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?