Tuesday, September 27, 2016

But the gods did it!

One of the arguments some Norse Neopagans raise against the folkish point of view is based on their reading of Norse mythology. Specifically, they make the claim that because the myths show examples of the Aesir taking wives from outside the tribe of the Aesir (the Vanir and the Jotuns), that somehow means that they are peachy keen with people of all ancestries worshiping Them. Here are just a few examples of this argument in action:
Our ancestors were not racists and neither were our gods. Keeping in mind that the Aesir and Vanir were seperate [sic] races of gods themselves, and that the gods intermarried with yet another race that was supposed to be their rivals, the Jotuns, hardly supports a racist point of view. (Magnus Odinsson)
Our Gods interbred, intermarried, and lived in community and harmony with many other races of spirits. (Odinsbrew)
I think that the Holy Powers consist of many races of beings and levels of their power, influence and existence. To me, making it so black and white just does not make sense and does not seem right! Some Jotnar who are the personifications of elemental forces may be more influential and powerful than what we know as gods! In my opinion, we should not be specifying levels where the gods are at the top, the jotnar lower, and alfur [sic] lower and so on. They mix! Some even intermarry! (The Asatru Community)
Let's break down some of the problems with this line of argument.

First, it assumes that the actions of the gods as recorded in the Eddas and other myths regarding the gods are intended to be examples for human behavior. While I agree that certain elements of human culture are reflected in the myths (ritual practices, for example), the general principle that "if it's good enough for Odin, it's good enough for me" is simply not reflected in the lore.

Witness the fact that Odin is a male who practices seiðʀ, which was most definitely frowned upon in Norse society. If Odin's behavior was to be emulated, then his practice of such effeminate magic would have been fine in the larger society.

That's also the same sort of dynamic that makes Thor dressing in a wedding gown so humorous; it's not something any normal Norse warrior would do, and thence comes the humor. It's not like we see stories of Viking raids being conducted by shiploads of warriors wearing dresses and bridal veils, "because that's what Thor would want us to do."

Second, it conveniently omits the fact that the Jotuns and Aesir were related by blood, to the point where they were at best cousins. Both tribes of gods are descended from Ymir. Odin is descended from Ymir via his mother Bestla:
He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. 
So the Aesir, who trace their line through Odin, all have Jotun blood. They're cousins. They share a grandmother, who is of Jotun blood. Why some people would think that for cousins to marry is somehow evidence of different "races" (in the sense of Europeans and Africans) marrying is... odd. They're better thought of as tribes, or clans. Not "races" (and aren't they the ones who keep saying that race is a social construct, anyway? Maybe it's only real for the gods...).

As for the Vanir? Their ancestry isn't mentioned in the lore. They just sort of appear, and then disappear just as quickly (although I have a theory about where they went...). So it's impossible to use them (or the dvergar, or alfar, for that matter) on either side of the argument.

So I don't think too highly of the "but the gods did it!" argument, when it comes to criticisms of the folkish perspective. Not only does it assume that men are expected to follow the gods' example in all things, but also that the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotuns should be looked at as different "races" in the modern sense of the word. Both of which are absolutely incorrect assumptions.

Unless the Lokeans want to use that argument to justify their own bestiality with horses. Because I would love to see that argument being put forth. :-)


  1. You know, you never do see that "Bestiality" argument...

  2. Actually I occasionally advance it in order to satirise the unitru.

  3. I think it's also worth considering that the Aesir and Jotun may be differentiated less by blood, and more by mindset/intent.

  4. Love it! "So the Aesir, who trace their line through Odin, all have Jotun blood. They're cousins. They share a grandmother, who is of Jotun blood." At least a few "But the Jotuns aren't gods and 'nobody' worshipped Loki" folks should be frothing at the mouth right about now.

    Agreed on all fronts. (But then, you always do your research).