Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: February 2014

Review of the “Viking” museum exhibit

Just when you thought the reputation of the Norsemen was getting rehabilitated, along comes this article from Smithsonian, giving a good overview of what sounds like an awesome museum exhibit, “Vikings,” opening next month in London and then moving on to Berlin. The article has a pretty silly tone, but the exhibit itself sounds first-rate. (Much more at the link.)

By focusing on the violence of Viking society, the new exhibition revives the traditional image of Vikings as Dark Age bad boys—Pillage People, if you will, who bullied Britain and France, and even made it as far as Baghdad.

The showstopper is a Viking warship whose surviving timbers are on display for the first time. One hundred twenty-one feet from prow to stern, the boat was capable of carrying 100 troops at speed. It was discovered by chance in 1996, about a lance throw from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark. “Warships of this kind are comparatively rare finds, and this is the largest known,” says Neil Price, a professor of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. “It serves as a symbol of the Viking raids, and also an indicator of the sophistication of the societies that launched them.”

With the publication of Peter Sawyer’s The Age of the Vikings in 1962, a cuddly makeover began to change the popular perception of the Nordic voyagers. “We Danes call that softening stueren,” says Anne Sorensen, a curator at the Viking Ship Museum. “The expression means ‘to clean something up enough so that it is appropriate to discuss in your living room.’” The reboot coincided with what Pedersen terms “a great investment in settlement excavations.” Suddenly, the Vikings were peaceful farmers, shrewd traders, artists and craftsmen of considerable subtlety and sophistication, early multiculturalists.

Norse poetry—the “waves on the shore of the mind-sea,” as the Vikings described it—was reclaimed as some of the most carefully constructed and beautifully rendered of any ancient civilization. “This attempt to present ‘new’ Vikings to the world was quite successful,” allows Price, “but it also tended to act as a kind of replacement—the old violent Vikings had become instead caring, sharing ones.” What Williams dismisses as a “fluff-bunny” rehabilitation reached its reductio ad absurdum in the Monty Python sketch in which fun-loving Vikings at a café in the London suburbs chorus “Spam, Spammity Spam, wonderful Spam.”

The history of English in five minutes

From Tuscon Weekly (more at the link):

English derives from the Germanic dialects of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who conquered southern Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. When they arrived, the native Britons spoke Celtic. Latin was also common among upper crust Brits, having adopted it during four centuries of Roman occupation. Surprisingly, though, the Germanic invaders absorbed hardly any Celtic, with the exception of place names. (Such as London, from a Celtic word meaning “wild.” Britain itself is a rendering of the native term for Wales, which was later applied to the entire island). And while English eventually borrowed loads of Latin, that mostly came a millenium later.

As the Anglo-Saxon upstarts settled in, English began to develop as its own language, distinct from the Germanic dialects that begat it. But then along came the Vikings, another Germanic people speaking what we now call Old Norse. Viking raids escalated into full scale invasions until by the 9th century they had conquered parts of the British Isles, including Northern Scotland, and were on the verge of overrunning all of England. But in 871, Saxon King Alfred the Great rallied the locals to defeat them at Ashdown, stemming the tide. By treaty, the Saxons and Vikings established a boundary between them that became known as the danelaw.

The English language thus survived the Viking onslaught. However, commerce across the danelaw boundary infused English with loads of words from Old Norse. A few examples include the pronouns they, them and their, as are skin, sky, smile, and wrong, along with law. Tellingly, husband is also from Old Norse, whereas wife is from Old English, thus reflecting male marauders marrying local women.

I love this stuff. And who knew that tomorrow is “Mother Tongue Day”? Thank you, United Nations!

How the Vikings enhanced British life

From The Big Issue (much more at the link):

Scandinavian settlers also made a very positive contribution to the development of England, which is overlooked by contemporary chroniclers. From archaeology we know that they played a key role in the massive growth of urban life in the 9th and 10th centuries. In towns such as York, London and Chester they established major trading settlements, importing exotic goods including wines and silks.

The Vikings, or the craftsmen they brought with them from the continent, developed mass production of affordable pottery and jewellery; indeed they provided a catalyst if not the engine for what has been described as the first Industrial Revolution.

In the countryside they contributed to the break-up of the massive estates held by royal and ecclesiastical landowners and accelerated the market in the buying and selling of land, leading to a great privatisation in land ownership. In places like York they appear to have opened up access to rural products, previously limited by the system of tribute, improving access to a wide range of foodstuffs.

They also left their mark on the countryside in the naming of hundreds of villages, such as those ending in the suffix –by, the Danish word for village, which also gives us the term by-law. The Anglo-Saxons also adopted Scandinavian personal names, so that by the last quarter of the 11th century, half the names in Nottinghamshire and Cheshire were of a Scandinavian type. They also gave us many everyday words which entered English, such as happy, husband, window and plough. 

In summary, like many immigrant groups, the Vikings did not have access to the media of the day, and consequently often suffered from a bad press. Due to the Victorian elevation of King Alfred of Wessex into a Boy’s Own comic book hero, we tend to see the Anglo-Saxons as the ancestral ‘us’ whilst the Vikings were the ‘others’, although the Anglo-Saxons were of course simply a previous generation of immigrants from North Germany and Denmark.

Rare Viking brooch found in Lincolnshire

From the Sleaford Standard (more at the link):

Among the artefacts, a rare complete Viking brooch, dating back to 850-950 AD, was found near Sleaford.

Most objects found copy Viking styles, but this one is likely to have originated from Scandinavia. It is feasible that the brooch arrived via the ancient port of Saltfleetby, near Louth. It is decorated with ring and dot markings and on each wing is a leaf motif, which may symbolise the tree of 

More than 5,000 artefacts were discovered in the county in 2012, a figure just revealed under the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, supported by Lincolnshire County Council, to help build an understanding of the past.

Week-long Viking Festival kicks off in York (UK)

This sounds like so much fun, I wish I was in the UK!

From The York Press (more at the link):

York has taken a turn for the Norse as a celebration of the city’s Scandinavian history begins.

A display of roar power signalled the start of the 30th Jorvik Viking Festival in Coppergate on Saturday as the first warriors set up camp, complete with a fully-equipped longship and an array of ancient myths and legends.
The week of festival events – many of them free – builds up to the discovery this Saturday of whether the prediction of Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, will come true.

The day itself will see the “ultimate battle” between rival tribes, and Vikings will be offering advice on how to prepare for the clash with sword combat sessions for youngsters every day at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall.

 We have Scandinavian Festivals and SCA wars here in the US, but nothing close to this.

Study shows Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain was more peaceful than previously thought

From NERC (more at the link):

Human remains dug up from an ancient grave in Oxfordshire add to a growing body of evidence that Britain’s fifth-century transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon was cultural rather than bloody. … Had there been a mass invasion, the graves would be expected to contain around 20 per cent immigrant remains. But only five per cent of the buried individuals seem to have come from outside the local area.

‘Oxfordshire is quite some distance from the landing point of any invasion, but it seems that there was not a mass invasion everywhere,’ says Millard.

‘The broader question is still open to debate, and we’re still gathering evidence, but our evidence favours a scenario where there was not a wholesale replacement of the population, but a shift in culture.’

The more awareness among the general public that the Germanic tribes weren’t just the bloodthirsty (literally) savages shown in films like the atrocious King Arthur film from 2004, the better. Our ancestors were sophisticated politicians, artists, and artisans as well as brave fighters possessed of a warrior tradition.

Wil Wheaton’s Spirit Animal Problem

“You have nothing to apologize for, Wes.”

Somehow I managed to remain ignorant of the whole Wil Wheaton “spirit animal” brouhaha that erupted last week. Now that I’ve been made aware of it (thanks, Pundit!), I have a thing or two to say about it. But first, a recap for those who have been living under the same rock as I have since the contretemps.

On February 9, Wil Wheaton responded to a post on Tumblr, with a lighthearted remark that the author was “my spirit animal.” Self-identified “activist,” “angry black woman,” and author K Tempest Bradford then replied:

Using ‘spirit animal’ is kinda uncool. Different forms of it belong to specific cultures that are already having a hard time with erasure/delegitimization, partially through appropriation.

In fairness, her initial post was nice, respectful, and offered some alternatives (although it was still problematical in its content – see below). Then Mr. Wheaton made a predictably (given his political leanings) over-the-top, Politically Correct, apology, decrying what the early Americans did to the Indians (“I hate that my country was built on their blood,” etc.), but that wasn’t enough for Ms. Bradford. Nosiree! He was “Whitesplaining,” don’tcha know (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to be… or wasn’t Ms. Bradford “blacksplaining” in her replies?) They went back and forth a couple of times and here we are.

Now, there are two main things wrong with this whole controversy.

First and foremost is the fact that Ms. Bradford is either willfully lying or is painfully ignorant about the subject of “spirit animals.” When she says that the term and its forms “belong to” Amerindian culture, she is omitting a millennia-long legacy of European religious and magical practice. There is the Germanic tradition of the fetch (English) or fylgja (Old Norse) – mine, for instance, is the fox, but *GASP!* perhaps I’m being Culturally Insensitive by daring to have a “spirit animal” with which I identify – and the Medieval European tradition of the “familiar spirit”, and the Catholic tradition of identifying various saints and angels with animals, and so on, and so on. And I’m not the only person who made this point.

You didn’t “take anything” from anyone, Wil. You used a phrase and a concept that is universal, and no group has ownership of it, despite what the Perpetually Outraged might say.

In short, K Tempest Bradford “speaks with forked tongue” (if you’ll pardon the phrase). The concept of the spirit animal is just as valid for us Europeans as it is for anyone else.

Which brings me to the second point. I don’t think that Wil Wheaton had anything to apologize for in the first place. Setting aside the fact that Ms. Bradford was factually incorrect when she said that Indians own “spirit animals,” Mr. Wheaton’s apology, in which he apologized for the evils that the American settlers did to the Indians, was completely unnecessary and even incendiary.

Did the settlers of the American West do crappy things to the Indians? Yes. Were they unique in doing so? Abso-fucking-lutely not. I have news – blacks settled the West, too, and they did just as shitty things to the Indians as the whites did. Do they need to apologize too? What about all the atrocities that they committed against whites in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)? In a hundred years, will Ms. Bradford’s grandkids be apologizing for some offhand remark that they make about roller derby?

Just what is the statute of limitations on collective racial guilt? As far as I know, none of my ancestors made it west of the Mississippi before the 1930’s. Does that make me immune from the need to apologize to the people who are the descendants of the Indians that other people’s ancestors did bad things to? Just how far back do you want to go? I have German ancestry; do I deserve an apology from every Frenchman I meet because of what Charlemagne did at the Massacre of Verden in 782 because they “erased and deligitimzed” the Pagan Saxon culture? I have English ancestry, too – am I entitled to reparations from Italy because the Romans conquered Britain in 43 CE and “erased and delegitimized” the pre-Roman Briton culture?

No, no, no, and no again! This professional victimization has to stop! My ancestors did horrible things to other peoples’ ancestors. And their ancestors did horrible things to my ancestors. If we keep clinging to that absolute nonsense, over and over and over again, we’ll have nothing else. In my religion, we carry the art of feud and vendetta to a high art form. But even so, it ends with individuals, or their immediate family. At some point, the claim to vengeance reaches its expiration date, especially if you’re talking about things on the gross level of race.

White people did crappy things. Black people did crappy things. Asian people, and Indians, and everyone else has done crappy things. Our ancestors all did crappy things to one another. Get over it, stop trying to find reasons to be insulted (or, worse, to apologize for things you weren’t responsible for) and move on. There’s more than enough guilt to go around, because humans, on the whole, don’t follow Wheaton’s Law.

Animal Rights or Religious Rights?

It seems that the Danish Agricultural and Food Minister, Dan Jørgensen, told Danish television recently that “animal rights come before religion.”

Naturally, the Jewish and Muslim communities in Denmark are not pleased with this attitude, as it has direct impacts on both the Kosher and Halal food industries. In fact, there aren’t any, because such slaughter of animals has been effectively banned in Denmark for about a decade, and the Danish government is apparently pleased with that state of affairs.

It should, however, be of concern to Heathens as well, since in some Asatru and all Theodish groups the practice of blót, or animal sacrifice, is one of the central rites. While there aren’t any laws prohibiting blót on the books in Denmark that I’m aware of, if the Minister’s remarks are implemented as policy, an important element of many Heathens’ worship will be itself sacrificed on the altar of Political Correctness and animal rights. I’ve written before about the arguments in favor of animal sacrifice, and won’t repeat them here, but everyone of any religion should be alarmed when the rights of animals are elevated above the rights of people to practice the faith in their God or Gods.

Regardless of where one comes down on the specific question of animal sacrifice, the slippery slope is obvious. If animal rights come before religion, then what else can be placed above one’s right to religious expression? What about the right of society to be homogeneous and free of strife? If a government can put the rights of animals above religion, why can’t a government put its own interests above religion, and ban minority faiths, too? When it puts animal rights above religious rights, it could just as easily put one religion’s rights above another, and that would certainly be bad for both Pagans and Heathens. When religious rights are infringed for one thing, they can be infringed for anything.

Home Worship Under Attack in Dallas

There’s a story out of Dallas that should be of interest to every Pagan and Heathen out there. A Dallas man, Rabbi Yaakov Rich, has been holding Jewish worship services in his home twice a day. His neighbor, David Schneider, who lives across the street and who happens to have just been elected as president of their homeowner’s association, is suing the rabbi for $50,000, claiming that the home-synagogue is hurting his property values.

The implications for Pagans and Heathens are obvious. If the courts uphold that the RLUIPA doesn’t protect the use of one’s private home for religious purposes here, then it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t protect such use for a Wiccan or Asatru worship service, either.

Now, granted, holding services twice a day seems a bit much, and one can only hope that the congregation is doing everything it can to get a permanent and dedicated temple space as soon as it can. But depending on the wording of the eventual court decision, this could have dramatic impacts on anyone holding a blot in their back yard. Think of the mischief a decision like that could instigate, especially with a neighbor who has a grudge against “those weird people across the street who practice that strange so-called religion”.

We see similar push-back against people holding Bible Studies in their homes. Again, in that case, the defendant tried to push the issue and there were ancillary questions about his use of a building on his property as a church when building inspectors were told it was a shed. But these cases do form a pattern, and could, in the hands of the wrong judge, bring about a disastrous precedent that would harm Heathens and Pagans even more than it would Christians and Jews, given the relative state of our religious infrastructure (buildings, land, schools, etc.) compared to that of the Peoples of the Book.

Keep an eye on these. They’re important.

Asatru Prisoner News: Fowler v. CDCR

Last week a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend in the case of Fowler v. the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The plaintiffs had alleged a host of violations of their religious liberties over the course of several years, including:

  • Lack of access to the prison chapel for Asatru/Odinist worship
  • Refusal to order books relating to Asatru/Odinism
  • Lack of access to the outdoor worship area for blot
  • Confiscation of ritual implements, including a drinking horn
  • Refusal to supply religious supplies needed for worship
And many other violations, refusals to accommodate their faith, etc. All together, these amounted to violations of the First Amendment of the Constitution, the RLUIPA, and the California state constitution.

The magistrate denied the case, basically stating that the plaintiff had failed to make a case under the demands of the relevant laws. To my untrained layman’s reading, the Magistrate seems to be saying that there’s no proof of an ongoing and systematic discrimination against Asatru/Odinist prisoners, even though they don’t always get everything they ask for. Still, looking at the lengthy and specific list of times the Asatruar/Odinists were denied the right to assemble for worship and denied what they feel is necessary to worship, it seems to me that there’s something afoot. 
We shall see if an amended case is put forth in the future. 

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