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One of the heathen mailing lists I mostly-lurk on is going through the old folkish-universalist debate again. Made me think of something I've always wondered, but am not about to ask on list because it could only be perceived as argumentative, and that's really not how I mean it.

I'm not folkish, but I think I have a reasonable grasp of what it means--the idea of the folk soul, the concept of the religion as a folkway (in fact, some folkish Asatruar quite resent the use of the word "religion" because to them it implies that the faith is separable from the rest of one's identity), the relationship to the gods as "elder kin." It may not be my own point of view nor one I find particularly persuasive, but I think it's a legitimate one and often a well-reasoned one.

My question is this: okay, like most reconstructionists, heathens look back to the past for inspiration. If one wants to honor the gods of the ancient Germanic people, that's where one draws that inspiration from. That makes good sense in terms of developing practices and theology. But the idea of a folk soul, that's deeper--why would that only date from that point? Why aren't one's ancestors beyond that point considered part of this? Why stop there--why not go further back? It can't be because of a lack of information, that may make it more convenient but certainly not more meaningful. (It's kind of like saying that your greatX10-grandpa is part of your family, but your greatX30-grandpa is not. Okay, you might say, but greatX10-grandpa shares more of your DNA--well, that's true, but greatX2-grandpa shares even more and he was Lutheran! :))

Most heathens seem to feel that Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian and continental Germanic people worshipped pretty much the same gods under slightly-different names (not everyone thinks this, but enough do that an Odin-worshipper can mix with a Woden-worshipper without too much trouble). So that one can consider Thor and Thunor to be, for all intents and purposes, the same being. But not Perkunos. And not Taranis. And certainly not Zeus.

Okay, now I'm a hard polytheist and I definitely don't think that Perkunos and Taranis and Zeus and Thor are the same being. I'm not even sure about Thor and Thunor, quite frankly :). My point is that those who honor Thor and those who honor Thunor are considered to be part of the same Folkway, while those who honor Perkunos or Taranis are not. But, at some point, they were the same people. What changed with the coming of ancient heathenry to make that point the cut-off, the place after which we are all one people, and before which we are not? Is it in the lore somewhere? Is it just the passing of time? The development of a particular set of relatively stable deities (and any further changes that might have occurred stopped when Christianity took over)? It has to be something that makes sense in terms of tying the group together, beyond the existence of the gods.

I hope I'm making the sense I mean to make--I had gone to bed and was lying there thinking about this, and figured I had better write it down before it escaped. Back to bed now! :)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2004 01:31 pm (UTC)
I can't speak for the folkish--one good person to do so would be mdehners--but how we got from one Indo-European people to many, and one Indo-European pantheon to many, is something that has preoccupied a lot of us. Edred Thorson, for one, was very influenced by Dumézil's theories about how Indo-European religion works, and I know a few heathens who do look to Indo-European comparativism and linguistics themselves to shed light on the gods.

You could even take it further, since all of humanity evidently goes back to common African ancestry . . .

The way I see it is this. We and our gods are like distant cousins of the other Indo-European pantheons. (Of which the Greek is problematic, by the way; there's been a sizeable Semitic influence via Egypt.) That doesn't make us brothers and sisters, with the same gods, any more than cousins share the same parents. It does make us, and our gods, perceptibly more closely related than others.

The growing apart must have happened over a long time. We know from how tribes worked that rivalry and antagonism will have played a part; for example, my own heritage involves a lot of more or less acrimonious conflict with Celts. But also tribes tended to take in other people by adoption, subjugation and eventual intermarriage, whatever--the Megalith people live on all over Europe as parts of Germanic tribes, and the argument that the Vanir were their gods is enticing . . . and in Central Europe a blending took place with the Celts rather than the fighting that happened in the British Isles. I don't know exactly how it happened, but as the peoples diverged and changed, so did their gods. Gods do grow and change . . . just more slowly than people. Maybe they are also affected specifically by what their worshippers like and say to them? Anyway, I see it as a long-drawn-out and gradual process, like language divergence and change. But yes, as you perceive, they are different gods now. Thunor is Thor (this I know :-) ), but he isn't Indra, although they still resemble each other so much that at one point I thought he was. Where is the Germanic Agni? Who knows.

Limit of my wisdom on this one--if I believed in a "folk soul" this one would be easier :-)

Jul. 13th, 2004 04:36 pm (UTC)
We and our gods are like distant cousins of the other Indo-European pantheons.

That's true, and you could say that the Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons and continental Germanics are first cousins while the Greeks and Romans and Celts and so forth are fifth or sixth cousins (although personally I'd think that even distant cousins could be welcome at the same family reunion if attendance is based on a distant common ancestor :)), since those religions and cultures developed after the initial split from the common ancestor. I think it's still a rather arbitrary decision, and doesn't explain why non-Germanic northern Europeans are more welcome within Asatru than are non-Germanic southern Europeans, but it does make some sense.

However, it doesn't explain why the (admittedly very few) people who are attempting (and I wish them luck!) to reconstruct proto-Indo-European religion are not considered part of it, since they are working within a system that pre-dates the split.

But I suppose I'm getting a little silly here :). Thank you for pointing this out--I will have to dig up my Indo-European books to explore this further!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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