Tag Archives: French

The Conversion of Kent

As a person of Germanic belief, one can easily be left with the impression that the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was, in comparison to that of our Continental or more Northernly brethren, an overnight success; as though Augustine arrived on Thanet one fine day, and by the next day everyone in the entire heptarchy fell down on their knees and proclaimed Jesus as their lord and savior.

In truth, from Willibrord’s first arrival in Frisia to the conversion of the Saxon resistance leader Widukind — which marked the official conversion of the Old Saxons and the end of the Saxon Wars — a total of 87 years had passed. Meanwhile from Augustine’s arrival on Thanet to the official conversion of Sussex by Wulfhere of Mercia a total of 83 years had passed. Even if one pushed that back to the death of King Penda of Mercia and the ascension (and quick murder) of his son and successor Peada that would still total 58 years, which is not a substantial difference. On a larger scale, the official conversion of the West Germanic peoples as a whole took 289 years (from Clovis to Widukind), while that of the North Germanic peoples or Scandinavians took somewhere in the ballpark of 200 years. Yes, things may have proceeded somewhat faster or somewhat slower here or there, but this is the gist of it all. Indeed, the conversion of the Germanic peoples, from Ulfias to Iceland took some 650 years give or take a decade.

The official conversion (which means “political” or “state” conversion) of the Germanic peoples was not a swift process among any denomination of the folk and always hinged on and/or was hedged in by  other (political and economic) factors that led to the decision. It was never purely a matter of theology, and the theology they received could hardly have been called pure. Indeed, early Protestant surveys reported entire regions of rural Germany that were given over to superstitions, as a testament to the political nature of the conversion, ie. the further from the halls of power, out on the heath for example, the less the influence. Not to give the impression of full blown, Crown-sponsored, ahem, “heathenism” surviving until such a later period (and among a folk who’s native beliefs were so violently opposed by the Church), but think rather of some kind of “Germanic Santeria” … which is Catholic, but which no self-respecting orthodox Catholic would admit as being so. Indeed, one could say this also of the more, ahem, orthodox Catholicism that has existed since the conversion of the Germanic peoples forward into the 20th century.

Here the words of Adam of Bremen in regards to the conversion of Iceland come to mind, “Although even before receiving the faith, living after a certain law of nature, they had not differed much from our own religion.

But back to the Anglo-Saxons. Let us take Kent as a case study in their conversion; as it was the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom to be Christianized, it’s conversion is the best documented, and it is often touted as having been a miraculous success.

Now, as the archaeological evidence testifies, West Kent had entered into an exclusive trade alliance with Catholic France in the early 6th century (ie. within decades of the conversion of Clovis) and this undoubtedly aided the local aetheling (royal) house, which AEthelbeorht would spring from, in fulfilling their kingly prerogative of providing prosperity to their people; which in turn enabled them to better fulfill their other kingly prerogative of defending their folk, and thus bolstered their prestige in the eyes of the men of Kent. It was against this backdrop that AEthelbeorht rose to power, wed the Franco-Catholic princess Berthe, united East and West Kent into a single kingdom, and went on to establish himself as the first in the line of “Bretwaldas”; a courtesy really that acknowledged whoever might be the most prestigious king in the heptarchy.

One cannot underrate the importance that Berthe herself played in the conversion of AEthelbeorht. Just witness the zeal which Clovis’ own wife, Clothilde, advanced Christianity to her husband. And indeed, the great value that the Germanic peoples placed on the counsels of women has been noted since as early as Caesar and Tacitus. This was quite the voice for the Church to have. And not simply within Germanic society, but within the very bed chamber of a king!

By 597 AD, Augustine had arrived in Kent, where AEthelbeorht received him with typical heathen hospitality. He was even granted freedom to preach and win converts. By 600, AEthelbeorht himself had converted. Now, the general Catholic approach to the conversion of the Germanic peoples was the policy of temporary accommodation, as expressed in a letter written by Pope Gregory to one of Augustine’s missionaries, Mellitus, where he writes,

tell him what I have long been considering in my own mind concerning the matter of the English people; to wit, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.

It is a curious fact that here in this letter the Pope explicitly tells Mellitus to not destroy the temples of the people, but in a letter from the same year, but addressed to AEthelbeorht himself, he instructs the king to,

press on with the task of extending the Christian faith among the people committed to your charge. Make their conversion your first concern; suppress the worship of idols and destroy their shrines

Now, yes, technically a temple and a shrine are not necessarily the same thing, but they’re really close. And perhaps even closer still across languages, ie. Latin to Old English. I’ll leave this one at that, save to say that a century later, during the Saxon Wars, churches were made the only place of refuge from violations of the “Capitulary for Saxony”, under which such things as heathen worship, resistance to the missionaries, free assembly, etc. were deemed a capital offense.

Now, all of the men of Kent were not quite so eager to accept Christianity as their lord had been. And so Bede relates that AEthelbeorht,

showed greater favour to believers, because they were fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

You can imagine the kind of rat-race this set in motion, with every yes-man in the tribe looking to better his position, at so cheap a currency, and every wiseman, who might well have refused conversion, being forced to act anyway before the ass-kissers came into control of the tribe. It’s essentially the same dynamic within the tribe as we see play itself out on the inter-tribal level between vying kings, and as we see repeat itself in the conversion of peoples the world over.

And yet for all of the “droves upon droves” that allegedly followed Aethelbeorht into conversion, his own son, Eadbald, who succeeded his father in 616 AD, refused baptism. And so the mantle of Bretwalda fell to the convert King Raedwald of East Anglia. One might imagine this refusal also threatened Kent’s trade alliance with the Franco-Catholics, and so perhaps it is not surprising to learn that he eventually conceded to baptism … under the influence of yet another Franco-Catholic princess who became his (second) wife.

It is not until 640 AD that we find King Eorcenbeorht calling for the “destruction of idols” in Kent. And indeed, two members of the aetheling house of Kent were slain in retaliation for this act, showing that the native beliefs still had a pretty strong pulse. In fact, for all of the rights the Church was granted under AEthelbeorht’s Law Code, it is not until the Laws of Wihtraed in 695 that “the worship of devils” was put on the books as a legally punishable offense.

And so here we are, some 98 years after the landing of Augustine on Thanet, and while we can clearly see that Christianity had by this time gained a position of socio-political dominance, it is equally evident that heathenism was still at work and a force to be dealt with. Afterall, you don’t draft laws prohibiting people from doing things they’re not doing. So we can plainly see that this was hardly a swift and sure conversion. And we can only wonder how the conversion might have progressed in Mercia with the death of Penda and the murder of Peada.

One of the biggest differences between the history of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, as opposed to the conversion of our Continental and Scandinavian brethren is detail; particularly in contrast to the Heimskringla, which furnishes with some pretty grim  and graphic scenes in which the heathen folk, at times named folk, of those lands met their death for refusing to convert. In contrast, Bede glosses over the entire affair.

And hey, we might actually have a little bit more detail today if it wasn’t for all them damned vikings raiding monasteries and destroying books. But believe you me, the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was neither swift nor easy … not that there is any glory in determining who was the bigger “victim” of course. Just that our folk, any denomination of them, have never been known (outside of modern times, maybe) to simply curl up and die. The Anglo-Saxons were no one’s push-over.

Be whole!

 

 

Tiw and Irmin: Mistaken Identity

There is a wide-spread theory that has been around … for a long time now — at least since I first started to seriously research native Germanic belief back in the early 90’s — that links Tacitus’ Irmin to the better known Germanic god Tiw (Old Norse – TyR). As I was strongly drawn to Tiw in my early years, I was initially as hungry as a wolf for whatever lore I could muster on him; Irmin, Seaxneat, the Suebian “God and Ruler of All” … you name it, I was an eager-beaver when it came to anything that could be even remotely connected to him. No matter if it be by actual evidence or mere authoritative suggestion. Of course, as the information continued to flow in I constantly went back to reevaluate various pet notions that ultimately gave sincerity the upper hand over zeal, and led to a reevaluation of my opinion on the matter.

In the end I had to conclude that it was, at best, unlikely that Irmin was one of Tiw’s by-names. Why, you ask?

Well, for one, the Norse-Icelandic Eddas make a concrete connection between Irmin and the god Woden; ranking the former’s Old Norse cognate, ie. Jormun, among the latter’s many, many by-names.

Disputing this, people will often cite the theoretical ascension of the cult of Woden and it’s absorption of various elements of the cult of Tiw. And while I do happen to agree with the gist of this theory, I really don’t like to reach when a more viable answer is right at hand. I certainly don’t mind well-founded theories, but when one starts formulating theories based on theories, and offering it up as ancestral belief, I begin to get a little shy.

Getting back to the actual evidence left to us by the ancestors, we have the 10th century writings of the Old Saxon monk Widukind of Corvey, who references the Saxon Irminsul and states that it was erected in honour of Hermes, whom the Saxons call Hermin, ie. Irmin,  but whom they worship as Mars. Now, it was Woden who was equated with the Roman Mercury, who was in turn equated with the Greek Hermes. Mars on the otherhand was the customary gloss for Tiw, but we do know that as early as the 1st century AD the Germanic Mercury, ie. Woden, was being worshiped alongside the Germanic Mars, ie. Tiw, in the “cult of war”, and so must even then have had a clear martial association. Indeed, from the Migration Age forward we can plainly see that it is Woden who dominates the lore of warfare, the “port of Mars”; with Tiw’s continued association with war being limited to a mere mythic reference or two, but never actually seen or heard of in history, legend or the archaeological record. It seems to me that Widukind’s “befuddlement” of Hermes and Mars in regards to Irmin strongly suggested an association with the “Marslike Mercury” of the Germanic peoples. Namely, the Marslike Mercury that is the god Woden.

One might also observe that, as one of the noble sons of Mannus, Irmin was — like his elder brother Ingui and the Ingvaeones — a patron of the Irminonic mega-tribal-grouping of the Folk. As such, both sons of Mannus were most likely gods/progenitors of sacral leadership. This latter point is clearly “reflected” in, ie. spun out of, the clear association of their Migration and Viking Age “counter-parts” with kingship; Yngvi-FreyR and his association with the Bernician line of Anglo-Saxon England, the Danes, and the Ynglings of Sweden and Odhinn with … virtually every other kingly house in NW Europe. In contrast, Tiw himself has no direct association with kingship or the founding of kingly lines.

Finally, it is also worth a mention in passing that the Irminonic tribes occupied the interior of Germany, in relation to the seashore dwelling Ingvaeones of southern Scandinavia. According to Snorri Sturlusson, in his preface of the Prose Edda, Woden came first to Germany, and there founded lines of kings before moving up into the Northlands and his meeting with the Yngling-King, Gylfi of Ingvaeonic Sweden; which might well be a mythologization of the evolution of the cult of Woden among the tribes of Germania and the spread of these revised, Roman influenced and Woden centered beliefs, back up into the cradle of Germanicism.

 

Germanic Belief: The Value of Women

“… it was customary among the Germans for the household matrons to determine by lots and auguries whether or not they would go to war.” — Caesar, the Gallic Wars

Such is how Germanic women step onto the stage of recorded history; with the power to pronounce divine will in regards to the declaration of war itself. This status is reflected over a century later in Tacitus’ work Germania in which he expands on it,

“… they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the deified Vespasian we saw Veleda long honoured by many Germans as a divinity, whilst even earlier they showed a similar reverence for Aurinia and others, a reverence untouched by flattery or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.” — Tacitus, Germania

We get glimpses of such women as these in Procopious’ tale of a 6th century Anglian princess who forced the Varni-King, Radiger, to honour his marriage contract with her; in Bede’s tale of the 7th century Queen of East Anglia who forced King Raedwald of East Anglia to continue honouring the deities of his folk despite his conversion to Catholicism, and who would later stir him to a victorious war against Northumbria; and of course the famous Anglo-Catholic Lady AEthelflaed of Mercia who came to rule Mercia in her own right during the turbulent 10th century. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxons boasted the first female Catholic saints, and the majority of these came hot on the heels of the conversion when indigenous Germanic attitudes and sentiments were still strong.  

Such powerful female figures as these can further be found even among the North Germanic folk of the Viking Age in the likes of Queen Sigrid of Sweden, and in the various and variety of powerful women found in the Icelandic sagas. Take Hallgerd Hoskuldsdotter of Njal’s saga for example, who arranged the deaths of two husbands she was forced into marriage with, and then contributed to the death of her third husband — of choice this time out! — because he had once slapped her face. While Hallgerd is hardly an example of womanly virtue, she personifies the power and willfullness of the female in elder Germanic society … the degrees they could go and get away with it.

Even in the direct wake of Christianization of all NW Europe, the Germanic people went on producing such powerful female figures as Eleanor of Aquitaine; whose legendary “court of love” allegedly brought about the fusion of the divine feminine and chivalry — and that “courtly love” nonsense — in the poetry of the troubadours. I would of course argue that the “divine feminine” always sat at the heart of native Germanic warrior ethics (see above).

While some might argue that this deals only with exceptional examples of the elder aetheling houses, and does not speak toward the common woman, Tacitus presents us with a more “boots on the ground” view of the value Germanic culture bestowed on women (albeit from the battlefield point of view of an outsider),  

“Close by them, too, are those dearest to them, so that they hear the shrieks of women, the cries of infants. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery-they are his most generous applauders. The soldier brings his wounds to mother and wife, who shrink not from counting or even demanding them and who administer food and encouragement to the combatants.

Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a state can be bound is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth.”

Such sentiments regarding the value of women are further reflected, most reliably, in the laws and customs of old. By Anglo-Saxon law for example, a woman was recognized as oath-worthy and capable of filing suit. Legal fines owed her for wrong-doing were paid directly to her, she could own land and both receive and assign inheritance, she could divorce (though rarely did so), marriage dowries were paid to her and remained in her possession and control, and yes, divorce entitled her to half of everything; though she was recognized as much as a producer and contributor to the general weal of the household as the husband. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon words lord and lady (as an informal recognition of the heads of a household) meant “loaf protector” and “loaf-maker” respectively. while prior to the 13th century, the word man was indicative of species and not gender; the latter of which was indicated by such prefixes as wera (male) and wifa (female).

While the status of women was indeed diminished under the Middle Eastern born Abrahamic values imposed by the Church — to the point that ultimately they were no longer legally recognized as “persons” — the native temperament of Celto-Germanic women could not over-time be erased, thus leading in more recent historical times to a reassertion of their legal rights and cultural value. Indeed, NW Euro-descended women have acted as the authors and heralds of women’s rights for the modern world.

Not to unduly extol the virtues of modern feminism. While “butches”, ie. girls who wanted to do guy things, were not unknown among the ancestors, and relatively accepted, they were certainly not the norm, and modern “fundie feminism” has likely done more to devalue traditional female roles in society than the “oppressive white patriarchy” ever did. One would think that an insistence on the recognition of the value of these roles would have been more in order, as opposed to an adoption of male roles as the only roles worthy of anyone’s time. And speaking of the “male role”; too often the contribution that powerful males made to the cause of women’s rights goes completely over-looked, as though women rose up and forced the oppressive men of yore to relinquish their “monopoly on power” in some bloody “slave revolt” … which betrays itself of course in the very fact that those who have a monopoly on power, and don’t want to give it up, are pretty much in the exact position they need to be in to NOT give it up. In some places in the world if the oppressed speak out, the powerful simply shoot them in the head or stone them to death or whatever. It’s that simple where there is a great disparity of power and the powerful lack of sympathy for the powerless.

It should also be explicitly noted here that the modern fundie feminist has not been the eternal victim she makes her and her fellow flat-earth “sisters” out to be, but is in fact merely re-claiming something that was once, more-or-less, firmly in her possession. And which she only lost because of that famous value indigenous Germanic culture places on the counsels of women; which the Church used to facilitate the conversion of more than one king via arranged marriages between Heathen kings and Catholic princesses.

But all broadstroke finger pointing aside, we men and women of Germanic descent are all in this together. We know this in our hearts … that the “battle of the sexes” is, inevitably, a fraud that can have no winner. And you don’t let the “enemy” define you, your relationships, or your values. By indigenous Germanic values, our women … our mothers and grandmothers, our sisters and cousins, our daughters and nieces, our spouses and girlfriends, and those of our friends and neighbours … these things are sacred.

One profanes the sacred at their own risk.

“… to have had knowledge of a woman before the twentieth year they (the Germans) reckon among the most disgraceful acts; of which matter there is no concealment, because they bathe promiscuously in the rivers and [only] use skins or small cloaks of deer’s hides, a large portion of the body being in consequence naked.” — Caesar, the Gallic Wars

 

 

Holiness or Glory: The point of Germanic belief?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; the fundamental point of Germanic belief is not the pursuit of glory; of any kind up to and including martial glory. It is the achievement and maintenance of holiness, of health, of wholeness; with the accent falling on the wholeness of the community … which is itself the bestower and carrier of glory (and simple individual wholeness) in all of it’s many varieties.

The principles of wholeness rarely stand in the way of glory the same way that the principles of glory (removed from the greater context of wholeness) stand in the way of, and often undermine, (community) wholeness, eg. social adversarialism. Certainly, sometimes people of great potential will be required to give up their dreams for the sake of wholeness … to not go off to university for example, because the family farm won’t survive without the benefit of their man-power, thus leaving that individual in a state of personal unwholeness … but ultimately, in the bigger picture, that communal wholeness is the soil that all of the varied potential of the community has, is, and shall evolve within and out of. And so it is given due priority.

When times are fair, the ethic of communal wholeness bleeds over into the individual realm and allows, even prompts people to embrace their personal wholeness and pursue their individual dreams with the full support of the community; as per the inclinations and aptitudes of the individual, eg. war, wealth, art, learning, etc.

There is of course nothing wrong, from a Heathen perspective, with a person working a minimum wage job. Most of our heathen ancestors lived a simple subsistence lifestyle as simple farmers, herders, and hunters; as did their forefathers for generations before, and as would their descendants.

The desire to “get ahead”, to do better than one’s parents, implying as it does the desire to be better, and the consequent opinion of “I am better than you”, was simply not part of the common heathen value system; which, naturally, was more (if not exclusively, ie. where the emphasis falls) concerned with securing one’s position within the tribe rather than advancing it.

Certainly, the “accomplishment” of “making minimum wage” shall never be glorified, nor should it, but as the Havamal relates, “some are blessed with sons, some by friends, some by wealth and others by good works”. And indeed, even if a man can boast nothing spectacular, save that he pitched in and did what he could for his community (like everyone else), no one (that matters) glorifies the man who forgets where he came from and turns his nose up at his own. As the Havamal also relates, “(memorial) stones seldom stand by the roads unless raised by kin for kin.”

Forsooth, looking back at the conversion age, all of those we heathens today deem to have been heroes in that epoch championed the cause of the wholeness of their tribe — quite explicitly in the case of an East Anglian Queen and later a Swedish Queen — while those we deem the sell outs were invariably were chasing glory, chasing their personal advancement in society or in the international community.

There is of course nothing wrong with having the right stuff and showing it. Elder heathen thought was not like the dualistic absolutist thought that is so common today; where things are perceived to be either one way, or their exact opposite, with only a fence to sit on between the two. But even Tiw, who’s name is synonymous with glory, was ready to give all of his rightful glory up for the sake of the wholeness of the divine community.

Glory will always sprout from the soil of wholeness; no matter the weather … which itself is an ever shifting affair. No. Glory shall always, inevitably, sprout.  But woe to the flower that snubs the dirt it draws it’s vitality from.

And so, what does it mean to be whole?

For the answer to this, I look primarily to the Norse-Icelandic Eddas, which paint the clearest picture, but certainly compliment this with broader pan-Germanic evidence, and then verify within an even greater pan-ethno-cultural/tribalist context.

The Eddas paint an awe-inspiring picture of the cosmos as being held together by a great “World Tree”; the roots of which are deeply sunk into each of the “steads of being” that make up the cosmos (drinking deep of their varying natures), and who’s branches hang over the all (and rain “morning dew” down on all of the cosmos).

The World Tree is a great and deep symbol for cosmological wholeness in Germanic thought. This is also true of the number 9, as we see in the nine steads of being that the Norse-Icelandic World Tree is said to encompass (Asgard, Midgard, Hel, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Jotunheim, Niflheim, and Muspelheim). These realms can be viewed in an abstract, mystical spiritual sense — and certainly that is how they are presented in the Eddas — but indeed the unknown will always be explained within the context of the known, and these “worlds” also(more certainly) express the nature of the environment of our ancestors … and particularly the environment of Iceland, eg. Muspel and Niflheim, fire and ice … where Asgard becomes the sacred space of the gods (grove, altar, temple), Midgard the halls and homes of one’s tribe, Hel the tribal graveyard, Vanaheim perhaps the community’s farm, pasture and hunting grounds, Jotunheim the untamed wild lands, etc.

It is perhaps worth noting that in both the Prose Edda (13th century) and the Grimnismal (10th century), three of the Tree’s “nine” roots are singled out as being of special significance; though both sources differ on which roots. The Prose Edda holds them to be the roots that sit in Asgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim, while the Grimnismal holds them to be the roots that reside in Hel, Jotunheim, and Midgard.

At any rate, even as the Tree was seen as a sign of cosmological wholeness, so to was it seen as a symbol of individual wholeness; as we see in the Eddic creation of the first men out of trees. And as we know from evidence beyond the Eddas, the tree (and it’s offspring the pillar, aka. axis) was also a symbol of the wholeness of kindred, community and tribe. The destruction of such things as the Donar Oak of the Thuringians or the Saxon Irminsul were highly symbolic acts in the Catholic conversion of our peoples;which resounded deeply (and balefully) in the “folk soul” of the tribe in question, ie. the destruction of their wholeness as a people.

And so, wholeness can be seen to entail an awareness and acknowledgement, of one’s organic relation/obligation to (and the inter-relationship between) the divine, the natural world, and the human community … both past and present, living and dead, great and humble, worthy and shameful. And it is much the same with tribal peoples the world over.

And as we have received, so to must we give.

Never forget where you come from. And always be whole!

Musings: Of Gods and Men and the Natural World

The notion of euhemerism (Google it! 🙂 ) … 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.

The Alcis: the Divine Twins Among the Germanic Peoples

The Alcis are a pair of twin brother gods that were worshiped among the early Germanic peoples. They are first mentioned in Cornelius Tacitus’ 1st century work Germania, where he writes,

The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with an ancient worship. The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the deities are said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux. This indicates their character, but their name is the Alcis. There are no images, and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly worshiped as young men and as brothers.

(Note: exactly what “dresses like a woman” meant is open to debate, ie. Roman filter)

The early comparison here between the Germanic Alcis and the Hellenic Dioscuri, ie. Castor and Pollux, is of course no idle one as modern Indo-European studies prove. The “Divine Twins” are believed to be very ancient, forming part of the original Proto-Indo-European religion (4th millennium Before Common Era) and remembered in their descendant cultures as, not only the Germanic Alcis and Hellenic Dioscuri (sons of God), but also as the Vedic Ashvins, the Lithuanian Asvieniai (cognate to Ashvins), the Latvian Dieva Deli (sons of God), etc. The name Alcis itself is of obscure etymology. Some link it to the word elk, while others (more insightfully IMO) link it to a group of words springing from the Proto-Indo-European *alk-, and the ideas of “sacred space” (eg. Old English – ealh) and “protection” (Old English – ealgian).

One of the most enduring features of the Divine Twins is their association with the sun-goddess, and centuries before Tacitus we find “them” depicted on the rock-art of the Nordic Bronze Age (1,800 BCE to 500 BCE).

alcissunship

We likewise have them depicted in two of the Grevensvaenge figurines which date from the late Nordic Bronze Age.

grevensvaenge

Other parts of the “ensemble” have since been lost but were sketched by the original archaeologists upon or soon after discovery. Here is the sketch …

grevensv

Based upon such rock carvings as this (note the “acrobat”(?) above the boat) …

grevensvae

… some believe that the original Grevensvaenge ensemble might have looked something like this …

alcisbronzeage

This age also witnessed numerous paired sacrifices of lur-horns, battle axes horned helmets, etc.

Bronze_Age_Helmets,_Nationalmuseet_Copenhagenlurhorns

As shown within the greater Indo-European context, the Divine Twins are depicted either as youths and brothers, or as horses … or even as horseheaded brothers in Vedic myth! Tacitus further comments in Germania, “They like the old and well-known money, coins milled, or showing a two-horse chariot.”

alciscoin

This draws our mind back to the famous “Trundholm Sun Chariot” of the Nordic Bronze Age (image below). It’s wheels are functional and it is believed that it’s brightside represented the sun being drawn through the heavens east to west, while it’s “darkside” represented movement through the underworld and a west to east movement.

Solvogn

The connection of the Alcis with horses and chariots, their closeness to mankind, highlights another observation noted by Tacitus regarding the Germanic tribes,

“It is peculiar to this people to seek omens and monitions from horses. Kept at the public expense, in these same woods and groves, are white horses, pure from the taint of earthly labour; these are yoked to a sacred cart, and accompanied by the priest and the king, or chief of the tribe, who note their neighings and snortings. No species of augury is more trusted, not only by the people and by the nobility, but also by the priests, who regard themselves as the ministers of the gods, and the horses as acquainted with their will.”

We also find this interesting piece of lore as Tacitus ties up his survey of Germania,

“Beyond the Suiones (the Swedes) we find another sea, sluggish and almost stagnant. This sea is believed to be the boundary that girdles the earth because the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on here till dawn, with a brilliance that dims the stars. Popular belfef adds that you can hear the sound he makes as he rises from the waves and can see the shape of his horses and the rays on his head.”

The following image (below) is of the Alcis as depicted on Gallehus horn B (Denmark, 5th century CE). The horn was most likely used for ceremonial libations, and a chain would have originally linked the two brothers together, in a manner reminiscent of the dokana (or even chariot horses!). The dokana was the “cultic symbol” of the Divine Twins among the Graeco-Romans; two upright beams linked by two parallel beams. This represents the essential unity of the two.

hornalcis

Among the Spartans, the Dioscuri were associated with the custom of dual kingship, the rule of brothers. As one went on campaigns, the other would remain to uphold the tribe. Mention of the custom of dual kingship among the Germanic tribes comes as early as Tacitus, and continued well into the Migration Age; a warrior-king and a priest-king. While there are many examples of dual kingships among the early Germanic peoples, the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britannia stand out as archetypcal, in that their names are Hors and Hengist … both of which are words for horse in Old English. Keep them in mind. Here is a depiction of the Divine Twins in Anglo-Saxon art (below). Note their horned helms with a mind toward their Bronze Age depictions.

anglosaxonalcis

While belief in the Alcis may have reached it’s height over the course of the Nordic Bronze Age, the commentary of Tacitus and such examples of Anglo-Saxon art as the above show that, in some manner, the belief nevertheless persisted over the Iron Age and into the Migration Age. In fact, it did not stop there.

The image that follows (below) shows a twin horse “pendant”(?) found in the temple area of the early Viking Age settlement of Tisso, Denmark. Incidentally, the name Tisso means Tyr’s Lake … while the name Tyr means God (rooted in the idea of the radiant heavens) and is cognate to such other Indo-European god-names as the Sanskrit Dyaus, the Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter, Lithunian Dievas, etc. It is seen in both Dioscuri (Sons of God/Zeus) and Dieva Deli (Sons of God), the Proto-Germanic form of which would have been the pluralized version of Jacob Grimm’s reconstructed *Tiwisko (Son of Tiw, Tyr).

alcis divine twins

Here is another Viking Age artifact from Bornholm, Denmark …

alcis2

And here is a reproduction of a 11th century Rus find …

ruseleventhcentury

One might even see some memory of the Alcis in the Ales Stenar of early Viking Age Sweden; which was oriented for the winter solstice and who’s customary name might indeed be related to the aforementioned alhs.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the memory of the Alcis endured in the surviving mythology of the North Germanic tribes, the Eddas, where we read “Up shall rise All-Swift and Early-Awake, hungry, to haul the Sun” and “But the gods became wroth at this arrogance, took both the brother and the sister, set them up in heaven, and made Sun drive the horses that draw the car of the sun … <snip> … these horses hight Arvak (Early Awake) and Alsvid (All-swift). Under their withers the gods placed two wind-bags to cool them

SunStoneGotland

Havor, Gotland

They are also remembered in North Germanic myth as Skinfaxi (Shining Mane) and Hrimfaxi (Frosty Mane), the horses that pull the chariots of Day and Night. In this we find a memory of the notion that one brother was (originally) mortal and the other immortal, and that they spend equal time in the heavens and in the underworld … not to mention the notion allegedly behind the Trundholm Chariot, where one horse-brother carries the sun through the heavens from day break, and the other takes over at nightfall to draw the sun through the underworld.

The Divine Twins are remembered as threshold guardians. As mentioned above, the very name Alcis is thought to go back to a root meaning “protection”, and particularly in regards to “sacred space”. It seems quite likely that this “threshold into the sacred” is what is behind the kenning “Delling’s Door” in the Eddaic myths. This association with thresholds is preserved in the horseheaded gables found in the architecture of Northern Germany and the Baltic coast. In Northern Germany these gables were referred to as “Hors and Hengist” up until the 19th century.

cropped-alcis1.jpg

And this custom of looking to the Alcis to ward the sanctity of either temple or home continued on unto this day in the form of the horseshoe hung above the door; which parallels the NW European nautical custom of nailing a horseshoe to the main mast of a ship for protection and the ancient and enduring association of the Divine Twins as the protector of sailors, eg. Saint Elmo’s fire.

Horseshoe_lucky_on_door

Frankish origins and the Merovingians

While it would be as foolish to attribute a Germanic origin to the modern French language and culture as it would to attribute the same to modern Spain or Italy, ie. the Goths, it is nevertheless a glaringly evident fact that it is after the Germanic tribes collectively known as the Franks that the modern Frenchman references both himself and his language.

Like all of the Germanic peoples, the roots of those tribes that would grow into the Franks extends back to the seashores of southern Scandinavia, the culture of the Nordic Bronze Age, and the Proto-Germanic language. As we first find them on the stage of (Graeco-Roman) history though — following the period of Germanic migration that marked the beginnings of the European Iron Age, and carried Germanic culture to the area of what is now Germany — the Frankish tribes were settled in the region of the Lower and Middle Rhine River.

Frankish_homeland

In the 1st century, the Roman historian Tacitus mentioned the “Ancient Hymns” of the Germanic peoples, which celebrated their divine origins as a people from the god Mannus (Man, Human; cognate to the Indic Manu), and grouped the greater Germanic peoples into three branches; only two of which we need concern ourselves with. Each of these branches was named for one of the exceptional sons of Mannus. Thus, those tribes that lived along the seashore were called Ingvaeones after the man-god Ingui (Old Norse – Yngvi, aka. FreyR), while those that occupied the interior were called Irminones after the man-god Irmin (Old Norse – Jormun, aka. Odhinn).

The Franks themselves included two such tribes; the Ingvaeonic Salians at the Rhine delta and the Irminonic Ruparians who lived to the east of the Salii along the Rhine. They spoke Old Franconian, or some local variation of, itself a West Germanic tongue, and the ancestor of, not Modern French by any means, but the modern Franconian languages.

It was the aetheling (royal) house of the Salians, the Merovingians, that the Franks were at last united under. And the myth of the birth of Merovech, who gave his name to the line, shows off their Ingvaeonic origins quite tellingly. It relates of how a Salian Queen, the wife of King Chlodio, was sitting on the seashore one day, when a great bull emerged from the surf and engendered Merovech on her. This legend differs only in the aesthetic details to the founding of the Scylding house of Denmark by Scyld Sceafing; who was found as a baby in a shield-boat that had been set adrift in the sea, but in either case the new king is for all intents and purposes “born of the sea”; not unlike Ing himself in the Old English Rune Poem! In the Old English poem Beowulf, the Danes were called the “friends of Ingui”, while Ingui’s enduring link to kingship can be gleaned in the genealogy of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Bernicia and most poignantly in the old aetheling house of Sweden, who were called the Ynglings (Offspring of Ingui) in explicit reference to Yngvi-FreyR (see the Ynglinga saga of the Heimskringla).

 Ithyphallic artifact found at Arras in Northern France, dating from the 4th century CE. Consiste with other NW European images associated with Ingui worship from as early Adam of Breman.

Ithyphallic artifact found at Arras in Northern France, dating from the 4th century CE. Consistent with other NW European images associated with Ingui worship from as early Adam of Breman.

I believe it was Gregory of Tours (or Einhard???) who mocked the Merovingian custom of travelling to the annual assembly in a wagon drawn by two cows. But what Gregory took to be a peasant mode of travel does in fact have it’s roots in the wagon processions of Ingui and “Nerthus” — if indeed they are different deities; which is doubtful — in which an image of the god was carried “throughout the land” in a cow drawn wagon for the sake bringing peace and prosperity to the folk. Far from travelling like peasants, the Merovingians traveled like gods!

The “Germanic Heaven”

It is often said by those not “in the know” — and indeed even among some who should know better — that Valhalla is the “Germanic Heaven”.  And this is usually accompanied by a belief that all one has to do is die in a fight, in “battle”, to get there.

In fact, the term Heaven is a word firmly rooted in the Germanic languages, stemming from the Anglo-Saxon heofen and cognate to the Old Norse himin, with various other cognates in the various Germanic languages all stemming from a proto-Germanic root, ie. it’s NOT a borrowing from Latin or Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew, or any other language. Some scholars have said that the word “merely” indicated the sky, but indeed in the Anglo-Saxon poetry we find such deific titles as “Heaven’s Warder”, while in the later Norse-Icelandic Eddas we find, not only Himinbjorg (Heavens Mountain) as the name of the hall of the deity Heimdall, but the term is also used by Snorri Sturluson (writer of the Prose Edda) to describe levels of what is more commonly known as Esegeard (Asgard, yard of the Ese= Gods) or Godheim (Home of the Gods), ie. the deific realms.

So, there really is no need to qualify the term Heaven with the term Germanic, as though they are things foreign to one another. The Germanic folk coined the term. It would thus be more appropriate, technically speaking, to speak of “Christian Heaven”, as the Germanic is implicit in the word.

In the Eddas, Esegeard (ON. AsgardhR) is the “kingdom” in which Valhalla stands. But there is also a Valaskjalf, which carries essentially the same meaning as Valhalla, and also the hall of the goddess Freo (ON. Freyja), who is said to share half of the battle-slain with Woden (ON. Odhinn). Moreover, there are also the many other halls of the many other Tivar (deities), to be found in Esegeard. And in fact, in one of the Eddaic poems, Woden (in disguise as Harbard) mocks Thunor (ON. ThorR) from across a great river, stating that he receives thralls in his hall, whereas Woden receives warrior-princes. A dubious comment to be sure, but here we are told outright by the Lord of Valhalla Himself that other deities receive the so-called “straw-dead”, ie. not slain in battle/ritual sacrifice, into their halls. And indeed, we also know from the Eddas that one of Frige’s (ON. Frigg) handmaidens receives the souls of young children that have died.

So, it is a moot point that Heaven, by preChristian Germanic belief, wasn’t merely reserved for warriors that had died in battle. It wasn’t SO exclusive on the one hand, or so indiscriminate on the other.

In fact, as we read elsewhere in the Eddas, troops of dead warriors can also be found engaged in “eternal struggle” on the fields of Hell, among the “straw-dead”.

So, not all warriors that died in battle go to Heaven. And chances are that not all thralls go to Heaven either. Children are of course children and are not governed by the same rules as adults.

So what was the diff between this or that warrior, or this or that thrall?

Here we go back to the term Heaven and it’s direct association with the sky, and particularly with the radiance of the heavens; namely, the stars. Much like our distant Indo-European brethren, the Greeks, our ancestors had an “astrological mythology” — or so the surviving lore and general I-E cultural reflex hints — in which the various stars and heavenly bodies had deep associations with figures from our myths and history, eg. Fjolnir’s Pledge, Andvarii’s Toe, Iring’s Way. Going to Heaven quite literally means to ascend into “the sky” to become a “star” alongside the deities and heroes of one’s people; one becomes a legend. Hence the term Tivar, which stems from the same root that gave us the god-name Tiw/Tyr and the generic name for deity in Old Norse, and which means “gods, heroes”. The same root also gave us the word for glory/splendour in Old High German (ziori), and extends back to an Indo-European root that references the heavens and their radiance adn which is bound up with the “halo” motif as found in Indo-European cultures (and adopted belief systems such as Christianity, ie. saints). The basic thought pattern and language is still with us today, frivolously though it may be, in our reference to various well known personalities as “stars”.

So, moving along, it is the BEST warriors that Woden receives in Valhalla. Those that have become stars within the context of war. Given Thunor’s love of hard-work and feats of strength and constitution, it is the BEST thralls that Thunor receives in his hall on the “Field of Strength”. And so on with the other Tivar, each according to their own interests and inclinations. This is what the Heavens are ALL about, the home of the best, and those who best embodied our ideals about various things, be they warriors-kings or thralls … even livestock or tools, eg. swords.

Only the best.

Of course, contrary to popular pretensions, not everyone gets to be a star, who, like the Rune Poem states, will continue to shine on through even the darkest and most obscure of “nights” to inspire us to be the best we can be.

It should be borne in mind of course that even as “life on the farm” might seem like a fate worse than death to some high-energy warrior-aristocrat — which is muchly the perspective we’re getting in the surviving lore — the wise know that rulers and their servants are among the least free of all the folk. Work, work, work, and always for the interests of others, never one’s own interests. Heaven is a busy place (or so I would assume), and chances are that while most of us would love to visit there, few would like to spend eternity there. And indeed, while painted as dreary here and there in the lore, the abode/s of the “straw-dead” is much like “life on the farm”. It’s described as being quite “ordinary” or “homely”, and certainly Hell — which is as firmly rooted in the Germanic tongues as Heaven, no matter how many L’s you use — is not what Christianity has since made it over into.  It’s simply where the ancestors go, the halls of the ancestors, the grave mound. No more, no less. And undoubtedly more than just slightly appealing to most of us, as that is where our friends and kin shall be.

There is of course a place of “punishment” in Germanic belief … called Wyrmsele among the Anglo-Saxons and Wyrmgarten among the Germans. In the Eddas it is called Nastrond, but described in terms consistent with the English and German terms … as a hall standing far from the sun, and made up of poisonous wyrms all writhing and twisted together, who spray their burning venom over all of the oath-breakers and cowards within.

The topic of Germanic afterlife beliefs is actually quite complex, and encompasses shades of “reincarnation”, but the jist of the notions we retain today of an immortal soul and an otherworldly afterlife were always present in Germanic belief and other forms of Indo-European belief. Biblically, there is no Heaven or Hell, save as these words were used to gloss other more Semitic terms … which is where the Bible, et al. comes from. Biblically, there is the Day of Resurrection and Judgement, and then either destruction in a lake of fire, dubbed Gehenna, or eternal life in a recreated Eden, ie. earthly paradise.

In the end, afterlife beliefs, particularly the belief in Heaven, are more for the living than the dead. Unlike Christianity our indigenous beliefs were less concerned about where one ends up and more concerned about what one leaves behind. As the Havamal puts it, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, and so shall you yourself. But I know one thing that never dies … the good repute of each man dead.”

Introduction

Hi,

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for dropping by! My name is Jamey, I’m 42 years old, of mixed Slavo-Germanic descent (with an accent on English), and I have been a, ahem, “practicing Germanic Heathen” for some 30 years now. I like to think that I started this blog as a general sounding board for whatever might happen to cross my mind at any given point on any given day, but the reality is that when it comes to writing, I am usually inspired by things Germanic. As a result, one is assured to find that most of my musings shall concern things Germanic.

What is this “Germanic” I speak of? Indeed, what is this “Germanic Heathen” stuff all about? Well, to start, the word Germanic does not refer exclusively to the people of Germany, but rather to a broad cultural-linguistic group that includes, yes, the Germans, but also the English, the Dutch, Austrians, and the various peoples of the Scandinavias. In their early migrations they have also left their mark, to various degrees both culturally and ethnically, on the people France (who take their name from the Germanic tribes once known collectively as the Franks), Spain and Italy (the Goths), and of course on folk of Ireland and Scotland (Scandinavians). All of those tribes once spoke a common language, that has since diversified into the “Germanic” language group, and share a common history extending back to the shores of southern Scandinavia and into the homogeneous depths of “Nordic Bronze Age”. From their own even more ancient “Proto-Indo-European” origins the Germanic peoples evolved, not simply their own worldview, but their own religious beliefs and practices; as reflected most evidently in our rich “spiritual vocabulary”.

And this of course is where the “Heathen” comes in; denoting the worship of the indigenous deities of the Germanic peoples … something that today is best known as Asatru. I personally do not call myself Asatru, and tend to dislike even the term Heathen; seeming to focus too much on the deities and too little on the actual culture and worldview that these beliefs evolved within. Hence, for me, simply Germanic will (often) do, and I’ll explain from there … explanation being unavoidable in any case.

Well, as I can … and shall most certainly … ramble on about all of this and more in posts to come, I’ll tie this intro off and leave things at that for the time being.