Menu Euro-Heathen Piety 4021.03

Euro-Heathen Piety
By Walter Baetke

In their religion our ancestors honored supernatural powers, whose working and administering they believed to feel — certainly also in the field and forest, in the sky and on earth, but above all in their own life. And this has always been the first and most important thing. Man is indeed also a child of Nature, but he is — as a being endowed with speech and intellect — bound to the community in an entirely different way than the animal. The original ties to family, clan and folk, into which he is born, determine his life to a much higher degree than his ties to “Nature”, which is the field of his activity. From the folk community he also receives his religion — like his language! It conveys, in culture and myth — which he learns from it — his relationship to the deity. But more than that: in the working and striving of this community, in the laws that rule them, in the order that binds them, in the moral values they hold, the will of the deity itself confronts him. Here in the community it first encounters him; for the order and bonds have their holy and binding strength, because they are set according to the old faith of the gods itself and stand under their supervision and their protection.

Especially insightful in this regard are the messages of the Icelandic sagas about the sacrifice-festivals of the Norwegians. At the great annual festivals, we learn there, one sacrificed on one side “for the harvest” (or for a “good year”) and “peace”, on the other side for “victory” and the king’s rule. This shows that the sacrifice made by the cult community representing the folk community was also directed at the life and fate of this community. Good harvest and peace on the one side, victory and rule on the other side: that denotes both poles around which the life of the folk moved: the biological-natural and the political-historical. Here peace which encompasses the work of the peasant and culminates in the harvest, there war, which, crowned by victory, produces honor and power. When one approaches the gods about these things at the sacrifice-festival, that shows that one saw in them givers and keepers of these goods, that means of everything that formed the foundation, content and purpose of the folk community. Euro-Heathen man believed that both the prospering of his peaceful work — cultivation — as well as the achievement of victory in war, upon which the conditions of existence or non-existence of the folk depended, was in the hand of the gods.

In the formula “til ars ok fridar” lies, however, still more than the translation “for (good) year and peace” says to us; for the word “peace” designates not just the state of peace as opposed to war, rather also the moral and just order upon which the peaceful communal life of human community rests. One can hardly better express the religious meaning of that old formula than with Schiller’s words: “Holy order, blessed daughter of heaven, who binds the whole free and light and joyous”. As the gods are the givers of the good, the life goods, as they are the directors of war, administrators of victory and hence masters over the fate of folks, so also are they the guardians of holy peace which is anchored in right and law.

It is more difficult to get a picture of the inner religious attitude of Euro-Heathen man, of the piety unique to his kind, than of the forms of religious service and religion’s effect on public life. The holiness and might of the deity produce among the believers the feeling of dependence. But this feeling of dependence on his god was, for Euro-Heathen man, free of slavish servility. Quite the opposite, it was carried by a strong, courageous trust. In the north “trua” (“trust”) is the term for religious belief, and the god the Icelander relied upon above all in the distresses and difficulties of life, he called his “fulltrui”. That means the one who deserves full trust. Like the Norwegian Thorolf Mosterbart, many Heathen men have in the face of difficult decisions sought their well-being from their god and gotten his advice. If one knew himself under the protection of the mighty god, it was only natural that one saw in him the reliable “friend”. And we have much evidence that especially Thor enjoyed this appreciation. Astvinr (“gracious friend”) he is named in one saga. Such a beautiful and worthy relationship does not diminish the distance between man and god, upon which all piety rests; but a piety flowed from him that bestowed security and strength on the man; it is the noblest feature in the picture of Euro-Heathen religion.

From Renegade Tribune .com