Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: January 2017

Thorrablót

While the modern celebration of Thorrablót has been set to January 20 in recent times (having been revived in Iceland in 1873, although with nationalistic, rather than religious, overtones, and more recently and popularly in 1958, with an emphasis on rustic peasant food), the fact that the name of the month Thorri so closely aligns with it, as does the start of that month, that it is likely that the ancient celebration of the holiday moved with the start of the ancient month of Thorri; that is, the first Friday after January 18.

The celebration itself is attested in the Icelandic Sagas, although in a semi-legendary fashion to explain an already-ancient practice (Thorri here is a euhemerization of the god Thor):

Thorri was a noble king; he ruled over Gothland, Kvenland, and Finland. To him the Kvens sacrificed that it might be snowy, and that there might be good going on snow-shoes. That was their harvest. That sacrifice was to be at midwinter; and the month Thorri was called after it. King Thorri had three children; his sons were named Norr and Gorr, but the daughter Goi. Goi was lost and gone; and Thorri made a sacrifice a month later than he was wont to sacrifice; and they afterwards called that month in which this began Goi. 

So, in essence, we have a sacrifice to Thor about a week after the conclusion of the Yule festivities. Given the nature of the fierce Scandinavian winter, having excuses to feast and see neighbors at this time makes perfect sense.

However, there is a bit more to the celebration that brings in Sif, the wife of Thor.

Known as St. Agnes Eve in England, the 21st of January is associated with young girls finding out who they will eventually marry was made famous by the poem by Keats, “The Eve of Saint Agnes.” Largely confined to England (there is even a 16th century doggerel that specifically says “Then comes in place St. Agnes; Day, which here in Germanie / Is not so much esteemde nor kept with such solemnitie.” ), this is a day deemed to be particularly significant for that specific form of divination:

Saint Agnes Day comes by and by
When pretty maids do fast to try
Their sweethearts in their dreams to see,
Or know who shall their husbands be.

The official story of the saint’s life goes that, as she was being dragged through the streets of Rome naked, as punishment for her fidelity to God, her hair grew instantly to cover her body, thus thwarting the pagans who wanted to rape her. I find in this story a distant echo of the story of Sif’s golden hair, although it is admittedly a thin connection. Interestingly, however, although there is no specific Scandinavian parallel of this practice, there is a variation of the story of the saint’s death which seems to be exclusive to England. In it, it is said that “her virginity was miraculously preserved by thunder and lightning from heaven.”

Especially coming the day after the Thorrablót, the connection between this day and Thor’s bride Sif become a little stronger, as thunder and lightning are of course associated with Thor, and are not found in the more southern versions of the story. Fortunately, there is yet another piece of evidence to support the idea that St. Agnes, at least as seen in Britain, is related to Thor’s wife Sif. That is Sif’s name itself, which literally means wife, and is used in compounds and verbs related to marriage. As Rudolf Simek puts it:

“The most likely interpretation is to see her as a goddess who originated as a complement to Thor when he played an increasingly important role as a god of fertility; the name Sif can be seen to support this view as Sif can hardly mean anything else but ‘relation by marriage’, originally therefore ‘the wife (of Thor)’.”

As such, I think we’re seeing something that was probably not originally a practice unto itself, but connected to the Thorrablót celebration. Although the date became attached to the feast day of St. Agnes, the fact that it falls in the same range as Thorrablót would definitely allow for it to be mapped to a similar figure, and ultimately separated. Over time, worshipers of Thor may dwindle, but maidens wanting to know their lovers’ identities endure forever.

For the magic to work in earnest, the would-be diviner must not be kissed on the lips by any man, and fast for the entire day. That night, after putting on clean night-clothes, she should say the following charm before falling asleep; “Now god of Love send me my desire.” Alternatively, the following prayer may be said (the following is a “Heathenized” version of the traditional prayer):

Now, good Sif*, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And shew me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

Having done all that, her future sweetheart will be revealed to her in her dreams.

So to wrap up, what we have is a post-Yule sacrifice to Thor, which is made more significant by the addition of a divinatory rite for maidens looking for husbands. We already know that blót in general was associated with divination, but here we have the possibility of a much more specific divinatory practice, which fits in thematically.

___________
* “St. Agnes” in the original

The Myth of Progress

This was progress to some people

Over at his wonderfully iconoclastic Archdruid Report, David Michael Greer last week posted a lengthy piece on The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism. In it, he basically makes the case that merely because things are different today than they were in the past, that does not make them quantitatively “better,” nor does it imply some sort of evolutionary imperative towards a given social or moral order that just so happens to be the one that predominates among a particular political subculture today. It’s well worth reading the whole thing (including the several delicious examples he gives of early 20th century “progressives” taking away rights for certain minorities that are now sacred cows among today’s left), but here are a few choice bits:

Those of my readers who followed the late US presidential election may remember Hillary Clinton’s furious response to a heckler at one of her few speaking gigs:  “We aren’t going back. We’re going forward.” Underlying that outburst is the belief system I’ve just sketched out: the claim that history has a direction, that it moves in a linear fashion from worse to better, and that any given political choice—for example, which of the two most detested people in American public life is going to become the nominal head of a nation in freefall ten days from now—not only can but must be flattened out into a rigidly binary decision between “forward” and “back.” …

Chronocentrism is pandemic in our time. Historians have a concept called “Whig history;” it got that moniker from a long line of English historians who belonged to the Whig, i.e., Liberal Party, and who wrote as though all of human history was to be judged according to how well it measured up to the current Liberal Party platform. …

It needs to be remembered in this context that the word “evolution” does not mean “progress.” Evolution is adaptation to changing circumstances, and that’s all it is. When people throw around the phrases “more evolved” and “less evolved,” they’re talking nonsense, or at best engaging in a pseudoscientific way of saying “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” 

We see this constantly and consistently in the bleating of the alt-left within neopaganism, especially within the Marxist crowd, that their political or social beliefs are somehow inherently better because they are newer than older political or social beliefs. The trajectory of history is of course part and parcel of the Marxist philosophy these pro-genocidal authoritarian losers embrace, but it sees full flower in discussions about folkishness, democracy, nationalism, and the like.

Bringers of progress

Stuck as they are in 1930’s and 40’s historical models, these Marxists (and anarchists, and whateverthefuckelse they want to call themselves) usually apply the blanket label “fascist” to such things. Even though, ironically, fascism (including, dare I say, National Socialism) is more properly a phenomenon of the left. But they generally mean traditionalism, which is by definition the antithesis of progressivism, which is the philosophy of “if it’s newer, it must be better,” that, also ironically, fuels the modern consumerist culture which so many of them claim to abhor.

Progress.

That flies in the face of the traditionalist view, which enjoys a definite overlap with modern folkishness, in terms of preferring local to global as a general rule, family structures that promote reproduction are preferable to family structures that intentionally thwart reproduction, acknowledging the fact that biological differences between men and women (both psychological and physical) are real and not something to be ignored or suppressed, democracy isn’t necessarily the most preferable form of government, representative art is preferable to abstract art, and most certainly that individualism is preferable to collectivism.

It might not be 100% optimally efficient,
but does that make it “wrong”?

But note always my use of the word “prefer” rather than “require.” It’s the left that is always trying to force other people to conform to some idealistic vision. And Utopia is always just one execution away.

I’m not by any stretch of the imagination claiming that all of those things are necessarily inherent in folkishness, which by my definition is simply the acknowledgement that race and ancestry is relevant to religion, and some religious faiths are inherently folkish in nature (although there are of course specific exceptions), just as some are inherently universalist in nature. Asatru, most forms of Hinduism, Judaism, and Amerindian religion fall into the former category, while Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Wicca, and neopaganism fall into the latter category. Unsurprisingly, claims of absolute truth generally come from the latter half as well.

However, there is a bit of confusion between, and a distinct need and opportunity to explore, traditions that are Christian in nature (due to Christianity’s hegemony over Europe over the last millenia and a half or so, depending on the locale), rather than, as I might have it, truly traditional Germanic views that predate Christianity.

Of course, this isn’t to mean that older is always better. That’s just as wrong as newer is always better. But there are a lot of older things that don’t deserve to be discarded just because they’re old, just as there are newer things that deserve to be embraced. Just because I approve of flush toilets, vaccinations, and space colonies doesn’t mean I have to also approve of the destruction of human biological diversity, Socialism, mass production, and the suppression of individual liberty to prevent someone else being offended.

St. Anthony’s Day

January 17th is both the Feast Day of Saint Anthony the Great (not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua, whose feast day is in June and is often celebrated with much merriment) and the traditional day for wassailing the orchards in England. This post will deal with the former. The latter will come later.

Unfortunately, despite his association with pigs (which are well-attested to be connected with the god Ingve-Freyr), it seems that there really isn’t much to be gleaned from St. Anthony and any possible associations. The association with pigs does not appear in the official hagiography of Anthony. Indeed, the story of Anthony having been a swineherd prior to his monastic life seems to be a Mediterranean addition to his life.

Since our methodology looks for elements of Saints’ lives and celebrations that are unique to northern Europe, in order to suss out possible connections with lost Germanic gods, this would seem to be a dead end. And one of the things about scholarship is, if the evidence doesn’t line up with the theory, you ditch the theory. Sometimes you have to be able to give up something that looked promising at first, if the evidence doesn’t line up. This is one of those times.

So long, Anthony, we hardly knew ye.

Germany: Externsteine defaced

Out of Germany comes very disturbing news. Apparently on New Year’s Eve some enterprising but misguided people broke into the nature reserve at Westphalia that contains the historic Externsteine rock formations, scaled a 180′ pillar of stone, and erected a 20′ tall wooden Irminsul painted red, white, and black. It was removed almost immediately.

Links to the news (in German):

Let us be blunt. This is a defacement of an historic site. As such, it is an abominable act, and the people responsible need to be caught and punished to the fullest extend of the law, period. There’s no telling the damage that could have been done in hauling a 20′ Irminsul up a 180′ rock face, which could have rock carvings, artifacts, etc. that could have been damaged in the attempt.

Naturally, the Norse Neopagans here in America and some German media are predictably focusing on potential connections with right-wing pagans in Germany. While this is a connection which, it must be conceded, quite likely given the colors of the pillar, which echo those of the Nazi and Imperial flags of pre-1946 Germany, it’s not at all the point, and those who are using it as a political club to hit their political opponents should be ashamed. This sort of thing transcends politics, and should be something that everyone can agree is wrong.

Personally I don’t care about the politics of the idiots who did this. I care about the stupidity of defacing an historical landmark to make some sort of statement. It would be just as wrong if a Norse Neopagan took a pick-axe to one of the mounds at Uppsala because Loki told him to. Politics is no excuse for stupidity.

And this stupidity is compounded by the fact that the connection between the historical Irminsul and the site at Exernsteine is completely spurious. The image found there is a palm tree, bent over to represent nature weeping over the death of Christ. It is not the Irminsul, which was described in the sources as a pillar. Not a pillar with wings. Hel, for that matter, the sources say that there were many Irminsuls, each the center of worship for a particular local group. Not one at some great pan-Germanic cult center that is otherwise completely unattested, and especially not one at Externsteine.

That makes this act all the more tragic. These idiots broke the law and endangered an historical archaeological site to haul a 20′ palm tree painted in the colors of two failed states to the top of a mountain. All that effort and risk for an unintentional joke. Morons.

Update: here’s a photo showing where the Irminsul was planted.

 (© Torben Gocke)

Things to Come

While I’ve had a great time investigating the connections between pre-Christian Yule celebrations and Christian Saints’ feast day celebrations (among other things), as part of my Make Yule Great Again series, I didn’t really intend to continue on.

But now I’ve come across some new information on other celebrations taking place in the second half of winter. We know about the Christian Candlemas, and the Celtic Imbolc, and Bede’s Charming of the Plow, and the Swedish Disting/Disablot in Uppsala, and so forth, but I suspect there’s just as complex a series of holidays after Yule in mid-January as there was leading up to it.

At least one source says Candlemas was also referred to as “little Yule” in Sweden. Something to look into, at the very least.

And there’s also the whole Easter/Eostre/Paschal celebrations (along with carnival/Mardi Gras/etc.) to work into the mix as well. Most of the time, folks just lump everything together into a single celebration, but I think, as with Yule, that doesn’t do justice to the reality of what our ancestors did.

So I’m probably going to continue my series of investigations on celebrations. It’s proven to be quite fruitful for the month leading up to Yule. I hope it will prove to be as interesting as we progress into spring.

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