On the Importance of Syncretism

One of the main differences between orthodoxy and eclecticism in religion is the willingness to incorporate other belief systems into a spiritual practice. While orthodoxy emphasizes purity of dogma and rigidity in structure, in more mystical or folkish religions there is more of a tendency to acknowledge similarities with the religions of other peoples and adapting to changes brought about by migration and trade. While there is nothing wrong with a more defined and specific approach per se, it does limit one’s perception and the failure to give value to the insights of others may hinder understanding of one’s own belief system. A more syncretic approach is becoming necessary in response to globalization and the erosion of traditional religion in the West. While Christianity has largely lost relevance among Westerners at the same time as the expansion of Islam in our lands, it makes sense to proudly defend our traditions from all throughout our history, not just those from the time before Christianity.

Though we carry the torch that has been passed down to us from our ancestors within our genetics and our culture, and in many ways we embody our ancestors, we are not living under the same conditions as they did. This means that our forebears had more access to their own local traditions in the form of skills passed down through generations, as well as folk-binding ceremonies such as the ceilidh (an event traditionally hosted by the local storyteller, now more centred around Highland dancing). However, many of us today have lost touch with our roots in the whirling confusion that is living in a Modern multicultural society, and so we need to be less picky about what can be used to further the spiritual well-being of our folk.

As opposed to the Judeo-Christian Europe of the Middle Ages (where the Church engaged in pogroms against ‘heretical’ sects, who were usually practising some form of Gnostic Christianity), the pagan Europeans had a much more relaxed attitude towards the cults of other peoples. While the adoption of Celtic, Teutonic and various other European pantheons by the Romans helped to strengthen their state religion, it also led to the eventual decline of paganism in the Roman Empire. As Asian and African cults (such as those of the goddesses Cybele and Isis) were also incorporated into Roman religion, they undermined the patriarchal vigour of the Greco-Roman belief systems and allowed for Judeo-Christianity to take over the empire. And this is where the danger of syncretism lies; in order for this method to work, a belief system must be compatible with another in a way that there is no contradiction due to a common spiritual understanding.

More often than not, this is only possible with other spiritual teachings that derive from the same racial root as the one you may wish to supplement. It is no good trying to adapt the beliefs of foreign races into one’s own religion, as the cultural assumptions will differ and lead to a misunderstanding of symbolic meanings. For example, the wolf or dog is considered a noble (if not somewhat dangerous) animal in Aryan and Turkic cultures, and is the guardian animal for many tribes among these two races. However, in Semitic cultures, the dog is seen in the same light as the jackal, a lowly creature who is shunned and considered unclean. Attempting to reconcile such contradictory symbolism will only lead to confusion about the role of parables and symbols in religion, leading to its eventual abandonment.

However, it is now the case that many of our native European customs are so intertwined not only with each other, but also with Christianity, that it is necessary to admit to what works and what doesn’t with regards to carrying tradition. During the Dark Ages, Gnostic Christianity successfully merged with Celtic paganism in order to compose what has become known as ‘Celtic Christianity’. In many cases, the folklore and mythology from Medieval Ireland and Wales are so heavily shaped by this post-Roman culture that it is now difficult to separate the two, making the attempt to reconstruct a ‘pure’ form of Celtic paganism fruitless. Even with regards to Anglo-Saxon paganism, we only have fragmentary evidence for their specific spiritual practices, and most of this comes from after their conversion to Catholicism. In this way, the poetry of Anglo-Saxon England is no less ‘authentic’ despite the Christian overtones, because the original tradition is preserved underneath the symbolism reflecting that time period. It is only because of the preservation of Norse mythology in Iceland that we know more about Teutonic paganism than its Celtic counterpart, although even the works of Snorri Sturluson (the Icelandic priest responsible for preserving the Eddas and Egil’s saga) are written from a Christian perspective.

Nowhere is the need for a combination of cultural motifs in contemporary paganism more apparent than here in Scotland, where it is difficult to ignore either our Celtic or Teutonic heritage. The British peoples are known to be mongrels, yet we still preserve a specific blend of traditions that is unique to both us and the Irish. Specifically, they do well to compliment each other as embodying the masculine and feminine (or patriarchal and matriarchal) forms of religion, with the Teutonic tradition as the former and Celtic culture as the latter. The head of the Teutonic pantheon is Allfather Wotan, who values the manly pursuits of warfare and rune magic, in addition to encouraging exploration and adventure.

While Wotan’s Celtic cognate, Lugh, is also the chief deity in Irish mythology, there is a strong emphasis on the cult of Danu (‘Mother Earth’ equivalent to Nerthuz) and more focus is placed on trade and shamanistic ‘woman’s magic’. Together, their worship forms the basis of the solar and lunar festivals; Yule, Ostara, Litha and Winter Finding (marking the solstices and equinoxes) among the agricultural Teutons, and Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh in the Gaelic pastoral tradition, marking the beginning of each new season. It is for this reason that I consider Wotanism and all other folkish forms of paganism as the European variant of Aryan religion. We do not need to have our religion specific to one ethnic group or another, as long as the mixture is between cultures with a shared origin so that each can represent two sides of the same coin. While the main source of pagan lore comes from Norse mythology, there is also much to be learned from the cultures of all Aryan peoples, from Ireland to India and from Russia to Spain.

Having said that, care must be used when dealing with the religions of Iranian and Indian cultures. Though the peoples of Central and Southern Asia share much in common genetically and culturally with Europeans, they have also been affected by the presence of indigenous non-Aryans (such as the Dravidians of India) and by incursions from peoples like the Arabs and Turks. This means that while the esoteric meanings of Zoroastrianism or Hinduism can be adapted and applied to European paganism, the more exoteric cultural aspects (such as traditional cuisine or music) may be more alien and inappropriate for blending with our own culture (for example, the presence of figs and dates in Middle-Eastern folklore, whose symbolic meaning is difficult to apply in temperate Europe where they don’t grow).

An example of a successful cross-cultural interpretation is with the story of Wotan and Gunnlod. Wotan wished to drink the sacred Odrerir (‘mead of poetry’) held by the giant, Kvasir. To achieve this, Wotan slept with his daughter Gunnlod for three nights, each night turning into a snake and slithering up the mountain to drink the mead. On the third night he was caught by Kvasir and had to turn into an eagle to escape back to Asgard. This symbology can be interpreted as a metaphor for the practice of Kundalini yoga, with the mountain representing the body and Wotan as a serpent representing the astral ‘snake’ (Shakti in Hinduism) that travels up the spine. The drinking of Odrerir and changing into an eagle is representative of the ecstatic state achieved by channelling this power, and this is a feature of Wotan’s quest for wisdom which serves as an example for his followers.

As a reflection of my mixed ethnic heritage, I choose to outwardly revere the gods of the Teutonic pantheon, while at the same time studying Druidism and other forms of Celtic and Aryan mysticism. This feels like a natural state and it is similarly the case for many of us in Britain. While there is a stronger Teutonic presence in somewhere like England, and in turn a stronger Celtic influence in a place like Ireland, the aspect of this mixture is what gives us our own unique sense of identity. It is obvious that most will swing more one way or the other, but the dual nature of each aspect is always present, and has been for millennia.

While the Nordic character of the East coast has been shaped by the first inhabitants who crossed the lost land of Doggerland in the North Sea, down to the Aryans and later Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen, the West has been more thoroughly colonized by folk from lands facing the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. It is because of this that it is necessary to draw from a larger pool of culture, as the demise of Western civilization has stripped our heritage down to its roots, and it is more pragmatic at this time to revive our local customs in addition to taking inspiration from religions far and wide. Our blood and spirit runs much deeper than nation or language, as the source has and will remain for as long as we remain.

Wulf Willelmson

To be an ‘Aryan’

The word ‘Aryan’ is one that has been misunderstood and abused for almost a century, conjuring up images of the concept of ‘Herrenvolk’ (“Master Race”) as understood by the German National Socialists and is sadly synonymous to many with the idea of White racial superiority. This consigns the definition of this ancient word into a brief period of history in which it was utilized by a particular political regime. Conceptually, the word has longer been understood in a way similar to Nietzsche’s idea of the ‘ubermensch’ (“superman”), which is based more on spiritual evolution than specifically that of biological races. The word ‘Aryan’ comes from the Sanskrit term ‘arya’, meaning ‘noble’ and is a description not only of particular ethnic groups, but also the code of behaviour that this entails. To be ‘noble’ meant to engage in respectful discourse with one’s allies and to be unyielding and deadly to your enemies.

Other ideas related to this general concept include having respect for those of a lower class than you and not to take advantage of them as well as engaging in physical, mental and spiritual fitness. It is where we derive the word ‘aristocrat’ from, and indeed, this sort of behaviour was to be expected of the ruling classes in Ancient Europe. In India, the concept of nobility is associated with ‘rajas’ energy, meaning activities which include physical action, mental acumen and moral judgement as well as creation and destruction. The Japanese term for this sort of person is ‘samurai’, and the behaviour associated with this title was a warrior ethic, and represents their cultural conception of the same sort of person as an Aryan in Europe as well as in Central and South Asia.

There did at one point exist an ‘Aryan race’, who inhabited the areas just mentioned, and it is unclear from where specifically they originated (although it is possible that they originally came from Siberia). However, there has since been significant changes in the racial make-up of Eurasia that no such race exists today as distinct from other races. It is true that the characteristics of Aryan behaviour are most associated with those of European descent. However, much of this has to do with the fact that the concept of an ‘Aryan’ is specific to the Indo-European peoples, and just as the Japanese have their concept of the samurai, other cultures have different definitions for what they would consider to be noble.

The homeland of the Aryan race is something which has been much debated, with answers ranging from Central Asia to India, Turkey or even Europe. However, I wish to focus more on what the word ‘Aryan’ means today. In one sense, it refers to a shared culture from Ireland to India and is reflected in the Indo-European languages which are spoken in these parts of the world. Ireland and Iran both mean “land of the Aryans” and their influence is felt both on a linguistic and spiritual level, as many of the deities of the Indo-European pantheons appear to have a shared origin. The names of Agni of the Vedic pantheon and Ingvi (another name for Frey) both come from a word related to the word ‘ignite’ and are associated with fire. The Celtic god ‘Lugos’ has a shared meaning as ‘Loki’ and both have a meaning similar to ‘light’, which pertains to lightning. Today, the Indo-European peoples do not constitute one race, but rather two or three. In Asia, the Iranic peoples are a mixture of Aryan as well as Arabic and Turkic elements, while in India there is significant admixture between Aryans and Dravidians. In Europe, the White race carries a legacy of ancient mixing between Aryans and earlier Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.

Leaving aside the question of the ‘racial’ Aryan, much of the focus within the Indo-European cultures is now on the ‘spiritual’ Aryan. While in India the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘mleccha’ were ethnic designations, they also denoted certain types of behaviour. The term ‘mleccha’ has a similar meaning to ‘barbarian’ and was used to describe non-Aryan peoples in India. It usually referred to people who were considered to be generally uncouth, ignorant or rude. This may have had more to do with their behaviour than racial differences. In this way, even a White person can be a ‘mleccha’ while someone of another race may exhibit more ‘Aryan’ characteristics. What constitutes Aryan behaviour can be compared to the concept of ‘classiness’, meaning someone who is well-spoken, well-mannered and attractive. To be wise in speech and slow to anger are virtues which were essential to the warrior classes of Ancient Eurasia in order to maintain order in society. The noblemen were expected to protect and defend their folk, while the noblewomen would have acted as managers of their community. During Kali Yuga (‘Iron Age’ or ‘Dark Age’ which is now ending), the kshatriyas (the Sanskrit term for nobles) are said to levy unfair taxes and abuse their folk through violence and coercion, which reflects the state of things when an Aryan society is run by mlecchas. Our warriors have lost their sense of honour, and now is the time to bring it back.

To act as an Aryan entails mindfulness, honesty and clarity towards others, and to advancing in your own efforts while not interfering with those of others (unless they are harmful to one’s folk). Physical fitness is key to achieving mental clarity and spiritual contentment, and discipline with regards to diet and exercise is essential to better yourself in these ways. The art of self-defence is the mark of a warrior and is also integral to the idea of acting as an Aryan. This is distinct from violence, which is inflicting harm upon others when they have not done so to you, and such behaviour brings great shame to one who considers himself an Aryan. Having a good relationship with your ancestors and the gods (or whichever cosmic forces you happen to believe in) is attained through dutiful action and striving to better oneself.An Aryan will never back down but may know when he has been defeated and first looks for a peaceful solution before engaging in self-defence.

Creativity is another way to challenge yourself, as folk with mostly rajas energy are very energetic and imaginative. Something that must be kept in mind is that becoming an Aryan is a progressive process, you don’t simply decide to become Aryan and behave accordingly. The cultivation of one’s person is a skill that takes practice, as most of us have simply been brought up as ‘mlecchas’, due to the sick and decaying nature of our society. Therefore, it takes time to gradually work on yourself and make the changes that are needed to help you achieve your best. Cleaning up your personal bad habits and unappealing aspects of yourself have a wider impact on the world around you, as you will radiate attractive energy that others will wish to emulate. With the ancient wisdom of our forefathers and the gods on our side, we can restore Aryan culture and rescue our race from extinction.

Wulf Willelmson

How the Druids became Witches

 

Today, these mysterious magicians of the Celtic lands are generally understood in two ways; either as a class of priests or seers who basically governed their society through advising their chieftains, and only existed during the Iron Age, or alternatively, as a longer tradition stretching from the earliest times into the present day. The main problem with the former is that it relies on a restricted interpretation of the word ‘druid’ in an Iron Age context and ignores the use of derived terms during the Middle Ages with slightly different meanings. The word “dryw” meant ‘”seer” in Welsh, while the Gaelic word “drui” meant “wizard” or “magician”. Though some claim that the meanings of these words are not interchangeable whatsoever, this merely reflects the loss of religious duties of the druids after the invasion of Christianity. Instead of being the spiritual leaders of society, their role changed to that fortune-tellers and folk healers, many of whom would be burned as witches from the 15th to18th Centuries. Despite Christian propaganda claiming otherwise, the druids were said to have had magnificent powers; not only in prophecy, but also in controlling the weather and practising astral projection, such as spirit flight and shapeshifting.

The word ‘druid’ literally meant “oak wise” in Ancient Europe, but this name does not simply mean that they knew a lot about trees and other things in Nature (of which they knew a great deal), but also that they were generally considered powerful because of their knowledge and were ‘strong in wisdom’. They were described by the Romans as not only responsible for spiritual matters, but also as lawyers, philosophers, astrologers, doctors, scientists and politicians. They were also portrayed as a distinct social group along with “bards” (musicians and storytellers) and “owates” (seers) By the 1st Century BC, many Gaulish tribes had transferred political sovereignty from their chieftains to a ‘senate’ of druids, which functioned similarly to a republic and was led by a ‘wergobret’ (magistrate). The leader of the Aedui tribe who was allied to Caesar was knows as “Diviciacus”, and was described by Caesar as a ‘senator’ of the Aedui. This reflects how similar Gaulish society had become to that of the Romans, but the main difference between their societies was that the Romans had a city-state civilization, while the Gauls retained the tribe as the largest political unit. They were both run by the elites of their societies who formed a level of government above the common folk. The druids were also said to have performed human sacrifices, which the Romans saw as barbaric (as they only sacrificed animals). However, it is possible that these ‘sacrifices’ were actually executions of criminals and that the Druidic legal system was a thorough mixture of of religion and law, and so execution may have had a ritual aspect that was not shared by the Romans.

In Britain, the Romans became intent on destroying the druids as part of their invasion in the 1st Century AD, so they slaughtered them at their base on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. It appears that the druids were too effective in stirring up resistance against the Romans all over Britain that they were exterminated or forced to swear allegiance to Rome and conform to the Romano-British hybrid religion. However, the druids evidently survived in Scotland, as they feature in Adomnan’s “Life of Saint Columba”, as antagonists. Though they are never mentioned again by the Romans, this is probably because the druids had previously had a centralized religious institution that had become localized after the eradication at Anglesey, and the remaining tribal druids would have no longer posed a united political threat to the Romans. The druids continued to act as the legal and spiritual leaders of their societies, but they became subjected to Christianity around the 5th Century AD. The first attemps to Christianize the Picts were carried out by the Britons in Scotland, who were likely to have practised Romano-British religion and would have been quick to adopt Christianity from the Romans. Missionaries like Saint Ninian (‘Winnian’ in Brittonic and ‘Finnian’ in Gaelic) converted the Southern Picts of Fife, Stirlingshire, Perthshire, Angus and Galloway in the early 5th Century. However, Saint Patrick’s “Letter to Coroticus” (probably a king of Strathclyde) calls the Picts “apostates”, suggesting that they had probably abandoned the Roman variant of Christianity by the late 5th Century.

Irish missionaries were more successful, as they preached a more syncretic form of Christianity, which was propagated by the Saint Columba in the late 6th Century. While Columba managed to gain converts among the Picts, he did not succeed in converting the Pictish king, “Bridei” (“bree-day”), but his work was continued by his monks at Iona and other parts of Scotland. Druids were also present in Ireland before Christianity, and they are described in more detail than those in Scotland. They are the ‘snakes’ that Patrick supposedly “drove out of Ireland”, as he made every attempt to undermine the wisdom of the druids by smashing statues of their gods and burning their books. Despite claims to the contrary, the druids did have an alphabet other than ‘ogham’ (a writing system used for carving inscriptions on stone and on wands for divination) known in Wales as ‘Coelbren’ and can be found on inscriptions across Europe. Modern academia asserts that Coelbren was invented by Edward Williams in the 18th Century, despite the fact that the reason we have no textual evidence of the alphabet is because the Christians burned the evidence. This is where the assumption that the druids were illiterate until they adapted ogham from the Latin alphabet comes from (which is also false). At the same time, the druids were still primarily concerned with oral tradition, as esoteric knowledge could not be written down (their writing was more likely to have been used to aid memory rather than record it) and druids were trained to memorize poetry, mythology, spells, songs, religious rituals with which they tried to understand Nature.

The Irish druids are described as wearing feathered clothing (in contrast to the Gaulish druids, whom the Romans said wore white robes), giving them the appearance similar to shamans in other parts of the world. The link between Druidism and Shamanism is one which has a lot of evidence to support it. The practices of soul flight and shapeshifting as well as detailed knowledge about plants and animals appear to be common to many such traditions, so it stands to reason that Druidism has been passed down to us by our earliest ancestors and inhabitants of these lands. In traditional societies, the shamans are the spiritual healers of their people, and will use their powers to fight sickness and protect their tribe. They also serve as advisors to their chieftains, though they live somewhat apart from the rest of society, despite being essential members. Another important similarity appears to be the lack of gender exclusivity among druids and shamans. The folk on Anglesey chanting curses at the Romans were women, and there is no evidence that the druids had a patriarchal institution like the chieftains, even if women were in the minority or were possibly part of separate orders from the male druids (it is said that Saint Bridget was a druidess who converted to Christianity).

The status of the druids diminished with the coming of Christianity and so they became a misunderstood and sometimes feared folk during the Middle Ages. To many, they became associated with legends of werewolves and curses than for their previously important contributions to society. In Ireland, the druids were said to have been able to cause madness, by blowing a powder (most likely a drug made from plants containing scopolamine) into somebody’s face, a practice still utilized by criminals in some of the poorest countries. The word ‘sorcerer’ comes from the Latin ‘sortiarius’ which also means a seer, and in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the use of magic was known as ‘wiccecraeft’ or ‘witchcraft’. The male ‘wicca’ and female ‘wicce’ may have been the Anglo-Saxon equivalents of the druids and became the witches and wizards of Medieval lore; however, the common folk sought to distinguish between ‘witches’ and what they called ‘cunning folk’. The difference between them was that the former practised ‘black magic’ while the latter engaged in ‘white magic’. Black magic became known by the term ‘maleficium’ (sorcery) and consisted of hexing, poisoning, becoming invisible and changing folk into animals, while white magic was focused on healing, prayer and removing hexes. ‘Cunning folk’ were tolerated because they frequently invoked Christ and Semitic gods such as El and Adonai, while ‘black magic’ usually consisted of interacting with Nature spirits (wights, elves and dwarves).This was all seen as pagan superstition by the Catholic Church and was either ignored or ridiculed.

This was to change near the end of the Middle Ages, as the Church became concerned with the potential proliferation of occult literature with the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century. They reacted in a typically hysterical fashion and began to encourage secular authorities to hunt down and persecute ‘witches’. Whereas before, their policy had been to deny the veracity of supernatural powers attributed to or even the existence of witches, now witches became servants of darkness who worshipped the Devil and used magic to harm and to kill. The previous bigotry towards ‘heretics’, who held differing interpretations of the Bible, was now unleashed on all who practised folk magic (and many who did not). In Scotland, they did not burn them alive when found guilty of witchcraft (as was done on the continent), but rather strangled them first before burning their corpses (though there are reports of ‘witches’ being thrown off cliffs). Despite the holocaust that ensued throughout Europe into the beginning of the 18th Century (and later in some parts), some cunning folk survived and continued to be consulted by the common folk but were simply ignored for the most part by the medical establishment. The ‘Enlightenment’ had secularized science and medicine, and so druids and witches and all things ‘superstitious’ became memories of the past.

Druidism resurfaced in the 18th Century as a Welsh cultural movement, influenced by the work of Edward Williams and espousing a peculiar form of monotheism. The early Neo-Druid movement had a fraternal organization similar to freemasonry, though more recently, others have tried to discover more authentic Druidic practices. Druidism is a spiritual philosophy native to Europe and in places where Europeans form a majority, and is a tradition that can be incorporated into Wotanism. In contrast, ‘witchcraft’ is more of a method of experimenting with natural forces, which can be used for any purpose and is a cultural practice rather than a religion. ‘Wicca’ is a dualistic Neopagan religion that is based on a hotchpotch of European folk traditions and ceremonial magic, and is a universalist religion like Christianity. There are many New Age belief systems designed to trick you into thinking that you are reconnecting with your roots or the land, but still holding you in a modernist mindset. Our traditions are neither ancient nor modern, they are both since time is eternal, which is the cyclical view of the universe that was held by the druids.

Wulf Willelmson