Tag Archives: Divine Nature

Heathen Hiking and the Beauty of Gerd

As a young Germanic teen my first acquaintance with the native gods of my ancestors came via the Red Thunderer; called Thunor by my English ancestors, but better known today via the Old Norse form of his name, Thor. Not only had Thunor remained the most popular of the gods in popular culture, but there was a direct connection to him in the prairie thunderstorms that frequently raged overhead. Indeed, my maternal grandfather, a Churchgoer of (West) Polish ancestry himself, used to say in reference to the thunder that, “the Old Man is cracking his whip again”, which to my heathen ears always sounded like a reference to Thunor (or Perun?) and the belief that the sound of thunder was the rumbling of his chariot as Redbeard drove it overhead.

Around the age of 18 my immediate family and I relocated from the Manitoba prairies to the shores of southern Vancouver Island. Little did I know that we don’t get thunderstorms here. Sure, there have been some rumbles in the far distance, and the odd and isolated crack of thunder over head, in the two and a half decades since I first landed on these shores, but … even if you put them all together they wouldn’t even come close to what we had on the prairies. And it left me heart-sick for a time. But of course, southern Vancouver Island had it’s own charms that struck me from the moment I got off the ferry; the moderate winters, an abundance of trees, the sight of the mountains in the distance, the smell of the sea and proximity to the coast. Really, it was love at first sight. And so it didn’t take to long for the rationalization to grow in me that the reason why southern Vancouver Island doesn’t have thunderstorms is simply because Thunor loves it so much. And/or it was under someone else’s protection.

Indeed, it was here on southern Vancouver Island that I first understood and had my first inspiration regarding Ingui-Frea’s love for the nature-spirit Geard.

Over the past year my wife (a relatively recent migrant from the prairies herself) and I have taken to hiking this beautiful land we’ve come to call home. And that in fact, as opposed to the usual, is what this blog entry shall be about; the sharing of some of our experiences and pictures from our various hikes here about … in celebration of the beauty of Geard.

This first pic is from our very first hike (Sept. 2015) in East Sooke Park … looking south from the top of Mount Maguire (268m), out over the park itself and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, toward the mountains of Washington state.

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This next one gives you an idea of the kind of terrain and elevation changes we were eastsooke2regularly dealing¬†with that day; minus the number of tree roots that covered most of the trails and demanded your constant attention. That is my son sitting at the top of the pic there, while mi’lady struggles with this (end of the day) ascend … itself one of many. To make this day — which carried us all the way down to the Juan de Fuca and then back — even more toilsome (but no less fulfilling!) … we had only purchased our hiking boots the night before! And we covered at least 12 km that day. If you ever thought Thjalfi got off easy after committing his act of sacrilege against Thunor, well, a hike like this will give you a lightweight idea of the type of terrain he frequently ranges through on his many journeys … and no matter the season or the weather at that!

 

 

 

This one’s from our 2nd hike, from Goldstream up to the summit of Mount Finlayson (419m). As this pic demonstrates, we always seem to find “the interesting” way from point A to point B on these hikes (but always make it to point B nevertheless!).

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At the height of Mt.Finlayson we met the acquaintance of a fellow hiker … an old gentleman of, I believe, Dutch background who had been hiking the area for at least a decade and whom I suspect was one of the mysterious “elves of Mt. Finlayson” as they are known hereabouts. He guided us to a number of interesting viewpoints at the summit, to one of the caches that exist around the mountain (and island) — containing small random items that a person might find useful on a hike, eg. energy bar, light, matches, bus ticket, gum, etc. — and finally showed us the easy way back down. Many thanks, Edwin (as he called himself)!

We soon returned to Goldstream to explore around it lower elevations. This next pic shows Mt. Finlayson in the background (and my lovely wife in the foreground), and it’s companion shows of Goldstream itself.

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I would show off the Goldstream Trestle, but why, I ask, give free publicity to one’s arch-enemy??? Okay. I guess now that I’ve piqued your interest I’m obliged. But how is it my arch-nemesis? Well, understand, I am “fine” with heights. I mean, sure, heights scare me, but that is why courage exists, right? You man up and get’er done. But the Goldstream Trestle is … different. Here is a pic I snapped of it from atop Mt. Finlayson … back when I imagined it would be fun to hike out to and walk over.

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I’ll beat you yet, Goldstream Trestle!!! Just like my wifey did our first time out. :/

Here is a nice pic of our first hike along the Gowlland Todd range. You can see Mt.Finlaysson, where we began the day (and would end it), standing proudly in the distance near the top center of the pic. We covered about 20km that day.

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This next pic was taken from Pickles Bluff in John Dean Park (280m). It looks southeast across the rural lands of Saanich Peninsula. I think it is a really nice shot, and was the saving grace of this otherwise unspectacular, ho-hum hike.

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This next one is from our Mount Wells hike, and is another example of our ability to find the most interesting ways around. In fact, we didn’t even go up Mount Wells on this hike, but ended up going up it’s neighbour, Mount MacDonald (439m) by accident. And then we lost the path to get back down, but found this interesting and rather vertical path instead. You can see my wife there, sitting just beneath the horizontal log on the left. Do you think she’s a keeper, guys?

mountmacdonald

This next one is from our Sooke River hike. I recall the rocks having been very slippery that day. Fortunately, our obligatory offerings to the land wights, combined with some common sense, quick reflexes and a bit of team work, kept things within the realm of “embarrassing mishaps easily shrugged off”. No one got dunked. No one was injured.

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Nice shot from our return trip to East Sooke Park in March of 2016. This time we entered over the appropriately named “Endurance Ridge” trail head, made our way down to the (eastern) coastal entrance of the park, along its coastal trail, and then back out over Endurance Ridge for a total of some 18 km. This pic was snapped early in the day from atop Babbington Hill (228 m)

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This next pic is a nice shot from, less a hike, and more a power walk, we did from Horth Hill, near the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula all the way back into the city of Victoria … covering about 40 km that day. The view is from the shores of the small township of Sydney.

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Here is one from another power walk (with hiking spurts) of some 30 km along the island’s famous “Galloping Goose” trail. This scenic little rest stop was in Roche Cove Park.

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And here is a pic of downtown Victoria as seen from the southwest. It’s a very peculiar view, ie. the mountain in the background, taken from the southwest

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This next one was an interesting hike along an old flowline that carries on from the resivior at Mount Wells all the way out to the Sooke Potholes. I was able to deal with the (significantly) lower trestles that the flowline at times passed over, incidentally.

flowline

And this one is from a hike we went on with some of the guys from work. Here we were about half way to the summit of Heather Mountain (1338 m), about an hour or so drive up island. Above this point we climbed into a rain-cloud, which made things interesting, but which dampened our hopes (haha) of getting some shots of the breathe-taking scenery from the peak.

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And here we are (below) at the summit of Empress Mountain, which, at 682 meters, is half the height of Heather Mountain, but which is nevertheless the tallest elevation within the Greater Victoria region. This was our second attempt to reach Empress Mountain after we lost the trail on our first attempt a week earlier and really had no reasonable means of progress with the amount of daylight we had. We covered about 26 km on this hike.

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While we have come across our fair share of deer and rabbits on our hikes, and certainly spotted a number of turkey-vultures, hawks, and even the occasional bald eagle — with one of the latter gliding by about 15 to 20 feet over head on one occasion! The Mighty Eagle Lives!!! — this time out we had our first run-in with a black bear. And it’s an interesting experience to be sure! I had heard something rustling in the bush as we made our way back to civilization, and I was, for a moment or two, quite sure that there was an intersecting trail coming up and we were going to run into some fellow hikers. But I quickly got a sense that it might be otherwise and so picked up a couple of sizable rocks as we continued down the path. Of course, it wasn’t so much an intersecting trail that we were approaching but a dried up creek bed and no sooner did I look down it then I heard a big commotion in the brush and saw an adolescent black bear leap up a tree. Yes, thats right! I tree’d a bear! My wife wanted to stop and get some pictures (of course), but that lasted for as long as it took our furry friend to let out a loud huff of impatience and slide and inch or two back down the tree.

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And this brings me to our return trip to the Gowlland Tod Park; which began at 8am in the morning, carried us up the interurban trail to it’s northern entrance, and then was intended to carry us back down south to Bear Mountain (neighbouring Finlayson) by sunset. However, we decided to head south, not along the summit trail, which we had hiked before, but rather along the “Rabbity Trail”; which runs along the shores of the Finlayson Arm and

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Finlayson Arm, looking north

is NOT called “rabbity” because of anything to do with speed. Rather, the trail itself, which hugs the steep slopes of the range, hops up and down and up and down and up and down for it’s entire length. Moreover, while it is fairly well marked along it’s northerly length — and, as it turned out, along it’s southerly length — it’s middle grounds is a no-man’s land of “your best guess is as good as mine”. Not that we were ever lost, understand. I mean, south along the coast is south along the coast. It was all a matter of, beyond the lack of any well defined trail, obstacles and their impediment to progress; coupled with only so much time in the day. It’s not a place where you’d wanting to be wandering around at night even with a head lamp. The range slopes right down to the water at a pretty impressive angle after all, and the margin for error is simply to high, and the progress too slow, to bother wit the risk. And

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these guys followed us for a couple of hours. Interesting conversationalists! ūüėČ

so, at around 8pm that evening, twelve hours after our day began, with about half an hour of daylight left, we decided to look for a decent spot to spent the night. And after a quick search we found an outcropping of rock that would do. It was about 10′ x 10′ and covered in moss; half of which I tore away so as to have a place to build a fire. And after two abortive attempts — as a born and bred city-boy, this was my first outdoor fire, etc. — the sense of impending panic gave way to patient resolve and before long we had our fire going … which not only afforded my lady with enough additional warmth to get a few hours sleep, but gave me a focus for my attention as I “stood watch” for the night. Apparently this made me “magical” <blush> and indeed, I had plenty of time to contemplate the sheer luxurious practicality of a simple fire. And you know, despite the many spooky noises I heard all around me that night, some straying pretty close to camp and certainly around the nearby area I was gathering wood from, and despite the lack of a good supper that evening or breakfast that morning, the experience is mutually regarded as our best hiking experience to date. Certainly, it could have been colder, we could have run out of water, and it might have rained early that morning — as was the forecast, and which would have made it incredibly difficult to hike out the next morning — but the word serendipitous seems quite appropriate here. As it was, having back-burnered some stress over how we were going to proceed the next morning (having lost all signs of the path heading south), we picked found the path within ten or fifteen minutes after setting out and it continued on, southward and well-marked from that point forward, until we finally made it to Bear Mountain, at about 9am … 25 hours after we’d set out. We must have covered about 35 km in total.

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Finlayson Arm, looking south

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This of course emboldened us to strike out for a planned over-nighter a couple of days later, during the Perseid Meteor Shower of 2016; this time with a tarp for a shelter, some cord and a few spikes for shelter (should we have needed it), and a few simple camping luxuries not the least of which was FOOD! For this we struck out for Scafe Hill (165 m), a few kilometers north of Thetis Lake and well away from any light pollution.

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sunrise the following morning

And so it has been a year of hiking for us; in which time we walked the length of the Saanich Peninsula and been every where between downtown Victoria, the western edge of East Sooke Park and Horth Hill, navigating two successful over-nighters in the process, one of which just happened to be impromptu. I think we’ve earned our “Regional Explorers” merit badge!

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And you know, when I sit back and reflect on why it took me so long to get out and hike this breathe taking portion of the world that I have now lived in for so long, I need but look to my love … to know it would not be the same without her at my side … the very personification of the spirit of the land.

Hail the sea-shore! Hail the Ingvaeones!

 

 

Tiw : Our Father Whom Art in Heaven

The Old English god Tiw (also Tiu, Tig) is cognate to the Old Norse Tyr, the Old High German Ziu (also Zio), and the Gothic Teiws. These are all believed to stem from a proto-Germanic Tiwaz, which itself stems from a Proto-Indo-European root that references the heavens and their radiance.

This notion of “heavenly radiance” formed the basic Indo-European perception of godhood as seen in the various *deiwos group of words, eg. the Baltic Dievas (God), the Latin deus (god), the Indo-Iranian deva/daeva (god), Old Norse tyr (god, hero, sage), tivar (gods, heroes), and diar (gods, priests). Such Latin sprung words in Modern English as deity and divine also spring from this same root, while a brother stem provides us with such other Indo-European god-names as the Sanskrit Dyauspitar, the Greek Zeus, and the Latin Jupiter.

The very concept of the halo in the West likely has it’s roots in this perception of the divine. While we generally associate it with Catholicism and saints, the earliest depictions of halo’d figures comes from ancient Greece, where they were depicted as surrounding the heads of various heroes and philosophers from as early as the 6th century B.C., and were described as early as Homer (9th century B.C.),

Minerva flung her tasseled aegis round his strong shoulders;¬†she crowned his head with a halo of golden cloud from which she kindled¬†a glow of gleaming fire”.¬†

It’s equivalent in specifically Germanic art can be gleaned in the sun-wheeled bodied figures of Nordic Bronze Age rock-art and much later in the so-called “sunheaded” man of Anglo-Saxon art.

sunheadedmananglosaxon

That the Germanic Tiw retained his ancient connection with the ideas of the heavens and their radiance that are at the very root of his name can be clearly seen in the 10th century Abecedarium Nordmannicum where we read the cosmological statement, “Tiu, Birch, and Man in the middle”, while the imagery of the stanza associated with his rune in the Old English Rune Poem is glaringly celestial; conjuring the ever constant star in the night skies and reflecting the ancient Vedic perception of Dyaus as a black horse (the night sky) draped in pearls (the stars).¬†We might further glean Tiw’s enduring association with the heavens in the name of his Eddic father, the etin Hymir, and in the symbolism of the Hymskvidha. ¬†The name Hymir is likely related to the Old Icelandic word huma, meaning “twilight, dusk”, while his hall is said to stand at “heaven’s edge” and the greatest of his kingly herd of cattle was the ox named Heavenbellower.¬†

The O.E.R.P. also connects Tiw with the notion of glory — having substituted his name with the Old English word tir (glory) — and this is laid bare by Snorri Sturlusson in his Prose Edda, where he states that a man of great boldness is called tyr-bold, while he who is exceedingly well-informed is called tyr-wise. We also see it reflected in Tiw’s Eddic appellation “the Leavings of the Wolf”, which is of course — understanding the pan-Indo-Germanic ¬†symbolic value of the wolf as one of death and the grave — a glaring reference to the “name undying” or “glory”. To paraphrase the Havamal, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, and the ravenous wolf shall eat it’s fill, but I know one thing that never dies, a good name well earned”.

Of the various lines of speculation, investigation, and thought one can pursue from this point, one that immediately jumps out is Tiw’s association with the Thing (Assembly) — which is an interesting path of inquiry itself, as it is at the Thing that the “collective light” of the Tivar is assembled — and the Thing’s own association with the heavens, the celestial bodies, and the creation/maintenance of time, ie. observation of the celestial bodies (a tradition extending as far back as Tiw’s name, as seen in the Nebra Skydisc, Stonehenge, and the Goseck Circle). As we read in the Voluspa,

“The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast | over heaven’s rim;
No knowledge she had | where her home should be,
The moon knew not | what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.

Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held;
Names then gave they | to noon and twilight,
Morning they named, | and the waning moon,
Night and evening, | the years to number.”

It is an interesting fact that the Old English word thing (meeting, assembly) springs from the same P.I.E. root as the Gothic theihs (time). This root meant “stretch, span, finite space” and is speculated to have originally referred to the set time that assemblies occurred in.

Here one’s mind is drawn to the “sub-pantheon” of the Eddas, perhaps the same as that (over?) emphasized by Caesar in the Gallic Wars when he wrote,

“They (the Germans) rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon.”

Such figures a Mundilfari (the Turner, axis (of time)) and Delling (Shining One) — who begat Sun and Moon and Day, and who are otherwise associated with Night — would all seem¬†to have had a special association with Tiw ¬†… if indeed they are not, in the case of Mundilfari and Delling, aspects of him.

In light of all this (no pun intended), in doing a comparative analysis, we might place aside, at least for a moment, such figures as Zeus, and even Mars, and look instead toward the Greek Uranus or, more poignantly, that Titan’s own offspring, Hyperion, who is the father of Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn) and of whom Diodorus Siculus wrote,

Of Hyperion we are told that he was the first to understand, by diligent attention and observation, the movement of both the sun and the moon and the other stars, and the seasons as well, in that they are caused by these bodies, and to make these facts known to others; and that for this reason he was called the father of these bodies, since he had begotten, so to speak, the speculation about them and their nature.

Be whole!

Musings: Of Gods and Men and the Natural World

The notion of euhemerism (Google it! ūüôā ) … insofar as we are talking about an observable pattern in Western literature that places the origins of all great things in Greece, and insofar as it reduces all of the gods our ancestors worshiped to (devious and manipulative) mortals, I’m sure we can all agree that it is complete and utter nonsense.

Nevertheless, insofar as we are talking about the possibility of a mortal ascending to divinity, it seems to me that too many (lore-wise) people are too quick to adopt a reactionary stance, and berate the notion without a second thought or consideration of indigenous nuance … as though the pot really hit a nerve when it called the kettle black. And indeed, it really does come down to the pan-Germanic concept of wih, a vital concept to be sure in my reckoning, that defines the fundamental reality of the Vear as *separate* … mysterium tremendum et fascinans!

I’ve also noticed a tendency of the very same lore-wise people, in separate conversations, to be very quick on the draw with the notion that elder Germanicism was a “world accepting” religion — which certainly is another vital notion in my estimation — and that, therefore, there is no Germanic “otherworld” and that even the gods themselves dwell here and permeate “this world”.

But it is here, where we bring these two separate notions together, that we run into what seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance. After all, if there is no “otherworld” and the gods permeate this world, and can be found in so many things, why can they “absolutely not” be found in man?

In fact, we know what Snorri stated of Ingui and Woden and the grave-mound, what Procopius stated of the Goths and “Mars” (Woden). And taking a shameless glance over at the beliefs of our great and glorious fellow Indo-Europeans, the Greeks, we can see that while they too drew a distinction between the worship of the dead (up to and including “Heroes”) and the worship of the Olympians, rare examples nevertheless exist of figures such as Hercules and, perhaps THE case study in divine-mortal interrelations, the Dioscuri, who were born as men but were accepted among the Olympians after death.

Personally, I don’t know if Ingui for example was ever a mortal priest-king, who reigned in Ingvaeonic southern Scandinavia over (and over, and over?) the course of the Nordic Bronze Age. And I know even less if he was first a god who “incarnated” into the world as a man, or was first a man who rose to glory and achieved divinity. I do however know of the long tradition of making offerings at grave-mounds that extends at least as far back as the Nordic Bronze Age. I know of Olaf the Alf of Geirstad. And I know that in the 8th century A.D. “Index of Superstitious and Heathen Practices” we find references to such things as, “sacrilege at the tombs of the dead” and “Those who carve images for dead persons whom they say are saints.” And of course, I know that one etymology of the Germanic word *god* goes back to an Indo-European root meaning “to pour (libations)”, and that within the greater context of the linguistic evidence that this is believed to refer, in the first instance, to the spirit imminent within the grave-mound. And further, that the Old Norse word tiv/tyr was used, not simply in reference to the, ahem, “gods”, but also in reference to men of exceptional ability; who’s deeds expressed that “heavenly radiance”, that “glory”, that is so intimately bound up with Tiw (Tyr) and the basic Indo-Germanic conception of divinity.

Here it might all be a matter of ancestral semantics of course … gods, tivar, vear, aesir, alfar, vanir, regin, etc. I tend to imagine that such words were no more or less redundant than Inuit words for white, and likewise express nuance based on close familiarity. But if the “to pour” etymology holds true, the question of whether or not a mortal man can become a god¬†would seem to answer itself … and maybe also why the word god became the standard divine reference when that “devious and manipulative mortal” named Jesus Christ, ie. the pot, “took his place” on the altar of Germanic culture.

Insofar as we might perceive the Vear to be simple (or complex!) personifications of nature, well, thunder stands as a convenient and very telling example. Who is the thunder? Thunor you say? Because his name means *thunder*? Well, so to does Thund, but that is one of Woden’s by-names. And indeed, no men ever prayed to Thunor for thunder. Rather, they prayed to him for fair weather, to combat the etins of violent weather. If the phenomenon of thunder is in any way related to Thunor, as it clearly seems to be of course, it is metaphorically; a very profound answer to the question of “how strong?”

In the final analysis, we should remember that wih (separate, other) was but one concept, and that it existed in tandem with the seemingly contradictory, but actually complimentary concept of holy (integrated, whole); as holiness is the worldly (observable) product of the consecrating power of wih, of the Vear. And so, indeed, the Vear can make their presence felt in this world, can permeate certain aspects of it, eg. the innangeard, and might even be able to be born into the world, and yet they remain, fundamentally, apart from it. They are knowable, perceivable, on human terms, but that far and no further. Beyond that “event horizon” of human perception, it is indeed as the Anglii high-priest Coifi said on the eve of Northumbria’s conversion, “the more I sought, the less I found” as a statement to the fundamental mystery, and utter lack of pretentiousness or desire for certitude, found in elder Germanic belief.

Germanic Belief and the Experience of the Divine

One can experience the divine in the small and familiar as much as in the great and majestic. I personally have even experienced it in a random “street fight” (assault, jumped) of all things! And aye, as much in joy as in sorrow as well. But all of these experiences are … an expression of the divine in human terms, an uplifting of our awareness and appreciation for what surrounds and/or comprises us, and our sense of “belonging” or relation¬†to it. One might use the term sublime, “impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc”, as the general category of spiritual experience that all of these varied experiences, in all of their differences and nuances, in all of their varying intensities and artfulness of expression, can confidently be lumped under.

I’d prefer to categorize them the “holy” of course — from the Old English hal root, which is also seen in such other Modern English words as health and, more poignantly, whole — but either way this general category of experience is at once comfortable, warm, empowering and uplifting. You could say it is the “experience of the masses”, both high and low.

But there is another experience of the divine … raw, primal, jarring, and anything but comfortable. It is what Rudolph Otto, in his book Idea of the Holy, called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans¬†and described as an encounter with something “wholly other”. But to get the full sense of what Otto meant I’ll provide a definition of the Latin words he chose to use and based on his work,

Mysterium (Mystery): wholly other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor.

Tremendum (Tremendous): awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God, overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its powe, creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence, energy, urgency, will, vitality.

Fascinans (Fascination): potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.

This is an experience, as I’m sure one can gather, that overwhelms one, terrifies one, leaves one feeling small, insignificant, and at a complete loss of how to describe, symbolize, or otherwise express the experience; but which the fascination-aspect nevertheless incites us to at least try to come to terms with.

A likeness of this “terrible and fascinating mystery” can be found in a “holy experience” of course, and is in fact the source of the holy, as I’ll touch on later. I recall as a youngster going to church with my grandfather, and that eerie sense that would fall over me when I entered the church. I didn’t like it. And for a while in my young life I deemed it a bad thing … the harsh and unapproving glare of the god of the Christians, but honestly, the experience is by no means limited to Christianity, or the Abrahamic religions. Some would say, as seems fitting I suppose, that it is not even confined to religion or spirituality, ie. religious/spiritual people, in general and that atheists can be struck by an identical experience. It can arise, or better said impose¬†itself irrespective of culture; which again seems quite fitting that it should.

Needless to say perhaps, our preChristian Germanic ancestors knew of this experience of the divine as well. And for all intents and purposes they had a word for it, as seen in Old English weoh (Old Norse – ve, Gothic – weihs) and it’s sibling terms; all of which reference things given over to the divine (altar, idol, etc.) or issuing from the divine (hallowing power, consecration). At it’s root the terms mean “separate, other, set apart” and carry strong connotations of “mystery” (see definition above).

We get a sense of this “otherness” in Tacitus’ 1st century work Germania where he (blunderingly) relates,

‚Äúthey judge it altogether unsuitable to hold the Gods enclosed within walls, or to represent them under any human likeness. They consecrate whole woods and groves, and by the names of the Gods they call these recesses; divinities these, which only in contemplation and mental reverence they behold.‚ÄĚ

The Germanic people did in fact fashion idols, and had been doing so since, ahem, at least the Nordic Bronze Age, so it is likely that Tacitus and/or his equally Latin go-between misunderstood what was actually being expressed here, but it seems to speak toward the “wih-nature” of the divine. And indeed, while the Germanic peoples did fashion idols, the early one’s, closer to Tacitus’ era, show these to be only vaguely anthropomorphic in nature, accentuating natural features but utterly unconcerned with detail; despite a culturally high degree of wood carving skills, ie. the lack of detailed expression was intentional here and speaks towards the understanding of the divine as wih.

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The Broddenbjerg idol, 6th century BCE, Denmark, stands 35 inches tall.

We also get a sense of the overwhelming and humbling nature of wih, comparable to Moses and the Burning Bush, in another of Tacitus’ remarks,

At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. There by publicly sacrificing a man, they begin the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship. To this grove another sort of reverence is also paid. No one enters it otherwise than bound with ligatures, thence professing his subordination and meanness, and the power of the Deity there. If he fall down, he is not permitted to rise or be raised, but grovels along upon the ground. And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency.”

Despite the very modern Asatruar fancy of standing proudly in worship, not to mention their general contempt for kneeling and the like, evidence of such postures in Germanic worship (as touched on in my last entry) span the Nordic Bronze Age to the Viking Age and point directly toward the experience of “wih” … of the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”.

In the Old English Exeter Book we read, “Woden worhte weohs” (Woden fashioned the weohs), while in Eddaic Creation he is brothered up with a god named Ve. In fact, one of the terms the speakers of Old Norse used to refer to the gods collectively was Vear, but clearly Woden stands in special relation to wih. And among Woden’s many bynames we find YggR (the Terrible One), Fjolnir (the Concealer), Grimnir (the Hooded), while his very name is rooted in the word wod; meaning fury, possession, madness, but also inspiration (fascinans).

All of this speaks towards Otto’s description of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

At it’s root the concept of wih stands in sharp juxtaposition to holy, ie. separate vs. integrated respectively, and yet we see them compounded on the Gothic ring of Pietroassa (w√≠hailag) and used in complimentary manner in the Old Norse phrase “v√© heilakt”, and used in a manner which might be described as bordering on interchangeable. Of course, as wih is the hallowing power it seems fairly evident that holiness is it’s (temporal) product; the gist of which is glaringly evident within the context of Germanic creation myths and legends in which the gods shape Creation, in which the gods shape Mankind, in which the gods establish the innangeard (inside the yard, the community, the dwelling/s of the race of man), in which the gods give the gifts of language and culture, and in which the life of the “World Tree” itself hinges upon the nourishment it receives from the heavenly realm (reflected in the Hindu concept of the World Tree growing down from out of the heavens).

Holiness is the product of wih … or as I’m using the term here, ie. in relationship to experience and resulting speculations/culture (as opposed to sheer quality of life), holiness is the experience/expression/evolution of the divine mystery within a culturally specific human framework, rather then on the ineffable, “wholly other” terms of the gods themselves. The distinction is important to note.

Too often in modern Germanic Heathenism do we see an over emphasis on the cultural/holy forms of the divine and a profaning of ultimate nature of the Vear, eg. “Thor doesn’t have blonde hair! It’s red, idiot!” or “Woden talks to me all of the time! We had tea and biscuits yesterday at lunch”. Certainly there are many and varied “soft” experiences of the divine, as mentioned above, but we would be wise to chose our words carefully if or when we chose to talk about them. And really, if Woden is talking to someone “all of the time”, I would expect to see something more than average, exceedingly exceptional actually, ie. the product of wih, in their endeavors and accomplishments, in the quality of their life.

This sense of mystery and magnitude, and the resulting “humbility” and reverence, is what most needs to be (re)kindled among modern day Germanic Heathens. The knowledge that while we might speak of our beliefs about the gods, the fruits of our relationship with them, and while we might be insistent regarding our beliefs, ie. what is and is not Germanic¬†belief for instance, we cannot speak toward the fundamental being of the gods. And while some might fear that this is but a step away from monotheism, ie. God is the¬†Mystery, the reality of “the mystery” is that it is ineffable and defies all mortal categories of thought and experience; monotheism for instance. For our own part as heathens, we simply *believe* there are many gods, as this seems the healthiest way to go for a community. Either way, there is that point in seeking the nature of the divine where words, figure, metaphor, and symbols all fail, where they prove even at their most glorious to fall short and prove inadequate, where the highest honour is silence, and where only shameless profanity dares to tread. And there, what we are left with, really, as a matter of honesty, is “our beliefs”.

Myth vs. Culture: Ragnarok

The existence of what is popularly regarded as the, ahem, “Germanic Heaven”, namely Valhalla (Hall of the Slain), is intimately linked in the late Norse-Icelandic Eddas to the great cosmological event of “Ragnarok” (the Dimming of the Gods); in which, as the story goes, the enemies of the Tivar — the shining ones, gods, heroes, sages; cognate to Sanskrit Deva, related to the Latin divus and hence Modern English divine, deity, etc. — ¬†whelm against the divine order, overthrow it and destroy the gods themselves in one last epic battle.

It is a thing peculiar to Germanic myth … the notion that the gods die. Mind you, we are not really talking about *Germanic* myth. Very little of our native mythology/s survives … though Germanic myth most certainly does exist outside of the Eddas. And this is what we ARE talking about regarding the Ragnarok myth, and most specifically of the notion that our gods are mortal; the Norse-Icelandic Eddas, which are themselves representative of one branch of late Viking Age North Germanic culture … born out of the very age in which our native beliefs were under assault by the Church and coming to the end of (that phase of) their historical existence. It betrays a deep pessimism, specifically regarding the nature of the divine, that is uncharacteristic of Indo-European culture in general, and general attitudes found within the elder Germanic culture in specific.

As early as Cornelius Tacitus (1st century C.E.) we read, “The Germans, however, do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance. They consecrate woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to the abstraction which they see only in spiritual worship.” (Germania)

While we have due cause to take the observations Tacitus recorded in his Germania with a dose of salt, we would be foolish to dismiss them all together. In the above Tacitus relates in clear terms the fundamental Germanic view of the divine, as express in the Old English word wih (Old Norse – ve, Gothic – weihs), which stems from a root meaning “separate, set apart”. In it’s various forms, the ancestors used it to denote the altar, sacred idols, the hallowing power of the gods, and even the nature of the gods themselves.

As a reference to the (fundamental) nature of the divine, the word wih denotes that they are something beyond human categories and thought and conception … as ineffable to us as our own human nature is to our canine companions. Rudolph Otto’s terms “numinous” and most especially “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (the great/humbling yet fascinating mystery (of the divine)) strike right to the heart of the sense of wih.

And so, in a culture where it was believed that once you stripped the layers of culture away from a god, you encountered a being that was “wholly other”, by what pretension could a mortal human determine such a being’s fate, ie. it dies at Ragnarok?

Indeed, the most damning evidence of Germanic “ignorance” (honesty?) regarding the fate of the gods, is found within the Ragnarok myth itself, in the opening act of which the Bifrost Bridge, that links Heaven and Earth, God and Man, is destroyed. And of course, with the destruction of that link, all of the cultural forms of the gods, deprived of their “wih-essence” begin to wither and droop, to dim in the minds of men, until they have been emptied of the very force of divine awe that originally inspired them. And while this is indeed a fairly accurate description of what has happened in the history of Germanicism, it is indeed the heights of hubris to make any assumptions about the fate of the Vear themselves; which, really, is tantamount to losing one’s connection on a phone call and then declaring that whoever was on the other end must, as a result, be dead!

This is where we get into that other pan-Germanic quality of divinity; namely holiness … which is a word that is firmly rooted in the Germanic languages, and is even found in tandem with the word wih … for all that they are dichotomous in meaning. In fact, holiness (whole, healthy, integrated) is the temporal product of wih. In the context that I am using it here, it is that part of the gods that has “come down” to exist in a relationship with us and find expression in human culture and our beliefs¬†regarding the nature of the divine. Remember, the Tremendous Mystery is not only terrifying, but also irresistibly fascinating, and thus inevitably prone to expression within culture. Hence, the divine origins of culture itself.

Here one might note the early Germanic idols that Tacitus reported didn’t exist, but which archaeology has indeed found evidence of; they are indeed not rendered in any kind of sharply human likeness after the manner of the Graeco-Romans, and not for a lack of technical skill in wood-carving. Such figures, where bogs have wondrously preserved them, are always at best only vaguely human, and deal more in accentuating natural detail in the medium rather than imposing detail upon it. Wih-holy.

braakidols

If any part of the divine is subject to destruction it is this “holy aspect”, the human aspect. But that much and no more. The Vear shall always remain, to re-assert and express themselves within the manifold forms of human culture, time and again, eternally … which I suppose is the ultimate message of the Ragnarok myth itself with it’s “generation of new gods”; though I would imagine that Hinduism has a more accurate notion of how that all works, with it’s eternal cosmological cycle of coming into being/going out of being with an Indra, et al. present and accounted for in each cycle.

And so, it seems pretty plain to me that whatever the true value of the Ragnarok myth, this notion of the “death of the gods” simply doesn’t stand up and is next to entirely unsupportable within the context of Germanic culture; though admittedly there is room for discussion on fine points (eg. wih vs. halig).

It should always be remembered that the myths of old arose within a certain cultural paradigm that informed the meaning of those myths. They cannot be studied in exclusion to the culture they existed in without losing their native value as an expression of that culture. And ultimately, culture has far more to teach us about the worldview and ways of worship of our Germanic ancestors than does myth … which, taken at face value, is just “old stories”.