Ingui-Freyr Associations

It has been a challenging exercise for me to describe and classify Freyr’s recorded associations. This has shown me that each of Freyr’s domains is inextricable from the greater whole. Elves, mounds, kingship, boars, fertility, prosperity— these semantic categories coalesce to portray the many facets of Ingui-Freyr.

elves
In my opinion, Freyr’s relationship to elves is very much an extension of his connection to sacral kingship and the mound. Elves are quite mysterious in the lore we do have. However, they tend to be associated with the land and ancestors. For instance, Olaf Gudrødsson was worshipped as the Geirstad-alf after his death (see Keyser 230, citing Þáttr Ólafs Geirstaða Alfs).

In Kormak’s Saga, a Christian tale, Kormac is advised to perform a blot for the elves on a hill (see The Saga of Cormac the Skald). While this source may not be a reliable account of pagan worship, it is somewhat convincing of the connection between hills and hill-like structures (i.e. mounds) and elves. Worshipped as the divine progenitor of the Swedes and of the Ynglinga people, Freyr is himself a kind of ancestor, potentially of similar stock to the elves (see Ynglinga 11). That having been said, spirit taxonomy is never simple in Norse mythology. The only thing we know is that elves are spirits of some variety and that Freyr’s leadership over them suggests he is a ruler of some spirit host.

the mound

Pagans would sit on burial mounds or on the sacred hills and mountains where the dead were thought to reside, meditating until communication with the dead could be obtained. Their darkness is the darkness of the unknown, that which is not seen by the living, of the hidden reality that is death.

—Maria Kvilhaug, “Alfablot”

For me, the concept of the “mound” is inseparable from death, wealth, and fertility. Scholars such as Richard Keyser (1854), Ellis/Davidson (1943) have argued for mounds as sites of communion with supernatural powers (elves and/or ancestors). A mound is a place that holds the bones of the dead, the treasure they accumulated, as well as the potential for new growth. The mound is a sacred place which is deeply associated with the spirits of the land, the dead, and elves⁠—spirits which may not necessarily be taxonomically distinct. Freyr’s connection to the mound is established by the account of his death and internment in a “great mound” as well as his connection to elves, who are mound-dwellers (see Ynglinga 11; see Grimnismal 5).

For me, the mound is a powerful icon of death and rebirth. It is an expression of Freyr’s more chthonic side. The mound can also be seen as a liminal site, because while it rises above the surface of flat land, its semantic power is in its subterranean quality. Consequently, the mound is both above and under ground as well as between life and death.

the boar

It was a boar with bristles of gold […] To Frey [Brokk] gave the boar, remarking that night or day it could race across the sky and over sea better than any other mount. Furthermore, night would never be so murky nor the worlds of darkness so shadowy that the boar would not provide light wherever it went, so bright was the shining of its bristles.

—Skaldskaparmal 35, Byock translation

Freyr’s connection to the boar is well-established not only through his ownership of Gullinbursti (see Skaldskaparmal 35) but also through his connection to the sacrificial Yule boar (see “The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek” ch.10). According to William Reaves, “pigs are not only fertile, producing many young, but are fierce fighters which bear tusks, which are likened to weapons. The wild boar is a scavenger and will eat corpses; not surprisingly, it acquired a symbolic association with death. They are also rooting animals, which symbolically connects them with the plow, making them appropriate symbols of the Vanir who once defeated the more powerful Aesir in war (Völuspá 23-24). Clearly, there is a close connection between the Vanir gods, death, war, fertility and the symbol of the boar” (Reaves 16).

For me, the boar represents protection, virility, fertility, war, sacrifice, and the harvest, associations which are vital to my understanding of Freyr.

prosperity

When it became known to the Swedes that Frey was dead, and yet peace and good seasons continued, they believed that it must be so as long as Frey remained in Sweden; and therefore they would not burn his remains, but called him the god of this world, and afterwards offered continually blood-sacrifices to him, principally for peace and good seasons.

Ynglinga Saga, Laing translation

For Freyr, peace and prosperity are intimately intertwined. He is explicitly connected to “peace and good seasons” (Ynglinga 13). He is also generally depicted as good-hearted and as bringing gladness, with Tyr attesting that “no maid he makes to weep/no wife of man,/and from bonds looses all” (Lokasenna 37). He is also referred to as “god of the good year” and “giver of wealth” (Skaldskaparmal). Freyr also willingly relinquishes his sword to woo Gerðr, leaving him weaponless at Ragnarok (Skirnismal 9). This could symbolize the necessity of putting aside weapons for peace, prosperity, and fertility (represented here by marital love).

Reaves establishes peace as being connected to Freyr’s power as a fertility deity, arguing that “successful agriculture depends on peace.” As such, Freyr seems to be the god who blesses farmers with the peace they need to work their crops, though he is bold in battle when necessary.

kingship

[Freyr] is not merely the fertility god of a farming population, but possesses all of the prerequisites of an ideal king: virility, military prowess, and wealth, the attributes required to obtain and keep a throne.

—William P. Reaves, “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja”

In the Ynglinga Saga, Freyr is described as a king so great that his subjects pretended he was still alive (see Ynglinga 11-13). It is unclear whether this account is a complete euhemerization or a bastardization of an apotheosis myth. Considering Freyr is said in the Grimnismal to have been given kingship over Alfheim as an infant, we can probably assume the former, though it is entirely possible that the conflicting accounts are merely regional variations (see Grimnismal 5). Yngve’s/Ingui’s name is often deeply associated with royal lineages as well (see Beowulf ll.1042;  Reaves 5-6;  Sundqvist 18-19).

fertility

The ability to guarantee the fertility of the land was an important quality of early Scandinavian rulers.  As Freyr was lord of the harvest, the Swedes believed that the success or the failure of crops depended on their king and his relationship to the gods.

—William P. Reaves, “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja”

The recovered objects typically identified as Freyr depict the god with a massive phallus (Reaves 8-9; see Sodermanland figure). This iconography suggests his identification as a virile figure. Fertility and virility are also evocative of his kingship, as good rule was seen as having an effect on the health of the land (see Reaves 6). Freyr’s connection to fertility is not only theoretical but direct. Lands were often named for him, “such as Freysakr, Freysland, and Freysvin.” (Reaves 3). The kenning, árguð ‘harvest god,’ also reflects his active fertility role (Skáldskaparmál 7). Likewise, Freyr is said to “rul[e] over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace” (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.).

kennings

[Call] him the son of Njord, the brother of Freyja, god of the Vanir, the descendant of the Vanir, and one of the Vanir, the god of a good year, and the giver of wealth… He is called the foe of Beli… and the possessor of the boat Skidbladnir and the boar Gullinbursti

—”Kennings for the Gods,” Skaldskaparmal, Russell Poole translation in Byock’s Prose Edda

Veraldar goð  ‘god of the world’ (Ynglinga 13)

Árguð  ‘harvest god’ (Skáldskaparmál7)

Fégjafi
‘wealth giver’ (Skáldskaparmál7)

Hǫfðingi
 ‘Lord, chieftain’ (Gylfaginning 36)

Hinn Ágætasti af Ásum  
‘the most glorious of the Æsir’ (Gylfaginning24)

Ása jaðarr  ‘
protector of the Aesir’ (Lokasenna 35)

Blótguð  ‘sacrificial God’ (Ǫgmundar þáttr dytts)

Vaningi  ‘son of the Vanir’ (Skirnismal 37)

 

Belja dólgr ‘enemy of Beli’ (Haleygjatal 5)

Bani Belja
  ‘the slayer of Beli’ (Voluspa 53)

Folkvaldi Goða  ‘
field-marshal of the gods’ (Skirnismal 3)

Ǫflugr
Atriði ‘the mighty attacking rider’ (Þorsgrimsþula)

Ballriði  
‘bold rider’ (Lokasenna 37)

 

Conclusion

These many associations suggest a complicated vision of  Ingui-Freyr’s nature. To me, Freyr is intimately associated with death as much as life, and I connect mostly to his chthonic side, expressed through the mound, boar, and his lordship over elves. Yet, Freyr’s domains show us that death and life are never completely distinct. The virility of the boar is necessary for its sacrifice at Yule, and though swine “plow” fields, they can also destroy them. Likewise, the mound is a site for death but also for new life, holding within it fertile soil as well as the bones of the dead…


References Cited

Chadwick, Nora Kershaw. “The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek.” Stories and Ballads of the Far Past. Cambridge University Press, 1921. Germanic Mythology. Web.

Collingwood, C.G., and J. Stefansson, trans. The Saga of Cormac the SkaldUlverston: W. Holmes, 1902. Saga Database. Web.

Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis. “The Cult of the Dead.” The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2013 [1943]. Germanic Mythology. Web.

Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, 2000. Print.

Keyser, Rudolph, and Barclay Pennock, trans. The Religion of the Northmen. London: C.B. Norton, 1854. Google Books. Web.

Kvilhaug, Maria. “The Old Norse Halloween or Day of the Dead: Alfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves).” Freyia Völundarhúsins. WordPress. Web.

Reaves, William P. “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja.” 2008. Germanic Mythology. Web

Sturlson, Snorri, and Arthur G. Brodeur, trans. The Prose Edda. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Jesse L. Byock, trans. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Russel Poole, trans. “Kennings for the Gods.” The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology, edited by Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Samuel Laing, trans. “The Ynglinga Saga.” Heimskringla, or, The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Sundqvist, Olof. On Freyr—the ‘Lord’ or ‘the Fertile One’? Some Comments on the Discussion of Etymology from the Historian of Religions’ Point of View. Onoma (48), 2013. Academia. Web.

“Þáttr Ólafs Geirstaða Alfs.” Fornmanna sögur, Volume I. Copenhagen: Royal Nordic Society of Antiquaries, 1835.

Unknown. The Poetic Edda, c. 1270 CE.

“Item 109037. SHM 14232.” Statens historiska museum.

Ingui-Freyr Text Sources

Up until recently, I had taken for granted the conflation of Ingui and Freyr. However, due to the important scholarship from Anglo-Saxon Heathens, I feel it necessary to explore references to Freyr and Ingui, explicitly the potential for distinction between Norse and Anglo-Saxon sources. This evidence list represents the best of my ability in this effort and will most likely be an ongoing study.

Norse

Gisli’s Saga (c. 1250 CE)

“there was to be a sacrifice to Frey” during “a feast at the end of autumn to celebrate the coming of Winter Nights.”

“when a chieftain named Þorgrímr Freysgoði died and was buried in a howe, a strange thing happened: no snow ever lodged on the south side of the howe, nor did it freeze.” (Reaves 11 citing Gisli’s Saga).

Gylfaginning | Prose Edda (c. 1220 CE)

“Njördr in Nóatún begot afterward two children: the son was called Freyr, and the daughter Freyja; they were fair of face and mighty. Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men” (Gylfaginning 24, Brodeur tr.)

“For this reason Frey was without a weapon when he fought with Beli, killing him with a stag’s horn” (Gylfaginning 37, Byock tr.)

Grimnismal | Codex Regius (c.1270 CE)

“Alfheim the gods to Frey
gave in days of yore
for a tooth-gift.” (Grimnsimal 5, Thorpe tr.)

“Ivaldi’s sons in bygone days
went to create Skidbladnir,
the best of ships, for shining Freyr,
Njörd’s beneficient son.” (Grimnismal 43, Larrington tr.)

Hervarar Saga og Heiðreks (c. 1200 CE)

describes the practice of Sonarblót:

“King Heithrek worshipped Freyr, and he used to give Freyr the biggest boar he could find. They regarded it as so sacred that in all important cases they used to take the oath on its bristles. It was the custom to sacrifice the boar at the ‘sacrifice of the herd.’ On Yule eve, the ‘boar of the herd’ was led into the hall before the king. Then men laid their hands on his bristles and made solemn vows.” (ch. 10, Chadwick tr. as cited by Reaves 15)

Husdrapa (c. 985 CE)

“The battle-bold Freyr rideth
First on the golden-bristled
Barrow-boar to the bale-fire
Of Baldr, and leads the people.” (Hudraspa 7, Brodeur tr.)
Lokasenna | Codex Regius (c.1270 CE)

“Frey is best
of all the exalted gods
in the Æsir´s courts:
no maid he makes to weep,
no wife of man,
and from bonds looses all.” (Lokasenna 37, Thorpe tr.)

Reaves citing Ögmundar þáttr dytt (c. 1330 CE)

“The notion that Freyr’s  idols possessed procreative power is emphasized in a 14th century Icelandic story found in the Flateyjarbók.  Ögmundar þáttr dytts ok Gunnars helmings tells the tale of a young Norwegian named Gunnar, falsely accused of murder, who flees to Sweden where he encounters a young woman said to be the wife of the god Freyr. He joins the woman, probably a priestess, as she rides through the countryside in a wagon near the end of the year accompanied by a wooden idol representing the god. Caught in a snowstorm, Gunnar enters the wagon offending the god and a struggle ensues. Calling on the Christian god for support, Gunnar displaces the idol, causing Freyr to flee. Later, when the priestess turns up pregnant with Gunnar’s child, the people regard this as a sign of the god’s potency.” (Reaves 9)

Skaldskaparmal | Prose Edda (c. 1220 CE)

“It was a boar with bristles of gold […] To Frey [Brokk] gave the boar, remarking that night or day it could race across the sky and over sea better than any other mount. Furthermore, night would never be so murky nor the worlds of darkness so shadowy that the boar would not provide light wherever it went, so bright was the shining of its bristles.” (Skaldskaparmal 35, Byock tr.)

“the Aesir took their places on the thrones of fate. Odin, Thor, and Frey were to be the judges, thus settling the matter.” (Skaldskaparmal 35, Byock tr.)

“[Frey should be referred to] by calling him the son of Njord, the brother of Freyja, god of the Vanir, the descendant of the Vanir, and one of the Vanir, the god of  a good year, and the giver of wealth… He is called the foe of Beli… and the possessor of the boat Skidbladnir and the boar Gullinbursti” (“Kennings for the Gods,” Russell Poole tr. cited by Byock tr.)

Skirnismal | Codex Regius (c.1270 CE)

[Freyr speaking to Skirnir]
“The horse will I give thee | that goes through the dark
And magic flickering flames,
And the sword as well | that will fight of itself
If a worthy hero wields it.” (Skirnismal 9, Bellows tr.)

Voluspa (c. 800-1100 CE) | Codex Regius (c.1270 CE)

“Then is fulfilled Hlin’s
second sorrow,
when Óðinn goes
to fight with the wolf,
and Beli’s slayer [Freyr],
bright, against Surtr.
Then shall Frigg’s
sweet friend fall” (Voluspa 53, Dronke tr.)

Ynglinga saga | Prose Edda (c. 1220 CE)

“Odin placed Njord and Frey as priests of the sacrifices, and they became Diar of the Asaland people.  Njord’s daughter Freya was priestess of the sacrifices, and first taught the Asaland people the magic art, as it was in use and fashion among the Vanaland people.  While Njord was with the Vanaland people he had taken his own sister in marriage, for that was allowed by their law; and their children were Frey and Freya.  But among the Asaland people it was forbidden to intermarry with such near relations.” (Ynglinga 4, Laing tr.)

“Frey took the kingdom after Njord, and was called drot by the Swedes, and they paid taxes to him.  He was, like his father, fortunate in friends and in good seasons.  Frey built a great temple at Upsal, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods.  Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since.  Then began in his days the Frode- peace; and then there were good seasons, in all the land, which the Swedes ascribed to Frey, so that he was more worshipped than the other gods, as the people became much richer in his days by reason of the peace and good seasons.  His wife was called Gerd, daughter of Gymir, and their son was called Fjolne.  Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour, so that his descendants have since been called Ynglinger.  Frey fell into a sickness; and as his illness took the upper hand, his men took the plan of letting few approach him.  In the meantime they raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it.  Now when Frey died they bore him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive; and they kept watch over him for three years.  They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued.” (Ynglinga 11, Laing tr.)

“When it became known to the Swedes that Frey was dead, and yet peace and good seasons continued, they believed that it must be so as long as Frey remained in Sweden; and therefore they would not burn his remains, but called him the god of this world, and afterwards offered continually blood-sacrifices to him, principally for peace and good seasons.”  (Ynglinga 13, Laing tr.)

Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (c. 1185 CE)

Saxo was “disgusted by the effeminate gestures [..] and by the unmanly clatter of bells” performed by the “wives of Freyr” (Book 6, Elton tr.)

Anglo-Saxon

Beowulf (c. 700-1000 CE)

“Then the Danish prince, descendent of Ing”1 (Beowulf ll.1042, Heaney tr.)

Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem (c. 700-800 CE)

“Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,till, followed by his chariot,
he departed eastwards over the waves.
So the Heardingas named the hero.” (Rune Poem, Dickins tr.)

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England (731 CE)

“it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare”2 (ch.13)

Secondary

“The Cult of Freyr and Freyja” William P. Reaves

“The Old Norse Halloween or Day of the Dead: Alfablot (Sacrifice to the Elves)” Maria Kvilhaug

On Freyr—the ‘Lord’ or ‘the Fertile One’? Some Comments on the Discussion of Etymology from the Historian of Religions’ Point of View” Olof Sundqvist


Endnotes

1. The Old English word is Ingwina, usually translated as “friend of Ing [Ingui]”
2. This is a reference to Coifi, high priest of Northumbria. The taboos described by Bede might reflect those of Ingui.


References Cited

Bede, and A.M Sellars, ed. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the England. 1907. London: George Bell and Sons.  Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Bellows, Henry A, trans. The Poetic Edda. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1936. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Chadwick, Nora Kershaw. “The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek.” Stories and Ballads of the Far Past. Cambridge University Press, 1921. Germanic Mythology. Web.

Dickins, Bruce. Runic and Heroic Poems of the old Teutonic Peoples. Cambridge University Press, 1915. Arild Hauge. Web.

Dronke, Ursula, trans. “Voluspa 53.” The Poetic Edda. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press, 1969. Germanic Mythology. Web.

Grammaticus, Saxo and Oliver Elton, trans. The First Nine Books of the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus, 1894. American Library Association Online Archive.

Heaney, Seamus, trans. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, 2000. Print.

Kvilhaug, Maria. “The Old Norse Halloween or Day of the Dead: Alfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves).” Freyia Völundarhúsins. WordPress. Web.

Larrington, Carolyne, trans. “Grimnismal 43.” The Poetic Edda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Germanic Mythology. Web

Reaves, William P. “The Cult of Freyr and Freyja.” 2008. Germanic Mythology. Web

Regal, Martin S., trans. “Gisli Sursson’s Saga.” The Complete Sage of Icelanders: Including 49 Tales, vol. 2, edited by Viðar Hreinsson et.al., 1-48. Reykjavík: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing, 1997. Google Books. Web.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Samuel Laing, trans. “The Ynglinga Saga.” Heimskringla, or, The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Arthur G. Brodeur, trans. The Prose Edda. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1916. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Web.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Jesse L. Byock, trans. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Sturlson, Snorri, and Russel Poole, trans. “Kennings for the Gods.” The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology, edited by Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Sundqvist, Olof. On Freyr—the ‘Lord’ or ‘the Fertile One’? Some Comments on the Discussion of Etymology from the Historian of Religions’ Point of View. Onoma (48), 2013. Academia. Web.

Thorpe, Benjamin, trans. The Saemundar Edda. London: Trübner & Co, 1866. Germanic Mythology. Web.

Some Theological Beliefs

1. The Gods are both immanent and transcendent.

The Gods are able to be present and physically manifest before us, just as they can influence, in a truly material sense, the weather, crops, etc. of our world. Nevertheless, They are also “cosmic” or at the very least immanent to worlds beyond our own. This seems evident to me in that They communicate through synchronicities, dreams, and other non literal ways.

2. The Gods are able to be present for worshipers at virtually any time and place.

Sometimes people take “not omnipotent, not omniscient and not omnipresent” to mean virtually human in scope of knowledge and presence. I prefer to think that the Gods are practically limitless in scope, that their limitations are few, and that they can be present and available and aware of practically anything if they are willing to. I am firmly against any notion of “God bothering,” or belief that we mortals cannot hope to make contact with Gods because of how insignificant we are compared to all that Gods are busy with. I understand that this doctrine makes sense for some people and explains the (typical) bereftness of direct communication with Gods. However, I think it greatly diminishes the Gods’ powers. These are extremely powerful Beings, and I prefer to assume that in as many ways as possible.

3. I operate under the default assumption that an attested God is a living Deity separate from other Deities

In general, I think it best to assume that if a God’s name is recorded, then that God is real. We don’t really lose anything by assuming otherwise. I also like to start from the assumption that Gods are separate beings, unless there is a lot of evidence that two Gods are the same. This becomes much muddier in the case of close cultural cognates (i.e. Greek and Roman, Norse and Anglo-Saxon), and admittedly I do syncretize Ingui and Freyr, but I think in general we have to be careful with our assumptions about Gods being the same, especially in the cases of association overlap and proto Indo-European roots.

4. The Gods don’t need us.

I don’t believe that the Gods need worship to survive. That would make Them beholden to us, and They most certainly are not.

Vanic Prayers

Hail Gerd, lady of the sacred enclosure, great and beautiful maiden of Jotunnheim, Daughter of Gymir and beloved of Freyr, She who is impervious to threats, we thank you for the boundaries that protect us and for the wisdom to choose those who enter.

Hail Nerthus, bog mother, lady of the veil, She whose sacredness demands peace, fertile mother of the Vanir, before whom all are unarmed, we thank you for the sustenance of fertile soil, the re-creative power of decay, and the mysteries of your embrace.

Hail Njord, God of chariots, He who calms both sea and fire, bringer of wealth and good seasons, descendant of the Vanir, father of Yngvi and Freya, He who knows well the shorelines and the cawing of gulls, we thank you for the gifts of travel and trade, and all the treasures and blessings of the sea.

Hail Yngvi-Frey, king of elves, lord of mounds, wielder of the stag horn, sacrificial boar, God of the world, the bringer of wealth and good harvests, possessor of Gullinbursti and Skiðblaðnir, He who brings peace and prosperity to all, we thank you for the peace and joy of our daily lives, and for all the successes we come to know.

Hail Freya, Vanadis, mistress of seiðr, possessor of the slain, She who would not be bartered, blótgyðja, wearer of Brisingamen, rider of Hildisvini, bearer of the falcon cloak, She of golden tears, we thank you for the power of self-knowledge and self-love,  and for the gifts of beauty and pleasure. 

Reconstructionist Traditions and the Question of Choosing

I spent a lot of time as an eclectic armchair pagan. I’ve been interested in Gods from many cultures. So why Heathenry— why this tradition? Heck, why any tradition? Here are some of my thoughts on polytheist reconstructionist traditions and the reasons I chose Heathenry.

 

Reconstructionist Traditions as a Construct

This idea of there being a hard-and-fast pantheon in part stems from essentialized notions of nationality and nativism. The very idea that cultures have a particular “intellectual history” is exemplary of Appadurai’s concept of ‘metonymic freezing,’ the notion that cultures are essentially inert and opposed to amalgamation (Appadurai 1988:36). Likewise, James Clifford argues that “natives,” in a sense, cannot truly exist because all peoples experience contact with other places and cultures (Clifford 1997:24).

This scholarship supports the reality that pantheons and “native traditions” are cultural constructs. The idea of a “reconstructionist tradition” is essentially inexact in that it implies complete group separation and purity. The reality is that any reconstructionist tradition is subject to syncretization whether we admit it or not. Basically, many of us have this false notion that a “pantheon” is more than an intellectual concept, that there is some hard boundary separating one group of Gods from another. This isn’t to say that we should be unrestrained in how we apply practice– like applying Heathen purity standards to Kemetic ritual. But, we should be careful to avoid ‘metonymic freezing’ in how we conceptualize reconstructionist traditions.

Basically, even though I identify as Heathen, I am not automatically cut off from Hellenism or Kemeticism or any other tradition. I in no way reject other Gods or limit myself to Heathen Gods.

So why choose?

Despite the in-exactitude of reconstructionist traditions, I think there is a lot of benefit to identifying with one or two.

While they idea of a community being necessity is often uncomfortable to those of us who were raised Christian, I have come to recognize that having a religious community is a valuable thing. Especially for us being a religious minority, it is great to have an outlet for 1. comparing scholarship and interpretation as well as 2. spiritual and religious support. Defaulting on the pagan community as a whole is ultimately unfulfilling because of how vastly contrarian different pagan groups can be. For me, I gain no spiritual value from interacting with Wiccans because they begin from a completely different premise about the nature of the Gods.

While one could be pan-reconstructionist in a sense that they dabble in every single revivalist movement, they ultimately lose a sense of cohesion and it is too difficult to construct a single polytheist community in a zone that is free from very different perspectives (i.e. Wiccans, pantheists, etc.). And if one dips toes in multiple groups, it is often difficult to forge a strong sense of community that isn’t quite disparate.

Why Heathenry?

I chose Heathenry for a few reasons.

1. I looked at my “pantheon” of Gods I was interested in worshiping and saw that most of Them were Norse.

2. As an eclectic, I was spending some time in every reconstructionist group. Heathenry is one of the largest and most active reconstructionist populations, so that contributed to the appeal.

3. I appreciated the worldview and religious concepts.

4. It felt “right.”

For some, these might not be valid reasons to commit to a tradition, but for me, they have been enough to really experience a sense of belonging and spiritual support.

In Conclusion

Reconstructionist traditions are a social construct. When we engage with one, we should remember not to limit ourselves. Polytheism is diverse and allows for multiplicity, so let’s embrace that. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of value in committing to a tradition as a kind of “home base” spiritual paradigm. In fact, it can be very helpful as long as we remember to be discerning.


References Cited

Appadurai, Arjun
1988 Putting Hierarchy in Its Place. Cultural Anthropology, Place and Voice in Anthropological Theory 3(1):36-49.

Clifford, James
1997 Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press.

No, Atheists Don’t Get a Say

I feel like this should be self-evident but apparently it’s not….

As if Heathenry doesn’t already have its work cut out for it with overcoming the problem of white supremacy, now our spaces are being invaded by atheists.  The participation of these so-called “atheo-pagans” is essentially a form of de-platforming. By entering our spaces, they imply that Heathenry is not inherently theistic. They reduce our religion to a form of viking re-enactment. This, in turn, actually exacerbates the problem of white supremacy in Heathenry because it construes the movement as a cultural phenomenon. Not to mention the reductionist practices that ‘cultural pagans’ follow. How the heck does one even practice ‘cultural paganism?’ I know that everything I do in my personal practice is steeped in theism.

There’s nothing wrong with being interested in paganism as a non-believer. But when you actively label yourself a member of the community then that is a huge problem.

As a marginalized religious group with so few members and a proportionally massive amount of social and theological tension, we cannot allow this disintegration from within. Atheists are inherently invalidating to our practices, and when we allow them to speak as Heathens, we lose so much of the reconstruction process.

I think that too many of us are timid about being “exclusionary” and gatekeepy. But there’s nothing wrong with policing completely reasonable borders. A theistic religion should only be practiced by theists. Anything else is complete nonsense.

 

 

Feminist Gods?: The Fallacy of Ascribing Ideologies to the Divine

I recently saw someone ask if x Goddess can be considered “feminist.”

To me, this question starts from a place of diminishing the Gods, Beings Who have existed since long before our human cultures and petty squabbles even began.

Ascribing any ideology to the Gods, noble or otherwise, is inherently reductive.

While we know that Dionysus is a patron of the marginalized, Bastet is known to care for those with mental illness, and Thor is a protector of ordinary people, we cannot summarize such roles in ideological terms.

It is only if we assume that Artemis, for example, is no more than a character, can we say that She is a “feminist” Goddess. If we look at Katniss Everdeen we might see some similar traits– hunting, female agency, etc. But the key to determining feminism is the relationship of a woman to a patriarchal social structure. It involves the assumption that a society essentializes gender differences.

But though the Gods might support universal balance in a way that appears structured and hierarchical, They are not subject to social structures or gender inequalities in the way we are. Doing so would reduce Zeus and Odin and any chief God simply to a patriarch and Goddesses to the role of the marginalized. And of course, we know that Gods are not inextricable from Their genders or Their typical imagery. Loki, for instance, is known for changing shapes and genders, even giving birth to Sleipnir in the form of a mare. Odin may appear as Allfather or as Geldnir (eunuch). Zeus has taken the shape of a golden shower, a swan, and white bull. The point is that the shapes the Gods take are malleable. They choose to appear to us in certain genders, but They are not bound to these forms. Most likely this has to do with our own comfort and mental limitations. Therefore, among other social constructs we experience, the Gods are not bound by gender inequality.

Our ideologies simply cannot apply to the Numinous, Who transcend our world by Their very nature.