Theodish Thoughts

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

Category: reconstructionism Page 1 of 3

The Epicist School

At least in the circles I run in nowadays, I’ve seen a resurgence in activity by the people who are followers of/inspired by the 19th century Swedish author Viktor Rydberg. They’ve published books, they’ve expanded beyond his original texts, and they’re very, very vocal on social media. They’ve been around for 25 years or so (first championed by William Reaves, who is still very active in the movement), and now call themselves the Epic School, or Epicists, after Rydberg’s main thesis that the corpus of genuine Norse myths constitutes a single vast epic narrative, and that the key to understanding it relies on such an interpretation.

Dave Martel gives a definition of Epicism over on his YouTube channel (forgive his lapses in grammar; this is a car video, so I won’t give him any grief):

…Epicism was drawn from Viktor Rydberg, and it is now being continued by Mark Puryear and the Noroenna Society, and it has the innate, the inherent, the origin intent to look at the Gods as real, because They are real, to look at the lore as real texts, not just, you know, a bunch of crap, or myth, or whatever; these are real texts. … … to stop relying on academics, to stop relying on atheists, to stop relying on, on, you know, crap, so we can, ourselves, have a proper formulaic approach to establishing, understanding, and teaching our spiritual philosophy, which not only is real, it is also legitimate. And what this does, is kind of cuts out any possible nefarious intent. And it ensures that the formula is for us, by us, as Asatru, as Heathens, as Pagans.

I’ve got to say, when I hear “stop relying on academics” my warning lights go off immediately. It feels a little… culty. Urging people to not look at the work of accepted academics who’ve spent their lives researching a particular topic? Who are objective reporters who base their conclusions on evidence? Who’ve got access to sources that laymen simply can’t easily see? Who attend conferences, write for and read journals, and otherwise interact with one another to share ideas?

And what do they replace the entire academic world with? A single 19th century author, his theories, and themselves and their interpretations and expansions of his work. Doesn’t that sound more than a little like “don’t listen to those so-called experts; they’re all wrong, and we have the real answers”?

And the reason they eschew mainstream academia isn’t because of some atheistic (or is it Christian? – they are inconsistent on that point) plot to distort pre-Christian Germanic lore for some nefarious reason, but because those mainstream academics reject their (and Rydberg’s) main thesis.

If the experts say your theory is wrong, the problem must be with the experts! It’s almost like the Flat Earthers of Heathenry.

More to come, I have no doubt, because if there’s one thing the Epicists cannot stand, it’s criticism in any form. Personally, I think it’s a sign of insecurity, but that’s entirely just my interpretation.

Reconstructionism isn’t Enough

I had an interesting conversation with a friend tonight, discussing setting up a reconstructionist tribe/group/whatever. While I, and the tribe to which I belong, are firmly in the reconstructionist camp, I can also say that it’s not enough to be reconstructionist.

Any group that is reconstructionist in orientation has to, unfortunately by default, take a side in the major fault lines in Asatru today, and have a strong answer as to why reconstructionism is compatible with those stances. Some of those fault lines include:

  • Folkish vs. universalist
  • Lokean vs. anti-Lokean
  • Gender roles
  • Radical individualism
  • Sacral kingship

Those answers do not, however, need to be “reconstructionism supports this decision.” It can be as simple as “the lore is silent or contradictory on this issue, but we as a group have decided X.” And that’s perfectly okay, especially since there are so very many gaps in our understanding of how our ancestors did things. It must always be done with the understanding that, if new evidence comes up, it will be duly considered, of course, and the door remains open to changing the way things are done. That’s one of the cornerstones of reconstructionism; being open to new evidence, and willing to change one’s beliefs and practices based upon that evidence.

One of the (justified, in my opinion) criticisms of reconstructionism is that we recons tend to be more interested in research than in practice. It is indeed a potential pitfall, and I offer my own tribe’s example as a way to avoid it. We follow a traditional holiday calendar, and tend to eschew modern holidays, “days of observance”, and things that are imported from Wicca such as the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. But we also do a lot of things that have nothing to do with strict reconstructionism; we have trips to folk festivals, movie nights, nature hikes, etc. Nothing that would, on its face, be considered “recon”.

The fact that we are reconstructionists doesn’t mean we cannot add to our practice, as long as we don’t contradict what our ancestors did. Too often, radical political ideas, or other far-out positions on any of those fault lines mentioned above, run up against the historical record. But short of extreme positions, there’s a huge spectrum of middle ground on many of those issues that can accommodate a reconstructionist approach.

So (to take the most prominent example), while I cannot point to any place in the sagas and say “this says blámenn should worship their own ancestral gods” (tortured arguments by the ultra-folkish to the contrary) I can also not point to anywhere that explicitly says they were welcomed into Norse societies as fellow worshipers of the Aesir (tortured arguments by the universalists to the contrary). Thus, there is ambiguity, and that is where modern sensibilities must fill the gap, and those must be decided by each individual or group.

It’s great to say that you’ll be strictly neutral on all such things, but I guarantee you will be forced to deal with it the first time someone insists on adding an “inclusivity clause” to your charter, or someone tries to hail Loki at sumbel. You cannot hide from these issues if you’re going to be anything other than yourself and your family. That’s why they’re so prevalent in modern Asatru as divisive issues.

Ultimately, within a reconstructionist framework, where you come down on those fault lines is immaterial, as long as you’re:

  1. Not contradicting what we know of our ancestors’ practice, and
  2. Are open-minded to change your own views in the face of new evidence or compelling interpretations of existing evidence
Which is not to say reconstructionism isn’t valid or viable. But there are gaps, and those don’t just exist in the more academic realm of ritual, the calendar, and so forth. The real-world practical stuff will intrude on you and force you to make decisions on these issues. 
My point is merely that, as a reconstructionist, you need to be prepared for when that happens. Because it will.

Our post-x world

It may seem obvious, but it is worth pointing out that we live in a modern world that is “post” quite a few things. But as with most such “post-” designations, that doesn’t mean that the thing that the world is post- is necessarily completely gone. Going back to a Germanic (Heathen) mindset requires the shedding of many different layers that have accumulated over the centuries.

We live in a post-pagan world. Christianity, either of the Catholic variety in the west and north, or Orthodox variety in the east, took care of that in Europe with great gusto, attempting to replace not only pagan religious forms but social ones as well. But elements of the pagan folk-religious memeplexes* remained, whether in folklore and folk customs, covered with a Christian veneer, or even recorded in written form by pagan or Christian authors.

But we also live in a post-Catholic world. Thanks in large part to the Church’s own failings, the Protestant Reformation and the emergence of the Church of England profoundly shook European culture, and many of those pagan customs that had survived as folklore, folk custom, or which had been Christianized, were lost. Much written lore was also lost (as in the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s England).

But then came the Enlightenment, and now Europe found itself in a post-Christian world. Radical concepts like democracy, the scientific method, and evolution set the stage for a fundamental undermining of mass confidence in religion to order society and provide personal meaning. Ironically, this brought with it a renewed interest in pre-Christian (pagan) art forms, writings, and philosophy.

But then came the Industrial Revolution, and now we were in a post-Enlightenment world. Mass production overwhelmed individual craftsmen, and utilitarianism and ruthless efficiency trumped aesthetic value. The last vestiges of the pagan customs that had endured all these centuries were nearly wiped out as the masses moved from agrarian communities where these practices and beliefs were maintained, into large cities to work in factories, which left no time or place for such frivolities. It was at this time, just as folklore and folk customs were disappearing, they were preserved by enthusiastic folklorists across Europe, such as Jakob Grimm. Two world wars served to sever those last links to the deep past, except in self-conscious revivals, with but few exceptions.

And now, of course, we are living in an Information Society post-Industrial world. One in which information is key, and available to anyone on a global scale instantaneously. The bywords for Western society (and increasingly much of the rest of the world) are radical individualism and relativism. There is a near-infinite choice of options literally at one’s fingertips, so tradition, whether 50 or 5,000 years old, is rendered devoid of meaning.

So where does that leave us? How do we “radical traditionalists” respond? We peel back the layers, one by one.

It starts by returning to a pre-Information Society mindset. Rediscover the value in tribe and family, and recognize that there is value in tradition for its own sake, precisely because it is tradition. We tune out the vapid mass culture blather and rediscover things like reading and conversation.

It continues by looking to a pre-Industrial world-view. Regaining an appreciation for craftsmanship, and honing our own skills. Homemade, slow food rather than processed fast food. Hand-made furniture and art. We should try to choose the hand-made over the mass-produced, even though we realize it might cost more. We gain other intangible benefits in return.

We then look for the pre-Enlightenment world-view. Open our hearts and our minds to a world filled with magic; a world of land-wights and gods, where rights brought with them responsibilities, and where it was recognized that science should not drive society, but serve it.

And the process continues on and on til we finally get to a pre-Christian mindset. Where tribe and clan matter. Where honor replaces blind obedience and shame replaces sin. Where sex is not a source of embarrassment or shame but is embraced. Where we are one with the world, not seeking to separate ourselves from it, whether spiritually or technologically. A world where we can fulfill our natures with the gods, and with ourselves.

__________

* A memeplex is a collection of interdependent and intertwined memes (core idea concepts). Christianity, for example, is a memeplex that consists of many different memes.

The Asatru Option?

Several months ago, conservative commentator and author Rod Dreher released his latest book, The Benedict Option, subtitled A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, and it made quite a splash in the conservative Christian community. I read it, and I have to wonder if there isn’t some kernel at the core of the idea that Asatruar could use as well.

Now, obviously, this is a book aimed at a traditionalist Christian audience, primarily Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox. And there’s certainly nothing theological in the book that lends itself to any sort of Asatru application. But there’s some social, educational, political, and economic ideas that warrant a closer look.

The thumbnail argument in the book is that the West is “post-Christian”, and thus Christians need a new strategy to be able to maintain their unique identity in the face of a secular-liberal culture that not only has social values at odds with a lot of Christian values, but which insists on actively forcing those values on everyone, including those whose religion increasingly finds those values odious or even directly against its tenets.

The strategy he endorses is based on the Benedictine monastic tradition; physical and cultural separation from “the world” (in other worlds, from the greater non-Christian culture in which we live), with the formation of explicitly Christian communities being highly recommended, and a rigorous application of Benedictine religious principles in the form of prayer, hospitality, the work ethic, and more.

In terms of cultural separation, he provides the following advice:

Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid that which is bad; you must also embrace what is good. Start a church, or a group within your church. Open a classical Christian school, or join and strengthen one that exists. Plant a garden, and participate in a local farmer’s market. Teach kids how to play music, and start a band. Join the volunteer fire department. (p. 98)

If some of that sounds a bit odd coming from someone who is very much a champion of Christian conservatism, bear in mind this is the same guy who wrote Crunchy Cons, subtitled How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural revolutionaries plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party). I have only skimmed that one as of this writing, but it’s at the top of my to read list, for obvious reasons. It seems to check a lot of boxes for people I know in Asatru (again, looking past the Christian emphasis and focusing on the cultural ideals).

He also considers this sort of cultural separation as a tool for what he calls evangelization in and of itself:

As times get tougher, the church will become brighter and brighter, drawing people to its light. As this happens, we Christians should not be afraid to consider beauty and goodness our best evangelistic tools. (p. 117)

That should sound pretty familiar to those Asatru who embrace the idea of outreach by example. That is, by living honorable, joyous, simpler lives along the same patterns of our ancestors, and not being afraid to let our friends, co-workers, and neighbors know that we are Asatru, and that’s what informs our life choices, we might encourage more of those people to come home to Asatru.

His solution isn’t necessarily to pick up stakes and settle in the woods with a dozen people who think like you do, although I would daresay he wouldn’t rule that out. Rather, the preferred strategy seems to be to create pockets of culture-within-culture. Deliberately moving within walking distance of your church, for instance. Once you do that, your everyday life starts to be filled with people who think, and worship, the way you do. Doing so allows you to reinforce those cultural and religious values you want to embrace, and to limit the necessity of dealing with the secular-liberal culture that is so intent on spreading its memes to every host through mass media and cultural peer pressure.

Imagine that scenario, adopted for Asatru. Here in New Jersey, the tribe to which I belong has a bunch of members, but we’re scattered around New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Some live as much as three hours away from one another (we tend to meet in more central places, so it’s not quite as onerous for the outliers). But imagine we all decided, “hey, let’s all pick a small rural town and buy or rent houses there.” Would it be initially disruptive? You betcha. Jobs would be lost, new ones would have to be found. But in the meantime, we’d have a whole support network of people we know, and love, and consider kith and kin to help us through the rough times.

And imagine how easy it would be to decide where to open that hof!

There’s a lot in Dreher’s book that a non-Christian would need to jettison, and no mistake. Much of it is in the details of his recommendations; his obsession with sex, homosexuality, and related things is pretty awkward, but par for the course when one considers control of sex is one of the principle instruments of cultural control the Church has used over the centuries, precisely because it is such a fundamental biological urge. I’m certainly not arguing Asatru should embrace that sort of theological baggage.

But the core concept, minimizing the influence of the modern culture, and maximizing the formation of face-to-face communities which foment the creation of real bonds, I think is a perfectly valid one, especially for a religion like Asatru which finds itself also at odds with the modern secular, liberal, industrialized, corporatized, homogenizing, culture in which we live.

Let us not forget that we are not only living in a post-Christian culture, but we are also living in a post-Pagan culture. The Christians are looking at a loss of the dominance of their world-view in the West that has only taken place over the span of a few decades. We as Asatruar are dealing with a culture that saw many inherently pre-Christian aspects systematically destroyed and replaced. We’re dealing with a modern culture that has not replaced our own, but is in the process of replacing the one that replaced ours! Now, as part of the historical process, Christianity not only self-injected itself with Germanic religious and cultural concepts, but specific ritual and celebratory practices managed to survive under a thin Christian veneer for nearly a millennium, only to be finally almost obliterated by the Industrial Revolution and the flight of the agrarian folk who maintained those customs into the cities, where the rigid demands of industrial life made it impossible to retain them.

When we live in a culture that labels folkishness as racism, and a magical word-view as superstition, encourages us to be as removed from the production of food as possible, encourages radical individualism and atomization, and insists that we are somehow socially inferior if we don’t buy the newest gadget, and which insists that the latest social fad is a basic human right that must be enforced with threats of prison and economic ruin, and on and on and on, that’s a culture that should rightly be shunned wherever possible.

In its place we should seek to create a culture-within-the-culture that is based on our natural tribal affinities, on the cycles of nature and agriculture, on the concept of honor rather than shame and family rather than political party, on the knowledge that ours is a magical universe at its core and science for all its wonders is not the be-all and end-all of human experience, and on and on and on. And to do these things not online in blogs and emails and Facebook threads, but in the real-world, where you can walk down the street to a local ice-cream parlor and see one or two of your fellow Asatruar as you do so.

Take away the Christian baggage, and there’s a core concept in the Benedict Option that I think Asatruar would do very well to look into.

Does the Valknut Exist?

The three-triangle symbol

It’s probably not a question very many Asatruar ever ask themselves, but Eirik Storesund, writing at Brute Norse (great name for a blog, btw), says no, The “Valknútr” Does Not Exist. It’s worth reading the whole thing over there; I’m not going to respond to everything he says, at least not verbatim. It’s a very interesting article, though, and worth the time (it’s not too long).

Basically, his article lays out several different arguments:

  • The word valknútr (“slain knot”) doesn’t exist in Old Norse; it is a modern invention using ON words
  • The Norwegian word valknute refers to a completely different symbol in Norwegian
  • Although the symbol appears on picture-stones in many situations that could be described as related to Odinic sacrifice, it appears in many more in non-Odinic contexts
  • It is possible that the three-triangle symbol is actually the ON hrungnishjarta (“Hrungnir’s Heart”) after a suggestive passage in Snorri’s Edda, which would make it associated with Thor, not Odin
  • It is possible that the three-triangle symbol is associated with a horse-cult, based on pictural inscription evidence, which would make it associated with Freyr, not Odin
His conclusion is thus:

From a source-critical viewpoint there can be no doubt that the term *valknútr/valknutis dubious and unhelpful. Evidence suggests that the symbol’s original contents go far beyond the common themes of interpretation, which are none the less fossilized in both scholarly and neopagan discussion. There seems to be more to the symbol than death and sacrifice. 

I can’t offer a good alternative name. Gungnishjarta is too tentative, but maybe I am overplaying the harm a misnomer can do. Nevertheless, I think that the terminology has done more to cloud the symbol, rather than clearing it up. This should concern anybody invested in shedding light on pre-Christian Scandinavia.

The Norwegian valknute
Now, I hadn’t given the matter of the valknut* much thought. Like 99% of the Asatruar out there, I just figured the term and the interpretation were so ubiquitous that it was a given. That’ll teach me to not check primary sources on anything I read, even in a scholarly source. Turns out that Storesund is entirely correct when he says that the term is completely made up, and especially the association of the term with the three-triangles symbol. 
I’m going to go out of order and address the Hrungnir hypothesis next, because I think it’s an easy one. Unfortunately for those who espouse the idea that the hrungnishjarta mentioned by Snorri refers to the three-triangles symbol (such as Rudolf Simek**), the notion is contradicted by a very fundamental fact. Snorri mentions that the symbol known as hrungnishjarta has three points, like the giant’s heart:

Hrungnir had the heart which is notorious, of hard stone and spiked with three corners, even as the written character is since formed, which men call Hrungnir’s Heart.

The problem is, the three-triangles symbol commonly (and now we know mistakenly) known as a valknut has six points, not three. Geometry is not a friend to this hypothesis. Although it’s certainly possible that Snorri was being somewhat less than literal in his description, the only thing I can think of that would really fulfill the three spiked corners criteria is what is commonly known as the triquetra:
That brings us to what would seem to be the most interesting, if difficult to prove, element of the argument; that the three-triangles symbol (TTS) is found more often in a context that is not suggestive of Odinic sacrifice, but something else, possibly related to a horse-cult (which itself is suggestive of Freyr). This is really where it all comes to fruition, because even if the word valknut isn’t the correct ON term for the TTS, that doesn’t mean the symbol itself isn’t associated with Odinic sacrifice. A survey of the inscription evidence is needed to make that determination.
I confess I don’t know of any sources in English that really give a truly comprehensive study of three-triangle symbols on Norse picture-stones. There’s a book in German on the subject of the valknut, which I don’t have (and I’m not sure my German skills would be up to the task of reading), but I’m not even sure it would have the sort of comprehensive survey I’m thinking of.
That said, I will rely on the next best source available, and turn to Google image search, recognizing it is not necessarily comprehensive, and certainly not systematic. We do, however, come up with a number of examples:
Stora Hammar Stone sacrifice scene
This is perhaps the most Odinic context of a valknut on any picture-stone. We’ve got a clear sacrifice, we’ve got ravens, and we’ve got what looks like a spear. It screams “Odin” and is the chief source of the association of the three-triangles symbol with Odin. Odin is even seen in another frame of the stone, riding Sleipnir and being offered a horn of drink by a female:
Note that there’s no valknut here, but there doesn’t need to be. The identification of Odin is certain due to the eight legged horse he is riding. The identity of the figure offering drink is somewhat less certain, however; it could be a valkyrie, it could be Frigg, it could be a mortal noblewoman offering drink to a traveler whose true identity is unknown to her. I tend to think it’s one of the first two choices, however, although it’s very possible this refers to some other myth involving a cave, a dog/wolf, Odin, and the other figures in the panel. 
Tängelgårda stone from Gotland, Sweden
This one is probably a big source of Storesund’s and Hellers’ association of the TTS. There are three of them under the legs of the horse, after all, and another one behind the riding figure’s head. But look at the whole stone, and you’ll see something interesting:
Yes, that’s Odin’s horse sleipnir on the row above the horse with the valknuts between its legs. You can tell because it has eight legs, of course. And it’s worth noting the warriors that are following the figure on the horse; see what they’re carrying? Rings. And what’s a kenning for a King? “Giver of rings” (i.e., one who distributes wealth to his retainers). So here we have context for something Odinic, even if we don’t see a sacrifice per se. Odin is the god of kings, and his horse is right above the image of the leader handing out rings. 
Unless you think the stone is showing a bunch of Viking warriors wielding chakrams, of course…
Ahem
Lillbjars stone
The Lillbjars stone is an interesting one, and is doubtless also related to the possible identification of the valknut with horses. Here we see a figure on a horse. There’s nothing to really identify him as Odin, other than the presence of the TTS and what seems to be three interlocking horns (possibly representing the three droughts of mead Odin stole). As we saw above, a female figure offers the figure on the horse a drink. There’s really nothing particularly Odinic about this figure.
Broa stone
What I find interesting about this image is the fact that it is very, very close to the image we see on the Lillbjars stone, with a ship below and a female figure offering drink to a man on horseback. But here there’s no TTS. The image of a woman offering a horn as a sort of welcome to an incoming warrior, or leader, is a relatively common one. We see it possibly most famously in Beowulf, as Wealtheow offers drink to the guests in the hall. This could easily be a representation of that scene, as a matter of fact; Beowulf with his warriors arrive in Denmark by ship, and he is welcomed with drink. 
There are (many) other images of the TTS, but all the ones I’ve found are out of context; just inscriptions on box lids and the like.
So where does this leave us? 
I think there’s definitely room to question the significance of the TTS, although I think Storesund overstates his case. It’s only seen in one overtly sacrificial context (and that context pretty much can’t be questioned; it looms over the death, there are ravens and a spear, and Odin appears on the same stone in a different panel). But the other instances don’t necessarily map to anything Odinic; one is a “giver of rings” on horseback, and another is a leader of some sort, also on horseback. 
I might argue that the fact that they’re on horseback is incidental; what matters is that they are leaders. Indeed, that seems to be the only element of commonality in the picture-stones that I can tell. We have a sacrifice (which could be a jarl or other leader), we have a giver-of-rings (which is a leader), we have a figure being welcomed by a woman with drink (which is most probably a leader). 
I see a pattern here, but it’s not necessarily Odinic, and it’s not necessarily horse-related. 
Could what we today call a valknut really have been a symbol of leadership/jarldom/etc. to our ancestors? Now that Storesund (rightly) opens up the question, I think it’s worth exploring, although I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions. It’s consistent with the examples I cited above (although it would imply that the scene on the Stora Hammar stone is a leader being sacrificed to Odin, that’s perfectly possible), but I’m not drawing any firm conclusions, and at this point it would be a hard row to hoe to change the popular conception of what the TTS means, but I think it’s worth a more detailed and comprehensive look than I’ve been able to give here.
_____
* Most of the time I’m going to refer to this as the “three-triangle symbol” or TTS for purposes of this article
** Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, “Hrungnir’s Heart” entry

Calendrical Thoughts – When to celebrate?

Something that has come up in my researches on holidays and calendars and related things is the very practical question of when to celebrate holidays whose customs have been shifted from a traditional pre-Christian date to a Christian calendar date, Saint’s feast, or the like.

One example of recent relevance is the transition from winter to summer.

Historically, our ancestors marked this transition around April 22, in a ritual the Norse called Sumarmál (“summer meal”). It lasted three days, was noted for being the time when the “sacrifice for victory” (ON sigrblót) was made. This was also the beginning of the Icelandic month of Harpa, which was the first month of the summer season (the Anglo-Saxons transitioned from winter to summer a month earlier, doubtless due to the different climate in England).

In more modern times, however, we see the folk-calendar transition from winter to summer taking place on May Eve/May Day (and the whole Walpurgisnacht/Hexennacht/etc. complex). This was the final victory of summer over winter, as seen by the custom of teams of youths engaging in mock battles, playing out the final defeat of the forces of winter at the hands of the forces of summer.

So it seems that, when our ancestors moved not only from a Heathen calendar to a Christian one, but also when they then moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the final end of winter/start of summer got moved about eight or nine days later. Bear in mind that we’re not talking about the astronomical or solar calendar; to our ancestors, summer started when the birds returned and the plants began to bud, not when some arbitrary astronomical alignment happened.

This raises two very interesting (to me, anyway) questions.

First, I wonder if the “sacrifice for victory” mentioned in Heimskringla might not be related to those mock battles between winter and summer? I (and I think most of us) have always assumed that it was a reference to a sacrifice to Odin for victory in the coming summer season, in a generic sense. But what if it’s really a reference to a final victory over winter? I think there might be something there.

Perhaps the most important question of all – when do you
turn over the primstav calendar?

Second, on a more practical level, it brings us to the question of when to celebrate the transition from winter to summer? Do we do it closer to April 22, to match the Norse holiday that marks the event, or do we celebrate it on Walpurgisnacht and May Day, because that’s what modern sensibilities tell us to do, and we’ll be celebrating with thousands of others, at least vicariously.

For that matter, do we celebrate it in March, like the Anglo-Saxons? And do you time it around the lunar cycle, or a fixed calendar of some sort? Our Heathen ancestors did both.

I don’t pretend to have an answer. Ultimately, I think this is a question that will need to be answered by each tribe for its own purposes, according to it’s own custom. But I think it’s a decision that should consciously be made, rather than simply going with the modern date. “Because we never thought about it and that’s when everybody else does it” is the worst of all possible reasons for choosing to do something at a given time.

When does reconstructionism end?

By the title of this article I do not mean when does the process of reconstructionism end (which might be an interesting topic in and of itself), but rather when does reconstructionism stop looking for source material? To use a term popular in the SCA*, what is reconstructionist Heathenry’s “period”? In other words, when can or must we stop looking at sources, because they’re too far removed from the Heathen period?

The obvious off-the-cuff answer is “after the conversion to Christianity.” Which is all well and good, but does pose a few problems. The first is that the Germanic nations weren’t converted at the same time. The process was a long one spanning centuries, and every time a barbarian tribe was converted, there seemed to be another Heathen one spring up behind them. So one would have to go place by place and tribe by tribe.

The second problem is that conversion wasn’t an instant process. More often than not, a king or other leader would himself convert, or marry a Christian woman who would pressure him to convert, and this new faith would trickle down to the nobles and eventually to the peasantry. Sometimes this was a peaceful process, and sometimes it was done in an orgy of violence to promote the religion of the Prince of Peace. So the “official” dates of conversion are a misnomer; long after those dates, there would still be thriving Heathen communities and the folk-faith would endure. In many cases, we are told of Heathen “revivals” where the new faith was (temporarily, at least) cast off and the old ways reinstated. So during this “period of dual faith” there is still useful information that can be gleaned, although it is possible that it will be influenced by Christianity.

The third problem is that even purely Christian sources hold much value to those of us attempting to learn more about pre-Christian practices. This could come in the form of penitentials, sermons, Saints’ Lives, histories, and the like that list out (often in great detail) what the Heathens did as a tool for helping Christians avoid such practices. Or, it could be more subtle, in the use of language and terminology that provides insight into pre-Christian religion, because in order to describe Christian concepts, the author had to use Heathen vocabulary, such as we see in the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas, or the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood (which paints Jesus as the leader of a warband, and the Apostles as his thegns, and which itself might be modeled on a now-lost myth of the god Ingve).

The fourth problem is that even long after the people were nominally converted to Christianity, there remained a living undercurrent of pre-Christian remnants, often surviving under a Christian veneer. These can take many forms; popular superstitions, belief in and practices around elves/fairies/hidden folk/brownies/etc., holidays and folk-celebrations, nursery rhymes, dances and songs, and even Saints’ feasts, as we have seen in other articles.

Personally, I’m inclined to cast a wide net when I look for sources, and I don’t see that as in any way against reconstructionist principles.

__________
* Society for Creative Anachronism

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne

I just posted the following update to my post on Some thoughts on Ēostre, specifically dealing with the quote from Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne that Ms. Emerick claimed was “backup” for Bede’s claims. Here’s the passage from Einhard, and then my new analysis, which has been incorporated into my original post.

In fact, here’s the relevant passage from chapter 29 of Einhard’s work:

He gave the months names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks. He likewise designated the winds by twelve appropriate names; there were hardly more than four distinctive ones in use before. He called January, Wintarmanoth; February, Hornung; March, Lentzinmanoth; April, Ostarmanoth; May, Winnemanoth; June, Brachmanoth; July, Heuvimanoth; August, Aranmanoth; September, Witumanoth; October, Windumemanoth; Novemher, Herbistmanoth; December, Heilagmanoth. He styled the winds as follows; Subsolanus, Ostroniwint; Eurus, Ostsundroni-, Euroauster, Sundostroni; Auster, Sundroni; Austro-Africus, Sundwestroni; Africus, Westsundroni; Zephyrus, Westroni; Caurus, Westnordroni; Circius, Nordwestroni; Septentrio, Nordroni; Aquilo, Nordostroni; Vulturnus, Ostnordroni.

In re-reading the passage from Einhard, I realized that, rather than being a “backup” of Bede, the passage from Einhard actually undermines the idea that what Bede is presenting is a pan-Germanic concept. Note that the passage says “He gave the months names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks.”

Those weren’t the original names the Franks called the months. In fact, Einhard goes out of his way to say Charlemagne replaced the Frankish names with these names. In the specific case of April, he replaced it with a form derived from Bede’s account. Why would the Champion of the Faith replace a “barbarous” Frankish month-name with a pagan Anglo-Saxon month name? Wouldn’t he replace it with a name that was by the early 9th century (Einhard states the month renaming happened after Charlemagne’s coronation in 799 CE) associated with Christianity, rather than paganism? One which was popularized not only by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, but which was ensconced in one of the most widely-distributed works of Christianity at the time?

No, this doesn’t “back up” Bede at all. It derives from Bede. Charlemagne replaced the “barbarous” (i.e., pagan) Frankish name with a good Christian name, because that’s what the Anglo-Saxon missionaries were calling the celebration of the resurrection, and that would be completely consistent with Charlemagne’s political and social policies of the time.

Some thoughts on Ēostre

Recently, in relation to my previous post on Bede’s Spring, a good friend pointed me to an article entitled Ēostre – Real Goddess or Bede’s Invention? It was published in 2015, but it’s still a very good encapsulation of the pro-Ēostre side of the argument, so I thought I’d do a bit of a response/analysis of a two year old blog post. Ahem.

I won’t be reposting the entire article here, but it’s all there in the link at the top. Emphasis in the original, throughout.

Although Northern European indigenous religion was actively repressed by the Church, modern Easter celebrations are still very much intertwined with the old pagan holiday. Since the holiday traditions could not be stomped out, it appears that the best way to combat a resurgence of ancestral European religion is to deny it ever existed.

So this very obviously sets up the author in the pro-Ēostre camp, and somewhat disingenuously suggests that the only people who would deny the existence of Ēostre as a pan-Germanic deity are those who somehow have an interest in suppressing a revival of Asatru. I am constrained to point out that there is a lot of variation within contemporary Asatru on a variety of subjects, and that includes very much the question of whether some deities (such as Hreda/Hreða and Ēostre) are legitimate historical pan-Germanic deities, local tribal deities that have been “jumped up” to a higher status, or literary inventions.

The Venerable Bede is the source most often used in arguments both for and against the existence of the cult of Ēostre. The main opposing argument states that Ēostre is a “made up” goddess invented by the Medieval Church historian, Bede.

What this argument neglects to consider is that Bede was a Christian monk who was bent on driving paganism out of Britain. He wrote his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in the 8th Century. This was a time when English Pagan customs still survived out on the outskirts and heaths.The term “heathen” refers to the country folk out on the heath practicing the “Old Ways”.

Eradication of the Old Religion was a main priority of the Church in this period. Why, then, would a Christian monk invent a pagan goddess to encourage pagan practice? His goal would be to downplay any Spring fertility goddesses and emphasize the resurrection of Christ.

Well, no.

First of all, the references to Ēostre come from On the Reckoning of Time, not from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Just to get the facts straight.

But in a more general sense, all throughout Medieval church literature we see references to past pagan practices. The penetentials, Saints’ lives, and sermons are filled to the brim with the Christians telling us what not to do. The Medieval mindset didn’t see such things as encouraging pagan worship, but as a corrective measure.

It is also the case that medieval literature (particularly the Sagas of Icelanders, but examples can be found throughout) made use of presumed pagan practices to emphasize the “otherness” of the pre-Christian world. Thus we see descriptions of children being exposed in pagan times, offerings being made to idols, etc. as examples of how awful things were in the bad old days, before Christianity came to those benighted folk. Hel, even the Bible includes descriptions of pagan worship. In short, Bede wouldn’t have seen a simple reference to the source of a month-name as “encouraging” anything at all, whether or not it was invented or taken from a local tribal goddess,any more than William of Monmouth was encouraging pagan religion when he claimed that the original Britons came from Troy.

Further, if I may be permitted to quote Philip A. Shaw in Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (p. 65):

As Herren (1998)* has shown, moreover, the early eighth century saw considerable interest in Graeco-Roman mythology and its correspondences with native pagan mythology in southern Anglo-Saxon centres, including Canterbury. Such interests would certainly be consonant with the production of a listing of Anglo-Saxon month-names in relation to their Roman equivalents, as in chapter 15 of De Temporum Ratione.

So there’s really nothing to support the assertion that 8th century scholars in England would be concerned about “encouraging” pagan practices. Ms. Emerick continues:

But, wait. Bede has backup!

As it happens, another monk recorded a reference to Ostara which corroborates Bede’s claim. Einhard, in The Life of Charlemagne (written in the 9th Century), mentions that the month of April is known to the Saxons as Oster-monath (Ôstarmânot), backing up Bede’s mentioning of April as Ēastermōnaþ (Easter month).

The Anglo-Saxons in England were cousins to the German Saxons in continental Europe. They spoke a related language and practiced variations on the same religion. Ēostre to the English is the linguistic counterpart to Ostara of the continental Saxons. Both groups named the month that roughly corresponds with our April for the goddess whose festival was celebrated then.

“Genocide not make one great,”
as Yoda might say

Yes, absolutely. In fact, here’s the relevant passage from chapter 29 of Einhard’s work:

He [Charlemagne**] gave the months names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks. He likewise designated the winds by twelve appropriate names; there were hardly more than four distinctive ones in use before. He called January, Wintarmanoth; February, Hornung; March, Lentzinmanoth; April, Ostarmanoth; May, Winnemanoth; June, Brachmanoth; July, Heuvimanoth; August, Aranmanoth; September, Witumanoth; October, Windumemanoth; Novemher, Herbistmanoth; December, Heilagmanoth. He styled the winds as follows; Subsolanus, Ostroniwint; Eurus, Ostsundroni-, Euroauster, Sundostroni; Auster, Sundroni; Austro-Africus, Sundwestroni; Africus, Westsundroni; Zephyrus, Westroni; Caurus, Westnordroni; Circius, Nordwestroni; Septentrio, Nordroni; Aquilo, Nordostroni; Vulturnus, Ostnordroni.

UPDATE (3/22/2017) 

In re-reading the passage above, I realized that, rather than being a “backup” of Bede, the passage from Einhard actually undermines the idea that what Bede is presenting is a pan-Germanic concept. Note that the passage says “He gave the months names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks.”

Those weren’t the original names the Franks called the months. In fact, Einhard goes out of his way to say Charlemagne replaced the Frankish names with these names. In the specific case of April, he replaced it with a form derived from Bede’s account. Why would the Champion of the Faith replace a “barbarous” Frankish month-name with a pagan Anglo-Saxon month name? Wouldn’t he replace it with a name that was by the early 9th century (Einhard states the month renaming happened after Charlemagne’s coronation) associated with Christianity, rather than paganism? One which was popularized not only by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, but which was ensconced in one of the most widely-distributed works of Christianity at the time? (See below)

No, this doesn’t “back up” Bede at all. It derives from Bede. Charlemagne replaced the “barbarous” (i.e., pagan) Frankish name with a good Christian name, because that’s what the Anglo-Saxon missionaries were calling the celebration of the resurrection, and that would be completely consistent with Charlemagne’s political and social policies of the time.

END UPDATE

But note that all that this corroborates is the name of the month (Eostermonath / Ostarmanoth). It gives absolutely no information as to the source of the name. To claim Einhard is “backup” for Bede’s claim that the month is named after the goddess Ēostre is simply untrue.

Ms. Emerick continues:

Scholars have suggested that the early Medieval Church in England actively studied Anglo-Saxon indigenous religion as a strategy to combat it. … It is likely that Bede, like the monks in Bate’s [sic] story [The Way of Wyrd], was conducting his own research on the heathen people within his geographic vicinity. By understanding the elements of the Easter festival, the Church could incorporate some of the themes into the new Christian festival, thereby making the transition more palatable to the “natives.”

This hardly seems “likely” at all, for a couple of reasons.

First, although Ms. Emerick points out (rightly) that Brian Bates wrote his book based on a lot of historical research, he is himself a practicing Anglo-Saxon pagan, and thus comes at his subject from a certain point of view that is naturally inclined towards sympathy towards the pagans. This isn’t disqualifying by any means, but it must be borne in mind.

Second, Brian Bates’ book is set in 674 CE, already in the twilight of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, which was largely complete by that time. Bede wrote his On the Reckoning of Time fifty years later, long after the “official” conversion process had been completed. Even Wessex, the last pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdom in Britain proper, had a Christian law code in place by 695. Pope Gregory’s famous letter to Mellitus, in which he encourages Mellitus and Augustine to make use of existing pagan practices, was written in 601 CE. Nearly three generations had passed, and although pagan practices may have endured under Christian guise, actual paganism was largely wiped out by this time, except perhaps in the remotest hinterlands, and even then, it was known to be on its way out. And Bede was writing in 725 CE, several decades even later into the Christianization process. In short, the missionary work in Anglo-Saxon England was well over by the time Bede was writing. What was left was just cleanup; there wasn’t any “research” needed.

Congruence with other known European goddesses

Given that European pagans were so frequently portrayed with gross inaccuracy, it seems odd that a Christian monk would invent a gentle fertility goddess associated with things that elicit positive feelings, such as furry bunnies (more accurately, hares), flowers, fuzzy baby chicks, and eggs which symbolize new life, regeneration, and sustenance. … An invented goddess, constructed by someone culturally separated from pagan culture, who has an intrinsic heavy bias, would likely fall outside of the paradigm of what we know of pagan spirituality. Ēostre does not. She is a perfect fit.

Again, it must be pointed out that Bede did not do anything of the sort. He only supplied a name; all the associations with bunnies (which probably come from the release of rabbits during the Roman Floralia in late April) and the rest aren’t mentioned in Bede at all. All he does is give a name. Any other associations are either later imports from other sources, derivative from the etymological meaning of the name itself (more on that below), or, as I suspect, from the character of the celebrations in the month of April, which still survived in folk-memory and very likely folk-custom, in a Christianized form. The key is that those celebrations don’t necessarily have to be linked to Bede’s goddess.

Bede names the goddess Ēostre. He never gives any details other than “in [her] honour feasts were celebrated in [April].” That’s it.

If there are pagan practices and iconography that have crept into Christian Easter celebrations over the years (and I think there very definitely are), then all that tells us is that there were pagan celebrations that had those same qualities at around roughly the same time as Easter. It does not necessarily mean that Bede’s identification of Ēostre as the object of those pagan celebrations is accurate.

Etymological Connection to Other Spring/Dawn Goddesses

Eostre and Ostara are etymological cousins of the Greek Eos, Roman Aurora, and Baltic Ausrine. If Bede were to invent a goddess, would he scratch his head and make sure his fake goddess lined up perfectly with similar goddesses of other Indo-European cultures?

Further, much work has been done to reconstruct the proto-Indo-European (PIE) pantheon. This is the language/culture group from which most of Europe descends. Aeusos or Ushas is the PIE goddess that the goddesses mentioned above descend from. The linguists show that Eostre and Ostara fit within the paradigm. …

In Danish and Norwegian, it is called Påske – a variation of Pascha! This corroborates with the notion that the name of Easter is associated with the Old English Ēostre and Ostern with Ostara. **There is no other way to explain why English and German use Easter/Ostern while the Scandinavian languages use Pascha.**

To my mind, this is really the heart of the argument, and the one which might have the strongest weight. But it should be pointed out that the commonality among all those goddesses is not spring, but rather dawn. A lot of people sort of hand-wave the “dawn is symbolic of spring” thing, but there really isn’t anything to point to that in the sources. Eos, Aurora, Aušrinė, etc. aren’t specifically celebrated in the springtime, as far as I’m aware.

But as for the last statement, I am once more constrained to point out that just because a month of the year had a given name, and that name was appropriated for the Christian celebration that happened around that same time of year, does not necessarily mean there was a goddess by that name!

But later on, Ms. Emerick invokes Jacob Grimm, who was admittedly both a founding light in the field and a proponent of the Ostara-as-pan-Germanic-goddess theory.

Grimm hypothesized that Ostara was a pan-Germanic goddess of fertility, the spring, and the dawn. If Bede invented her in England, then how did illiterate peasants in Germany know of her over one thousand years later? Either she was genuinely worshiped, or Bede had an excellent PR team!

In point of fact, there is a school of thought amongst scholars that the popularization of the name “Easter” instead of “paschal” in Germany was due to the presence of Anglo-Saxon missionaries, who were regularly sent there to finish the job that Charlemagne so vigorously pursued. They spoke a very closely related language, and if they were instructing their new charges in Christian celebrations, they would naturally use the term they knew back home, and precisely because it had appeared in Bede’s work, which was “one of the essential ecclesiastical textbooks of the early Middle Ages” according to Philip A. Shaw in Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World, p. 69. So what Ms. Emerick dismisses with a joke is actually a scholarly theory for precisely what happened.

It is worth pointing out that in the Scandinavian countries, as well as in the Old Norse sources, variations on “paschal” are used for Easter. It’s only in English-speaking countries and Germany (where those Anglo-Saxon missionaries were employed at exactly the right time to imprint their native term on a new Christian holiday; at the moment of conversion) that we see terms relating to Easter/Ostar/etc.

But let’s explore Grimm’s work in this context as well, since it seems to figure largely in this part of the essay:

In the Edda a male being, a spirit of light, bears the name of Austri, so a female one might have been called Austra ; the High German and Saxon tribes seem on the contrary to have formed only an Ostarâ, Eástre (fern.), not Ostaro, Eastra (masc). And that may be the reason why the Norsemen said pâskir and not austrur : they had never worshipped a goddess Austra, or her cultus was already extinct. (Teutonic Mythology Vol. I, p. 291)

In volume II, p. 781, Grimm unfortunately seems so enamored of a connection between a hypothetical Ostara and various well-attested goddesses that he makes an unwarranted leap, inferring absence of evidence as evidence of absence:

May we then identify Ostara with the Slav goddess of spring Vesna, the Lith. vasara (aestas), Lett, vassara, and with ver and ȇap in the forms ascribed to them on p. 754? True, there is no counterpart, no goddess answering to Marzana; but with our ancestors the notion of a conflict between two male antagonists, the giants Summer and Winter, must have carried the day at a very early time [to the exclusion of the goddesses].

In short, he’s saying that Ostara should be held as equivalent to those other goddesses, without any sort of real evidence, based entirely on the hypothetical construct that there was a such a myth that would justify doing so, but it was replaced early on with a myth involving male giants. No real justification at all, just wishful thinking and saying “it must have been so, because it would make my theory work.”

I’m a huge fan of Grimm’s work, but sometimes his 19th century roots are showing, and don’t hold up to the standards of modern scholarship. This would seem to be one such place.

Ms. Emerick leaves us with yet another parting shot attempting to speak at motive:

Based on a review of the evidence, the only conclusion for such a heated rejection of fact is that the pagan Ēostre is still considered a threat to those who would appropriate her holy day. 

Despite the efforts to erase her from history, she lives on not only in the symbols of Easter, but in the very word “Easter” itself.

Yeah, not remotely a Christian here, but very much an Ēostre-skeptic. Let’s not try to ascribe nefarious motives to what you claim is an “historical analysis of evidence that is often overlooked in the assessment of the historicity of the “cult” of Eostre/Ostara.”

Let us review.

  • Bede and Einhard both agree there was a month (April) with the name cognate to “dawn” in many languages. 
  • Doubtless many pagan things happened in April, like they do in all months. 
  • The Christian Easter most often happened around that same time. 
  • There are a lot of obviously pagan practices and iconography that are associated with Christian Easter. 
  • Bede claims there was a goddess from whose name the month-name came.

None of that adds up to “the goddess that Bede names is connected to the practices that got associated to Easter.” I think it’s far more likely that there was some sort of April/spring celebration with all the symbols and associations of fertility and the like in Germanic culture, and those associations got connected to the Christian Easter celebration in order to assist the transition from pagan culture to Christian culture, but ultimately the only evidence for a Germanic goddess of the dawn, celebrated in the spring, is Bede, and he was writing generations after the conversion, and centuries after the month itself was named, so it’s entirely likely he gave a folk-etymology of the name of the month, either creating it out of whole cloth, or connecting it to a genuine local tribal deity who happened to have a linguistic connection.

The truth will, ultimately, never be known, but let no one say it’s a done deal that Ēostre existed as some pan-Germanic goddess. The evidence  is strong supporting the idea that some sort of spring celebration with a lot of our modern Easter trappings once existed. It is also evident that the name of the month was cognate to our modern Eostre/Ostara/Easter. But the leap becomes the notion that this month got its name from some pan-Germanic goddess (unknown in the Germanic lands of Scandinavia) whose existence was completely forgotten until Bede recalled it and wrote it down in his book, which happened to be highly influential at the time the Christian Easter celebration was introduced in exactly the lands outside of England where the name was later recorded.

I’m frankly inclined to go with Shaw’s explanation of the origin of the goddess Ostara; that she was associated with a local Saxon tribe in Kent, and Bede, having obtained much of his information from the region, associated the goddess with the month name, without any real cause, in order to provide an explanation for it. The meaning of “shining” or “golden” (Proto-Germanic *austrōn) could very well make sense to a month (April) which sees a retreat of winter weather and the start of sunnier days. An association with a personified “dawn” is superfluous.

__________

* The reference as given in Shaw is; “Herren, Michael W. 1998. “The Transmission and Reception of Graeco-Roman Mythology in Anglo-Saxon England, 670-800”, Anglo-Saxon England, 27: 87-103.

** Many of us prefer to call him Charles the Butcher, for his genocide against the Saxons who refused to give up the worship of the gods of their Folk at the Massacre of Verden, but I use the common term here for ease of understanding.

Reconstructionism and social change

Going Viking is frowned upon in modern society

One of the problems with practicing a “reconstructed” religion like Ásatrú is that its beliefs and practices, by definition, have been kept in a fossilized state until relatively recently. Because of this, they have not undergone the sort of slow, society-driven changes that religions with an unbroken history of practice, such as Christianity and Judaism, have. Thus, many of the beliefs and practices of Ásatrú are considered not only antiquated, but in some cases downright unacceptable or even illegal.

As such, we as Ásatrúar are faced with the problem of what to do when we find our religious beliefs and practices conflict with the expectations and requirements of modern society. There are three possible courses of action in such cases: 1) abandon the questionable item, 2) modify the questionable item, and 3) retain the questionable item and face the consequences and pressures that may result.

The practice of animal sacrifice is a prime example of this conflict between tradition and modernity. That animal sacrifice was a central part of the religious life of the pre-Christian peoples of northern and western Europe cannot be denied; archaeology, history, and linguistics all agree. But in the modern world, slaughtering a pig in one’s suburban backyard, especially in a religious context is a highly dubious prospect (although I’ve personally been present at precisely such an event).

Not only are most modern people ill-equipped to perform the ritual (unlike in ancient days, when more rural lifestyles meant many more people were familiar with the basics of killing and dressing livestock), but social pressure against doing so is enormous. In some jurisdictions there are also legal obstacles that need to be overcome (although the US Supreme Court has ruled in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993) that animal sacrifice is a protected form of religious expression under the First Amendment to the Constitution).

In this example, most Heathens opt to simply not perform animal sacrifices (option 1). Indeed, the form of blót performed by most Ásatrú groups today can be seen as a sort of faux sacrifice, with mead being used instead of the blood of the animal to “redden” the participants by sprinkling them. Some few, who have the benefit of training and/or private land where such rites can be conducted in relative privacy, continue to do so (option 3). Ásatrú as a whole is a large enough tent to accommodate all three strategies for dealing with these sorts of issues.

For myself, I tend to want to lean in favor of reconstructing the elder practices, and the desires of modern society be damned. Unless there are clear-cut legal prohibitions (such as the case of human sacrifice), I am of the school that holds that part of Ásatrú is the attempt to recreate the ancient pre-Christian Heathen mindset. And part of that effort means that modern mores (whether they be neo-liberal “social justice” or neo-Victorian social conservatism) must take a back seat to the ancient beliefs of our ancestors. This doesn’t mean I am against all innovation or change, but I think to immediately jump to change, without even giving the elder practices a chance to work in practical terms, is a mistake. Those ancient practices and beliefs were born of hundreds of generations of trial-and-error, and to turn our backs on that source of collected experience and wisdom seems unwise at best.

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