Tag Archives: Germanic

Germanic Belief: Culture, Religion, and Identity

A friend of mine was asked the question the other day, “Can I be a viking, embodying their courage and values without following the gods?” To this my friend, a man not so well versed in the lore (relatively speaking of course), but with a strong and sharp intuition, replied (in so few words) that, “yes, our way of life is our religion“, and this was followed by some comments from others that our ancestors had no concept of “religion” as “that set aside as sacred”.

Of course, Germanic belief was a holistic belief system, which certainly marked the distinction between “what is set aside as sacred” and “what exists in the world of men”. Our limited modern vocabulary and intimate cultural familiarity with the proselytizing, would-be “universalist” religions, often leaves us unfit to the task of defining, or even understanding, intuitively, “ethno-cultural” or “heathen” belief systems.

The basic distinction our ancestors noted was between the innangeard (the community) and the utangeard (outside the community), from which point the innangeard could be further “divided” into the “esegeard” (Asgard, the divine community) and “middangeard” (Midgard, the mortal community). As such, it is true that they really had no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather dealt in terms of wih (the sacred, that which is set apart), holy (the sanctified community), and unholy (profane, outside the community). They understood that holiness — which stems from the same native Germanic root as such other Modern English words as whole and health — was the temporal product of the hallowing power of wih. As such, holiness, the product of the consecrating power of the gods, can be seen as the totality of a community’s ethno-culturo-historical identity … as we can see in the Tacitus’ comments on the ethno-genesis myth of the Germanic peoples, in the Eddic myths of Creation and the shaping of Ask and Embla, in the Rigsthula and various king-myths and genealogies, as well as the various “hero myths” (and/or indications there of) that show such things as language or mead or letters or beauty, etc. as having a “divine” or “sacred” origin.

In short, our native culture is, not a wih thing by any means — which is what we would deem to be properly “religious” and so the prime concern of priests — but rather a holy thing. It is whole.  The great mystery of divinity given temporal form.

That said, if one was a good community member and participated in the community’s rituals/identity, then, at least within the context of Germanicism, it really didn’t matter what god or gods an individual did or didn’t pray to; as the experience of the first Catholics and Catholic missionaries among our ancestors, who generally extended to them every hospitality, clearly attests. And afterall, the focus wasn’t the maintenance, growth and development of the individual — bad apples were jettisoned rather than indulged — but rather the maintenance, growth and development of the community itself. If the community was strong and healthy, it follows that the generations that spring from it will also be strong and healthy; while any rot would of course have to be prune off lest it spread to the entire community.

Indeed, hearkening back to the early Christian-Germanic relations once again, one can see that a refusal to participate in the big rituals of the community, namely the sacral feast and/or toasts, by consuming at least a morsel/draught, was, at times, a big no-no among out ancestors. We see this as early as the Migration Age Goths (eg. Sabas) to as late as the Viking Age Norwegians (eg. Hakon the Good). We see it inverted among the Anglo-Saxons, where the missionary Mellitus was driven from Essex for refusing to share his own “sacred feast” with the 3 brother-kings that reigned there (as the missionary did with their convert father), and we see it early in Christianity’s history with the Romans as well. And really, if you are in a community, but have no interest in taking part in it’s identity, one has to wonder, what are you doing there??? Other than “perhaps” intending to subvert it?

Personally, I have for a very long time now said that I would rather the company of a Christian or atheist with strong Germanic values and cultural background than a (self-proclaimed) “Heathen” who might certainly, ahem, “have the (names and stories of the) gods”, but who would be utterly unrecognizable to our common ancestors. People are too preoccupied with “the gods”, ie. myths/fantasy-tales. And indeed without an understanding of the culture that supported those myths, from which the myths evolved, a person is going to “read them wrong” every time. Well, a lot of the time, and in regards to all of the finer points anyway.

In the final analysis, I personally would have to say that a person can certainly be a, ahem, “viking” without being preoccupied with priestly matters. One could in fact say that you were primed for it at birth. And remember, your heritage is your heritage. Would you ask your neighbor for permission to collect the inheritance your grandfather left for you? Would you neglect it because of the mockery some other made of the inheritance they received from their grandfather?

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?

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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.

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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! 😉

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!

 

 

Lord of the Ingvaeones

The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus” — Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis

 

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The name Fricco is of course the Latinized version of the better known Old Norse god-name FreyR; itself a title of rulership (rather than a proper name) with a feminine cognate in Old Norse Freyja, and as reflected it’s Old English cognate Frea (fem. Freo). While generally rendered simply as “Lord” the title is indicative of sacral leadership and the peaceable side of rulership, and stands in complimentary juxtaposition to the Old Norse drottin (Old English – drihten), which was also, both, a title of rulership (albeit it martial in this case) and used as a deific title on into Christian times. The word itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *pro-, meaning foremost, and so coincides with Snorri Sturlusson’s own assertion that “FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir” and the words attributed to Tiw (Old Norse – TyR), ie. the glorifying light, in the Eddic poem Lokasenna where he states,

Frey is best of all the exalted gods in the AEsir’s courts“.

The priestly nature of the titular-name “Frea” is itself indicate in the mythology surrounding the deity himself. In the Yngling saga of the Heimskringla we are told that,

Odin placed Njord and Frey as priests of the sacrifices, and they became Diar of the Asaland people

Meanwhile, more subtly, in the Eddic poem Skirnismal we read of how Frea was required to give up his sword and steed in order to win the etinwif, Gerd, as his bride. The name Gerd is of course related to the Old Norse “gard” (OE. – geard), as we see in As-gard and Mid-gard, as well as in Modern English yard and gard-en. It expresses the notion of ordered/settled land, as defined by the presence of the human community and as juxtaposed to the “utangeard” or “wilds” (where the ways of nature reign supreme).  And so this is a myth that reflects the marriage between the spirit of the tribe (as embodied in the priest-king) and the spirit of the (tribal) lands (as embodied in the horse among the Indo-Europeans). The yielding up of weapon and steed in the myth as a necessary act in the ritual of “coronation” is reflected in what Bede said of the Anglii high-priesthood in heathen Northumbria,

it was not lawful before for the high-priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare“.

It might also be inferred in Tacitus’ remarks that the high-priests of the tribes of Germania went into battle carrying the sacred standards of their tribe; which itself has a mythic parallel in Frea’s fight against the etin Beli, in which, lacking a weapon, the god is said to have used a stag’s antlers … which are themselves well remembered as a royal standard in the North. To cite a parallel within the greater context of Indo-Europeanism, we have the Roman Flamen Dialis for whom touching either a horse or iron was likewise considered taboo. One might also note the “wizard hat” of the Flamen Dialis’ attire and that we see on Frea in the picture above (among other things).

In the Ynglinga saga we read that,

Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour“.

The name Yngvi (Old English – Ingui) means “Offspring, Offshoot, Descendant”, while the Ynglinga saga paints the god as a mortal man who, in ancient times, rose to kingship among the Swedes and founded the royal house known as the Ynglings. Their saga further tells that the Swedes enjoyed a period of great peace and prosperity during his reign, which became known as the “Frith of Frodhi” — frith is a complex concept that expresses a range of inter-related notions that include sacrality, kinship, security, and prosperity — such that when Ingui-frea at last died, they sealed his body within a mound (as opposed to cremating him) and continued to pay taxes to him; believing that as long as they did so peace and prosperity would prevail.

Incidentally, Sweden was perhaps the wealthiest of the Scandinavias into and beyond the Viking Age, and until relatively recently stood as a glowing example of how successful a Socialist system could be; before they (apparently) forgot such fundamentally important concepts as “geard” and it’s companions “(w)holy” and “good”.

Outside of Viking Age Scandinavia, we find reference to Ingui in the Old English poem Beowulf, where the Danes are referred to as “Ing’s Joy”, while the 22nd stave of the Anglo-Frisian futhorc (alphabet) was named for him. The accompany stanza in the Old English Rune Poem states that,”Ing was first seen among the East Danes“, that in the end he departed back over the waves (to Sweden? to the afterlife?), and that thence he was regarded as a “haele”; a word that generally translates simply as “hero” but which can also carry strong connotations of omen or destiny. As with the Swedes, the name Ingui also appears in the genealogy of the royal house of Anglish Bernicia (one of the two Anglii kingdoms that made up united Northumbria), and interestingly, even as the Swedes believed that holy power still emanated from the interred corpse of Ingui, so were the blood and bones of the convert, ie. to Catholicism, King Oswald of Bernica associated with miracles of wholeness and healing. Some even speculate that the tribal name Anglii (from whence we get today’s English) has it’s roots in the god-name Ingui; which would hardly be surprising given the original proximity of the Anglii to the both the Danes and Swedes and the enduring memory of their shared heritage, eg. the Beowulf poem.

Taking a step further back in time and closer to the “Common Germanic” or “Proto-Germanic” period, we find in Tacitus’ 1st century AD work Germania a reference to the ethno-genesis myth of the tribes of Germania. This “ancient hymn” as Tacitus called it is said to have celebrated Tuisto and Mannus as the co-progenitors of the greater Germanic peoples, and that the names for the three main divisions of the folk were named after the most prominent of the children of Mannus. The first of these branches, who comprised all of those tribes living along the seashore, were called the Ingvaeones.

Culture of the Nordic Bronze Age; the Iron Age lands of the Ingvaeones.Interestingly, the seashores of southern Scandinavia are in fact the cradle of Germanic culture and language, and were the homeland of those tribes from c.2,700 BC until the Great Cooling of c.500 BC., when the first waves of migration out of the homeland and into Continental Europe began. The Nordic Bronze Age itself, beginning c.1,800 BCE  was defined by a warmth comparable to that of northern France, a tripling of the infant survival rate, the establishment of trade-routes leading to the British Isles, Egypt, and Greece, the prominence of the Sun-cult and the Divine Twins, and the building of massive burial mounds at which regular offerings were made. It was also the age of the famous seashore rock-carvings, upon which we frequently find the very same ithyphallic imagery that Ingui-Frea would be depicted with centuries later.

The gods association with the seashore lingered on into the Viking Age, as seen in Viga-Glum’s saga where he appears in a dream, enthroned by the waters edge and surrounded by a great crowd of people. We can also easily perceive it in the origins of the Salian Frank royal house, the Merovingians, where a virile bull comes out of the sea to impregnate the Frank-Queen with Merovech, and of course in the legend of Scyld Sceafing, where the child is washed up on the seashore of the Danes and comes to be hailed as their king and to found their royal house, ie. the Skjoldungs); both of which tie in of course with what has already be noted of Ingui’s association with sacral kingship.

While this is hardly an exhaustive study on Ingui-Frea — and didn’t even touch on the wagon-procession, questions of apotheosis vs. euhemerism, relation to the Divine Twins, etc. — I hope it gives the reader a real sense of the great honour and significance of the god; which might be lacking in the Eddic myths with their fixation on Woden (Odhinn) and Thunor (ThorR).

FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir (gods); he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men.” — Snorri Sturlusson, Prose Edda

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!

Symbols of the Nordic Bronze Age

axeofheaven

I’ve been researching and chewing on this symbol from the Nordic Bronze Age for a few months now. Prevailing popular opinion has it that the symbol is either a (magic) mushroom or is evidence of the Old Saxon “Irminsul-as-depicted-on-the-Externsteine”, and indeed my initial research was in part spurred by the latter notion.

As we have it, the symbol is present on less than a dozen Nordic Bronze Age rock-carvings and razor handles, but is nevertheless present enough and shows enough variance in depiction to see that it was known to many artists along the coasts of the old Ingvaeonic tribes.

bronzeagerazors

It appears in different sizes and shapes, sometimes in the hand of an anthropomorphic figure, sometimes free standing, but always in association with the “solar ship”; where it can be found in various parts of the ship including in place of the prow and/or the rudder.

irminsul3.2

The Mushroom?

Regarding the notion that the symbol depicts a mushroom, I’ll simply quote Richard Rudgely on the matter of the mushroom in Germanic culture and belief,

“The vast amount of European folklore compiled by Wasson and his wife on the fly-agaric and other mushrooms indicates that in many areas of the Continent there were taboos in place against the use of certain fungi, suggesting an ancient ritual role for them. Despite the great efforts of the Wassons, neither archaeological sites nor archival materials have yielded up sufficient proof of such a cult”.

(The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances)

The Irminsul?

irminsulex

The supposed “bent Irminsul” of the Externsteine relief

Regarding the notion that the symbol is a Nordic Bronze Age depiction of the Irminsul, and so validates the notion that it is the Old Saxon Irminsul that is depicted on the Externsteine; well, to start, at least 2,000 years separate the Nordic Bronze Age symbol from the Extersteine relief with little to no intervening evidence to suggest a continuous tradition of the symbols use.

I personally, in my 30 years as a Germanic Heathen, have never bought into the notion that this image depicted the Irminsul; which IMO would more likely have resembled a Slavic god-pole or a Roman Jupiter column. The image on the Extersteine is simply “out of place” in the broad spectrum of Germanic symbolism; though admittedly the Nordic Bronze Age symbol might give one pause to wonder.

At this point, it would suffice to say that my opinion of the Extersteine image is that, whatever the “bent palm-tree” was meant to depict, ie. the Saxon Irminsul for example, that the actual Saxon Irminsul that was cut down by Charlemagne did not look like this image. People can of course fill a symbol with whatever content they want, regardless of it’s “original content”, and that is fine and dandy, but in terms of education there is always the matter of integrity.

So what then?

As alluded to above, symbols have little to no inherent meaning, and rely on culture and context to give them content. It is not enough to ask what does this symbol mean to me, or us here today? Nor even what might it have meant to a 10th century Saxon monk. A Bronze Age symbol must be understood within the context of the Bronze Age, which of course leaves us at a severe disadvantage as we are limited solely to the physical/archaeological record for anything even vaguely resembling a first hand reckoning of Nordic Bronze Age culture; though we do have the broader context of Proto-Indo-European ancestry and better represented Bronze Age relations to make up for this lack.

We might also care to remember that symbols can “layer” meaning in culturally idiosyncratic ways that allow for (and even encourage) a range of interpretations. They are not the product of analytical reductionist thought, but of a more expansive and poetic form of thinking.

Before looking at the evidence of the Nordic Bronze Age itself, we might take a gander at their Neolithic ancestors and Bronze Age relations, for any light these cultures might hope to shed on the matter.

The following images (below) were found etched into the rocks that make up the solar megalith of Stonehenge. They are believed to have been put there in the Bronze Age, long after Stonehenge’s construction, and are commonly regarded as upward turned axe-heads of the variety common to Bronze Age Britain; who’s people were of both Proto-Indo-European stock and engaged in trade with southern Scandinavia over the course of the Nordic Bronze Age.

stonehengeaxes

The axe, particularly the double-headed ax or labrys, was also a prominent symbol among the Mycenaeans and Minoans; the former of whom, like the Celts of Bronze Age Britain, shared both a common Proto-Indo-European and carried on trade with the folk of the Nordic Bronze Age. Here we find the labrys depicted between the “horns of the Minoan bull” … otherwise known as the “horns of consecration”,

minoan-labrys-vase

If I understand it correctly, it would only be later in hidyotu that the labrys would also take on an association with the lily, ie. layered meaning, depictions of which bare an even stronger resemblance to our Nordic Bronze Age symbol. Also, both axe and lily are often accompanied by solar imagery, not unlike the presence of the axe-head on the “solar symbol” that is Stonehenge itself.

axelilies

What relation our Nordic Bronze Age symbol might have to the Minoan lily is a line of research that will have to wait for another time and/or person. From here on I will focus on it’s relation to the axe.

It is a curious fact that the evolution of Nordic Bronze Age culture began with the arrival of, not simply that culture dubbed the “Battle Axe People” in southern Scandinavia, but rather of a sub-category of that culture known as the “Boat-Axe People” in the late Neolithic era. These people were called so as a result of the boat-like shape of the axe-heads they produced. The relationship of the axe to the boat is of course inherent; as trees were felled and boats shaped via the use of axes and axe-head-like tools.

Curiously, examples of our Nordic Bronze Age symbol always occur in direct relation to the boat, and often in relation to solar imagery (other than the boat itself).

boat-axe

boat-axe head

In the late Neolithic era the tribes of southern Scandinavia also wore axe-heads made amber as ornamentation; or perhaps (more likely?) as charms similar to the much later “Donar’s Cudgel” and “ThorR’s Hammer”.

Note the double-headed axe head in the image below. Despite the prominence of the labrys among the Mycenae, we don’t find these during the Nordic Bronze Age. We do however find plenty of dual imagery, axes being no exception, in both the art and deposits of the Nordic Bronze Age, much of which is associated with the cult of the Sun and her brothers, the Divine Twins.

amberaxes

Following this trail on into the Nordic Bronze Age itself, one cannot help but be immediately struck by the similarity of our subject symbol to this ceremonial axe-head. I’ve rotated the image for ease of comparison.

irminsulaxehead

Excessively large axe-heads, far bigger than would be at all practical for combat, and so which are believed to have had a ceremonial purpose, not unlike the Minoan labrys, have in fact been unearthed in Scandinavia; thus confirming such rock carvings as the following,

SouthSwedenCultAxeSimrislund1400Bc

We again see a reflection of our subject symbol (below) in one of the very peculiar, ie. stylistically, Kivik stones ( c.1,000 B.C.), where we find what appears to be twin axe-heads depicted in association with the sun-wheel.

bronze-age-drawings-on-slabs-in-the-kivik-grave-scania-sweden-3227294

These two youths (below), the Divine Twins, are found on the Fogtdarp yoke. A direct comparison can be drawn between them, the twin Grevensvaenge figurines and the Vikso helmets. They are all from the Nordic Bronze Age.

fogtdarpyoke

In Kristian Kristiansen and Thomas B. Larsson’s excellent work, “The Rise of the Bronze Age Society”, a bird’s eye view is provided of the top of their helmets (below), where we find our subject symbol set between the horns of their helmet and mention is made of it’s Mycenaean parallel in the labrys set betwixt the horns of the bull.

fogsdarpbirdseye

Our next image is a drawing of the Nordic Bronze Age’s Grevensvaenge twins; yet another Nordic Bronze Age depiction of the “Divine Twins” as seen in the rock art and testified to in the dual or twinned offerings — of axes, swords, lur horns — of the era. The basic idea of these brothers is expressed in the Latvian word jumis meaning “two grown together as one” … each holding a half of the elder double-headed axe?

alcis1

When thought of in terms of the concept of jumis, one might also note the ceremonial swords of the Nordic Bronze Age, deposited as pairs, with curling tips quite reminiscent of our subject symbol when taken together as a whole.

ceremonialswords

While best represented in Migration and post-Migration Age lore as the sons of Woden, the Divine Twins are more roundly remembered in the broader Indo-European context as the offspring of the Skyfather (Zeus, Dyaus, Dievas, etc), who’s name and attributes are reflected in the Germanic Tiwaz (Tiw, Zio, TyR, etc.). It is at least curious to note the shape of his rune-stave (below) in the elder futhark in relation to our subject symbol.

tyrrune

While the etymology of the Germanic word heaven is open to debate, it is interesting in this context to note that Watkins “derives it elaborately from PIE *ak- “sharp” via *akman- “stone, sharp stone,” then “stony vault of heaven.” (Online Etymology Dictionary). We are reminded at once of the characteristic Proto-Indo-European stone battle axe, and of course of the stony skull of Ymir from Viking Age Nordic myth, where it was said to be used to form the roof of the heavens. In Greek legend the stony skull of Atlas comes to form of the mountain summit; while Indo-Iranian myth also (more loosely) associates the skull with the heavens and the divine.

Anyway, this same P.I.E. root (also) yields the Proto-Germanic *hamaraz (hammer) and various other Indo-European words with a range of meanings that include “anvil, pestle, battering ram” (Greek), “stone, hammer, thunderbolt” (Sanskrit), “sky, heaven” (Persian).

This of course calls to mind the famous hammer of the Viking Age North Germanic peoples. Rotated (below) for ease of reference, of course. It is worth noting that the Balto-Slavic Thunderer, Perun to use the Slavic, plays a strong role in their solar mythology. Their names are suspected to be etymologically related to the Old Norse Fjorgyn (fem.) and Fjorgynn (masc.), the former of whom is said to be the mother of Thunor (Donar, ThorR) in the Eddic myths. I interpret this as the seemingly obvious; that Thunor is the uniquely Germanic heir to the older “Fjorgynn”.

Whatever the case, Thunor is one of the very few deities who are portrayed as driving the patently anachronistic (sun) chariot. The other chariot-drivers of Eddic myth are Freo (Freyja) — who shares solar associations, indirectly, via her (twin) brother Ingui-Frea (FreyR) and the pig — and of course the “time-keeping deities” so central to the “sun-cult” (Sun, Moon, Day, Night). It is also Thunor who was believed to force the Wulf to disgorge the Sun during a solar eclipse, while his wife, Sif, is said to have had hair as brilliant as gold.

thorshammer

All-in-all, it would seem that our subject symbol was related to such notions as heavenly authority, hollowing power, and protection.

Certainly, there is no way of knowing, positively, what the symbol might have meant, let alone the extent of it’s meaning. And to some this might strike one as due leave to consider all opinions to be equally valid. Of course, with due respect to the theory of it all, I will say this … it was educated guessing, and not idle speculation (or absolute certainty), that put mankind on the moon.

Reckon wisely, my friends!

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.

Germanic Belief : Kneeling in Worship

There is a popular (though by no means universal) notion in the Asatru community that kneeling, even in worship of our native divinities, is a sign of weakness, cowardice, subservience, unmanliness, and so for all intents and purposes the kind of action that would make one a nithing (one beneath contempt; THE insult in the elder era). It’s a strange phenomenon of course. Especially when such condemnations are preceded, or followed, by talk about how we Heathens “honour our noble ancestors”.

Now, I do of course get how a person can fall into believing this. And I’m not talking about the “Christians in recovery” that so often seem to define what might be dubbed “pop-Heathenry”. No. I’m talking about the wide-eyed newcomer, entirely unprejudiced, who is starving for knowledge of his ancestral ways, and perhaps for a little “companionship in belief”, as I myself was back in the day. Thus, if this is what people presumably more knowledgeable than us have to say, then this is what we are willing to believe. It’s only natural.

And hey, in my own defense, when you’re not even out of your teens yet, as a young male, the notion of standing proudly before your gods and refusing to kneel before anyone or anything does sound bad-ass. Par for the course at that age, really. And it fits right in with everything you’ve learned from Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels too boot!

But of course there is that entire “knowledge” thing. Knowledge of the lore, of the customs and beliefs, and attitudes, of old. The desire for that knowledge. Reaching “that point” where it’s no longer enough to take someone’s word for it, even if you respect them and they are backed by the majority. There comes a point when you want to know your heritage as it was left to you by the past.

And it’s at “that point” where you quickly begin to discover that, well, you have been misinformed about your ancestors and their customs. And, at least in regards to kneeling, that you have been insulting them and their ways even as you claim to honour them and refer to them as noble.

As early as the Iron Age we read in Tacitus’ 1st century CE work, Germania,

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; that from this place the nation drew their original, that here God, the supreme Governor of the world, resides, and that all things else whatsoever are subject to him and bound to obey him.”

While this custom is noted as being Semnonic, it is likewise noted as being participated in by all of the greater Suevi tribes. And needless to say, the custom goes well beyond kneeling; though it serves fundamentally the same purpose. In fact, if a human sacrifice doesn’t implicitly express the notion of man’s subordination to the divine, I’m not sure what exactly would!

This extends on into the Viking Age, where we read in Ibn Fadlan’s 10th century CE account of the Rus,

… and betakes himself to a long upright piece of wood that has a face like a man’s and is surrounded by little figures, behind which are long stakes in the ground. The Rus prostrates himself before the big carving…

And again we find it in the (admittedly late) Norwegian Rune Poem where we read,

Sun is the light of the world; I bow to the holy judgement

This is hardly an exhaustive study on the subject of kneeling in worship and Germanic heathenism, muchless general Indo-European paganism. And of course it neglects an estimation of Judaism, Christianity, and how either might have effected or been effected by the surrounding Hellenic culture of the Roman Empire.

As a matter of fact popular consensus doesn’t remove the burden of proof, and I’d love to see someone present a well informed study of standing in preChristian Germanic worship. I’d love to see any evidence at all; seeing as how popular opinion on the matter often demands evidence to the contrary, but is never actually capable of producing any when their demands are met.

Clearly, our great and noble ancestors knelt, or otherwise showed subservience, in worship. So, you know, pick one; are they great and noble? Or are they nithings? And if you deem them the latter — which is the clear implication of prevailing Asatru attitudes regarding those who kneel — you really have to ask yourself what you’re doing here???

In the final analysis, I don’t particularly care how one chooses to worship. If they’re not here with me and mine, it’s a non-issue. However, spreading untruths about the ways and perceptions of our ancestors, indeed of “our people”, ie. modern Heathens — who are not all of the same stripe by any means — that is not something at all worthy of toleration.