Hanged God Calling on Line One: an Unexpected Interview

Some time ago I promised my wife I would stop meditating in the car. I was sorry to do it, because some of my very best meditations happened then, but I understood her concern. I’m willing to concede that perhaps deep meditation is not really safe at 70 miles per hour…

sixarguments4aBut on Tuesday I broke my promise. It wasn’t my fault, though — I swear! I was driving along, minding my own business, and a spirit quite firmly forced himself into my full meditative attention. Here’s how it happened.

Blindr, the Blind One

I was heading west away from Boston on I-90, just a few miles past the junction with 128, when I noticed that in the rear view mirror there was a car with one headlight broken.

Now, I thought this was odd, because earlier that day a friend of mine at work had told a funny story in which he and his wife were out driving and saw a car exactly like his wife’s car, down to the make, model, color, gaudy mirror decoration, and broken headlight. The only way they knew their car hadn’t been stolen was that the license plate didn’t match. What an odd coincidence!

Of course, many people say that there are no coincidences. Was it possible, I wondered, that this car behind me connected to the story I heard earlier? Was some spirit or other trying to get my attention? But what kind of spirit would try to get my attention with broken headlights?

Wait — Odin has one eye…

The Attacking Rider

Then I had a great rushing feeling, of speed above and beyond the velocity of the car, and a very powerful tingling sensation shot from the top of my head down my spine and back up again, and it felt like my hair was standing on end. Then I was right in meditation mode, and there was Odin, smiling cryptically…

Now generally the only gods that I’d contacted were ones that I had specifically called out to (Apollo and Cernunnos); so Odin’s sudden arrival was very unexpected. But Odin said that in fact he’d been in contact sort of surreptitiously for some time, but he hadn’t shown himself openly because I had been subconsciously pushing him away. He said that the two of us were a natural match. I bristled at that — I am not a warrior at all, and I don’t subscribe to the ethos surrounding honorable combat. I’m close to the ethics of Tolstoy and Gandhi — no violence, not even in self-defense.

“All right, set aside war,” he said. “I’m not just a god of war, you know; I’m also the god of inspiration.” And with that he sent me a wave of what I can only describe as a light delirium, a high roaring giddiness, intoxication, chaotic but filled with the pregnant energies of creation. I knew that feeling, I’d felt it before, sometimes, when I was writing.

Ok, I thought. Fair enough.

“And then there’s divination,” said Odin. “You and I are seers.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve got any talent for it,” I muttered.

“Then why are you writing a series of articles on the Tolkien Tarot spread?”

“Oh! Well, you know, that’s just, uh…”

“And then there’s the runes. I discovered them, I gave writing to humanity. And you are a linguist. That must count for something between us.” Now he was laughing at me.

“Ok, fine, sure…”

Then he sent me a flash of fire-thought from his blood brother, Loki. When he did that, I recognized it as well — it was a virtual a mirror of some of my ‘darker’ thoughts. (If you want to know what that was like, get in your car, put in Led Zeppelin, turn the volume to 11, and drive 100 mph. Be sure to laugh maniacally at appropriate times.)

“Now,” Odin said finally, “about this warrior thing. I understand your problem with physical violence. But remember that not all battles are physical.”

True enough. So in the end I had to agree that there was indeed some affinity between us; I lost that argument. Which I guess was a pretty much foregone conclusion, considering who I was arguing with.


Odin said a few other things before he went on his way; most notably he encouraged me to return to my fiction projects, and to put them up on this web site where they might find an audience. I haven’t done that before because I didn’t think they fit with the theme of the site, but now I’ve added them on their own page. I hope they’ll be unobtrusive, and not detract from the overall site experience. I’d love some feedback on that, if you feel so moved.

After he was ‘gone’, I wondered why Odin had chosen that day to arrive. I supposed I must have been open to him in some way that I hadn’t been before. Then I remembered that about a week previously, I’d had my first session of craniosacral therapy with John Rollinson (who, by the way, was excellent — I can’t recommend him highly enough). During this session, he led me in a meditation in which I was able to deal with a major blocking issue regarding my father… And of course Odin is the ultimate Norse father figure.

All things considered, it was an exciting commute.



  1. Jeff,

    What an interesting story. I’ll be heading over to the fiction section right about now.

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    Great, Vitor! Thanks for checking it out! 🙂

  3. Hi –
    I linked into your story from a Shift Your Spirits article which a friend forwarded. I was floored to see your 1-headlight/Odin connection. I have just recently suspected my own connection to Odin through reading “The Fires of Asgard” (also thanks to a friend) and realizations of past events. But somehow I missed the one-eye thing. A few years ago I suddenly had a streak of seeing cars ‘staring’ at me with only 1 headlight on. It became some what freakish. One was on a truck that was shaking so hard from its engine that the headlight appeared to be ‘winking’ the entire time we were across the intersection from each other. Hard not to notice. I had no idea what to think of it, especially after seeing a rash of them the prior evening. After reading your article I think it was an experience to (pre-emptively?) confirm what I am now coming to understand (This has happened a lot – I have an experience that I can’t explain and years later realize, with a jolt, that it confirms something new that is entering my awareness for the ‘first’ time). Very surreal.
    I wonder if I was a druid/ witch/healer in a prior life, as the coincidences of information and the ‘weighty’ feel of them is baffling otherwise. Thanks very much for sharing your story.
    Peace & Chocolate!

  4. ps =
    is there a relationship between the stories about Odin, the hanged one, and Prometheus? Totally different cultures, I know,…. but…

  5. Fascinating, Lori! I think it’s great that you’re drawing these connections between your past and your present like that. I’m sure it happens to all of us, but most of us aren’t paying enough attention to notice! I’d love to know if Odin makes any further attempts to get your attention, and how that plays out…

    I don’t know enough about mythology to know to what extent Prometheus and Odin are connected. Certainly the idea of a god making a sacrifice to bring knowledge to humanity is a compelling story they have in common; and the Greek and Norse pantheons are distantly related, so it’s possible that the stories have a common historical origin. There are big differences, too, of course — Odin’s sacrifice was a voluntary one, and he sacrificed himself to himself, hanging from the World Tree; while Prometheus of course was simply punished. On another level, though, the whole idea of a suffering god, a sacrificed god, a dying god, is an ancient one at the very heart of Indo European mythologies. I read somewhere that the very oldest known Indo-European myth involved two twin brother-gods, one of which had to kill the other; the dead one became Lord of the Dead, and the living one became the Sky-God.

  6. On December 28th, I found a connection to Odin in a similar way. I was lost and alone, in a suburb of Philadelphia. I silently asked for the wisdom to find my way home. After three or four turns, I became aware that every time I had made a turn, three or four cars later there was what we call a padiddle. A one-eyed car. I felt a warm feeling as if my father had told me he was proud of me (which has always been a rare occurance). I was pretty sure I was going in the correct general direction, but there was no place to stop to consult a map. Finally I came to a convenience store where I pulled out the map, confirmed that I had made all the correct turns with only a few more to make. Still, with the remainder of the turns, each was followed by Odin’s confirmation that it was correct, and he was helping me home. In January, at an Asatru blot in which the second round was to whichever gods we wished to honor, I offered a map to the fire and honored Odin.

    Since then, I’ve been trying to learn about this connection. Can I be a druid and honor Odin? Why today, probably minutes after you posted it, did I type “odin druid” into Google and find your timely piece? There is no such thing as a coincidence.

    I am looking forward to reading more of your journal, but I just had to comment on this entry now before turning in.


  7. Jeff Lilly says:

    Hi Jingle,

    Well, I’m very glad you commented! That’s a great story, and I’m grateful for it, because it lends even more confirmation to my own experience.

    (I wonder where the term ‘padiddle’ comes from? My wife, who’s from New Jersey mostly, calls them that as well. Where I grew up in North Carolina, we called them ‘popeyes’.)

    Can you be a druid and honor Odin? Certainly; the druids of the ADF honor all manner of gods from different Indo-European pantheons, since they recognize the underlying commonality of all the cultures and practices under that umbrella. Erik, a frequent visitor here, is member of that organization and a Hellenistic druid.

    I could have sworn that the ADF had a great article up on their site about being a Norse druid, but I can’t find it now. Jingle, maybe if you poke around on there, you can locate it; and if anyone reading this knows what I’m babbling about, could you let us know?…:-)

  8. I am not so worried about the druid end of it. OBOD (the order I belong to) is very non-dogmatic. I have been honoring the Norse Gods for the last year and learning with an Asatru group who understands I’m a searcher. The question for me is more about whether or not the Norse reconstructionists will have a problem with me continuing on my druid path concurrently with the Norse. I don’t want to give up either. I guess that’s something that will come up at the next gathering. I guess that’s what spurred my search which led me to your story, confirming that either I’m not crazy for thinking Odin is talking to me in padiddles (in California we called them Popeyes but I took over calling them padiddles from my teenage daughter and her friends), or we both are.

    By the way, there have been many other calls from Odin since then, bringing out that “warrior” in me that has been hidden in my desire to avoid conflict. It is a good thing.

  9. Jeff Lilly says:

    Ok, I see your issue now. I don’t know any Norse reconstructionists, so I can’t advise you there. The Celtic reconstructionists I know would not have any problem with the analogous situation, though, as far as I know. In any case, good luck — and let me know how it goes!

  10. In my experience, reconstructionists are a lot more understanding that restorationists. If you can’t find a piece, make one to hold the structure together until you can find the one that fits.

    Odin says that I’m quick to act, but slow to react. If something isn’t in my model, then it has to be placed in my model before I’ll confront it.

    Then, I was given a model of Ragnarök… A great battlefield surrounding a fort, with the strongest out front, populated by those who went out to engage their enemies… Behind that, tents with generals calling the action and getting intelligence from the soldiers who had spent their time alive in those same tents… Each person in the tents carrying a sword, even if to hold the enemy from the gates for just five more minutes. Behind that, the gates, manned by those who stood strong in defense rather than strong in offense. Behind that, the militia… the people who stayed in occupied territory and subverted their new overlords. Each one asking for just five more minutes from the line in front of them… each one hoping to give five more minutes to the line behind them.

    And all this to a man who is having a crisis of faith… He pointed to my tent and said that he would be proud to hear my voice call out the enemy positions. This to a man who has devoted his life to peace.

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Adam, I have to admit that your comment here made a lot more sense when I read your latest blog entry, which was extraordinary.

    I’m going to reply at length there.

  12. Fascinating story Jeff. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Thanks for the encouragement, Matt… And thanks for reading!

  14. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into a meditative state while driving, isn’t it?

    You said:

    get in your car, put in Led Zeppelin, turn the volume to 11, and drive 100 mph. Be sure to laugh maniacally at appropriate times.

    Wouldn’t that be inappropriate times? Might add more atmosphere to the situation. 🙂

    Either way, your description/comparison of Loki and your “darker” thoughts cracks me up. It also furthers my idea that Loki’s actions perpetuate unpredictable outcomes rather then him being truly mischievous.

    Thanks for sharing your conversation with Odin, Jeff.

  15. Jeff Lilly says:

    Nichole, Hmm… Come to think of it, are there appropriate times to laugh maniacally?…

    Loki’s character is very much a closed book to me (other than the brief flash Odin showed me). Do you agree that his character seems to change over the course of the Norse stories, from a relatively well-meaning trickster in the beginning to genuine evil at the end?…

  16. Don’t think that I would go as far as saying genuine evil, but there is some malicious intent there in the end. While I haven’t delved too far into studying this, I do think that the Norse stories show us some character changes in Loki over time.

    But here’s the thing: by putting the pieces of the stories together, as well as guessing at the possible underlying feelings of the various situations, one realizes that there are a lot of misunderstandings and resentments on both sides. And those sides seem to be most the other gods vs. Loki. (And let’s face it, when the whole world seems to be against you, you’re not going to have an entirely sane reaction because your world view has been skewed. Not that that is any type of excuse.)

    A lot of the stories that involve Loki seem to show him as getting excited about something and then taking spontaneous action without consulting the other gods with the consequences being something that the other gods do not like or approve of. They usually seem to make a group decision, spoken or unspoken, against Loki and he volunteers or gets volunteered to handle the problem (which he does). Yet the resentment builds on both sides. (And let’s face it, when there is social support given to a group decision, right or wrong, that is the decision that wins out. With this in mind, it means that Loki is going to lose his case every time even if he means well.)

    And don’t forget that the gods are told that Loki will betray them in the end. It’s almost a Judas type situation, except everyone knows who will be doing the betraying early on. And let’s face it, if you believe that someone will betray you, and you have all these built up resented situations to back up the possibility, it just furthers more resentment. Again, on both sides. And if everyone thinks of you as such, might as well go to the “dark side,” right? This is the predicament that I think Loki is in. (Again, I’m not saying this as an excuse for his resulting behavior.)

    I see Loki as being frustrated in the end and, being the spontaneous reactor he has always been, he belly flops into the character that has been semi-created for him by the ones that are closest to him.

    We all have roles that we are pushed and pulled into within our various circles of friends. And those roles could be different for every group you are involved with depending on your interactions with them and their personalities. But if you don’t like the role you have been given, you always have the option to distance yourself from that group. But Loki doesn’t do that or maybe can’t do that. Instead, he turns against them, bringing disastrous consequences to all involved.

    Of course, I want to state that this is my own take coming from what I’ve learned by reading some of the lore mixed with what I know about psychology. As I’ve not talked to any other Heathens regarding this, I’m not sure what their take on it would be.

    (Speaking of psychology, this might be a good subject for a dissertation in social psychology. Making a mental note…..)

  17. Jeff Lilly says:

    Wow… You make a compelling case! If you’re right, it’s a lot easier to understand why Loki’s wife would be devoted and sympathetic enough to protect him from the poison dripped onto his face by the serpent…

    I’m reminded of an illustration of Loki we have in a children’s collection of Norse tales. It shows Loki standing with his three most notorious children, Fenrir, Hel, and the Midgard Serpent; and he’s got his arms around them, with a clear expression of innocent fatherly pride on his face, while the children look on him adoringly. It’s quite a disturbing picture — the simple, powerful emotions of parenthood and childhood juxtaposed with the frightfulness of the children!

    I think I read somewhere that Loki does have Heathen followers these days, although he never did in ancient Norse times.

  18. Yes, but even as she protects him, it is a imperfect protection. When she takes the bowl away to empty the poison, it drips on his face.

    One might ask whether she has the right to protect him, being that he had so many transgressions against the other gods. But we do tend to shield our significant others/spouses against things that may hurt them, even we can’t shield them from everything. And we side with them even when they are wrong and despite the fact they are wrong. This especially is true when the situation involves other people.

    There are a few people in forums and such that say they have an affinity to Loki. But you are right in that scholars have the understanding that Loki wasn’t worshiped in the past.

    What book was that illustration in? I’m curious to see it.

  19. ADF has a Northern “kindred” (culturally-specific interest group) that is fairly active… you can see some Norse-specific ADF rituals at http://www.adf.org/rituals/norse/

    On Prometheus: My personal belief is that he *did* sacrifice himself willingly – that he knew the price he would pay for doing what he felt he had to do. Which makes sense if he indeed created humanity, as one version of the cosmology has it.

  20. Beautifully written, S. Nichole. I vote ‘yes’ for that dissertation subject.
    I am getting such a charge reading all these posts and insights. I am so glad I found this site.
    Thank you, Eric, for your reading on Prometheus — I agree. Did you realize there is a Hindu relation (which is why I’m wondering about this Odin connection) which also connects Prometheus and his consort (in the Hindu tales) to Orion and Pleiades, which they visited between ‘jobs’, so to speak? Another ‘cruxified’ god, Osiris is connected to Orion, the hunter (archer?). I wonder if in Norse mythology there is a similar connection? I have no idea what connection Pleiades has, but I suppose everything is connected in the end. It’s just weird sometimes!
    Another question – I used to think of these old stories as merely myths or parables – which certainly work on that level too. But then a friend admited he has been visited by Odin and some of the other gods in dreamstate or meditation, and they’ve interacted with him in ways similar to Jeff’s story. And I’ve had similar experiences that I’m still trying to make sense of. Is your feeling there were really living immortal beings, or are they thought forms which have over time taken on a life in spirit, or assumed sentience, built upon the mass of attention and belief in them? (now you all will really think i’ve lost my marbles…)

  21. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for the insight, Nichole. You can also ask: did the gods have the right to punish Loki? After all, he was blood brothers with Odin; and if Loki was to be punished, Odin should have been punished as well. Some interpretations I’ve read suggested that Ragnarok was brought on because the gods had essentially become oathbreakers; so the knots and bindings that held the world together were unraveled.

    The book is the D’Aulaire’s version of the Norse myths.

  22. Jeff Lilly says:

    Erik: I hadn’t heard that about Prometheus before! Amazing. How do you feel about Zeus’s punishment? Do you think it was just? What is your perspective, as a Hellenic Pagan?

    Lori: Speaking for myself, I am a polytheist, and I believe Odin and Apollo when they tell me they are gods. 🙂 So, yes, I’d say that there were (and are) living immortal beings.

  23. Jeff,
    Which part – the willing sacrifice, or that he created humanity? The latter is reported in Pausanias and others (of course, it’s not the only Greek origin-of-humanity story, but it was around). The former is my own insight… or, at least, I don’t recall getting it from anywhere else… 🙂

    I’m of two minds about the punishment. On the one hand, Prometheus did go against Zeus’ express command… but on the other hand, yes, from my limited human 21st century perspective it seems like overkill. Of course, it was never intended to be eternal – and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he was eventually freed by Zeus’ greatest son.

    I also believe that Zeus was fully aware of what Prometheus was doing when he “tricked” Zeus into accepting the inedible portion, and went along. I sort of balance between the views of Hesiod (who blames Prometheus for most of the world’s ills) and Aeschylus (who paints him as a heroic rebel against Zeus’ tyranny).

  24. Erik – so sorry I mispelled your name –
    … was Prometheus’ gift (fire) actually the Divine Fire/true life, possibly the soul itself?

    Jeff – (chuckling) — yes, I hear you! It just blows my mind. I’m still testing the waters, so to speak, belief wise, but it certainly explains some things I’ve experienced – although the ‘why’ and way it fits together is still a huge mystery (‘need to know’ basis?).
    I generally look at things very scientifically (I prefer neuroscience to novels) and read everything I can get my hands on spiritually, mystically, etc as I know from experience there is more ‘here’ than can be measured.
    SO if Zeus, or any of the gods, tend to be over zealous in their punishment of one of their own, especially for helping us mortals, how do we ever get comfortable with/trust them (their visitations and influences, etc?) Or do they evolve as well?

  25. Jeff Lilly says:

    Erik: it was the willing sacrifice that really got me.

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder about the real nature of Zeus’s punishment. In my experience with deities (which is admittedly a bit limited), commandments and punishments are never mentioned. The closest they ever come to that is warnings: if you do X, then Y will probably happen. They’re not interested in curtailing our free will, because our free will is our greatest source of strength and growth. Is it possible that Zeus’s ‘commandment’ was more of a warning to Prometheus of the spiritual cost (to him and to humanity) of taking such a drastic step?

    Lori: You might be interested in my post about the truth of religion, if you haven’t read it; it’s my attempt to resolve some of the logical conundrums surrounding science, gods of multiple pantheons, the extent to which gods change over time, and Santa Claus. 🙂 Interesting that you prefer neuroscience — is that your field? My wife is a cognitive scientist in her spare time. 🙂

  26. Lori,
    The “fire in the head”… given that his name means “forethought”, it’s entirely possible. That could be the underlying message behind the belief that he created humanity… he gave us that which separates us most from the rest of the animals – not just a tool but the ability to make and use them, and the wisdom to recognize it as a gift of the Gods.

    Hm – I hadn’t thought about it from that direction… but you raise an interesting point. Of course, commands and punishments appear pretty regularly in the Greek myths…

  27. Jeff Lilly says:

    Erik, given the difficulties that people have had in interpreting gods’ communications down the millennia, I wouldn’t be surprised if warnings and unavoidable consequences were sometimes interpreted as commands and punishments. Certainly it happens that way between parents and children. 🙂

  28. Erik –
    Excellent point, and thanks for the head slapper about Prometheus’ name – now that makes perfect sense. And that brings up another point – no wonder the gods were angry with him (if that punishment thing wasn’t just all a big setup/game to get us thinking – they are pretty clever after all) – if that gift made us more like gods, we’d be capable of challenging their authority some day. And goodness knows, with the mischief the gods themselves have been capable of, what else could they expect from the spiritually immature human beings? Tower of Babel story comes to mind — keep them under some sort of control (or in disorganized chaos) until they learn some discipline on their own so they can’t do some real harm before they know better…. ? At least now they (They?) seem happier to guide us as we learn.
    Jeff –
    Great post about religion/Santa Claus. (I was raised Catholic, by the way, but my parents were mostly agnostic, my interests include all belief systems – long story). I keep vacillating between a Hindu-slanted perspective -being hundreds of aspects of the same Being (so possibly Odin, Prometheus, Jesus, Osiris, and other savior gods, are all cultural interpretations of the same Energy, just as Mary, Kwan Yin, and Frigga are aspects of another form of Energy, which all ultimately are emanations of Source in all its Variety), all the way to they are Thought Forms who gained sentience over time, and everything in between. Then there are the Zachariah Sitchens who are convincing in their arguments of alien beings being mistaken for gods, which still can go back to all of them as aspects of the One . I think (too much), therefore I am (confused), lol. Seriously, not really confused as much as open to the unknowable mystery of that level of reality. It is such a rich subject for exploration it is hard to resist.
    And, no, I’m not in the field of neuroscience – just have an insatiable curiosity. I’m guessing you and your wife must have some riveting conversations! Andrew Newberg MD has done some really great research in the field, researching science and beliefs/spirituality (University of PA) and when I saw him speak in PA last year I developed an immediate (unrequited, lol) crush — what a mind.

  29. Jeff Lilly says:

    Lori, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! My thinking in this area was probably most influenced by Robert Anton Wilson; have you read any of his stuff? He’s rather irreverent — not everybody’s cup of tea — but, like a good Zen master, he embraced the paradox at the bottom of the puzzle. Thanks for mentioning Newberg; his research was something I’d vaguely heard of somewhere, but you’re right, it looks fascinating!

  30. I’m glad it’s not just me that gets visitations from the spirit world whilst driving!

  31. Jeff Lilly says:

    Yvonne — LOL! You’d think the spirits might be a bit more careful, eh?

  32. I’d love to see an essay on the phonosemantics of “padiddle”!

    Re your adherence to “the ethics of Tolstoy and Gandhi — no violence, not even in self-defense” — I think you’d enjoy a still-little-known science-fiction paperback by a well-known author who (among other things) explores some of the less obvious ramifications/consequences of these ethics: THE RING by Piers Anthony.
    (No, the title’s “ring” has nothing to do with the Ring Cycle by Wagner … ).

    As the author explains elsewhere (in his autobiography BIO OF AN OGRE), he wrote THE RING /a/ partly because of his experiences growing up Quaker and therefore experiencing & trying to live by the pacifist ethic … and /b/ partly because of other experiences that eventually convinced him he had to leave the Quakers (he became an atheist, though he still remains more nearly pacifist than the average non-Quaker in Western society).

    Anyway, I think that much of Anthony’s THE RING would give you food for thought about some of the unexpected results (for an individual and for the society s/he lives in) when that individual has no recourse, ever, to violent behavior even for self-defense.

  33. Re:

    “In my experience with deities (which is admittedly a bit limited), commandments and punishments are never mentioned. The closest they ever come to that is warnings: if you do X, then Y will probably happen.”

    This compares interestingly with what little I know about historical Pagan societies (e.g., ancient Rome).

    In Rome and at least some other Pagan societies, the various sorts of people who made it their life’s business to contact the gods, to follow the will of the gods, etc. — people such as augurs, vestal virgins, and the like — had what we might consider “commandments” (anthropologists call them “taboos”) about various things that they must do or (more frequently) must refrain from doing … often, with no “reason why” actually given: just “don’t do that!”

    For instance, the high priest of Jupiter could not licitly touch (or even say the words for) goats, raw meat, beans, ivy, or corpses, and also could not licitly wear any finger-ring except a broken one: as far as I can find, nobody quite knows (and nobody quite knew then) how these specific rules got started: but those rules had allegedly existed for as long as Jupiter had had high priests in Rome.

    Since many religions past & present — Pagan and otehrwise — abound in rules (e.g., one of your postings somewhere refers to the immense body of taboos surrounding a Lakota medicine-man), I wonder if you (as a Druid, or just as someone who thinks and reads about this sort of thing) might have any idea of why such a difference exists between “what a spirit says” (on a one-to-one basis, recommending action but apparently involving no “commandments” as such) and “what a religion says” (usually done on some sort of group basis, and often involving a great many commandments/taboos/etc., of various sorts).

  34. Jeff Lilly says:

    Kate –

    re the matter of self-defense. I’d be very interested to read that — I probably won’t get to it for years, at the rate my to-read book stack is growing, but it sounds like it would be valuable. I wonder whether Anthony’s conclusions would be different if he were a believer in spirit guides and reincarnation?…

    re taboos and other rules: this sounds like an excellent topic for a future post. 🙂

  35. As to how far the conclusions of Piers Anthony (an atheist) re non-violence would differ if he believed in spirit guides and reincarnation:

    Well, consider this: his conclusions on non-violence in THE RING include, *but* go fascinatingly beyond, the common sentiment that a rule of absolute non-violence makes its followers the inevitable victims of those who haven’t adopted such a rule.

    Whether you accept that common sentiment (which the RING definitely expresses),
    Piers Anthony also makes a case —

    and a very good case, I think, though probably an upsetting case for absolute pacifists to think about —

    that a rule of non-violence may actually have some unforeseen *bad* effects (unintended consequences) on the surrounding society, because putting absolutely non-violent people into contact with other people gives the non-pacifists several vast temptations to evil: temptations which the non-pacifists will often give in to (causing the immense worsening of the non-pacifists’ character, *and* sooner or later the immense worsening of the society within which both the pacifists and the non-pacifists move).

    Specific example from Anthony’s book:

    In his book, certain people wear at all times a specially designed and non-removable electronic gadget (the Ring of the book’s title) which prevents them from taking any violent action even in self-defense (let alone in defense of property).
    As one “minor” unforeseen social result, Ring-wearers have immense difficulty in finding and keeping employment, because the people who might employ Ring-wearers (or who might work alongside them) see the Ring-wearers as unacceptable risks to human life and safety.

    For example — suppose that a Ring-wearer gets a job as a nanny or baby-sitter: on the surface, an ideal job for someone who must and will act peaceably. If the Ring-wearer takes the children out for a stroll, and someone grabs one of the children and perhaps begins attempting rape or other violence, the Ring’s electronic hardware and software will absolutely prevent the Ring-wearer from doing any such thing as grabbing the child back: even if the person who has grabbed the child proceeds to commit rape or other violence. The Ring-wearer can do absolutely nothing but speak calmly (to the police, to the offender, or to passers-by) and/or leave with the remaining children (if, and ONLY if, s/he can leave without resisting in any way).
    Similarly, Piers Anthony (as I recall) sets one scene in a convenience-store. Soon after a robbery, most of the other employees turn on the sole Ring-wearer among the staff: because, as they see it, everyone except the Ring-wearer took action to protect customers, fellow employees, and the store. (So the other employees — as they see it — help a Ring-wearer, but the Ring-wearer doesn’t help them in return: this lack of reciprocity, as they see it, offends and angers them.)

    This sort of thing (besides building up a social animosity against the Ring-wearers: more on that below) makes it hard for others to decide to hire/retain a Ring-wearer in any circumstance where someone may conceivably one day attempt physical force against people or in theft/destruction of property: which means that Ring-wearers in *any* circumstance typically don’t get hired, or tend to get fired well before anyone else on the job.

    Ring-wearers therefore also tend to VERY frequently end up bullied (verbally and beyond that)/beaten/raped/mugged — because the folks without Rings know that they can inflict any desired degree of violence on a Ring-wearer and his/her property without fearing even a slap or a stomp on the toes in return. Although the law *theoretically* protects the rights of Ring-wearers like the rights of everyone else, in practice those who don’t wear the Ring have come (for this and other reasons) to see Ring-wearers as entirely legitimate targets. (This, too, contributes to people’s unwillingness to hire/work alongside with/even associate with a Ring-wearer: no matter what his/her other qualifications for the job. Wearers of the Ring swiftly become an underclass: the “right people” to hurt.)

    From a karmic/reincarnation perspective, one could assume that, well, the Ring-wearers thereby gather a whole lot of “good karma points” for their *next* incarnation — but what about the *non*-Ring-wearers who have swiftly learned that “Ring-wearers are fair game” and who delight in acting accordingly? Won’t they, in their millions and billions, succumb to evil in this life (and, in their next life if reincarnation happens, to the accumulated consequence of their own boatloads of “bad karma points”)? More immediately, doesn’t this social set-up (with a certain class of people guaranteed never, ever to fight back) make the society far worse in general (as other people learn they can so easily take advantage of the Ring-wearers)?
    As a society gets worse and worse (which we definitely see in Anthony’s book), accumulating “good karma” in such a society presumably becomes less and less possible: so if the Ring-wearers get “good karma points” the next time around for their own non-violent behavior under the Ring’s power, then we must set this against the greater number who have fallen into temptation. (Tempt six billion people with the easy presence of folks guaranteed not to resist — guaranteed to do nothing whatsoever but utter calm words if they cannot just easily leave — and at least a billion or two will fall into a pattern of abusing that, without such an easy temptation, they would not have had a chance to fall into. NONE of this, of course, defends attacking non-violent people or anyone else: it merely describes what *does* happen, wherever there exists in any society a group of easily identifiable legitimate victims, tacitly considered “okay to hurt” and guaranteed not to hurt you back, not even to protect themselves or others.)

  36. The book sounds somewhat interesting, although it also sounds like Anthony has taken the concept of non-violence to its illogical conclusion in the effort to make his point…

  37. Jeff Lilly says:

    Kate, you definitely have a knack for asking questions that inspire great post topics! This is one that interests me a lot, since I think it has great implications not only for one’s personal life, but also for events on the world stage. I’m putting it down for more exposition later, but for now, here’s some thoughts:

    Re THE RING: I have to generally agree with Erik: I don’t think Anthony’s extrapolations are accurate, and here’s why: if you really had a segment of society that was socially degradable and exploitable, then the natural eventual consequence is nothing less than slavery. After all, even sadistic people can see that beating up on someone isn’t as great as beating up on them AND forcing them to work for you…

    And slavery is something that we as a species have had (and continue to have) a lot of experience with. The remarkable thing, though, is that slavery has been slowly disappearing for two hundred years; and the primary reason for this is (surprise!) economic. (In this country, because of the Civil War, it’s common to think that the institution of slavery can only ended by violence; but in fact the South was already under considerable economic pressure to end slavery, and in most nations, slavery was ended almost completely without bloodshed.) It turns out that in the long run, you can make more money by peacefully trading with or employing someone than by enslaving them; and this is because a free person is working for him/herself is a much more productive person than a slave, especially if we’re talking about skilled labor.

    Re karmic effects of nonviolence: my sense is the following. If you have the opportunity to do something horrible, and you wish to do so, but you are prevented by fear of violent consequences, that does not remove the desire to do wrong. On the other hand, if you wish to do something horrible, and you ARE allowed to do so, then the consequences of your action will karmically come back on you, and you will (eventually, perhaps over many lifetimes of idiotic repetition) no longer have the desire to do wrong. Therefore, for the perpetrator, it is better to be allowed to do wrong, than to be forcibly prevented from doing so.

    As Cernunnos has reminded me, the fastest route to personal growth is to exercise your will — whatever it is, for good or ill.


  1. […] few months ago, I mentioned off-handedly that my feelings about violence were close to that of Gandhi and Tolstoy.  Kate Gladstone asked me […]

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