Native Gods, Native Religions

You can hardly navigate paganism without encountering the debate about cultural appropriation and dealing with folks taking spiritual things from American Indians or other indigenous peoples. Euro-American folks mimic their rituals, mimic their methods, mimic their religions. Some argue that appropriation is a natural act, others that it is cultural theft, some that it doesn’t exist.

I feel it is important to discuss some of the pitfalls of paganism, this being one of them. Cultural appropriation, it’s a problematic issue and it does exist. The peoples that it occurs most often to are indigenous peoples and in America this typically means we’re discussing American Indians.

First and foremost, American Indian is a large category full of many tribes and diverse peoples. It is the overall preferred name for the majority of American Indians when the individual tribe cannot be mentioned. For example, much as an individual French person would usually prefer to be known of as French first and European in general terms, an individual Lakota person would usually much prefer to be known as Lakota first and American Indian only in the cases when speaking generally about many peoples. It is also important to understand that the traditions and beliefs of the various American Indian tribes are diverse, very very diverse. There are definitely some similarities found in certain regions and some general concepts that stretch widely but there is not and never was a single American Indian culture.

So here is why when I see non-indigenous folks doing indigenous spirituality I cringe: The people whose traditions these are still exist. They didn’t die out, they didn’t disappear. The cultures still exist.

To compare it back to Heathenry or other pagan traditions like Hellenic beliefs or Celtic ones is flawed, those traditions are long dead. Heathenry is hundreds of years dead, so long dead it isn’t even funny and it makes a significant difference. The Vikings are gone. The Anglo-Saxons are gone. There are not heathens left to go and converse with that have unbroken and complete traditions. What we have instead is the books, the lore, it’s all we really have remaining from those peoples to understand the gods besides material culture which would be out of context without the lore to compare it to. So since it is gone we have to rebuild. If there were another option we would take it. If there was a whole culture to learn from unbroken from that time we would be doing that but it simply doesn’t exist.

Heathenry has to do reconstruction, what we have left is incomplete. Heathenry is like having an intro book sitting next to a long dead corpse. You can’t ask the corpse questions, you only have the book to go on. You know there’s more so you have to fill in the gaps so you do research and reconstructions. And sometimes our reconstructions pull from a variety of different related sources, looking at related things; but it should be done respectfully and honestly.

Well can’t you just apply the same process of UPG and reconstruction to go your own way into Indigenous spirituality? Going your own way in indigenous spirituality is like having an intro book sitting next to a whole tribe of people and saying you’d prefer to ignore the people actually alive and living it and you’d prefer just the intro book that you would just create your own thing anyway without them.

In a nutshell, unless you’re deeply involved in unity and collaboration within that specific tribe and devoting your life to being a part that culture then it’s really very disingenuous. And how often does that happen? There are a few notable examples, but they’re notable precisely because it’s so rare that it happens that way. What isn’t rare is people appropating in such a haphazard way that it is disrespectful and usually incorrect.

The American Indians are here, they’re alive, they maintain their culture and it hasn’t disappeared, and they are telling their cultural colonizers not only that when people copy them without embracing their culture they’re doing it wrong and it’s disrespectful when they do it wrong but that they don’t want people taking what amounts to their cultural heritage. When they express these things we really should at least try to listen. As I said, it’s one thing if you’re doing it right and doing it within their culture in unity with them but those are rare cases. Time and time again natives have to navigate their own spirituality with what amounts to their colonizers taking their diverse cultures and religions and then poorly understanding them, combining them erroniously, and trying to (what amounts to) mansplain their culture back to them, the native peoples whose cultures they were in the first place, and they are tired of it and letting people know.

You can do it, absolutely, nobody is actually stopping you, you would not be alone either as it is all too common. But you do have those American Indian people who live it every day and whose culture it actually is looking at you saying that it’s inauthentic and that you’re effectively attempting to colonize their spirituality.

And on a different note, that spiritual and religious knowledge isn’t really all that accessible outside of the cultural confines of the specific tribe. It’s not as easy as going and picking up a book on Native American mythology and thinking that will do it for you. These folks kept things to themselves, especially spiritual things. They straight up don’t tell outsiders stuff sometimes, like not even historians or anthropologists because in some of those cultures knowledge equalled power and often kept the society structured with folks the on top guarding some knowledge and spiritual knowledge also often kept the priestly folks in their positions. Some spiritual concepts can also only be effectively transmitted in the native language of a specific tribe and within that specific culture and would only be granted to those who were high enough within their tribe in station and learning for that knowledge.

There is really no amount of homework someone outside of an Indigenous culture can do to “get it” properly and then do it respectfully until they actually experience that culture first hand and get it from them personally. And this makes it markedly different from Heathenry. Heathenry exists now solely in books and are accessible to all who are willing to do the research. There is nothing in heathenry that anyone anywhere can’t access without internet and a library card. It’s often opaque, it’s difficult to grasp due to cultural differences and requires a major shift in world view. But that’s all we have. Ours is a religion of homework, American Indian spiritualitues and religions are religions of cultural connections. That is a big difference that needs to be acknowledged.

In the end, nobody can stop you from being an ass about these things. But as with all spirituality one should probably seek to do it correctly, to do it justice, and for Indigenous spiritualities that simply isn’t found in books but in the living cultures of the various indigenous peoples still practicing these religions.

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Why are Racists Attracted to Heathenry?

Heathenry has a racism problem. But it’s deeper than that. We have a bad habit of trying to classify ourselves into three categories of heathens: Universalist, Tribalist, and Folkish. But by making these categories (themselves deeply flawed and a false trichotomy) we have allowed race to be conflated with Heathenry. By saying “I’m a Universalist”, you’re saying race is important enough to register as part of your religious beliefs and identify you on a spectrum that includes other people’s racism and it shouldn’t be. You should eschew these ridiculous categories, there aren’t three separate heathenries but there is instead one Heathenry and a social question separate but oh so important – “Are you a racist?”.

Why are racists attracted to heathenry?

Many racists are brought by the same feelings as many non-racists.

There are many of us in Heathenry that are here to not just connect with gods that we enjoy from stories but because of a tangible connection to them through the bonds of ancestry. Basically, in many cases our ancestors worshipped these gods, far back down the line our ancestors worshipped these gods before the arrival of Christianity. This is undoubtedly a major draw to the religion and many people get their first introduction to Heathenry due to some ancestral link. This religion of ancestry is intriguing to many ordinary people but also many racists are brought by these same feelings of connection to pre-Christian ancestors.

The difference is this, people can be drawn to explore their ancestry and that’s all amazing and good. The issue only arises when folks attempt to block others who might not have that ancestral connection from also exploring in a respectful way. The difference is in telling someone else they can’t do something because of their ancestry when you could based on yours – that’s exclusionary.

Ancestry doesn’t give a person any special leg up with the gods in Heathenry. There is no DNA, no metagenetic link, that makes a heathen special because of their ancestry. It’s not who you are but what you do, our offerings and prayers to the gods matter more than your makeup.

Beginning Heathenry by looking into your ancestry is great! But don’t stop there. You’re more than your DNA, your deeds matter far more than your DNA ever will. Beginning Heathenry without a scrap of Germanic ancestry is great! It’s not needed in the slightest and wouldn’t offer you any benefit anyway. You’re ancestors were Irish? Cool! Welcome to Heathenry! Your ancestors were Chinese? Wonderful! Welcome to Heathenry! Your ancestors were from Norway? Awesome! Welcome to Heathenry!

Does this mean it’s a free for all?

No. For those people who are freshly exploring religion, it’s a pretty universal thing that if you’re exploring in a respectful way and not cherry picking and appropriating incorrectly then there is likely no issues. Note I say a respectful way, nobody likes people to roll up and completely pervert their religion. After all, religion is not just yelling Skal or hail, it’s prayer and belief, it’s offering to the gods, it’s studying too. But if you’re here to learn respectfully who you are shouldn’t matter one iota.

This isn’t always the case in all religions but this is the most fair way to conduct religion.

What else brings racists?

Honestly, racism and anti-Semitism drive racists towards Heathenry. Some of these folks have swallowed up anti-Semitism so hard that the thought of a foreign, Jewish-based religion galls them and sticks in their racist craw. They can’t stomach things that relate to non-European anything, even worse if it’s rooted in something Jewish. So they think that they should turn to the native European religion as part of their racial identity. They turn away from Christianity because of its Jewish roots.

Religion is not the racist’s primary cultural identifier, race is. Race overrides all else and religion only exists in most cases to bolster that racial identity.

For some it’s hardly about religion at all. The Racists have a very strong culture building aspect to them, they base it on race, but it’s engineered to fill a cultural void in the folks they are engineering it all for. Not just a spiritual void but a cultural one. And it’s something that is hard to compete with because the racists are willing to make things up to tailor fit their audience where many of us are unwilling to do that. But much of it has less to do with spirituality and more to do with building culture, albeit typically shallowly on race.

This is how we get so many racists practicing “heathenry” on such a shallow level. For them, Heathenry exists as an aesthetic cover over some underlying beliefs that really have nothing to do with Heathenry. Some are practicing some kind of harsh racial monotheism completely at odds with heathen polytheism deep down. Some don’t actually worship anything and just wrap themselves in the aesthetic alone.

Our aesthetic attracts racists

As full of racists as Heathenry seems to be and often is, finding devout heathens who are actually practicing and studying the religion while being racist is fairly rare. Most of the racists are really only here for the aesthetic.

It’s problematic, but being a heathen and having a group is going to attract racists looking to join in on the aesthetic. The easiest way to get rid of these people is to draw a line in the sand regarding bigotry. Yes, this means excluding people, excluding those who are racists.

Most of the time if you’re an inclusive group the racists won’t really want to be a part of your group anyway. They want to be with other racists, they want to surround themselves in their aesthetic bubble.

Nazis, the real Nazis

The history of racism’s uses of Heathenry’s symbols predates Heathenry. Nazis were using the runes and using Germanic mythical imagery long before any real religious revival of Heathenry took place. No, there is no hidden history of underground Heathenry. Hundreds of years of historians scoured every little village and hamlet in Europe. Know what they found? Christians who had festivals and stories of pagan origins but no actual pagans. All heathenry is a recent innovation, a new revival of an old religion. The Nazis aren’t appropating our symbols and runes, they got there and used them before we even got around to reviving the faith. When we use the runes which were used peripherally by the Nazis in the 30s and 40s and definitely by racists today they’re going to be loaded imagery for some people, we cannot truly get upset when someone mistakes us for a racist because we cannot stop the racists from using the same symbols as us. We can be gentle and kind and explain ourselves and our beliefs. We can also have the grace to steer clear of symbols with overwhelming taint.

No, you can’t reclaim the swastika.

The Nazis straight up invented the black sun symbol, it’s not an ancient symbol at all. And the swastika? If you think it was some big, important symbol for ancient heathens in the version the Nazis adopted then you’ve already swallowed some of the Nazi’s kool-aid and propaganda. The Nazis may not have invented the symbol but they chose one with almost no real substantial use in ancient Heathenry, certainly nothing that looked anything like the swastika of the 1940s. It wasn’t important to heathens in ancient times, it’s not worth anything now. Some symbols are better left in the 1940s.

A message to racists and folkish people:

You probably haven’t gotten this far but your entire premise is flawed. You’re trying to close off Heathenry. Why? Maybe you’re afraid but honestly, people of color are not beating down the doors of Heathenry to get in. And even if they were, what would it matter? You’re worried about nothing real. We don’t have a cultural tradition any richer than any other, there is nothing worth appropriating that hasn’t already been appropriated for books, TV, movies, and everything else.

What can we do about all of this?

Don’t associate with racists. Don’t stand in circle with them, don’t raise horns with them, don’t buy their things, don’t associate with them in any capacity. We cannot control much beyond our own actions and associations. Beyond that, I’m still muddling through that myself as best I can.

Grith and Frith

Grith and Frith (Grið and Friþ)

Chances are that if you’re a heathen, you’ve heard of grith and frith. But is it really as simple as many people make it out to be? Is grith for outsiders and frith for kith and kin? Is grith for utangeard and frith for innangeard? As it turns out with so many other things, it is not so simple, it is more nuanced.

Grith and frith both refer to peace, both refer to peacemaking (griðian, friþsumian) , both refer to peace breaking (griðbrice, friþbræc), and have examples that cross the boundaries of family and outsider. Families could have grith. Outsiders could have frith. So has the whole world gone topsy turvy? No. What you have heard about frith and grith was likely a simplification due to the nuanced way that the two concepts work. That simplification can be correct in application but isn’t always and in most every case it is best to understand the term for what it really is rather than the simplified version.

 

What are Frith and Grith?

The main difference between Frith and Grith is not who is making the peace with whom but in how long it is going to last, where it is over, what special circumstances it entails, and who is enforcing it. Don’t take it from me though, here’s some sources and analysis.

The Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary cites the Cleasby-Vigfusson Icelandic dictionary as saying “friðr is the general word, grið the special, deriving its name from being limited in time or space”.[i] I have not found a more concise definition elsewhere. This also shows the existence of the term in Icelandic and thereby Norse culture, so do not just think this is just an Anglo-Saxon thing.

The Bosworth-Toller defines Friþ as “peace, freedom from molestation, security guaranteed by law to those under special protection”[ii]

The Bosworth-Toller defines Grið as “peace limited to place or time, truce, protection, security, safety.”[iii]

 

Grith as truce and Frith as peace

“Þonñ nam man grið and frið wið hí.” [iv]

“Then was truce and peace made with them.”[v]

This one sentence shows that they viewed them not interchangeably but in different connotations. They laid down a grith (truce) to make a lasting frith (peace). Having now read the original document in context as well (the Bosworth-Toller citation was incorrect and incomplete so I tracked down the original source to cite it properly) it is plainly obvious that the grith functioned as a limited truce for lasting peace to be formed by treaty and upheld through “gafol” or tribute.[vi]

This is usage is also present also within the Skáldskaparmal of the Prose Edda because the Æsir and Vanir went to war but established a “grið” (truce) before they went into a “friðstefnu” (peace-meeting).[vii] This usage seems to speak volumes that grith should be a function that is temporally limited while frith should be utilized for formal, lasting accords and usage referencing peace in general.

 

Grith as an enforced or localized peace

Grith was a function which could be enforced in a localized event or area, in essence somewhere that had special rules. Two such ancient extensions of grith were made through the leadership, usually the king, enforcing and ensuring grith or the temple or church ensuring or enforcing grith. In both cases this had special rules to be applied. This concept was called “hand-grið”, basically these special rules were enforced in certain localized areas where they could be under the hand, the enforcement, of those in charge of them.[viii] One could, for example, violate the religious side of grith by fighting in a religious area (feohtlac), by stealing in a religious area (reaflac), or by fornicating in a religious area (unriht hǽmed).[ix] Or the person could violate the rules of the witan or king or the thing which would be a breach of grith. This expands the understanding of grith to include any area which had special conditions or rules that should be obeyed and enforced such as those for religious spaces. It would even apply to hospitality since there were specialized rules and customs involved and it had limitations to what one could and could not do while being guest or host.

 

Summary

By this we can understand that the difference between Frith and Grith is one of permanence and impermanence. The modern generalization of family vs outsiders and innangeard vs utangeard is a simplistic understanding of a nuanced concept and while it has become the common interpretation it is less correct.

Grith and Frith are both peace, but grith is “limited in time and space”. It would apply in any situation where peace, or at least truce, would be applied in a limited capacity or when there were special rules that needed to be followed in that space.

 

How does this apply to us?

As modern heathens we are unlikely to be making formal and permanent alliances with each other in the same manner as is thought of in the ancient world. Seeing how spread out we are it is unlikely we will live even in the same communities as one another. Much of our pagan time will be spent on online forums but when we do meet in person to conduct rituals together or just to hang out it is likely to be a public place or a private residence; in either case the meet up is probably held under the auspices of some larger pagan group or by a host or a leader. These meet-ups or events would not fall under just frith but would fall squarely under grith. There would apply a spoken or unspoken assurance that to commune with one another there would need to be a truce through that time both in word and in action and in that space the rules would be ensured and enforced by whomever was over the meet-up or even whomever ran the online forum. In the other case, that of a religious space, these areas often have specialized rules and protocol and the grith there would be guided over by the gods themselves but for practicality’s sake enforcement would again fall on whomever was over the rite or the leaders of the local organization who put the rite on. Breaking the rules of these areas or breaking the truce and peace of these areas would be breaking grith.

Our events, our rituals, and our online forums constitute special space that should be guarded and guided to ensure that the grith is maintained in them. That grith should be temporary and limited, it should extend only as far as the ability of the host or organization to enforce it and extend only as long as the people are present under the auspices of that event, ritual, or online forum. Frith would not be limited in that way, it would be necessarily be permanent and should be unlimited by location or time.

In the end, while they are both effectively peace, their subtle differences make them worthwhile for us to explore.

 

Sources:

[i] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.

[ii] Joseph Bosworth, “friþ”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 338.

[iii] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.

[iv] John Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others (Oxford England: at the Clarendon Press, 1865), 145.

[v] Joseph Bosworth, “grið”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 490.

[vi] John Earle, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, with Supplementary Extracts from the Others (Oxford England: at the Clarendon Press, 1865), 145.
And
Joseph Bosworth, “gafol”, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based On the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth, Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), 358.

[vii] Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, Old Norse version found at: http://heimskringla.no/wiki/Skáldskaparmál accessed 2/28/19.

[viii] Benjamin Thorpe, editor, Index: “grið”, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, Volume 1 (England: The Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, 1840), 702.

[ix] Benjamin Thorpe, editor, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, Volume 1 (England: The Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, 1840), 146.

On Sneetches and Oaths

Now the oath bellied sneetches had made all manner of oath

But the plain bellied sneetches were of the idea quite loath.

For many long years the plain bellied sneetches were told rather directly

By many that to not have oaths would leave them rather ineffectually

Struggling to make relationships with the gods of the sneetch

Or so it was what many of the oath bellies did say and preach.

They said that it was necessary to go the distance, to reach some hard goal

And to not have those oaths that the plain-bellies just weren’t whole

That the oaths got them places, down paths the plain bellies couldn’t go

But where that was, without the oath they just would never know.

But the plain bellied sneetches said that the oaths were not needed

And that their relationships with the gods were not the least impeded

That oaths are just words, that actions and deeds are what’s required

That relationships with gods were built over time not through oath acquired

If they did everything the oath bellies did then why should the oath change things

That the gods spoke to them just the same, listened to their prayers take wings

That they built relationships with the gods just as deep and just as strong

And they were just as true to them and it was bad to make them feel wrong

For choosing to act and offer towards the gods on their own volition

Not because of having taken up some kind of bound duty or oathed condition.

Is there value in an oath? Sure, that’s plain for anyone to see

But the value of the oath is placed there by the devotee

The oath by itself doesn’t make anyone closer to the gods or in any way better

And not making an oath doesn’t stop you, slow you, or hinder you in a fetter

Oaths do not open doors and not having them doesn’t close them shut

Oaths are not some kind of magical god-reaching shortcut

They don’t start listening with an oath and they don’t stop without one

And that brings us now right back to where we have begun

There are two types of sneetches, oath bellies and plain bellies and you know?

They are no better or worse, they are equal, from heart and soul, from head to toe.

And they both love the gods just as much, and both do the same actions

So after a while it seemed silly to have separated them into factions

So they came together hand in hand, with oath and without

To worship the gods together, as they were equally devout.

sneetches together after

Neither Omnipotent, nor Omniscient, nor Omnipresent, nor Omnibenevolent

There is an interesting story in the Gylfaginning (LXII) in the Prose Edda, you may know the one about how the walls of Asgard were built. Yet this story shows something else of interest – the gods are not omnipotent, nor omniscient, nor omnipresent, nor omnibenevolent. If the gods were omnipotent then they could have built their own wall instantly if they had so chosen to. If they were omnipotent then they would not even require walls. If the gods were omniscient then they could have foreseen the issues in the plan. One of the most telling aspects of the story though is that Thor was away doing Thor things during this time, otherwise he would have apparently put a stop to it quite early, and he is called back to fight the giant. The text reads: “Now that the Æsir saw surely that the hill-giant was come thither, they did not regard their oaths reverently, but called on Thor, who came as quickly.” Thor was away, but the gods called to him and he came seemingly immediately. This is not an omnipresent or omniscient deity or he would have no need of being called on nor could he be away. Finally this story shows that the gods are not omnibenevolent; omnibenevolent gods would not bargain away the sun, moon, and Freyja, even at the prospect of having a free wall built, no matter how certain they were of coming out ahead. There is one more thing to be gleaned from this, the importance of speaking prayer aloud and of titling it correctly. Thor can seemingly travel instantly, but he is shown numerous times in other stories having to travel longer ways than instantaneously. Perhaps this is showing the importance of calling the gods to us, speaking their names aloud and inviting them into our sacred spaces. What if their travel and vision is limited to when and where they are called? That seems preposterous to people accustomed to an omni-deity, but our deities are not omniscient and not omnipresent so perhaps we truly have to call to them if we want their attention. Now this is only one story, but these kinds of examples exist across the myths of our religion. These myths tell the story of mighty and powerful deities who are often benevolent and certainly are incredibly wise, but they are not omni-deities.

The gods are not omnipotent. The gods are not omnipresent. The gods are not omnibenevolent. The gods are not omniscient. Everything we have says the gods may have been incredibly powerful but they were not omni-anything. Here are some more examples that by no means exhaust the extensive amount of ways these things can be shown.

The gods are not omnipresent – Beyond the above examples, how many stories do the gods travel in? All of them that I can think of. An omnipresent deity would have no need to travel because they would exist simultaneously in all places so no movement would be necessary. When Thor travels to Utgard, he hoofs it most of the way because his goat gets broken – that’s not an omnipresent deity. When the gods borrow those hawk-cloaks or when they turn into eagles to get somewhere – that’s not omnipresent.

The gods are not omnipotent – The gods fought each other in many conflicts and come up against giant kind too. In all of these rumpuses, the gods are not able to achieve total victory. The gods also can and do die in several stories and in at least one they age rapidly without the input of some magic fruit. They are often incapable of doing things and certain gods are better at certain things than other gods. None of that screams omnipotence. Lest we also forget the Utgard business again – Thor is strong, very very very strong, but he is not omnipotent. He is way potent, but not omnipotent, otherwise why would he struggle and fail? Omnipotent deities do not ever fail at anything ever, they do not struggle at anything ever.

The gods are not omnibenevolent – The gods are often quite benevolent, but they are not universally so. Ample examples exist of both their benevolence and instances where they withhold their benevolence. Utgard provides an example here too; Thor totally swans off with those human children because of some goat breaking that occurs. That’s not omnibenevolent. He didn’t strike them all dead, but he didn’t just let it go either. Omnibenevolent, no; often benevolent especially to those he likes or who honor him, yes.

The gods are not omniscient – Contrary to popular belief the gods do not see all or know all and there is ample proof. Frigg is noted in the Lokasenna as being able to know the fate of all but the fates in this case was “örölg” and not “urðr”. One reference (poorly translated due to deficiencies in modern language) to knowing the “fates” of all and folks kick the omni-deity mode into overdrive. Does it not matter that on many other occasions the gods have expressed not being able to know anything much about the future? For goodness sake they didn’t know Baldr was going to die until he started having bad dreams about it himself. They couldn’t tell their own future so they contracted out to get it seen by a dead witch. They contracted out for the Voluspa as well. They go out and get intel where they can and have some pre-cognitive abilities and certainly they can predict some things, but are they all knowing or all seeing? That can be a definitive no. As for Frigg, it being orlog (OE orlæg) and not urðr (OE wyrd) is noteworthy because it means that she knows the past that brought us to the present, she knows the original foundations of all, the root of actions, but not where all things end up.

In the end it is simple – the gods are very incredibly powerful, but they are not omnipotent; the gods are far seeing and know way more than us and more than we will ever know, but they are not omniscient; the gods can potentially be anywhere or anyone or invisible and go really really fast so they potentially could be anywhere, but they are not omnipresent; the gods are usually very good to people, but they are not omnibenevolent. We worship great gods, not omni-gods, and that is the way it is and was and all is right in that. They probably don’t know the number of hairs on your head; they likely do not much care to know. Our personal, ingrained, cultural definition of gods may need to be mentally adjusted then to accommodate this shift.

 

Certain pieces specifically referenced:

Building of the walls of Asgard and Thor

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLII) of Snorri Sturlson (Translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

Traveling to Utgard and all that jazz

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLIV – XLVIII) of Snorri Sturlson

Baldr has bad dreams

  • The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning XLIX) of Snorri Sturlson
  • The Poetic Edda (Baldrs Draumar)

The gods contract out their divination

  • The Poetic Edda (Voluspa)
  • The Poetic Edda (Baldrs Draumar)

Frigg and the “örölg” bit (If you are still curious, you’ll want to get a look at the actual Old Norse and compare definitions of the different words as well as get a good handle on orlog/orlæg vs urðr/wyrd in ancient world view because a simplistic view of “fate” is unsatisfactory and anachronistic here.)

  • The Poetic Edda (Lokasenna 29)

Heathens and our hang-ups

There is an unfortunate issue that is all too common in Heathenry – bias against Christianity and/or Christians. I see it fairly frequently; many pagans carry around a disproportionately large amount of bias against Christianity and Christians. In some cases this bias hampers our ability to act in a historically pagan way. Heathenry is not the opposite of Christianity, it is not anti-Christian, and it is not the anti-Christian religion. Heathenry is a religion, a polytheistic religion that has numerous practices held in common with Christianity. If you were looking for a religion to be the antithesis of Christianity you are barking up the wrong world-tree. That is ironically enough a very classically Christian viewpoint, the ancient heathens were not initially or overtly opposed to Christianity because they recognized similar practices when they came knocking, it was the ancient Christians who would not tolerate the pagan beliefs seeing them as wholly against their religion. No, there were actually many similarities in the religions.

Contrary to what you may have heard, ancient Heathens kneeled before their gods. There is ample evidence to support that kneeling during worship was quite standard and ordinary in ancient heathenry. It shows up in Tacitus very early on, it plays out in the sagas, and it continues to show up as late as Ibn Fadlan’s trip to Russia. Kneeling, even prostrating oneself, before the gods was a very heathen practice. So why do so many heathens not kneel? Some folks somehow got it in their heads that kneeling was a Christian activity and thereby something we don’t do or shouldn’t do – that’s the anti-Christian bias talking. Kneeling before the gods would have been a sign of respect much like kneeling before the king. Even to this day people kneel or bow before royalty to show deference, do our gods deserve less respect than men on this earth of status or less respect now than they did in ancient times? Or are many of us letting our biases come between us and our gods?

Contrary to what you may have heard, ancient Heathens prayed to their gods. Every time you give thanks and offer to the gods that’s prayer; the textbook definition of prayer is in fact “an address (or petition) to God or a god in word or thought”. If you communicate toward a deity it is prayer. We know Heathens prayed because we know they conducted the gifting cycle. They prayed because how else were they supposed to communicate with their gods, give them offerings, or ask for aid? Now many heathens I have spoken to have a really toxic idea of what prayer is. They seem to think that prayer is you just spewing yourself out as a lesser being who is not worthy of anything etc. While I am not going to lie to you, you are a lesser being seeing as how you are a person and they are a god, you’re certainly worth the time and energy and effort of the gods seeing as how you’re building a relationship with them and them with you. We pray because we are communicating with the gods and thanking them or offering to them. That’s all prayer is – communication with the gods; thanks given for receipt of blessings, offerings given to the gods, and calls for aid on your behalf or the behalf of others. The ancient heathens prayed, if we do not then we are not communicating with the gods and it makes it mighty hard to form a relationship without communication.

A certain small amount of unhappiness towards monotheistic religions is to be warranted on the grounds that monotheistic religions as a whole view our gods in a great variety of unpleasant ways: as non-existent, as demons misleading us, as bastardized faces reflected from their own god, or perhaps as impotent beings compared to their omni-everything deity. We will truly never get across-the-board recognition from monotheistic religions in an even-footed way for our deities because the beliefs monotheistic religions hold leave no room for them. We have to step beyond that though, to give up our biases if they hinder our spiritual development. We should seek to practice our own religion to the best extent that we can and not be held up by our perceptions of Christianity and Christians. They have their religion and what they do and do not do has no bearing on our religion. Instead we should leave behind as much of the biases possible that we hold and further our polytheistic practices by focusing not on being anti-anything or negatively comparing ourselves to them but simply setting out to be good heathens with solid and grounded practices.

 

I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG

I’m under no obligation to believe my own UPG. Seems strange to say, but just because it pops into my head doesn’t mean I have to or even should believe whatever it is.

I’ve been a pagan for a long time, and over the years I’ve accrued some measure of UPG. Lots of little events, a couple sanity shattering events. However, just because it comes to me doesn’t make it the truth. A god could beam the whole story of the universe into my brain and tell me it was the gospel truth and I would maintain a measure of skepticism. Why? Because the gods are not infallible.

Our stories and myths are filled with instances where the gods don’t know something; they don’t know something so they go searching for answers. Furthermore, their understanding of whatever it is is only as good as the source of their information. Our stories and myths also have beings that lie to our gods or the stories even have our gods lie. The gods can and do lie. Also the gods can and do make mistakes. If the gods can make mistakes, can be mistaken, can be lied to, and can lie in turn then why would we trust divine communication wholesale?

And here is why the lore is important to me. The lore is the accumulated stories and myths of the ancient heathen peoples. They lived and worshipped and practiced their religion for thousands of years, it was engrained into their culture and even left indelible signs that have persisted to today. Those people, over hundreds of generations and across numerous cultures and subcultures, developed and evolved their beliefs as time progressed. That came to a halt at conversion, those beliefs were distilled and sometimes interpreted by Christians before being written down. That snapshot of the lore represents a moment in time right at the end of the cultural and religious development of pagan beliefs in the ancient times. But also it represents the combined collaborative effort of untold hundreds of thousands or even millions of ancient heathens over thousands of years who had experienced the gods, understood their nature, and lived a life connected with them who had then transmitted the stories of the gods to the next generation who each added new confirmation with every new person those stories interacted with. And the high level of agreement across different Indo-European groups for certain myths shows further confirmation. The names shifted with linguistics, but the stories, well, the details would morph depending but not the core truths of it. The undedstandings of Thor and Thunor and Donner remained very much in line with each other across the centuries and across a vast region filled with many different tribes that were very diverse. That overall continuity in belief shows the value in the lore. It’s tried and tested by those ancient peoples, and yeah it got a tiny bit touched by some Christians but their hands are usually very obvious and can be looked around as needed.

But here is the rub. Sometimes we try to put our UPG as tantamount to gospel even if only to ourselves. However to assume that the gods who are fallible and who do lie somehow cannot or will not or do not lie to you alone just doesn’t fly in my book. And if my UPG goes against the lore directly, am I to assume that somehow those many thousands of people over thousands of years were all somehow misled or mistaken and yet I alone have the right of it? It seems kind of hubristic. No, for me, I choose to be skeptical of my own UPG. I choose to research it and weigh it out and see where it could fit and see if it’s true, partly true, or a misunderstanding by me or a lie by divinity and in those cases false. Not only do I not hold my own UPG as gospel, I don’t carry any illusion that I should misconstrue my own UPG as anything close to fact towards others. I am under no obligation to believe my own UPG and you’re under no obligation to believe it either.