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Thread: Norse Heathenry (aka Asatru, Odinism, Theodism, Forn Sed...)

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    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by London View Post
    the church was still doing mass killings as late as 1200's because some refused to convert. They executed those that would not convert, most notabley in Sweden and Norway.
    Not that I doubt that killings happened in the name of Christ (I've read of a few in the sagas), but do you have any scholarly resources that specify exactly when and where the church was doing these mass killings? Again, not that I doubt the claim, necessarily, but I've often heard claims like these, that, when you actually investigate them, aren't exactly accurate. For instance, we had a great board member here, a Wiccan named Technomage, who did his best to dispel a lot the burning times mythology that crept into his faith thanks to inaccurate research, mostly done by non-academics at the turn of the 20th century. Most of the current scholarly work on the subject suggested that the numbers were far far fewer than had previously been suggested, that it happened over a very great expanse of time, with certain periods of increased persecution, and that it almost always involved local governments and not the church, and in fact, the church often went to great pains to stop the persecution.

    Asatru, if it's in the Lore anywhere, it's in the folkway. This is the name given to the revival/reconstruction of Norse pre-xian religion in Iceland, America, and Scandinavia

    Odinism, a variation of modern Folkish heathenry which was revived in England at about the same time as American and Icelandic Asatru. It's a modern expression of the Elder religion that seems a bit archetype prone.

    Theodism, an oathbound, hierarchical, and usually culturally/geographically specific version of heathenry. The first theods were specifically Anglo-Saxon; Other theods have sprung up since.

    There is also Irminenschaft, which is a continental Germanic approach to heathenry, based on a somewhat different body of folklore and custom.

    Finally, there is tribalism/neotribalism, which is theodism without the sacral kingship element, essentially . . . tribalist kindreds tend to focus on developing local custom and local thew appropriate to their groups. Are they atheists, not necessarily.
    Thanks for the breakdown. I have and have had a few friends and acquaintances who are neo-pagans, and as mentioned previously, I do enjoy some Neofolk, and a lot of bands in that genre lean towards Heathenry, so its nice to get an understanding on the different denominations.

  2. #22
    tWebber Boxing Pythagoras's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    Doesn't that seem rather high for such a small religion? Why do you think so many Heathens are atheists?
    "High" according to what standard?

    But I think the best answer that I can give you is that theism is not essential to the religion, as it is in the Abrahamic faiths.

    Ok. London had pointed out that some Heathens reject Snorri's sagas because he was a Christian, and I guess I thought it strange, and probably impossible to attempt to reconstruct Heathenism without the input of those who were not themselves Heathen.
    Ahh, I see. I think London spoke a bit too strongly when she said that people "dismiss" Snorri's work. It would have been more appropriate to say that Snorri's work is regarded through a lens of historical criticism, rather than being taken at face value.

    I see. What do you think it is they are experiencing?
    I don't know. Obviously, I don't believe any claims to the supernatural, but I haven't attempted to dissect any of these claims any further.

    I'm not sure I get your point. I'd say that for most Christians on this forum, Christianity is a conclusion, not a presupposition.
    I didn't mean to imply that all Christians take their religion presuppositionally. Only that many of the Christians with whom I've discussed my Heathenry find it odd that I chose my religion based on my philosophy rather than choosing my philosophy based upon my religion.

    So, should Heathens distance themselves from that focus, or do you think that as long as they're moderate about it, they should be fine?
    I believe that we should distance ourselves from it, quite a bit. Honoring and respecting our ancestors does not require racism. In fact, racism is fairly antithetical to the principles of hospitality which most Heathens value highly.

    Also, I just realized that I missed an earlier question of yours: yes, there are black Heathens.

    Why carry spares that you don't need? Why not strip away the religious trappings that aren't at all necessary and may actually get in the way, and get to what's really underneath? I suppose its hard for me to get my mind around this, because in Christianity, faith is based on reason. It has a starting point, and an ending point. We start by asking ourselves things like "why is there something rather than nothing?", "why am I here?" "Does life have intrinsic worth?" "Is morality objective, and if so, where does it derive?", "Is the mind distinct from the body?", and we investigate the answers to these questions, and for some of us these questions drive us to belief that the divine exists. And then we ask ontological questions about the divine, and through the process of natural theology, some of us arrive at the conclusion that the divine must needs have certain characteristics, and then some of us may find that these certain characteristics remarkably align with a the characteristics of the Judeo/Christian God. And so then we examine that faith. We examine its historical, philosophical, moral, prophetical and doctrinal claims, and we find those claims overwhelmingly convincing. And we've arrived at our faith through a logical pathway of reason. But from what you're telling me about your acceptance of Heathenry, you already believed in something like Wyrd and Orlog in the B theory of time, realized that the religion that you were already interested in sorta kinda aligned with your thoughts on that subject, and decided to accept the faith minus (what some would consider) the most important trappings: the belief in divine beings, unbodied souls, an afterlife, etc. This isn't meant to come off offensive, but for someone whose very life has become based in their faith, it seems like you're playing at religion. Do you know what I mean?
    I understand. The reason that it's confusing to you is that you view the theism and supernaturalism as the most important trappings of a religion. Heathens do not-- even those who are theists and supernaturalists. For us, behavior is far more important than belief in the supernatural or the gods. If a person is courageous and hospitable and good, it does not matter if he gives the proper worship to Freyja or if he is according proper importance to Ragnarok.

    However, I'm not sure I understand the rest of your objection, as it seems very similar to what I experienced. You say that a natural inquisitiveness and study into philosophy and metaphysics brought people to conclusions remarkably similar to those of Christianity, therefore they became Christian. My natural inquisitiveness and study into philosophy and metaphysics brought me to conclusions remarkably similar to those of Heathenry, therefore I name myself a Heathen.

    What are some of the strongest arguments for Heathen supernaturalism?
    The same as the strongest arguments for Christian supernaturalism, in my opinion: argument from personal experience.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every hidden truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

  3. #23
    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
    "High" according to what standard?
    I was thinking, compared to the standard of similarly minor religious beliefs.

    But I think the best answer that I can give you is that theism is not essential to the religion, as it is in the Abrahamic faiths.
    Is there any evidence that this has always been the case, or is this primarily the case with modern Heathenry?

    Ahh, I see. I think London spoke a bit too strongly when she said that people "dismiss" Snorri's work. It would have been more appropriate to say that Snorri's work is regarded through a lens of historical criticism, rather than being taken at face value.
    Ok, I see.

    I don't know. Obviously, I don't believe any claims to the supernatural, but I haven't attempted to dissect any of these claims any further.
    Ok.

    I didn't mean to imply that all Christians take their religion presuppositionally. Only that many of the Christians with whom I've discussed my Heathenry find it odd that I chose my religion based on my philosophy rather than choosing my philosophy based upon my religion.
    It seems to me that basing one's philosophy upon their religion is a bit backwards.

    I believe that we should distance ourselves from it, quite a bit. Honoring and respecting our ancestors does not require racism. In fact, racism is fairly antithetical to the principles of hospitality which most Heathens value highly.
    Got it.

    Also, I just realized that I missed an earlier question of yours: yes, there are black Heathens.
    Ok, I figured there must have been.

    I understand. The reason that it's confusing to you is that you view the theism and supernaturalism as the most important trappings of a religion. Heathens do not-- even those who are theists and supernaturalists. For us, behavior is far more important than belief in the supernatural or the gods. If a person is courageous and hospitable and good, it does not matter if he gives the proper worship to Freyja or if he is according proper importance to Ragnarok.
    Well its more than that I believe theism and supernaturalism are the most important trappings of a religion, but that our understanding of morality and behavior (not just the Christian, but anyone's) cannot be reconciled without a basis in theism. You seem to see aspect of a faith in segments, but I think for those whose faith is foundational to their lives, its a continuation. You can't have one without the other.

    Again, I wonder about the pre-Christian Nords and Germans and if they would accept the lessening of importance of belief in the divine, or if they would reject it as blasphemy. I would think that Floki from the show Vikings would reject it

    Then again, maybe they did put less importance on the divine, and that is why they eventually adopted a faith that did.

    However, I'm not sure I understand the rest of your objection, as it seems very similar to what I experienced. You say that a natural inquisitiveness and study into philosophy and metaphysics brought people to conclusions remarkably similar to those of Christianity, therefore they became Christian. My natural inquisitiveness and study into philosophy and metaphysics brought me to conclusions remarkably similar to those of Heathenry, therefore I name myself a Heathen.
    As I say though, you reject primary aspects of that faith that one would consider integral to most religions, and so, I suppose it just seems like a half-hearted devotion (again, I mean no offence here, just a perspective issue I suppose).

    The same as the strongest arguments for Christian supernaturalism, in my opinion: argument from personal experience.
    I wouldn't consider that a particularly strong argument for Christian supernaturalism. In fact, some on this forum like Nick Peters reject that as any sort of argument altogether.

  4. #24
    tWebber Boxing Pythagoras's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    I was thinking, compared to the standard of similarly minor religious beliefs.
    I'm not familiar with the prevalence of atheism in other minor religions. It's very possible that Heathenry is "high" in comparison to those.

    Is there any evidence that this has always been the case, or is this primarily the case with modern Heathenry?
    There is certainly evidence that it has always been the case that behavior was more important than belief for Heathens. And there are no known proscriptions against atheism in the surviving wisdom literature. Now, that is not to say that I know for certain that pre-Christian Germanic peoples would have found atheism to be palatable, but modern Heathenry's acceptance of atheists does not seem to be in direct contradiction to any of our sources.

    It seems to me that basing one's philosophy upon their religion is a bit backwards.
    To me, as well! However, there are quite a number of Christians who have never investigated philosophy, metaphysics, or natural theology. They were Christians, first, and they adopted philosophy based on their Christianity. I've known far more Christians like this than Christians who only adopted their faith after a dispassionate study of philosophy. It is these Christians who have had a difficult time understanding how I could identify with a religion based upon my philosophy. For them, philosophy should be subservient to religion, and I am accused of Post-Modernism for adopting a religion which fits my beliefs rather than adopting beliefs which fit my religion.

    Well its more than that I believe theism and supernaturalism are the most important trappings of a religion, but that our understanding of morality and behavior (not just the Christian, but anyone's) cannot be reconciled without a basis in theism. You seem to see aspect of a faith in segments, but I think for those whose faith is foundational to their lives, its a continuation. You can't have one without the other.
    This is another major difference between Heathenry and the Abrahamic faiths. The gods are not the source and standard of morality and ethics, not even for theistic Heathens. The gods can act morally or immorally, just as humans do. The Moral Argument for the Existence of God is just one of the usual Christian arguments which does not carry over for Heathenry.

    Deity does not carry the same implications in Heathenry as in Christianity. The Norse gods are not omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, changeless, eternal, or perfect beings. They are not the source of all that exists, nor are they they standard which defines objective morality. This is why belief in their literal existence is far less essential to the religion than theism is to Christianity.

    As I say though, you reject primary aspects of that faith that one would consider integral to most religions, and so, I suppose it just seems like a half-hearted devotion (again, I mean no offence here, just a perspective issue I suppose).
    Again, theism and supernaturalism really aren't primary aspects of Heathenry. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, deity is not the basis upon which the rest of the religion is built.

    I wouldn't consider that a particularly strong argument for Christian supernaturalism. In fact, some on this forum like Nick Peters reject that as any sort of argument altogether.
    That's cool. I didn't say that they were very convincing, only that they are stronger than other arguments for supernaturalism, in my opinion. If someone truly believes that he has communicated personally with his deity, that's not something I can really dispute.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every hidden truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

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    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
    There is certainly evidence that it has always been the case that behavior was more important than belief for Heathens.
    Do you happen to have any scholarly resources in mind that I could check out on this?

    To me, as well! However, there are quite a number of Christians who have never investigated philosophy, metaphysics, or natural theology. They were Christians, first, and they adopted philosophy based on their Christianity. I've known far more Christians like this than Christians who only adopted their faith after a dispassionate study of philosophy. It is these Christians who have had a difficult time understanding how I could identify with a religion based upon my philosophy. For them, philosophy should be subservient to religion, and I am accused of Post-Modernism for adopting a religion which fits my beliefs rather than adopting beliefs which fit my religion.
    I don't see where they're getting the post-modernism thing from. Not unless they're suggesting that you pick and choose your own truths, which, as far as I can tell, doesn't appear to be the case. Seeing as you're an atheist and not an agnostic, it would seem that you've committed to the idea (to a greater degree than not) that there is only one truth, and that truth is found in non-theism.

    This is another major difference between Heathenry and the Abrahamic faiths. The gods are not the source and standard of morality and ethics, not even for theistic Heathens. The gods can act morally or immorally, just as humans do. The Moral Argument for the Existence of God is just one of the usual Christian arguments which does not carry over for Heathenry.
    Where did pre-Christian Heathens suggest the source and standard of morality and ethics come from then?

    Also, I should point out that when I say that in foundational faiths like Christianity, one's faith is not segmented, but is a continuation, I mean that in all respects, and not just to do with morality.

    Deity does not carry the same implications in Heathenry as in Christianity. The Norse gods are not omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, changeless, eternal, or perfect beings. They are not the source of all that exists, nor are they they standard which defines objective morality. This is why belief in their literal existence is far less essential to the religion than theism is to Christianity.
    Interesting. Is there any evidence to suggest (as far you're aware) that pre-Christian Heathens accepted Christianity because it expressed a belief in a divinity that was greater than the gods that they believed in?

    Again, theism and supernaturalism really aren't primary aspects of Heathenry. Unlike the Abrahamic faiths, deity is not the basis upon which the rest of the religion is built.
    Where would supernaturalism rank for the average pre-Christian Heathen do you think? Were they not overly superstitious? We know that they sacrificed to their gods, and that on at least some occasions these sacrifices were human. They also believed in the existence of elves, giants, dwarfs, giant sea serpents, monster wolves, an afterlife, an apocalypse, magical weapons, trees, and the like.

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    tWebber Boxing Pythagoras's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    Do you happen to have any scholarly resources in mind that I could check out on this?
    The first one that comes to mind would be an article by Dr. Terry Gunnell, a folklorist at the University of Iceland, on the fluidity and variety of belief in the pre-Christian Norse, entitled "Viking religion: Old Norse mythology."
    https://www.academia.edu/5864888/Vik...orse_Mythology

    I'll try to pull up some more, though.

    I don't see where they're getting the post-modernism thing from. Not unless they're suggesting that you pick and choose your own truths, which, as far as I can tell, doesn't appear to be the case. Seeing as you're an atheist and not an agnostic, it would seem that you've committed to the idea (to a greater degree than not) that there is only one truth, and that truth is found in non-theism.
    Yep, they're accusing me of picking and choosing truth. For them, religion defines that which is true; so for me to choose my religion based on my explorations of philosophy seems like I am arbitrarily determining the truth, in their eyes.

    Where did pre-Christian Heathens suggest the source and standard of morality and ethics come from then?
    In the Abrahamic faiths, God interceded in the lives of Man to provide human beings with moral laws to explicitly delineate that which is right and that which is wrong. Nothing similar exists in the sources for pre-Christian Germanic peoples. There are no divine commandments or proscriptions in the Eddas or the Sagas, nor is it ever suggested that there exists some transcendental source of morality. It would seem that morality was a very much a social construct based around the priority of kindred, community, and tribe, in that order.

    Interesting. Is there any evidence to suggest (as far you're aware) that pre-Christian Heathens accepted Christianity because it expressed a belief in a divinity that was greater than the gods that they believed in?
    Not so far as I am aware, though it would not surprise me if that had been the case in some instances. However, the Heimskringla, a notoriously Christianised account, suggests that politics, legal coercion, and violence were the major driving forces behind the Christianisation of Norway.

    Where would supernaturalism rank for the average pre-Christian Heathen do you think? Were they not overly superstitious? We know that they sacrificed to their gods, and that on at least some occasions these sacrifices were human. They also believed in the existence of elves, giants, dwarfs, giant sea serpents, monster wolves, an afterlife, an apocalypse, magical weapons, trees, and the like.
    This is a more nuanced question than you might think. While the average pre-Christian Heathen likely believed in the gods and elves and afterlives, the concept of the "supernatural" would have been somewhat alien to them. For these people, the gods did not transcend nature, but were just as much a part of the natural cosmos as human beings.

    It is also unclear just how literally the average Heathen would have understood the mythology. The language of the Scandinavian peoples is replete with poetic metaphor and skaldic imagery. For example, in the mythology, the rivers and seas of the Earth are the result of the giant Ymir's blood flowing across the world after he was slain. That does not imply that the average person truly believed that river and sea-water was physically blood.

    So, I would speculate that the average pre-Christian Heathen did believe in personal gods, and did practice superstitious rituals such as sacrifices and prayer. I cannot say for certain that all Heathens practiced in this manner, and I do acknowledge that my personal expression of Heathenry is certainly a departure from the pre-Christian expression. However, I maintain that these practices and beliefs are non-essential to the religion despite their traditional acceptance. Again, unlike Christianity, deity does not provide the foundation for the morality, metaphysics, and philosophy of Heathenry, and it is those things which I would consider essential to the religion.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every hidden truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

  7. #27
    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
    The first one that comes to mind would be an article by Dr. Terry Gunnell, a folklorist at the University of Iceland, on the fluidity and variety of belief in the pre-Christian Norse, entitled "Viking religion: Old Norse mythology."
    https://www.academia.edu/5864888/Vik...orse_Mythology

    I'll try to pull up some more, though.
    Okay, thank you.

    Yep, they're accusing me of picking and choosing truth. For them, religion defines that which is true; so for me to choose my religion based on my explorations of philosophy seems like I am arbitrarily determining the truth, in their eyes.
    Odd. I'm not sure how else one would come to find their faith. Surely they asked philosophical questions, even if unknowingly, when they accepted Christianity.

    In the Abrahamic faiths, God interceded in the lives of Man to provide human beings with moral laws to explicitly delineate that which is right and that which is wrong.
    I'm not sure that's quite accurate. In the Christian tradition, moral law is written upon humanity's heart because we are made in God's spiritual image. The moral commandments, then, confirm and clarify (and at times, enforce) what is already found in the spirit of man. I suppose either way though morality finds its source in God.

    Nothing similar exists in the sources for pre-Christian Germanic peoples. There are no divine commandments or proscriptions in the Eddas or the Sagas, nor is it ever suggested that there exists some transcendental source of morality. It would seem that morality was a very much a social construct based around the priority of kindred, community, and tribe, in that order.
    I was curious about this claim when I came upon a website by an amateur mythologist named Dan McCoy called Norse Mythology for Smart People. On the website he has an article called Polytheistic Theology and Ethics. Most of it isn't based on any sort of substantial historical methodology. He spends large chunks of the article comparing pagan morality to his rather unique take on monotheistic concepts of morality (forgetting that at least some of those concepts derive from pagan Hellenistic philosophy), and instead of citing historians, he's partial to Nietzsche and other modern philosophers. Not very academic stuff really, but at one point he does cite an honest to goodness historian named Thomas Dubois who is a professor of the department of Scandinavian Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin. The following is what McCoy pulls from Dubois' book Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (1999).

    Source: http://norse-mythology.org/concepts/polytheistic-theology-and-ethics/

    It was customary for pre-Christian Germanic men and women to have a fulltruí, a patron god or goddess, literally “one to whom one is fully true,” from among the vast array of divine figures who populate Germanic mythology, and to adhere to the values associated with that god or goddess...

    In traditional Germanic society, a person who occupied a particular social role and was a devotee of that role’s corresponding god or goddess could rightly be held to the standard of conduct appropriate for that role and its divinity.

    To give a few examples, many Viking Age men looked to the gods Tyr, Thor, Freyr, or Odin as their fulltruí. Devotees of Tyr were ruling-class men who ordered their lives according to upholding and administering the law and societal standards of justice. Those of Thor were predominantly warriors (the second of the three Indo-European classes or “functions”) whose codes of conduct emphasized strength and bravery in the defense of one’s people and way of life, and a meticulous adherence to standards of honor and manliness (which, as the sagas demonstrate, often ran afoul of the law and justice). Freyr’s men were mostly farmers (the third class or function) whose lives were much more hedonistic and centered around fertility, fecundity, and production. Those who held Odin in especially high regard were, like Tyr’s favorites, of the first function, but followed a path of ecstatic and creative self-actualization that often seemed fickle, ruthless, irresponsible, and even shameful by the standards of a man of Thor, arbitrary by the standards of a man of Tyr, and unnecessarily harsh and demanding by a man of Freyr. And this is to say nothing of women’s roles and values, which were just as diverse.

    © Copyright Original Source



    I'll be ordering the book later this week, but what are your thoughts? It would seem that there is at least some transcendental concepts of morality and ethics in pre-Christian Heathenism, and that they were not entirely social constructs (at least from the point of view of the practitioner of the faith).

    This is a more nuanced question than you might think. While the average pre-Christian Heathen likely believed in the gods and elves and afterlives, the concept of the "supernatural" would have been somewhat alien to them. For these people, the gods did not transcend nature, but were just as much a part of the natural cosmos as human beings.
    Hmm. This seems like maybe a bit of semantics. Though the view you're talking about here is probably a sort of panentheism, the concept of supernaturalism is more of a modern view, I think, than an ancient scriptural one. Defining the supernatural allows us moderns to distinguish between events found in the expected laws of physics from those that are directly enacted upon by the divine. I doubt the ancient Hebrews, and probably the early Christians had any concept of the "supernatural" either. God worked within nature, though he was separate from it. Heathens probably differed in that they didn't think the gods were separate from nature, but they did believe that the gods enacted upon it when called upon.

    It is also unclear just how literally the average Heathen would have understood the mythology. The language of the Scandinavian peoples is replete with poetic metaphor and skaldic imagery. For example, in the mythology, the rivers and seas of the Earth are the result of the giant Ymir's blood flowing across the world after he was slain. That does not imply that the average person truly believed that river and sea-water was physically blood.

    So, I would speculate that the average pre-Christian Heathen did believe in personal gods, and did practice superstitious rituals such as sacrifices and prayer. I cannot say for certain that all Heathens practiced in this manner, and I do acknowledge that my personal expression of Heathenry is certainly a departure from the pre-Christian expression.
    Ok.

    However, I maintain that these practices and beliefs are non-essential to the religion despite their traditional acceptance.
    Based on what, exactly, though? Personal preference, or inference or...what? Would a pre-Christian Heathen consider you a Heathen even though you did not believe in or worship the gods? I guess that's what I'm trying to find out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    Odd. I'm not sure how else one would come to find their faith. Surely they asked philosophical questions, even if unknowingly, when they accepted Christianity.
    In my experience, the testimonies of Christians like these have nothing to do with studying philosophy, nor even with asking the "big questions." Rather, the most common testimony for those who converted into Christianity amongst these types of people falls along the lines of "I was a bad person, and not truly happy, then I came to a crossroads and asked God to reveal himself to me, then I got saved." No pondering of "why are we here?" or "what happens when I die?" or other such big-questions. It wasn't until after they became Christians that they really started trying to understand what philosophy was therefore implied.

    I was curious about this claim when I came upon a website by an amateur mythologist named Dan McCoy called Norse Mythology for Smart People. On the website he has an article called Polytheistic Theology and Ethics. Most of it isn't based on any sort of substantial historical methodology. He spends large chunks of the article comparing pagan morality to his rather unique take on monotheistic concepts of morality (forgetting that at least some of those concepts derive from pagan Hellenistic philosophy), and instead of citing historians, he's partial to Nietzsche and other modern philosophers. Not very academic stuff really, but at one point he does cite an honest to goodness historian named Thomas Dubois who is a professor of the department of Scandinavian Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin. The following is what McCoy pulls from Dubois' book Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (1999).

    Source: http://norse-mythology.org/concepts/polytheistic-theology-and-ethics/

    It was customary for pre-Christian Germanic men and women to have a fulltruí, a patron god or goddess, literally “one to whom one is fully true,” from among the vast array of divine figures who populate Germanic mythology, and to adhere to the values associated with that god or goddess...

    In traditional Germanic society, a person who occupied a particular social role and was a devotee of that role’s corresponding god or goddess could rightly be held to the standard of conduct appropriate for that role and its divinity.

    To give a few examples, many Viking Age men looked to the gods Tyr, Thor, Freyr, or Odin as their fulltruí. Devotees of Tyr were ruling-class men who ordered their lives according to upholding and administering the law and societal standards of justice. Those of Thor were predominantly warriors (the second of the three Indo-European classes or “functions”) whose codes of conduct emphasized strength and bravery in the defense of one’s people and way of life, and a meticulous adherence to standards of honor and manliness (which, as the sagas demonstrate, often ran afoul of the law and justice). Freyr’s men were mostly farmers (the third class or function) whose lives were much more hedonistic and centered around fertility, fecundity, and production. Those who held Odin in especially high regard were, like Tyr’s favorites, of the first function, but followed a path of ecstatic and creative self-actualization that often seemed fickle, ruthless, irresponsible, and even shameful by the standards of a man of Thor, arbitrary by the standards of a man of Tyr, and unnecessarily harsh and demanding by a man of Freyr. And this is to say nothing of women’s roles and values, which were just as diverse.

    © Copyright Original Source



    I'll be ordering the book later this week, but what are your thoughts? It would seem that there is at least some transcendental concepts of morality and ethics in pre-Christian Heathenism, and that they were not entirely social constructs (at least from the point of view of the practitioner of the faith).
    I'll have to look more into the DuBois piece-- I'm aware of the concept of fulltrui relationships between men and gods, but I've never seen them considered quite as commonplace as that excerpt would make them seem. Insofar as I am aware, the norm was for people to worship all of the gods, while fulltrui relationships were only employed by those especially dedicated to a single god.

    Even so, the fact that a god also exemplifies a particular set of traits does not imply that those traits emanate from deity. Odin was wise and clever, but wisdom and cleverness did not exist because of Odin. Balder was faithful and loyal, but faith and loyalty would have existed even if Balder had not. Tyr was courageous and just, but he was not the source of all courage and justice.

    Hmm. This seems like maybe a bit of semantics. Though the view you're talking about here is probably a sort of panentheism, the concept of supernaturalism is more of a modern view, I think, than an ancient scriptural one. Defining the supernatural allows us moderns to distinguish between events found in the expected laws of physics from those that are directly enacted upon by the divine. I doubt the ancient Hebrews, and probably the early Christians had any concept of the "supernatural" either. God worked within nature, though he was separate from it. Heathens probably differed in that they didn't think the gods were separate from nature, but they did believe that the gods enacted upon it when called upon.
    I can largely agree with all of this.

    Based on what, exactly, though? Personal preference, or inference or...what? Would a pre-Christian Heathen consider you a Heathen even though you did not believe in or worship the gods? I guess that's what I'm trying to find out.
    The question "would a pre-Christian Heathen consider you a Heathen?" is a bit anachronistic. Pre-Christian peoples would likely have found the concept of "a religion" to be strange and confusing. The idea that religion could be an exclusive thing was likely introduced to them by Christians. The pre-Christian Germanic peoples would not have likely made delineations about who was a "true believer" and who was not, as occurred in Christianity. They did not have fights over orthodoxy and heresy, "right religion" and "wrong religion." The Danes worshiped the gods in one way, while the Norwegians worshiped in another way, and the Icelanders were still different from both. No one had given their religion a name or a label, let alone arguing over who was truly Heathen and who was not.

    That said, if I lived amongst a community, did my duty, and acted with honor and hospitality, that community would likely have considered me Innangarth (an "insider"), regardless of whether I personally prayed or offered sacrifices. On the other hand, if I shirked my duties or isolated myself or acted contentiously against others in the community, I would likely have been viewed as Utangarth (an "outsider"), regardless of whether I had performed appropriate rituals. That's about as close to answering your question as I can get, unfortunately.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every hidden truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

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    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boxing Pythagoras View Post
    That said, if I lived amongst a community, did my duty, and acted with honor and hospitality, that community would likely have considered me Innangarth (an "insider"), regardless of whether I personally prayed or offered sacrifices. On the other hand, if I shirked my duties or isolated myself or acted contentiously against others in the community, I would likely have been viewed as Utangarth (an "outsider"), regardless of whether I had performed appropriate rituals. That's about as close to answering your question as I can get, unfortunately.
    In my study of ancient Mediterranean religions, sacrifice, ritual, and worship were tied into duty and honor as part of the patron-client model. Was that not true of the Heathen tribes? Duty and honor were entirely distinct from sacrifice and worship?

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    tWebber Boxing Pythagoras's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    In my study of ancient Mediterranean religions, sacrifice, ritual, and worship were tied into duty and honor as part of the patron-client model. Was that not true of the Heathen tribes? Duty and honor were entirely distinct from sacrifice and worship?
    Sacrifice and worship were largely considered personal matters. So, using your Mediterranean model for a moment, if you visited Alexandria around 250 BCE, it was quite likely that you would be expected to pay due obeisance at the temple of Serapis, since that god was the patron deity of the city. It was considered to be a duty, since that god's favor could direct the fortunes of the entire city.

    The Norse gods were not viewed in such a manner. If a man chose not to honor some certain god, it was expected that he would deal with the consequences. Individuals had different relationships with different gods, and those relationships were their business.

    The only counter-example of which I am aware, depicting a scenario more closely aligned with what one might expect from the Mediterranean religions, is from Adam of Bremen's discussion of the Temple at Uppsala. He reports that, every nine years, all the provinces of Sweden gather at Uppsala during the vernal equinox for a ritual festival. According to Adam, those who have already converted to Christianity have to pay some sort of fee in order to be excused from the ceremony. Of course, it should be noted that many scholars find Adam of Bremen's account to be dubious, citing lack of archaeological support and his rather obvious religious bias (the book containing the account was largely written to encourage missionary work in Scandinavia). It's not entirely beyond the pale to think that there may have been some civic aspect to worship and sacrifice; I just don't see much evidence for it.
    "[Mathematics] is the revealer of every hidden truth, for it knows every hidden secret, and bears the key to every subtlety of letters; whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know from the start he will never make his entry through the portals of wisdom."
    --Thomas Bradwardine, De Continuo (c. 1325)

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