Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Hammer and the Harp: The Two Great Families of the Pre-Christian North, and Sane Paganism/Heathenry

"The Hammer and the Harp" is a clever term I heard used to describe the twin revivalist Pagan religions of the Celtic peoples and the Germanic peoples. The Hammer of the Thunder God, such a common motif in pre-Christian times, has come to represent nearly all revivals of Germanic Heathenry or Paganism, while the Harp, with its timeless connection to the Bardic lore of the Celtic peoples, has joined the triskele as the unofficial symbol of Celtic Paganism.

Despite the over-romanticized and definately over-simplified ideas held by most regarding the relationship between the Celtic and Germanic peoples, there is no great "conflict" between the metaphysical realities and traditions of these historical peoples. The work of fiction writers like Marion Zimmer Bradley would have us believe that bloodthirsty hordes of monstrous Anglo-Saxons invaded peaceful Romano-Celtic Britain and attempted to rape and slaughter every person in sight.

My friends and I have always laughed at the scenario: the people who take "The Mists of Avalon" as holy writ really believe that there was some co-existence between the kindly Goddess Worshipping Pagans and the stern Roman Christians, and that the dark Germanic Horde came to destroy everything.

In reality, the Germanic invaders, led by the semi legendary Hengist and Horsa, were Pagans themselves. The Christian Romans in Britain had plenty of reason to fear; Christianity in Britain was submerged by the Heathen invaders, and Paganism and its related worldviews came to be the accepted ways of life Britain again for centuries, until Christian missionaries managed to (once again) commit cultural and spiritual near-genocide on the new mixed population of Anglo-Saxons and British peoples, again at the behest of greedy, politically motivated kings.

It was the Roman fear of the "barbarian conspiracy" that led to the propagandistic stories of the "evil" Anglo-Saxons coming to destroy the noble, civilized Roman outpost of Britain, and to destroy the church there. To think that the Anglo-Saxons were baby-eating barbarians who only desired the end of all civilization requires us to buy into Roman Christian propaganda.

The Anglo-Saxons didn't come to commit genocide; they came to find a home for their people. The pressure on them to move was due to pressures on the continent; the volkerwanderung- the Wandering of the Folk- had begun, because of the invasions of Eurasian tribes further east. Rome was gasping out her last breath; the world was changing. It was Fate.

As genetic studies have shown, the Anglo-Saxons didn't wipe out every person they could find; they mixed, as every other invader of the Holy Isles had done, back into pre-history. They brought a revival of Paganism, with a Germanic cultural flavor, and they laid the foundations for the greatness of England today. The Norse and the Danes would come later, to settle in Scotland and Ireland, and even to create the Danelaw in England proper, adding their own Pagan legacy to the again Christianized peoples, and to bring more of their adventurous spirit. I won't sit here and say that they were peaceful people who smiled and made friends with everyone they met; clearly, there was conflict and war. But like every other struggle from history, it ended and the peoples joined together over time.

Few people of British Isle extraction can claim no Germanic in their blood; it's almost impossible. Even places as "pure Irish" as the City of Dublin was founded by the Vikings. There's no need to fight it, and even less need to retreat into fictions and fantasies spun by the imaginations of neo-pagan disciples of Marion Zimmer Bradley and other writers. The Paganism of Britain- indeed, the very "Matter of Britain"- is a cauldron, in which the many noble peoples of the North have mixed their blood and their Gods.

I know well what I speak of- I am of Bernician heritage, myself. The kingdom of Bernicia in southeastern Scotland was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and its people were a mixture of the native Britons and the Anglo-Saxon tribes that came to that far northern place. That places me in a unique and somewhat uncomfortable place in my own religious path, as I have an ancestral connection to Germanic Heathenry, as well as the native mysteries of Britain, those carried by its native peoples, and the Celts who came to the Isles before the Germanic peoples.

I also happen to live in a world where the very small amount of people who still believe in the pre-Christian Gods of the North are influenced by a smaller, more foolish minority who preach that people can't worship the Gods of more than one ancient culture, never mind the historical proof we have that the ancients did worship Gods they found among other people.

The Romans were incapable of telling apart Germanic tribes from Celtic; there is a reason for this; the Teutons borrowed heavily from the Celtic peoples they came into contact with. In much the same way the Celts in Galatia worshipped local Greek Gods, the Celts and Romans also worshipped together, and the Romans and Greeks were more than happy to see their own Gods among the Gods of the Northern peoples. The simple fact is that the Gods are beyond the very human construct of culture.

We preserve the cultural names, beliefs, and practices that our ancestors used to reach the Gods out of love and respect for those ancestors, not because the Gods would ignore us if we used some other ritual or cultural approach. I don't believe that the Gods are so closed-minded as to do such a thing; we are their children and kin and they would not abandon us because we failed to use Old Norse or Gaelic invocations to call on them. We know and we feel our own inner ancestral power in relation to the ancestors of our family lines, and we honor that, because it is a natural, in-born channel to personal knowledge and strength.

But "culture", even in ancient times, was not what many people make it out to be today. Culture was a shared set of practices and understandings that were handed down from generation to generation, and it encapsulated things the people found sacred and worthy. It protected the order of their societies and helped add a sense of identity to the people of a kin-group or an area. And culture was never static. More on this in a bit.

I laugh at the people who try to make it sound like some "cultural purity" or even "racial purity" existed in the past, or that we should "return" to some ridiculous modern notion of it in the modern day. Respect for my ancestors and their Gods requires me to see a broader picture than that, and no one alive today can claim some "racial" purity that would exempt them from that task, as well.

For me, the problem is almost non-existent; I have long studied and written about Traditional Witchcraft and Germanic Heathen systems of religion and mystical practice- my two books thus far cover both subjects. I have been a follower of the "Truth of the Gods" for years. I have also studied the native mysteries of Britain, in the form of modern Druidry, for as many years. I see no conflict between these powerful and unique expressions of human spirituality. I am proud to be a son of Bernicia, and a scion of the Beornheard tribe, which is today the Burnett family of Scotland.

I make blots to Woden and Thunor, and I practice Seid- a form of shamanic mysticism that deals with trance-induction and seeking oracles on behalf of other people. I have also become a scholar of modern Runic mysticism, and plan to soon join Edred Thorsson's Runegild, as I have several friends who are members, and it is the next natural step on my journey; I have seen few mystical systems as powerful as the Runes in their modern sorcerous usage.

But I also pray to the Gods of Britain, the Mother Don Mam Cymru and Beli, her consort; I am Cauldron-Born, a person who has submerged his mind in the deep world of Annwn, to become wise to the mysteries. Anyone who cannot see the harmony between the Quest of Woden to hang from the Tree for Nine Nights and plunge his own consciousness into the deep void of Hel, to win the secrets there, and the submergence of Taliesin's own self and consciousness into the cauldron and womb of Cerridwen to win his own illumination, is either attempting to create and maintain false boundaries for their own personal ends, or they are perilously stupid.

My vocation as a shamanic practicioner allows me to draw from the boundless and deep resources that are spiritually present in all sides of my ancestry, and I unapologetically do so. It is my right and honor as a person with my grandmothers and grandfathers that I can do so.

And that brings us to the heart of the problem. While my cousins in Celtic Pagan paths have been very open-minded and kind, showing a rare breed of wisdom in their own faith and perspective, many of the Germanic heathens that I have had the displeasure of knowing, (and especially the so-called "authorities" who set up cults of personality around themselves, and attempt to command the thinking of so many modern Heathens) are nothing short of ignorant, racist fools, and they also tend to be re-writers of history.

Germanic heathenry has enough problems in image today: it is tainted with hints of white supremacy and racism, and there is a reason for this: racists and pseudo-scholars dominate much of the field. Because of these people, I actually withdrew from participation in many heathen forums and correspondences. But I have recently seen the error of my ways, in the most fateful of ways. With the birth of the Kindred around me, I have found my voice again, and have dedicated myself to destroying the modern dogmas and myths that are choking the life out of the revival of modern Paganism and Heathenry.

This is not the time to fully describe the myriad problems with many modern Heathen pieces of dogma: I will write articles in which I soundly refute the notions of "folk soul", "UPG", "Germanic Race" and the like. I will demonstrate, in future posts to this blog, the futility of trying to create some "orthodoxy" of belief from the few sources we have detailing Norse and Icelandic Paganism.

Needless to say, the idea of "race" is flawed to the core, as science has amply demonstrated, and peoples in ancient times- even the Norse- were travelers, explorers, and settlers who did not hesitate to marry other peoples anywhere they went in the world, bring home new technologies and customs, leave their own lands and settle permanently in others, and the like.

This is because they were no different from other peoples in Pagan Europe, with respect to how they dealt with other people; the absurd notion of "hard boundaries" between peoples and "races" and cultures and religions is foolish, and not factual. Racism as we know it today was not yet dreamed of, in the Pagan past that I am discussing. Surely cultural elitism was known, (the Romans specialized in it) and cultures were preserved not by race, but by tradition, among everyone from the ancient Irish and Romans, up to the Norse and Finns. To be Roman was to do as the Romans did, to practice their culture. But culture also continually underwent organic evolution, from contact with other peoples, technologies, and customs.

Today, when we practice the Old Ways, whether we do adbertos to Lugh and the Morrigan, or blot to the Allfather and the Thunderer, we are preserving and interacting with streams of power that flow to us from very distant times. When we preserve the values that we in modern times have extrapolated from reading the Eddas or Early Irish Sagas, we are doing the honor to the ancients that modern men and women owe them.

We are not Vikings; we are not ancient Celts or Norse. Not a single person who practices Seid or sings Vardlokkur or casts Runes today learned their craft from the ancients, or from people who learned them from the ancients. We have all looked at what sources we could, applied our senses, our intuitions, and created modern working systems. That is the Truth, and there is no room for "authority" or ego-games in this Truth. We are not the ancients, and yet, spiritually, their luck-force and wisdom lives in our blood.

We are modern Celts, modern Anglo-Saxons; we are the product of the last 2000 years. Our ancestral power has passed down to us, just like it passed down to them when they made the amazing leaps of culture, politics, and technology in their transition from the Stone Age and the Iron Age into Antiquity and the Dark Ages.

Despite the spiritual devastation brought by Christianity, very little has changed in the power of each of us- and the Gods are certainly still alive and with us, along with our ancestors. Reclaiming the Gods is good and important, but the reason we look to the past is because the polytheistic, animistic, and clan-centered worldview associated with the Pagan past is missing, and we need it. Deep down, the wisdom of our spirit knows that we need it.

These things can help us make our way through this modern world, by giving us new (and simultaneously old) spiritual and ecological perspectives. These old worldviews help us to define a new sense of "relationship" between ourselves and between human beings and the world, a new kind of thinking that we need, to head off the forces that thrive on separation and materialism and greed.

The fact that we speak new languages with tons of foreign influence, or that we eat foods that our ancestors never ate, or drive cars, is not a problem. The way our Pagan ancestors lived and talked and existed in the Iron Age was radically different from earlier ages; even their languages had undergone mutation and (yes) gained elements from other languages and cultures. That's life; that's reality. This in no way interrupts our relationship with the Gods and the Holy Kindreds.

But the "Edda-Beating" fundamentalists who have poisoned modern Germanic Heathenry are villains of the worst kind; they spend their lives surgically selecting their favorite modern interpretation of history, and expecting everyone to believe that "this is how it was" with insert ancient people ______. They project their own fantasies about the ancient world ONTO the ancient world and lash out with fierce stupidity at people who know better. Worse yet, some try to set themselves up as "scholars" of the history of the ancient peoples of Britain and Scandinavia, though few have the credentials to back that up.

The modern "scholars" who dominate the internet with their precise Edda-quoting and linguistic analysis of this or that phrase are typically ego-driven, home-bound victims of Asperger's Syndrome who only feel sufficiently powerful when they are befuddling other internet-Pagans with a mountain of scholarly-sounding bullshite, and looking like the finest, smartest person on whatever forum they happen to be on.

What they fail to realize, on the deepest level, is that no clever analysis of the linguistics behind the word "Blot" can express the true meaning of sacrifice; no amount of knowledge about the history of the Blot can compare with actually standing around a harrow or in a Ve and taking part in the simple austerity of the ritual.

What all these terribly clever people regularly forget, and indeed, never want to realize, is that modern studies and conclusions about the past (particularly Pagan religions from the North) are highly interpretive. There is no room for debate on this point. People- including scholars- tend to see what they are trained to see, or what they want to see. Everyone- including scholars- have pet theories and cherished ideas about things.

Scholars don't tend to make the best interpreters of spiritual and mystical subjects, considering that 99% of the men and women who make scholarly studies of Druidism, Germanic Paganism, or the like, are either atheists, agnostics, or Christians- none of whom study the shards of remaining evidence from the proper open perspective. They typically write from the "I must publish or lose my job" perspective of the professor, or the "I must make money" perspective of nearly everyone else.

Everyone is looking for an angle, a unique angle, and few care about the truth. Pinioned by the lack of evidence, and the multitude of modern assumptions that most people today are taught to accept, most modern scholarship on Paganism is simply awful. But nothing could be more awful than the fact that this same scholarship is used by self-appointed "Pagan Elders" to bolster their ego-ships and their tiny spiritual fiefdoms.

I am certainly not suggesting that we throw away all scholarship, only that we stop doubting ourselves and other people, and siding with scholarship, without questioning it. And I'm certainly calling for all modern Pagans to look closely at the men and women who try to set themselves up as our "elders". Do they serve the Gods? Or do they manipulate words and scholarship to support their imaginations, egos and agendas?

If there was a true "idolatry" in the modern Pagan world, it would be the worship of scholarship, and the unspoken notion that it "must be true" if someone with some degrees writes it in a book. One must look at the multitude of factors and powers and situations that surround every event that happens- the Web of Wyrd as it were- and see how and why things are written they way they are. We must divine how and why people say the things they say, how and why they come to the conclusions they come to, how and why they believe what they believe. Would you want someone who thought Odin was "false god" analyzing and explaining his myths to you? Naturally not.

My friends and I have long ago made the conscious decision not to subject ourselves to the foolishness that defines so many organized "Pagan" and "Heathen" groups. I am surrounded daily by people like myself who feel a draw back to the Old Ways- to the paths of Northern Paganism, both British and Germanic. My friend Seth, who has now sworn faith to the Old Gods of he and I's Germanic ancestors, has been a shining example to me of what a resourceful person can do when they find their calling in religion. My wife is true to the Gods, as well as our other friends. At nine nights old, my daughter was "sprinkled with water" in her heathen rite of consecration and named, her Fate in our path set.

We feel the living presence of the Gods and we have much peace and prosperity. We support one another, give our loyalty, and live our lives. That is the essence of the Old Way. Why do I focus more on my family and friends and personal practice, than on acceptance in some nonexistent "broader Pagan community"?

The answer is simple: any notion of a "Pagan community" today is a farce; few Pagans can agree on the color of horse shite, much less on religion, and this is how it should be. There is no need for Pagan "popes". "Organized religion" has shown us that it does not and cannot work, and not a single Pagan would be what they are, if they were satisfied with pre-packaged dogma being disseminated among massive congregations of people.

Clans, Kindreds, and Communities all over the Pagan North, in ancient times, believed as they believed, without some over-arching orthodoxy of belief. It is no different now. Everyone's personal and localized experience of the Gods and the Unseen World is different. It was so in ancient times, as well. It is absurd to imagine that all Germanic heathens everywhere in history acted according the stories and lore in the Eddas, or even knew them. It's safe to say that they didn't all have the same bodies of myths, the same sagas, or songs.

It's safe to say that they worshipped many Gods in common, as Gods tend to cross cultural and tribal lines, but it's also safe to say that they did not all have the same lists of Gods and "pantheons" as we call them today. Everyone knows about Odin and Thor; but who today worships Mogons or Mongontia? What about Tuisto? Dozens of Gods and Goddesses that were very important in ancient Germania and Celtia are either unknown to us, or no longer actively worshipped.

The bottom line is this: sanity in modern Paganism and Heathenry or Paganism is possible, if you keep one thing in mind: no one alive today has ever stepped into a time machine and traveled back to the past, to learn all the lost myths, sagas, and rituals that we have lost. No one really knows the full story of Pagan Europe.

What we do have are myths and sagas that show us how our ancestors faced life's difficulties, and some of how they approached the Gods. We can follow that example, in the modern day, in the context of modern reality- it isn't hard to do, if a person is ready to be bold and confident. I would say that this idea, the idea of looking to the past for exemplary models of behavior isn't just possible; it's imperative.

But there is no place for "authority" in Pagan Religion. Scholarship cannot and does not give us the entire story of the spirituality of the past. It serves us well in its own way, and sheds much light on the everyday life of our ancestors and the like, but spiritual "remains" are far more intangible and difficult to re-capture.

I daresay more people come back to the Old Ways to re-discover a spiritual relationship with the Gods and Ancestors, rather than to reconstruct how to weave or build houses like people did in 200 BCE. This being the case, we have to look to what we DO have, which can lead us to the spiritual connection we all long for- the Gods.

The Gods are alive and powerful now just like they always were, and we must worship and connect with them, and be open to the kind of relationship they want with us, as opposed to what other people tell us we should believe, if we want acceptance in some "modern Pagan community". The accusation of "unsubstantiated personal gnosis" is one of the more common charges you'll hear from the mouths of the nithings who exist on both sides of the Pagan fence.

The reality: what we know about the past is small compared to the glory that once existed. What passes for "substantiated" gnosis is usually anything but; the problem lies with HOW we can know something for a fact, through the lens of scholarly interpretation. What we DO know is that the world that the Germanic and Celtic peoples lived in was MASSIVE, and very, very few of their tribal stories, myths, and religious practices have come down to us today.

The ultimate dishonor we can do to the Heathen spiritual past is to try and force it into the narrow mold of the modern mind, which only has some Norse and Icelandic sources to go on, and the mentions of some Roman writers regarding some tribes in Germania. The Celtic myths and sources are the same way; nearly all come through the lens of Christian writers, just like the Eddas did.

This "shaky ground" is not a curse, as most people think, but a blessing; it forces us- if we are intelligent- to keep an open mind, to not be limited in needless ways. It forces us to become introspective and open to the living presences of the Unseen. Because the final truth is this: the line of ancestral power in each of us is the first and last "authority" on the faiths of the past that we will ever get, and they will only emerge from us in our own modern terms, colored by our present-day understandings.

That's fine; that's who and what we are. We can still be honorable people, and we can still experience the mystical truths from the old times. We need honor, especially in these days of so much argument.

Was Saga the Goddess of Memory? Most would say yes; some would say no. Those who say no would point to the description of her hall in Grimnismal, and use it as evidence that she was none other than Odin's wife Frigg. Is the Valknot the symbol of Odin? Almost everyone says "yes", but nowhere in the lore can this be confirmed. I could write a book on the controversies in modern interpretations of Celtic myths and Norse myths, or any myths. Who's right? I don't think it's for any one person to say.

What does a person do, when faced with fragmentary histories, myths, and collections of stories? What do you do when faced with a lost past, and when you find yourself paging through sagas and accounts, looking for how it was most likely done or believed?

There is only one thing TO do: trust yourself and the Gods. Understand the difference between modern ideas and modernistic assumptions, and the ideals and assumptions of the past, and don't imagine that you can just mix these things haphazardly, or that you can drop yourself directly back into the past. You can't. We have to live today, in the modern world, but we can live here today as heroes and heroines in our own right, if we are brave, and if we really let ourselves listen to the ancestors and the Gods. There is no greater "Heathen path" than that.


Anonymous said...

Bright! Most attempts at a pagan community that I have seen were a farce. It's how we live our lives within our existing communities that makes the difference.

O, and I personally do worship Tuisto, the Earthborn. ; )


Anonymous said...

Great Article Robin, it prompted me to do a little digging on Bernicia since my lineage is Scot. My family would have come from Bernicia, that is the Borthwick Clan who lost their castle to Oliver Cromwell in the 1600's. Also what would have been Deira for I am also of the Maxwell's, so thank you for this information. While I have always been attracted to Scottish lore, its hard to find good information regarding older practices, not that it matters if you are trying to create a link with your will come eventually. I have never had any interest really in Germanic practices or Gods, I dont know just never resonated with me, but it is interesting to know that that blood runs through my viens.

Modern Pagans are pretty much just a mess....I have tried dealing with the general Pagan "Community" just to be let down every time not to mention meeting people who are just plain cruddy....and trying to tell people who just dont get it is almost a waste of breath. Anyhow, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your kin...

Saoirse Re'

Anonymous said...

oRobin,that was exellent,and welcome back to Heathenry!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Robin,
That was most insightful and inspirational.
looking forward to the next one.


Anonymous said...

Excellent insights and well put. Northern tradition is to me Celtic, Norse/germanic, Baltic, Slavic, and Sammi. All these poeple traded and intermarried over the years. Even roman and greek ways and views were known.

I follow the germanic and celtic gods mostly. But have spent time with the lakota people and friends. And have learned much from the too. And much of their teacings mesh with alot of the northern european ways.. Wisdom come from many places. I won't turn a blind eye to widsom offered to me from any person or culture. Good luck and keep up the good writing!

KateGladstone said...

I am new to the very interesting matters you write about. To help me understand your traditions, please explain why you use the phrase "he and I's" where most users of English would say or write "his and my." instead. Is there some ritual or philosophical concept behind that?