Filling in the Gaps
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen basics, Heathen worldview, Heathen worship
I often find myself feeling a little jealous of the Norse Heathens. They have so many fewer gaps to fill in than the rest of us do, because out of all the Heathens, they have the most extensive lore.
Since the Norse Icelanders were so late in converting to Christianity as opposed to the Anglo-Saxons, the mythology of the Norse survived much later in Iceland than in much of the rest of the Heathen world. Even after they converted to Christianity, they kept the stories of the Norse gods alive. A couple hundred years after they were Christianised, a Christian named Snorri Sturluson wrote down the myths that had survived in Iceland in the Prose Edda. A collection of older poems was compiled about the same time, and it is known as the Poetic Edda. They are often together known as the Eddas, and comprise almost the entirety of what we know about Norse mythology.
The rest of us heathens have very few stories. We know very little about the religion of our forbearers other then the names of many of their gods. For this reason, it seems like it is common practice to fill in the gaps of non-Norse Heathenry with Norse material. Some forms of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry are pretty much a rebranding of Asatru (a modern heathen religion based upon Norse Heathenry), renaming everything (the gods, concepts, etc) with Old English words. (I sometimes joking refer to these forms of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry as Ēsatru!) I think this is a bad idea, though.
Because Heathenry survived so much longer for the Norse that settled in Iceland than the Anglo-Saxons, it had a few hundred more years to develop. And it’s mythology had even a few more hundred years to develop even after Christianisation. It’s doubtful that this end result resembles much what the ancient Anglo-Saxon and Continental Heathenry would have looked like.
While the Christian Icelanders told and retold these stories for the few hundred years from the time of Christianisation to the time of Snorri writing them down, they would have gradually changed to fit the Christian worldview. Then when Snorri wrote them down, they would have further been edited to fit his Christian worldview, and then edited some more to fit into his narrative arc.
As an example of this Christian influence, let’s take a look at Snorri’s treatment of Loki.
Loki begins as a friend of the All-Father Odin. He later betrays the gods, and kills Odin’s son Baldur (who descends to Helheim, but shall return after Ragnarok to reign over the surviving humans, since just about all the other gods are killed in Ragnarok). He is bound in the worst part of Helheim, but shall escape and lead an army to attack Asgard in the battle of Ragnarok, where he is finally defeated for good.
Now let’s look at the story of Lucifer in Christian mythology. He begins as a servant of God, but leads a rebellion against him. In mideval Christian theology (prevalent in Snorri’s time), Lucifer kills God’s son Jesus (who descends into hell but is resurrected and ascends into heaven and will lead the forces of God in Armageddon). Lucifer is bound in hell, but escapes to lead an army against the saints at Armageddon, where he is finally defeated for good.
How much of Loki’s story is original to Norse mythology and how much of it was influenced by mideval Christian mythology? We don’t know, but we can see the influences here.
(As a side note, it is because of Snorri’s casting of Loki as a Lucifer-like figure that many modern Heathens shun the Heathens who worship Loki. I find this detestable. We should not allow Christian influence to divide Heathenry! To most Lokeans, the Loki they worship is not the Loki depicted by Snorri. To them Loki is the god of change and chaos, not necessarily always a bad thing.)
I am not saying that we shouldn’t use the Eddas at all as material to fill in the gaps of our knowledge about ancient Heathenry. I’m just saying it should be a source to fill in that info, not the only or even the primary source.
Filling in the gaps in our knowledge of ancient Heathen religion requires Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). This is a term used in pagan circles (including Heathenry) for personal beliefs that cannot be verified by ancient sources. Non-Norse Heathenry requires more UPG than Norse Heathenry, as we have a lot less surviving lore than Norse Heathenry does. UPG can come from many different sources. Sometimes it’s from comparative religious studies (I think taking ideas from other Indo-European cultures is valid as Heathenry has common roots with these cultures), sometimes they come from personal experiences with deities or other divine beings. And sometimes we just get an idea with no idea where it came from but just makes a whole lot of sense (I think this is a result of intuition which I believe in some cases is the “whisperings” of divine beings).
An example of UPG comes from Angelica from The Longship. She believes that Thunor (known as Thor in the Norse lore) is married to Sunne (the sun goddess). She noticed how in her area the rain (the domain of Thunor) is always preceded and followed in the springtime by heat. There’s humidity before, and plenty of sunshine afterwards. She realized that they must have a relationship of some sort. And an UPG was born.
Norse purists may be having a fit right now. Wait! I can imagine them shouting, Thor is married to Sif! Sif, however, is not attested to in Anglo-Saxon sources. And it does make sense. How often does the weather and the sun go hand in hand? (Please pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist!) Seems like the perfect relationship to me.
In fact, I have built upon this for my own UPG. I believe the goddess Ēastre is their daughter. She spends the six months of winter in the other hemisphere of the Earth. Her mother, Sunne, goes with her, so the sun is more distant from us (accounting for the shorter days of winter). With the sun farther away, Thunor’s wind and rain turns to snowstorms. And her grandfather Woden helps the goddess Hell harvest souls from the increased amount of dead in the Wild Hunt, which is due to Ēostre’s absence. When we celebrate Ēastre in the spring, I am welcoming her back, and when we celebrate Winterfylleþ, I am bidding her safe travels.
Remember, all this is UPG. We have almost no mythology outside of deity names in Non-Norse Heathenry.
Anyways, I hope this gives you ideas on how you can fill in the gaps in your own Heathenry!