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Wellness Wednesday for December 21, 2022

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

Jump in the discussion.

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The God of Growth Mindset

On this Winter Solstice, let's take a few minutes to consider the merits of Norse Paganism. Epistemic disclaimer: Head-canon derived from decades old, fringe Neopaganism, with supporting research helplessly confounded by a certain fucking new video game.

First, consider the example of Gaston.

No one's slick as Gaston

No one's quick as Gaston

No one fights like Gaston

Douses lights like Gaston

No one hits like Gaston

Matches wits like Gaston

No one shoots like Gaston

Makes those beauts like Gaston

No one fucks like Gaston

No one cucks like Gaston

Er, little confused at the end there, but it's got the spirit.

And then this incredible dude (Perfect! A pure paragon!) gets into his first real scrap and in spite of his multiple sneak attacks, weapons, morale advantage and assorted other edges, attributes and bonuses he fucking dies.

Imagine being the toady, or just any of the people in the village who knew the guy. How do you reconcile that? How do you interpret that in a world that still makes sense? Do you just embrace chaos and the premise of an uncaring malevolent universe?

How often must this have happened in real life? Actual combat is messy and chaotic and subject to the vicissitudes of chance and fate. How many local champions and heroes were heralded by oracles, won the admiration of their peers, and then died ignominiously before actually accomplishing anything?

I think Valhalla is the answer to this problem. Valhalla is the Hall of the Slain, and it's inhabitants are those killed in combat. As far as afterlifes go, this one is pretty fantastic. Valhalla is an enormous tessellated Hall made of lesser-but-still-enormous Halls, and it's aesthetic is metal as hell. The rafters are spears, the roof is overlapped golden shields. You wake up every day and PVP all of your friends. You can all go all out because come dinner time, everyone's wounds will heal and the "dead" will get back up. Then you get to feast on the succulent meat of the boar Sæhrímnir, who gets a much less pleasant go of things, being slaughtered and risen to be slaughtered anew every day. You get as much mead as you want from the udders of the goat Heiðrún, served by buxom blonde valkyries.

Importantly, the einherjar are not there by chance; one of Odin's many names is "Chooser of the Slain". The Slain have some role to play during Ragnarok, as the army of mooks for the named Gods while they have their Endgame-tier epic battle against All Of The Antagonists At Once. Several of Glad-of-War's adventures in the myths are centered around preparing for Ragnarok, mostly in the form of acquiring Int bonuses and wizard powers. Gallows-God hangs himself on Yggdrasil to gain knowledge of the runes. Old One-Eye gouges out his own eye to earn the right to drink from Mimir's well of wisdom. The Father of Magic Songs goes to circuitous lengths to steal the Mead of Inspiration (the few drops he loses are said to be responsible for mediocre poets and scholars; throw shade as you will). Truthfinder has riddle-fights with other renowned sages to pick up any missing scraps of lore about how the end will go down.

The senseless deaths of great heroes seems more obvious when we consider it from Odin's perspective. He needs warriors, and he needs them more than these random mortal chiefs and kings. And obviously, he wants them at the height of their martial prowess, before they are bowed by age, their strength stolen by the thief Time. Good and mighty people die randomly in battle because Odin wants them preserved at their best... is a much nicer thing for grieving friends and family to tell each other than some cynical account of meaningless chance. The weak and cowardly fighter who slinks off to live another day survives because he doesn't deserve a noble death in battle, a seat in Valhalla. This too feels closer to justice.

It's a fun Just-So Story. But it implies that Odin wants you at your best, if you're still alive, it could mean that you have stronger yet to grow.

Paganism intrigues me because of how different the relationship with the divine is. I was raised Catholic. We prayed for salvation. We prayed for grace and mercy. For all that the priests talk of what God wants from us, it's a categorically unequal relationship. I want eternal paradise, and God wants me to not be such a piece of shit that he feels obligated to keep it from me... but that's entirely his decision. There's nothing really I have to offer Him. The pagans viewed their gods as being amenable to trades (though it's usually phrased in a less mercenary/capitalistic manner). Father of Victory isn't someone you pray to for salvation. He won't fix your problems for you. But he might, with a worthy offering, nudge you in a direction that can help you grow in a way to handle your shit yourself. This view of Odin is as something like a Dungeon Master who could be bribed into offering side quests. He benefits himself, by growing you stronger before he claims you into his forces, soul to be spent in a Pyrrhic stalemate with fire giants. You prove your commitment to being worth the effort by making an offering/sacrifice.

I know a few people here were formerly soldiers. Probably none of us will ever die in battle. But I would argue that given what his stories focus on, more than battle and leadership, Wand-Wielder is a god of knowledge, learning, and truthseeking. He's the patron god of X-risk. He is a god of frenzy, but that frenzy overlaps in concept with inspiration. If you've ever succumbed to the manly urge to binge amphetamines and code or research for nine days and nine nights, perhaps the Dispenser of the Mead of Inspiration was with you.

This mess of myth and fanfiction has coalesced into a small ritual for me. I take the night of the Winter Solstice as an opportunity for reflection and contemplation for the year to come. I think about the lessons I've learned in the past year, the areas I have personally improved, especially the ones I didn't expect or plan for. I have this notion in my head (probably from EY), that the hardest part of seizing an opportunity is noticing that one exists in the first place. I try to think of which ones I noticed and took advantage of, and what events might look like misses with the benefit of hindsight.

And then I think about what the next year might have in store. I try to imagine the idealized, heroic Iconochasm that might look back at me from next year, and wonder what roads he could have walked, and chances he could have taken. How is he better than me, and how might he have gotten there from here?

Odin doesn't eat, he only drinks mead, and sometimes inhales burned plants used in magic. Obviously, mead is traditional, but it's the symbolism that counts. A proper offering is an intoxicant, for the Lord of Frenzy, Madness, and Inspiration. I'll be gifting the Yule Father whiskey and an edible tonight. And in return, I'll be asking for CR-appropriate "random" encounters to optimally foster personal growth.

I wonder how the Romans of the mid-Republican era thought about this, dying in battle. These were the real superheavyweights when it came to martial valour and refusing to lose. They drowned Hannibal in Roman blood.

Rome lost badly at Lake Trasimene, they got thumped again at Trebia.

At Cannae, the Romans were going all out. They raised eight legions for a single campaign, more than ever before. They lost them all. The Macedonians entered the war against Rome, the Sicilians revolted, some of their Italian allies switched sides. Then they lost another 25,000 men at Silva Latana.

They lost about 20% of their adult male citizens in 2 years! After all that they doubled down, committing to total war and ultimate victory.

Truly a land of 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori'. As much as Wilfred Owens has demolished that old line of Horace, it's worth considering that Britain's experience in WW1 paled in comparison to what Rome went through in the Second Punic War.

Damnit the Romans were such chads. Every time I think I know enough about them I realize I don’t.

A wonderful exploration of a concept I knew only the trappings of, thank you.