…or Balder, the great and shiny plastic god.
It is taught to us that destruction and death is evil. We define evil based on the amount of damage done, mainly to humanity.
We are told through countless movies, songs, books, and newspaper mythology that anything posing the slightest threat to a human is inherently evil. And that human life is the greatest good there is. And immortality, the ultimate prize.
As I travel, I see parts of the world most in my culture are spared from, the outskirts and the lines connecting towns and forests, how nothing will thrive unless something else dwindles. Usually, there’s a cycle in this, there is no ‘top of the food chain’, it all goes in waves. But humans have been hoarding life and matter for ages now, sucking out every resource possible.
What humans are doing now is not merely causing the destruction of nature, but disrupting and hindering anything new from entering existence through the permanent removal of matter from the cycle of life and death.
Humans, in their quest for immortality, in their idea of preserving as good and death as evil, has performed a greater evil than they themselves have words for, or stories for.
Their actions are leaving the world in a state of destruction beyond death.
While it can be argued that if death and destruction is necessary, then the extinction of life on earth now might be part of a greater cycle. That things will be rebuilt. But to build something new, you need building blocs.
And the building blocks themselves are being made useless through human intervention. The alteration of earths metals, the splitting of the atom, making huge vessels and flinging them off into space is not progress, it’s not even destruction, it’s depleting the earth of its resources on a deeper level, leaving less and less with which to form new life. When humans kill, or die, they don’t leave the bodies alone, but poison them with chemicals to actively hinder natural decomposition from taking place. There is nothing they so adamantly set out to destroy as the natural process of decomposition. And in this, the possibility of new life to come from death.
Today, the greatest result of this denial of death is a world choking in plastic. Plastic is the material that more than anything represents man’s quest for the eternal. It doesn’t alter. It doesn’t rot. It allows no other life of life off it. It stays shiny and mint for longer than humans can see. And while it’s possible to make a plastic object into other plastic objects, it cannot be reintroduced into nature in any natural way, in the foreseeable future or without great effort.
In Norse mythology, my cultural heritage, we’re told about Balder. He was said to be the fairest and kindest of all gods. He is hardly mentioned in the older Edda, the poems of the gods, but is now associated with light, beauty and bliss. His death was also said to herald the coming of the end of the world, Ragnarok.
In Snorre Sturlason’s poems of the gods, of a newer date, Balder is described as ‘so bright as to be illuminating’, and generally considered too good for this world.
As death comes to all, even gods, Balder saw his own death in a dream. This vision caused his mother, Frigg, to go on a quest to have all things living or dead take an oath not to kill him.
However, the jotun Loke took on the disguise of an old woman and argued to Frigg that the mistletoe growing outside Valhal should be exempt from this oath, as it was too young to comprehend the meaning of it’s promise. And Frigg accepted this.
Once they thought Balder immortal, the rest of the gods would spend their time shooting arrows and throwing spears at him for their amusement. The only one not taking part in this peculiar merriment, was Loke. The blind god Hodr was also excerpt, by his inability to see the target.
As legend goes, one day Loke presented Hodr with an arrow made of the mistletoe, which Hodr then threw at Balder, killing him on the spot.
Even now the gods would not let Balder go. Once he was in the kingdom of the dead, Odin made a bargain with Hel, the ruler of the dead, that if all things were to weep for Balder’s death, he would be brought back to life. And all things were forced and convinced to do so, save one jotun lady named Tokk (meaning thanks), who was also Loke in disguise. When approached and demanded to weep for Balder’s death, she would answer ‘Let Hel hold what she has!’.
And Balder was then dead for good.
This story is generally told in modern times as a story showing how envious and sly Loke is supposed to be and as a sad tale about beauty leaving the world.
But if we look at the story as it is and not as what we are being told the moral of it is, it tells of something else.
It tells of how through the manipulation of all life on earth, the humanoid gods remove Balder from the cycle of life and death for the sake of their own fears of the end.
It tells of how once Balder was fixed in form, they torment him endlessly, showing absolutely no regard for what they have created.
And when finally freed from his fixed and unchangeable state, the gods make a new attempt of getting Balder back by forcing from all creatures a false emotional response.
What we have here is essentially how humanity disrupts nature, mistreats what it creates, and names as ‘evil’ all that seeks to free the things they hoard.
The modern version of wanting to freeze something in form, is plastic. It is sterile, unchanging and seen as a great breakthrough of human ingenuity. There are, of course, other inventions equally horrible, but this is the one thing that now threatens all other life to an undeniable extent. And this is what happens when you start to take bits and pieces of nature out of the cycle to make things bright and shiny forever. Whether it’s a god or a toy, or both.
Keeping in mind that Loke, the only one trying to hinder this abomination, is a jotun, an embodied force of nature, associated with fire (the name translates to ‘flame’, versions of it. Lauptr, to ‘air’), the story also tells of nature’s resistance. It tells of how forces of nature will stand against the selfish needs of gods or man, even when it’s deemed ‘evil’ for its effort. Humans destruction of nature is today told to us as necessary for them to live, while nature’s reclaiming of matter and spirit is seen as monstrous, when really it’s the other way around.
While wanton destruction in the manner of humans can of course be cruel, stupid and needless, evil, in the sense of something that all living revolts against, is the fixation of life in a permanent form. Far worse than killing is to take matter away from life. To live is to be able to die.
Matter isn’t formed from nothing, from death comes new life, it’s not a pretty metaphor for your comfort, it’s not an old and quaint belief, it’s the only way life can exist.
If humans want to live in harmony with the earth, if they want life to be, they need to start not merely living, but dying in harmony with the earth.
It easy to say that we simply need to do without plastic in order to save the earth, but plastic is merely a symptom.
In everything from the stories, the burial practices, the way death is pictured, we need to change. We need to see in all things, including our own bodies, what it can be and the great complex system that makes it so. And this great and complex system is not made by humans, not gods. It is world of the great earthworm and the fungi. It is fire and air. If we mean to live, we need to embrace death, and not just death, but decomposition as well.
It is time to truly recycle.