Grifters, Gods, and Disreputable Old MenPosted by VI
So. There I am, minding my own business, lying in my sickbed, surfing the painkiller tides, on Wednesday. And what happens? I see Gordon post about Kingliness and Jupiter, and fall into reading a nice little back and forth betwixt him and Jason Miller here, and here. You should probably read them, because they’re good posts with valid points, and if you’re into those points, go and buy The Chaos Protocols and Financial Sorcery respectively. Then, for the triple? Get Money Magic: Mastering Prosperity in its True Element, by Frater UD.
Pipe those into your brainmeat, and then watch as your perception of influence gets reshaped. Because, quite succinctly, it’s not about the money. (I don’t get paid for plugging books, for one.)
Anyway, I’m lying in bed on Wednesday, and I’m reading the back and forth when, as sometimes happens, I find myself propelled into the realms of synchronicity – the Cosmic Coincidence Control Centre spoken of by Robert Anton Wilson seems to spend time favouring me with high density bursts of Meaning, every so often.
Dozing every now and then between the paragraphs, I found my mind drawn to a line from Tacitus that, if you’re a Heathen, gets thrown about, quite a bit:
Mercury is the deity whom they chiefly worship, and on certain days they deem it right to sacrifice to him even with human victims. Hercules and Mars they appease with more lawful offerings. Tacitus, Germania
The barbarian Germanic tribes, being uncivilized oiks in the eyes of the Romans, didn’t worship Jupiter. Instead, they chiefly worshipped Mercury – a figure that scholars generally agree was some Continental Wodan/Woden/Odin analogue, with Mars being Tyr/Tiw, and Hercules being Thor/Thunor/Donar (it’s the club/hammer, see?)
No Jupiter for them. Instead, we have a rather different scenario – note the remark about lawful offerings? Their chief deity enjoys offerings which are unlawful to the Romans, which isn’t too far a stretch to regarding it as criminal. Now granted, this is almost certainly the classic blood-libel against outsiders, but still, there’s something here.
It’s something that’s puzzled scholars for many a year too. After all, linguistically, Tyr is closer to Zeus – suggesting a Sky-Fatherdom might have been part of Indo-Europeam mythemes until something shifted:
Tuesday (n.)third day of the week, Old English tiwesdæg, from Tiwes, genitive of Tiw “Tiu,” from Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz “god of the sky,” the original supreme deity of ancient Germanic mythology, differentiated specifically as Tiu, ancient Germanic god of war, from PIE *deiwos “god,” from root *dyeu- “to shine” (see diurnal). Compare Old Frisian tiesdei, Old Norse tysdagr, Swedish tisdag, Old High German ziestag.
The day name (second element dæg, see day) is a translation of Latin dies Martis (source of Italian martedi, French Mardi) “Day of Mars,” from the Roman god of war, who was identified with Germanic Tiw (though etymologically Tiw is related to Zeus), itself a loan-translation of Greek Areos hemera. In cognate German Dienstag and Dutch Dinsdag, the first element would appear to be Germanic ding, þing “public assembly,” but it is now thought to be from Thinxus, one of the names of the war-god in Latin inscriptions.
Tiw/Tyr is there in Norse Myth, but the chief god as given by Snorri in the Eddas is Odin. To him is accorded the title Allfather, patron of kings, nobles, and poets – while archaeology suggests that the ancient Icelander common folk were more fond of Thor. Further confusing to some is that this Norse patriarch is, quite frankly, a dodgy geezer. While Zeus, as Jupiter’s Greek forerunner, is fond of getting his end away with mortals, he’s still a pater famillias in some senses – guarantor of the social order.
Odin, by contrast, is a morally ambiguous conman. A mad, murderous, shape-shifting, knowledge-hungry gender ambiguous necromancer, wizard and wisdombringer, who’s fond of getting laid and leading an undead band of hunters and/or warriors in some grand kosmic multilevel game which manifests variously as a battle, story, poetry, and liberation from the forces of oppression and ignorance.
Nor is this just a Norse thing – what little reference we have to the Anglo-Saxon Woden suggests he was a lone wanderer or traveler, unless he brought his band of undead hunters with him. Recent scholarship (2014) in the European Journal of Archaeology even suggests that the famous Sutton Hoo helmet may have had had analogues across Scandinavia, analogues which had, amongst other things, eyes struck out.
Neil Price and Paul Mortimer, in their paper An Eye For Odin: Divine Role-Playing In The Age of Sutton Hoo raise the possibility of the helmet being one-eyed in certain light conditions – specifically the low-light conditions of a medieval mead-hall, and that the ruler as helm-bearer might mimic, symbolise, or somehow host the one-eyed god. When we add this to the realisation that certain Anglo-Saxon royal dynasties traced descent directly from Woden, we may begin to wonder what precisely kingship meant to these Germanic peoples. It seems a long way away from certain ideas of kingship we moderns have been fed by endless costume dramas, doesn’t it?
Suddenly, it seems as if might have to challenge our assumptions. Even within so-called traditions of monarchy, things are far from what they first appear – as Gordon puts it:
I pass palaces on my way to work. I’ve attended the same parties as princes. They don’t dress like real estate agents in strip clubs. That’s what a poor person’s view of a rich person looks like, and I said as much to Sef the other year. (I’m an amazing friend.) You see pictures of the Queen tootling about Balmoral in her old Range Rover and she looks like a bag lady who just hotwired a student car. Which, funnily enough, she could actually do, being a war mechanic and all.
Unlike Gordon, for myself personally as a British magician, I’m not allergic to gods. If I was allergic to gods, I’d be sneezing all the bloody time, and the state of my skin would be absolutely terrible, because this place is full of them. Just like it’s full of sheep and rainy days and crumbling stately houses and megaliths that are five thousand years old. They’re part of the furniture, part of the climate. To steal an analogy from certain Eastern philosophies, they’re nothing special, nothing inherently superior. In the same way a tiger or the Ebola virus isn’t superior, they just are – a particular order of beings.
Maybe it’s because I’m the son of a clergyman, and while not having visited palaces, I’ve taken tea with the local landowning family that can trace its lineage back to god knows when, while on the same day drunk with farmers and fishermen and builders. Being Church-By-Association can get you rubbing elbows with unlikely folks – the Church and State are, just about, still a thing here. The Queen is, after all Defender of the Faith, initiated in a temple by a high priest.
If you start thinking mythically, and hence magically, things are a lot odder than one might first suppose.
So, it’s Wednesday (not Tuesday, mark you) and I’m lying in bed dealing with the pain of an unhealed wound.
(Yes. I know. The Fisher King resonances have been bugging me for years. Don’t even get me started on the Lombards, the Quinotaur or the Merovingians.)
As is my wont when bedbound, I turn to Netflix for distraction, and currently am making my way through the BBC’s Hustle, which is all about a gang of grifters, or con-men. (I am also, unsurprisingly, fond of the US show Leverage) I surface from another morphine-induced doze to find I’ve missed the beginning of the third season, and now we’re on episode 3, entitled:
Ties That Bind Us.
I come around specifically ,just as we’re introduced to the character James Whitaker Wright III – grandson to a financier and conman who conned British banks in the 19th century by floating non-existent goldmines on the London Stock Exchange. The bank in particular he targeted is called Cornfoots – possibly a reference to Coutts, a real private bank founded in 1692 and patronised by the British Royal Family and other wealthy clients, including the company which owns the land my flat is on.
(Hurrah for paying ground rent the Right Sort TM(!))
So, the episode already has all the threes. Fair enough. Except, well…erm, yes. Forgive my terrible GIF-ing but it’s the only way to convey my surprise and mirth:
Bearded Man approaches young fellow about a ring? How very Gandalf meets Southern gent, I thought drowsily, amused at my own cleverness:
“Try your hand against a real crossroader?” Wait…what? I stopped, blinked, and hit rewind.
Nope, still said cross-roader.
“Bite my own eye.” Wait, this is a show about grifters, I know that con from somewhere, I’m sure…It’s not..? No…Can’t be, surely?
Oh. Oh no. I don’t believe it either, Danny.
“I’m there, minding my own business, and then he shows up.” As pretty much every person I know who has interacted with the being I call the Old Man will testify, this description pretty much nails it.
There is a reason The Chaos Protocols has a crossroad pact with the Devil in it. If you were to bundle up everything I don’t like about this world, about monoculture, and build a temple to it, it would be the temple to Jupiter I see in the Roman forum whenever I go there. (Or, at least, what little remains of it. Hail chaos.)
Now, see, in the book Gordon mentions Loki-as-trickster, but here’s the thing – his blood-brother Odin is actually attested as taking crossroad pacts in 1692 in return for money, as well as data from 15th century witch-trials in Sweden. There’s even a fourteenth century runestick which calls upon Odin as “the greatest of all devils.” Add to this, a story recorded by a man born in 1926, of an an early 19th century hunter who was advised to make a pact with Odin to improve his hunting luck!
Even allowing for cultural shifts and Christianization, there is still a traceable link to Odin-at-crossroads-as-gallows-site from ancient times. Such things are attested in the Eddas – this god of Kings and Nobles is no Jupiter. The interpetatio romana is accurate as far as it goes – Mercury is god of trade, thieves and wealth, so comparisons can be made. Yet for these barbarians, at least for a large swathe of history, this was the god greatest respect was paid to, to the extent of human sacrifice.
I’ve little time for nationalism in the form of borders and politics. There’s a reason this blog is called Cold Albion – it refers to the mythic poetic wild power which dwells in the land. I’ve got a lot out of Jason’s Strategic Sorcery course, but for me, if there’s a kingness in this island, it’s shot through with that barbarian grifterdom. London may be Roman, but it sits on older wellings of power. Is it any wonder that the City is full of thieves and geezers in sharp suits? And is it any wonder that there are poor folk who still go to the crossroads, or magicians seeking knowledge?
Not, I think, too hard to comprehend this other Kingship when our psyches are also suffused with Arthur and his warband, only latterly civilised into knights. Not too hard when the god of kings is a lonely wanderer, an unexpected guest, leading his rowdy band into civilised homes and catapulting us out into adventures of terror and wonder.
You can keep your Pater Famillias, thanks. I’ll stick with the grifter god who comes on raven wings, bringing the storm as he walks between raindrops, the mad capricious fellow who makes and breaks kings. I’ll keep the bloody Mercury with the bone grin, pipe and drum. The masked, strange-horned dancing devil with one eye who poses us the gnostic riddle of our own death.
He’s been running the gig for thousands of years, after all.
Catch you at the crossroads, friends.