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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!

 

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?

Lord of the Ingvaeones

The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus” — Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis

 

yngvifrey

The name Fricco is of course the Latinized version of the better known Old Norse god-name FreyR; itself a title of rulership (rather than a proper name) with a feminine cognate in Old Norse Freyja, and as reflected it’s Old English cognate Frea (fem. Freo). While generally rendered simply as “Lord” the title is indicative of sacral leadership and the peaceable side of rulership, and stands in complimentary juxtaposition to the Old Norse drottin (Old English – drihten), which was also, both, a title of rulership (albeit it martial in this case) and used as a deific title on into Christian times. The word itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *pro-, meaning foremost, and so coincides with Snorri Sturlusson’s own assertion that “FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir” and the words attributed to Tiw (Old Norse – TyR), ie. the glorifying light, in the Eddic poem Lokasenna where he states,

Frey is best of all the exalted gods in the AEsir’s courts“.

The priestly nature of the titular-name “Frea” is itself indicate in the mythology surrounding the deity himself. In the Yngling saga of the Heimskringla we are told that,

Odin placed Njord and Frey as priests of the sacrifices, and they became Diar of the Asaland people

Meanwhile, more subtly, in the Eddic poem Skirnismal we read of how Frea was required to give up his sword and steed in order to win the etinwif, Gerd, as his bride. The name Gerd is of course related to the Old Norse “gard” (OE. – geard), as we see in As-gard and Mid-gard, as well as in Modern English yard and gard-en. It expresses the notion of ordered/settled land, as defined by the presence of the human community and as juxtaposed to the “utangeard” or “wilds” (where the ways of nature reign supreme).  And so this is a myth that reflects the marriage between the spirit of the tribe (as embodied in the priest-king) and the spirit of the (tribal) lands (as embodied in the horse among the Indo-Europeans). The yielding up of weapon and steed in the myth as a necessary act in the ritual of “coronation” is reflected in what Bede said of the Anglii high-priesthood in heathen Northumbria,

it was not lawful before for the high-priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare“.

It might also be inferred in Tacitus’ remarks that the high-priests of the tribes of Germania went into battle carrying the sacred standards of their tribe; which itself has a mythic parallel in Frea’s fight against the etin Beli, in which, lacking a weapon, the god is said to have used a stag’s antlers … which are themselves well remembered as a royal standard in the North. To cite a parallel within the greater context of Indo-Europeanism, we have the Roman Flamen Dialis for whom touching either a horse or iron was likewise considered taboo. One might also note the “wizard hat” of the Flamen Dialis’ attire and that we see on Frea in the picture above (among other things).

In the Ynglinga saga we read that,

Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour“.

The name Yngvi (Old English – Ingui) means “Offspring, Offshoot, Descendant”, while the Ynglinga saga paints the god as a mortal man who, in ancient times, rose to kingship among the Swedes and founded the royal house known as the Ynglings. Their saga further tells that the Swedes enjoyed a period of great peace and prosperity during his reign, which became known as the “Frith of Frodhi” — frith is a complex concept that expresses a range of inter-related notions that include sacrality, kinship, security, and prosperity — such that when Ingui-frea at last died, they sealed his body within a mound (as opposed to cremating him) and continued to pay taxes to him; believing that as long as they did so peace and prosperity would prevail.

Incidentally, Sweden was perhaps the wealthiest of the Scandinavias into and beyond the Viking Age, and until relatively recently stood as a glowing example of how successful a Socialist system could be; before they (apparently) forgot such fundamentally important concepts as “geard” and it’s companions “(w)holy” and “good”.

Outside of Viking Age Scandinavia, we find reference to Ingui in the Old English poem Beowulf, where the Danes are referred to as “Ing’s Joy”, while the 22nd stave of the Anglo-Frisian futhorc (alphabet) was named for him. The accompany stanza in the Old English Rune Poem states that,”Ing was first seen among the East Danes“, that in the end he departed back over the waves (to Sweden? to the afterlife?), and that thence he was regarded as a “haele”; a word that generally translates simply as “hero” but which can also carry strong connotations of omen or destiny. As with the Swedes, the name Ingui also appears in the genealogy of the royal house of Anglish Bernicia (one of the two Anglii kingdoms that made up united Northumbria), and interestingly, even as the Swedes believed that holy power still emanated from the interred corpse of Ingui, so were the blood and bones of the convert, ie. to Catholicism, King Oswald of Bernica associated with miracles of wholeness and healing. Some even speculate that the tribal name Anglii (from whence we get today’s English) has it’s roots in the god-name Ingui; which would hardly be surprising given the original proximity of the Anglii to the both the Danes and Swedes and the enduring memory of their shared heritage, eg. the Beowulf poem.

Taking a step further back in time and closer to the “Common Germanic” or “Proto-Germanic” period, we find in Tacitus’ 1st century AD work Germania a reference to the ethno-genesis myth of the tribes of Germania. This “ancient hymn” as Tacitus called it is said to have celebrated Tuisto and Mannus as the co-progenitors of the greater Germanic peoples, and that the names for the three main divisions of the folk were named after the most prominent of the children of Mannus. The first of these branches, who comprised all of those tribes living along the seashore, were called the Ingvaeones.

Culture of the Nordic Bronze Age; the Iron Age lands of the Ingvaeones.Interestingly, the seashores of southern Scandinavia are in fact the cradle of Germanic culture and language, and were the homeland of those tribes from c.2,300 BC until the Great Cooling of c.500 BC., when the first waves of migration out of the homeland and into Continental Europe began. The Nordic Bronze Age itself, beginning c.1,800 BCE  was defined by a warmth comparable to that of northern France, a tripling of the infant survival rate, the establishment of trade-routes leading to the British Isles, Egypt, and Greece, the prominence of the Sun-cult and the Divine Twins, and the building of massive burial mounds at which regular offerings were made. It was also the age of the famous seashore rock-carvings, upon which we frequently find the very same ithyphallic imagery that Ingui-Frea would be depicted with centuries later.

The gods association with the seashore lingered on into the Viking Age, as seen in Viga-Glum’s saga where he appears in a dream, enthroned by the waters edge and surrounded by a great crowd of people. We can also easily perceive it in the origins of the Salian Frank royal house, the Merovingians, where a virile bull comes out of the sea to impregnate the Frank-Queen with Merovech, and of course in the legend of Scyld Sceafing, where the child is washed up on the seashore of the Danes and comes to be hailed as their king and to found their royal house, ie. the Skjoldungs); both of which tie in of course with what has already be noted of Ingui’s association with sacral kingship.

While this is hardly an exhaustive study on Ingui-Frea — and didn’t even touch on the wagon-procession, questions of apotheosis vs. euhemerism, relation to the Divine Twins, etc. — I hope it gives the reader a real sense of the great honour and significance of the god; which might be lacking in the Eddic myths with their fixation on Woden (Odhinn) and Thunor (ThorR).

FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir (gods); he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men.” — Snorri Sturlusson, Prose Edda

Germanic Belief: Homosexuality

Homosexuality has always been an “interesting” topic within the context of Germanic belief, and is somewhat topical at the moment in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Now some people want to read homosexuality into Tacitus’ “disgraceful sexual acts”, which he mentions as a capital offense in Germania. However, we don’t see this reflected in any of the later preChristian-based Law Codes, nor did it hamper the interactions of our ancestors with the Greeks or the Romans. There is of course the Old Norse word ergi … which basically meant “girly man”, a male adopting a female role, and specifically refers to a male being penetrated. In this, the indigenous Germanic attitude seems to be more along the lines of the preChristian Greek or Roman, in which the masculine homosexual was regarded as every bit a man, eg. Hercules, while the feminine was regarded as, well, a “girly man” who would probably be better received at the “woman’s table”, but who seems to have suffered nothing more than mocking … you know, depending on how manly their man was and how angry any other man might want to make him.

It seems more likely to me that what Tacitus meant by “disgraceful sexual acts” was child molestation … which I believe triggered the same revulsion in the elder as it does in us today; complete with a differentiation between the worst types of felons and the child molester. And especially considering how much the Germanic peoples interacted with Greece and Rome; where homosexuality was more or less (respectively) permissible. And especially among a culture that didn’t stray too far into what goes on behind closed doors, ie. in the private sphere; such that it even a thrall was, by social custom or thew, afforded lordship under his own roof.

Indeed, a pathological, divinely ordained hatred of homosexuality is part and parcel with Abrahamic “religions of peace”, and well represented in Judaic, Christian and Islamic belief. It took Christianity two hundred years to move beyond the confines of it’s Judaic cradle, and then another two hundred years to secure power in the Roman Empire. And this was quickly followed by the drafting of laws that made male homosexuality a crime, and a crime that was punishable by death. In contrast, while the Anglo-Saxons were converted over the course of the 7th century, Alcuin of York was nevertheless writing some “interesting” letters to his fellow male monks some 100 years later, while it was only in the wake of the bloody Norman Conquest that the Council of London explicitly and publicly denounced homosexuality as a sin. It wouldn’t be until Henry VIII’s Buggery Act of the 16th century that homosexual intercourse was made a crime … punishable by DEATH.

Personally I don’t care about homosexuality or the homosexual community. As a heterosexual, why would I??? I do however care a great deal about my friends and those who have done right by me and mine … some of whom just happen to be gay. And I am highly offended by individuals who run amok in my community or the greater community of the West and feel completely justified in mass murdering those who don’t share their (non-Western) values. Sure, I’m a HUGE believer in local and regional identities, and believe in celebrating diversity in a realistic context — succeed or fail as you will — but as the saying goes, “good fences make for good neighbours”.

So, here is to indigenous NW European values! Christians can argue over fine points of doctrine all they want, and indeed they are not the offenders in regards to recent tragedies, but if they’re tolerant of homosexuality today, it’s less a credit to their religion or politics, and more a credit to their ancestors — white, male, patriarchal ancestors — and their indigenous cultural inclinations.

The Conversion of Kent

As a person of Germanic belief, one can easily be left with the impression that the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was, in comparison to that of our Continental or more Northernly brethren, an overnight success; as though Augustine arrived on Thanet one fine day, and by the next day everyone in the entire heptarchy fell down on their knees and proclaimed Jesus as their lord and savior.

In truth, from Willibrord’s first arrival in Frisia to the conversion of the Saxon resistance leader Widukind — which marked the official conversion of the Old Saxons and the end of the Saxon Wars — a total of 87 years had passed. Meanwhile from Augustine’s arrival on Thanet to the official conversion of Sussex by Wulfhere of Mercia a total of 83 years had passed. Even if one pushed that back to the death of King Penda of Mercia and the ascension (and quick murder) of his son and successor Peada that would still total 58 years, which is not a substantial difference. On a larger scale, the official conversion of the West Germanic peoples as a whole took 289 years (from Clovis to Widukind), while that of the North Germanic peoples or Scandinavians took somewhere in the ballpark of 200 years. Yes, things may have proceeded somewhat faster or somewhat slower here or there, but this is the gist of it all. Indeed, the conversion of the Germanic peoples, from Ulfias to Iceland took some 650 years give or take a decade.

The official conversion (which means “political” or “state” conversion) of the Germanic peoples was not a swift process among any denomination of the folk and always hinged on and/or was hedged in by  other (political and economic) factors that led to the decision. It was never purely a matter of theology, and the theology they received could hardly have been called pure. Indeed, early Protestant surveys reported entire regions of rural Germany that were given over to superstitions, as a testament to the political nature of the conversion, ie. the further from the halls of power, out on the heath for example, the less the influence. Not to give the impression of full blown, Crown-sponsored, ahem, “heathenism” surviving until such a later period (and among a folk who’s native beliefs were so violently opposed by the Church), but think rather of some kind of “Germanic Santeria” … which is Catholic, but which no self-respecting orthodox Catholic would admit as being so. Indeed, one could say this also of the more, ahem, orthodox Catholicism that has existed since the conversion of the Germanic peoples forward into the 20th century.

Here the words of Adam of Bremen in regards to the conversion of Iceland come to mind, “Although even before receiving the faith, living after a certain law of nature, they had not differed much from our own religion.

But back to the Anglo-Saxons. Let us take Kent as a case study in their conversion; as it was the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom to be Christianized, it’s conversion is the best documented, and it is often touted as having been a miraculous success.

Now, as the archaeological evidence testifies, West Kent had entered into an exclusive trade alliance with Catholic France in the early 6th century (ie. within decades of the conversion of Clovis) and this undoubtedly aided the local aetheling (royal) house, which AEthelbeorht would spring from, in fulfilling their kingly prerogative of providing prosperity to their people; which in turn enabled them to better fulfill their other kingly prerogative of defending their folk, and thus bolstered their prestige in the eyes of the men of Kent. It was against this backdrop that AEthelbeorht rose to power, wed the Franco-Catholic princess Berthe, united East and West Kent into a single kingdom, and went on to establish himself as the first in the line of “Bretwaldas”; a courtesy really that acknowledged whoever might be the most prestigious king in the heptarchy.

One cannot underrate the importance that Berthe herself played in the conversion of AEthelbeorht. Just witness the zeal which Clovis’ own wife, Clothilde, advanced Christianity to her husband. And indeed, the great value that the Germanic peoples placed on the counsels of women has been noted since as early as Caesar and Tacitus. This was quite the voice for the Church to have. And not simply within Germanic society, but within the very bed chamber of a king!

By 597 AD, Augustine had arrived in Kent, where AEthelbeorht received him with typical heathen hospitality. He was even granted freedom to preach and win converts. By 600, AEthelbeorht himself had converted. Now, the general Catholic approach to the conversion of the Germanic peoples was the policy of temporary accommodation, as expressed in a letter written by Pope Gregory to one of Augustine’s missionaries, Mellitus, where he writes,

tell him what I have long been considering in my own mind concerning the matter of the English people; to wit, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.

It is a curious fact that here in this letter the Pope explicitly tells Mellitus to not destroy the temples of the people, but in a letter from the same year, but addressed to AEthelbeorht himself, he instructs the king to,

press on with the task of extending the Christian faith among the people committed to your charge. Make their conversion your first concern; suppress the worship of idols and destroy their shrines

Now, yes, technically a temple and a shrine are not necessarily the same thing, but they’re really close. And perhaps even closer still across languages, ie. Latin to Old English. I’ll leave this one at that, save to say that a century later, during the Saxon Wars, churches were made the only place of refuge from violations of the “Capitulary for Saxony”, under which such things as heathen worship, resistance to the missionaries, free assembly, etc. were deemed a capital offense.

Now, all of the men of Kent were not quite so eager to accept Christianity as their lord had been. And so Bede relates that AEthelbeorht,

showed greater favour to believers, because they were fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

You can imagine the kind of rat-race this set in motion, with every yes-man in the tribe looking to better his position, at so cheap a currency, and every wiseman, who might well have refused conversion, being forced to act anyway before the ass-kissers came into control of the tribe. It’s essentially the same dynamic within the tribe as we see play itself out on the inter-tribal level between vying kings, and as we see repeat itself in the conversion of peoples the world over.

And yet for all of the “droves upon droves” that allegedly followed Aethelbeorht into conversion, his own son, Eadbald, who succeeded his father in 616 AD, refused baptism. And so the mantle of Bretwalda fell to the convert King Raedwald of East Anglia. One might imagine this refusal also threatened Kent’s trade alliance with the Franco-Catholics, and so perhaps it is not surprising to learn that he eventually conceded to baptism … under the influence of yet another Franco-Catholic princess who became his (second) wife.

It is not until 640 AD that we find King Eorcenbeorht calling for the “destruction of idols” in Kent. And indeed, two members of the aetheling house of Kent were slain in retaliation for this act, showing that the native beliefs still had a pretty strong pulse. In fact, for all of the rights the Church was granted under AEthelbeorht’s Law Code, it is not until the Laws of Wihtraed in 695 that “the worship of devils” was put on the books as a legally punishable offense.

And so here we are, some 98 years after the landing of Augustine on Thanet, and while we can clearly see that Christianity had by this time gained a position of socio-political dominance, it is equally evident that heathenism was still at work and a force to be dealt with. Afterall, you don’t draft laws prohibiting people from doing things they’re not doing. So we can plainly see that this was hardly a swift and sure conversion. And we can only wonder how the conversion might have progressed in Mercia with the death of Penda and the murder of Peada.

One of the biggest differences between the history of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, as opposed to the conversion of our Continental and Scandinavian brethren is detail; particularly in contrast to the Heimskringla, which furnishes with some pretty grim  and graphic scenes in which the heathen folk, at times named folk, of those lands met their death for refusing to convert. In contrast, Bede glosses over the entire affair.

And hey, we might actually have a little bit more detail today if it wasn’t for all them damned vikings raiding monasteries and destroying books. But believe you me, the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was neither swift nor easy … not that there is any glory in determining who was the bigger “victim” of course. Just that our folk, any denomination of them, have never been known (outside of modern times, maybe) to simply curl up and die. The Anglo-Saxons were no one’s push-over.

Be whole!

 

 

A Germanic Heathen’s Opinion: Where we’ve been, where we’ve come, and where we’re going

As first generation modern Germanic Heathens we are often acutely aware that our “last generation” (of Germanic Heathens) suffered under the FULL extent of the law when it came to the adoption of the Abrahamic cult of Christianity.
 
Our ancestors were fined for the practice of their native faith, a legal bias existed against them in terms of forming “militias” (twice the fine for non-Christians) and “terms of slavery” (Christians can’t be sold out of the country), and all this ranged on up to and including public execution. 
 
The State had come to the Germanic peoples. And it was a radical Abrahamic theocracy. But … it had come to the Germanic peoples. And right from the get go there was a friction between the native cultural disposition and the “foreign law” … resulting not only in the bloodshed and inhumanity of the “Conversion Age”, but continuing on throughout our history as a people, long after we’d forgotten our native deities and their ways, and which ultimately resulted in the separation of Church and State.
 
Now, to be fair, as a person of Germanic belief, I’m not entirely resistant to the notion of theocracy. I don’t think it is an inherently evil thing; though, like secularism “it” certainly has that capacity and really depends on fundamental cultural disposition.
 
I can however say that, as a Germanic Heathen, I am very happy to have been born in the modern West with it’s separation of Church and State. I am fortunate to have had the freedom to “explore my spirituality” — to the very limited extent I actually needed to outside of the context of Germanic belief — and to express it without fear of legal repercussions and no matter any socio-cultural friction I might have experienced along the way … which at certain points in my life were not simply predictable, but indeed sought after. To paraphrase the movie Braveheart, “Where am I going? To pick a fight!”
 
And along the way, and largely as a result of that friction, I’ve earned the respect, and learned to respect some of these modern day Christians. We heathens might say that the separation of Church and State simply deprived them of the power they needed to be the assholes of the past, while those Christians might say that that same separation enabled them to come to a clearer understanding of Christ’s message. But as for me, I say it is less the Christian in them, and more the Germanic showing through … that native Germanic culture and disposition were so strong that the Abrahamism that was Christianity was fundamentally transformed over the centuries, resulting in the emergence of the modern day Western identity (as something more “akin to” or “in line with” the elder Germanicism).
 
I by no means think that the West is perfect. Like the Romans, it seems to me that we have since forgotten what made us great to begin with. And it seems a strange thing that we want to break this identity by tearing down the borders of the “innangeard” … that we refuse to acknowledge this “white privilege” for the hard won privilege that it is … seeking to turn it into some kind of shame … despite the fact that the uncoddled masses of the world roundly desire take part in that privilege in lieu of any of the many other non-Western “options” available. As a people, over hard fought, grueling and blood soaked centuries, of standing our ground (if for no other reason than there was no viable option), we have collectively earned our privilege … our bragging rights (wherever that stops short of mistaking your peoples accomplishments for your personal accomplishments).
 
I am merely an heir. But without a sense of pride (in the accomplishments of others), my heritage is likely to go the way of the community or household that takes no pride in itself.
 
This all naturally leads me to thoughts on migrants in general, and Islamic migrants in specific. Certainly, if we as a people could so fundamentally alter Christian attitudes, “the word of Jehovah”, it’s not at all unbelievable that we could deeply influence it’s younger brother Islam if brought into the fold of our societies. But that end is best (and ONLY) served by preserving the sanctity of our lands, the primacy of our native cultures … by not “flooding” them, by demanding that newcomers “earn their spurs” … like they did in the past … when my mother’s Polish father first came to Canada … and just like I did when I decided to take up Germanic belief in the face of a society that thought it was all about devil worship and hatred and violence.
The burden of proof is on the new-comer; as is the need to accommodate.
 
Things don’t have to be perfect for you to take a good look around and see all you have to appreciate … or what you still have to a fair degree as the case might be. The thing about freedom is that it’s damn hard and often thankless work and things don’t always go your way; which is often the surest sign that you do indeed have freedom … just like your “disagreeable” neighbour has (and should have).
 
Let’s take some pride in who we’ve become and what it took to get there; wherever that stops short of undermining who we are and what it took to get there of course! Embrace your glory, acknowledge your debts, but refrain from the moral posturing and pathological altruism that imagines the “great Western cure all” — cured of what??? and as compared too??? — is to add even more variables into an already (at this point) overly complicated equation; thereby only feeding the very socio-cultural fear and insecurity it (pretentiously) seeks to cure.
 
Be whole!

Of Blood and Belonging

One of the things that has long appealed to me about elder Germanicism was the importance it place on blood-relations, kinship, and the centrality of the kindred. These words … kin, kinship, and kindred … are not something other than family. In Modern English both kin and family refer to the same biological condition, and the only difference is that kin is the native Germanic term for the “state of blood relation” while family is a “borrowing” from the Romance tongues … and actually carried the original sense of “servant, slave (of a household)”.

In elder times the kindred was everything, and properly viewed as a macro-organism, eg. a tree. Any wound inflicted upon one of the kindred harmed all of the kindred, and it was ultimately the kindred’s responsibility to pay any legal fines —  the most common punishment for most any kind of criminal offense — incurred by wayward kinsfolk. Yet the law had no sway in disputes between kinsmen and viewed such relations with a presumption of frith, ie. kinsmen cannot harm each other. In fact, the greatest tragedy in Germanic thought was kinslaying, which, as with any kin-on-kin violence, left the kindred diminished and without any form of recourse that would not further harm the kindred. A shame that can only be endured, never avenged.

The kindred was a source of sustenance and support, the home to which — however one’s individual fortunes went in the greater world — they could always fall back on and return to. It is from this root that we get the term kindness, which refers to the extension of the compassion first learned and practiced among kin to non-kin. The immutability of kinship breeds tolerance, respect and understanding (for diversity) in a manner that elective relationships could never “hope”, and in fact, could never be bothered to.
Afterall, if your friend sucks, make another!

The Christian/Muslim/prisonyard notions that one had kin … brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. … other than one’s actual “blood kin” would have seemed, at best, a limited, secondary reality to our ancestors, and at worst entirely nonsensical.

Needless to say perhaps, this does not mean that our elderfolk were a bunch of inbred xenophobes, or that forming close personal ties with non-kin was regarded as at all wrong or somehow undesirable, or even that they necessarily regarded such bonds lesser. The ancestors certainly married and adopted, and they had organizations like the guild which, under law, became something of a surrogate kin-group in the eyes of the law.

But most of all, they had the word friend. And while we have cheapened this word as much we have the word love, and seem bound and determined to do with kin/family, it carries very strong connotations of love. And why wouldn’t it, when, unlike kin, friends are the people we invite into our inner circle and are more likely to share much in common with?

I’m often bewildered by people from bad families — not at all an uncommon condition in the modern world — who insist on redefining friendship as kinship. I mean, if your kindred sucks so bad, why would you even want to lump your friends in with them???

We today should not fool ourselves by neglecting the differences … no matter the poor examples of family some of us grew up with and/or are surrounded by … blood is thicker than water. No love can ever be … more natural, intrinsic … as best demonstrated in the negative, where no pain can ever be deeper than that inflicted on kin by kin … haunting one long after the memory of ill-deeds by wayward friends have been written off and forgotten. This speaks to the depth of the bond of kinship.