Modern Contemplation of the Runes: Hagilaz


HagilazHail is the whitest of grain;
it is whirled from heaven's loft
tossed about by wind gusts,
then melts into water.

Continuing (after quite a delay) our series examining modern pagan practice via the Elder Futhark, we move on to the ninth rune, Hagilaz. As with the others, the rune-poem above gives us a place to start.

Both ancient and modern interpretations focus on the unpredictable and often capricious destruction that come from hailstorms, but also make mention of the aftermath as seeds of new beginnings. An appropriate parallel concept for those who use the tarot is The Tower, where established structures come crashing down. This can be terrifying, but not necessarily bad if the structures that were destroyed weren't good structures.

So that lends itself to two questions: Which institutions, systems, or ideas should be destroyed? And how should they be destroyed?

Rage Against the Machine

One aspect of modern paganism is that it tends to attract those who want to rebel against the established norms. So quite naturally, many of those who get interested rebel against any institutions they encounter, including pagan institutions. This line of thinking seems to be, more-or-less: "A decision-making structure? People with authority? Annual budgets? It's gotta go!"

The trouble with this, of course, is that some of those institutions might be useful or even praiseworthy. Automatically opposing institutions, like automatically supporting institutions, is not a good idea. Non-institutional systems of thought and organization fall into the same category: some of them work well, some of them don't, some need to be broken apart, some don't. So there needs to be a way to determine which ones to keep, and which ones to let fall by the wayside. That is a challenging proposition, but there are some reasonably good questions to ask:

  1. Does the group or idea pose a threat to its adherents or others? A good place to start is the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF), which asks a series of questions about the behavior of the group and its leaders to try to determine how dangerous they are. Generally speaking, good institutions don't have to bully or threaten people, nor do they attack other people rather than win them over.
  2. Does the group / idea encourage unethical behavior? This is not the same thing as behavior you disagree with. For example, if you're a polytheist, and there's a group out there that is duotheist, that doesn't qualify as unethical behavior. Whereas a group that sexually exploits people does.
  3. Can it be reformed? For example, if the group in question has elected leadership, it would be potentially reformable simply by electing new leadership. Or of the school of thought generally allows itself to be updated to match new evidence or other incoming ideas, that might be potentially reformable.
  4. What good is it doing? If you hate something, but it seems to be as powerful as ever, then you should look into why it sticks around. Most of the time, groups and ideologies at least appear to be doing something worthwhile, which is why they've become powerful, and you need to understand what it is that its supporters value.
  5. Can you just keep it away? If what you are thinking needs destroying isn't actively trying to stop you from just living your life without them, then you might well be able to simply ignore them and do something different.

So after going through this process, you now are absolutely sure that there's a group or an idea that is dangerous, unethical, unreformable, and useless. It's really gotta go away.

Destruction and Mayhem Made Easy

If something really does need to be destroyed, then the next obvious question is how to go about doing it. We can't always be so lucky as to have a lightning bolt from the sky dispatch our enemies, so other methods are needed. Ideally, those other methods will cause a minimum of damage to those not involved in the conflict, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. Some of the common techniques used:

  • Discrediting: With both logical arguments and emotional appeals, the ideas that are fundamental to what is being destroyed are challenged, questioned, and otherwise demonstrated to not hold up under scrutiny. This causes it to lose support of the population at large. Ultimately, it's up to you to convince anybody who cares that the other guys are wrong, either factually or morally.
  • Undermining: This is where you work on removing any supports your target may have, be they financial, political, social, or physical.
  • Divesting: Arguably a subset of undermining, this is specifically about moving financial capital and other economic resources away from your target, so they are less able to do whatever it is they're doing.
  • Legal Attack: Find evidence of criminal behavior or civil liability (if they're worth destroying, this almost definitely exists). Hire lawyers, or find a lawyer willing to take your case pro bono, and use the court system to go after them.
  • Physical Non-Violent Protest: This is the now-classic Gandhi-style civil disobedience, where you actively defy the authority of whatever you're up against and prevent them from doing what they want to do without using violence against them.
  • Violent Physical Attack: This is bomb-throwing, guns blazing, kinds of attacks. This obviously carries all sorts of repercussions both to yourself and completely innocent bystanders, but that doesn't mean that this means of destruction doesn't happen.

With each move, you need to be aware that there can be a great deal of collateral damage, including hurting yourself. So before you go about righteously destroying things, you had better make darn sure that you're right that the thing you're destroying deserves it. And make certain to plan carefully.

The Aftermath

As with the traditional interpretations of Hagilaz, the chaos that results from successful destruction is a remarkably fertile time. Because resources are no longer going towards what was destroyed, more resources can go to new causes. The walls and restrictions that used to be in place are no longer constraining you or anyone else, so new options and new directions will be available to you. Sometimes, that result can be more than worth it.

At the same time, the destruction bears a significant cost to yourself and others. Blowing it all up should be reserved for cases where that really is the only option.

And here's the really difficult part: You really don't know what the aftermath will really be. You will certainly know what you want it to be, but just because you want it to turn out a particular way, doesn't mean it will. Historically speaking, many revolutions ended up going in a wildly different direction than was intended by their participants. Hagilaz tells you that sometimes that is the only way, but it's not a decision you should make lightly. After all, the hail that hits the villain's crops also hits yours.

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