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Veneration 20181203: Reviving a Dead Religion

 

Imagine, if you will, that a battle had gone differently on October 10, 732 in France. The Battle of Tours not only stopped the Islamic conquest of Europe from Africa and up the Iberian Peninsula, but started the reversal which would culminate in 1492 with the Iberian Peninsula united into two Christian kingdoms with the Muslims (and the Jews) eventually cast out or forced to convert. What would have happened had the Muslims won? The battle took place at least half the way into the heart of France. Had the Muslims been successful there, things would have been dark for European Christendom. It’s possible that Byzantium could have faced a two-front war within a few hundred years. Byzantium might have fallen earlier, leaving only Islam in Europe with Paganism on the Northern fringes in areas that were not yet Christianized. Over time, those areas, too, might be brought into Islam.

Now, imagine further that a thousand years after the thorough conquest, a thousand years after the last Christians and Jews had converted to Islam, that someone wanted to revive the old religion. Perhaps Islam was starting to fall under its own weight. The only problem is that nobody had wanted to be seen as trying to preserve the old religion against Islam, so very little was left. All that scholars had found about Christianity was one fairly well-preserved version of the Book of Psalms, and then some attestations throughout time that didn’t really get into exactly how the whole religion worked and was practiced. Certainly, it lacked the cosmogony and theology components. Further, there had been three scholars writing about “the old ways” a couple of hundred years after the fall of Christianity, but the true scholars of the old languages, history, and archaeology were pretty sure that their writings were very tainted with their Islamic religion, plus they were probably misunderstanding things from spotty oral history that had passed down for two hundred years by the time the stories reached them.

Imagine, then, that you wanted to revive this old religion to take the place of a moribund Islam that nobody any longer believed or cared about, at least in Europe. Would you look at the lack of data and give it up as a lost cause? Or would you fake it until you make it?

Germanic Neopaganism is in exactly that situation. During the Romantic Period of the Nineteenth Century and into the early Twentieth Century, some German Romanticists tried reviving the old religion of the Volk. This was tied up with German Nationalism. Germany only “kind of” became a country in 1871. Before that, it had been a loose confederation of states with related languages and traditions for about a thousand years. Even then, it was still not what we would think of as one nation until after WWI. Beginning especially after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, many Germans were feeling the lack caused by their disunity. They wanted one ring to rule them all…or something like that. And that is the period, while the Brothers Grimm were starting to study old German folk tales and Beethoven was writing big works and Richard Wagner was glorifying the old stories with the Ring Cycle, that there was first interest in reviving the old Germanic Paganism. These revival movements went through into the Twentieth Century and got themselves entangled with German National Socialism, which sort of put a damper on them for a quarter of a century. But by 1970, some people were back at it, trying to revive the old Germanic Paganism.

There was only one problem. They really never had too much information to revive it with. You know how I asked you to try imagining restarting Christianity with only the Book of Psalms, a few historical attestations, and the writings of some Muslims trying to record the traditions two hundred years after they had died out? Well, the old Germanic Pagans weren’t really big on writing things down, and about all that is left is the equivalent. There is the Poetic Edda, a collection of old poems that mention aspects of the old religion as it existed in Iceland, at least. There are a few attestations of how things were supposedly done that have come down through other cultures, such as the Romans and at least one Muslim traveler. This includes accounts of human sacrifice, by the way. Then there are the works written by Christians, two of three of whom were probably monks, and all of whom were writing hundreds of years after their area and country had converted to Christianity.

The rest of what these German Neopagan movements have been doing is filling in the prodigious gaps as best they can. They are classified as New Religious Movements, not as revivals of old religions. Why? Because the gaps were that big. Again, imagine trying to restart Christianity without the Gospels or most of the Old Testament, only the poetry of the Psalms.

I am left wondering what sort of desperation drives people to try to reconstruct religious practices based on so little information. Certainly, the Germanic Neopagans are not the only example out there these days.

What do you think, Ricochet? Are such things worth the effort? Are they all stuff and nonsense? Should the Mexican peoples try to reconstruct the old Aztec religion? What is your reaction?

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There are 203 comments.

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  1. Member

    Weird. They’re reaching into the past for some reason. “Heathenry” as they’re calling it is catching on in Iceland too, and from what I’ve read, some of the groups have racialist ideals; i.e., German Neopaganism is by definition for Germanic people only. So far, they don’t seem to have a cohesive structure or even worship the same gods. Are they reaching into the past to escape the unpleasantness of the present? Feeling the need for a specifically Germanic religion which excludes outsiders from at least this one area of their lives?

    • #1
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:20 pm
    • 11 likes
  2. Member

    Outstanding post. 

    • #2
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:29 pm
    • 5 likes
  3. Member

    In this thought experiment I think you may have neglected the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Mar Thoma churches.

    • #3
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:39 pm
    • 5 likes
  4. Member

    Arahant:

    I am left wondering what sort of desperation drives people to try to reconstruct religious practices based on so little information. Certainly the Germanic Neopagans are not the only example out there these days.

    Yeah, I’m a little puzzled myself on the conscious motivations.

    • #4
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:40 pm
    • 3 likes
  5. Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Weird. They’re reaching into the past for some reason. “Heathenry” as they’re calling it is catching on in Iceland too, and from what I’ve read, some of the groups have racialist ideals; i.e., German Neopaganism is by definition for Germanic people only. So far, they don’t seem to have a cohesive structure or even worship the same gods. Are they reaching into the past to escape the unpleasantness of the present? Feeling the need for a specifically Germanic religion which excludes outsiders from at least this one area of their lives?

    Without knowing the demographics involved, it’s hard to say what their goals might be. You might have your disaffected young man types looking to band together, possibly nationalist Germans who are trying to find something with less negative connotations, or maybe just a bunch of tree-huggers who heard that was what paganism is about.

    • #5
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:42 pm
    • 9 likes
  6. Member

    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Weird. They’re reaching into the past for some reason. “Heathenry” as they’re calling it is catching on in Iceland too, and from what I’ve read, some of the groups have racialist ideals; i.e., German Neopaganism is by definition for Germanic people only. So far, they don’t seem to have a cohesive structure or even worship the same gods. Are they reaching into the past to escape the unpleasantness of the present? Feeling the need for a specifically Germanic religion which excludes outsiders from at least this one area of their lives?

    Without knowing the demographics involved, it’s hard to say what their goals might be. You might have your disaffected young man types looking to band together, possibly nationalist Germans who are trying to find something with less negative connotations, or maybe just a bunch of tree-huggers who heard that was what paganism is about.

    I think it’s still too young and amorphous for anyone to know yet.

    • #6
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:46 pm
    • 6 likes
  7. Member
    Arahant Post author

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Are they reaching into the past to escape the unpleasantness of the present?

    Feeling the need for a specifically Germanic religion which excludes outsiders from at least this one area of their lives?

    No idea on either count. It really is a mystery to me.

    • #7
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:55 pm
    • 6 likes
  8. Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    In this thought experiment I think you may have neglected the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Mar Thoma churches.

    Do the Rus get converted to Islam instead? Does the defeat of the Franks guarantee that Islam takes over Europe? I think the thought experiment assumes too much in regards to the nature of war and a swift victory. Just to give a note to the poor Visigoths that got ruined by the Umayyads they were defeated in a few centralized battles that saw the whole of the Visigothic military might brought to bear.

    The same would be hard to say for the Franks. It also ignores the Lombards and just how hard it can be to invade through the mountains overlooking Italy or whether the Anglo-Saxons and the Celtic Welsh/Irish/Scottish would be willing to take up the Crescent instead of the Cross. It also ignores just how fractious the Umayyad control of the Caliphate was and how much of its military was concentrated in fighting the Eastern Roman Empire across eastern Anatolia; not to mention their phobia of Greek fire after the Siege of Constantinople.

    Afterall one of the reasons why the Reconquista happened was that the Umayyads failed to gain complete control of Iberia. The Visigoths/Suebi/Basques in Gallaceia/Castille/Aragon managed to survive for the most part. Imagine a power struggle occuring 10-50 years after the Battle of Tours with all those numerous variables at work. It is hard to see Islam keeping its grasp over Europe.

    • #8
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:56 pm
    • 5 likes
  9. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    In this thought experiment I think you may have neglected the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Mar Thoma churches.

    Understood. Likewise, the Jewish diaspora managed to hold onto their ways and religion despite severe conversion pressures. The thought experiment was more to try for a comparison to what is left of the knowledge of the old Germanic ways.

    On the other hand, if the Muslims had conquered Europe, imagine Islamic armies bolstered by all of those knights who would have been Crusaders instead being Jihadis and spreading Islam to Ethiopia, Armenia, and India. 😈

    • #9
    • December 3, 2018 at 6:59 pm
    • 5 likes
  10. Member

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    In this thought experiment I think you may have neglected the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Mar Thoma churches.

    Do the Rus get converted to Islam still? Does the defeat of the Franks guarantee that Islam takes over Europe? I think the thought experiment assumes too much in regards to the nature of war and a swift victory. Just to give a note to the poor Visigoths that got ruined by the Umayyads they were defeated in a few centralized battles that saw the whole of the Visigothic military might brought to bear.

    The same would be hard to say for the Franks. It also ignores the Lombards and just how hard it can be to invade through the mountains overlooking Italy or whether the Anglo-Saxons and the Celtic Welsh/Irish/Scottish would be willing to take up the Crescent instead of the Cross. It also ignores just how fractious the Umayyad control of the Caliphate was and how much of its military was concentrated in fighting the Eastern Roman Empirev across eastern Anatolia; not to mention their phobia of Greek fire after the Siege of Constantinople.

    Afterall one of the reasons why the Reconquista happened was that the Umayyads failed to gain complete control of Iberia. The Visigoths/Suebi/Basques in Gallaceia/Castille/Aragon managed to survive for the most part. Imagine a power struggle occuring 10-50 years after the Battle of Tours with all those numerous variables at work. It is hard to see Islam keeping its grasp over Europe.

    Still, as a thought experiment, the parameters can be gerrymandered any way we like to make the experiment work, yes?

    • #10
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:01 pm
    • 2 likes
  11. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    In this thought experiment I think you may have neglected the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Mar Thoma churches.

    Understood. Likewise, the Jewish diaspora managed to hold onto their ways and religion despite severe conversion pressures. The thought experiment was more to try for a comparison to what is left of the knowledge of the old Germanic ways.

    On the other hand, if the Muslims had conquered Europe, imagine Islamic armies bolstered by all of those knights who would have been Crusaders instead being Jihadis and spreading Islam to Ethiopia, Armenia, and India. 😈

    Yes, as above, I think we can gerrymander the thought experiment as we like. If we’re going to be detailed we’d have to add a lot of this stuff, as well as an absence of Islamic scholars who bothered to read the Torat (Torah), Zaboor (Psalms / other OT books), and Injeel (NT).

    • #11
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:03 pm
    • 1 like
  12. Thatcher

    CovadongaThat was the first battle of the Reconquista.

    And if you think we have a border problem now, just wait until they are Aztecs.

    • #12
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:05 pm
    • 7 likes
  13. Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Covadonga. That was the first battle of the Reconquista.

    And if you think we have a border problem now, just wait until they are Aztecs.

    I don’t know. I would think it’d be easier to argue for a strict border in that case.

    • #13
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:07 pm
    • 5 likes
  14. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger (View Comment):
    You might have your disaffected young man types looking to band together, possibly nationalist Germans who are trying to find something with less negative connotations, or maybe just a bunch of tree-huggers who heard that was what paganism is about.

    The latter does seem to be part of it, but more likely with those attracted to Wicca and such other forms. The Germanic Neo-religions tend to highlight certain characteristics, like honor and truth and bravery.

    • #14
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:07 pm
    • 5 likes
  15. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger (View Comment):
    You might have your disaffected young man types looking to band together, possibly nationalist Germans who are trying to find something with less negative connotations, or maybe just a bunch of tree-huggers who heard that was what paganism is about.

    The latter does seem to be part of it, but more likely with those attracted to Wicca and such other forms. The Germanic Neo-religions tend to highlight certain characteristics, like honor and truth and bravery.

    I recently heard that there are more Wicca than Presbyterians in the USA. Or more people who believe in witchcraft than Presbyterians. Or something like that.

    • #15
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:10 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Thatcher

    As far as German Neo Paganism goes … a bunch of Germans dressing funny, drinking too much, and making a racket?

    What could go wrong?

    • #16
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:12 pm
    • 13 likes
  17. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    On the other hand, if the Muslims had conquered Europe, imagine Islamic armies bolstered by all of those knights who would have been Crusaders instead being Jihadis and spreading Islam to Ethiopia, Armenia, and India.

    I guess that depends on when you pen your mark for Islam’s success. If it is around 800 AD then knighthood doesn’t exactly occur, first recordings of stirrups occur in 840 AD (stirrups are necessary for a knight-like soldier to emerge). In addition to this is the fact that arab military strategy favored light cavalry over heavy cavalry for more mobility and raiding capacities-whereas knights were developed for more decisive one hit cavalry charges-and that the mountainous terrain of Armenia/Georgia and Ethiopia are not suitable for knights to fight in. So I doubt that knights would be too much of a boon in such scenarios.

    • #17
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:12 pm
    • 3 likes
  18. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    On the other hand, if the Muslims had conquered Europe, imagine Islamic armies bolstered by all of those knights who would have been Crusaders instead being Jihadis and spreading Islam to Ethiopia, Armenia, and India.

    Well, assuming that the Islamic threat doesn’t prevent the schism within Christianity and arrest the decline of Byzantium.

    • #18
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:13 pm
    • 1 like
  19. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):
    Do the Rus get converted to Islam instead? Does the defeat of the Franks guarantee that Islam takes over Europe? I think the thought experiment assumes too much in regards to the nature of war and a swift victory. Just to give a note to the poor Visigoths that got ruined by the Umayyads they were defeated in a few centralized battles that saw the whole of the Visigothic military might brought to bear.

    Okay, look, these are really all side issues. I was not trying to build a science fiction alternate history here. I was merely trying to bring forth an understandable comparison of how little we know of the old Germanic Pagan rites and stories. We have bupkis left of what their religions were. We have a few poems and stories, and that’s it. We don’t have their equivalent of the Bible or theological commentaries. Don’t get sidetracked.

    • #19
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:13 pm
    • 12 likes
  20. Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger (View Comment):
    You might have your disaffected young man types looking to band together, possibly nationalist Germans who are trying to find something with less negative connotations, or maybe just a bunch of tree-huggers who heard that was what paganism is about.

    The latter does seem to be part of it, but more likely with those attracted to Wicca and such other forms. The Germanic Neo-religions tend to highlight certain characteristics, like honor and truth and bravery.

    I recently heard that there are more Wicca than Presbyterians in the USA. Or more people who believe in witchcraft than Presbyterians. Or something like that.

    Yeah. I had a link to it, but it was a while ago.

    • #20
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:14 pm
    • 3 likes
  21. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):
    Do the Rus get converted to Islam instead? Does the defeat of the Franks guarantee that Islam takes over Europe? I think the thought experiment assumes too much in regards to the nature of war and a swift victory. Just to give a note to the poor Visigoths that got ruined by the Umayyads they were defeated in a few centralized battles that saw the whole of the Visigothic military might brought to bear.

    Okay, look, these are really all side issues. I was not trying to build a science fiction alternate history here. I was merely trying to bring forth an understandable comparison of how little we know of the old Germanic Pagan rites and stories. We have bupkis left of what their religions were. We have a few poems and stories, and that’s it. We don’t have their equivalent of the Bible or theological commentaries. Don’t get sidetracked.

    I’m tempted to argue “Tough!” but WRT the main discussion: we don’t even know what we don’t know about paganism, and Ricochet is full of people who are going to argue the latter. You can’t say you didn’t expect this going in and get me to believe it.

    Realistically, you probably should have put a disclaimer up there.

    • #21
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:16 pm
    • 4 likes
  22. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Percival (View Comment):
    CovadongaThat was the first battle of the Reconquista.

    I was trying to keep it simple since the conversion of Europe to Islam was not the real point. It was only to illustrate how much we don’t know about the old ways that some folks are trying to recreate.

    • #22
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:16 pm
    • 7 likes
  23. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I recently heard that there are more Wicca than Presbyterians in the USA. Or more people who believe in witchcraft than Presbyterians. Or something like that.

    I also saw that. Of course, the Presbyterians have worked hard to get rid of all the Presbyterians in their midst, but that’s another story.

    • #23
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:17 pm
    • 12 likes
  24. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Percival (View Comment):
    What could go wrong?

    It’s all fun and games until the sacrifices of the captured enemies to Odin.

    • #24
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:18 pm
    • 9 likes
  25. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Matt Balzer, Straw Bootlegger (View Comment):
    I’m tempted to argue “Tough!” but WRT the main discussion: we don’t even know what we don’t know about paganism, and Ricochet is full of people who are going to argue the latter. You can’t say you didn’t expect this going in and get me to believe it.

    Well, as long as nobody brings the Mighty Cod into the discussion.

    • #25
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:21 pm
    • 1 like
  26. Thatcher

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    Covadonga. That was the first battle of the Reconquista.

    I was trying to keep it simple since the conversion of Europe to Islam was not the real point. It was only to illustrate how much we don’t know about the old ways that some folks are trying to recreate.

    I know that it wasn’t the point. That’s why I focused on it.

    • #26
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:23 pm
    • 5 likes
  27. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I recently heard that there are more Wicca than Presbyterians in the USA. Or more people who believe in witchcraft than Presbyterians. Or something like that.

    I also saw that. Of course, the Presbyterians have worked hard to get rid of all the Presbyterians in their midst, but that’s another story.

    Maybe. Maybe it’s all the same story.

    Reject the authority of G-d, Christ, apostle, and Scripture, and Presbyterians will dwindle out while some manner of pagans will emerge worshiping self, earth, or other idols. Pretty much what good old Presbyterian theology (i.e., Calvin stuff) would have predicted.

    Hence I said in # 4 that I was unclear on the conscious motivations for a return to ancient European paganism. I can easily enough find something in Calvin, the Bible, or some other helpful source for thinking through the theology behind it.

    • #27
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:23 pm
    • 3 likes
  28. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    I was not trying to build a science fiction alternate history here.

    Really? I thought it might be a tetralogy proposal.

     

    Also, why does this spell-checker thing not know what a tetralogy is? It keeps insisting on petrology.

    • #28
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm
    • 4 likes
  29. Member
    Arahant Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I can easily enough find something in Calvin, the Bible, or some other helpful source for thinking through the theology behind it.

    That sounds fun. Of course, the shortcut might be to Emile Cammaerts:

    The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.

     

    • #29
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:30 pm
    • 4 likes
  30. Member

    What kind of religion could be built if the only reference was Ecclesiastes?

     

    • #30
    • December 3, 2018 at 7:33 pm
    • 5 likes
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