People and Gods
Once, I was talking this over with The Butcher, who is just about as Christian as someone who doesn’t give a shit about the divinity of Jesus can be (he doesn’t think that Jesus’ divinity or lack-thereof adds or detracts from the importance of what Jesus said). And we were speculating about the relationship between the pre-Christian Germanic gods and people. With the major monotheistic religions, it’s easy enough to understand why God cares for and intervenes in the lives of humans. There’s no one else like him–he’s alone in the universe as far as deities go–and he created human beings. He cares for them because he has such a great stake in them, having made them.
But in the creation story the Old Norse people left us, the gods find Ash and Embla “capable of little, lacking in fate.” Odin gives them breath, Haener gives them spirit, and Loder gives them “vital spark.” There are two things interesting here. One, the gods didn’t create people; they found them. And two, what they contribute to humanity is making them capable of something. Two stanzas later, the Norns come out from under the world tree and give humans their fate, their luck.
So, why do the gods intervene in the lives of humans? What stake do they have in humanity?
I was telling the Butcher how Lindow has this idea that the gods don’t experience time the same way that humans do. This is why, when Loki shows up to dinner in the Lokasenna, and he tells Frigg that he “brought it about that you will never again see Baldr ride to the halls” it’s impossible to tell if he’s revealing a plan he has or confessing to a crime he’s committed. The Butcher said, both. That for the gods, in some way we don’t understand, everything is always happening.
No wonder Odin cannot change Balder’s fate. Happened, happening, and should happen are jumbled by the gods’ timelessness.
But we aren’t timeless. We’re born and then die (the gods die, too, but, again, because of how fate is jumbled for them, they have an entirely different relationship to death, I’d argue). What happened is knowable. What is happening is perceptible. And what should happen is predictable and, importantly, avoidable. Unlike the gods, we can affect our fate. And maybe not just our fate, but fate, luck, in general.
Now our importance to the gods becomes clear. We can do something they cannot. We can change fate, alter luck. Perhaps we can even change their fates, and alter their luck.