Fyrnsidic Cosmology- Order vs Chaos
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Cosmology, Heathen basics, Heathen worldview, Heathenry, Reconstruction
Cosmology is defined as the study of the nature of the universe. Physical cosmology studies the structure of the universe, how it operates, the laws that cause it to operate in that way, and how it all began. Religious cosmology generally studies all that from a spiritual viewpoint. It often, but not always, includes a creation myth. When dealing with the beginning of the universe, it is also known as cosmogony.
There is no official cosmology of Fyrnsidu, as there is no central authority to craft one. Fyrnsidu is a very decentralized religious movement that creates a spirituality based upon the religion of the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon tribes. Most of the modern groups that fit into this category don't self-identify themselves as Fyrnsidere but takes different labels, the most common being Anglo-Saxon Heathen. So the cosmology I will describe on this blog as Fyrnsidic cosmology will be what I perceive as the general consensus of those who self-identify their religion as Fyrnsidu. This perception of consensus is formed mainly from talking to other Fyrnsideras and reading Fyrnsidic blogs. There will be some who identify themselves as a Fyrnsidere who don't hold this particular cosmology. There may also be those who identify as some other form of Heathen or even pagan who may subscribe to this cosmology. As is usual when dealing with these kinds of things, the water is far muddier than it is clear!
I plan to make this a part of a series of blog posts on Fyrnsidic cosmology. I had initially planned to cover it in a single blog post, but it didn't take long to realize it was just too large of a topic to deal with all at once! So today, we'll be dealing with the most fundamental aspect of Fyrnsidic cosmology- order vs chaos.
Most pre-Christian religions taught that before anything else existed, there was only chaos. Before going any further, it is important to distinguish between cosmic chaos and mundane chaos. Mundane chaos is disorder, and is what we think of today when we talk about chaos. A wild party, for example, could be an example of mundane chaos.
To the ancients, mundane chaos is not what was pictured when someone mentioned chaos. Chaos was something much more. Many Fyrnsideras call this cosmic chaos. This is to distinguish it from the modern understanding. To the most ancient sources, it was a vast nothingness, a true vacuum. This is the view we get from Hesiod's , that of chaos as a temporary infinity of nothingness.
Starting with the Greek philosopher Aristotle, cosmic chaos began to be understood differently. Instead of being nothingness, it was the foundation from which the order of the universe came. It was the building blocks the gods used to create the world. The Roman Ovid called it "a shapeless heap". In other words, everything that was needed to form everything in the universe was present in the chaos, just unable to take any kind of recognizable form yet.
Chaos came to English from the Greek khaos. The Old English word for chaos would be Gedwolma. (Most Old English dictionaries will list this word without the ge- prefix, because the prefix is almost always optional in Old English.) In the ancient Greek cosmology, Khaos continued to be a location either above the earth or below it. I think of it as being on the very edges of the physical universe, and is the area inhabited by the Ettins (more about them later).
Things begin to diverge here among the mythologies of ancient cultures, so let's focus on the mythologies of the Indo-European cultures, the family of cultures which include the Norse (and other Germanic tribes), the Celtic tribes, the Greeks and Romans, and the Hindus (among others!). These cultures have enough similarities that they likely are descended from a common group of people, often called the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Using the languages, religions, and cultures of these diverse peoples, we've been able to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language, religion, and culture with a reasonable amount of certainty.
So, to recap, before anything else existed there was only chaos. After an indeterminate amount of time, the first beings emerge from the chaos. In Norse mythology, the giant Ymir and the cosmic cow are the first to emerge. From them came the Æsir (gods) and the Jotnar. In Hellenic-Roman mythology, the Titans emerged from the chaos, who later gave birth to the Olympians (gods). Regardless of the culture, the first beings to emerge from the chaos are the gods and the primal enemies of the gods, or the first beings that emerge from the chaos lead to the birth of the two groups.
The two groups are known in Hinduism as the Devas and the Asuras. In Hellenic-Roman paganism, they were known as the Olympiads and the Titans. The Norse called them the Æsir and the Jotnar. In Fyrnsidu, we call them the Ēse (the gods) and the ettins (the giants). Regardless of what each culture called them, there is war between the two groups because the gods wish to bring order to the chaos, but their enemies wish to preserve the chaos the way it was. The gods eventually prevail and establish the natural order, thereby shaping the chaos into the universe as we know it now. The gods continue to maintain the order of the universe, whereas their enemies continue to undermine the order so that the universe can return to its initial state of chaos. In Fyrnsidu, most practitioners see order as being established and maintained by the divine Þing (the Assembly of the gods; the letter Þ is known as thorn and makes a th sound), which was established by Tīw and continues to be led by him. Obviously, the enemies of the gods winning and reverting the universe to its initial state of chaos would be what is colloquially known as A Very Bad Thing for all physical life which depends upon the natural order for it's very existence.
Before concluding this blog post, I would like to address a common misconception about chaos. A lot of modern pagans believe that there needs to be a balance between order and chaos. They see order as static, and chaos as being the dynamic force that brings change and growth to nature. While philosophically this makes a lot of sense, it would have been totally alien to any of the ancient pre-Christian cultures. Change and growth are part of the cosmic order. The "destruction" that many modern pagans point to as necessary chaos (for example, the forest fires that rejuvinate forests) is, in fact, part of the natural order. This order itself is the balance that keeps the universe moving along. Chaos is the disruption of that balance. An example of this would be the man-made global warming that causes the forest fires to go unchecked and completely burns the forest down, leading to the destruction of ecosystems and extinction of plant and animal species.
(For those who wish to keep this philosophy of balance, only a simple renaming of the concepts being balanced is necessary. Instead of order and chaos needing to be balanced, one can refer instead to the balance of life and death, or creation and destruction, or stability and change.)
This is all great theory, you may say, but what effect does this have on our lives? Humanity has developed to the point where our actions can directly effect the natural order. Nuclear war could easily destroy all life on the planet. Man made global warming, likewise, threatens to upset the balance of the natural order in many ways. With this power comes responsibility. We are, I believe, morally obligated to do whatever we can to stave off these potentially earth-destroying outcomes. The main way to do this, of course, is to use our political voices. Vote for those least likely to cause more ecological destruction. Those candidates that will cause more ecological destruction need to be defeated at the election polls in any way possible.
So, let's end this blog post by summarising the Fyrnsidic cosmology that I've built up so far. Before anything else existed, there was only chaos. From the chaos emerged the gods and the ettins. The gods wanted to bring order to the chaos, but the ettins wouldn't let them so war broke out between the two groups. The gods prevailed, and they created the universe by shaping that chaos into order. The gods continue to maintain this cosmic order, whereas many of the ettins continue to undermine it in an attempt to sink the universe back into its initial state of cosmic chaos.
What aspects of this cosmology match your own, and what aspects differ from yours? Let me know in the comments below, and why your cosmology leads you in that direction!
For more info:
- Order vs Chaos
- What Makes a God (Video)