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Charming of the Plough and Þorrablót

February 2nd marked the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Charming of the Plough, which essentially is a blot to ensure fertility to the fields and the blessing of farm implements and tools.

This particular blót is very regional depended in that where you live it may not be anywhere near the time to prepare the fields or tools for planting because of winter conditions. So for many people the blót is done at a later time when it is more appropriate for their location.

February also marks the event of Þorrablót in which a whole month of festivities go on. While not related directly to Heathenry, the event stems from a Icelandic chief who wanted to be remembered so he sponsored and hosted a month long party, which from that point on has taken on name of the month Þorri.

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Gleðileg jól!

It is Jól tide, the last holiday season for this year. Take time to enjoy the holiday time with friends and family.

Noil

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Mothers’ Night

Mothers’ Night is tonight – so, the dísir.

 

The dísir are a problem for academics. They seem superfluous. Norse belief has so many spirits: vættir, huldrufolk, fylgjur, valkyries . . . and there’s obvious blurring around the edges, or confusion. For instance, what is one to make of Þiðranda Þáttr, in which nine black-clad dísir on black horses or kin-fylgjur fight with nine light-clad dísir or fylgjur on white horses over an eighteen-year-old who out of hospitality has disobeyed orders not to open the door on Winternights, and slay him, in an elaborate play-acting of the struggle between heathenry and Xianity in late-10th-century Iceland? The story ends with a vision of all the vættir emerging from their underground homes as Xianity triumphs. The lad who is the victim is described as humble – a natural Xian. (The writer probably didn’t care that hospitality is more of a heathen virtue than a Xian.) But those dísir or fylgjur – the story uses both labels – are a weird valkyric blend. Why not just call them fylgjur – or valkyries – and have done with the dís label? Again, nobody calls gods vættir (except in Anglo-Saxon, where wiht, “wight,” simply means “being” or in some compounds, “thing”) or calls goddesses fylgjur or valkyries (although many academics regard Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr and Irpa as valkyries rather than goddesses). But Freyja is Vanadís (dís of the Vanir) and Skaði is Ǫndurdís (snowshoe dís). Further confusion is added by the role of the idisi in the Old High German First Merseburg Charm: they tie and untie battle-fetters. This is the classic role posited for the valkyries by KveldulfR Gundarson, and reflected in a couple of valkyrie names (Hlǫkk and Herfjǫtr). And in Anglo-Saxon idis simply means “lady.” So a very confused, messy picture out of which no discrete role emerges for the dísir.

 

However, take it from the other side, and this is a rare case indeed in which we have attestations from the entire span of historical heathenry, and all the sections of the Germanic world. The names Ǫndurdís and Vanadís tell us that in Old Norse dís can, or does, refer to someone divine. In fact Freyja is also called Vanaguð (deity of the Vanir), just like Freyr and their father Njǫrð, and Skaði can also be called Ǫndurguð. Also we have mentions of the dísablót – blót to the dísir – and the name of the Swedish January fair, Disting, which must originally have been associated with that as Dísaþing. And most decisively the story of King Aðils of Sweden dying when he profanes the dísarsálr – the hall of the dís (often misinterpreted by academics who should know better as plural dísir, but the “r” makes it singular in form, sacred to one dís). One academic posited with some reason that dís was an older word for “goddess,” pointing out that the goddesses, including Freyja, are usually referred to in the texts as ásynjur, but that actually only means female Æsir. This has been roundly ignored, but at least one other scholar thought similarly: Gwyn Jones titled his translation of “Þiðranda Þáttr” “Thidrandi Whom the Goddesses Slew.” In Anglo-Saxon, although we don’t have anything but prosaic uses of the word idis, we do have Bede’s laconic words on Módranect (various spellings), “Mothers’ Night,” being the beginning of the heathen year and celebrated all night (the night of the Winter Solstice, which at the time was the official date of Xian Yule, too, although the calendar had in fact slipped by a few days since it was established in Rome). And the “Matrones” for whom Germanic people paid for scads of votive tablets and altars in Roman-occupied Europe are also mothers. Plus of course the First Merseburg Charm idisi – and one cannot overemphasize how precious information on heathenry among the continental Germanic tribes is; we have hardly anything left.

 

So from that point of view, we have two different words, the (i)dís word and the term “mothers”, but thanks to the German evidence, it looks as if it all belongs together; and we have roles, or natures of the beings, that flummox the academics. Part of this may be change over vast time (and fragmentation of the culture). Anglo-Saxons had clearly lost any association of the word idis with heathenry. Whether before or after the conversion is hard to say, but they appear to have buried Freyja (Fréo) where the Xians couldn’t find her name, so there may have been some speaking in code and euphemisms involved. (Indeed there was in Old Norse: Freyr and Freyja are known to us by what must originally have been titles, “lord” and “lady”). They kept the associated holy tide as the less specifically heathen “Mothers’ Night.” The Germans kept memories of the idisi as slayers, as fighters who go up against the other side – which is also the role of the dark dísir in “Þiðranda Þáttr,” but with horses and swords rather than spells. Only the Norse texts give us examples of a single dís – in Skaði’s and Freyja’s alternate names, and in the dísarsálr, which may have been a temple to Freyja.

 

Modern heathenry has taken an approach based on what Bede says and supported by the Dísablót, and identified the dísir as our female ancestors. But usually they are seen as being particular female ancestors, who are strong enough to take on a role protecting the family descended from them, or who choose to do so. As such, they’re regarded as individuals. All those plurals – Matrones, idisi, Módranect, Dísablót – suggest they were usually thought of en masse. As indeed were the gods – heathens in Scandinavia clung to the custom of referring to the gods as an indissoluble totality, with the neuter plural words like guð, bǫnd, hǫpt, and regin/rǫgn. Possibly what has happened is that with the attenuation of the heathen tradition in the roughly 1,000 years of the gap, the number of dísir has dwindled. But it’s certain that the customary honoring of them is for all of them.

 

I think it is an alternate word for “goddess” – that’s what it is in Vanadís and Ǫndurdís! But it also, clearly, refers to our ancestral mothers. I have no explanation of the sex imbalance here; there is clearly something wrong with seeing the Álfablót as the corresponding honor done to our male ancestors if it implies that they change species after they die, as it seems to; unless it has to do with the incontrovertibility of descent in the female line. The child visibly issues from a particular woman’s womb. (And here I will make the obligatory shoutout to Heimdallr, with his nine mothers. Some mysteries remain mysteries.)  But what the academics seem most freaked out about is that the dísir/idisi sometimes kill people. Like valkyries. And after all, is that so strange? Ours is not a culture in which women wielding swords are something totally weird – although the lore is strangely silent on the goddesses killing (except for Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr), I am sure they are all perfectly ready and able to do so. The literary development of the valkyrie, who becomes a princess running around in armor who falls for a hero and aids him in battle (just like Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr), can be seen as evidence of Xian titillation with warrior-women. It’s strange in their culture, not in ours. And that may be the whole story about why the dísir don’t seem to fit well – they are a part of ancestor veneration and they have always been ready to take up the cudgels for us, and these became strange things as time went by and ways of thinking shifted. So did remembering that our families – which the vast majority of us nowadays think of as nuclear families, plus a few aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces – are in fact parts of a whole fabric. We are all related to uncounted numbers of others, living and dead. And so our dísir are tribal whether we are or not.

 

And so as the world turns over into a new year and the time out of our normal lives, to be with our families, to consider our goals, and to honor the gods for 12 nights and days that is Yule begins, we should honor the dísir, our mothers, for they connect us to our origins and they help and defend us today. I do not think the academic had it exactly right – a dís is not a goddess, but a goddess may be called a dís. It is an old word of honor, a layer laid down in the Well, and not effaced. We should honor all our mothers as well as our gods and goddesses, and tonight is the night for the Mothers.

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Re-examining the role of Týr in Ragnarök

Is it possible that a misinterpreted word could change the whole outlook of Ragnarök? The word týr as we know has a dual meaning, it is used as the literal meaning for “god” but it also serves as the Old Norse name for Tiwaz known in the Eddic sources as Týr. This becomes even more clear with the use of the plural tívar which means gods. Due to this dualistic meaning it is hard to determine when the literal meaning is implied instead of the name for Tiwaz. In many ways this is the same issue faced with Ullr as his name is frequently used in kennings to illustrate the concept of God / Gods. As such this has opened up a potential scribe error that has been echoed since Snorri’s time.

Lets examine the passages:

Þá er ok lauss orðinn hundrinn Garmr, er bundinn er fyrir Gnipahelli. Hann er it mesta forað. Hann á víg móti Tý, ok verðr hvárr öðrum at bana.

Then shall the dog Garmr be loosed, which is bound before Gnipa’s Cave: he is the greatest monster; he shall do battle with Týr, and each become the other’s slayer.

Gylfaginning 51, Prose Edda – Thorpe translation

In Thorpe’s translation many of the scribes since Snorri, this passage has been scribed as Týr doing battle with Garmr, however the battle does not make sense; in many ways this battle seems to be more Óðinnistic in nature and appears to be an overshadowing. It is well established that Óðinn and Fenrir fight in which Fenrir swallows Óðinn who is immediately avenged by Viðarr, who kills Fenrir by tearing the wolf into two halves.

There is also the fact that both Garmr and Fenrir are bound and have a relationship to Hel; on this alone it would seem more likely that Garmr is in fact Fenrir; as it is implied in the Völuspá.

Geyr nú Garmr mjök fyr Gnipahelli,
festr mun slitna en freki renna;
fjölð veit ek fræða fram sé ek lengra
um ragna rök römm sigtíva.

Now Garmr howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.

Völuspá 58, Poetic Edda – Bellows translation

The similarities between Garmr and Fenrir can not be ignored when it is looked at closely. As we know from the Prose Edda that Fenrir was bound after having run loose causing chaos and destruction; this is further supported in Nordic folklore and warnings about the great wolf. The lore does not give an account to why Garmr is fettered, it is simply stated as such as Óðinn passes him at the entrance to the Gnipa-Cave where the seeress who knows Baldr’s killer lies. In addition to the binding of both Garmr and Fenrir the lore says both howl and bay out as if they are in pain; in the case of Fenrir we know this cause of pain is a sword that is placed in his mouth. For Garmr there is no lore that explains why he howls out.

With this connections between Garmr and Fenrir it is possible that both are the same; in that Garmr is a shadow of Fenrir and the product of poetic creativity.

As such getting back to the confusion between týr and Týr; if one approaches the battle of Ragnarök now with Garmr and Fenrir being one in the same; it removes Týr from the final battle. Which would be more fitting as by this time of the late Viking Age Týr played such a minor role in the Nordic countries where he was barely known as Týr. The mere fact that the Nordic people referred to him as “God” suggests his ancient stature; in fact he is so old that his name had been forgotten where as in the regions further south in Germania the proto-Germanic Tiwaz becomes Zîu in Old High German and in Anglo-Saxon England Tíw or Tí(g) (í and ig both mean long i) his name is remembered and therefore shows the separation of the being from the role.

It is well established that Óðinn was increasing his role as the Christian influence over Heathen beliefs in the north took more root and moved the society towards a monotheistic view point. With the expansion in role at the time the lore was recorded by Snorri some 200+ years after Heathenism in Iceland the confusion between “god” and Tiwaz would have well been cemented in the minds of those recounting the stories of their ancestors.

So what does it mean now?

If the lore passages are re-evaluated to:

** Then shall the wolf Fenrir be loosed, which is bound before Gnipa’s Cave: he is the greatest monster; he shall do battle with god, and each become the other’s slayer. ** — indirectly Óðinn is the slayer of Fenrir as proven by Viðarr the son of Óðinn.

** Now Fenrir howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight. ** — this passage makes a lot more sense when referring to Fenrir and not Garmr.

Notice the only changes I made in the above passages was changing the dog Garmr to the wolf Fenrir and Týr to God. I bolded the wolf passage in the Völsupá to show the key to the whole reworking of the lore. I think this is an important correction that is long over due both in ancient and modern thinking. With this correction it shows that Tiwaz was indeed not involved in the battle or at the very least will not be killed in Ragnarök.

Noil

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Hávamál 144-45 and Dronke

Veitztu hvé rista skal?

Veiztu hvé raða skal?

Veiztu hvé fá skal?

Veitztu hvé freista skal?

Veiztu hvé biðia skal?

Veiztu hvé blóta skal?

Veiztu hvé senda skal?

Veiztu hvé sóa skal?

 

Betra er óbeðit

en sé ofblótit–

ey sér til gildis giǫf.

Betra er ósent

en sé ofsóit.

Svá Þundr um reist

fyr þióða rǫk,

þar hann upp um reis,

er hann aptr of kom.

(Hávamál 144-45)

 

I have the new third volume of Ursula Dronke’s edition of the Elder Edda sitting here beside me. Sadly, she has not assembled for Hávamál anything like the tremendous edifice of notes and analytical material that she did for Vǫluspá. There is no commentary on verse 145, that great crux of heathen praxis, at all.  She regards 144 as “a roundup of ritual obligations.” That makes it still odder that she did not talk about the contrast with 145. If the questions in 144 carry the weight of “You must do this,” then why is 145 saying quite directly, “Better not . . . “?  She seems to have been fired more by seeing echoes of Xianity: in the windswept tree passage (138, Veit ek, at ek hekk . . . , “I know that I was hanging . . .”) she sees “the pathos of the abandoned Christ” in Við hleifi mik sældo | né við hornigi, “They did not hearten me with a loaf | or a horn of ale.” That makes her no good judge of sacrifice; she’s thinking gratuitously of a very different one. Also, where before she had a gift for threading her way through the labyrinth of scholarly viewpoints, highlighting and linking those that her own scholarship told her were worth attention . . . now she has just decided Hávamál “gather[s] together the high moments of pagan and Christian tradition” and that Óðinn pierces himself with Gungnir both because in the Gospel according to John Jesus got poked with a spear to make sure he was dead and because Folke Ström says a spear dedicates someone to Óðinn. The latter is of course not only basic heathenry needing no scholarly citation, it’s in the text: ok gefinn Óðni, | siálfr siálfom mér, “and given to Óðinn | — myself to myself.” And the former a wild-eyed piece of craziness, which the Dream of the Rood and the Ruthwell Cross do nothing whatsoever to support.

 

With that major reservation noted, here’s her translation of the “list of obligations.”

“Do you know how one must carve them?

Do you know how one must construe them?

Do you know how one must tint them?

Do you know how one must test them?

Do you know how one must supplicate?

Do you know how one must sacrifice?

Do you know how one must send off the soul?

Do you know how one must stop up the breath?”

This is basically accurate. Skal does not mean “how you are going to, ” it does indeed mean “how you must” do each thing. Clearer and better than the more familiar Hollander translation: “Know’st how to write . . . ?” And she rightly links the last item, sóa, to A-S swógan, “suffocate,” while Hollander has “sacrifice” there and the synonym “offer” where she has “sacrifice.” Scholarship has decided that there must have been a ritual method of slaughter using suffocation. I’m not so sure – blood was needed for reddening the harrow, quite apart from its putative use in divination using hlautteinar – but the word in that half-line seems to denote stopping breathing. Rendering biðia as “supplicate” sounds wrong – heathens don’t beg – but that’s the word the Xians used for “pray” and so is always going to be problematic in its connotations. I would probably use the simplest possible word: “ask.” That’s what she has used for the opening of verse 145: “Better to have asked for nothing.” And that’s what Hollander has for biðia – but he has confusingly used “supplicate” for senda. He sees the first four half-lines as being about runes, the other four about blóting and addressing the gods. That has a certain logic with verse 145 about to come along – which is all about blóting and addressing the gods. So presumably he’s thinking “send a message.” That’s also closer to the attested meanings of the verb than her “send off the soul”; she’s assuming “the soul” is unstated because she has this notion that the verse is about the entire span of religious obligations in heathenry. But quite apart from the fact that “send off” is idiomatic English, but senda just means “send” – and where is one sending the soul to? –  it’s used for throwing spears, but the word “spear” is somewhere in the passage for clarity; and it’s used with “message” implied, as we can write in somewhat archaic English, “Send to him that . . .” – but I don’t know of any attestations where what is sent is simply left for the guessing. Her theory is leading her by the nose here. On freista, I’m more sympathetic: Hollander has “understand,” which just echoes the meaning of ráða (her “construe,” his “read”) – he’s wimped out and given a synonym of what he already said, as he often does. She’s correctly noted that it basically means “test” – both in the basic meaning of “make an attempt” and in the Xian religious meaning of “tempt.”

 

But what does “test” mean with reference to the runes? Her note sums up the “obligations” as follows: “to cultivate runes to link men with the occult world; to supplicate and sacrifice (to the gods): to dispatch the dead with the right ritual.” So she apparently thinks sóa, as well as senda, refers to the human dead. Surely “send” the blóted animal is a plausible reading, and “suffocate” more obviously relates to an animal than a human? The obligation to use runes is problematic – especially as an obligatory link to “the occult world.” I think she’s been listening to too many wiccans. And there are eighteen uses of runes coming very soon in the last section that render her view of the purpose of runes very simplistic. “It’s all the occult” doesn’t fit this poem well. But I remain unsure what she thinks the test involves. Instead of spelling out which lines are on which “obligation,” she has expounded on how the dead were “sent” to a destination – notably in ship burials, which she for some reason thinks were “always metaphorical.” I do not see why the existence of ship burials on dry land means there were never actual flaming ships sent out over the water. (Nor do I see the point as adequate support for senda meaning “send off the dead” anyhow.)

 

In her introduction to the poem, she speaks of different voices interrupting each other. That’s the way Hávamál sounds to many of us, especially with the third-person references to Óðinn by many different names, like the one to Þundr in verse 145. She describes verse 144 thus: “Another voice brusquely interrogates: ‘Can you perform the eight ceremonies of your creed, the secret writing, the wishing prayer, the muffled sacrifice . . .?'” “Brusque interrogation” is indeed how it must have struck many a modern heathen, because sadly, what we have most clearly lost is the ceremonial how-tos. Indeed, do we know how we must blót? No. We can only try. And piece together the clues we have (and hope we are not emphasizing stuff some Xian was wrong about) and hope the gods let us know what works and what doesn’t. Actually there is a heartening piece of evidence that there was no one correct way to offer to the gods among the ancient heathens: Jonas of Bobbio’s Vita Columbani mentions Alemanni doing a beer-blót to Wodan (Vadono); they had for the purpose a vas . . . magnum, quod vulgo “cupam” vocant, . . . cerevisia plenum – a “large vessel . . . which they call in the vulgar tongue a cupa, . . .  full of beer.” But notice that she refers there to “the eight ceremonies of your creed.” This is even clearer than “roundup of ritual obligations”; she has in mind an analogue to Xian sacraments. In that case, where is marriage? and confirmation/coming of age? and baptism/name-giving, which is mentioned in Hávamál itself? One might also expect a theoretical list of heathen sacraments to include inheritance. Instead she has related the first four to the runes – that doesn’t accord well with the eight lines representing eight distinct ceremonies, and makes the list even more obviously not a complete set of religious obligations (if such existed). Her theory has run away with her.

 

Also, her translation of 144 doesn’t match up well with her translation of 145, which is:

Better to have asked for nothing

than sacrificed excessively–

always a gift expects to be paid for.

Better no souls escorted

than too many lives smothered.

Þundr-Óðinn carved that

before the close of men’s history,

at the place where he rose up,

when he returned.

Here, she uses “asked for” where before she used “supplicated” – confusing, but also in this verse it is connected to sacrifice; so the two cannot be distinct ceremonies/obligations. Worse, in translating and explicating 144, she saw senda as referring to (metaphorically, in her view) sending off the dead to the afterlife, and sóa as also related to funeral ritual; she says it “also relates to a type of sacrificial killing of  animals by smothering.” Note that “also.” In the introduction to the poem, she attributes 145 to a different voice from 144, one that “fear[s] excess”, and paraphrases the fourth and fifth halflines thus: “Better no soul escorted to the otherworld, than that humans should be killed to accompany it.” She refers in the notes to Ibn Fadlan’s account of the funeral among the Rus, which includes the killing of the slave girl. (But she does not explicitly mention that killing there; just the use of ships.) So apparently in her translation of sóa in 144 she was thinking of human sacrifice to accompany a dead person as a heathen obligation – and in 145 she sees the speaker recoiling against this waste. This is extremely tenuously supported. It makes far more sense to relate sóa to animal sacrifice – to blót – because there are no contextual clues for taking senda in that odd meaning of “send off to the afterlife.” That comes from her assumption that 144 is a set of distinct heathen obligations. And 144 and 145 are both clearly talking about sacrifice; in both cases it is less of a stretch to see a continuation of the same idea.

 

That’s the root of her interpretation of the problem verse, 145: she sees Óðinn as having learned from hanging on the tree a “humane knowledge,” “a kind of mercy, a moderation in judgement.” All of which is of course unsupported in the text. The name Þundr takes us nowhere useful so far as I know: it’s the name of Óðinn that mysteriously seems etymologically connected to the word for “thunder,” but how that connects here . . . I got nuthin’. However, we do know it refers to Óðinn, and we have been told why he hung on the tree: to seize the runes. That verse is 138. The runes in relation to other forms of magic precede it; matters of the runes follow it; what follows 144-45 is the recitation of charms or chants (galdrs – the poem refers to them as lióð, songs or as Dronke renders the word, lays). There is nothing about learning mercy, although of course manifold benefits to people as well as means of attack are mentioned. And is it in character for Óðinn to have learned mercy from his ordeal? Not judging by most of his names . . . and not with any support in lore that I can think of, although this poem does contain his regrets at how he has treated women.

 

Also she’s either sidestepped or overlooked the crux of the problem in 145: what we are being warned against. With Xian virtues in mind, she plumps for the most popular interpretation: “Better to have asked for nothing | than sacrificed excessively–” is, for example,  Hollander’s “‘Tis better unasked | than offered overmuch.” (Hollander gives up and simply repeats this where she has “Better no souls escorted | than too many lives smothered.” Clearly he, like me, sees the sending and the killing as also referring to blót and asking.) The prefix of– does usually mean “too much.” However, it can also be an alternate of um (usually printed as a separate word; the manuscripts do not reliably distinguish prefixes from separate words), and in fact both um reist and of blótit in 145 are cited as examples under that header in the first edition of Cleasby-Vigfusson. The meaning of this “enclitic particle”? Unstated. In the more usual form um, it is simply omitted in translations. If we omit it here, we get: “Better not to have asked | than to have blóted . . . Better not to have sent | than to have sacrificed [a beast].” Better not to have asked the gods at all for a favor than to have followed it up with a sacrifice”? That’s a plausible alternate reading that fits the line I omitted: ey sér til gildis giǫf (usually translated, “a gift asks for a gift”). In Hyndluljóð, Freyja is not at all upset at Ottar for having made his harrow like glass with blood of sacrificed oxen:

Hǫrg hann mér gerði
hlaðinn steinum,
– nú er grjót þat
at gleri orðit; –
rauð hann í nýju
nauta blóði;
æ trúði Óttarr
á ásynjur.

(Hollander is particularly recherché in his wording here, so here’s Bellows’ version:

“For me a shrine | of stones he made,–
And now to glass | the rock has grown;–
Oft with the blood | of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever | did Ottar trust.”

Ottar blóted a lot, and she approves. What he didn’t do is ask for something and then follow it up with a blót. So I suggest that “It would be better not to ask than to ask and follow it up with a blót, because the gift in a blót makes it a demand for a gift in return” is a possible interpretation.

 

Or maybe she’s right. There is after all a passage explicitly urging moderation in Hávamál – the one advocating being “middling wise” (meðalsnotr; translated that way by both Dronke and Hollander; and repeated three times). Odd though that seems coming from Óðinn, who gives not his eye teeth but his eye for wisdom. And hangs himself and runs himself through for nine nights for wisdom. And wanders the worlds for wisdom. And studies seiðr (and gives Freyja half the slain with first pick, possibly in exchange for that knowledge). And who knows what-all else he does for wisdom! That passage says that the reason to be middling wise is because otherwise you will know the awful things that are coming. But still, he repeats it three times. And one could legitimately say that any sacrifice is a gift – that’s simply what it is.

 

Dronke doesn’t help the issue by translating the “gift” line obscurely. Literally, “Always a gift looks for a payment.” (And Hollander has “gain.”) But gildi can also mean “honor,” “tribute,” a “guild” and a “banquet” (related meanings). I’ve written about the word before, drawing on her own analysis of Vǫluspá 23. So “a gift looks for a gift back” (reciprocal honoring) lurks behind the wording just as much as “A gift exacts a tax.”

 

Which interpretation one prefers comes down to theology: do you see the gods as wanting us to blót – but not to use it as a way to get them to answer prayers? Or do you see them as having a problem only if the blóts – of which prayers are normal parts – are too frequent? I prefer the former. I think the notion of asking is natural in Xianity, but not so much in heathenry. Ottar didn’t ask, he just trusted and blóted.

 

It’s also a theological issue whether you see the Hávamál passage as a blend of Xianity and heathenry, as Dronke does. The second half of 145, Þundr etching these runes after he returned to life, gives her some support if the hanging on the windswept tree is seen as a deliberate analogy to Jesus hanging on the cross. And thinking that way, you expect heathenry to have sacraments and lists of obligations. But for me that requires a tin ear for heathenry and serious ignoring of the context within the poem, which is runes and sacrifice (Óðinn gives/sacrifices himself to himself), and in which these two verses are set together for a reason. I think she’s lost her nose.

Posted in Forn Seðr.


The acknowledgement of Norwegians

In 1930 the state of Wisconsin officially recognized Leif Eriksson Day as a state holiday. It is not until 1931 Minnesota followed Wisconsin’s initiative in adopting Leif Eriksson Day.

John Blatnik, introduced a bill in the US Congress to make Leif Eriksson Day a nation wide observance in 1963; it was approved by annual proclamation by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, in which every year has been annually proclaimed by other presidents.

During the presidential proclamations, it is tradition to praise people of Scandinavian heritage for their ongoing contributions in society. However as early as 1925 president Calvin Coolidge gave recognition to Leif Eriksson as the discoverer of America; due to the research by scholars like Anderson, Gjerset and Hektoen.

So why October 9th? On October 9, 1825 the Restauration arrived from Stavanger, Norway in the first organized migration of Norwegians to the United States. The date has nothing to do with Leif Eriksson or his voyage to America.

Leif Eriksson Day has two functions, first to acknowledge what Norwegians have contributed as well as other Scandinavians to American society; and to begin the trend to a correction in history that is long over due, in that Christopher Columbus was not the first European in America, the Norwegians were.

According to the Grœnlendinga saga Bjarni Herjólfsson was on his way to Greenland from Iceland to visit his parents, when he was blown off course arriving in a strange new landscape, in the year 985 or 986 CE. Although his crew begged Bjarni to explore this mountainous tree covered wilderness Bjarni was eager to find his parents and not explore the new land.

It was not until Leif Eriksson arrived in Greenland in 1000 CE with the intent to convert Greenland to Christianity ousting his father Erik the Red. Leif himself was recently converted by Olaf I of Norway and had been charged by Olaf to convert Greenland.

However upon arriving in Greenland Leif bought Bjarni’s ship and headed out in a exploration of the lands that Bjarni had discovered in the year 1002 or 1003 CE.

The first lands Leif came to he named Helluland, which is most likely Baffin Island in Canada, the second land was named Markland, which is believed to be Labrador and to a greater extent Atlantic Canada. The third land Leif came to he named Vinland. There is great debate about the location of Vinland due to the particular items found at this location, wild grapes and butternuts. It is most likely in my personal research of this topic to be in south-eastern New Brunswick, Canada. As it has both wild grapes and the only location in Atlantic Canada that butternut also occurs along with the wild grapes.

The settlement in L`Anse Aux Meadows discovered by the Ingstad’s in the 1950’s – 1960’s proved that the Norse were the first Europeans in North America in approximately the year 1000 CE, which would correspond to the voyage of Leif Eriksson.

Although Leif Eriksson converted to Christianity his accomplishments and deeds as Norseman can not be ignored as they play a vital role in the correction of Germanic history and cultural image.

Posted in Forn Seðr, Other.


The spirituality issue

Reading this heathen blog entry provoked me to put into words why I disagree.

 

Many people make a distinction between “spirituality” and “religion.” I’ve written elsewhere about my disagreement with this dichotomy. It implies that what you do and why you do it can be separated. This violates the heathen principle that “We are our deeds.” What we do matters. If we set aside actions by classing them as “religion” and separate from “spirituality,” then why are we doing meaningless things, rather than investing them with spiritual meaning or doing them because we mean them? Is it just that we’re conforming to expectations? Are we in fact being hypocritical, performing actions that do not reflect our “spiritual” convictions? Then we should stop performing those actions. Or do them for a reason. For example, it’s dishonest, and an insult to the gods, to participate in the worship rituals of deities who are not yours. If you are multi-faith, that’s one thing. But if not, going to church and honoring the Xian god, or attending rites of religio romana, is a betrayal of our gods and also a trivialization of the other(s). Because these rites have meaning. As another example, if you believe you only truly honor our gods in meditation or by faring forth to them, and that meeting with other heathens for blót is “mere religion,” then don’t do it. Do what you believe to be the most meaningful and proper thing to do. Heathenry does not have a text saying “Blót with a kindred or else!” The one text speaking of mandatory blóts – thrice yearly – is Heimskringla, and that’s hardly binding on your conscience. And in fact we do have a lore text speaking very sternly of not blóting wrongly: Hávamál 145, “Betra er óbeðit en sé ofblótit.” That covers blóting when you would prefer to do something “more spiritual.”

 

But in fact, the problem lies in the dichotomy. Action is real and meaningful – we are our deeds, our deeds express who we are and what we believe. If you don’t believe something is right or useful, don’t do it. If you do think it has some purpose, then that’s a reason to do it. “Religion” is not what you do to please (or shock) the neighbors. Either it’s the outward expression of “spirituality” – and therefore in my opinion it’s more useful to use “religion” for the whole shebang. Or if you prefer, “way.” Or it’s the sum total of your inward and outward relationship to deity, in which case carving spirit out of it is just impossible.

 

And that’s the thing. Separating the “spiritual” from the rest of life doesn’t make sense in a heathen context.

 

We hear tell of the gods interacting with humans right here, in Midgard/Middangeard. Thor and Loki stopped off at a farmer’s house to have dinner and spend the night; Thor provided the meat. Rígr went for a walk and engendered three sons on mortal women at the three houses he stayed at (or three generations in the same family over time, judging by the couples’ names). Hávamál is very clear: the guest knocking at your door may be a god. In Grímnismál, a man who had been fostered by Óðinn failed to recognize him. “It’s not like that now,” you might say. But then why honor these gods, if they are no longer interested in us, or no longer real?

 

What do the gods do, when they aren’t knocking on mortals’ doors? Jörð/Eorþ has something to do with the earth. . . . on which we all live, and from which come all our crops. Thor/Þunor sends the lightning. . . and protects all of this world, and blesses our marriages, and the lightning fixes the nitrogen and ripens the grain. Yngvi Freyr/Ing Fréa makes the weather kind and makes all things flourish, including humans. His father Njörðr/Neorð provides the fish our fishers catch, and blesses us with wealth. And so on. None of these is divorced from the material world. I have to think really hard to think of a god or goddess of ours who is abstract. Ægir? Nope, brewing and the ocean deep as well as poetry. Bragi? A better case, largely because we know less about him – but he’s married to Iðunn, and those apples are real enough. Freyja? Hard to deny the reality of love and sex, and the spiritists are the last to deny the reality of seiðr. Maybe this is another reason Óðinn is so popular; but he really does a lot of concrete things. He hangs himself for nine days and nine nights. He shape-changes a lot. He wields the spear – and throws it over armies, and changes a reed into a spear. And he is the Wanderer. He knocks on all those doors and walks down all those roads. As his particular dévotés recognize, it’s him you are most likely to meet in a dark alley or on a deserted headland.

 

How do we conventionally honor the gods? We share a drink with them (or traditionally, the boiled flesh of a slain beast). In the lore and the sagas, people blót. The private temples that pious heathen Icelanders supposedly built (whether or not they are just reflections of Xian chapels) are blóthúsar – blóthouses. Even if you prefer to talk with the gods in your head without offering them a drink, even if you consider that a more appropriate way of relating to a deity, you have to admit they take drink and food offerings, now as always.

 

What have the gods done in the past? Made Midgard/Middangeard. Made Asgard/Esageard and fought a war over it. Killed one of their number through trickery. These are all concrete things.

 

Also, let’s pause over Midgard/Middangeard. That’s our home, and they made it for us to live in it. Thor/Þunor busts a gut protecting it (as well as Asgard/Esageard) so that we (as well as the gods) have a safe place to live. He doesn’t go on dangerous trips into Giantland just for kicks and to fish for humongous serpents; he’s knocking himself out to keep us all safe. (And getting mocked in Hárbarðsljóð for not instead spending his time romancing cute giantesses.) Isn’t it rather ungrateful to regard this world as just a honeypot or a cage, luring us or keeping us from living in a spiritual world? And how can it not be spiritual when it’s provided for us by our gods, visited by our gods, constantly tended by our gods? This earth beneath our feet is Jörð/Eorþ’s place. Not some clod to be cast aside. The ancient heathens sealed blood brotherhood by walking and mingling blood on the soil beneath an arch of living sod. We pour out blót drink on the soil. Many of us prefer to blót in the open air, as Tacitus says all the tribes of Germany did in his time. And of course there is the story that the gods formed us of trees . . .

 

And what about our minds? The gifts of the sons of Bor to Askr and Embla were: volition, movement, and human skin (or human senses, in the alternate version). Our minds are the gift of the gods. Even if you are not as literal as me, how can you deny the sacredness of mind to a god named for óðr? and who strategizes constantly, not least to save all that is from the looming menace of Ragnarǫk?

 

Dreams are not to be sneezed at. They are often the first way we hear and see the gods. They offer us portents and guidance. The ancient heathens had a healthy respect for them and discussed them with each other. But the gods do not only live in our dreams. And Óðin’s eye was a pledge, and is gone in the well now. It’s not a kind of periscope. (If it were, would he feel the need to talk with Mímir’s head?) Trancing is sacred to some people, and can be very useful. But we are not to spend our lives sleepwalking. That would be a waste of the gods’ gifts to us, and an insult to their presence in the here and now. And I could of course add that being heathen is not just about the gods. We are also surrounded by a multitude of vættir; this world is also sacred to them, and if we have a happy home, we have housewights.

 

It’s an error of conceptualization. If we dichotomize, declare only the internal world real and good, then of course the “surface” world becomes illusory and a trap. But that “tyranny of onliness” comes from our own division of things. Humans have both minds and bodies. Which dreams, the mind or the body? They both do, for they are indivisible. Even when you fare forth, you do not permanently cut the link between your hamingja/hama and your body. To do so would be death. Heathenry is a holistic religion. We have vés, sacred places, both human-made and natural; and we have all been in places that are blighted and sterile. But in general, the divine is interwoven with the ordinary in our worldview. Our forefathers and foremothers blóted at home with ordinary utensils; it’s our modernness that leads us to use special bowls and drinking vessels, and some of us to wear special clothes. Those are modern options; people didn’t use to have so many possessions. Although the ancient Germanic people were noted for their love of jewelry; both its beauty and the amount they wore and consigned to the ground with their dead. Perhaps grave goods are one of the most powerful testaments to the sanctity with which solid, real things can be invested. For after all, the realm of the gods is not unreal. It overlaps and interweaves with our sphere of existence. We can go “inside” to talk to the gods, yes. But we can also speak out loud; that is the conventional way of doing it, in our Way. Just as the walls of a prison cell cannot keep us from talking to our gods, so they are no more present in the innermost recesses of our spirits than they are in the “external” world. Yes, there is distraction from our gods in the constant yammering of advertising and of peer pressure. Yes, just as many of us seek a quiet and beautiful place to commune with the gods, so many of us need mental quietude to focus on them and to hear them. But there are many modern stories of them making themselves heard regardless – in a classroom, in a car in traffic, in a conversation with someone. To assume that we cannot focus on them, cannot reach them, cannot hear them, except in a world away from the real, or except by turning off our minds, or to argue that the entire world has been poisoned by the unheathen to the extent that we can only get away from their mindset in dreams – is to grant them victory. It is an alien division between sacred and secular. There is no fully secular thing in heathenry; we can, after all, all hallow a vé and we can all blót without a priest. This is not, of course, to say that all is sweetness and light upon Midgard/Middangeard. There are very bad things. Nor do I condemn inner practices for those who are drawn to them. But the gods are right here as well as there, and their vés are right here in their green and blue world.

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Sonargöltr

Sonargöltr
by Marion posted on Wikipedia

The sonargǫltr or sónargǫltr was the boar sacrificed as part of the celebration of Yule in Germanic paganism, on whose bristles solemn vows were made, a tradition known as heitstrenging.

Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks refers to the tradition of swearing oaths on Yule Eve by laying hands on the bristles of the boar, who was then sacrificed in the sonar-blót:

[O]k skyldi þeim gelti blóta at sónarblóti. Jólaaptan skyldi leiða sónargöltinn í höll fyrir konúng; lögðu menn þá hendr yfir burst hans ok strengja heit.[1][2]

[A]nd they would sacrifice a boar in the sonarblót. On Yule Eve the sonar-boar was led into the hall before the king; then people laid their hands on its bristles and made vows.

One of the prose segments in “Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar” adds that the oaths were sworn while drinking the bragarfull toast:

Um kveldit [jólaaftan] óru heitstrengingar. Var fram leiddr sónargöltr. Lögðu menn þar á hendr sínar ok strengðu menn þá heit at bragarfulli.

That evening [of Yule Eve] the great vows were taken; the sacred boar was brought in, the men laid their hands thereon, and took their vows at the king’s toast.[3]

In Ynglinga saga the sonarblót is used for divination (til frettar).[4][5]

The association with the Yule blót and with the ceremonial bragarfull gives the vows great solemnity, so that they have the force of oaths. This becomes a recurring topos in later sagas.[6] The choice of a boar indicates a connection with Freyr, whose mount is the gold-bristled boar Gullinbursti,[4][7] and the continuing Swedish tradition of eating pig-shaped cakes at Christmas recalls the heathen custom.[5][8][9][10] According to Olaus Verelius’ notes in his 1672 edition of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, part of this jula-galt would then be saved for mixing with the seed-corn and giving to the plough-horses and ploughmen at spring planting.[11] As Jacob Grimm pointed out, the serving of a boar’s head at banquets and particularly at Queen’s College, Oxford may also be a reminiscence of the Yule boar-blót.[12][13][14]

It was formerly usual to spell the word sónargǫltr and to interpret it as “atonement-boar” (the rare element sónar- can also mean “sacrifice”).[8][15] However, following Eduard Sievers, it is usually now spelled with a short o and taken as meaning “herd boar, leading boar”, as Lombard sonarþair is defined in the Edictus Rothari as the boar “which fights and beats all other boars in the herd”.[4][5][13]

References

1. Saga Heiðreks konungs ins vitra, H-text of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, chapter 10, from Heimskringla.no. Note that this text uses the sónar spelling.

2. For the alternate version, in which the procedure is the same but the word sonargǫltr does not occur, see Richard North, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 22, Cambridge, 1997, ISBN 9780521551830, p. 74.

3. “Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar”, prose before verse 31, Old Norse and Henry Adams Bellows’ translation from voluspa.org. Again the sónar spelling is used.

4. a b c “Sonargǫltr”, Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, tr. Angela Hall, Cambridge: Brewer, 1993, repr. 2000, ISBN 9780859913690, p. 298.

5. a b c Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Volume 1, Grundriß der germanischen Philologie begründet von Hermann Paul 12/I, 2nd ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1956, repr. as 3rd ed. 1970, OCLC 747429, p. 367 (German)

6. de Vries, p. 504.

7. Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand points to a prohibition in the Salic Law that suggests the Franks sacrificed only the generative organs of the boar to the fertility god Freyr, reserving the rest for the feast: “Spuren paganer Religiosität in den frühmittelalterlichen Leges”, in Iconologia sacra: Mythos, Bildkunst und Dichtung in der Religions- und Sozialgeschichte Alteuropas: Festschrift für Karl Hauck zum 75. Geburtstag, ed. Hagen Keller and Nikolaus Staubach, Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung 23, Berlin: De Gruyter, 1994, ISBN 9783110132557, pp. 249–62, pp. 256–57 (German)

8. a b Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, tr. James Steven Stallybrass, Volume 1, London: Bell, 1882, p. 51.

9. H.F. Feilberg, Jul, volume 2, Copenhagen: Schuboth, 1904, pp. 313–14 (Danish)

10. Helge Rosén, “Freykult och Djurkult”, Fornvännen 1913, pp. 213–44, pp. 214–15, pdf (Swedish)

11. Grimm, Volume 3, 1883, p. 1240.

12. Grimm, Volume 1, p. 215; Volume 4, 1883, p. 1355.

13. a b Rosén, p. 214.

14. Ernst Anton Quitzmann, Die heidnische Religion der Baiwaren: erster faktischer Beweis für die Abstammung dieses Volkes, Leipzig: Winter, 1860, OCLC 252676776, p. 86 (German) notes that Bavarian farmers feasted on a slaughtered pig at Yule.

15. “Són”, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, initiated by Richard Cleasby, subsequently revised, enlarged, and completed by Gudbrand Vigfusson, 2nd ed. with supplement by William A. Craigie, Oxford: Oxford/Clarendon, 1957, repr. 1975, ISBN 9780198631033, p. 580, online at Germanic Lexicon Project.

Sources

Eduard Sievers. “Sonargǫltr”. PBB 16 (1892) 540–44. (German)

Anne Holtsmark. “Sonargǫltr”. Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder Volume 16, 1971. p. 433 (Norwegian)

Posted in Forn Seðr.


There (still) is an Anglo-Saxon Wikipedia

On August 22, the Old English Wikipedia was saved from proposed deletion the Old English Wikipedia was saved from proposed deletion. This leads me to thoughts in two related directions . . .

 

First, that’s a commendable project. As the comments on the proposal page made clear – increasingly so, as, as someone said, people started piling on to reject deletion – having a Wikipedia in the Anglo-Saxon language is inspiring and delighting a lot of people, including people who are studying the language in colleges, and is serving as a forum for people to hack out how to use Anglo-Saxon to talk about things now. This is something we have an interest in. Obviously, the more people practice reading Anglo-Saxon – and Old Norse – the better they’ll be able to read the lore. And almost as obviously, there’s a lot of reluctance to be overcome – “It’s too hard, it’s boring, it’s all old” – and this is the kind of multifaceted, contemporary application that can really help to overcome that, including attracting people who might not even have realized Anglo-Saxon existed. It also helps to offset the advantages Old Norse possesses – in being associated with Vikings, and in having a descendant, Icelandic, that has changed very little, is promoted by feisty and creative (and extremely literate) native speakers who have done and are doing all the work keeping the vocabulary up to date for today’s needs . . . and as a result already has a Wikipedia. Of course there’s a danger that people will be influenced by newer meanings in Icelandic and misread lore passages. But there’s already the ever-present danger of being led astray by weird scholarly interpretations and emendations, and overall the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It’s all practice; it’s all attention for languages we use to read and understand lore, and publicity that may even attract people who didn’t know about those languages (never over-estimate the quality of education on anything pre-20th-century or less than obviously relevant to patriotism in the country concerned) . . . and some people master languages by using them and so writing an article in Anglo-Saxon on a computer game, or improving the article on Woden, may be just the ticket.

 

It’s also, of course, a significant step towards revivifying Anglo-Saxon as a language heathens use, rather than just read. That’s a lot more controversial. There are good points to be made on both sides. Again, many people can’t get a grip on a language purely passively. They have to have a try at rearranging the elements to form new sentences; they may even have to speak it and/or hear it. And those are important ways to form an appreciation of poetry; Beowulf and the Poetic Edda were never intended to sit on a page. They’re also the high road to understanding the nuances of meaning and of connotations, although to hear modern scholars speak, one might think a frequency list was better. To many experts, it’s a truism that a language brings with it modes and patterns of thought, and it would then follow that to understand the ancient heathens and what they left us by way of writing, we need to use their languages. That’s why many of us blót using Old Tongues. But on the other hand . . . I will borrow Ingeborg Nordén’s formulation: The gods are not stuck in a time-warp over Northern Europe. They didn’t go into suspended animation during the dark centuries when we are unaware of there having been any heathens. They are perfectly capable of understanding English (or any other modern language.) After all, they respond when people don’t feel up to Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, or Old High German, and just use Hollander, Brodeur, Auden, Dronke, Tolkien . . . or their own words. Or when we mangle the Old Tongues horribly. (At one time, I am sure I was a fixture in the weekly Asgard blooper reel. For one thing, I learned German first and still can’t stop myself from pronouncing it hóf (hoof) when I mean hof (temple).) Also, the notion of writing as better than speech and the concomitant obsession with correct text came in with Xianity and the concept of Holy Writ. (Maybe foreshadowed by Romans obsessed with military regulations and reports, but I don’t know how obsessed the Romans were with paperwork on the frontier.) Whereas our ancestors used poetry, and specifically alliterative poetry, in order to string words together in a memorable way. Had two gods of poetry. Celebrated heroes in long epics and spoke of a good man’s fame as never dying (if it had been a matter of written record, nobody’s vital statistics would have ever died, in theory at least – they were talking, in “Hávamál,” in Beowulf, and elsewhere, of word of mouth, of stories passed down through the generations by tale tellers and proud descendants). And notably, revered skálds who concocted complex poems on the fly, or at most immediately before they were called before the tyrant to prove their ability. What we have is the leavings of a culture of extemporizers with trained ears and immensely good memories. They would have been at best puzzled and likely shocked to see a typical modern blót with everyone standing around clutching a sheaf of computer printout and reading their words from it. One could say that the time and effort we spend on trying to speak Anglo-Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse, or even Icelandic – and trying to figure out how to say “My name is Joe Blow and I major in computer science with a minor in medieval lit. at Podunk State U” in Anglo-Saxon, Old High German, or even Icelandic – is a waste and we would be better off using that time to read the entirety of both Eddas and, yes, to blót, learning to stand before the gods and speak eloquently from the heart, and to listen for a response.

 

Acrimonious though it may get, I think the debate over the use of Old Tongues is inevitable – the gods may well not have changed much, but we are certainly rather different from the ancient heathens – and not in every way bad. Because it leads us to consider the Old Tongues, and what may please the gods, and how to adapt to our modern situations. But whichever way we decide on those issues, we need to be able to read the Old Tongues, and it’s in our interest for colleges to teach them, for editions as well as translations of lore and history texts to be available, and for scholars to be doing work on them that gives us information.

 

And that brings me to the other thing about the debate over whether the Old English Wikipedia should continue to exist. Which is that the proposal and the way it was made is a sad example of an all too common thing: opposing study of the ancient Germanic languages, belittling them as unimportant and as a weirdo interest and a waste of time. Somehow, Latin is ok, the revivals of Hebrew and Irish in the past century are ok, but the study of ancient Germanic culture and languages is an intolerable waste of resources. This is all around us. As just one sad scholarly example, I will cite Stefan Arvidsson’s Aryan Idols (first published in Swedish in 2000). This goes from justifiable suspicions about Dumézil’s politics and their link to his espousal of a three-caste system as natural to questioning the entire utility of studying ancient gods: “Had not Odin, Venus, Indra, Anahita, Taranis, Freja, Perún, Nasatyas, Mitra, Jupiter, and the other Indo-European gods played out their roles long ago?” (translated ed., p. 3) – and although coarsely expressed, that dismissal of gods that humanity has supposedly “outgrown” is almost a required tenet of modern scholarship, with the word mythology used as an alternate to religion for those faiths where the academic does not expect to ever confront believers, or expects he can laugh at them with impunity. No one says Jesus has “played out his role long ago,” or even calls him a symbol. And of course the author reserves his major scorn for Germanic studies. “[A]s folklore gained more influence . . . . the Indo-Europeans began to look less and less like Indians and Iranians, and more and more like Germans. This meant, in turn, that they became less civilized and more primitive and barbaric.” (translated ed., p. 141). This is pure and simple snobbery at our expense. For one thing, where is the censure of the Romans, whose religious stories feature plenty of farting, fornicating, and stabs in the back? or for that matter the Greeks, with that whole thing about the Titans involving Zeus’ dad eating all his sons in turn and culminating in Zeus slaughtering the lot of ’em? Not ideal family relations . . . and as Martin Bernal has argued starting with Black Athena, causing tremendous upheavals in academic departments, Greek religion can be plausibly argued to be not Indo-European but Semitic, closely related to Egyptian – where the sky-god and the earth-goddess are forcibly ripped apart during coitus, and other goings on occur that are not ideal among kin. For another, isn’t it convenient that the two held out here as more “civilized” and less “primitive and barbaric” happen to have developed monotheistic traditions? Indeed, polytheism passing into or “really” being a symbolic way of talking about monotheism is a recurrent day-dream of Indo-Europeanists from the start. But the subject of the book is the history of the ideas behind Indo-European studies – this one the author does not seem to have examined in himself. Unfortunately, all too common, especially when tarring the study of Germanic “mythology” with the brush of pointlessness. Again, describing the Grimms’ nationalistically tinged effort to identify specifically German sources on Germanic religion, he gives the impression that there were none – while simply asserting in contrast that both the “classical” and the “Judeo-Christian” traditions are unassailably worthwhile: “One step in this project [of (re-)creating a strong German culture that could free itself from dependence on ‘foreign’ cultures] was to show that there existed a rich ‘German’ mythology that could successfully compete with classical and Judeo-Christian traditions.” (translated ed., p. 131) With respect to the “Judeo-Christian,” the so-called “rich mythology” is basically the Bible (!) With respect to the Greco-Roman, this is circular – they were part of the Indo-European construct he is exploring as a “myth.” But “classical” exists and “Judeo-Christian” gets a pass because that’s his religion – the existence of Germanic culture is taken as illusory. He then overstates the Grimms’ rejection of Norse material (“since the Germans [would then be] placed in a dependent relationship to the Nordic culture”, translated ed., p. 132), despite the fact that there is examination and comparison with records of Germanic culture in other places, primarily Scandinavia but also Anglo-Saxon England and the Merovingian Franks, on every page of Teutonic Mythology. As everyone knows who’s used it as a comprehensive reference work. He glosses over the very careful examination and comparison of sources in Grimm and makes it seem as if the fairytales were the foundation of the scholarship, when they were only the first step.  (I don’t see, for example, any appreciation of Jacob Grimm’s work on the history of German law.)

 

Jacob Grimm was pretty bad at Anglo-Saxon and many of his analyses are badly flawed. He loved to jump to etymological conclusions based on simplistic similarities. He betrays sad 19th-century sexism in constantly trying to combine all the goddesses into one or two. But basically Arvidsson is biased against the Grimms for being interested in Germanic material, which he does not regard as as worthy of study as “classical” – let alone “Judeo-Christian.”

 

And that is a pervasive attitude. Mixed in of course with the old canard that the Nazis promoted heathenry (they imprisoned known heathens, and there was a power struggle over how far enthusiasts like Himmler and Goering would be allowed to pursue their vague yen for occultized Germanic symbology, such as calling a daughter “Edda” and building a knights’ chamber for top SS men that owed more to Wagner’s Parsifal and the Arthurian Round Table than to any heathen tradition, but was to have had a few runes on the chairs and in the stained glass) and with Jung’s notion that Odin is responsible for German bloodthirstiness.

 

It’s very hard to study either Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse in a college in either the US or the UK, these days. And medieval studies is dominated by people who are mainly interested in Catholicism and its writings; that and “demythologizing” figures of Germanic history are preoccupations of many of the remaining students of the Viking Age and the Germanic literature of the early Middle Ages. Plus of course it’s a logistical nightmare to study and work in the entire Germanic field; Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Old High German have been walled off from each other as distinct disciplines, with only Cambridge University, that I am aware of, facilitating combining the first two: but the price of that is that you must also study Celtic literature and culture. Our history and culture are constantly marginalized. The discussion about the Old English Wikipedia, while small in the scheme of things – and while there are good reasons to call that Wikipedia a waste of time that could be better spent on other things, and there are also arguments to be made against the Indo-European hypothesis, particularly since it has become yet another whip to try to get us to turn our attention instead to Greco-Roman studies, or Celtic studies, or to regard Germanic literature as impoverished by comparison with these, or heathenry as a precursor to monotheism or as a construct of romanticizing nationalists – is both a good example and a rare bit of good news. It got kept because, surprisingly, person after person appeared to argue that it should be. That an encyclopedia in Anglo-Saxon was interesting, harmless, even useful.

 

Good. Let’s continue to be aware of both the attacks and the interest. Just as we should be aware of all the Germanic data – the German folklore, the few pieces of information from ancient Germany, and the bits we can sift out from the Xianity in our Anglo-Saxon sources, and all the stuff from elsewhere – as well as knowing our Old Norse sources. So, likewise, whatever our stance on Old Tongues and their uses, their suppression is bad for heathenry and their use helps us. And maybe I’ll go over there one of these days and fix that article on Woden.

Posted in Forn Seðr.


Teutoburg Forest

The anniversary for the Battle of Teutoburg Forest is quickly approaching on September 9th – 11th.

Now more than ever it is important to acknowledge Germanic culture, as it is under constant threat from outside influences via the EU and unfettered immigration from Africa and the Middle East.

Remember the tribes that unified to fight the common enemy, for soon it may be the time for reunification to defend our culture and people once again.

Raise a horn to remember the deeds of our heroic ancestors!

Noil

Posted in Forn Seðr.




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