cultures that made fighting and dueling a normal part of life is not owed so much to the “evolution” or “moral enlightenment” of modern people as it is to the rise of the efficient Leviathan. The highly policed state protects families and property, and punishes men who take matters into their own hands, so demonstrating publicly that you will stand up for yourself is not only unnecessary, but potentially more costly than doing nothing. In early America and pre-20th Century Europe, this was not the case, and it is not the case in failed or weak state pockets of the world where honor cultures thrive in various forms.
In several statements sure to be deemed heretical by his Chardonnay-sipping academic peers, Gottschall sketches out a familiar definition of masculinity that is rooted in both biology and evolutionary psychology. It’s not different everywhere, or completely subjective. The differences are differences of degree. He writes, “Masculinity is simply strength and toughness— of body and mind. There are many valid ways to be a man, things that cultures respect or disrespect, but there is no masculinity without strength.” Check. “…in every culture, men were seen as more active, adventurous, dominant, forceful, independent, and strong. And in every culture except for one (but not always the same one), males were seen as more aggressive, autocratic, daring, enterprising, robust, and stern.” Check. Further:
“stereotypes about masculinity became so entrenched for a reason: they are mainly true. To be timid, muscularly weak, and emotionally shaky is now and has always been unmasculine. Masculinity is not a cultural invention. It is not the result of a conspiracy by men against women. It is a real thing that has evolved over millions of years as a response to the built-in competitive realities of male life.”
Strong, Courageous and Able. He also notes that, everywhere and always, masculinity has been something that needed to be proved through rites of passage. Women simply became women through reproductive maturity, but, “To earn the status of a real man, not an ersatz one, a guy must prove he has the right stuff.” That is to say, he must prove himself to other men. He must earn his reputation, and be willing to defend it. He must have some sense of… Honor. The Professor in the Cage is the first mainstream book I’ve read that verifies the cross-cultural reality that the tactical virtues I listed in The Way of Men — Strength, Courage, Mastery and Honor — are the most basic components of human masculinity as a universal concept.
Gottschall also explores the connection between masculinity and violence, and the lingering desire in men to find something to fight, even if they don’t have to. He compares modern men to Don Quixote. “They conjure dragons just so they can try to kill them,” because something in them still wants to prove, “they have inherited the legacy of their grandfathers, the pure stuff of manhood: courage and strength.”
The Professor in the Cage is supposed to be about MMA, but it is more about masculinity than mixed martial arts. MMA fighters and fans won’t find much they don’t already know, though they may walk away with some academic ammunition for arguments about why they do what they do and like what they like. As a narrative about a nerd learning to fight, I preferred Sam Sheridan’s more straightforward and less self-deprecating A Fighter’s Heart. But as Gottschall and I are in the same age range, his experience was useful in helping me reflect on my own. As a book about masculinity, it deserves a place on a shelf right beside Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness and James Bowman’s Honor: A History. Like Mansfield’s Manliness, though, it ultimately seems to have been written more for women and fellow academics than for a general male audience. It’s more apologia than manifesto, explaining to “others” why men, despite strong efforts to turn them into nice little girls, still persist in being…masculine. It’s not because we fear the mystical power of women, or because we secretly hate women and want to oppress them. Men still want to behave like men because we like ourselves better that way.
I won’t ruin the story of Gottschall’s fight for you, but it is worth noting that the book wasn’t just a stunt. He may never take another real fight, but he’s going to keep training and sparring until he finally leaves the gym on a stretcher.
I’d buy him a beer for that, too.
Readers are enjoying it so far, but please be advised that there is a known quality issue with the chapter “The Perimeter.” The whole chapter is there and can be understood, but a few listeners have reported that there are a few clicks or skips. I will re-record and re-submit that chapter when I can find the time, but for those of you who have been waiting for the audiobook either to share with friends who would rather listen than read, or for your own enjoyment, I wanted to put it out there.
I hope you enjoy my narration — I felt strongly that it had to be me who read the book, since so much of it was written in first person.
As always, your positive and constructive reviews are greatly appreciated. Eventually, as with Amazon, there will be some reviewers who write “one star” reviews without reading the material, because they don’t like whatever they think the book might say. (They are probably right about that…)
I think the audiobook will help the message of The Way of Men expand its audience substantially, and while it is a lot of work, I’d advise other dissident writers to look into the Amazon’s ACX service.
A full chapter sample of the chapter “On Being a Good Man” is now on YouTube.
“I prefer to not to use the words, ‘let’s stop something’. I prefer to say, ‘let’s start something, let’s start the world’.
– Peter Fonda, 2011
Many readers have asked for The Way of Men-themed patches for gear bags, backpacks, jackets, cuts, and so forth. I also wanted some myself, so I created my first patch.
Life comes from Death, Creation from Destruction. The modern world must be plunged into chaos and destroyed to make way for a new age of virility.
Spin the wheel and get the world started.
I used the upward Algiz/Elhaz rune, the elk or elk-sedge rune, to symbolize life, and the downward facing rune to symbolize death.
The first batch of 100 will ship to the Continental US only.
START THE WORLD RUNE PATCH
Total (each): $7
THESE SOLD OUT IN 3 HOURS
I am ordering more, and will make an announcement when a second run is available.
I’d like to thank Justin Garcia, also known as “Master Chim,” and in Middle Earth, “Gimli,” for including me in the 100th episode of his bold and unapologetic Pressure Project podcast. Garcia had me on one of his first episodes, and since then has tirelessly devoted his efforts to talking about the failing state of American manhood and other taboo topics from a pro-strength and masculinity perspective. To put it simply, he and his guests approach the issues of the day like a man would approach them. Episode #100 is one of the best podcast conversations I’ve been a part of, on par with the Art of Manliness podcast and Mating Grounds with Tucker Max.
The other guest on the show was Thomas Kier from Sayoc Tactical. I’ve met Tom in person, so it was good to see him again at least on-screen and talk about tribalism, violence, multiculturalism, feminism, masculinity and self-reliance with him.
One thing that stuck with me after the podcast was Tom’s discussion of “feeders” and “receivers.” He uses the concept to teach an aggressive mindset, but it certainly has broader applications. In particular, it made me think of our relationship with “the media” and how, as I mentioned in the podcast, people who we wouldn’t respect in person are able to drive our discussions. I noted this a year or so ago in my piece “I’m Sorry, I Just Don’t Keep Up With The Ladies’ Magazines” for Counter-Currents. Since then, while I sometimes agree to write about a “hot topic” or get caught up in the outrage of the moment, I’ve tried to avoid “reacting” to the daily clickbait. I would never pay attention to someone like Lindy West or Micheal Moore or Anita Sarkeesian or Jessica Valenti or any of he finger-wagging SJW fags at Gawker media. Their opinions have zero value to me, and their interests are in conflict with my own. As long as we remain “receivers” of their “attacks,” we will always be reacting and defending — even when we are “mocking” and “criticizing” them. They are still calling the shots. I want to be a feeder of ideas, not a receiver. I want to produce and demonstrate and take action, not merely “comment.” To create meaningful change, those of us who see the world differently and who want to live differently need to become feeders.
I think it should be LE Voie, just on general principle…
Today I received my author copies of Éditions Le Retour aux Sources‘ French language translation of The Way of Men with Introduction by Piero San Giorgio, author of Survive: The Economic Collapse. They look great, though of course I can barely read a word of my own writing, which is a strange feeling.
If you speak French, here is a spirited video introduction by Piero San Giorgio.
I have finally started writing my new book, “Becoming A Barbarian,” though I have no idea when that will be finished. Hopefully before the end of the year.