Category Archives: Celtic paganism

Witchdom of the True – Book Review

Review of Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson

Witchdom-of-the-True-Thorsson-Edred-9781885972125There is much less published on the Vanatru side of Germanic paganism than on Asatru. Whereas Asatru means true to the Aesir (Odin and the gods of Asgard), Vanatru means true to the Vanir (Freyr and Freya, and the gods of Vanaheimr).

The author studied both Germanic and Celtic philology at the graduate level and earned a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Medieval Studies.

Despite his impressive credentials, this book is incredibly accessible and written for a general audience. However, due to his credentials, this author is generally considered reliable with his presentation of history and expected to have done his research.

It is understood that Wicca is a contemporary religion influenced by ancient ideas  rather than actual representation of indigenous European religion.  Yet, Thorsson asserts that  Wicca actually may actually draw upon Vanic traditions. He postulates that Freyr and Freyja are the actual Wiccan Lord and Lady based on the etymology of their names (Freyr and Freyja literally do mean lord and lady).

Now, whether Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, had this in mind when he created his religion, we can’t say. This theory may seem suspect to some considering that mainstream Wiccans typically place emphasis on the Celtic pantheon.

The Wiccan emphasis on all things Celtic is dubious when one considers that the word Wicca is of Germanic origin.  One may also find it mysterious that Ostara, a goddess of the Germans on the continent was grafted into the Wiccan wheel of the year. Even her counterpart in the British Isles, Eostre, is an Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) goddess.  While some examples of the “Wheel of the Year” use the Irish Lughnasadh, others use Lammas.  Lammas was an Anglo-Saxon holiday. The Wiccan calendar also celebrates Yule for winter solstice, another Germanic holiday.  The Celtic winter solstice is Meán Geimhridh.

So, considering Wicca uses a Germanic name and has such precedent of inserting Germanic tradition into their religion, one might consider the Lord and Lady may have been meant to be Frey and Freyja in Gardner’s thought process.  Or it might simply be an alternative way of viewing the religion to make it more palatable to people who value historical precedent in their religious practice.

Anyway, this book is not about Wicca. It’s about interpreting the Vanir through the eyes of a former Wiccan who’s personal practice evolved as his knowledge of ancient history deepened.  This book will not tell you how to be a Wiccan. But for some Wiccans it may open the doorway of new insights and interpretations of paganism.

While this book is highly recommended for Wiccans looking to deeper their study, it is also recommended for other pagans and Heathens interested in the Vanic gods.  This book provides a foundation of understanding the history of the Vanir, and the connection between Vanir tradition and witchcraft.  It discusses underground survivals of witchcraft and its revival.  It also gives a rudimentary introduction for the Norse/Germanic practice of Seidr (spelled Seith by the author, the ð symbol can be translated as “th” or “d” and the “r” is often dropped in translation).

seidrI have to apologize to any of you reading this right now. I bought this book a few years ago, and as I’m finishing up this review, I’m realizing it has gone out of print.  I’ll leave it in our Amazon bookshop anyway in case some reasonably priced used copies turn up. At the least if you click on it in our store, Amazon should suggest similar titles and books by this author.  Or, maybe you can find it used with another bookseller!

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this title, and I hope some of you will be able to get your hands on it.

If you are interested in Seidr, we have added another book on it to our shop.  “Seidr; The Gate is Open” is a title I haven’t read personally, but it comes highly recommended by other readers.

~ review by Aelfwynne ~

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Clearing Up Confusion About the Conversion of Europe

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Cross of the Celts by Mad1Dave on Deviant Art

When people speak about conversion from the Old Religion to Christianity in Europe, they tend to use universal terms, as if it happened the same everywhere all at once. It didn’t.

There are a lot of generalizations and blatant falsities put forth from many different angles. Many Christians insist that conversion happened peacefully and voluntarily.  Many modern Pagans insist that all of conversion was bloody and forced.

What we need to remember is that the conversion of Europe occurred in a time span of over one thousand years.  The process happened differently in different areas.

Since this blog focuses on Northern Europe, defined by me as the area stretching from the British Isles to Russia, barring countries speaking a Romance language (sorry, France), I will not go into the very early Church in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

The Celts:

The  area where the biggest misunderstanding seems to lie is with the Celts who were the earliest converts outside of the Mediterranean. Wiccans, who tend to cling to Celtic culture and claim to follow a form of Celtic paganism, are often the worst offenders of spreading false history.  Sadly for them, the Celts were one group in Northern Europe who converted by and large peacefully and voluntarily.

Because they converted so early, very little is known about what Celtic pagans actually believed and practiced.  Since the Church arrived early in Ireland in the 5th century, they were the minority and therefor  had to tread lightly, and this conversion happened organically and willingly (much to the chagrin of  Wiccan writers who have been reading garbage by unqualified writers who don’t fact check).

There was no Druid slaughter by Christians. That is a myth. The Druids are thought to have blended into the Celtic Christian priesthood.  One reason for the confusion is that the Romans DID slaughter druids. But this was simply due to the fact that they were a political threat. It had nothing to do with religion. In fact, this slaughter occurred nearly 300 years prior to the conversion of Rome! It’s called the Menai Massacre, and it is the only known large scale slaughter of druids.

Also, Saint Patrick was NOT a slayer of druids. Please read this blog by The Wild Hunt and this one by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar for more information on this rumor.

Druids by Alex Martinez on Deviant Art

The Anglo-Saxons:

The area that became England was home to many Christians when they were occupied by Rome. At this point in time, Christians and pagans lived side by side. It was actually a very diverse religions environment, where people practiced both Roman, Celtic, and a hybrid version of paganism called Roman-Gallo paganism.  When the Romans left Britain, Christianity faded away with the influx of the pagan Anglo-Saxons early in the 5th century.

Replica of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the Sutton Hoo burial site.

Replica of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the Sutton Hoo burial site.

The Church did make huge missionary efforts to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Again this was very early (tail end of the 6th through the 7th centuries) and was a complicated process. At this point in time, virtually all Germanic people were still pagan (barring the Franks who had been long Romanized by now and no longer retained their Germanic language, religion, or identity). However, France had converted to Christianity one hundred years prior under the Frankish Merovingian king Clovis I, in the year 496 A.D. Between the French to the East and Celts to the North joining up with the Roman Church, the reach of Christian political military and political power was now stretching further out of the Mediterranean. So, it appears this is the point where political pressure began to be a true factor in the conversion of the Kings and people of Northern Europe.

However, Anglo-Saxon conversion still happened very gradually. Their kings were not known for using violence to forcibly convert their people. And there were many tug-of-wars when a Christian king’s pagan son inherited the throne. The common people retained their pagan customs for many years, as is so famously lamented by the Venerable Bede. The Anglo-Saxon retained a lot of their pre-Christian culture even after they were by and large fully converted. It was really when the asshole NORMANS came in with their stricter version of Christianity when the Germanic systems of fairness in rule of law became oppressed by the choke hold of Norman rule.

A wonderful fiction novel, but one that was meticulously researched, about the old religion of the Anglo-Saxons and their conversion is The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates.

Charlemagne’s Epic Battle Against the Valiant Pagan Saxon King Widukind:

Saxon Shields by Endakil on Deviant Art

Saxon Shields by Endakil on Deviant Art

Ok, so along comes Charlemagne in France. Just as his predecessor Clovis converted to Christianity and united the Franks, the Christian Charlemagne sought to unite the German tribes and used forced conversion as a tool. He was one of the first rulers actually use forced conversion en masse.

HOWEVER, it should noted that Charlemagne was defending Europe from onslaughts of Muslim invaders from the South (ever heard of the Reconquista? the reclaiming of Spain?). In case you haven’t noticed, uniting pagans is like herding cats. The Germanic tribes were fiercely independent and more prone to tribal raiding for land and goods than large scale war. I believe Charlemagne used Christianity as a way to unite Europe under one banner to keep the Muslims from conquering Europe.

(The Crusades are another story, but that’s another false history that the Christians were to blame. The Crusades started as a response to Muslim invasions, that had a long history. Vlad the impaler is another “hero” who kept the Muslim invaders from getting in through Southeastern Europe.)

Ahem. That said, Charlemagne is responsible for the conversion of the Saxons. The brave pagan Saxon king Widukind (who’s name means Forest Child, how perfect is that) fought against Charlemagne for years in what is known as The Saxon Wars. He was finally forced to surrender to save his people from slaughter, and his conversion was a self sacrifice to protect his people.

The Norse: 

On to the Norse. King Olaf converted as a political move in the year 995, because by now most of Europe had gone over. Olaf was an asshole. He brutally forced his people to convert or die. It was Olaf who slaughtered the Volvas and Norse pagan priesthood or “wise people.”

There’s not a heck of a lot more to say on that. Other than that the things people think happened with the Celts, actually DID happen with the Norse. It was a vile and bloody forced conversion and their religious leaders and “sorcerers” who were sort of equivalent to Druids were slaughtered by Christians. Sorry Celts, the Norse win the prize!

Sejdmen

King Olaf Trygvasson had seidmen tied up and thrown on a skerry at ebb.

The Balts and Slavs – Crusades in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe:

The Teutonic Crusades, also called Northern Crusades, Baltic Crusades, and the Wendish crusades occurred a few centuries later. By now the Germans and Norse had been completely assimilated by the Borg (I mean Church) and were used as fighting-bots to go out and slaughter remaining pagans. This is how the Balts became Christianized, and in the case of some of them, especially the Prussians, this is even considered by many to be a genocide. The Wendish crusades were against the Slavs, I believe Poland and nearby areas.

Lithuania held out very long, until the late 15th century, when the now Christian king of Poland waged war on them. You will notice a pattern here.  Forcibly convert a people, assimilate them into the machine. Then send them off to assimilate their neighbors. That’s how the Borg, I mean the Church, worked.

the-northern-crusades

Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples by the Christian Teutonic Knights

The Last Holdouts – the ones that hardly anybody even knows about:

Saami Shaman Spirit Drum

Saami Shaman Spirit Drum

After that the main pagans left were the Saami in the tippy top of Scandinavia, a Finno-Ugric people, who were still pagan as late as the 18th and 19th century. It was the Lutherans who went out of their way to go after the Saami, and their tactics were remarkably similar to how Christians in America assimilated Native Americans and attempted to make them lose their languages and native religions.

The Mari El in Russia have an unbroken line of pagan tradition. Probably due to their remote location, they were left alone more than other groups, however they still faced many periods of persecution. They are still pagan today (although many are Christian, the pagans still thrive).

In Conclusion:

So, there we have it.  As you can see, conversion was a long and widely varying process.  Anyone who speaks of it in sweeping generalities simply demonstrates that they don’t actually know much about it!

We’re building our section for pagan scholarship and reliable history in our shop.  So please give it a gander. Books covering the conversion have also been added 🙂

~ Post by Aelfwynne ~