Category Archives: Correcting Misinformation

The Militant Monotheistic Religions, Christianity and Islam, And How They Dealt With Paganism

A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Excerpt from Chapter 11 – Paganism Reaffirmed (p196)

The High Medieval period (950-1350) saw the militant monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, imposing their influence on the rulers of Europe, so that the official religions of the emerging kingdoms and empires became monotheistic and in practice androtheistic, referring to their supreme deity only in the masculine gender. 

We have also seen Pagan practices and beliefs continuing here and there, unnoticed by official sanctions, and also being incorporated into Christian practice as this developed. In that sense the Pagan outlook and deities remained, shaped in the form of Christian society which overlay them, and were available as a living tradition to be recognised and reclaimed by later investigators in an age of independent thought.

In Islamic areas of Europe, the situation was different. Islamic doctrine did not compromise with Pagan values (indeed, the famous Satanic Verses of the Koran were almost immediately repudiated by Mohammed as an attempt by the Devil to incorporate the three goddesses of Mecca in the celestial hierarchy), and Islam remained militantly anti-polytheist.

Get the book: 

http://astore.amazon.com/thenorgro-20/detail/0415158044

————————–——————————————-

My commentary:

Right on, this book tells it like it is! Yes, Christianity was militant… BUT it made a lot of accommodations for paganism that Islam did not. 

There is this myth that Islam was in a golden era during the Middle Ages while Christianity caused Europe to rot. This myth paints Islam as this beautiful, peaceful religion of enlightenment and tolerance, while Europe, saddled with Christianity, is depressing, ignorant, intolerant, and lost in a fog of darkness. It’s not that simple.

As many scholars in their papers, books, and documentaries are showing, there was a lot of intellectual work going on in Europe during the so called Dark Ages. Yes, Islam did preserve a lot of Greco-Roman knowledge and were especially good with mathematics. Bravo, Islam, you get a cookie. But they fervently attacked native neighboring religions with gusto from day one, and continue to do so now.

Was Christianity perfect? Nope. But if it’s a contest on which religion is the biggest asshole…. Islam wins hands down.  Don’t get me wrong, they were both assholes. But, Islam takes the cake.

No more false histories and misrepresentations, please. Stick with the truth, even if you have to play hardball. People cling to what they’ve been told and what they want to believe.

 

Frazier Glenn Cross does NOT represent most Heathens and Pagans

The recent shooting in a Kansas City synagogue by Frazier Glenn Cross is a terrible hate crime. Anyone with a heart is mourning for the families of the victims.  When situations like this happen, it is natural to look for reasons and causes for the violence. In this case, the shooter was a known white supremacist with strong anti-Semitic feelings.

However, news reports, such as this one by CNN, are reporting that Cross is an “Odinist.”  The story goes on to explain that Odinism is a racist religion.

It is important to note that, as with ALL religions, there are many branches of belief that represent the revival of Pagan faiths around the world.  There are MANY examples of “ethnic” pagan revival among all various races and cultures around the world. The revival of an indigenous, ancestral belief system is not unique among those of Germanic descent. There are examples of people returning to the faiths of their ancestors all around the world.  Because of the ancestral element, yes there is an emphasis on ethnic culture.  HOWEVER, in most cases this is completely separate from ANY “purist” ideologies.  In other words, Germanic pagans aim to respect their ancestors in the same way that Polynesian, or Native American, or African tribesmen respect and revere theirs.  Respect for one’s ancestors in no way directly implies  a supremacist ideology.

Are there people who twist supremacy into their interpretation of Norse paganism? Sure.  But, there are a lot of racist nuts twisting their supremacy into their version of Christianity and Islam, too.

Do some religions support racism in their holy texts? Absolutely. But there is no one holy text adhered to dogmatically in Asatru.  Followers of Asatru (called Asatruar or Heathens) look to the old legends and lore (found in the Norse Eddas and Sagas) for wisdom and understanding of the Old Religion.  And these texts do NOT underscore race or encourage “purity” in any way, shape, or form.  If someone inserts that into the religion, they do it of their own volition.

The majority of the Heathen and Pagan community bear no ill will to the Jewish community, or other ethnic and religious groups.  Our hearts break over this travesty, and go out to the victims.  We must stand up and be vocal to let the world know that we do NOT support Frazier Glenn Cross or his wicked ideals.

By signing this petition, we are letting the world know that Frazier Glenn Cross does NOT represent us as Heathens, Pagans, and Asatruar and we harbor nothing but sympathy for the people he hurt.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN

999

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 ~

Clearing Up Confusion About the Conversion of Europe

Image

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 ~

Comments on “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Christmas” by Addicting Info

All in all this article is pretty good. I support all efforts to resurrect Olde Yule, and get to the roots of many of our holiday traditions.  There are just a couple of items mentioned here, though, that I would like to address.

Influences that preceded Santa:

409px-Georg_von_Rosen_-_Oden_som_vandringsman,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer)One great point in the article is something I have been saying right along, that Santa is an amalgam of many influences – BUT he is not simply Odin repackaged like a lot of Asatru bloggers keep saying.  There seems little doubt that the white bearded Odin/Woden/Wotin who flew through the air on his magical horse to participate in the Wild Hunt at Yuletide was certainly a major influence. However, there are many other influences to consider. The archetype of the wise man, magician, sorcerer was prevalent in Northern European society from Britain to Russia. Certainly Odin is a part of this tradition, as he is known as the Wanderer in pointed wide-brimmed hat, tattered robes, often carrying a staff or walking stick. He is associated with magic, bringing us the Runes and he is said to have learned the Norse magical tradition called “Seidr” from Freyja.

ded_moroz_by_brzoza77-d35np1hHowever, the image of the mage, the wise sage who is a wielder of magic is seen elsewhere in Europe.  Think Merlin, Taliesin, and Finnish sorcerers/wizards which are so common in old Finnish folklore.

Shamanic influences are also strongly theorized to be an influence on Santa. The Finnish wizards were affiliated with Finno-Ugric shamanic tradition.  Another FInno-Ugric group with a strong shamanic tradition are the Saami.  Their shamans were known to eat the red and white fly agaric costume and then journey to the spirit world aided by the beating of their drums. These drums were often adorned with jingle bells.

Other figures across Europe follow this same pattern of being influenced by “the wandering sorcerer” archetype. Ded Moroz is one such Christmas figure from Russia (pictured above). And the English Father Christmas is another (pictured below).  I do understand that other internet writers aren’t as well versed in European folklore, so they don’t mean to be dismissive of other cultures. But, I personally feel it is disrespectful to other Northern European cultures whose traditions have  a legitimate influence on Santa Claus to leave them out.

father-christmas

Saints were usually made up by monks to dissolve cults to local deities:

Another point of contention I have with the “influences” of Santa mentioned in the article, and this is no fault of the author as it is the common theory espoused about the “history” of Santa, is Saint Nicholas.

Now, a bit of nerdy Medieval explanation is necessary. When one is a student of Medieval Studies, one becomes familiar with a genre of writing not well known by the general public: hagiography.  Hagiography is a genre of literature dealing specifically with saints’ lives. However, it differs from biography because hagiographies were written with an agenda to spread the Catholic cult of saints. They were very popular during periods of conversion, when the church targeted locally venerated deities and attempted to replace them with Christian saints.  One such swap out is very well known – goddess Brigid to Saint Brigid.

StbrigidIn their campaign to build up the saint while diminishing the god, hagiographers literally made shit up.  Straight up inventions based on nothing but the imagination of the writer.  They bullshitted their way through it. Sometimes a real figure could be used as a model, and then merged with the god they were trying to erase.  But the lives were typically completely contrived, and all manner of miracles and benevolent acts were ascribed to the newly invented saint.

Therefore, it is my strong opinion that the Saint Nicolas theory is but more bunk that was put round by the Church to distract people from their traditional Christmas figures.  Many local Yuletide characters were unsavory to the church.  Italy’s Befana is a witch, and Germany’s Krampus is a creepy goat-man with likely roots as a Pan-like agrarian deity, just to give two examples! There may well have been one or more real life men who the story of Saint Nick was based on. But, more than likely, the story was purposefully devised to replace and distract people from Odin and the other figures mentioned above.

** Edit – Someone made a comment on Facebook that “the author is downplaying the real Saint Nicholas.”   Ahem. In helping a friend find scholarly sources for Valentines Day, I was reminded that it was yet another holiday rooted in a pagan past; the old Roman Lupercalia.  Saint Valentine was grafted on to the holiday in the SAME way as St. Brigid became the patron saint of Candlemas, which was formerly Goddess Brigid’s Imbolc.  If you don’t see a pattern here and want to continue to believe the tale of “real” Saint Nicholas, you go right ahead.**

Santa’s reindeer are not based on a horse. They are based on, erm, reindeer:

Corrected_Sapmi_in_Europe (1)Another point of contention is the assertion that Santa’s reindeer are based on Odin’s magical horse Sleipnir.  As explained above, the bearded magic man flying through the air at Yule does have connections to Odin and his flying horse.  However, the reindeer are more than likely inspired by the Saami reindeer herders.

Although the Saami are largely unknown by the general American public today, they were referenced quite often in writings of the 19th century when the American version of Christmas as we know it today was formed.  Back then they were referred to as Lapps, and they were of great interest to folklorists and travel writers to whom “Lapland” was an exotic and fascinating foreign location.

Reindeer herding has been a traditional livelihood of the Saami for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The Saami live at the tippy top of Scandinavia reaching from Norway and Sweden to Finland and over to Russia. Most of this area is considered Arctic, and it is virtually undeniable that the Saami in Lapland (Sapmi is the politically correct term for this region today) were a huge influence on our image of “The North Pole.”

shoe17

The Saami tie to Santa’s reindeer goes beyond simply the coincidence of them being affiliated with reindeer in the North Pole. As mentioned above, Saami shaman used the fly agaric mushroom to spirit travel.  Well, as we would have it, the Saami reindeer herders did as well. According to folklore and historical sources, the Saami herders would watch when their reindeer rooted out the mushrooms from beneath the snow. After the reindeer ate the shrooms, the herders would collect their urine and drink it to “fly” themselves.  And there you have it: flying reindeer. This is pretty straightforward and difficult to debate. Sorry, Sleipnir! Not that I don’t love you and your eight legs or anything, but I’m not going to make up a tenuous connection just to pander to what people want to read! Especially when the truth is equally cool! If you don’t believe me, maybe BBC can explain it to you:

Fly agaric was a super uber common motif in German, Norse, and Finnish Christmas, which in all likelihood is a hold over from old Yule  All you have to do is Google it and you will find numerous images like the one below which clearly demonstrate how Santa got his red and white suit (Sorry, Odin! No rags for Santa!):

fly_agaric_childrens_holiday_card_lg

** Quick edit with massive EYE ROLL and condescending sigh.  Yes, Coca-Cola made today’s image of Santa famous. Duh. We all know that. But this article is more about addressing the information given by the other article referenced at the top than an exhaustive meticulous history of American Christmas. However to address some comments made on Facebook… ahem, do you think the artists working for Coke lived in a vacuum?  Obviously they lived in the same culture as everyone else and were exposed to the same culturally pervasive motifs and imagery that were common to the time. As I said above, the fly agaric mushroom was a popular Christmas symbol and that pre-dated modern images of Santa.  Coke’s artists, just like everyone else at the time would have seen these everywhere. So when they were choosing colors for his outfit, there could be little question as to whether these images played a large role in their inspiration.**

Christmas Caroling began in Pagan Europe, not in the Christian 15th Century:

One last thing to mention. The article mentions Christmas “songs” going back to the 4th century in a Christian context, and that carols originated in the 15th century.  Again, no blame on the author as this information is very hidden and not well known. But Christmas caroling is a VERY pagan tradition!  It is yet another indigenous European pre-Christian custom that the Church literally rallied and launched campaigns against.  They finally decided to try to wipe out the pagan custom by replacing it with a Christian one, the same tactic mentioned above with the saints. Please read this article which explains it in detail: The Hidden History of Christmas Carols. 

winter solsticeAnd there we have it. ~ Aelfie

Please check out our section for Pagan roots of modern holidays in our shop. I will be developing and adding more great resources and recommendations to it 🙂

Follow Up to Easter/Ishtar/Eostre Silliness

When an article is rather lengthy, there is a tendency for people to skim and pick out bits and pieces out of context, and respond to what they think they just read, while missing the other points.

The previous post was in no way meant to insinuate that there are not many Spring festivals all around the world.  There are!  Many of them use some of the same imagery, eggs, rabbits, etc.   It was not to imply that Germanic culture corners the market on that.

Image

The point was to address the meme going around the internet that states incorrectly that the word Easter derives from Ishtar.  So perhaps it’s my own error in not being more clear. (Incidentally, I am far from the only person taking issue with this meme, by all means read Megan McArdle’s article and the Belle Jar Blog).

The fact of the matter is, the word Easter derives from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. In Germany  you will find Ostern, deriving from Ostara.  Both were Spring Equinox festivals.

In old Celtic society you will find the Spring equinox festival Alban Eilir, celebrated by contemporary practitioners of Celtic Druidry and paganism today.  According to the Order of Bards and Druids, eggs are also a traditional symbol of this holiday.

I recently responded to questions and comments on our Facebook page about why I’ve been mentioning Brigid in conjunction with Ostara, and had to clarify that while they are not connected linguistically, and while their holidays fell at different times of the year, Brigid’s holiday Imbolc (usually celebrated between Jan 30th to February 2nd) is also a heralding of Spring.  Milk and dairy held significant meaning to the Celts who celebrated Imbolc, and symbolically they had a similar meaning as eggs do on Easter.  The milk and eggs functioned in the same way, to stand for new life, rebirth, renewal, as well as nurturing sustenance.

Image

CLEARLY this happened all over the world! Duh! The point is not that Germanic culture as the one and only culture with a claim on Spring!  My point is just that all cultures deserve respect. Ishtar deserves respect within her cultural context.

People all around the world are attempting to reconnect with old ways that were often suppressed and hidden to history. It’s not just Germanic and Celtic descendants.  There are Hellenic pagan groups in Greece, Italian-American Stregheria practitioners, revivers of the Old Religion in Italy, Slavic Rodnovery, Lithuanian Romuva, and even people attempting to revive Canaanite paganism and Egyptian Kemetic pagan religion. Image

So for non-pagans to whom all of this “pagan jargen” is foreign, as well as to Wiccans and eclectics who haven’t been exposed to this other heritage influenced paganism, here’s a newsflash: it is NOT  just the Germanic heritage that makes a connection between pagan religion and cultural heritage. It is happening all over the world with many cultural groups.

At Northern Grove, we support ALL of these people!  And while we do support  and would love to network with them, obviously every group has to have a focus, and ours is on the Northern European traditions. So our page attempts to explore and learn more about the Germanic, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic, Saami, Finn, and other groups in the region.

Anyway, the whole point about Ishtar and Easter was simply that Easter is an English word deriving from an Old English goddess.  Ishtar is a Babylonian goddess, who likely had her own festival. I did Google it and couldn’t locate one, though. So by all means if someone knows it, link me to some info 🙂

I don’t put anybody’s culture above anybody else’s. But I hope as the Pagan movement grows, we can be respectful of ALL the cultures we’re representing.

Sure cultures overlap and have connections. People attempting to “school” me on this point have obviously not spent time on my Facebook Page, where I continuously butt heads with white supremacists (who turn up hoping we support that and get very angry when they discover we dont!)  and I constantly point out that nobody’s ancestors lived in a vacuum. (Except perhaps those in harsh climates and remote islands, lol)

I have to roll my eyes at some of these comments, which yes, I am deleting.  I stand up for respect of other cultures pretty much EVERY DAY.  I continuously share articles with commentary about the way our ancestors interacted with other cultures, and explain that racial or cultural purity arguments are bogus.

But, there comes a point when the double standard has to be called out. Here I constantly say those things, but when I say “wait a minute, you’re taking an Old English word and attributing it to a Babylonian goddess, please respect my culture!”  People try to turn it into some kind of racial purity thing.  Ridiculous!

I’m also incredibly interested in Baltic paganism and Lithuanian Romuva and have discussed the connections and similarities between it and Hinduism. But look, there is an Indo-European background there. Not some long lost ancient connection from so many thousands of years ago that it barely makes sense to force a comparison.

shiva-hindu-god

I’m done with this rant, and hopefully now we can move on to more interesting topics!

~ Aelfwynne ~

Cultural Appropriation, Ishtar, Eostre, and Easter

this post is by Aelfwynne

Cultural Appropriation is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and artreligionlanguage, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.

This has been in the news a lot lately in both pagan and mainstream media. Groups ranging from fashion designers to practicing pagans have been scolded for handpicking bits and pieces from other cultures to use for things from aesthetics in fashion to neo-pagan ceremony.

(See this article from Jezebel)

In the US, this typically happens between the dominant culture and Native American culture. Native Americans then speak up and say “HEY! Give us our stuff back!” And more power to them. They have every right to do so. After having their culture nearly wiped out, I praise their efforts to safeguard their traditions and preserve their original meaning within their cultural context.

Most people aren’t fully versed in the history of the conversion of Northern Europe to Christianity. I delineate Northern from Southern because Southern Europe, being integrated into the Roman Empire and with more frequent interaction with the Middle Eastern and North African countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, has a completely different history and relationship with Christianity than does Northern Europe. My personal delineation between Northern and Southern Europe draws the line between Romance speaking and non-Romance speaking countries in the West, so I include countries often considered “Central Europe” in my definition, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland. Granted England was under Roman rule, but for a much shorter time comparatively, and the pagan Germanic tribes took over after Rome left. So they have more in common with Scandinavia and continental Germans for our purposes here.

I can’t spare the space to give you a run down on the conversion process, but stay tuned for future blogs on that. If you aren’t well versed in it, please Google the following: The Northern Crusades, Charlemagne and Widukind or Charlemagne and the Saxons, and the Wendish Crusade. That’ll be enough to whet your whistle.

To get back to the point, much of the conversion of Northern Europe happened with armies and much bloodshed. In some cases, it led to the virtual genocide of entire ethnic groups (Google the Teutonic Knights and Prussian genocide). When these people were conquered, they were forced to give up their ancestral ways. From religion, to festivals, and folk traditions. They were oppressed by the new dominant culture; Christianity and the new systems of social control and governance. When caught practicing their ancestral ways, the penalties could be severe. Many victims of the witch hunts were, in fact, people caught practicing their traditional folk practices which were now outlawed.

Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples During the Northern Crusades

Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples During the Northern Crusades

Fast forward to today, and we find the descendants of these people making great strides in reviving their ancestral ways. Through scholarly research and archaeology  we’re piecing together the puzzle of what our own indigenous faith looked like. Personally, I think this has great potential beyond the realm of our own self identity. For the first time in recent history, so called “white people” are connecting to a tribal past. By understanding our own indigenous roots, and that we too were victims of oppression and assimilation, we can better understand issues faced by indigenous people who have gone through this more recently, or are experiencing it now.

Incidentally, there are, in fact, still indigenous groups of Caucasian people today living very close to their ancient tribal ways and facing persecution of the same kind that other indigenous people around the world are facing. But we’ll explore that in another post.

Now what does all this have to do with cultural appropriation?

Well, by now, pretty much everyone is fully aware that holidays like Christmas and Easter were originally pagan and commandeered/re-purposed by Christians. This was clear cut cultural appropriation the first time around, but it was so many hundreds of years ago that most of us don’t consider it that way. However, in the case of Easter, it seems to be happening all over again.

Again, I don’t have the time and space to give you a run down on the historical evidence for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. But before you jump in with the nauseatingly cliche comments like “there is little evidence for her,” please take a look at the rundown of the available evidence in our Facebook post, which I hope to expand and blog at some point.

The Goddess Eostre by by Jan Fibinger

The Goddess Eostre by by Jan Fibinger

 

So, we have established that there IS evidence for Eostre, and that she is the namesake of the Spring festival we know as Easter. Yet, there has been a recent movement to associate Easter with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

Ishtar is a goddess completely removed from the the linguistic and geographic region where Eostre reigned. Ishtar is related to Astarte and Inanna, all found in the Middle East area. 

For those who don’t know much about mythology, let me explain something. There are people who attempt to force connections where there are none. This goes back to the Romans who forced connections between their own gods and the gods of the North. These connections are often tenuous at best and completely erroneous at worst. In the old pagan world, mythologies were heavily influenced by geography, climate, society, and culture. So a society in a desert climate for example will have very different mythologies than people in a fertile green area. Defined seasons with harsh winters will develop different mythologies than temperate climes where seasons aren’t as extreme. Agrarian farming societies will place higher emphasis on fertility and Earth mother goddesses, and in hunting/nomadic societies masculine sky gods will dominate. So for cultures who are removed from each other both geographically and linguistically, it doesn’t make sense to force connections between their gods. 

I could go into a breakdown of Ishtar/Astarte/Inanna and why she is very different from Eostre/Ostara, but by all means, please look at each for yourself if you don’t take my word for it. They each have very well cited Wikipedia entries. Ishtar’s entry connects her to the goddesses I’ve mentioned, but make NO connection between her and Easter. Conversely, both entries for Eostre and Easter mention the connection to the other.

Yeah, it’s Wikipedia, I know. Again, see my post on the historical evidence on Eostre for more links.

But back to cultural appropriation. The idea that we are a cultural minority may come off as laughable to some. Sure, we’re part of the Caucasian majority who has gone around oppressing all the other minorities in the world, right? Well, not so fast. We are a religious minority. And we are a people making a legitimate attempt to reclaim and revive the part of our culture that was oppressed by an invading dominating foreign culture. And as such, it is important to recognize our holidays and the deities represented by them.

Now, Ishtar probably did have a fertility festival. I am in no way denying that. But it wasn’t called Easter. If you think this is a petty splitting of hairs, then consider this. Would you approach a Hindu and say, “well I like that holiday of yours, but I prefer St. Peter as my patron. So I’m going to use your holiday but insert my patron saint and parade around telling people the holiday is in honor of him.” That would be terribly rude and offensive. Similarly, would you approach a Hindu and say, “oh Ganesh is so cool! Well I’m going to make him the center of my Christmas celebration.” The Hindu person would probably find that offensive as well and would explain that Ganesh has nothing to do with Christmas.

The Goddess Inanna by The Goddess Inanna, related to Ishtar, by pearlwhitecrow.deviantart.com

The Goddess Inanna related to Ishtar, by pearlwhitecrow.deviantart.com

So why is it acceptable, when European pagans are only now reclaiming their indigenous religions, to pluck the patron deity of a particular holiday out and insert an unrelated foreign deity from a completely different culture, in a completely different part of the world?

It’s NOT ok. Eostre has been buried for centuries. People today are still denying that she was ever worshiped. Thankfully new research is coming to light showing that she, in fact, did have a wide following through continental German speaking areas over to England. When we are finally reclaiming this goddess it is offensive to our culture to disregard her.

And, hello? It’s offensive to the culture Ishtar came from to take her out of her own cultural context and insert her into a foreign one! So please, pagans, wise up! Do your research. Stop spreading false information.

I must also assert that what’s good for the geese is good for the gander. If stealing, perverting, and twisting other people’s cultures is offensive and wrong, well I’m here to say that I’m of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon descent, I practice a form of paganism that honors my ancestral heritage, and just as anyone else would be, I’m offended when the goddess that we only recently “resurrected” from the depths of hidden history is pushed out again. And just like anyone else in this world, I am within my rights to want to protect the integrity of my ancestral culture.

** Please see the FOLLOW UP to this post **