Musings: Of Gods and Men and the Natural World

The notion of euhemerism (Google it! 🙂 ) … insofar as we are talking about an observable pattern in Western literature that places the origins of all great things in Greece, and insofar as it reduces all of the gods our ancestors worshiped to (devious and manipulative) mortals, I’m sure we can all agree that it is complete and utter nonsense.

Nevertheless, insofar as we are talking about the possibility of a mortal ascending to divinity, it seems to me that too many (lore-wise) people are too quick to adopt a reactionary stance, and berate the notion without a second thought or consideration of indigenous nuance … as though the pot really hit a nerve when it called the kettle black. And indeed, it really does come down to the pan-Germanic concept of wih, a vital concept to be sure in my reckoning, that defines the fundamental reality of the Vear as *separate* … mysterium tremendum et fascinans!

I’ve also noticed a tendency of the very same lore-wise people, in separate conversations, to be very quick on the draw with the notion that elder Germanicism was a “world accepting” religion — which certainly is another vital notion in my estimation — and that, therefore, there is no Germanic “otherworld” and that even the gods themselves dwell here and permeate “this world”.

But it is here, where we bring these two separate notions together, that we run into what seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance. After all, if there is no “otherworld” and the gods permeate this world, and can be found in so many things, why can they “absolutely not” be found in man?

In fact, we know what Snorri stated of Ingui and Woden and the grave-mound, what Procopius stated of the Goths and “Mars” (Woden). And taking a shameless glance over at the beliefs of our great and glorious fellow Indo-Europeans, the Greeks, we can see that while they too drew a distinction between the worship of the dead (up to and including “Heroes”) and the worship of the Olympians, rare examples nevertheless exist of figures such as Hercules and, perhaps THE case study in divine-mortal interrelations, the Dioscuri, who were born as men but were accepted among the Olympians after death.

Personally, I don’t know if Ingui for example was ever a mortal priest-king, who reigned in Ingvaeonic southern Scandinavia over (and over, and over?) the course of the Nordic Bronze Age. And I know even less if he was first a god who “incarnated” into the world as a man, or was first a man who rose to glory and achieved divinity. I do however know of the long tradition of making offerings at grave-mounds that extends at least as far back as the Nordic Bronze Age. I know of Olaf the Alf of Geirstad. And I know that in the 8th century A.D. “Index of Superstitious and Heathen Practices” we find references to such things as, “sacrilege at the tombs of the dead” and “Those who carve images for dead persons whom they say are saints.” And of course, I know that one etymology of the Germanic word *god* goes back to an Indo-European root meaning “to pour (libations)”, and that within the greater context of the linguistic evidence that this is believed to refer, in the first instance, to the spirit imminent within the grave-mound. And further, that the Old Norse word tiv/tyr was used, not simply in reference to the, ahem, “gods”, but also in reference to men of exceptional ability; who’s deeds expressed that “heavenly radiance”, that “glory”, that is so intimately bound up with Tiw (Tyr) and the basic Indo-Germanic conception of divinity.

Here it might all be a matter of ancestral semantics of course … gods, tivar, vear, aesir, alfar, vanir, regin, etc. I tend to imagine that such words were no more or less redundant than Inuit words for white, and likewise express nuance based on close familiarity. But if the “to pour” etymology holds true, the question of whether or not a mortal man can become a god would seem to answer itself … and maybe also why the word god became the standard divine reference when that “devious and manipulative mortal” named Jesus Christ, ie. the pot, “took his place” on the altar of Germanic culture.

Insofar as we might perceive the Vear to be simple (or complex!) personifications of nature, well, thunder stands as a convenient and very telling example. Who is the thunder? Thunor you say? Because his name means *thunder*? Well, so to does Thund, but that is one of Woden’s by-names. And indeed, no men ever prayed to Thunor for thunder. Rather, they prayed to him for fair weather, to combat the etins of violent weather. If the phenomenon of thunder is in any way related to Thunor, as it clearly seems to be of course, it is metaphorically; a very profound answer to the question of “how strong?”

In the final analysis, we should remember that wih (separate, other) was but one concept, and that it existed in tandem with the seemingly contradictory, but actually complimentary concept of holy (integrated, whole); as holiness is the worldly (observable) product of the consecrating power of wih, of the Vear. And so, indeed, the Vear can make their presence felt in this world, can permeate certain aspects of it, eg. the innangeard, and might even be able to be born into the world, and yet they remain, fundamentally, apart from it. They are knowable, perceivable, on human terms, but that far and no further. Beyond that “event horizon” of human perception, it is indeed as the Anglii high-priest Coifi said on the eve of Northumbria’s conversion, “the more I sought, the less I found” as a statement to the fundamental mystery, and utter lack of pretentiousness or desire for certitude, found in elder Germanic belief.

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2 thoughts on “Musings: Of Gods and Men and the Natural World

  1. Jesse

    I could not agree more with the idea that there is an intimacy between the Divine and the Ordinary that is a strong and necessary part of Germanic Heathenry as we know it.
    In my spiritual journey, I keep stumbling across the notion that much of what passes as “Christianity” today came not from the Levant, nor even from the classical Greek and Roman milieu, but from the beliefs and worldview of the peoples holding sway north of the Alps during the earliest centuries of the formation of the Christian religion. Just spend some time way out in the country in the Appalachians or the Alps and you will find people who are both outspokenly Christian and whose daily lives are infused with values that come not out of the Christian Bible, but out of Germanic and Celtic Pagan traditions. Conversely, much of what passes for “Paganism” or “Heathenry” today has more in common, at its heart, with Fundamentalist Monotheism than with the authentic practices of ancient pre-Christian ancestors. In the Celtic-Germanic continuum of the first through eighth centuries, the style of self-deprecating asceticism practiced by the Desert Fathers, as well as the concept of righteous martyrdom at the hands of a hated enemy (who happened also to be one’s lawful ruler), were foreign. It is my firm belief that Christianity was only able to gain a lasting foothold in Northern Europe by masking itself in native ways of thinking. A few centuries later, once the mask was no longer necessary, Christianity bore little resemblance to the eschatological messianism which its founder and his followers had originally taught. In its place was a collection of stories about saints who performed miracles within tight spheres of influence, acting in the name of (or against) the Christian Gods Jesus, the Father, and the Devil. Christ made the difference between victory and loss for warriors in battle. Like their forefathers, such warriors knew that if they died bravely under the protection of the new God, they would be assured a place in his kingdom in the afterlife. Even the Goddesses of hearth and home, field, motherhood, and maidenhood found their way into the new milieu through Blessed Mary and the female saints. Magical power, when used by Christians, was attributed to the Holy Spirit. So it went for centuries until the Church conspired with the philosophers of the materialist “Enlightenment” to envision a world where the only thing existing outside of observable, everyday reality was the monotheistic, mysterious God. I believe that Christian priests had been trying to do this since their arrival in Europe, but with little influence upon the common people until such a time when mankind no longer seemed beholden to the forces of nature for life.
    The irony is that, as soon as we benefactors of Western Civilization became free to reexamine the ways of our ancestors, we started doing the mask trick again. We smuggled an unnatural value system into a natural one by disguising it as something familiar. Christian fundamentalism has morphed into Pagan and Heathen fundamentalism, promoting word over deed and personal idiosyncrasies over the common good. It doesn’t seem that way to people who espouse such fundamentalism, but when gatherings of people who should have more in common than not routinely break down into squabbles about theology and ritual practice, they are no longer carrying on the traditions of the Heathen folk of old. They are giving too much heed to their favorite evangelical preachers and not enough to the Gods themselves by way of what little we have of the old stories. Ancient Heathens fought over birthrights, land, and matters of honor, but not over theology, from what I have seen of the historical record — at least not until some of their number started succumbing to a foreign religion that told them that they and everybody they knew were born wrong, and were in need of saving from eternal torment.

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    1. jameybmartin Post author

      Beyond the cultural and linguistic realities of communicating an idea to a foreign peoples — and a foreign people that just also happened to be the dominant military power/s of the time! — the Church’s “policy of accommodation” is made evident at least as earlier as Pope Gregory I’s letter to the missionary Mellitus, as preserved in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Here the Pope counsels his missionary to give native temples and celebrations (minus the blood aspects) over to the worship of Christ and the saints. Back in the 90’s James C. Russel wrote an excellent book, “the Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity”, which dealt with this subject in detail. Highly recommended reading!

      Our situation today is unique compared to that of our preChristian ancestors, resulting in various behaviors that, for better and/or worse, would most certainly seem very odd to those ancestors.

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