Land, Home, and the Gods
We cannot return to our home, any more than we can return to the wholeness that was taken from us. But we can reclaim something of our inheritance. We may light the fire in the hearth, call the gods and spirits to us, and make a new home for ourselves.
To Frigg, I address these words.
Beloved, Who Suffered Two Griefs,
Whose ashen box and secrets are tended by Volla,
In Whose Name Hlin brings peace and rest,
At Whose command Gna flies upon the Hoof-Kicker,
By Whose grace gentle Lofn brings union,
By Whose good counsel the women of the Winnili
Put their hair down in the likeness of beards and were thus rewarded with victory.
Receive these words
And grant that my hearthfire always burns brightly.
“When going back makes sense, you are going ahead.”
-- Wendell Berry
Make the home the center of your life. For so many, home is lost in memory and dream. Nostalgia, a devastating longing. A force beyond our ken. What is it about the idea of home that is at once so comforting and so uncanny? It is precisely that link with those subterranean currents within us. The notion of home, so often retreating from us, brings us back to long forgotten memories. Not of our own childhoods, necessarily, although of course, the dollhouse world of the child is the model for the great world beyond. But the life of meaning and connection severed by industrial society. For where else is the power of the pre modern world felt more strongly than in the home and in the idea of the home. We cannot return to our home, any more than we can return to the wholeness that was taken from us. But we can reclaim something of our inheritance. We may light the fire in the hearth, call the gods and spirits to us, and make a new home for ourselves.
If we do not make a space within us and our lives for the gods and spirits to dwell, can we be surprised when we do not find them? Home is where the gods are. Home is not where the bones of ancestors lie, for the greater part of them dwells within us. We have all been driven hence, a vagabond humanity, and there is none who can find his home without seeking. Come upon your gods and you will need to build them a home. Gods and memories need a home with shadowy corners, nooks and crannies, garrets, attics, and cellars. They are tired and worn and are in need of refuge. They need places to sink down and sleep among the cobwebs and dust. And we will keep the fire burning on the hearth and fill the rooms with good smells and laughter and light. This is what Jung meant when he said that the spirits of the home loved old iron pots and pans. So much so was the divine alive in these simple old tools, that Jung developed friendships with the pots and pans at Bollingen Tower.
What kinship can the gods claim with things of steel and silicon? Veins of iron pulse in the earth, such things are known to gods and spirits. The home binds us to the earth and through it, to the gods. Agrarian philosopher Wendell Berry writes: “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.” In other words, the gods dwell in the soil and we find our home in the soil. The pagan is the country dweller. The godly world is not to be found in the cities. Home cannot be made of concrete and asphalt. After all, if we are made by the place that we come from, what manner of thing shall we be when we live and die in cities that stretch to the horizon? Sure enough, we are become things that do not need soil, do not need home, do not need gods. Not soul and blood, but machine. And the logic of the machine is war against life. Berry: “It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.” Declare for the creature within! For land, home, and the gods!
As Wendell Berry and many others have observed, the modern industrial home is little more than a site of consumption. It is not a place for creation, for production. There is no joy in it, only distraction, which passes for entertainment. The energy of life is expended outside the home. The business of living, we pay experts to manage for us. To grow and cook our food. To build what we require. To create what we desire. The home, understood as a place of creative energies, on the other hand, necessarily connects us to the earth and to the divine. Hands plunged into soil, planting seeds. Hands bathed in blood, slaughtering livestock. Creation and destruction are alive inside of us. We have sacrificed everything to escape struggle, never understanding that struggle is what gives us meaning. It is struggle that connects us to the earth and gods.
Modernity and industrialism, we believe, frees us from work but in truth, all it does is deprive our work of any meaning. There has never been a more overworked human being than the industrialized one. Work becomes labor, crushing the body and soul. The idea of the home retreats into the world of dreams, while we are bled dry to pay for the meanest and most squalid tenements. Let the home and the idea of the home become a pillar of strength. Let the home become a site of defiance, a bold denial of industrial society. Let the home be made into a bulwark against the modern world.
Make the home the center of your life. Economy, of course, originally referred to the management of the household. The global market, inseparable from industrialism, in this regard, is opposed by the agricultural home. Home work does not occur in the marketplace. Nobody is making money or profiting by your work except for yourself and your family and kin. Cooking, growing food, cleaning, chopping wood, raising children, arts and crafts. Industrial society shifts this work away from the home. But when we work where we live, we become more profoundly connected to both our work and the place we inhabit. Such work, the work of the home, is rooted in the cycles of the natural world, and as such honors the gods.
The human world is in ruins. It will not get better. The sooner we can withdraw from it, the better. Timothy Leary was right when he urged young people to “drop out” in 1966. His message is all the more profoundly true today. Life in urban, industrial society has no future. The modern world has failed on all levels. Capitalism and industrialism cannot be reformed. The gods have fled. Whether or not we can become completely independent of industrial society is irrelevant. The fact that it is difficult and perhaps impossible to utterly separate should not be used as an argument against withdrawal. Connection to the gods and the land is ultimately more important than material self-sufficiency. To whatever extent you are compelled and able, withdraw from society and make the home the center of your life.