Theodish Thoughts

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

Category: Rome

The Good Old Days Indeed

Ryan Sayre Patrico, over at First Thoughts, has a typically ham-fisted response to a rather thoughtful piece by Laurie Fendrich at the Chronicle of Higher Education. She imagines a world where monotheism failed to take root, and he snarls back with a typical Christian response; such a world would be a living Hell because of the absence of the beneficent influence of Christianity, even attempting to make the point that the Peloponnesian War had a much higher death-rate than World War II. He fails to mention, of course, that the Peloponnesian War was not fought for religious reasons, but geopolitical ones. Athens wasn’t attempting to impose its version of Hellenic Greek paganism on Sparta.

Ms. Fendrich’s original point remains, however; polytheist societies are, as a rule, much more tolerant on a religious level than monotheist societies are, because implicit within polytheism is a certain tolerance of other beliefs. No one ever claimed pagans were free from war for other reasons, but knocking down that straw-man seems to compose the entirety of Mr. Patrico’s argument.

The example of Pagan Rome’s intermittent (and ultimately futile) repressions of early Christianity, of which commenter Mr. Mendez reminds us, is a special one; Rome was in fact noted for its tolerance of local cults and religious practices, even granting a special dispensation for the Jews from the requirement of Emperor-worship. The Christians ran afoul of them specifically because theirs was a new faith that sought to undermine the Roman faith; had Christianity been capable of co-existence with other religions (as did, for exmple, Mithraism, one of Christianity’s chief rivals at the time), I think the Roman response to it would have been vastly different.

Oh, and his link is incorrect. It should point to the article I linked above.

A Couple of Neat Nuggets of Lore

Just want to mark these down, which I found today while searching for something completely unrelated.

“They [the Goths] like to march under arms to a banquet, they will attend a funeral in white, and wear mourning at a marriage festival; they go to church in furs, and hear a litany in beaver.” –Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters, Book V, Letter VII

Note that the Roman color of mourning was black. Thus, the Goths (at least; no telling how widespread the practice was) used white as a color of mourning, and black, apparently, at weddings. I’ll have to dig up some of the wedding references in the Sagas and see if there’s anything indicating the color of the garb of any of the participants or guests.

“Here were the standards of the veteran cohorts; there the images of wild beasts, brought out of the woods and sacred groves, under the various forms which each tribe is used to follow into battle…” –Tacitus, History, Book IV, 22

Tacitus is here speaking of “the whole German nation”. The inference is clear; each tribe had a totem animal, which was represented by an image or sculpture (distinct from those at the top of Roman standards used by individual cohorts) with some definite sort of sacral function. I see a direct line between these and the famous “raven banner” (and Olav Haraldsson’s not-so-famous dragon banner) of the Viking Age. Here is perfect lore-based justification for the modern practice of tribes adopting particular animals as symbols, with continuity from the first century CE through the eleventh.

Just thought those were a couple of neat little nuggets of lore.

On the Kalends

We are told, according to the De Correctione Rusticorum of Saint Martin of Braga, that one of the transgressions of those who still followed the old religion in Gaul (and by that time (572 CE) the Franks had conquered Gaul, so we are talking about Germanic religion rather than Roman or Celtic, specifically that of the tribe of the Franks, but applicable beyond that narrow focus) was that they “observed the Vulcanalia and the kalends”. This could and should quite significant for the everyday practices of modern Heathens.

The Vulcanalia (which is essentially a term relating to a fire celebration taking place in late August; it is unlikely that the classical Vulcanalia was anything more than a vague date to Martin, since the actual Roman celebration had long been done away with) will be dealt with in another post. But it is the notion that the Heathens would practice some observance of the kalends that is of interest. Much confusion lies in the fact that the writer is composing in Latin, and as such is also using Latin conventions for such things as deity names and calenderical references. It must always be asked, when he speaks of Mercury (for instance) whether he is speaking of the Roman Mercurius or the Germanic Odin, who was associated with the Roman God.

Historically, the Kalends was the first day of the month. What brings in a measure of confusion is the fact that the definition of when a month began had changed from the begining of Rome to the 6th century. At Rome’s foundation, the calendar was a lunar one, and the kalends marked the New Moon. By the time of the Imperial period, the calendar we know had been mostly introduced, and the month-names with which we are familiar had been well established. (July and August, for example, were named after Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, respectively.)

That begs the question, though; when Martin spoke of the Heathens observing the kalends, did he mean the first day of the calendar month, or did he mean the new moon? I think the answer (such as we have) lies in the politics of Gaul in the late 6th century, when Martin was writing.

Clovis I had only been baptized 80 years before, and although most of the Franklish aristocracy had converted with him, such things were notoriously slow to make their way into the beliefs and practices of the common folk. Martin, writing in Latin, would have used the term kalends to refer to the beginning of the month, no matter how the beginning of the month was actually reckoned. The question becomes, how did the common folk of the Germanic peoples actually figure out the beginning of their months?

Look to Alvissmal:

Mani heitir medh monnum,
en mylinn medh godhum,
kalla hverfanda hvel helju i,
skyndi jotnar,
en skin dvergar,
kalla alfar artala.

Tis hight Moon among men,
and Mill among gods
called Rolling-Wheel in Hel.
Hasty by giants,
Shining One by dwarves,
Called by elves, Year-Teller.

Year-teller. Cleasby-Vigfusson’s dictionary notes, “The heathen year being lunar”.

And here we have our answer, and it all falls into place.

Martin was writing for a popular audience. His letter was clearly intended to be read from the pulpit to the fallen masses. He would have used the term kalends in a way that was significant to them; not using the Roman calendar (which was solar in nature), but the Germanic lunar calendar of the Frankish peasants to whom he was speaking. The kalends was the new moon.

The Frankish Heathens in Gaul in the late 6th century were observing the new moon. Let us do no less in our reconstruction of their faith in the Gods. Up soon… how?

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