Monday, December 25, 2006
The way in which the Aryan peoples view and have viewed their gods over the millenia is radically different to that of other peoples, most notably the semitic peoples.
A study of the ancient literature of the Germanic, Celtic, Greek and Roman peoples gives us a glimpse, albeit a distorted one of how our ancestors thought of the gods and related to them.
The great problem with the later Germanic literature, ie the Eddas and sagas is that they have been compiled by christian scribes who too often have had an agenda in portraying our gods in a particular way. Therefore we must be careful as to how we interpret the literture and keep in mind that often it will have a christian gloss or that the gods may be portrayed in ways that can open them to ridicule, blasphemy or censure.
Two works however are largely free of misinterpretation on religious grounds, ie Tacitus `Germania`, composed in 97CE and Julius Caesar`s `de Bello Gallico` from the first century BCE.
However even with these works we have to understand that the Roman writers would have had their own prejudices concerning the Germanic peoples who they regarded as barbarians.
The Teutons of the later pre-christian age[round about the end of the first millenium CE] appeared to think of their gods in human terms, the gods having a human form, albeit with incredible powers. At the time of Tacitus and Caesar it would appear that they thought of their gods in more elemental ways.
"As for gods, Mercury is the one they worship most, and on certain days they think it right to propitiate him even with human victims.
Hercules and Mars they appease with lawful animals. Part of the Suebi sacrifice also to Isis; I have not ascertained the source from which this foreign rite originates, but the fact remains that the image itself, fashioned in the form of a light ship, proves that the cult is imported.
In other matters, they judge it not in accord with the greatness of the gods to confine them with walls or to liken them in appearance to any human countenance. They consecrate woods and groves, and the mystery they see only in their awe they call by the names of gods."
[Germania 9.1 and 9.2]
This idea is brought out much more strongly by the earlier work by Caesar:
"The customs of the Germans are very different from those of the Gauls. They have no druids to preside over religious matters, nor do they concern themselves with sacrifices. The only things which they do count as gods are things they can see and which clearly benefit them, for example, the Sun, Vulcan, and the Moon. They have not even heard rumours of any others."
[The Gallic War, 6.21]
It should be noted that where Tacitus and Caesar speak of `Mars, Hercules, Isis` etc that these are the Romans` own names for the Teutons` gods which are known by different names.
The ancient Teutons viewed themselves as children of the gods and their royal dynasties in particular counted their descent from them, especially from the god Woden/Odin/Wotan.
They claimed a certain equality with the gods:
"As a complete man with his honour unsullied, the honest Indo-European stands upright before his God or Gods. No reliosity which takes something away from man, to make him appear smaller before a deity who has become all-powerful and oppressive, is Indo-European."
[Chapter 2 of `Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans` by Hans FK Guenther]
The Teutons like the other Aryan peoples had no rigid dogmas or doctrines or even a recognised priesthood for much of their history. However the later literture indicates that by the coming of christianity in Scandinavia the northern Teutons did have quite elaborate temples, rites and a priesthood.
"All Indo-European forms of belief, so long as they maintained the pure, traditional Nordic spirit, have remained free from any rigid doctrine of belief or dogma and from the worship of a revealed word. Hence it follows that under the original Indo-Europeans there arose no teachers to instruct the people in their beliefs, no theologians, and no priesthhod holier and more elevated than the rest of the people.
The Brahmanism of the Aryan Indians like the Druidism of the Celts, is an exception among the priesthoods of the Indo-European peoples, but it only developed as such over the course of the centuries, reflecting alien admixtures, customs and influences."
[Chapter 5 of `Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans` by Hans FK Guenther]
Present day Germanic heathens tend by and large to think of their gods as `archetypes` that are present in the racial Collective Unconscious. This is how Carl Gustav Jung described the emergence of Wotan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the Germanic lands, especially the German speaking countries.
"A mind that is still childish thinks of the gods as metaphysical entities existing in their own right, or else regards them as playful or supersticious inventions. From either point of view the parallel between Wotan redivivus and the social, political, and psychic storm that is shaking Germany might have at least the value of a parable. But since the gods are without doubt personifications of psychic forces, to reassert their metaphysical existence is as much an intellectual presumption as the opinion that they could ever be invented. Not that "psychic forces" have anything to do with the conscious mind, fond as we are of playing with the idea that consciousness and psyche are identical. This is only another piece of intellectual presumption. "Psychic forces" have far more to do with the realm of the unconscious."
["Wotan" by CG Jung]
Modern heathens as well as conceiving the gods as archetypes of the Collective Unconscious also consider the gods to be encoded in our DNA and passed down from generation to generation.
"The dual nature in which the Gods affect our lives is through the personal bonds we forge with them, affecting us in a personal way by shaping our personalities. The other way is rooted in the genetic, collective group we belong to. We are members of an ethnic group or nation-a folk. Each of us has a personal and group destiny. The former is the course that our individual lives take, the latter are how the fate of the group we belong to, affects us. The Gods reside within, in our blood, genes or DNA. This link also bonds us together as a people. It is the life-force of the folk. What we do as individuals will affect the Gods, but what we do collectively as a folk, will have a profound effect on the Gods."
[Chapter 2 of `The Book of Balder Rising` by Robert Blumetti]