After Death: Certitude or Mystery?

skeleton

The importance of the remains of the dead, their treatment, their burial, the tending of graves and honouring of one’s dead kinsfolk and heroes. It was an important aspect of the elder Germanic beliefs; with enough parallels in both the beliefs of their fellow Indo-European cultures and the associated archaeological record, to nail it down as a very ancient, very significant, and very enduring thing.

But was Hell simply the grave and grave mound? Was the soul truly and irrevocably bound to it’s remains? Was there in fact no Germanic “afterworld”, beyond life in the grave-mound, as more than one well informed person has proposed? And indeed if the remains of one’s ancestors were lost and/or forgotten so to were their souls to the kindred?

Well, I like this perspective. It’s something that began to dawn on me a couple of decades ago after reading Gronbech’s “Culture of the Teutons”; in which he drew a parallel between the cosmology of the Eddas and the physical realities of a tribe’s surroundings. And there is a lot in elder Germanic lore that certainly points in this direction.

However, while this understanding is a very good foundation — rightly shifting our attention, energy and emphasis away from the otherworld and on to this world, away from the goldstar we will get in some otherworld and on to the legacy we leave for the benefit of our community and descendants that remain in this world after we have departed, ie. world accepting — it nevertheless presents certain inconsistencies with other aspects of both Germanic and Indo-European lore; which, from subtle indications of language and elder figures of speech to ship-burials are suggestive of both a journey, and hence a destination, following death … undertaken from within the gravemound it would “certainly seem”.

For all of that, I still find that the Eddas, paint too detailed and too certain of a picture about such things. Who knows what lies ahead in that great journey taken after death? The dead … of which none of us are at this moment. As with the nature of the Tivar, I tend to dislike sharp and certain definitions of things a person doesn’t really know anything more-or-less about than anyone else. Certainly we have a sense of “life after death” … a sense that is of course the strongest in the presence of the bones of our ancestors, but if the ancient Greeks are any testament, a mound is a mound is a mound, each as the other a gate to Hades apparently, whether or not their ancestors or heroes were actually buried in “that” particular mound or worshiped at many different mounds in different localities. But no, certitude was never a promise or pretense of elder Germanicism, which was always happy to own it’s sense of things while happily letting those things be whatever they actually are apart from their sense of them. As can be gleaned in the following passage from Bede’s History of the English Nation, the elder culture knew how to honour to *mystery*,

“The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry weather. But after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short while. But of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

And in the poem Beowulf as it pertains to the death, funeral and otherworldly fate of Scyld Sceafing,

“Men do not know
truth be told, neither counselors
nor heroes under heaven, who unshipped that cargo.”

And in Book I of the Gesta Danorum,

“she drew him with her underground, and vanished… <snip> … purposed that he should pay a visit in the flesh to the regions whither he must go when he died. So they first pierced through a certain dark misty cloud, and then advancing along a path that was worn away with long thoroughfaring… <snip> … Going further, they came on a swift and tumbling river of leaden waters, whirling down on its rapid current divers sorts of missiles, and likewise made passable by a bridge… <snip> … Then a wall hard to approach and to climb blocked their further advance. The woman tried to leap it, but in vain, being unable to do so even with her slender wrinkled body; then she wrung off the head of a cock which she chanced to be taking down with her, and flung it beyond the barrier of the walls; and forthwith the bird came to life again, and testified by a loud crow to recovery of its breathing.

Did our ancestors believe in life after death? Certainly. But certitude about such things as no man can be certain about is not a selling point of the elder beliefs. As ever, truth is more about questions and less about answers. Beware the man who is certain about things no man could possibly be … for within him grow the seeds of evil.

Our Story

Indigenous Germanic belief was never so sharply compartmentalized a thing as we think of today when we think of religion. Certainly, our ancestors had their notions of what might properly be thought of as religious … those things “set apart” in dedication to the gods and their worship, and which were mostly the preoccupation of the tribal priests and/or head of household … but those beliefs impacted all other aspects of their culture. Language, poetry, mead, farming practices, battle formations, social institutions, tribal land masses, etc. were all ascribed sacral origins by our ancestors. There was no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather a “trichotomy” of the sacred (wih), the blessed community (holy), and everything else outside of that (unholy, ie. not whole, not integral to the community).

While, in the past, Christianity came to replace the theological aspects of our indigenous beliefs, it did not mark the end of our beliefs from a properly heathen point of view. Ideology does not define our folk in the same way as it does universalists. The conversion was not the end of our story. Our languages continued, our folk cultures continued, our cultural perceptions and biases continued … not only to BE impressed, but to IMPRESS itself upon Christianity … and our blood continued.

Our story has continued, as ever, to grow and evolve in accordance with our historical experience … in accordance with our native notion of law, of precedent. Our Christianized ancestors of yore, for better and for worse (but mostly for worse), laid down a new precedent … and we have laid down other precedents since … the Eddic “laying of layers” … that have enabled us “heathens” to arise again and lay down a new precedent of our own, which is itself an old one … that recognizes our sacral origins as a people and the value of who we are. But it is all our story as the offspring of NW Europe. There is no Christian history or Heathen history. There is only European history, Germanic history. Our story.

Personal Reflections: My First Years as a Heathen and the Lessons Learned

My return to the native gods of my Germanic ancestors came back in 1983/84 when I was 12 years old, appropriately enough. I had fallen deathly ill for a 3 month stretch … in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis … test after test after test … the doctors at a loss as to what was wrong with me. The “geniuses” ultimately figured out, thanks in no small measure to my mother, that the medication that they had originally given me for whatever was initially wrong with me was in fact what was continuing to make me ill. But during that time, well, it was a lot of time to sit and ponder … a lot of different things, but most poignantly, my own mortality.

You know, a straight up and no-nonsense, “Am I dying?”.

Now, I was baptized a Catholic, went to Church with my father a few times before he carried on his merry way never to be seen again, was placed in Sunday school for, I dunno, a couple of weekends by my recently single mother, and went to Church on the very odd occasion with my maternal grandfather as a family thing. You could say I was “pop Christian” or “folk Christian”. I believed in a “higher power”, in God, and that being a good, believing human being pertained to one’s relationship with that higher power and one’s fate in the hereafter, but I was by no means “hung up” on religion … like some of the more hypocritical twigs of my maternal kindred — my grandfather not among them — who were the first to run to Church on Sunday and the last to do a good deed any other day of the week.

My religious worldview of the time consisted of various forms of Christianity, atheism, or “heavy metal Satanism”, incidentally. I had not even heard of Wicca, to say nothing of Asatru … a knowledge of which would not reach me until something like 1991, give or take a year.

So anyway, there I was, moderately Christian, 12 years old going on 13, wondering if I was going to outlive this illness or simply die a slow, completely miserable death. So, naturally one might think, I prayed to Christ … to be healed, to be saved, for mercy. I mean, I was a kid. I hadn’t ever done anyone or anything any kind of grievous harm. I was good-natured. And I was a believer to the extent that I understood it. So, why wouldn’t Christ heal me??? But he didn’t. And during this time I was also evolving a growing awareness of “the viking gods” as I called them at the time … enough to know that at one point in time these were considered real gods actually worshiped by men and not just … comic book characters or something. So I prayed to Christ “to find out”, ie. internal self-dialogue, if it was okay with him for me to pray to them. And in this internal dialogue the “pop opinion” came out as response; NO! And so as “prayers” of this nature continued over the days and weeks, moving through all that “it’s God’s will” nonsense, ie. that you suffer in your illness and maybe die from it, the threat of eternal damnation was ultimately introduced … and that was pretty well the straw that broke the camel’s back for this suffering little wretch. I’d had enough. It was wrong … this intimidation, this egotism, this sheer pettiness. And so, While I had by no means magically transcended the sheer terror of the threat of eternal damnation, which my long illness had given me something of a taste of, I was nevertheless resolved; and so I decided to pray to Thunor, whom I called by his Anglicized Old Norse variant, Thor, at the time. It was the same deal, this prayer, ie. internal self-dialogue, and I asked the Thunderer if I’d go to a good place when I died if I worshiped him. He told me, no … that one’s place in the hereafter has nothing to do with who one believes or does not believe in. And that only one’s deeds shall earn one Heaven or Hell. And on that note, still no more certain that eternal damnation didn’t still await me, I forsook Christ and swore myself to the native deities of my Germanic ancestors. And soon after, the cause of my illness was discovered and I began to get my health back in short order … though I milked the entire affair for the next five years so as to avoid going to school as much as possible … running with the tough crowd for the first few years, but going it more-or-less alone, as relative to my former “privileged” position, for the next few. Truth be known, I had very little structure and authority, ahem, “weighing me down” through it all and I ran as wild and as beset as a lone wolf; guided only by the warrior ethos of our ancestors as embodied in the myths (Eddic) and legends of our folk (eg. Walter of Aquitaine, Deitrich of Bern, Hrolf Kraki); which indeed, in hindsight could hardly have been more ideal in these modern times and those earlier years of the Reawakening. And needless to say perhaps, there were a lot of very important, very hard lessons learned during that stretch … about who was and who wasn’t “tough” for starters, starting with myself, and moving on to the nature of violence, hardship and adversity, and the true value of violence, hardship and adversity; not to mention getting real about the entire “quest for Valhalla” romanticism, which certainly has it’s place, I suppose, as relative to age-set and then profession, but for most of us the process flows from boy to wolf to man.

The Creation myth, and the nature of the divine as it pertains to the world of men, that I grew up with from 12/13 years old onward corresponded with my experience of life; each coming to inform the other as “resonant reflections” of the other. The belief that the Tivar are NOT all-powerful or all-knowing, any more than they are all loving or accepting. There are many, many other “spirits” in the Germanic cosmos afterall, spirits of nature, some of them quite powerful and all but heedless of humanity, breeding in me the understanding that a Germanic person would never ask in the wake of a natural disaster for example, “How could God allow this???” Rather we would thank the gods that, for all those that might have perished, so many yet remain. Indeed, the Norse-Icelandic Creation myth has it that the gods were not the Alpha. Nature just began to evolve, as the inevitable result of one of the infinite possibilities contained in the “pregnant void” called Ginnungagap … ultimately giving raise to it’s own polar opposite, as per the general pattern of Eddic evolution, in the birth of divine consciousness … as the end result of this aconscious process, to get all “Thorssonian” with you. But before that there was the birth of Ymir (Noisemaker) — Father Nature, as contrasted with Mother Nature/Nurture as embodied in the Eddic cow Audhumbla (Nourisher) — who’s multitude of offspring are said to be the very embodiment of hardship and adversity as found in nature. And it is from the synthesis of adversity and nurture that glory is born … glory being all but synonymous in the Indo-European tongues, and certainly the Germanic tongues, with divinity, with divine consciousness; from which Creation, as a thing distinct from “objective existence”, evolved.

In Germanic philosophy, the woes of life, the forces of adversity and transience, are a given. They might conceivably have to do with a god, sometimes, but this is not at all necessary or even common. They are simply the orlaeg of human existence within nature. For the most part, gods do not care about individual humans, save as they prove themselves to be exceptional and of benefit to the tribe, the evolution of the tribe being their only real concern … for the same reasons, I’d guess, that a farmer cares more about the well-being of the herd than any one animal within it (with the exception of what the pagan Roman’s called the “victim” of course, ie. the one set part by the gods). And really, from the native Germanic standpoint, the gods gave us the breath of life, creative consciousness, goodly form, the gifts of language and art and culture … the fundamentals and basic framework to handle our own affairs in this middle realm.

It often seems to me that people ask and expect too much of God/s, while at the same time dismissing or simply ignorant of the sheer abundance they have long since heaped upon us and which has served us well down through the ages and unto this very day. Prayer and sacrifice, as with magic and charms, are supplements to action, not substitutes for it. And bad things happen … because the universe is an inherently hostile place. From the smallest micro-organisms to the most humbling of inter-stellar phenomenon and at all points in between. You either rise to the challenges of existence … or you get crushed under them. There is no wishing them away.

The Thunder Beckons (written c.1989)

I was lost within a dark yawning void,
the taste of life bitter in my mouth
dreams shattered at an age far too young.
I cried out, but no answered.
For centuries I sat and withered,
waiting for a reply.
Then, just as hope began to fade
a low rumble of thunder echoed in the distance
Lightning flashed revealing a realm of gods, heroes and hope.
Soon, the lightning ceased, the gleaming spires faded from view,
but ever did the thunder beckon me onward!
Always offering the strength, to fight one last battle.
The will, to take one last step.
‘Til I stood at the gates of the Golden Realm.
Armed and gird, in gleaming mail,
And shining with the light of ancestral troth.

In Their Ancient Hymns: the Ethnogenesis of the Germanic Peoples

In their ancient hymns (which amongst them are the only sort of records and history) they celebrate Tuisto, a god sprung from the earth, and Mannus his son, as the fathers and founders of their people. To Mannus they asign three sons, after whose names so many people are called; the Ingaevones, dwelling by the seashore; the Herminones, in the interior; and all the rest, Istaevones. Some, borrowing the liscence that pertains to antiquity, maintain that the god had more sons; that thence came more denominations of people, the Marsians, Gambrians, Suevians, and Vandalians, and that these are the names truly genuine and original.” (Tacitus, Germania)

Such is what we have of the first recorded ethnogenesis myth of the Germanic peoples. It is preserved in the works of both Tacitus and Pliny, both hailing from the 1st century A.D., and was, presumably, considered “ancient” by the tribes of Germania at the time of it’s recording. Indeed, certain aspects of the “myth” as we have it predate the emergence of Germanic culture in southern Scandinavia by over a  thousand years, as we see in the case of the figure Mannus and his Aryan (aka. Indo-Iranian) cognate, Manu. Of this Manu, who’s name, like Mannus’, means “man, human”, the Mahabharate states,

And Manu was endowed with great wisdom and devoted to virtue. And he became the progenitor of a line. And in Manu’s race have been born all human beings, who have, therefore, been called Manavas. And it is of Manu that all men including Brahmanas, Kshattriyas, and others have been descended, and are therefore all called Manavas. Subsequently, O monarch, the Brahmanas became united with the Kshattriyas. And those sons Manu that of were Brahmanas devoted themselves to the study of the Vedas. And Manu begat ten other children named Vena, Dhrishnu, Narishyan, Nabhaga, Ikshakus, Karusha, Saryati, the eighth, a daughter named Ila, Prishadhru the ninth, and Nabhagarishta, the tenth. They all betook themselves to the practices of Kshattriyas. Besides these, Manu had fifty other sons on Earth. But we heard that they all perished, quarrelling with one another.

Both Mannus and Manu gave their name to us men, both had kingly children that rose to glory among their respective tribes, and both had many other son’s of, ahem, “lesser fame” and/or more local significance. If one goes on to relate Mannus to the Viking Age Heimdal — not an uncommon comparison based on his Eddic appellation “Father of Mankind” — and factors the Rigsthula into the comparison — which tells of how Heimdal fathered and united the various castes of men into a cohesive tribe — the match with Manu is complete. But really, the existing Mannus-Manu correspondence is already quite remarkable and adequately demonstrates the ancientness of (certain aspects of) the lost hymn.

On the other hand, the geography of the tribes would suggest that other elements of it were more recent and pertained specifically to the Germanic peoples; being no earlier than the first waves of migrations that spread and established Germanicism throughout Central Europe and gave rise to the Herminonic (interior) and the Istaevonic (everywhere else) branches of the Folk as found in the hymn. Needless to say perhaps, the Ingvaeonic tribes were made up of those people who remained in the ancestral homeland along the seashores of southern Scandinavia. This would date these elements of the hymn to somewhere in the ballpark of the 1st century B.C. at the latest, and certainly no earlier than the advent of the Celtic Iron Age and the corresponding collapse of Nordic Bronze Age culture (c.500 B.C.).

As such there does seem to be considerable truth indeed to Tacitus’ assertion that this hymn was ancient. It demonstrates a deep awareness of common heritage and shared identity that walked hand-in-hand with the evolution of a “Common” or “Proto-” Germanic tongue (c.500 B.C.) and which, to various degrees, endured the evolutionary divergence of the Germanic language into its various branches , the Migration Age, and even “the Conversion” (ie. of the Anglo-Saxons). It was in fact this enduring memory of common heritage that inspired the first Anglo-Saxon missionaries to evangelize their Danish and Continental brethren in the late 7th century A.D.

For those more familiar with Eddas, the Ancient Hymns seem at first glance an odd thing with little to no relationship to grand and “otherworldly” nature of the Viking Age Creation myths or even to the Anglo-Saxon Caedmon’s Hymn. And sometimes this is cited as evidence of the great changes that took place within Germanic culture between the Iron Age to the Viking Age … and usually for some less than honest reason that has to do with validating the misappropriation of Germanic culture for modern culturo-political ends as exemplified in Universalist Asatru, and which dismisses the numerous commonalities that thread the weave of Germanic identity together and which endured it’s spread over time or space … thus allowing for the quantification of a thing as Germanic. But really, trying to force the Ancient Hymns into the Voluspa or Gylfaginning or Caedmon’s Hymn is to mistake an ethnogenesis for a genesis. The former tells of the origins of a people, the latter the origins of the cosmos. As such, they are not different versions of the same thing. Rather they are different components of the same thing, as can be seen by those with a due familiarity with such legends that tell of the origins of tribes and aetheling (royal) houses as found in the Heimskringla or Gesta Danorum, and related in the tales of such figures as Ingui, Scyld Sceafing and Merovech. The ancient hymns are the “rainbow bridge” that link the abstract, otherworldy mythology to the more concrete and historical evolution of the people. This in the same way that the Old Testament “Genesis” gives way to the legends of the Jews, their rulers, their earthly ordeals, and their own (ethno-culturally specific) evolving relationship with the “divine mystery”.

Tuisto and Mannus

As for the figures to be found in the ancient hymns — Tuisto, Mannus, Ingui, Irmin, Istaev (and the others) — while I have already touched on Mannus above, he is named alongside Tuisto as the co-progenitor of the Germanic people. Linguistically speaking, the name Tuisto is obscure. It could be a corruption of the Proto-Germanic Tiwisko (son of Tiw/God) as Grimm suggested, or it could be some concept built upon the fairly evident Proto-Germanic twa- root, from whence we get the Modern English word two (as in the quantity) … such as twin or twist (the latter of which means dispute/conflict in all of the Germanic languages save the English). While I have been very much inclined to see Tiw himself in Tuisto over the years, and so preferred (and in fact formulated) the possible relation of Tuisto to twist (dispute; ie. Mars Thingsus, TyR is not a Peacemaker), it seems today far more likely that the name was either Tiwisko or Twin. Either would suffice, as either one will ultimately point us back in the direction of the other.

And here is why; the notion of co-progenitors is very well established in the creation of new tribal identities among the Germanic peoples and their various Indo-European relatives. It can be seen in Aggo and Ebbo for the migrating Lombards, Roas and Raptos for the migrating Asdingi, most famously in Horsa and Hengist for the migrating Anglo-Saxons, and even perceived in such Vandal co-rulers as Ambri and Assi, and Vinill and Vandill. In the greater Indo-European world we see it in Romulus and Remus for the tribes of Rome and in Castor and Pollux among the Greeks, and most specifically among the Spartans who modeled their dual kingship after the Dioscuri (Sons of God) wherein one king ruled the peace and the other ruled at war. Such a dual kingship among the Germanic peoples, made up of a priest-king and a warrior-king, is observed in the literature as early as Tacitus, and so contemporary with the “Ancient Hymns”, and as late Jordanes, rears it’s head here and there throughout the better known legends and histories of our folk, eg. Hrothgar and Halga, and can even be gleaned in the relationship between the strongly martial Carolingians and the more sacral Merovingians of France. Moreover, the iconography of the “Divine Twins” and the supremacy of the intimately related “cult of the sun” saturates the rock-art and twinned deposits of the Nordic Bronze Age and continued in high style on the Gallehus Horns and the “twin dancers” of Anglo-Saxon art.  

anglosaxonalcis

While Tacitus names Mannus as the son of Tuisto rather than his brother, this seems more likely some form of mistake in interpretation. Take for a handy example that the Aryan Manu is remembered as the father of mankind, while his fellow Aryan, Yama (Twin), is remembered as the first mortal to have died. One could be left with the impression that Manu is Yama’s father. And yet, in fact, Manu and Yama are remembered as brothers. As such, I tend to favor the theory that Tuisto and Mannus are in fact brothers, a Germaniversal expression of the “Divine Twins” as the co-progenitors of tribes and peoples.      

The Ancient Hymns and the Elder Futhark

Here it is interesting to note that the Germanic mystery alphabet, called the futhorc by the Anglo-Frisians — but more widely remembered simply as “the runes” — was formulated over a time in which the Ancient Hymns were pervasive; marking the “alphabets” beginnings with the experimentation found etched on one of the Negau helms in the 2nd century B.C. and ending with the fully crystallized elder futhark of the 2nd century A.D. This is curious because at least two of the eight staves that make up the 3rd aett or family of the futhorc share the names of the deities of the Ancient Hyms. Namely, Mannus and Ingui.

runesymbol

Now, I am certainly not the first person to have made this observation. And this certainly fed into my desire to equate Tuisto with Tiw, as Tiw’s rune stands at the head of the 3rd aett. The notion began to fall apart however when the notion that Tuisto and Mannus were actually brothers fell into the mix and proved itself the stronger. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, Castor and Pollux were themselves known as the “Dioscuri” or “Sons of Zeus/God”, likewise were their Baltic (Latvian)  counter-parts called the “Dieva deli” or “Sons of Dieva/God” … of which Grimm’s Tiwisko (Son of Tiw/God) would represent a Proto-Germanic cognate of in the singular.

And so we find the rune of Tiw standing right where we might expect it if the theory holds water. But where then is Tuisto? I would suggest that he is to be found in the “ehwaz” stave, which means horse and stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gave us such other appellations for the Divine Twins as the Lithuanian “Asvieni” and the Sanskrit “Ashvins”. And so we have in the first four staves of the elder futhark the notion that Tiw (Glory father) and Birch (the fertility principle, ie. the earth, a cow, a mortal woman) gave rise to the Divine Twins as embodied in the staves for Horse and Man; even as Zeus fathered Pollux on the mortal woman Leda (and on her Pollux was made the brother of mortal Castor by the King of Sparta).

These four staves are then followed by the staves named for Water, Ingui, Day, and Homeland; which all but tell the same tale made evident in the legends of Scyld Sceafing and Merovech … of the sea bringing (Water) a divinely favoured one (Ing) who, with the wisdom of the gods (Day), went on to establish a homeland/identity for the folk (Homeland) … or, alternately, who went on to establish a homeland/identity for the folk (Homeland) and the dawning of the first day (Day).

I dunno … it all falls into place a little too conveniently to be casually dismissed.

Well, my time is burning, so I’ll have to leave the sons of  Mannus for another time; which mostly means Irmin as I’ve already dealt with Ingui here while the others brothers, Istvae included, are far too obscure for anything more than sheer speculation and passing commentary.

Be whole!

 

Musings on Loki: The Spirit of Shame

I always found it very peculiar to find adherents of Germanic belief who found it fitting to honour the spirit Loki; going to great lengths to “prove” that he was a common fixture of elder Germanic belief, recast by the Eddic poets into a “Satanic” role, but actually honoured by all of our preChristian ancestors as some kind of  First Nations-style “Trickster” figure. Of course, outside of Saxo Grammacticus’ Gesta Danorum, there is no evidence to suggest that he was even a pan-North Germanic mythic figure, to say nothing of being known outside of the Viking Age. He is isolated to Norse-Icelandic and Danish sources of the Viking Age or later. As such a strong Catholic influence might well be expected — and can be extended to Balder and Ragnarok itself — but which hardly can be taken to mean that Loki was just a good ol’ boy in the original preChristian Norse-Icelandic-Danish material. Indeed, the only commonality we find between the (abundant) Norse-Icelandic material and the (scant) Danish is Loki bound in the underworld. One might ask, is that not a direct parallel between Loki and Satan? Fair question. But more on this later. Finally, even a casual glance at Norse-Icelandic mythology will reveal that if a Trickster figure is necessary it is already well represented in Woden, right down to his association with the raven. But of course, we also find the supposedly “dull witted” but always honest and forthright Thunderer tricking a dwarf named Alvis (All-wise), while ever-constant Tiw (and the gathered Tivar) is content to trick the Fenriswulf. As such, it is painfully evident that the Eddic pantheon has no need for a Trickster figure, let alone in the spirit of Loki, as the figure already exists in spades.

A gift for a gift, a lie for a lie“, after all.

Interestingly, this fascination with Loki, which generally came with harsh criticism of the Tivar, was soon followed by other fetishes with such figures as the Fenriswulf and etinkind in general. It also seems to have coincided with the advent of universalist Asatru and most notably with the influx of large numbers of Wiccan and generic “NeoPagan” into Germanic heathenism in the early to mid 90s; who brought with them a very modern, far left culture and imposed it on Germanic belief and then set out to reinterpret those beliefs within that cultural paradigm, ie. as opposed to trying to understand them within an indigenous Germanic cultural paradigm (or at least some approximation thereof).

One will note that, unremarkably,  the Lokasenna pretty much reads like an SJW Bible, with Loki playing the role of SJW and the Tivar assuming that of Western Civilization.

He who gives gladly lives the best life,
and seldom has sorrow.
But the unwise suspect all
and always pine for gifts.

— the Havamal (trans. – J. Chisholm)

So then, what does indigenous Germanic culture, which itself gave rise to Germanic mythology, have to say about Loki? As mentioned above, the one common motif associated with Loki that has any resemblance to a pan-Germanic belief was the notion that a malicious spirit was bound in the underworld. One need not look to Christianity for such a belief at all. It is in fact quite evident as early as the 1st century A.D. in Tacitus’ observations about Germanic law as it pertained to capital offense,

Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the coward, the unwarlike, the man stained with abominable vices, is plunged into the mire of the morass with a hurdle put over him. This distinction in punishment means that crime, they think, ought, in being punished, to be exposed, while infamy ought to be buried out of sight

This statement is of course backed up by the archaeological evidence, which demonstrates that some people in elder times were roughed up, quite considerably, before being pinned to the bottom of a bog. At times this might well have been a matter of sacrifice, but the evidence is clear that it was, at the very least, also a matter of capital punishment … just like hanging could itself be one or the other, all depending on context.

Needless to say, there are many aspects of the Eddic Loki’s character that correspond to Tacitus’ “bog felons”; ranging from the initial freedom within and toleration by the tribe and ranging up to malicious tricks such as the shaming of Sif (ie. cropping her hair, a symbol of adultery) to the murder of Fimafeng to the blaspheming of the Tivar to the “abominable vices” (ergi, assuming a female role) committed in the birth of Sleipnir. In some ways one could argue that the Catholic missionaries of the 8th century A.D. were the prototype for the Viking Age Loki. Afterall, while Catholicism brought with it numerous boons for our ancestors, just as Loki’s ill deeds at times resulted in unintended good for the Tivar, the incessant blasphemy and acts of sacrilege carried out by their missionaries ultimately led to a level of martyrdom that hadn’t been seen since the days Rome was tossing Christians to the lions.

Indeed, even in Loki’s “blood-brotherhood” with Woden, the “Lord of the Gallows”, we see an echo of the two forms of capital punishment practiced by the tribes of Germania; hanging and bogging. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the Eddic Loki was some aspect of a more archaic Woden … Wod perhaps … that became largely incompatible with the god as his cult evolved from the Iron Age onward into that of the Tiwic Viking Age Allfather, but which could never fully shed the association either? Perhaps it was originally Wod who accompanied Thunor on his journey to the hall of Utgard-Loki???

Anyway, as the spirit of the bog, of shameful felony, we can clearly see why his chief enemy at the Eddic Ragnarok was believed to be Heimdal, the father of mankind and keeper of the (w)holiness of the innangeard, ie. the divine-human community.

We might also see some reflection of the Eddic Loki in the Anglo-Saxon Grendel; whom made his home beneath a bog in “nithsele” (hall of shame) as the Beowulf poet called it, and who, like Loki in the Lokasenna, was pained and moved to murder by the joy he heard coming from the feast hall.

It should never be forgotten that some of the sickest “human beings” we have ever known, were also some of the most charming. And even the most corrupt creature can issue from the loins of our people, and begin their lives as “innocent little kids”, whose true nature only unfolds and reveals itself over time.

And it is here, I think, that we see the greatest difference between modern Lokians and people of Germanic belief. To the former Loki is at best an idea, a literary figure, that exists exclusively in their imagination. To the latter, he is a culturally particular mythic manifestation of a spirit at work within the human community. A spirit that no one thinks is at all “charming” or “funny” or “beneficial” when they run up against it in reality, eg. a child-fucker. A spirit that belongs … at the bottom of a bog.

Incidentally, no one says “Loki made me/them do it”. Strawman. But be careful of doing what he did, or we might do what they did.

Be whole!

The Germanic Hell

Much as with the word Heaven, there is really no need qualify the word Hell with “Germanic” as Hell is a Germanic word … no matter how many L’s you throw in it. As with Heaven, it would be more technically correct to speak of the “Christian Hell”; which itself is properly known as Sheol or Gehenna. Biblically speaking, Sheol is simply the grave, where the dead await the Resurrection and Final Judgement of the Biblical God, while Gehenna (named after an old Jewish garbage dump) is the more familiar “lake of fire” that those who don’t make the cut will be incinerated in and which we commonly association with the “eternal torment of Hell”. There really is no “otherwordly” afterlife within Biblical Christianity, only the “promise” of the Resurrection and Judgement Day, and then the recreation of an earthly Eden which shall follow in its wake.

7. If any one, in accordance with pagan rites, shall have caused the body of a dead man to be burned and shall have reduced his bones to ashes, let him be punished capitally.” (Charlemagne, Capitulary for Saxony)

Hence the Christian contempt for the practice of cremation; which was seen to deprive the Biblical God of his/those in Sheol of their rightful judgement.

As we have it, the word Hell stems from the Old English word Hell (Hel, Helle) and has cognates in all of the Germanic languages from Gothic to Old Norse, all of which stem from a common Proto-Germanic root *haljo, which itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *kel(2), meaning “to cover, conceal”. On its most concrete level it refers, like Sheol, to the grave, and on a more abstract to the “underworld of the dead” as portrayed quite explicitly (ie. as Hell) in the Norse-Icelandic Eddas and implicitly in the sagas of the same folk (eg. Helgafell) . To those of our ancestors who gave us the word Hell it was simply “the place where the dead go”, both literally and figuratively, ie. under the earth, and more akin to the Greek concept of Hades then any of our received Christo-Germanic notions.

Of course, when an outsider asks about the “Germanic Hell” they’re not really asking about the Germanic Hell at all. What they’re really asking about is the, ahem, “Christian Hell” and if there is a place like it in native Germanic belief? And the answer of course — given the degree that native Germanic culturo-religious sensibilities have shaped popular Christianity in the West — is yes. Naturally. And our most glaring evidence of this comes from the Eddas themselves, which speak of Niflhel and the grim hall that sits upon Nastrond (the Shore of Corpses),

38. A hall I saw, | far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands, | and the doors face north,
Venom drops | through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls | do serpents wind.

39. I saw there wading | through rivers wild
Treacherous men | and murderers too,
And workers of ill | with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked | the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men; | would you know yet more? (trans. Henry A. Bellows)

While some like to pass bits like this off as “Christian influence”, similar beliefs can be found throughout the Indo-European world such as in Naraka of Hindu belief and Tartarus of Greek belief; in both cases standing “far from the sun” and places were the wicked are punished. Furthermore, it is a curious fact that in both Old English and Old High German Catholic poetry we find Gehenna being glossed as Wyrmsele (Hall of Serpents) and Wyrmgarten (Yard of Serpents), respectively. As there is nothing in Biblical Christianity that might fuel such a conception of an otherworldly realm of punishment, the “hall of serpents” motif can only reflect one that is inherently Germanic in nature.

Looking at early Germanic culture itself we see an earthly paradigm in Germanic legal customs and the practices of the Thing; where most crimes could be paid for, literally, via fine, but under which some crimes were, naturally, deemed so wicked that they were handled by “the priest-king”. According to Tacitus,

..they may not execute, they may not imprison, they may not even flog a criminal; those are the obligations of the priests alone, who do so not as a form of military punishment nor at the general’s bidding, but in accordance with the will of the god that accompanies them to the field of battle.

The same can be seen in the judgement of the missionary Willibrord by the Frisi-King, Radbod, for said missionaries acts of sacrilege on Fositesland. As per Tacitus’ statement regarding capital offense, the judgement was not rendered based on the will of the king, but rather on the casting of lots, ie. the will of the gods. So, as to the notion of “divine judgement” in and of itself in Germanic belief, it is evident enough within the context and actual practices of the Thing. As for punishment, while I personally dislike the notion of active and prolonged punishment — in-keeping with the general legal customs of the Thing, ie. fines — what follows must be acknowledged as what follows. The North Germanic Loki for example didn’t just happen to slip and fall into his bindings in the underworld. He was put there. By the gods. For all that one might argue that, in terms of the concrete practices of actual mortals, we are obliged to ask permission of the gods, legally speaking, in executing our fellow tribes men. But here we carry out the actual punishment, be it execution, imprisonment or flogging.

As for an abode of punishment, I once again refer to Tacitus’ comments on the fate of capital offenders,

Penalties are distinguished according to the offence. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the coward, the unwarlike, the man stained with abominable vices, is plunged into the mire of the morass with a hurdle put over him. This distinction in punishment means that crime, they think, ought, in being punished, to be exposed, while infamy ought to be buried out of sight.

The distinction is pertinent and immediately calls to mind the distinction the ancestors drew between a man-killing and a murder; the latter of which was a far more serious offense and defined as a secret killing, ie. that went unclaimed by the offender. It is also reminiscent of  Jacob Grimm’s assertion in his Teutonic Mythology  that, “it is said of fortunate men, that God saw them, and of unfortunate, that God forgot them“, and the duality of glory/obscurity as expressed in Germanic heroic poetry. And of course this aligns with what the Eddas tell of the realm of the shameful dead as standing “far from the sight of the sun” and existing within the aforementioned Niflhel; itself meaning dark, misty, obscure (nifl-) Hell.

So, we might well say that the bog — or even more poignantly the snake pit, ie. Ragnar Lodbrok — is the concrete reality that the mythical abstraction of “Wyrmsele” is based upon. And that the fate of the shameful capital offender in this world was a reflection of their fate in the after death; even as the “name undying” was a reflection of one’s fate in the after death.

All of this brings me around to my personal beliefs regarding the shameful dead; which, as noted above, do not hinge on any kind of active punishment at all and is more inline with the practices of shunning and moreso, full outlawry. It has often been noted that, among the Indo-European peoples in general, and the Germanic peoples in specific, wretchedness, to be left alone and without a tribe or people, was commonly  regarded as being the worst fate that could befall a man. The pains of wretchedness are laid bare in such painfully eloquent Old English poems as the Wanderer. To be forbidden entrance to the halls of the gods, denied a place even in the halls of one’s own ancestors, and to be left alone at the mercy of the “otherworldly wilds”, to wander wretched and assailed, without respite, until the last vestiges of your humanity is shed and the stuff of one’s soul biodegrades back into the nothingness of Ginnungagap that it, ultimately, issued from … such to my thinking is the fate of shameful dead. No one punishes them per say. They simply lose faith in them and so turn their backs on them. And what follows follows.

I’ll tie this up with a pertinent poem I wrote back in the 90’s,

Oft flies the eagle / beyond the udal of men
seeking those sights / unseen by sons of Ing.
Tired he takes rest / atop a steadfast tree,
Then sails on, skyward, / continues his search.

Hwaet! There is a frozen plain / no joy to be found.
The wind is lonesome, / it wails in wrath,
Stirring up wights, / armed well, and wicked
Who fling into flesh / their fiery spears.

Above, soot-grey clouds / grim the skies greatness
And yonder loom dark peaks / dreadful to behold.
No tirfast sun, here, / shall ever be seen.
No home nor hearth / shall warm your heart.

Here wander the souls / worthless and withering,
Forgotten by men / forgotten by gods.
The wulf in this wasteland / nothing weens
Save evil will / save stagnant wyrd.

Germanic Belief: Culture, Religion, and Identity

A friend of mine was asked the question the other day, “Can I be a viking, embodying their courage and values without following the gods?” To this my friend, a man not so well versed in the lore (relatively speaking of course), but with a strong and sharp intuition, replied (in so few words) that, “yes, our way of life is our religion“, and this was followed by some comments from others that our ancestors had no concept of “religion” as “that set aside as sacred”.

Of course, Germanic belief was a holistic belief system, which certainly marked the distinction between “what is set aside as sacred” and “what exists in the world of men”. Our limited modern vocabulary and intimate cultural familiarity with the proselytizing, would-be “universalist” religions, often leaves us unfit to the task of defining, or even understanding, intuitively, “ethno-cultural” or “heathen” belief systems.

The basic distinction our ancestors noted was between the innangeard (the community) and the utangeard (outside the community), from which point the innangeard could be further “divided” into the “esegeard” (Asgard, the divine community) and “middangeard” (Midgard, the mortal community). As such, it is true that they really had no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather dealt in terms of wih (the sacred, that which is set apart), holy (the sanctified community), and unholy (profane, outside the community). They understood that holiness — which stems from the same native Germanic root as such other Modern English words as whole and health — was the temporal product of the hallowing power of wih. As such, holiness, the product of the consecrating power of the gods, can be seen as the totality of a community’s ethno-culturo-historical identity … as we can see in the Tacitus’ comments on the ethno-genesis myth of the Germanic peoples, in the Eddic myths of Creation and the shaping of Ask and Embla, in the Rigsthula and various king-myths and genealogies, as well as the various “hero myths” (and/or indications there of) that show such things as language or mead or letters or beauty, etc. as having a “divine” or “sacred” origin.

In short, our native culture is, not a wih thing by any means — which is what we would deem to be properly “religious” and so the prime concern of priests — but rather a holy thing. It is whole.  The great mystery of divinity given temporal form.

That said, if one was a good community member and participated in the community’s rituals/identity, then, at least within the context of Germanicism, it really didn’t matter what god or gods an individual did or didn’t pray to; as the experience of the first Catholics and Catholic missionaries among our ancestors, who generally extended to them every hospitality, clearly attests. And afterall, the focus wasn’t the maintenance, growth and development of the individual — bad apples were jettisoned rather than indulged — but rather the maintenance, growth and development of the community itself. If the community was strong and healthy, it follows that the generations that spring from it will also be strong and healthy; while any rot would of course have to be prune off lest it spread to the entire community.

Indeed, hearkening back to the early Christian-Germanic relations once again, one can see that a refusal to participate in the big rituals of the community, namely the sacral feast and/or toasts, by consuming at least a morsel/draught, was, at times, a big no-no among out ancestors. We see this as early as the Migration Age Goths (eg. Sabas) to as late as the Viking Age Norwegians (eg. Hakon the Good). We see it inverted among the Anglo-Saxons, where the missionary Mellitus was driven from Essex for refusing to share his own “sacred feast” with the 3 brother-kings that reigned there (as the missionary did with their convert father), and we see it early in Christianity’s history with the Romans as well. And really, if you are in a community, but have no interest in taking part in it’s identity, one has to wonder, what are you doing there??? Other than “perhaps” intending to subvert it?

Personally, I have for a very long time now said that I would rather the company of a Christian or atheist with strong Germanic values and cultural background than a (self-proclaimed) “Heathen” who might certainly, ahem, “have the (names and stories of the) gods”, but who would be utterly unrecognizable to our common ancestors. People are too preoccupied with “the gods”, ie. myths/fantasy-tales. And indeed without an understanding of the culture that supported those myths, from which the myths evolved, a person is going to “read them wrong” every time. Well, a lot of the time, and in regards to all of the finer points anyway.

In the final analysis, I personally would have to say that a person can certainly be a, ahem, “viking” without being preoccupied with priestly matters. One could in fact say that you were primed for it at birth. And remember, your heritage is your heritage. Would you ask your neighbor for permission to collect the inheritance your grandfather left for you? Would you neglect it because of the mockery some other made of the inheritance they received from their grandfather?