Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Mixed-Race Gods?

In my post the other day about the Atlantic article, I happened to quote Hilmar Hilmarsson, current allsherjargoði of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, as he said: "The gods are of mixed races."

From time to time, I've dealt with this particular canard that the Norse Neopagans keep trying to trot out in an off-handed manner, in the context of other things, but it's something that appears with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, so I thought it was about time I took it on directly.



Let's take this step by step. When someone like Hilmar says "the gods are of mixed races" he is referring to the fact that some of the gods are either said to have parents who are Jötnar (giants) or who are counted among the Jötnar or Vanir themselves and then marry into the ranks of the Æsir. Týr is an example of the former, with the famous account of his visit to his father Hymir's hall to get a cauldron in which to make mead. Skaði is an example of the latter, the daughter of the slain Þjazi, who marries Njörðr as recompense.

But are the Æsir and the Jötnar different "races"? That depends on the definition of race, of course. The simplest definition is "a group of persons related by common descent or heredity."

Given the ancestry of the Æsir and the Jötnar, it's clear that they are of the same "race". That is, they are all of them descended from Ymir (in Odin's case, via Ymir's descendant, Bestla). Odin is also descended from Borr, whose own father Buri was licked out of the primordial rime-ice independent of Ymir, but there is nothing to indicate that Buri and Borr were of any different "race" than Ymir. All were born of the same rime-ice at the dawn of time; Ymir from the interaction of the ice with the sparks from Muspell, and Buri from being licked out of the ice by the cow Auðumbla. The common factor is the ice, and Odin embodies the merging of the two sons of the ice, Ymir and Buri.

At best, the Æsir and the Jötnar are cousins, and are quick to marry within that boundary if it suits their desires or needs. They share a common descent and heredity, and are thus of the same race, according to the definition. We might refer to these individuals as the "sons of Ymir".

Thus, intermarriage between Æsir and the Jötnar isn't an example of interracial marriage. It is, in fact, nothing more than an exchange of individuals between clans (the Æsir and the Jötnar) who both stem from the same seed.

In other words, the Æsir and the Jötnar are the same race. They simply have separated themselves into different clans, much like the Swedes and the Norwegians and the Danes. Different clans, or nations, but the same race.

What further attests to this fact is that when a Jötunn (or a Van, for that matter) marries or is otherwise brought into the Æsir, they are called Æsir thereafter. Thus does Snorri refer to Skaði and Loki as Æsir.

So what about other races mentioned in the lore? We have several; the Vanir, the Alfar, and the Dvergar. Unfortunately the vagaries of what has survived makes the question somewhat less than easy to quantify. We don't know the origin (or, really, the nature) of the Vanir at all. They simply show up to go to war with the Æsir, leave three of their number to join their former enemies, and then disappear from the lore completely, except for a throwaway line in the description of Ragnarök. There is a strong case to be made that the Vanir and the Alfar are the same (see, for example, Alaric Hall's Elves in Anglo-Saxon England), but it's far from settled.

The Alfar are similarly mysterious in their origin, although see above regarding their possible association with the Vanir. They are something of a moot point, however, as there are no examples of an Alfar joining the Æsir.*

For both, however, if the genealogy of Ymir's line is considered to be accurate, then they must be of  Jötunn origin themselves, because there isn't any other possibility that is described for us in the written sources. Of course, it's entirely possible that some now-lost legend referred to the origin of the Vanir and/or the Alfar, but that would be pure speculation, and we can't draw conclusions from it.

The Dvergar, on the other hand, have an origin which is known to us outside of the continuity of the offspring of Ymir, Buri, and Bor. Snorri tells us they are the maggots who infested the flesh of the slain Ymir, while Völuspá states that they come from "Brimir's blood and from Blain's limbs" (both of which could be seen as alternate names for Ymir, and thus reinforcing Snorri's origin). The point is that the Dvergar are the only group of beings which qualify unequivocally as a separate "race" in the sense of being "related by common descent or heredity." Everyone else in the lore either comes from Bor or their origin is unknown. The Dvergar give us an excellent opportunity to check to see if there is any example of true, unequivocal, inter-racial mingling in the lore.

And, indeed, there are no instances of one of the Dvergar joining the Æsir, through marriage, adoption, or any other means.

That certainly seems suggestive.

Of course, it is true that we do hear of the goddess Freyja sleeping with the four Dvergar in order to secure the necklace Brisingsamen. But there is nothing in the account to suggest that there was any sort of marriage, no crossing of the boundary between the two races from one clan to another. Indeed, the fact that Freyja did sleep with these Dvergar is held out to be something very shameful, and is used by Loki to taunt her in Lokasenna.

So to recap:
  1. The Æsir and the Jötnar are cousins, and should be considered the same "race". Their mixing together is thus not proof of "mixed race gods".
  2. The origin of the Vanir is unknown, but according to the available evidence they would also be of the same "race" as the Æsir and the Jötnar, being descended from Ymir. Thus, their mixing with the Æsir does not count as "mixed race gods".
  3. The origin of the Alfar is also unknown, but since there is no example of an Alf joining the Æsir, the example is irrelevant.
  4. The Dvergar are expressly stated to have a different origin than the Æsir, so they do count as a separate "race". 
  5. There are no examples of the Dvergar joining the Æsir. The only example we have of a goddess even sleeping with the Dvergar is presented as a very shameful and unacceptable act. Thus, the only example of cross-racial intercourse, not even marriage, is given as a negative thing to be avoided.
There we are. While it may be emotionally satisfying to try to apply modern notions of "progressive" politics as being the norm as seen by our pre-Christian ancestors, and applying it to the lore concerning our gods, when we actually look at the lore that comes down to us, it turns out not to be an accurate portrayal. Once again, politicization of religion to accommodate some left-wing agenda fails, when compared against the facts.

EDIT: Updated slightly to clarify the point of common ancestry between the Æsir and the Jötnar.
__________

* There is a reference to Idunn being one of the Alfar, but it appears in Hrafnagaldur Óðins, which scholarly consensus holds to be a very late, 16th century, work imitative of the style of the Eddaic poems, but not truly belonging to the corpus. Some disagree, of course, but I'm going with the opinion of modern scholarship. It wouldn't damage the argument about race either way, especially if they are all still descended from Borr.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Rescuing Asatru

A couple of days ago, one Sigal Samuel, associate editrix at the Atlantic for religion and global affairs, had another piece published at that venerable left-wing institution, entitled What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion.

This comes hot on the heels of her previous article, which frets that falsely attributing an Islamic influence on Viking-era textile decorations helps "white supremacists". So we have some context here; she is desperately afraid that "white supremacists" will use Viking stuff to advance their cause.

And thus she turns her lightly-researched eye towards Asatru. Here we go, kids. Strap in.

First, let's look at the three people from whom she decided to obtain quotes for her article. First up is Hilmar Hilmarsson, current allsherjargoði of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, the same outfit that is building a hideous Asatru temple in Iceland on public land donated to them for free, and who nearly wet himself at the thought that folkish Asatruar might set foot inside the place when it's done. He seems more of a deist than anything else, but he's all for using his religion to push a political agenda. Apparently when you do so with a left-wing agenda, it's fine. One bit of nonsense from him in this article; “The gods are of mixed races. We even have a crossdressing god.”

Yeah. If that's an allusion to the story of the theft of Thor's hammer, apparently he missed the part where Thor was entirely humiliated by the experience and all but refused to wear woman's clothing. It is not presented as a good thing, by any means.

Next up we have our old friend Karl "boom-boom" Seigfried, waving his PhD in Double Bass Performance around so fast people can't read it and think his doctorate gives him some cache to talk about Asatru. At least he's not trying to give respectability to ancient astronaut theories this time. Money quote from this article:

He takes inspiration from the social-justice-oriented Catholic theologians of Latin America who created Liberation Theology in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bear in mind that Liberation Theology was Communism. Communism100 million murdered. That should tell you all you need to know. That's who this jackass is.


Finally, we have Diana Paxson, fantasy author and Troth member who has single handedly done more to spread the false impression that seiðr is just like shamanism, but with Norse names. She also claims in this article that Ragnarok is related to global warming. But I'm not going to hammer her too hard, as I've met her and I like her, even if she's more than a little fluffy.

And although the word "folkish" doesn't appear anywhere in this article, based on the previous public statements of those whom it chooses to use as sources. I'm going to go with the notion that Ms. Samuel makes the false association that folkish = racist, because most of her sources do, and if she was talking about real, genuine, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, this wouldn't be an issue, because there are so pitifully few of them in Asatru.


Honestly, if these people were worried about the handful of real white supremacists out there who embrace Asatru (with whom I also vehemently disagree, even if I don't think it's my place to say they can't worship Odin and Thor, unlike others), it wouldn't be nearly as awful. But it's quite obvious that they lump together people who "just happen" to schedule a blot every April 20th with those of us who think that people of every race should be able to embrace their ancestral faith without others appropriating it too. Even people of European descent.

But the worst part of this article is its inherent contradiction.
As the modern iteration of pre-Christian pagan worship, Ásatrú is a very young religion. And it’s less a single codified religion than a loose cluster of religions: It has no central authority or agreed-upon dogma. Although many followers cherish this ideological openness, it may leave the religion vulnerable to misappropriation.
Right there, the stupidity of this article is laid bare.

If a religion "has no... agreed-upon dogma" how is it even possible to "misappropriate" it? If there is no set dogma (a statement with which I would disagree, by the way, but that's for another day), then how is it even possible, logically speaking, that someone could be violating that dogma?


Indeed, I've made the argument before that Asatru has, in fact, been hijacked and appropriated by the universalists. At least in the United States and the United Kingdom, it was a folkish religion for years before the unis got their hooks into it. That may well be different in Iceland, but, after all, there is no agreed-upon dogma in Asatru, and the Icelanders don't get to dictate to the rest of the world what is, and is not, acceptable in Asatru. They can certainly do so among their own group, but just because Hilmar Hilmarsson, or Karl Seigfried, or Diana Paxson says it doesn't make it Holy Writ among the rest of us.

There's also the fact that the article conflates two different things:

  1. Real, actual racists are Asatru
  2. Real, actual racists are using ancient Germanic symbols that are part of the common European cultural heritage, and Asatruar happen to use those symbols, too.
Take, for example, this oft-used photo:


Given that he's got the initials "N.S.M." on it, I'm going to say this guy is probably a true, actual, real white supremacist. (NSM standing for National Socialist Movement, one of the few actual neo-Nazi organizations out there.) And he has an odal rune on the shield. 

But let me ask you this: is he Asatru?

I don't see anything that particularly identifies him as Asatru. He doesn't have a visible Thor's hammer pendant. I'm going with the theory that, like many of his ilk (including the pre-1945 crowd), he's fascinated with pre-Christian Germanic symbolism. Which calls the question; why does the fact that a neo-Nazi is using a runic symbol somehow pose a threat to Asatru?

Indeed, to argue such seems to imply that Asatru somehow "owns" the runes. And, presumably, other pre-Christian symbols, like the swastika, black sun, and many others. If that's not the case, then why does "white supremacists are coopting Norse symbols like Thor’s hammer because they believe the Vikings were a pure white race" (to quote our Icelandic source in the article) present any sort of issue for Asatru at all?

If it were truly the case that any use of pre-Christian Germanic symbols is reflective of Asatru, then we should be equally incensed at their misuse by Wiccans, Bluetooth, or every jewelry stall at a renaissance faire. Do Asatruar spend their days denouncing the fluffy, the commercial, or the frivolous? Of course not.

If not, then we are forced to conclude that someone like that putz above doesn't really represent Asatru, merely because he happens to use a symbol that some Asatruar use, any more than those other examples do. And as such, no explicit denunciation is required.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Karl Seigfried: Ancient Astronaut Theorist?

I don't usually watch the (truly awful) History Channel show Ancient Aliens. But I happened to come across an episode titled "The Viking Gods" (originally aired in 2013), I figured it would be fun for a lark to record it and watch.

The whole episode is actually available online, here. I don't recommend watching it, unless you have a high tolerance for bullshit. Which is par for the course for the whole series, I should point out.

The episode was, as expected, a journey into the absurd. Among the jewels this episode explored:

  • Odin's spear, gungnir, is actually a "laser guided cruise missile"
  • Thor's hammer was actually a modern technological kinetic weapon
  • The dwarves who made the treasures of the Aesir were actually grey aliens
  • Bifrost was a wormhole
  • Valhalla was actually a spaceship
Oh, my head. You're welcome in advance; I watched this bullshit so you don't have to.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear as an expert Norse Mythologist? None other than Karl Seigfried, proprietor of the Norse Mythology Blog, Troth clergyman, and someone we have encountered before thanks to his hissy-fit about some article that didn't castigate the AFA enough for his tastes. (He lost 5 to 0 in that match, up, by the way.)

Don't believe me? Here's a screen-cap from the episode itself (you can find it at the link above at the 38:11 mark).


Oh, this is beautiful.

The Esteemed Doctor Karl E. H. Seigfried, self-appointed spokesman for the Universalist Norse Neopagan community, ordained clergyman of the Troth, is on television shilling for ancient alien bullshit.

He is lending his gravitas (at least, those who don't know him will think he has gravitas) to make this absurd bullshit credible. He's a talking head lending his Doctorate to give credence to this lowest-common-denominator sensationalist nonsense. 

The best part? His Doctorate is in Double Bass Performance

Yes, that's right. The imposing Doctorate that he keeps swinging around to boost his own image is in music. Jazz, to be precise. Maybe Thor's hammer was in fact an alto saxophone from Alpha Centauri? 

I'm not saying Karl "boom boom" Seigfried is necessarily an ancient astronaut theorist. He says he's not. But if he's not, I have to wonder why he would choose to associate with this sewer of a show.

It seems quite obvious that he is more than willing to sell out to any peddler of crap who comes along with the promise of 45 seconds of air time on cable TV. The most dangerous place in the world is between this clown and a camera, or an opportunity to see his name in print. 

Just remember the depths to which this nincompoop is willing to stoop the next time he tries to speak for your group. (heh)

What's that? We've got something new from the good doctor that just came out? What a coincidence!

More to come, apparently.

_____

Edit: I found a blog post from "Boom Boom" explaining his motives going into the show, and linked to it above. But my point remains unchanged; he willingly let himself be used by these people to give a veneer of respectability to their sensationalist nonsense. That makes him a shill.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On Those Muslim Vikings

Last week headlines rocked around the Internet with an amazing discovery by Annika Larsson of Uppsala University. Apparently in a Viking-era grave, there was Islamic writing showing the name of Allah in gold thread. The Independent wrote a very lengthy article describing the news. Even the Drudge Report linked to the story. It was a Big Deal - there were Muslims in Viking-era Scandinavia, and that meant their views of the afterlife - their very religious and cultural identity - was influenced by, and beholden to, Muslims:
“It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, [were] made west of the Muslim heartland. Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in paradise after death."
Needless to say, there was a certain crowd of the regressive left that absofuckinglutely loved this news. Enter the Pathetic Nonreligious channel, with the blaring clickbaity headline, Some Vikings Were Likely Muslims, and White Supremacists Hate It:
This is welcome news to historians and people who enjoy learning new things. But white supremacists — who have leached on to Vikings and their symbols as representative of pure white power — are not happy.
If learning new information offends you so much that you have to write off archaeological evidence as fake news, you might have a problem.
This isn’t a cut-and-dry declaration that all Vikings were actually Muslims, but it is evidence that some likely were. At the very least, it’s proof that these Vikings appreciated the culture of Islam, and did their best to imitate it and incorporate Islamic beliefs into their own. They shared ideas, instead of blindly hating Muslims. And that’s something white supremacists just can’t handle.
Wow, an atheist putting up a straw man argument? Who'dathunkit? Well here we have two, plus an enormous leap of illogic that would make Benny Hinn blush.


First, the idea that the only people who met this news with skepticism are "white supremacists." As if it were not possible to be a perfectly mainstream academic and find the evidence and/or reasoning questionable.

Second, the idea that those who find fault with the theory think that it means "all Vikings were actually Muslims...". Nobody said that. That's not at all the point of the criticisms. It's a meaningless straw man, and a channel that prides itself on its logic and reasoning should be ashamed to have included that.

Third, and most damning (if I can be permitted to apply that word to an atheist), we have this gem:
"...it’s proof that these Vikings appreciated the culture of Islam, and did their best to imitate it and incorporate Islamic beliefs into their own."
Really? A single scrap of tunic-trim that one person (who has been known to make unwarranted and discredited claims in the past) says something, so that counts as "proof"? The Vikings did their best to imitate ... Islam???

Are you out of your mind? 

Now, I'm no expert on medieval Islamic burial customs. But I do claim some familiarity with Norse concepts of the afterlife. I'm trying to think of this "eternal paradise" of which she speaks. It's not Hel, which is more of a quiet, misty resting place. It's not Valhalla, since entry is extremely limited (and has a very different set of criteria), and while it possibly comports to a Viking warrior's view of paradise, with the fighting and the feasting, it doesn't seem very much like the Muslim Jannah:
“… They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade.  They will recline therein on raised thrones.  How good [is] the recompense!  How beautiful a couch [is there] to recline on!” (Quran 18:31)
But most of all, because it's not eternal. Even the afterlife in the Germanic conception has an end. At Ragnarok. Nothing remotely like the Muslim idea.

Nobody is saying the Vikings didn't have contact with the Muslim world. Of course they did, for centuries, as traders, raiders, and explorers, in both directions. But that's a far cry from the claim that one scrap of cloth is, in this jackass's mind, "proof that these Vikings... did their best to imitate [the culture of Islam] and incorporate Islamic beliefs into their own."

Which beliefs are those, exactly?

The Islamic paranoia about idolatry? That would be odd, considering the Viking penchant for carved idols, graven images, runestones, representational art, and all the rest.

It would also be odd considering the Vikings' polytheism. (Hint for the moron: Islam tends to frown on that.) The Muslims freaked out at the Christians' concept of the Trinity. You think that having dozens of gods, and landwights, and giants, and all the rest, counts as "doing their best to imitate the culture of Islam"?

Are you really that stupid, or just so blinded by your reflexive "white supremacists oppose it, so I have to support it" ideology?


Which is especially dunderheaded, considering that the people who have come out to criticize this theory aren't white supremacists at all. They're experts and mainstream academics.

First we have A String Geek's Stash, whose author knows a lot more about the technical aspects of weaving than I do, apparently from personal experience. This is what we call experimental archaeology, and she completely destroys the notion that this is what Larsson claims it is:
Larsson's "discovery" is predicated on unfounded extensions of pattern, not on existing pattern. 
She then goes into (very technical ) detail why this is significant, and why the underside of the weaving pretty much makes this a non-issue. At the same time, she goes out of her way to say she has no problem with the idea that the design is kufic (a form of Islamic writing), because that's not her specialty.

Well, guess what? It is the specialty of others.

Stephanie Mulder, who is indeed a specialist in medieval Islamic writing, makes the case quite definitively that the kufic writing that Larsson claims to see in the cloth is, in fact, 500 years later than the cloth itself.

Ouch.


So the weaving itself undermines the claim, the pattern she bases her idea on is her own invention, and the script itself cannot possibly be what Larsson says it is without re-writing pretty much all of Islamic script history. But it's not like she's ever come out with some radical crackpot theory that's been discredited before, right?

Well, yes, she has.

About ten years ago, she tried to make the claim that the brooches that are well-known adornments for woman's clothing in the Viking Era were, in fact, worn way lower than anyone previously thought, and dresses were worn differently than everyone else ever thought, all in a feminist "lookit me I'm sexy" thing. Groundbreaking! Exciting! But, unfortunately, dead wrong. Her theory was laughed out of academia for lack of any evidence other than her own desire to be in the news.

And that, I think is the heart of this. We have someone desperate to have a Big Insight attached to her name in the field of Norse clothing. If nipple-brooches didn't do it, maybe Muslim Vikings would. 

And of course the regressive left loves the idea because of the well-documented problems in Scandinavia because of Muslim integration. If the ancient Vikings had a place for Islam, and even based their whole religious beliefs on Islam, well, then, it makes sense that the modern-day Scandinavians should, too.

Except it's all horseshit.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Snorri and the Ember Days

In light of some recent discussions about holidays and the calendar held over on the Facebook Reconstructionist Heathenry page (which I highly recommend for quality and erudite discussion on matters of historicity), I've been thinking about the origin of the three sacrifices Snorri attributes to Odin in Ynglinga Saga. Here's the ON (via heimskringla.no):
Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs, en at miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hit þriðja at sumri, þat var sigrblót.
The three times we are given are "í móti vetri" (at the start of winter), "at miðjum vetri" (in the middle of winter"), and "at sumri" (at [the beginning of] summer).

Now, Yule (presumably the "middle of winter" celebration mentioned) is well-attested prior to Snorri writing in the first part of the 13th century. But what about the other two? Is there any attestation for a sacrificial holiday at the start of winter or at the start of summer?

Bede is well worth mentioning, as he was writing in the early 8th century. In his De temporum ratione ("The Reckoning of Time") he includes a chapter on the English months, which are based on the Anglo-Saxon calendar, and which he explicitly states are lunar in nature. It is important to note that Bede doesn't speak of specific celebrations, but attempts to link the names of the English months with the significance in the pre-Christian calendar among the Anglo-Saxons.

Of the harvest celebration, Bede merely says:
Winterfilleth can be called by the invented composite name ‘‘winter-full’’. 
He essentially admits defeat when it comes to the meaning of the name of the month. And it doesn't seem to have any significance beyond "winter is coming."

Of the spring celebration (marking the transition between the Germanic winter and summer; they didn't have spring and autumn as such) which Snorri says is a "victory sacrifice", he says:
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated‘‘Paschal month’’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance. 
The question is, is Bede's Eosturmonath connected to Snorri's start-of-summer sigrblót? Since the calculation of the proper time of Easter was of paramount importance to the medieval church, this particular passage has received a lot of attention. None of which has anything to do with "victory", unless one counts Jesus' "victory" on the cross. But if that's the connection, then it leads to other problems with Snorri; specifically that he is drawing his own ideas from Christian sources. More on that below.

As an aside, I will leave that particular conundrum - explaining how being nailed to a piece of wood to die horribly while your lungs slowly fail and you linger in an agonizing death for days counts as "victory" - to other minds. Fortunately that is not my problem to explain.

So I must say I don't see any concrete evidence that connects Bede's account of the English months with the "beginning of winter" and "end of winter" accounts we see in Snorri.

So where do they come from?

The obvious answer is that Snorri is reporting accurately, and these were genuine Heathen traditions that go back into the depths of antiquity. But if that were the case, I would expect to see some evidence of them in some other source. Anything. But the evidence for these two celebrations before the 13th century is, as far as I can tell, nil (I welcome folks to point out sources that I am forgetting here, please point me to sources in the comments!).

So, if Snorri isn't talking about genuine Heathen traditions, where might he have gotten the idea from?

That brings us back to the Ember Days, which we have discussed before. First introduced as early as  220 CE by Pope Callixtus I, it was adopted in fits and starts across the West, first in Britain, then Gaul, then Spain, then Italy. They take place three (four, later on) times a year; Advent (December), Lent (March/April), Pentecost (May/June), and September, thus approximating the solstices and equinoxes.

It's worth noting that the Lent (Spring) Ember Day was added no later than the late 5th century. So originally there were three (although a different three than Snorri reports).

Without any earlier source than Snorri that specifically mention religious significance to those days outside of a Christian (or Roman pagan) context, I have to wonder. Is he inventing the "Heathen" sacrifices in the transitions between the Germanic seasons, based on the Christian Ember Days? Is this a common Indo-European thing, since the Ember Days were originally based on the pagan Roman ritual calendar? Or is this a genuinely unique Heathen concept that was independent of both the Romans and the Christians, and Snorri is relating a new fact that went unreported for 1300 years?

I don't claim to have an answer. I'm just asking questions at this point, and gathering data. But it would indeed be significant if Snorri was simply mapping already-extant ideas of when "pagan" sacrifices happened, based on when the Church said religiously significant things were supposed to happen. What I would love to see is irrefutable evidence that the Germanic people made sacrifices in what we today call spring and autumn. Something without contamination by either pagan Roman or Christian sources.

Until that happens, I must question whether Snorri got the ideas for his dates from the Ember Days, or whether those just happened to line up with ancient Germanic sacrificial holidays. I welcome additional sources to plug into the equation.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

St. Germain of Auxerre (Part 2)

In my previous installment, I noted that the life of Saint Germain of Auxerre seemed to recall an The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, published in 1275:
episode, or at least a theme, that had a loose connection with the tradition of the Feast of the Parcae, or Mothers' Night. In this installment, I'd like to examine a similar connection with another Germanic pagan theme. Here is the relevant passage, again from
He [Germain] preached on a time in Britain so much, that the king denied him lodging, and his people. Then it happed that the king's cowherd went with his portion that he fetched at the palace, and bare it to his little house. And he saw the blessed Germain and his men seek their lodging where they might be harboured that night. And the cowherd brought them into his house, and saw that they had much hunger. But he had not meat enough for him and for his guests. This cowherd had but one calf, which he did do slay for to give to them, and he received them debonairly with the little good that he had. And when they had supped and had said graces, S. Germain bade him bring to him the bones of the calf and to lay them upon the skin. And after made his prayer to God, and anon the calf arose to life without tarrying. 
Naturally, this recalls the legend of the laming of Thor's goats, which was recorded by Snorri Sturluson in the Edda, around 1220:
Öku-Thor drove forth with his he-goats and chariot, and with him that Ás called Loki; they came at evening to a husbandman's, and there received a night's lodging. About evening, Thor took his he-goats and slaughtered them both; after that they were flayed and borne to the caldron. When the cooking was done, then Thor and his companion sat down to supper. Thor invited to meat with him the husbandman and his wife, and their children: the husbandman's son was called Thjálfi, and the daughter Röskva. Then Thor laid the goat-hides farther away from the fire, and said that the husbandman and his servants should cast the bones on the goat-hides. Thjálfi, the husbandman's son, was holding a thigh-bone of the goat, and split it with his knife and broke it for the marrow. "Thor tarried there overnight; and in the interval before day he rose up and clothed himself, took the hammer Mjöllnir, swung it up, and hallowed the goat-hides; straightway the he-goats rose up, and then one of them was lame in a hind leg. 
It's worth pointing out that the laming of Thor's goats is alluded to in the Eddaic poem Hymiskviða, so it's not just an invention of Snorri:
38. Not long had they fared | ere one there lay
Of Hlorrithi's goats | half-dead on the ground;
In his leg the pole-horse | there was lame;
The deed the evil | Loki had done.
The pattern is, of course, exactly the same. The animal is cooked and eaten, the bones gathered up on the skin, and the animal is resurrected. I've previously linked the story of the laming of Thor's goats with the Krampus legend, and the Feast of St. Nicholas. However, the theme of the resurrected animals, bones, and skins is much more widespread than I had originally realized. We see it mentioned over and over in western Alpine witch trial records, for instance, and the legends of the benandanti, which I mentioned in the previous article. Interestingly, the witchcraft trial evidence mentions that the animals so resurrected are no longer able to work as well, or provide as much milk, as they did before they were resurrected. This connects them more closely with the laming of the goats, while the fact that the saint was explicitly said to raise his animal and have it be as capable of work as before, might be a deliberate counterpoint to then-current ideas about the resurrection of the bones (along the lines of "the pagans do it and lame the animals, but when a Christian does it, they're fine").

In terms of St. Germain, it should be remembered that just because the individual died in 450 CE, is no guarantee that the legend of the resurrection of the bones can be dated to that time. I can find nothing in earlier sources that mentions the legend in connection with him, so it's entirely possible that the connection was an invention of Jacobus de Voragine, or a later source that he used.

That said, we can firmly establish that the resurrection of the bones was a theme current throughout the Germanic parts of Europe in the 13th century. We see it both in Iceland and in the Alps, and, as we shall see in another article, it was much more widespread than that.

We are left with three possibilities regarding the resurrection of the bones:

  1. It is a genuine pre-Christian pagan tradition that was encapsulated in the Old Norse sources and survived in more Christianized regions in a debased and distorted form
  2. It is a post-Heathen invention that was added to the Old Norse literature concerning Thor and his goats
  3. It is a theme that was developed independently in parallel in both Christian and pre-Christian societies
I think it's fair to discount the third option without some glaring new evidence to support it, given the specificity of the details. That leaves the first two options, and a much more comprehensive examination of the sources, and particularly the timing of the sources, is needed, to be able to track the spread of the idea of the resurrection of the bones.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

St. Germain of Auxerre (part 1)

St. Germain of Auxerre. Doesn't he just
look like a self-righteous prig?
There are some interesting passages in the Life of St. Germain of Auxerre (c. 378 – c. 448), also known as Germanus. Note that the name denotes someone connected with the Germanic tribes, and he lived in Gaul during a time of great Frankish invasion and influence, and he died just before the creation of the first Merovingian dynasty.

The following passages come from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, published in 1275.

The first deals with a custom that we have seen before, in connection with the pre-Christian Yule-season holiday, the Feast of the Parcae, also known as Mothers Night:
On a time he was harboured in a place where every night the table was made ready for to eat after supper, when men had supped, and he was much amarvelled thereof, and demanded of the host of the house wherefore they made ready for to eat after supper. And the host said to him, that it was for his neighbours, which would come and drink one after the other. And that night S. Germain established him to wake for to see what it was. It was not long after that there came thither a great multitude of devils, and came to the table in guise of men and women. And when the holy man saw them, he commanded them that they should not go away, and after he sent for to wake the neighbours on all sides, in such wise that every body was found in his bed, and in their houses, and made the people to come and see if they knew any of them, but they said nay. And then he showed them that they were devils, whereof the people were much abashed because the devils had mocked them so. And then S. Germain conjured that they never after returned thither ne came more there.
Now, nothing in this account from St. Germain mentions Yule or Mother's Night, but it does map excellently with later accounts that showed up in early witch trials in southwest Germany and eastern Switzerland, described in detail in Carlo Ginzburg's Night Battles and Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath.

Burchard of Worms, writing nearly 600 years after the death of Germain, describes something very similar, if lacking in detail:
Hast thou done as some women are wont to do at certain times of the year? That is, hast thou prepared the table in thy house and set on the table thy food and drink, with three knives, that if those three sisters whom past generations and old-time foolishness called the Fates ["parcae"] should come they may take refreshment there... those whom thou callest "the sisters" can do or avail aught for thee either now or in the future? (Corrector, 153)
Still another 400 years or so later, Ginzburg describes a very similar ritual among the benandanti (who might be considered "good witches"), who fought the evil witches who were inclined to go into the wine cellars and first drink themselves to satiation, and then piss or shat into the casks to foul the wine. The benandanti simply drank the wine.

As such, we see a progression, but always involving the habit of some persons with supernatural connections entering a home after the inhabitants had gone to sleep, and who eat and/or drink the provisions available, and who can do good or ill.

One interesting further connection is in the timing. Although the story of St. Germain doesn't mention anything about when he saw his supposed "great multitude of devils", Ginzberg's sources are very specific, and often name "the ember days" as times when they when they would perform their rites.

The Parcae, or Fates
The ember days are an interesting phenomenon worthy of a digression. First introduced as early as  220 CE by Pope Callixtus I*, it was adopted in fits and starts across the West, first in Britain, then Gaul, then Spain, then Italy. They take place three (four, later on) times a year; Advent (December), Lent (March/April), Pentecost (May/June), and September, thus approximating the solstices and equinoxes.

So it is entirely possible that the ceremony that St. Germain describes happened before Yule. Even though the account is silent on the time of year, it would agree with both the Corrector and the later witch trial evidence from the western Alpine area, which describe a similar phenomenon. .

So I present this as yet another piece in the puzzle, which can go one of two ways. Either we're seeing a mythology-based celebration of the coming of the Norns/Fates/Parcae that was gradually transformed into a sort of virtual visiting tradition, or we're seeing an actual visiting tradition that was slowly mythologized and turned into a virtual "astral" gathering once it was outlawed by the coming of Christianity.

The slight shifting of the dates is easily explained, as the Church deliberately attempted to appropriate already-extant Heathen holidays. It's only natural that the peasantry, who were accustomed to making their celebrations on or near the solstices and equinoxes, would simply shift the date to conform to the new authorities, without making substantive changes to the event itself. Over the course of centuries, these customs became distorted, and became but a pale shadow of their former, robust Heathen origins.

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* Why don't modern popes take cool names like that???