Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Are the "Pagans at the Parliament" sleeping with the enemy?

This is just a very quick first response to news coming out of the Parliament of World Religions.

Apparently some of the "Pagans at the Parliament" are pushing to redefine Paganism as "The Indigenous Religion of White People". The blinding, base stupidity behind this is beyond words.

Paganism existed long before there was any such thing as Europe. Europe is not a "continent". Look at a fucking map. Europe is an idea, and the generation of the idea of Europe is tied directly to the formation of the two forms of Christianity that now dominate the world: Catholicism and Protestantism.

Why is it that so many Pagans still have their heads stuck in ethnic/racial conceptions of "identity" that literally date from a time when racism and anti-semitism were simply accepted and even widely approved of by "Europeans"??

My only source for this comes from this alarmingly titled post Is Paganism About To Be Redifined at the Parliament?

Also, here is a post I did a while back with the relevant title Paganism Is Not a European Religion.


Denis said...

Apuleus Platonicus,
I understand you wrote this full of emotions.

If a religious tradition cannot be identified according to ethnic cultures that developed it, then why do we have Greek polytheism, Roman polytheism, Germanic polytheism, Celtic polytheism, Slavic polytheism, etc? Do you know many ancient pagan traditions that are not associated with an ethnic/tribal group that developed it?

"Europe is an idea, and the generation of the idea of Europe is tied directly to the formation of the two forms of Christianity that now dominate the world: Catholicism and Protestantism."

Not at all. According to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe):
"In antiquity, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the river Phasis forming their boundaries — though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia".
Unless, of course, you think that Herodotus was a "Christian before Crist" :)

Also why do you bring in racism and anti-semitism? Is there anything in the source denigrating a racial group or Jews?

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Emotion has nothing to do with it.

You speak of Greek polytheism. But what of Cybele and Isis? What, indeed, of Thracian Dionsyos and Cyprian Aphrodite?

You speak of Roman polytheism. Again, what of Magna Mater and Isis? What of the Temple of Aventine Diana, built by an Etruscan King, inspired by a Lydian King's Temple honoring a Greek Goddess?

Ancient Pagans did not practice neatly separated hyphenated "ethnic" religions. There are no racially pure religions, just as there are no pure races in the first place. These are myths, and not in the good sense.

It is not rational to quote Greeks to prove the existence of Europe. Alexandria and Antioch were the two greatest (or at least most populous) Greek cities of the ancient world, neither was in Europe.

Where did Euclid write his Elements, where did Ptolemy write his Almagest and Geographia, and where did Eratoshthenes calculate the circumference of the earth? Where did Callimachus write his Hymns, where did Apollonius write his Argonautica, and where did Aristarchus produce his critical editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In Greece? No. Somewhere else in "Europe"? No. In Africa. In Alexandria.

And where did the Franks claim to hail from? Some of them claimed to be blood relatives of the Romans, and fellow descendants of the survivors of the seige of the Troy - in Asia. Others, however, did claim to be "native" to Europe - this was the view of Clovis, who was baptised on Christmans day in 507.

Why do I bring in racism and anti-semitism? Because those who would smear Paganism as a "racial" or "ethnic" religion for white people already do so, whether they intend to or not.

Herodotus believed that all human beings worship the same Gods. He even provided proposed correspondences between the Gods of the Greeks and those of the Egyptians, Persians, Lydians, etc. Herodotus goes so far as to assert there was only one group of people in all of the eastern mediterranean, possibly in the whole world, who did not recognize and respect and even worship the Gods of "foreigners". These were the Carians. Ever heard of them? Most people haven't. And if you haven't you aren't missing anything.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

The attempt to ethnicize religion, rampant in the reconstructionist movement (and in more nefarious places as well), misses the point. Obviously in the age of tribal cultures, the cultures themselves were tribal to some degree. But we misundestand culture and its relationship to spirituality if we try to ethnicize the latter. As Freud pointed out, enculturation involves some domestication of human wildness. The newly human baby becomes stamped with the identity and language of the host culture. But spirituality is meant to transcend the limitations that enculturation has required to do its work. That means spirituality and enculturation are in dynamic and dialectic tension. The attempt to ethnicize spirituality itself is a totalitarian attempt on the part of culture to appropriate everything to itself. Culture does try to do this, but spirituality should have the enlightenment and fortitude to resist this movement and thus provide the creative tension in the dialectic. The second point, of course, is that no culture holds complete monopoly over its own territory. I formulated an idea a while back that cultures actually are creatively generated at the borders, rather than at their supposed centers. This makes their borders their actual centers, decentering the supposed centers. It is at the interaction zones of trade of material, cultural, and physiological goods that cultures vitalize and revitalize, and the supposed centers would then represent conservative reaction-zones that try to claim cultural monopoly for themselves. It's very easy, however, to establish this intercultural exchange, because whereever we can establish material trade, it's certain that there was some kind of trade of ideas as well. The correlation is not 1:1, but the correlation is nevertheless certain. And in this regard, we have evidence of trade routes up the amber paths going back far into the Bronze Age indicating connection of the Mediterranean and even Sumeria with the highest Baltic. While the people at the top may not have had direct contact with the people at the bottom, in order for the goods to show up at one or the other, a domino effect of some kind had to have taken place.

Denis said...

Apuleus and Siegfried,

Both of you substitute the abstract concept of Paganism for the more concrete concept of the religious tradition. Spirituality is abstract. All religious people claim it, including the followers of Abrahamic religion. The European pagans from the source obviously want to distinguish their religious practices from others. If the term Pagan (as applied to religion) simply means non-Abrahamic, does that tell you anything about the religious tradition? Nothing at all. How do you distinguish formally between e.g. Germanic tradition and Kemetic tradition? Yes, you do what I just did - refer to it's tribal source. That doesn't exclude people of different ethnicity, it's just a statement of origin.

Concerning borrowed cults: Cybele, Isis, it's just that – a borrowing. If there was no difference between the religious traditions, there would be no reason to borrow. If a borrowing is assimilated, it simple becomes part of the ethnic tradition in question.
If Hellenes also worshiped Isis, they didn't stop being Greek polytheists. You could identify them as Greco-Egyptian polytheists but that is still a reference to ethnic religious traditions.

“ancient Pagans practiced neatly separated hyphenated ethnic religions”.
Again I never said race has anything to do with it, I was surprised why it was brought in.
I also never said that pagan practices must be “neatly” separated. But for identification purpose they have been traditionally separated for centuries according to their ethnic origins. A quote from wikipedia about Alexandria:
“There were large ostentatious religious processions in the streets that displayed the wealth and power of the Ptolemies, but also celebrated and affirmed Greekness. These processions were used to shout Greek superiority over any non-Greeks that were watching, thereby widening the divide between cultures.”
Somehow the pagans did distinguish ethnic religious traditions, didn't they?

“And where did the Franks claim to hail from”
Many different tribes claimed descent from Troy. Some of them must be wrong.

“smear Paganism as a "racial" or "ethnic" religion for white people”
Who said Paganism is only for white people? That is what I asked about. I'm sure the European pagans said nothing of the kind.

As for ethnic identification of a cult, if Sannion identifies himself as a Greco-Egyptian polytheist, will you call him a racist or a Greco-Egyptian chauvinist?
If Kallisti identifies herself as a Hellenist is she a Hellenic chauvinist?
Just visit the links in the link section of this very blog and see how many polytheists identify their religious tradition/cult with tribes and ethnicities.
In fact, Emperor Julian himself must be a Greek chauvinist by this standard, since he used the term Hellenism about the pagan religion of the Greeks.

“The attempt to ethnicize spirituality itself is a totalitarian attempt on the part of culture to appropriate everything to itself.”
There is no attempt to ethnicize anything. I'm sure they meant the origin of their traditions, nothing else.
Is the Greek/Germanic/Celtic/Slavic/you-name-it polytheism a foreign, strange element to modern Europeans? No, it was already practiced in Greece and elsewhere in Europe long ago. It is an attempt to legitimize polytheism in Europe in the same fashion it was done in the Roman empire. This is how I understand the message.

Why ascribe to people what they didn't say? And if you still think they are wrong, please, suggest another convenient way of naming these ethnic religious traditions so that they could be identifiable to others as something more than just non-Christian.

Nick Ritter said...

Concerning Clovis' identification of the Franks with the Trojans: this was a common response of people who were newly entering into the cultural sphere of the Classical world. It was a way of legitimizing their "lineage," of placing themselves on theoretically equal footing with a culture that looked down on them as barbarians. It should not be taken as indicative of the Franks' beliefs about their origins *before* entering into such a close relationship with Rome.

Snorri Sturluson, in his Edda, claimed that the gods of the pre-Christian Scandinavians were, in fact, Trojans (thereby making the same claim for Swedish and Norwegian kings who claimed descent from those gods). Nor should this be taken as representative of pre-Christian Scandinavian belief. The Franks, the Scandinavians (and others) were doing the same thing the Romans did when they granted themselves an ancient, noble lineage through Aeneas, which they did as a reaction to their contact with Greek culture.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Nick,

Clovis actually rejected the story Trojan "roots" of the Franks, at least according to Peter Brown. Bauton is given as an example, by Brown, of a more Romanized Frank who did accept those "roots".

My point is that fifth century Franks did not automatically think of themselves as "Europeans". They saw no particular need for distinguishing themselves from non-Europeans.

And it is absolutely true that the Franks, etc, were doing what other "peoples" had done before in seeking to establish for themselves an "ancient noble lineage".

But there are lineages and there are lineages. The Romans proudly saw themselves as literally "race-mixers" from the very beginning when the Teucrians merged with the Latins, even taking their language. And to the extent that some Romans were especially proud of their direct descent from Aeneas, that made them "Asian".

Nick Ritter said...

There are a few issues that I would like to get your opinion on, Apuleius, if I could. You have written extensively on the descent of modern Paganism from the religious traditions of the classical oikumene. What of the reconstruction of religions that were outside of that cultural-political area? Also, granted that, since "white" is not an ethnos, and that therefore there can be no one "ethnic religion for white people", nevertheless there have always been several European ethnoi, each with their own body of gods, myths, religious practices, etc. Do you see the reconstruction and practice of such as tantamount to racism? For example, would you claim as racist that Lithuanians may practice Romuva as a distinctly Lithuanian religion, and one with a special relationship to the Lithuanian people?

Also, do you see the international and syncretic religious situation in the Classical oikoumene as the proper model for all of modern Paganism? In other words, should Paganism in the modern day be an expansion of the religious traditions of that oikoumene to include *all* pre-Christian or non-Christian religious traditions? Or is there a "right to difference" for traditions that don't want to participate?

Please understand that, as a Germanic Reconstructionist myself, I do expect that your view and mine will differ, which bothers me not at all; I am interested in your honest opinion, even if that opinion impugns my tradition.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I don't think it is inherently racist to recover, revive, reconstruct, or however one wishes to label it, religious traditions that were persecuted and largely destroyed by the Christians. Far from it.

This is especially true for the traditions of Germanic peoples, who distinguished themselves by their resistance to Christianization.

I do think that the Pagan movements that existed in Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries were influenced by ideas that were current at the time -- including ideas about "race" that we can see today are at best problematic. This was not something peculiar to Pagans. It was true of Christians as well. It was also true of all political persuasions from left to right. Feminists and socialists often were affected by these ideas, as were conservatives, fascists, moderates, liberals, etc.

Academics, claims of objectivity aside, were also strongly influenced by "racial" thinking. In fact, "scientific racism" was part of the academic mainstream late in the 19th and early in the 20th centuries. The same "scientific racism" strongly influenced the thinking of European missionaries, whether they were semi-literate or highly educated Jesuits.

Paganism obviously includes the indigenous religions of Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Baltic, etc peoples. But these peoples did not live in isolation from each other or from the "Greco-Roman" neighbors. At no point in the past did any of these groups constitute a "pure" "ethnic" grouping. In particular, none of these groups ever had a "pure" form of religion uninfluenced by "others".

Those Saxons who fought Charlemagne were surely Pagans. They are my heroes. The same is just as true for those who defended the Serapaeum from the Christian mobs in 391. The same is true for those who continued to worship the Old Gods clandestinely under the nose of Justinian within the walls of his own capitol city. The same is true for those who fought alongside Arbogast on the Frigidus River. The same is true for those diehard Pagans in Gaza, and for those polytheists in Mecca who drove Muhammad from their midsts, at least for a while.

We should "identify" ourselves in an inclusive way -- inclusive of all those who have stubbornly fought the monotheists every inch of the way. In the ancient world they didn't need a label for those who worship the Gods. Today we do, and everyone knows why.

An honest and historically accurate definition of Paganism points an accusing finger at those who created the need for such a concept in the first place. This makes people uncomfortable. To alleviate this discomfort some seek alternative definitions that are more palatable. Both the NRM and the "ethnic" approaches are examples of this.

Nick Ritter said...

Thank you for your reply. My response was too long, apparently, so I'll submit it in parts:

"We should "identify" ourselves in an inclusive way -- inclusive of all those who have stubbornly fought the monotheists every inch of the way."

I certainly do feel common cause with those who have fought, and continue to fight, against monotheism and its children. However, does this mean that we all practice the same religion, a religion called "Paganism"?

In part, I suppose the answer to this question relies upon what we mean by "religion". Is it simply the worship of gods, irrespective of traditions, ritual practices, myths and beliefs? Or do those play a part in the definition as well?

If religion is merely the worship of gods, however they might be worshiped, I could, on the one hand, say that the gods I worship as Woden and Thuner are different from the gods the Hellenist worships as Hermes and Zeus, while still maintaining that Hermes and Zeus are great gods who deserve worship from those whose gods they are. On the other hand, I could say that Hermes and Zeus are merely the Hellenists' interpretation of Woden and Thuner (ascribing, as is seemingly all people's wont, primacy to my own people's understanding of those gods). In that second scenario, so long as we define "religion" just as "worship of gods," then the Hellenist and I could certainly be said to practice the same religion.

But what if we bring tradition, beliefs, mythology, ritual practices, etc. into our definition of "religion"? How then could we be said to practice the same religion?

Another thought: In your reply to me you wrote: "In the ancient world they didn't need a label for those who worship the Gods. Today we do, and everyone knows why."

This is certainly true; and yet, isn't the use of the term "pagan" to identify all non-monotheistic religion a certain kind of acceptance of Christianity's framing of the situation? In other words, Christianity's underlying assumption is that we're all the same and all wrong; by putting all "Paganism" under a single moniker like this, aren't we accepting the underlying assumption of our sameness, and merely reversing the polarity of the argument to say that we're all the same, and in the right?

(to be continued)

Nick Ritter said...

(part 2)

In reply to Denis, you wrote: "Ancient Pagans did not practice neatly separated hyphenated "ethnic" religions."

And yet, ancient peoples did certainly have ethnic identities, the boundaries of which were not completely porous, and which certainly seem to have been real to them. I do think that religion (along with language, custom, geography) formed, or could form, ethnic markers. Also, I think that positing a priori that all non-monotheistic religions are in some sense "the same" can easily lead to ignoring important differences and missing important particularities. My personal interest is in preserving religious diversity on a large scale, and I wonder if overly-broad definitions might not harm that diversity.

"Paganism obviously includes the indigenous religions of Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Baltic, etc peoples. But these peoples did not live in isolation from each other or from the "Greco-Roman" neighbors. At no point in the past did any of these groups constitute a "pure" "ethnic" grouping. In particular, none of these groups ever had a "pure" form of religion uninfluenced by "others"."

Still, that does not necessarily mean that there was widespread syncretism outside of the "Greco-Roman" cultural area. We do have cults being participated in by multiple ethnic groups (e.g. the cult of Nehalennia near the mouth of the Rhine), but these were very localized. We also have an instance of state-sponsored syncretism, which was rather forced, and finally abortive: Vladimir Svyatoslavich's promotion of Perun to the position of supreme god, and his equating of this god with the thunder-gods of the various non-Slavic peoples in his his kingdom (the Scandinavians' Thor, the Balts' Perkunas, and the Finns' Ukko). It must be mentioned that this syncretism did not develop spontaneously among Vladimir's multi-ethnic subjects, nor did it work very well, as Vladimir ditched the project for Christianity.

Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic religions all had a common root, as all of these peoples seem to have developed (based on archeological evidence) out of related groups of Indo-Europeans in northern Europe. Therefore we do find, as we might expect, certain similarities between those religions. However, we also find differences; from a probable original unity, those religions diverged while the people who practiced them were still in close contact with one another. This suggests to me that cultural barriers are not absolutely permeable to religious ideas or cults. Certainly, they are not absolutely impermeable, either, but there does seem to be a certain degree of conservatism (in some religions at least) that limits the degree to which outside religious ideas and culti are adopted. As you say, "these peoples did not live in isolation from each other or from the "Greco-Roman" neighbors." But how much religious influence did Greco-Roman religion have on these peoples' religions (at least, before any of them were conquered; Roman religion had quite an influence on conquered Gaul)?

In any case, this post has been re-written a few times over a few hours, and I fear I may still have expressed myself clumsily, so I'll leave it at that.

I'm happy to hear that the Saxons are your heroes: they are also my heroes, and my ancestors. All of the others you mention are also certainly worthy of praise, and, as I mention above, I certainly feel common cause with them. Personally, Emperor Julian has long had a special place in my heart as well.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I hope to be able to respond more fully later, but for now I'll respond specifically to the question:

>>does this mean that we all practice the same religion, a religion called "Paganism"?<<

It's necessary to examine what is meant by "the same religion". A number of modern scholars (who have no particular sympathy for or against Paganism) have questioned the idea that people in the ancient world even had a conception of "different religions".

In his 2007 book "Religion in the Roman Empire" James B. Rives made the explicit choice to reject speaking of religions, plural. He explains this at some length in the book's introduction.

Another modern scholar of comparative religions, Jonathan Z. Smith, also delves into this thorny subject in his essay "Religion, Religions, Religious", which is a chapter in the book, "Critical Terms for Religious Studies".

The important thing is to stop and examine what we mean by such words and phases as "religion", "religions", "different religions", "the same religion".

My own position is that to a Pagan all of these terms are to a great extent irrelevant. All human beings, left to their own devices, will worship the Gods. The Gods are receptive to this worship, and never fail to offer Their guidance. Humans naturally differ in our customs, languages, environments, inclinations, etc. And these differences are reflected in how we honor the Gods.

All humans everywhere dance and sing. We obviously don't all dance the same dance, or sing the same song. And yet in a sense we do. Some people are overly fond of their own "style" of singing and dancing, while other people are perhaps too eager to abandon the songs and dances of their elders in favor of anything new and different.

Denis said...

you reminded me of another aspect of ethnic religions – honoring ancestors. For instance, if you are not of Slavic descent you can't honor Dazhbog as your ancestor. Some practitioners find it important, so if we have to rename ethnic religions we have to think of that too.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Ancestor worship is a legitimate concern. But to what extent do people claim literally to be descended, as in carrying their DNA, from such-and-such an ancestor? Is this something that people are willing to subject to scientific verification if they wish to claim that it is literally true?

In my own personal opinion I seriously question the relevance of genetic screening in matters of religion.

Nick Ritter said...

Just a quick comment concerning ancestors and the worship of them: this is indeed an important part of many religions. Some religions have considered some people to be descended from the gods, and hold the gods themselves to be ancestors. I don't see how one could come up with a genetic test for that, but, regardless, ought we to pick and choose what parts of an ancient religion we are to consider valid if once we have decided to practice it?

Denis said...

“Is this something that people are willing to subject to scientific verification if they wish to claim that it is literally true?”
It doesn't have to be literally true. Adopted children in Rome, for instance, could consider their foster parents' ancestors their own. According to Joseph Connors, Livia's adoption into Gens Julia made her a direct descendant of Venus: http://books.google.ru/books?id=k3ydMi_7uO0C&lpg=RA1-PA53&ots=TVCf68fQlt&pg=RA1-PA53#v=onepage&f=false
I personally don't take divine parenthood literally, but rather spiritually. It looks like a form of worship of one's own kinsfolk collectively, somewhat like worshiping Mother India.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...


Yes, OF COURSE we ought to decide what parts of a tradition are valid or not! Otherwise we are mindless conformists! Or do you expect people trying to have contact with their Azteca ancestors to really integrate human sacrifice into their religiosity?

"from a probable original unity, those religions diverged while the people who practiced them were still in close contact with one another. This suggests to me that cultural barriers are not absolutely permeable to religious ideas or cults."

That wouldn't be my conclusion. My conclusion would be the inevitable deviation of ideas over time that we observe everywhere. We could call it brachiation or ramification of an original idea. Another way of putting this is that we are all branches upon the same tree, which I actually think is an excellent way of framing all of this. More to the point, all Indo-European religions are twigs upon the same branch, and all branches are part of the same World-Tree.

Nick Ritter said...


"Yes, OF COURSE we ought to decide what parts of a tradition are valid or not! Otherwise we are mindless conformists!"

No, there I must disagree with you. Taking a tradition as a whole, without trying to prune it so that it looks good to the neighbors, or trying to make it "relevant to the modern day" is not "mindless conformism." It is, instead, respect for the tradition. To my way of thinking, doing only those parts of a tradition that we find comfortable or interesting or "socially acceptable" is a sure way to dilute the tradition and subject it to the caustic leveling forces of "modernity."

"Or do you expect people trying to have contact with their Azteca ancestors to really integrate human sacrifice into their religiosity?"

I will call your bluff, Siegfried: yes. If they believe that their ancestors understood the ancestral religion, including the gods and how they ought to be worshiped, better than they themselves in the modern day do, then of course they ought to. They might be able to get away with not doing it currently, for the same reason that my religion (which also sacrificed people) can: currently, it is illegal, and the legal repercussions of illegal human sacrifice would be more damaging to the religion that the lack of human blood for the gods. At the very least, though, those wishing to worship gods whose worship required human sacrifice in the past should try and find some acceptable stop-gap until such time as those gods can be propitiated as they used to be. In any case, unless they can find some internal justification for doing away with human sacrifice (as happened in India, for instance), they shouldn't merely write this religious practice, clearly so important to their ancestors, out of the picture entirely.

Human sacrifice is often used as they bogeyman in these sorts of conversations to represent the dangers of actually practicing ancient religions as they were practiced anciently. I personally don't have such a problem with the idea of human sacrifice, though, particularly if it is voluntary (which is sometimes was, in my religion at least). Everyone must die sometime, after all, and I can personally think of situations in which I would sooner volunteer to be sacrificed to Wodan than continue to live.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

" I personally don't have such a problem with the idea of human sacrifice, though, particularly if it is voluntary (which is sometimes was, in my religion at least)."

Yah, sure it was. Where is the evidence for that?

I have to say I find what you are saying terribly, terribly frightening. You are suggesting that the only reason people ought not engage in human sacrifice is because it is not expedient in the present, but when it becomes expedient they ought return to it? That is barbaric, absolutely barbaric!

And I'm sorry, but I consider it 100% mindless, mindless conformity and not only that, but idolatrous worship of ancestors to assume that people simply because they lived in the past know so much more than we do that a practice that is obviously barbaric we must assume is enlightened simply because they deigned it so? Have you elevated these ancestors to Gods? Because I hate to tell you, but they were human beings just like you and me are, and they were just as flawed as you and I are, and with allllllll kinds of cultural blinders, just as we have some too.

I find it so dangerous to say that human sacrifice should not be practiced due to expediency alone that I don't think I'd even want to associate with someone who held such a view, because I'd see them as something akin to a loose cannon. No offense, but to me, mental health is in question with such a statement. No offense intended towards the hall or its host.

Haukur said...

There are people who feel that slaughtering animals is barbaric. Those people can certainly object to ritual slaughter of animals (i.e. animal sacrifice). There are people who feel that executing humans is barbaric. Those people can certainly object to ritual execution of humans (i.e. human sacrifice).

But then we have meat-eating, death-penalty supporting people who are shocked, shocked! by the idea of pagan sacrifice. I have somewhat less sympathy with that view.

NickRitter said...

(part 1 of 2)


I find your response somewhat telling, but the horrified tone of it rather disappointing, if not unexpected.

“Yah, sure it was. Where is the evidence for that?”

Well, I certainly read it somewhere. I am looking for the source now, and will post my findings here later. In the meantime, it should certainly not be surprising that, in a culture that glorified death in battle and was horrified at the idea of death by old age or illness, that violent death by sacrifice might be preferred to the shame that was associated with the “straw death.”

“I have to say I find what you are saying terribly, terribly frightening. You are suggesting that the only reason people ought not engage in human sacrifice is because it is not expedient in the present, but when it becomes expedient they ought return to it? That is barbaric, absolutely barbaric!”

I do not understand why you are so frightened by a mere idea. In any case, “barbaric” is a rather revealing term, isn’t it? From the Latin barbarus, borrowed from the Greek barbaros, an insulting term for non-Greeks. And I am certainly not Greek. Considering that my ancestors and their religion were referred to as “barbaric” by pagan Greeks and Romans, as well as by Christians, I suppose you’re siding with that view. Your censure is no different, really, than the attitude of those who worked so hard to extirpate my ancestors’ religion. Your response tells me that your tolerance for many ancient religions as they were actually practiced is rather low. This is not unexpected: many modern pagans get a bit squeamish when faced with how ancient religions really were. It really is unfortunately rare to find pagans whose worldview accords with the religions they claim to practice, rather than with the post-modern, post-enlightenment worldview that springs, in so many ways, from Christianity.

“And I'm sorry, but I consider it 100% mindless, mindless conformity”

I suppose you’re free to think that, but I still think you’re wrong. To be mindless is to be unthinking, and I can assure you that I think quite a bit. In fact, the shock and horror with which you approach the subject of human sacrifice is what seems mindless, to me. Your reaction seems to be based on no considered argument, no intellectual approach, but on sheer emotion: the very definition of mindlessness.

“[A]nd not only that, but idolatrous worship of ancestors to assume that people simply because they lived in the past know so much more than we do”

Your accusations of idolatry and ancestor worship are also telling, as though you assume those are bad things. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that my pre-Christian ancestors knew more about their religion, in which they were born and bred in an unbroken tradition, than us converts who have grown up in a very different cultural environment, and with a very different worldview.

“[T]hat a practice that is obviously barbaric we must assume is enlightened simply because they deigned it so?”

For one thing, they never “deigned” it “enlightened”: immemorially ancient tradition, including myths, told them that this was how certain gods were to be worshiped. And again, the distinction you posit between “barbaric” and “enlightened” is telling. You are showing the same point of view that Christians held towards my religion and towards many others. Also, I suppose, the article posted recently by Denis shows that pagan Romans had somewhat of the same point of view; this does not exonerate you, in my view, but rather damns the Romans. Enforcing one’s own culture’s views of right and wrong on another culture is wrong, and I am surprised to find that you disagree.

(to be continued)

Nick Ritter said...

(part 2 of 3)

“Have you elevated these ancestors to Gods?”

I don’t need to. I’m sure you’re trying to suggest that I am treating my ancestors as infallible, in order to prove me wrong by pointing out that they were not. I am not claiming that my ancestors were infallible. What my ancestors were, taken as a whole, were the bearers of a certain religious tradition, one that they understood better than I, better than anyone currently living. In order to approach closer to their level of understanding of that religious tradition, it is absolutely self-defeating to start with the point of view that their tradition was somehow wrong. I must understand their point of view from the inside, as it were.

As Wilhelm Grønbech put it: “If we would enter into the minds of other peoples we must consent to discard our preconceived ideas as to what the world and man ought to be. It is not enough to admit a set of ideas as possible or even plausible: we must strive to reach a point of view from which these strange thoughts become natural; we must put off our own humanity as far as it is possible and put on another humanity for the time.”

With regards to the current topic, this means that I, along with others attempting the same sort of thing, must at least entertain the idea that human sacrifice was, as our ancestors thought it, a sacrament, a sacred act; and this regardless of whatever censure or opprobrium is leveled at us by those with a more modern view.

I might also defend my point of view with the truly wonderful quote from Symmachus that Apuleius has been kind enough to post: “If long passage of time lends validity to religious observances, we ought to keep faith with so many centuries, we ought to follow our forefathers who followed their forefathers and were blessed in so doing.... let me continue to practice my ancient ceremonies, for I do not regret them. Let me live in my own way, for I am free.”

(to be continued)

Nick Ritter said...

(part 3 of, hopefully, only 3)

“No offense, but to me, mental health is in question with such a statement.”

“No offense”? I doubt you really mean that, because you have just accused me of being insane for, when it comes down to it, no more than having a different worldview from yours, and perhaps being willing to entertain ideas that you seem to fear. By inference, you have also accused the entirety of very many cultures, both in the ancient world and currently existing, that have practiced human sacrifice. I honestly doubt that you have the authority to write off as insane such a vast part of human religious history; and, in any case, you would be wrong to do so.

For the record, I am quite sane. I expect the emotional reaction you are experiencing is what is commonly known as “culture shock,” which occurs when one comes up against the ineffable otherness of a different culture and its worldview. I also expect that you must feel somewhat ambushed by this, seeing as you had no reason to expect that our cultures and worldviews were quite so different. Quite understandable, really, and I suppose you could be excused for thinking so.

“I find it so dangerous to say that human sacrifice should not be practiced due to expediency alone that I don't think I'd even want to associate with someone who held such a view, because I'd see them as something akin to a loose cannon.”

Does this mean that I should not look forward to a reply? That would truly be a pity. I do enjoy conversation with people with different viewpoints, so long as that conversation remains civil. I hope that I have not chased you off of Apuleius’ blog. If I have done so, however, I would be quite surprised that the mere discussion of a thing would cause you to do something so rash. I like to think that we all post on this blog because we share Apuleius’ interest in “primary religions”; that’s certainly a major reason why I post here. I also think that if we are going to discuss these religions at all, we must also be willing to discuss, hopefully in a calm and respectful manner, all manners of religious behavior in these “primary religions” from various peoples throughout history.

In the end, if we would understand other religions and other cultures, we must be willing to approach them with an open mind. Judgmentalism is quite the opposite thing to an open mind. To see an example of such open-mindedness in scholarship, I might suggest the collected works of Mircea Eliade. I recall that his sympathetic discussion of cannibalism in Papua New Guinea as a sacrament no less pious than the Eucharist of the Christians was particularly enlightening to me, when I first read it.

Nick Ritter said...

That was quite succinct and well-put, Haukur.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

One phrase, Nick :

Fuck off. I'm a heathen, too, so don't try to fucking lecture me about my ancestral faith. You can fuck off.

Nick Ritter said...

I'm sorry, Siegfried, but if you can't do better than hurling insults, then you're not worth my time or my attention. And if you're "a heathen too," that's certainly not something I could discern from your commentary.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I'm not the Jeffrey Dahmer calling for savage practices to be revived once they are expedient. I mean hell, if a practice was pagan, it must be worthwhile, no matter how much of a niding act it was! So woohoo, let's just put our stamp of approval on ritual murder, because hey, some homocidal maniacs in the past practiced it and desecrated the Gods by calling it holy!

Oh wait ... maybe you're going to turn apologist and whine, "But no ... this was simply "capital punishment" with a little sanctification."

Sure it was. Like when Ynglingasaga talks about the king sacrificing his sons for advantages from the Gods, or when Jomsvikingsaga talks about Hakon sacrificing his son to the disir? I don't for a moment believe these accounts, as they are Christian interpolations, but if you believe they happened, then what we're discussing is involuntary ritual murder of children! And if you think this kind of practice ought to be brought back once it's no longer illegal, then :

1) You ARE psycho, and
2) Good luck waiting for this to become legal again, because it ain't never going to happen, because all sane people in the world agree that this represents the greatest barbarism imaginable.

If all it takes to approve of an action is a group of people in the past practicing it, wow, what a field day for criminals and murderers of all kinds!

So yah, I do believe we MUST pick and choose what is of value from the past, because the ancestors were NOT omniscient. And by the way, even "ancestor worship" is NOT worship of the ancestors when they were still mortal in the past, but an acknowledgement that once dead, they gain new wisdoms that transform them. It doesn't mean their every collective mortal act is to be imitated to the letter. I feel sorry for people so deprived of spirit that their only goal is to imitate the every actions of a group of iron age barbarians, the poets of whom knew it was an axe age and looked forward to its supercession. Well, guess what? Their prayers were answered! A hell of a lot of their conditions were superceded, and a lot of it happened through enlightenment. Hallelujah for progress!

Nick Ritter said...

Siegfried, your ad hominem attacks really do weaken your position. If you want to debate, learn how to construct an argument.

Nick Ritter said...

(part 1)

After thinking about it for a while, Siegfried, it has occurred to me that you probably aren’t going to figure out how to debate civilly on your own, and therefore I have decided to help you out, by pointing out where your style of argumentation is flawed, correcting a few fallacies in your statements, and suggesting a few more fruitful avenues of discussion.

So far, your points in this discussion boil down to the following:

1) “You’re scaring me”
1) “You are crazy / a psycho / like Jeffrey Dahmer (i.e. a serial killer)”
3) “Pre-Christian Germanic peoples were barbaric, benighted savages whom we should not emulate.”

Point #1 is neither here nor there. That should be discarded.

Point #2 is what is known as an “ad hominem attack,” which means that you are trying to refute my ideas by attacking me. This is a fallacy of logic, in so far as you are attacking the wrong target. If you want to prove me wrong, perhaps even change my thinking (it can happen!), then you need to address the ideas being discussed, not the person discussing them. Ad hominem attacks weaken your argument, and make you look petty; also, they pretty much proclude any useful mutual understanding arising out of the debate between the participants, which is what is to be hoped for. Remember, debate is not about trouncing or defaming your opponent, but rather about testing the strength of ideas, and hopefully discovering the truth thereby.

Point #3 is the only point, so far, that has any merit as a line of argumentation, although I think it is still quite weak. For one thing, it is quite insulting, and paints entire cultures over thousands of years with one brush, which cannot be right. For another thing, while you may regard pre-Christian Germanic peoples as barbaric, benighted savages, the fact that you think so raises an interesting question: Why on earth, then, would you want to practice their religion, itself a distillation of their worldview, which you regard as barbaric, benighted, and savage? And make no mistake, it is their religion we are talking about; all of our information on it comes, ultimately, from them. It’s no use trying to sidestep these “barbarian savages” in the practice of Germanic religion, as they are the source of that particular understanding of, and worship of, the gods.

Nick Ritter said...

(part 2)

This brings me to one of your misstatements: “a group of iron age barbarians, the poets of whom knew it was an axe age and looked forward to its supercession.”

I can only assume you are referring to Strophe 44 (in Codex Regius) or 37 (in Hauksbók) of the poem Völuspá. It so happens that I have translated this poem myself, as a first step in memorizing it. In a regularized Old Norse orthography, it runs thus:

“Brœðr munu berjask ok at bönum verða,
munu systrungar sifjum spilla,
hart er í heimi, hórdómr mikill;
skeggöld, skalmöld, skildir eru klöfnir,
vindöld, vargöld áðr veröld steypisk;
mun engi maðr öðrum þyrma.”

“Brothers shall fight and become slayers (i.e. of one another), sisters’ children shall destroy kinship (i.e. commit incest), it is hard in the world, a great whoredom; an axe-age, a sword-age, shields are cloven, a wind-age, a wolf-age before the world falls; no man shall spare another.”

To those unfamiliar with the poem, this part of it is discussion the situation in the world just before the final world-destroying battle. Therefore, the poet who composed this was stating that the world would be in an “axe-age” just before its end, at some point in the future (note the use of the modal auxiliary verb ‘muna,’ indicating future time, and translated as “shall” above), not that it was an in an “axe-age” when the poet was composing. It is amazing what one can learn if one looks directly at the sources, isn’t it?
Your next stement requires commentary as well:

“Well, guess what? Their prayers were answered! A hell of a lot of their conditions were superceded, and a lot of it happened through enlightenment. Hallelujah for progress!”

Except that, as I show above, they were not “praying” for their current age or its conditions to be “superceded”. This is a fallacy, and a twisting of the evidence to fit a certain point of view.

Nick Ritter said...

(part 3)

“Progress,” just so you know, is largely a view that has its roots in Judeo-Christian ideas of time. In that worldview, time is a line with a definite beginning and end, with the low point at the beginning (the Fall) and the high point at the end (the coming of the Messiah), with everything in between tending to get better and better (which may have been an idea specifically developed during the Enlightenment, but the roots were already there in the Abrahamic religions).

Germanic religion, on the contrary, seems to have been more in accord with the Greek doctrine of the ages of man (in Hesiod, I believe), and with the Hinu doctrine of the yugas: Things are good in the beginning, soon after the creation of the world, but then get worse and worse over time until everything is destroyed in a final conflagration, after which there is a new creation, with everything good again.

This ancient point of view would tend to suggest that the decay of things over time, perhaps particularly of the ancient religion and its practices (including, gasp! human sacrifice!), is actually a bad thing! It also seems to suggest that resisting such decay, while ultimately futile, is good insofar as it staves off the final destruction.

I put it to you that if you cannot hold that point of view, that you have never actually converted your worldview to that of Germanic religion, but merely have either a syncretic Germanic-Christian worldview, of a mostly Christian one with a Germanic veneer. Of course, feel free to prove otherwise.

Along with that, I would suggest a few more fruitful avenues of discussion for you to pursue:

1) “Human sacrifice is wrong because all life, or perhaps particularly human life, is sacred.”

This is an acceptable point of view. I will, of course, ask you what your sources for such an idea are and what they have to do with Germanic religion, along with the following question: If life is sacred, how can it not be a sacrament to give that life to a god? This is what sacrifice is, after all.

2) “Human sacrifice used to be alright, but the gods have since changed their mind.”

Certain people hold this view, although I think it is ludicrous. If you do make such an extraordinary claim, you will have to provide extraordinary proof.

3) “Pre-Christian Germanic peoples were wrong about their religion; the gods never wanted human sacrifice.”

Again, you will have to provide extraordinary proof for this one, as well as showing how you justify trusting those barbarian savages concerning some aspects of their religion, but not others.

And perhaps you can think of yet other valid arguments that don’t rely on hand-wringing or character defamation. If you manage to convince me with those, I will acknowledge it, and you will get the glory for winning fairly.

Haukur said...

Nick, I think you're somewhat misconstruing what Siegfried says here:

"Pre-Christian Germanic peoples were barbaric, benighted savages whom we should not emulate."

What he did say is this:

"every actions [sic] of a group of iron age barbarians, the poets of whom knew it was an axe age and looked forward to its supercession"

What I think he means is that some actions of these barbarians might be worth emulating, but not all. He also seems to think that some ("the poets") were better than others and presumably more worthy of emulation.

Also, when you say "Ad hominem attacks weaken your argument, and make you look petty" you're generally right but you're missing a key factor. When someone holds a position that is generally seen as beyond the pale it can be dangerous to one's reputation to be seen having a civil discussion with them - even if it is a debate. It would be less dangerous just to hurl insults at them. Similarly, many top scientists feel it is beneath their dignity to debate the proponents of intelligent design. Others don't want to debate global warming skeptics. The concern is often raised that engaging in civil debate grants unearned legitimacy to the opposition. I tend to take a different view myself but I can sort of understand the idea.

Nick Ritter said...

Hello Haukur, and thanks for your reply. You raise some interesting points:

"What I think he means is that some actions of these barbarians might be worth emulating, but not all."

Now, that is an interesting line of argument, and possibly one that could defeat my thesis. The question that arises is: How does one judge what should be emulated and what not? By what standard?

I tend to think that making that judgment based on what is comfortable to a modern Western worldview isn't particularly convincing. I don't see how modern Western culture is a sufficiently good standard by which to judge what is good and bad in other cultures. Others might disagree, and I would be interested in whatever other ideas might be presented.

"He also seems to think that some ("the poets") were better than others and presumably more worthy of emulation."

That is also possible, although the statement would require more defense. However, it was also a poet that recorded the myth of Wodan's self-sacrifice (Hávamál, strophes 138 & 139), in _precisely_ the manner in which victims were sacrificed to him, thus echoing the connection between Wodan and human sacrifice. Indeed, Wodan could be said to be the god *par excellence* of human sacrifice, and this poem is one of the ways we know about that.

"When someone holds a position that is generally seen as beyond the pale it can be dangerous to one's reputation to be seen having a civil discussion with them - even if it is a debate."

True, and I can see your point, also with the parallels drawn with scientists and I.D. proponents. However, all those scientists have to do to answer those folks is to point at the evidence and the literature. I have not had such a gesture from Siegfried; perhaps one would wish to answer me merely by saying that my position is self-evidently wrong, but I would still ask one, politely, to show me how. Arguments of self-evidence aren't so simple when discussing worldviews and religion.

Also, cerncerning the issue of reputation, this is a somewhat private forum, and Siegfried has the protection of posting here under a pseudonym, which I do not.

Nick Ritter said...

Greetings to all.

I have spoken up to defend a very unpopular thing, with the result of a great deal of rancor being unleashed. Upon reflection, I feel I ought to clarify my position concerning human sacrifice. I am not advocating that people go out and start doing it, nor am I lobbying my congressman for pro-human-sacrifice legislation.

I practice a certain religion, a religion that I feel is a coherent system, a coherent way of thinking about existence and interacting with the gods. As such, I would prefer to practice it without breaking this coherency, this completeness. It is obvious to anyone familiar with this religion that human sacrifice was once an important part of it; not merely an aberration enacted by a few rogue individuals, but a central and culturally sanctioned practice that persisted for thousands of years. To disdain this part of it as "savage" at the same time I look to the rest of the religion for guidance and meaning smacks, to me, of inconsistency; or worse, of hypocrisy.

I took the position I did in the hopes that it might start a fruitful discussion concerning human sacrifice in my and other religions (or, in Assmann's terms, "primary religion" in general), including the possibility of finding internal justifications for discarding the practice. In fact, as human sacrifice is currently impossible, I might rather have some sound, solid justification for why it shouldn't be done (that does not involve disdain for my ancestors or their culture) than continue in the untenable position of my religion requiring human sacrifice, when such is impossible. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed thus far.

In any case, as much as don't want to say it, I will soon have to take a hiatus from commentary. Yule is coming in a week, and I have a lot of preparing to do, and this conversation has become a preoccupation that I cannot now afford.

It was my hope that this conversation would end on a note of understanding, with laughs and smiles all 'round just in time for Yule. I regret that this is not the case.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Thank you for the point about "beyond the pale". Precisely my point.

Now that Nick has made it clear his concern is more theoretical, and in the realm of intellectual discussion, rather than pragmatic imperative (or even affective imperative), so long as we have very, very clear hedges around usch things, I am more willing to engage theoretical questions.

It is true, for example, that we have famous bog burials of what do archaeologically appear to be human sacrifices. Was this ritual murder of slaves, was it voluntary, was it capital punishment for crimes? If the latter, which crimes?

We do in fact have evidence for "sanctified capital punishment" (as one sub-category of "human sacrifice) amongst Northern heathens. There was a "stone of Thor" on which criminals heads were bashed in. This is unequivocally capital punishment, and one's feelings about it will differ according to one's passions and reasons regarding capital punishment. I think we can agree, however, that sanctified capital punishment for crimes is a very different thing than ritual murder either by lot or of slaves. Such differentiation is important.

The second area where we have some evidence of sacrifice (but we must be careful, as most of the evidence is in the form of the various Vita of saints, which can be a suspect form of evidence) is punishments given for violation of a temple or sacred-space. Fortunately, this evidence is corroborated in one of the law-codes. Amongst a warlike people who unfortunately too often burned when they pillaged, it may have been necessary to have the highest punishment imaginable in order to keep the frith-spaces truly inviolable. Frazer educes (from an untranslated collection of old Germanic law treatises compiled by Grimm) a law whereby cutting down trees in a sacred grove had the death penalty of having one's intestines pulled out of one's body. Talk about environmental law with some bite! Those're the kind of tree-huggers who say, "You'll get my tree when you pry it out of my cold dead hands"! If our national parks were protected with such laws, we wouldn't see the kinds of depradations there with illegal timber cuttings and minings and so forth.

So here we're discussing sanctified capital punishment for violation of sacred space. One can imagine even in America people calling for the death penalty if someone managed to burn down some of our most important monuments.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

As long as you're discussing sanctified capital punishment, I don't think you've gone beyond the pale. In fact, capital punishment still takes place in this country, and there's nothing preventing heathen groups from doing their own rituals in private beforehand, if they so choose. In a lot of cases I would personally find that a bit wolfish, but if they actually have some connection to the crime, that might be meaningful to them, and they're certainly free to do so. I wouldn't really blink at them (unless there was any racism involved), even if I chose not to participate.

This is obviously a different thing from Ynglingasaga 25 where King Aun sacrificed nine of his sons in order to evade old age and death. Most of Ynglingasaga is mythic or legendary anyway, and Ynglingasaga 25 has all the feel of a cautionary Marchen smuggled in. My conclusion is that that is all it is. I certainly hope I would have universal agreement that if one did believe this documented an actual practice, that it was one grounded in error and not to be revived. Without such agreement, again, I would not continue dialogue.

The ancients practiced infanticide (abandonment), which we do not, because we have perfected first trimester abortions. It could be very meaningful, in fact, to develop sanctification rituals for these important but often difficult rites of passage. If any sliver of child sacrifice has ancient validity in any way we moderns could affirm, it would probably attach to infanticide-abandonment cases. Given that in later folklore, children who died young were said to come to the arms of Holda/Fricka, it is likely that Frigga would be invoked in such ceremonies. Sanctification of abortion, Christian "babykilling" accusations notwithstanding, is a far, far cry from ritual murder of children.

Then we come to another area of modern controversy. One might propose a sanctification of the Kavorkian process, of medically-assisted suicide. So long as this steered clear of anything eugenical, and constituted a ritualization of already-sanctioned suicide, this could also be meaningful and even powerful.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Another arena is that of dedicating the other side in combat to Tyr, and then killing them after the battle is won. This would violate the Geneva conventions, but the ancient alternative of enthralling them would even more violate the Geneva conventions. "Taking no prisoners" has a harsh, pirate sound to it (and no doubt it), but it may also betray an ethic of freedom where one would not think to take captives (or simply could not absorb such captives). I think our modern Geneva conventions have superceded most of this. On the other hand, within the combat zone itself, there is nothing preventing heathen soldiers and clergy from vowing to Tyr each enemy they manage to kill. That would make a pretty dramatic headline ("Pagan soldiers in military dedicate enemy to ancient war god"), but certainly could constitute a modern adaptation of this practice. One's feelings about it would differ according to one's feelings about the justness of the war itself.

Death by lottery for no crime at all I consider a crime, hands down. There's no scientific basis for assuming a sacrifice made to a sea-god will save a ship in a storm, and so I think we can safely relegate that to past superstition. Just because I know that our ancestors held a great deal of wisdom doesn't disclude a lot of uncritical thinking being included as well (as exists in the present, too). I suppose if one loves those sorts of impossibly unlikely hypothetical scenarios moral philosophers love to think up, if one were on a boat that because of failing conditions could only support six, and there were seven on board, some sort of lottery could help people decide the situation, and such a horrible decision could be sanctified in some way.

My continued use of the term "sanctification" points to something essential in the discussion, which is that what we're really discussing is under what circumstances is killing, whether homicidal or suicidal, legitimate and acceptable? We may then also ask, where it is decided to take a life (or where life is so taken beyond our control), does it not dignify life itself to mark such an occasion ritually?

Then we can ask under what conditions killing is justified. Putting people's lives into the hands of priests or prophets empowered to pronounce death by lottery because of unconscious urgings, no matter how psychic or righteous they might be, seems to me tyranny, and there is sound basis within Teutonic tradition for assessing such behavior as tyrannical. Just because one person feels, however strongly, that the "Gods" want someone to be killed is no guarantee against their personal whim, tyranny, or mental illness, for that matter, no matter how respected they are. So if indeed there was involuntary ritual murder by lottery, or under order of some kind of priest, this is nothing the majority of people in the modern world would ever accept, and they would consider its supercession rightfully to be a liberation.

We don't have slaves in the modern world, so the killing of slaves is irrelevant, but if we did have slaves, their random consignment to death divorced from any crime would constitute a crime in my book, and most people. That's ritual insanity, not wholeness.

No one can have their rights taken away by a priest or prophet. Those rights are Gods-given, and if the Gods want someone, they will take them on their own. Punishment for crimes is one area where the Gods delegate their functions to human legal assemblies, so that rights will be preserved. If capital crimes are punished, they may be so sanctified as well. This is completely different than random ritual murder of innocents.

Haukur said...

Hope you have a good Yule! I'm here under my real name too but I've discussed enough controversial things on the Internet for this to worry me :) You clearly have done a lot of thinking about a lot of things, Nick - I've noticed your comments on the Wild Hund. You don't happen to have a blog or some other collected body of writings?

Nick Ritter said...

I'm limiting myself to a brief note here.

Siegfried: I had hoped that the theoretical nature of the conversation was apparent from the beginning; there was apparently a misunderstanding.

Sanctification of killing that is primarily for another purpose is one possibility, certainly. Regarding sacrifice in Germanic reliigon, I am interested in, per Grønbech, "striv[ing] to reach a point of view from which these strange thoughts become natural." I suspect that is one area in which you and I will disagree.

Haukur: Glad Yule to you, too! I do have a blog, although not nearly as full and well-tended as this one. If I wrote as much on that blog as I have on this one over the last few days, I'd hardly have time for anything else. If you like, you can email me at: hildiwulf@gmail.com, and we can converse further.

Glad Yule, All.

Haukur said...

You bring up a lot of interesting material, Siegfried. I only wonder, since it now turns out that you have such a nuanced view of this subject, why you reacted the way you did to Nick's original thoughts on it.

There was a "stone of Thor" on which criminals heads were bashed in. This is unequivocally capital punishment

You're presumably talking about the stone mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga although it doesn't mention the head in particular. But that text doesn't mention criminals and it's not clear from it how people were chosen for the (putative) sacrifices.

The Icelandic justice system didn't include the death penalty as such. The greatest punishment was skóggangr, meaning "forest-walk", i.e. 'exile'. Exiled people could be killed with impunity so I suppose you could try to capture exiles and sacrifice them but there's no indication that this is what the Eyrbyggja author had in mind. Other accounts of human sacrifice in Iceland mostly indicate that it was used to get rid of old and crippled people during famine. But this is all a bit controversial. Sami traditions are better documented. They offered old people a choice between being drowned, being nailed stuck inside a tree trunk or going on a final ride pulled by an untamed reindeer.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to follow closely the comments on this post and participate more fully in the conversation.

Although some of this has been heated, I personally don't see any problem with that. I keep all comments under "moderation" only to keep out spammers and such, but I have no interest in controlling or limiting what people have to say.

One of the things that has kept me otherwise occupied is that our Coven just celebrated Yule, and I was one of the one's planning the ritual. We also will have another Yule ritual next weekend (closer to Yule, proper), but this one will be with several Covens celebrating together.

Happy Yule!

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

The text in Eyrbyggja is very clear. The Stone of Thor was within the Doom-Ring within the Holy Thingstead. That's all we need to know, as the Thingstead was a Lawcourt. The fact that the ring is called the "doom" ring means it is a court of law. That means it included criminal proceedings. " Then they moved the Thing up the ness, where it now is; and whenas Thord the Yeller settled the Quarter Things, he caused this to be the Quarter Thing of the Westfirthers, and men should seek to that Thing from all over the Westfirths. There is yet to be seen the Doom-ring, where men were doomed to the sacrifice. In that ring stands the stone of Thor over which those men were broken who were sacrificed, and the colour of the blood on that stone is yet to be seen. And at that Thing was one of the holiest of steads..."

It means the punishment was either for crimes decided on, or more likely, since the holiness of the stead is mentioned, for violation of the frith of that stead.

And it's obvious why I acted the way I did : ritual murder is abhorrent, heinous, and to be opposed at every turn, in every way, for all time, because murder is wrong, and murder of innocents sanctioned by shibbolethry is abomination. So long as our palisades are very, very clear in that regard, we can have intelligent conversation. The moment that palisade is approached or assaulted in any way, the dialogue ends, the association ends, everything comes to a halt.

Nick Ritter said...

Quick post. Quote swiped from another friend's blog

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Will to Power 1052 (Kaufmann's translation)

The two types: Dionysus and the Crucified - To determine: whether the typical religious man [is] a form of decadence (the great innovators are one and all morbid and epileptic); but are we not here omitting one type of religious man, the pagan? Is the pagan cult not a form of thanksgiving and affirmation of life? Must its highest representative not be an apology for and deification of life? The type of a well-constituted and ecstatically overflowing spirit! The type of a spirit that takes into itself and redeems the contradictions and questionable aspects of existence!

It is here I set the Dionysus of the Greeks: the religious affirmation of life, life whole and not denied or in part; (typical - that the sexual act arouses profundity, mystery, reverence).

Dionysus versus the "Crucified": there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom - it is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering - the "Crucified as the innocent one" - counts as an objection to this life, as a formula for its condemnation. - One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. In the former case, it is supposed to be the path to a holy existence; in the latter case, being is counted as holy enough to justify even a monstrous amount of suffering. The tragic man affirms even the harshest suffering: he is sufficiently strong, rich, and capable of deifying to do so.

The Christian denies even the happiest lot on earth: he is sufficiently weak, poor, disinherited to suffer life in whatever form he meets it. The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.

Glad Yule, All.

Haukur said...

The text doesn't say anything about criminals or punishment, it just says that some people were 'doomed' (i.e. 'judged') to a blót. Sure, that could refer to passing judgment on criminals - it's just that we lack corroboration on the þing operating that way. Also note that recent scholarship has it that Eyrbyggja got this description from an early version of Landnáma rather than late versions of Landnáma getting it from Eyrbyggja as was previously thought (I didn't know this until today). The Landnáma texts here are slightly different.

Recent scholarship connects the description with Tacitus' description of sacrifice to regnator omnium deus. Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson argues that in both cases the victims were dismembered, emulating the world-creating sacrifice of the primeval being (Ymir or Tuisto).

Anyway, we have no great disagreement here - it's entirely possible that the Icelandic source we've been discussing is referring to ritual execution of criminals.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

"Friedrich Nietzsche: The Will to Power 1052 (Kaufmann's translation) ...."

All in favor, signify by saying "YES!!"

I am reminded of that scene from Jeremiah Johnson where instead of saying grace properly, as his Christian (and Native American) wife wants him to, he pounds his fists on the table screaming "YES! YES!!" with his face lifted heavenward.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why our host, as a confessed Buddhist, really worries about pagan claptrap anyway.

It's just relative truth, at best, and doesn't lead to liberation. Why not focus on the Dharma?

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I come by it honestly. The Buddha was a Pagan, too.

Ruadhan said...

"Paganism" isn't a religion, period. At best, it's a collected community of religions, new and old -- but most commonly, it's a "negative definition" that relies solely on the very Abrahamic religions often railed against to define the religions tossed under its umbrella as "not Abrahamic". Furthermore, your typical Buddhist would beg to differ on your claim that "the Buddha was pagan"; the average devout Buddhist, Hindu, Shintoism, etc, rejects the term "Pagan" because it's a word used by Abrahamic missionaries (typically Christians) to label them by what they are not.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

You can put all the periods after it you want, Ruadhan, but Paganism is definitely a religion. In fact, it is really the only religion there is.

As for "typical Buddhists", well, they are perfectly free to believe whatever they want.

But all Buddhists are familiar with the story of the Buddha's enlightenment. And we all know that the Buddha's last act before his Great Awakening was to reach down and touch the Earth, and then to say a prayer to the Earth Goddess. She answered that prayer by dispelling the Demon Armies that had gathered to prevent the Buddha from Awakening, and only then did the Buddha become the Buddha: The Awakened One. THAT is some serious Pagan shit right there.

Finally, for now, rejection of the TERM Pagan means little. The TERM monotheism didn't exist prior to the 15th century - this does not mean that monotheism did not exist prior to then. For that matter, the vast majority of the followers of all religions are abysmally ignorant about their own religion and all other religions as well.