Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: July 2016

No local events? There’s a solution for that…

The other day, a couple people on Facebook commented on an upcoming event I’ve got posted there, wishing there were more events in their area. This was my reply (a little bit expanded); I hope you find it useful.

If you want to see events near you, the answer is to set up an event near you and see who says they can come. Don’t wait for someone else to set it up.

It could be a nature hike, or a pub moot (getting together for dinner and drinks), or a book club, or a meet-and-greet, or visiting some local museum with Viking or Scandinavian or German themed exhibits, or a full-blown blót, or coffee at the local Starbucks, or a viewing party for the premier of Vikings on History Channel, or a movie night at your house, or anything else.

But the onus is on you to make it happen. Come up with an idea you think is fun, interesting, or relevant. See who’s in your area who can come. Worst thing that happens is nobody can make it.

And if nobody shows up the first time? Keep doing it. You never know when someone is going to stumble on your event who’s twenty minutes away from you. Keep at it. None of our kindreds or tribes were built overnight. We all kept at it, over years. Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t get discouraged right out of the gate.

AHHHH! Demon cat!

Put your event up on Facebook, but don’t just rely on Facebook! Ask your local AFA folkbuilder to get you in touch directly with other Afar (I love that term for AFA members). Put up notices in your local Pagan bookstore. Put up something on Witchvox.com (it’s old, but active, and people still go there). Join a local pagan or heathen group on Meetup.com, or start your own. If there’s something more locally relevant, post something there. Hel, I put up fliers in local grocery stores and laundromats.

And don’t be afraid of the personal touch. I make it a point to ask everyone I see wearing a Thor’s hammer if they’re Asatru or not. One of our newly regular faces was someone I happened to meet in the parking lot of the local supermarket. I gave him one of our flyers, and now he’s a regular. (That’s another thing; always have a card, or a flyer, or something handy. I keep a stack of them in my car at all times, for exactly this sort of case.)

And if I can offer any advice, or help, or anything else, just ask. Or better yet, ask your local AFA folkbuilders. That’s what they’re there for. I’m just a guy with a tribe in New Jersey.

Bölverkr’s whetstone

There’s a passage in Skáldskaparmál that a lot of people find a bit obscure. It deals with Odin’s scheme to steal Sutting’s mead:

Odin departed from home and came to a certain place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He asked if they desired him to whet their scythes, and they assented. Then he took a hone from his belt and whetted the scythes; it seemed to them that the scythes cut better by far, and they asked that the hone be sold them. But he put such a value on it that whoso desired to buy must give a considerable price: nonetheless all said that they would agree, and prayed him to sell it to them. He cast the hone up into the air; but since all wished to lay their hands on it, they became so intermingled with one another that each struck with his scythe against the other’s neck.

The question is, why would the thralls be so intent on getting that whetstone? If you ever wondered about the value of a sharp scythe, wonder no more:

The Kutztown Folk Festival

Yesterday the tribe went on a day trip to visit the Kutztown Folk Festival, a nine-day (!) celebration of all things Pennsylvania German (or Pennsylvania Dutch – even within the community, there is division on which is correct).

To get the mundane stuff out of the way; the festival was a total blast, and I highly encourage everyone to go next year. It was much larger than I expected, the food was one of the showpieces of the thing (all home made and entirely delicious) and the craftspeople selling their wares seemed on the whole to be the people who actually made what they were selling. From the extraordinary woodwork and quilts (of course quilts) to metalwork and hex signs, this wasn’t just a trip where you could find the same stuff on Amazon. These were the labors of individual craftsmen, and it showed.

I myself came away with a hoard of new books on Pennsylvania German culture, particularly their folk-magical practice of Pow-Wow/Braucherei/Hexerei, hex signs, and a wonderful book on Groundhog Lodges. Yes. Groundhog Lodges.

But what I really wanted to touch on was the reason why this sort of thing would be of interest to us as Asatruar.

One of the great things about the Pennsylvania Germans is the fact that they represent a sort of time capsule of pre-Industrial Germanic culture. It goes way beyond the stereotypical Amish or Mennonites; these are, for the most part, modern folks living a modern lifestyle that happens to include strong ties back to the Palatinate in Germany. There are ties of language, custom, and religion that hearken back to a time in Germanic society that predates the coming of industrialization, and in some cases arguably before the coming of Christianity.

Since there is strong evidence that continental German culture and religion is strongly related to that of Scandinavia and England, the interest of such things to Asatru, which attempts to restore ancient pre-Christian Germanic religion, is obvious. It is possible to “de-Christianize” some elements, as the Urglawee experiment is attempting to do.

Strong evidence of the continuity of Germanic culture between Scandinavia and southern Germany can also be seen in their respective folk-magical practices; Trolldomr and Pow-Wow/ Braucherei/ Hererei. There are practices that are almost identical across both practices, and which can additionally be seen in the early conversion-era penitentials from the 5th century onwards, that speak of a commonality amongst the various Germanic tribal groups. There are similar commonalities between folk-practices which, on examination, can be traced back to possible religious sources as well.

There were local variations to be sure, but the core seems to have been consistent. And the example of the Pennsylvania Germans is a window into that core that has retained its unique character well into the 20th century. It is, alas, dying out in the face of the relentless march of the global monoculture and American commercial society to homogenize everything, but fortunately we still have examples that we can reapply to our own work in preserving and reconstructing Germanic religion.

Vanatru – is it needed?

There is a significant number of people who, when the term “Asatru” is used, chime in with “but I worship the Vanir, too.” I confess I really don’t understand that need to differentiate between the two, as it is incorrect as far as the literary record, not to mention deriving much of its motivation from completely outdated ideas of history.

Mythologically, the Aesir and the Vanir were described as two powerful tribes of gods, who went to war with one another, probably over the question of which tribe of gods could receive worship and offerings from humans. The war was ended by a peace treaty, and hostages were exchanged between the two sides. The Vanir received Hœnir and Mimir as hostages, while the Aesir received Njordr and Ingve/Freyr. Interestingly, Snorri’s account in Ynglingasaga doesn’t mention Freyja being sent as a hostage per se. She simply shows up among the Aesir, and is appointed to the post of high priestess of sacrifices. Her father and brother are similarly appointed as sacrificial priests.

But the key point here is that, mythologically, the Vanir disappear as a group after the death of Mimir. Assuming they are not simply known by a different name in the written sources*, our sole representatives of the Vanir tribe, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja. And they are invariably referred to as Aesir in the written sources, after the point in mythological time when the Aesir-Vanir war is concluded, and they are integrated into Aesir society.

Whenever we are presented with lists of Aesir, Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja are included. Many have taken this to mean that the ON word Áss (plural Æsir) is somehow a generic term for divine beings. I think a much more likely interpretation of the usage here is that those three hostages did not retain their original Vanic identity, but were quickly absorbed into the Aesir tribe and assumed that tribal identity. As a chief example, when the Prose Edda introduces Ingve/Freyr and his sister Freyja, they are explicitly said to be of the Aesir:

Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; 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. But Freyja is the most renowned of the goddesses… (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.)

And in the original Old Norse, we can see that “goddesses” in the above is originally ásynjum, a female form of the ON word Æsir:

Freyr er inn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. En Freyja er ágætust af ásynjum.

So in terms of the written lore, breaking out Njord, Ingve/Freyr, and Freyja into their own little sub-cult seems unwarranted. Once the war between the two tribes of gods is over, the Aesir take the stage and the three hostages are constantly and consistently referred to as being in their group, using that label. If nothing else, “Aesir” includes them, and so does the term “Asatru”.

But a lot of people who like to make the distinction between the three Vanir** and the rest of the Aesir do so based on a false idea of their nature. All too often, we see the Vanir painted as pastoral gods of sex and plenty, forced to war only by the mean and terrible Aesir. In many ways, this hearkens back to the thoroughly-debunked theories of Marija Gimbutas, depicting peace-loving matriarchal earth-goddess-worshiping societies in prehistoric Europe conquered by mean sky-god-worshiping Indo-Europeans. It’s complete horseshit historically speaking, but the image is still strong in many peoples’ minds, especially those who come to Asatru from neopagan religions such as Wicca.

If nothing else, the written lore again comes to our aid in debunking this particular myth. The Vanir are said to be very powerful warriors, to the point of being able to throw down the walls of Asgard itself, and bring the Aesir to their knees. Freyja is a famous warrior, and equally famous for her ferocity. Not exactly peaceful traits. Ingve/Freyr is noted for a connection with wealth and prosperity, but so too are other Aesir; Odin’s ring draupnir is a source of never-ending wealth, for instance, and Thor’s hammer is famously used to bless the lap of the bride at weddings, presumably to invoke fertility; his connection with the rains that bring crops is also well-attested and obvious.

So, other than a focus on a particular trio of gods, there doesn’t really seem much reason to differentiate the Vanir from the Aesir. And even then, those gods have long been called by the label Aesir, which would even be consistent with ancient Germanic kinship and tribal membership patterns. It’s a bit of trendiness and a subtle “wonkier-than-thou” jab that serves no real purpose, and that we really don’t need.

__________

* Personally, I believe the Vanir to be the same as the Alfar, for a variety of reasons, but there is certainly no iron-clad evidence in favor of that view, and there is some evidence to argue against it. Perhaps I’ll go over that in another post some day.
** The less said about the New Age whack-jobs who want to shanghai gods they happen to like into the Vanir, the better.

Asatru Prisoner News: Bryant v. Woodhall

Over in Tennessee, we hear about a case involving a number of Asatruar who claim they are being denied the right to worship:

Plaintiffs assert that they are followers of the Odinic or Asatru faith… seeking accommodations that would allow him and other Odinist inmates to worship as they claim their faith requires. … The requested accommodations included two hours of group worship per week; the purchase or donation of an altar cloth, mead horn cup, ritual Thor’s hammer, rune staff, oak blessing bowl, oath ring, and rune set for group worship; recognition by TDOC as a legitimate religion; the purchase or donation of a rune set, religious amulet, mead horn cup and altar cloth for personal in-cell worship; and the observance of a religious feast day. …

The TDOC Religious Activities Committee denied Former Plaintiff McDougal’s request on the grounds that each requested accommodation posed a threat to institutional safety and security. 

Now, I can certainly see that having an oaken hammer or staff could be construed as being a potential security threat. The former is, after all, literally based on the design of a weapon. But “two hours of group worship per week” hardly seems like such a threat in and of itself; it certainly sounds like the prison is simply reacting to Asatru/Odinism directly, and wanting to squash it simply because some people use the term as a screen for gang-related activity. And some groups absolutely do use a Thor’s hammer to sanctify space, so it’s certainly a legitimate request in and of itself.

Fortunately, the court agreed, and denied the defendant’s motion for a summary judgement. The Asatruars’ case can proceed. Updates will be posted here as they become available.

Review: Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic

I’ve always been a big fan of Claude Lecouteux’s work, and when I heard he was publishing a reference work relating to Germanic lore, I pre-ordered it at once. It finally arrived, and I’ve had a chance to look through it. And it is everything I had hoped it would be.

The obvious comparisons are going to be made between this work and other reference works on Germanic religion and mythology, such as Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Norse Mythology (probably the standard in the field, at least in English), Andy Orchard’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, and to a lesser extent John Haywood’s Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age.

Where Lecouteux’s book distinguishes itself from those titles is both in its lack of focus on the Norse material and the Viking era (although it does not distance itself from either), as well as its inclusion of tons of folkloric references, rather than sticking to the same old themes found in Norse and/or Germanic mythology. And that in particular is where this work shines, since this is a focus that all too few such works, let alone Asatruar who endeavor to recreate the Germanic mindset, have.

That the book was originally written in French (and, I presume, published in that language) gives the entries an international appeal that is so often denied to those of us without fluency in a variety of European languages. The sources span the gamut from Germany, France, Poland, Scandinavia, and even further afield. Just having access to condensed entries based on that broad range of material is a reason to get this book.

But to take a few of the more interesting entries as examples of the breadth and depth of the coverage, we have subjects as varied as Hernoss, a sort of idol that was still to be found in Norway in the 19th century, a brief discussion of changelings (children who are stolen from their parents and substituted with supernatural children), a lengthy discussion of Perchta, and Ourk, said to be the name of the leader of the Wild Hunt in a district in the Tyrol. This in addition to the standard entries on Norse gods and mythological themes that one would expect in a book of this type.

All in all, this is a fantastic book, and well worth it for the wealth of folkloric sources, as well as the conventional entries informed by folklore, that it brings to the table. I don’t think it replaces Simek’s Dictionary, but rather it accompanies it well, filling in all manner of gaps. It definitely stands as a worthy addition to any Asatruar’s library. Five stars out of five.

You can buy the book here.

Jealous Gods

Just a quickie for now. John Beckett has a post up on Pathetic Pagan entitled Our Gods are not Jealous Gods. Of course it’s a play on the Biblical verse about Jehovah of Sinai being “a jealous god“, but it makes me wonder whether Beckett has read any classical mythology. Like, ever.

For fuck’s sake, Greek mythology is chock full of references to gods and goddesses being jealous. Hera especially, but also Aphrodite, Athena, and they even had a frigging god, Phthonus, that was the embodiment of jealousy!

And what about Aten? This Egyptian god is largely heralded as the first experiment in monotheism. That’s “jealousy” by definition.

Loki, we are told, was greatly jealous of Balder, and contrived his death because of it. And although they’re not gods, the Eddas and Sagas are replete with examples of women arranging the deaths of people out of jealousy and desire for vengeance.

Those are just a few examples off the top of my head. Mythology has hundreds of similar examples.

Our gods are reflections of ourselves. They’re not some sort of paragons of virtue like Jehovah of Sinai is supposed to be; they feel hate, jealousy, love, desire, and all the rest. They are us. As befits our ultimate ancestors.

Beckett is engaging in a knee-jerk anti-Christian reaction when he tries to make the case that ours are not jealous gods. They are. But they are also loving gods, and giving gods, and all the rest of the spectrum of human emotion. It’s wrong to deny them their… human-ness simply in an attempt to shake one’s fist at the Christian god because of one’s upbringing.

Let our gods be themselves, jealousy and all.

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