I do intend to write better researched and backed-up posts in the future of a more “academic” nature based on readings I will hopefully get round to at some point, for the time being I feel the need to state what real paganism was, is and should be about, and how it’s been constantly misunderstood not only by its enemies (obviously) but its “fans” as well…This post will also try to better explain what this blog is generally intended for, and what uses I feel paganism did have and potentially can have is embraced in the right way on both a rational and emotional/spiritual/personal level.
Firstly, The name itself causes problems; originally meaning “country-dweller” or something along those lines, once Christianity was adopted by the ruling elite and the military it was increasingly used to refer to the common populace as a whole, those still practising the old ways and fortunate enough to be separate from the Christians and the Jews. Despite having always been deeply interested in the classical world of Greece and Rome, I will use paganism and heathenism in this original context to refer specifically to the rural polytheists as opposed to the civilized southern folk, partly because Northern Europe is where I come from, and its distinct but not separate subculture is worth exploring in its own right apart from European Mediterranean culture, and partly because this European rural subculture relating to the Slavonic and Celtic as well as Germanic and Nordic peoples, I feel, has more substance, spiritual depth and has perhaps stood the test of time better, given the later conversion of many of these peoples and the lesser degree of distortion of native practices and customs once incorporated into Christian society.
To get to the main point…the problem with paganism (apart from the modern “neo-pagan”/”wiccan”/”new age” movements which I won’t even bother wasting time on) is what I suppose can be called the general romanticization of it in addition to the biased interpretations and distortions by Christian writers in the medieval period. While Snorri Sturluson and others like him clearly had a fond and romantic, one may even argue nostalgic, view of these pagan myths and the times they related to, one cannot ignore the Christian slant and mistakes made regarding the myths as a result of this.
Largely down to this I suppose, Christians and “pagan-sympathisers” alike even today tend to merely take paganism at value value, to merely see it as a polytheist religion based on pure fiction and mythology (like Christianity without the fascism, bigotry and misogyny I suppose) rife with superstition, hedonism and, in the case of neo-pagans and new age wiccan types, conveniently in accordance with trendy left-wing hedonist values of hippies and socialists (and nihilists). This is not the case, and though I would like to be encouraged by any presence of “paganism” in the modern world I think I’d rather live in a world full of nihilist atheists than of people who pretend (but do not try) to understand ancient, native religion and fail miserably.
Time for less ranting and more explaining…any pagan knows about there being a link between paganism and mother Earth, and the deep respect for nature in paganism, but few fully appreciate just how firmly rooted the myths and customs themselves are in nature, in attempts to explain the awe of nature, and its processes and cycles. I strongly recommend buying and reading Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia by Varg Vikernes for this, I imagine James Frazer took a similar approach before him in “the Golden Bough” as he is one of very few writers Vikernes refers to as being useful in research.
As Vikernes illustrates in his study, mistakes have been made regarding the mythology and about gods names. I suppose it is unclear to what extent this was mostly the fault of Christian scholars, I would put it down also to mythology becoming more elaborate through the middle ages and certain deities or concepts being separated into two entities…As Vikernes points out, this seems to have happened particularly with Heimdallr, who can be linked with the figure Hermóðr as well as the world tree Yggdrasil. This does not seem strange when one thinks about it, seeing as both Heimdallr and Yggdrasil act either as or on a bridge or connection between the realms.
The point of noting such “errors”, or “schisms” if you like, of certain deities and concepts is that it is needed if one wishes to trace the religion back to its roots, as Vikernes does in his study, which is vital to understanding the purpose of paganism, the ideas behind the myths, and ultimately how everything in these myths and custom is rooted in nature worship, and rituals in relation to the “Ragnarök”, the cycle of death and rebirth, we see every year in the cycle of the seasons.
To fully understand this structure of the rituals and the myths based on the seasons and on the processes in nature, one must also look at all of the holy days and festivals hijacked by Christianity – Yule, Easter/Oster, Hallowe’en/Samhain, May Day, Lent, etc. – Again, this is discussed at length in Varg’s book, to the point of giving the book itself a rather cyclical and repetitive structure, which works perfectly for me, it never seems dull and is easier to take in as an alternative, stripped down interpretation of the essentials of paganism – stripped down to the roots, even.
Lastly, I suppose the other crucial aspect of understanding real paganism – which has foolishly been overlooked and not studied enough, apart from by Vikernes – is etymology. Because the eddas, though incredibly valuable, like the sagas, were written by Christians, based on mythology that, as noted, may have already begun to stray from the roots in its beautiful but increasingly complicated myths, it is because of paganism’s preservation in these festivals hijacked by Christians, in folk tales and nursery rhymes even – in good old oral tradition, the pagan tradition – and in etymology, that despite Judeo-Christian efforts over the course of many centuries to erase native culture by means of mass murder, tricky, deceit fear mongering and brainwashing, our culture, paganism, the old custom, is still there, it is not dead, and never will be, and if we really care about our roots and about paganism – be it Norse, Celtic, Slavic or whatever – we should go so much further than simply embracing the romantic notion of paganism and strive to fully understand it as out ancient ancestors did, in the light of scientific and intellectual progress (not Christian but pagan progress, I might add, thanks to the (pagan) Renaissance).
To function, and advance, as true pagans, as true Europeans, we must recognize the advances in the last 1000-2000 years that we can be proud of, not because of the economic and political growth of the Judeo-Christian empire, but despite of it…but, in the way of the wyrd, to use a more Anglo-Saxon term, past present and future are all equally important and deeply connected to each other…whether it is distant past or recent past or near or distant future is irrelevant…Furthermore, I’d argue ancient history is more important, because we have drifted so far from it, have lost tough with it, and because of this have found ourselves in the sorry, depressing state we are in today. And to function in the present and future as pagans, we must not waste time with literally believing in the gods as idols or in, as I said, taking the religion at face value, but exploring the philosophy and worldview behind it, follow it back to the roots, if we wish to truly grow and advance, instead of stagnating and declining as rotten Judeo-Christian, capitalist, consumerist and industrialized society is today…We do not need the “benefits” of the modern world, its technology…We got on fine without it 1000 years ago, and we still can now.