Tag Archives: Kneeling

Germanic Belief : Kneeling in Worship

There is a popular (though by no means universal) notion in the Asatru community that kneeling, even in worship of our native divinities, is a sign of weakness, cowardice, subservience, unmanliness, and so for all intents and purposes the kind of action that would make one a nithing (one beneath contempt; THE insult in the elder era). It’s a strange phenomenon of course. Especially when such condemnations are preceded, or followed, by talk about how we Heathens “honour our noble ancestors”.

Now, I do of course get how a person can fall into believing this. And I’m not talking about the “Christians in recovery” that so often seem to define what might be dubbed “pop-Heathenry”. No. I’m talking about the wide-eyed newcomer, entirely unprejudiced, who is starving for knowledge of his ancestral ways, and perhaps for a little “companionship in belief”, as I myself was back in the day. Thus, if this is what people presumably more knowledgeable than us have to say, then this is what we are willing to believe. It’s only natural.

And hey, in my own defense, when you’re not even out of your teens yet, as a young male, the notion of standing proudly before your gods and refusing to kneel before anyone or anything does sound bad-ass. Par for the course at that age, really. And it fits right in with everything you’ve learned from Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels too boot!

But of course there is that entire “knowledge” thing. Knowledge of the lore, of the customs and beliefs, and attitudes, of old. The desire for that knowledge. Reaching “that point” where it’s no longer enough to take someone’s word for it, even if you respect them and they are backed by the majority. There comes a point when you want to know your heritage as it was left to you by the past.

And it’s at “that point” where you quickly begin to discover that, well, you have been misinformed about your ancestors and their customs. And, at least in regards to kneeling, that you have been insulting them and their ways even as you claim to honour them and refer to them as noble.

As early as the Iron Age we read in Tacitus’ 1st century CE work, Germania,

At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. There by publicly sacrificing a man, they begin the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship. To this grove another sort of reverence is also paid. No one enters it otherwise than bound with ligatures, thence professing his subordination and meanness, and the power of the Deity there. If he fall down, he is not permitted to rise or be raised, but grovels along upon the ground. And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency; that from this place the nation drew their original, that here God, the supreme Governor of the world, resides, and that all things else whatsoever are subject to him and bound to obey him.”

While this custom is noted as being Semnonic, it is likewise noted as being participated in by all of the greater Suevi tribes. And needless to say, the custom goes well beyond kneeling; though it serves fundamentally the same purpose. In fact, if a human sacrifice doesn’t implicitly express the notion of man’s subordination to the divine, I’m not sure what exactly would!

This extends on into the Viking Age, where we read in Ibn Fadlan’s 10th century CE account of the Rus,

… and betakes himself to a long upright piece of wood that has a face like a man’s and is surrounded by little figures, behind which are long stakes in the ground. The Rus prostrates himself before the big carving…

And again we find it in the (admittedly late) Norwegian Rune Poem where we read,

Sun is the light of the world; I bow to the holy judgement

This is hardly an exhaustive study on the subject of kneeling in worship and Germanic heathenism, muchless general Indo-European paganism. And of course it neglects an estimation of Judaism, Christianity, and how either might have effected or been effected by the surrounding Hellenic culture of the Roman Empire.

As a matter of fact popular consensus doesn’t remove the burden of proof, and I’d love to see someone present a well informed study of standing in preChristian Germanic worship. I’d love to see any evidence at all; seeing as how popular opinion on the matter often demands evidence to the contrary, but is never actually capable of producing any when their demands are met.

Clearly, our great and noble ancestors knelt, or otherwise showed subservience, in worship. So, you know, pick one; are they great and noble? Or are they nithings? And if you deem them the latter — which is the clear implication of prevailing Asatru attitudes regarding those who kneel — you really have to ask yourself what you’re doing here???

In the final analysis, I don’t particularly care how one chooses to worship. If they’re not here with me and mine, it’s a non-issue. However, spreading untruths about the ways and perceptions of our ancestors, indeed of “our people”, ie. modern Heathens — who are not all of the same stripe by any means — that is not something at all worthy of toleration.

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