Excerpt from the ‘Shahnameh’ (Persian ‘Book of Kings): Bahram Gur’s Priest Ruins and Revives a Village

‘Another day Bahram went out hunting at dawn with a group of companions. His vizier Hormozd rode on his left, and a priest on his right, and the two told him tales of Jamshid and Feraydun [legendary early kings of Iran]. They took no dogs, cheetahs and hawks with them and searched through the morning, but by noon they’d found no trace of either onager [wild ass] or deer, and when the sun shone in the heavens like a bright coin, Bahram irritatedly made his way back from his expedition. A green area, filled with men and flocks, appeared, and many people gathered round to stare at the hunters. Bahram was weary and feeling short-tempered; he’d hoped to dismount and rest in the village, but no one came forward to meet him, and the place seemed inhabited by donkeys. He grew angry with the people there and looked askance at them, saying to his priest:

May this green, prosperous village be a den
Of beasts – a wild and uncultivated fen –
And may the water dry in every ditch
And turn to stagnant and black as pitch!

The priest knew how to fulfil Bahram’s command and he turned aside from the road and entered the village. He said, “This green area, filled with houses, people and flocks, has pleased King Bahram and he has a new plan for you. Rejoice in your hearts, you are all masters now and can make this a splendid place. Here women and children are masters too, and no one has to obey anyone else. Labourer and headmen are equal: men, women and children, you are all headmen of the village!” A cry of joy went up from the inhabitants; in their minds men and women were the same, and labourers and servants were equal to the village headman. Since the young men now felt no fear of authority, they cut off the heads of the village elders: everyone became muddled up with everyone else, and bloodshed became commonplace. The area became as confused and horrifying as the Day of Judgement, and the inhabitants fled. A few weak, old men stayed there, but every sign of activity or prosperity had gone. The whole village took on a rundown look: trees withered, irrigation ditches dried up, houses were now in ruins, fields were uncultivated, men and their flocks were nowhere to be seen.

A year passed, and the following spring Bahram again went hunting in that area. He reached the place that had seemed so pleasant and prosperous, but the village he remembered was not there. All the trees were dead, the houses in ruins, the fields empty of flocks and people. Bahram’s heart was wrung to see this; he feared God and wished to act justly. He said this to his priest, “Ruzbeh, it hurts me to see this lovely place in ruins, go quickly and provide them with money from my treasury, so that they won’t suffer any more.”

The priest left the king’s side and rode into the ruins. He went from house to house and finally found an old man who had no work. He dismounted, greeted him politely, and invited the man to sit with him. He said, “Old man, who has ruined this prosperous place?”

The old man answered him, “By chance one day
The king and his companions come this way.
A foolish priest with no sense in his head,
One of those noble idiots, born and bred,
Declared to us, ”You’re all the masters here,
Social distinctions are to disappear.
The ranks of those who rule and those who serve
Are niceties that no one need observe.”
As soon as he’d said that our little village
Was filled with fights and plundering and pillage:
May God reward that man’s stupidity
And fill his days with grief and misery!”

Grieved to hear this, Ruzbeh asked “Who is your village headman?” The man replied,

“A headman’s a place where grain is grown,
And men can reap the harvest they have sown.

Ruzbeh said, “You are to be the headman here, you’re to rule over these ruins. Ask the king for cash, seed, cows, and donkeys, and bring back to your village whoever you can find who is destitute. You are to be the headman and they’re to do as you tell them. And don’t curse that priest who came here before, as he didn’t want to say what he did. If you need help from the king’s court, I’ll send you whatever you need. All you have to do is ask.”

The old man was pleased to hear this and forgot his former sorrows. He immediately went from house to house to find men to work on the irrigations channels and to start cultivating the land again. They asked neighbouring villages for donkeys and cows and set to work making the plain productive. The headman and his villagers worked hard at planting trees everywhere, and their hearts were filled with happiness each time they saw a house had been rebuilt. All those who had fled from the place weeping and wailing came back one by one when they had heard of the success of the old headman’s efforts. The watercourses in the streets were rebuilt, the stocks of cows, donkeys, and sheep multiplied in the pastures, and the trees that people planted everywhere made the former ruins look like paradise.

By the following year the village had responded to the old man’s efforts and was as he wished. Once again, at spring time, the king went hunting with his priest, Ruzabeh, and for a third time they came to the village. Bahram Gur saw the land under cultivation, the herds of animals, the fine buildings, the plains and mountain slopes covered with sheep and lambs, the water courses coming down from the foothills, and the village filled with handsome men. He turned to the priest and said, “Ruzbeh, what have you done? This fine village was in ruins, its people and animals had fled. What did you give them so that they were able to make it flourish again?”

Ruzbeh answered, “One speech was enough to bring this ancient village to its knees, and one idea was enough to make it prosperous again, and so rejoice the heart of Persia’s king. You had ordered me to destroy the village using money from your treasury, but I was afraid of God’s judgement and the reproaches of noblemen and commoners. I saw that strife results when one has two thoughts, and knew that when a town has two masters it cannot survive. I told the village elders that there was no master over them, that women were masters now, and children too, as were servants and labourers. When the commoners became masters, the master’s heads were brought down to dust. This lovely place was destroyed by a speech, and I escaped reproach and did not fear God’s judgement. But then the king forgave them, so I went to them and suggested another course of action. I set a wise old man over them as their headman, someone who was eloquent and knowledgeable. Through his efforts he restored the village’s prosperity and made his inferiors’ hearts happy.  Once one man was put in charge of the rest, things went well again: goodness increased and evil decreased. I showed them the way of evil and then I opened the door to God for them. If a man uses speech in the right place, it is worth more than fine jewels. If you want your soul to have no troubles, wisdom must be your king, and language your champion. May the king’s heart be eternally happy, triumphing over all evil and ruin.”

The king responded, “Ruzbeh, you are worthy of a crown!” He gave this clever and perspicacious man a purse of gold coins and a royal robe of honour, raising his head to the clouds in glory.’

[Abolqasem Ferdowsi, English translation into prose by Dick Davis, Penguin 1997]

Saravan-Nahook-village

Bahram V was the ruler of the Persian Empire between 420 and 438 AD and this story, written in the 10th Century, is set during his reign. It is a cautionary tale that demonstrates how a society can fall apart, but also how it can be built up again. The village is a microcosm of society and the events that occur mirror the process of dissolution and revival. Because the villagers did not greet the king and his entourage, this signals the beginning of the society’s fall, as the lack of manners and hospitality to strangers invited the king’s wrath upon them. The first speech given by the king’s priest is an example of the kinds of things touted by demagogues that preach egalitarianism, which then ensues in class warfare. The suggestion that everyone is equal results in a loss of focus and purpose other than removing power from those that have it in order to distribute it equally. Since each person is considered the same as everyone else, this results in confusion about who is to do what and so nobody knows what they should be doing. The distress that comes from loss of purpose when one is out of touch with their innate capabilities drives people to insanity, and so they become self-serving and opportunistic. The fact that no one can co-cooperate means that everybody becomes poor and no longer has a sense of common purpose. At this point, people begin to flee and leave for greener pastures, leaving only the old who are unable or unwilling to leave. And so, as there are no young folk, the society has no future.

However, upon the return of the priest once the king sees how destitute the village is, he finds the wisest of the old men, who knows how the society of his village fell apart and why. Because of his capability to understand this, he was appointed as the new headman of the village and was able to use the money given to him by the king to pay for new people to work for him. This demonstrates that there are natural leaders among a population, and that the wisest should be considered the most able to be so. Once there is somebody who can work with others and make use of their labour, their focus becomes finding what each person’s skills and abilities are in order to make use of them in working towards a common goal. The headman does not need to interfere in the lives of those that he commands, and so there is no resentment between people when they adopt the roles of master and servant. Thus, by recognizing the most agreeable purpose between individuals on a voluntary basis, a society can prosper and thrive.

When the king inquires about the splendid state of the village on his third visit, the priest explains that words and ideas can have a powerful effect upon a society, and can tear it down just as easily as they can build it up. By seeking to recognize a common truth with others, a society becomes functional and able to provide for the needs of those who inhabit it. This can only be done by working out the distinctions between those who can lead and those who follow. There is also the aspect of provider and dependant, which can be reflected in gender roles and definitions of maturity. As men are more likely to assume leadership roles, it does not make sense to expect this as something which women are as likely to fulfil, just as most men would struggle to perform roles better performed by women. Similarly, children are not considered capable of leadership as their immaturity makes them unsuited to the responsibilities of running a society.

However, whenever the natural tendency towards unity is disrupted and the idea of multiple leaders is introduced, society fractures into factions based on personal allegiance, and so people will not see themselves as part of a complete group, but as smaller competing collectives based on class, gender or race. When this happens, it results in hostility and bloodshed, and the benefits from the conflict are generally reaped by those who started trouble in the first place. But since the priest did not have a self-serving motive to begin with and was also able to promote truth and harmony, he appointed the old man to the role of leadership and returned the society to even better prosperity than before. Thus, the priest demonstrates that the mastery of language and the ability to convey truth or falsehood is a powerful tool that should not be abused if one has good intentions. King Bahram remarks that his priest deserves a crown, recognizing that wisdom is required to rule justly.

Wulf Willelmson

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

Satan

Having had a good look at Christianity and it’s various positive and negative forms, and also the various pagan myths of Teutonic lore, we will now shift our focus toward a particular feature of mythology that is a recurring theme throughout the history of religion. The being known as ‘Satan’ in Judeo-Christian mythology and as ‘Shaitan‘ in Islam, means ‘adversary’ and features as an antagonist either to God or mankind in different mythologies throughout the world. He is known in one sense as the embodiment of all evil, but also as a tragic or even sympathetic figure who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven.

The lore surrounding this dark figure is a mixture of pagan and Christian myths, and his association with the Judeo-Christian ‘God’ is either as the prosecutor of Job, as in the Old Testament, or as tempter of Jesus within the New Testament. However, his appearance as a horned man with goat legs and a trident is a mixture of pagan imagery, in particular the Greek forest god Pan and his Celtic cognate, Cernunnos, as well as the Greek sea god, Poseidon. To mainstream Christians, Muslims and Jews, he is seen as the one who leads you astray from the path of God and towards damnation, but he is perceived as a liberator and a figure of freedom in some pagan traditions; and sometimes is even seen as a god to be feared, rather than the more benevolent Creator deity.

Though ‘Satan’ is the name most commonly known in the West today, he is also known by the titles of ‘the Devil’ (whose name relates to words ‘devious’, ‘deviant’ and ‘devour’), Beelzebub (‘lord of the flies’, thought to derive from the Canaanite deity Ba’al) or even ‘prince of darkness’. He is also associated with Lucifer, although this is a slightly different figure that we will look at in more detail later on. In other cultures, Satan is known in different forms, such as Ahriman in Zoroastrianism, who is seen as the enemy of Ahura Mazda (‘God’) and deceiver of mankind. In Buddhism, he appears as the arch-demon Mara, who represents illusion and is the lord of death.

Within Teutonic mythology, the best fit for a Satanic figure would be Loki; who also represents illusion and deception and is the nemesis of Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost Bridge to Asgard (the home of the Aesir and a place representing enlightenment). However, in other cultures he was seen as a deity to be worshipped, such as among the natives of Virginia, who called this being Oke, and some even performed human sacrifices of teenage boys to him. In Ancient Egypt, he was known as Seth or Set, and despite being the brother and slayer of the Sun god Osiris, he still had followers among the Ancient Egyptian kings, though his name was later blotted out in religious dedications. Even within the Old Testament, there are references to dual goat sacrifices, one to Yahweh and one to Azazel, lord of the desert, who is very similar to Set in his attributes.

Today, he is often seen as representing a very real force of evil that compels individuals to commit atrocities against others. The so-called ‘Church of Satan’ and its brand of Satanism are simply a pompous form of atheism that promotes mockery of Catholic Mass and very base individualism based off of capitalist ‘philosophy’. However, much more serious stories involving human sacrifice and child abuse have appeared in mass consciousness over the past few decades. This practice of Satanism was once associated with people usually characterized as mentally deranged heavy metal fans, particularly in the United States during the 1980s.

However, this extreme expression of teenage rebellion is not nearly as prevalent nor as disturbing as tales of ritualistic sacrifices of children by plutocratic elites, many of whom are said to be or have connections to world leaders. Due to the nature of such clandestine activities, such practices are difficult to prove. For instance, it is possible that such stories are made up in order to disseminate fear and paranoia and have no basis in truth. Such accusations are similar to those made against witches by the Catholic Church during the Burning Times. However, it would also stand to reason that if these things were happen among the wealthiest members of society, then they would have sufficient resources to cover it up and protect themselves from the wrath of the public. Either way, the idea of offering humans as a sacrifice to an infernal being are nothing new, and it is naïve to assume that such beliefs and practices are not still adhered to within the darkest corners of Man’s heart.

Thus, the nature of ‘Satan’ is multifaceted and not so easy to discern in terms of a singular being. He is a different sort of character depending on the context and how his role relates to other beings portrayed as ‘God’. For example, in the Book of Genesis, Satan is usually associated with the Apple of Eve, which was eaten by the first woman from the Tree of Knowledge. Though not explicitly mentioned as the name of the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple, it has been inferred from the theme of temptation to disobey that this figure represents Satan in this context. However, this story could be interpreted in different ways. On one hand, the Judeo-Christian interpretation is that Eve and her mate, Adam (the first man, whose name comes from Atum in Egyptian mythology) were damned by God and cast out of the Garden of Eden (‘paradise’) for their acts of disobedience; and so began the Fall of Man from spiritual grace.

On the other hand, a Gnostic or Luciferian perspective is to see the serpent as the spirit of curiosity, which encouraged Eve to disobey the tyrannical false god ‘Yahweh‘ and reach towards enlightenment. Both versions reflect either a Left-Hand Path or Right-Hand Path interpretation of the story, for which the meaning differs depending on one’s own values. For one on the Right-Hand Path, Satan more often is seen as a dangerous enemy, and one who tries to distract you from achieving your goals through temptation and deception. However, within the Left-Hand Path, any obstruction to liberty is seen as a hindrance and Satan can be a valuable ally in overcoming the bondage of psychological conditioning during one’s lifetime. It is at this point that it is worth distinguishing the figure of ‘Satan’ from that of ‘Lucifer’, who are often conflated but who generally represent two distinct but related beings. Satan is a figure who was originally seen as ‘the accuser’ and acted as God’s dispenser of justice on Earth in Judaic mythology. However, within Christianity he is seen as the ruler of Hell (based on both the Greek and Teutonic underworlds) and as a fallen angel and lord of demons.

lucifer

Lucifer is an angel or demigod known as Phosphoros in Greek and whose name means ‘morning star’, which is the planet Venus. He is a metaphor for the ‘light-bringer’ or seeker of enlightenment, and is associated with both Loki and Prometheus; who is said to have brought the divine gift of fire to Man (‘Loki’ means ‘lightning’ in both a metaphorical and literal sense). Within Judeo-Christian mythology (though not actually in the Bible) Lucifer is portrayed as the angel who led a rebellion against God when asked to bow before Adam, and who was cast down into Hell following his defeat and becoming Satan. In this way, he is similar to the Yazidi deity Melek Taus, though their Creator is said to have praised the archangel for his refusal to bow before any creature lower than he, for this is how he was created. In these terms, Lucifer is the one who chooses to rebel, and Satan is who he becomes in doing so.

This process may also, however, work in reverse. Wotanist mystic, Kalki Weisthor, has suggested that both the figures of Satan and Lucifer can be incorporated into Wotanism by adding Wotan as a third component. The idea is that one begins their journey on the Left-Hand Path by acting as Satan, and so undoing unhelpful social conditioning and false beliefs by refusing to follow what you have perceived to be the rules. The next step is to become Lucifer, which involves pursuing enlightenment and acting as a free agent, having done away with what restricted you before. The last step is to embody Wotan, after mastering the skills of magic and using one’s liberated position to come back into society as a teacher and as a leader.

I personally find this a very helpful concept, though it presumably does not work as well for those on the Right-Hand Path, who will want to stick to their principles and resist the urge to rebel, since it is not in their nature to do so. Satan is not so much to be feared but respected, and he is a figure that will remain as long as human consciousness can conceive of a negative force, pulling us either towards damnation or enlightenment. It is also worth keeping in mind that Satan can mean many different things to many different people, and that misunderstandings about his character have led to persecution and ostracism which arise from ignorance. As a friend or enemy, he is with us always, as a teacher, tempter or that which we despise but know we must embrace as a part of life.

Hail Satan!

Wulf Willelmson

The Dark Ages

The term ‘Dark Ages’ refers to the time also known as the Early Medieval (or ‘Early Historic’) period between the 5th and 11th centuries AD, and this is because we know little about events from the historical record in Western Europe compared to the Roman and Late Medieval periods. This can be contrasted with the Renaissance and the resurgence of paganism and occultism in this part of the world following the Middle Ages around the 16th Century. After the fall of Rome, the Continent was divided between pre-feudal, Teutonic kingships, while the British Isles descended into tribalism; where there was competition for land and resources between the native, Brittonic folk and Anglo-Saxon settlers.

However, despite the suggestion of genocide that has been proposed by some Modern archaeologists, there is no reason to believe that the Anglo-Saxons had some sort of ‘apartheid’ regime (something which can only be implemented through the state, which was not present in Britain following the Roman departure). Exterminating the Britons would have made little sense if much of the land was depopulated, a process which began in Late Antiquity and continued into the Dark Ages. It is certain that there were folk that came from what is now mainland Denmark and Northern Germany, though they arrived in Britain over a continuous time, as they were hired as mercenaries by the Romans and later the British petty kings to help fight the marauding Picts and Gaels. Thus, the Anglo-Saxons became more populous on the Eastern and Southern coasts of England, and eventually took control of the areas in which they formed the majority.

They could only have achieved this with the help of British pagans who felt alienated by their Christian rulers. There is reason to believe that the Anglo-Saxon warlords married into local noble families and gained power this way. The founder of Wessex, Kerdic, has a Celtic name, and so it is likely that he had an Anglo-Saxon father and British mother. Also, the Northumbrian king, Oswy, gained the territory of Rheged (Lancashire) through marrying a princess of that kingdom. It is for this reason that many Britons became absorbed into Anglo-Saxon culture through intermarriage and because of shared religious beliefs.

This is presumably what is meant in the Welsh Triads by the description of the Lloegrians (Britons of the South and East) coming into confederation with the Angles and Saxons. Though the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (who settled in Kent and also in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight) were three different tribes, they all spoke the same language and worshipped the same pantheon, which is why they are known culturally as Anglo-Saxons. Christianity subsequently fell out of favour among many of the Britons, but was reintroduced from Ireland by missionaries. These ‘Celtic Christians’ were more successful in converting the Britons than the earlier, state-imposed Roman Church, as they preached a doctrine that was more suited to Celtic culture and spirituality.

The first among the Teutonic tribes of England to be Christianized were the Jutes, whose close contact and trade with the Franks over in France, Belgium and the Netherlands exposed them to the later ‘Catholic Church’ that was more friendly to pagan customs. The Dark Age Roman missionaries were advised not to destroy pagan shrines, but to simply consecrate them in the name of Christ and convince the local people that they were Christians. In Late Antiquity, their methods included desecrating pagan shrines and attacking pagans, acts which did not win the hearts of the common folk. While the Jutes, Saxons and Mercians were converted to Roman Catholicism, the Northumbrians initially responded to the Church established by Saint Columba.

Edwin, was the first Northumbrian king to convert, though Oswy (a rival to Edwin and future King of Northumbria) converted to Christianity while he lived in exile in Iona. However, Oswy would eventually be responsible for turning his back on the Columban Church and agreed to revise the date of Easter to conform with mainstream Catholic custom at the Synod of Whitby; a move which would be followed by the Picts (in whose lands lived many Culdees, ‘hermit monks’ who preserved the Celtic tradition) and later at Iona itself. And so, the Catholic Church had succeeded in drawing the folk of the British Isles closer to its dogma, and went on to firmly establish Judeo-Christianity among the peoples of our land.

A similar process that occurred with the Britons and Anglo-Saxons may have also have happened among the inhabitants of the Northern Isles (and some of the Western Isles), and the Norsemen who settled there. These islands were some of the last places to be Christianized, and though they were attractive to the Culdees due to their isolation, they presumably did not bother the local pagans. The folk of the Northern Isles, especially in Shetland, have inherited much of their genetic lineage from the Norse. However, this does not mean that the natives were massacred by the Vikings. Rather, it suggests that they were more open to interaction with the Norsemen than with the mainland Picts and Gaels.

This may have been because the high kings of these peoples were known to raid the Northern Isles and the Hebrides, of which the goals were usually to capture booty and some slaves. It is important to note that chattel slavery was not widely practised in Britain before the introduction of Christianity, aside from kingdoms in the South-East who were in close contact with the Romans. Though there were many in European tribal society who were not free due to debt (and so were more like serfs), the market for this practice was only opened up through trade with the Mediterranean. Mercantile slavery was also not initially a feature of Scandinavian society, though they engaged in the practice once they began raiding other parts of Europe (especially in Ireland).

The place-names of the Isles show no trace of a Brittonic language such as Pictish, though we know that their culture was present in this part of the country at least so some degree because of the survival of some scattered Pictish symbol stones. However, the lack of Pictish material culture may also suggest that many of those living on the Isles before the Viking Age (between the 9th and 11th Centuries) were not Picts, and that this process may also have occurred over a longer period of time through cultural contact.The folk of the Northern Isles were converted to Christianity by the sword at the behest of the Norwegian king, Olaf Tryggvasson, who was one of the most bloodthirsty and fanatical Christian kings in history.

The Western Isles were presumably converted more gradually as they merged with the Isle of Man to form their own kingdom, independent from Norway. Gradually, the process of Norse domination reversed, as the folk of the Western Isles adopted the Gaelic tongue and were eventually incorporated into the Kingdom of Scotland in the 13th Century. This later period produced more literature than the previous Dark Ages, as the Catholic Church had secured a monopoly on the production of books among most of the European kingdoms (Eastern Europe underwent a similar process with the Orthodox Church, though pagan customs were still more prevalent there than in Western Europe).

However, despite the fact that the Dark Ages heralded the introduction of Christianity to Northern Europe and the Middles Ages were characterized by the domination of the Church, it was still a time of dual faith; meaning that while society maintained the veneer of Christianity, most of the folk traditions and customs of the Europeans at the time remained rooted in paganism. This was also reflected in the monastic literature, as myths from Ireland and Iceland were preserved by the dedication of some monks to maintaining the ancient tales, though they probably omitted details if they offended Christian sensitivities.

Even in France and Germany where the pagan myths had not been written down during the Dark Ages, the rise of Romance literature continued the common themes of Celtic literature, such as the legends of King Arthur and his knights. While Welsh monks managed to preserve earlier versions of these stories, the French and German versions were more heavily adapted to feudal society (with Arthur and his knights acting more according to contemporary ideas of chivalry rather than his status as a warlord in Welsh stories). However, they still contained the pagan and Celtic elements at their core, and had many parallels in Welsh mythology.

While the Church continued to control the narrative of the written word, most folk of the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages engaged in oral tradition, and they preserved their people’s history through storytelling rather than writing. Though some of these stories were written down at some point during the Middle Ages, it is certain that many more have been lost over the centuries. There have been many attempts to record the ancient legends about Finn MacCool and other Gaelic heroes in Scotland and Ireland throughout the Modern era, either as a transcript or as audio recordings. These recent retellings in many cases match the ‘Classical Gaelic’ versions written down in the Middle Ages.

This is a testament to how strong the continuity of oral tradition can be, which is vital to maintaining the survival of a people through reminding them of the deeds of their ancestors and providing guidance for future challenges. Texts (and for that matter, computer data) are liable to be destroyed easily, and as their content resides in something external to ourselves, thy are forgotten if committed to writing and then lost or destroyed. This is why so many powerful institutions seek to control the narrative through media, and it is more effective to do so through the means of text and pictures. One of the reasons why folk customs were demonized in the Burning Times was that they posed a threat to the established order by diverging from the mainstream narrative and surviving thanks to the folk that remembered them. These ‘cunning folk’ were most likely to be engaged in what was deemed ‘witchcraft’, such as fortune-telling and herbal medicine.

I am unfortunately pessimistic in regards to our own time, as I do believe that we are on the verge of another Dark Age, as events that mirror the situation during Late Antiquity that preceded the fall of the Western Roman Empire signal that the collapse of our civilization has already begun. Our society is constantly over-stretching its limits and we are likely to see such events as mass starvation and outbreak of disease, as environmental disasters such as soil erosion and floods will lead to these conditions in a way similar to the Late Roman period. As the Roman elites became so corrupt that they practically enslaved their own populations (as they were no longer receiving slaves from imperial expansion) and introduced foreign populations against the wishes of the people for the sake of their own political interests (the Roman military needed soldiers, the central banks need debt-slaves).

Now that the European empires have expanded and subsequently fought each other in two devastating Brother Wars, only the shells of these empires remain and are being filled with more and more people to prop up consumer culture. Ethnic and religious tensions tear apart empires, and I can easily see Britain descending into tribalism once more if the central authority breaks down and people are left to fend for themselves, just as Emperor Honorius told the British nobles that they would no longer be receiving soldiers from the empire, as Britain had become such a vulnerable province.

In such events, the Celtic peoples survived because they managed to maintain their oral culture and were not devastated by the coming of Christianity. However, the Britons of the South-East became absorbed into Anglo-Saxon culture because they no longer shared the beliefs of their countrymen, and because they became surrounded by foreigners with whom they had more in common spiritually. I do wonder if the vacuum that has been left by the widespread abandonment of Christianity in the West is now being filled by Islam, as it is also an organized religion that insists on spreading its message to all corners of the globe through persuasion or by the sword.

In this way, historical patterns repeat themselves and we can tell what may happen by paying attention to the past. With the loss of spirituality in the West, it must quickly be replaced by our native belief systems, otherwise we may see another wave of violence similar to that during the Dark Ages. Whereas the people under the Roman Empire were protected by the imperial army, the petty kingdoms of the Dark Ages relied on local militias and mercenaries, a situation which is also mirrored today in the Middle East. This is a result of the breakdown of societies, which happens as they become less homogeneous and different cultures compete to control the narrative. Many indigenous cultures around the world have now become endangered, including our own.

However, it is still possible that we could have another Renaissance, as we Europeans rediscover what we have lost and realize who we truly are. This may be possible after a population collapse in the wake of catastrophic events (as with the Black Death that signalled the end of the Middle Ages), and less people would mean that more resources would be available. However, it is only possible to achieve this with dedication in recovering our heritage and history, and by thinking of ourselves also as worthy of being remembered in legends.We are not, as Modern nihilistic thinking suggests, individuals that only exist for one lifetime, but are part of a chain that connects us to both our ancestors and our descendants.

This link may only persist by thinking less about ourselves and more about our families and our folk. One of the reasons that the Dark Ages were known for the prevalence of warfare was that scarcity of resources once the Anglo-Saxon population expanded led them to push further and further West. Many of the inhabitants of cities such as York were still living within the Roman walls, and so urban life continued in some parts of Britain after the Roman left. However, these areas were more susceptible to cultural assimilation, as they were cosmopolitan and did not have a sense of national identity in the same way that the Britons of the countryside did. In the same way, it is in the rural parts of our country where our culture will have a chance of survival.

Wulf Willelmson

‘Ostara’, Goddess of Dawn and Spring

As our second blót of the year, the Creed of Caledon has performed our first ‘Ostara blót’, and are looking towards the coming season with optimism and determination. ‘Ostara’ is the reconstructed form of the Germanic holiday known in Old English as Eostre and in Modern English as Easter. There is some variation as to when the festival is celebrated. Though it traditionally marks the Spring Equinox (which is when we have chosen to celebrate it), it may also be celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, as in Western Christendom. ‘Ostara’ is the personification of the dawn, and is an alter-ego of Freya (whose twin brother, Frey, is associated with sunset). Traditionally, our forebears would perform this blót at dawn to greet the goddess of Spring. However, because of personal obligations (this year, the Spring Equinox was on a Monday, which does not work well with a regular work schedule), we chose to celebrate it on the evening prior, which is just as sacred a time to perform a blót as at dawn.

Because of it’s association with Freya and the Vanir, Ostara is a fertility festival, marking the blossoming of the flowers and the reproductive activities of the animals. Hares and rabbits in particular are associated with Ostara, and the ‘Easter Bunny’ which lays eggs is a symbol of fertility. This represents the possibilities in our lives that need to incubate before they can hatch in the summer (although the association with pregnancy would mean that the cycle begun at the Spring Equinox will complete at the Winter Solstice). In this sense, now that Winter has truly ended, we can now focus on starting projects and making changes in our lives. It’s astonishing to see how so many people choose to move house at this time of year, and it is also now that ‘Spring cleaning’ is necessary to prepare for Summer. Since Ostara follows Lent (another Christian tradition with origins in paganism), it also means that we can once again look forward to growing crops after the ‘hungry gap’, the early part of Spring when very little grows and food is even more scarce than in Winter. Now is the time to think about sowing seeds for the coming season, as the earth has become fertile once again. The Spring Equinox is important because it marks the point where day and night are equal in length, and so from this point the days will become longer than the nights. The extra sunlight will encourage growth and will hopefully encourage us to spend more time outside.

Though known as Easter or some variant of Passover (as in Judaism) in Europe, the Spring Equinox is also an important part of other Aryan cultures. In India and Nepal, the festival is known as Holi, which is ‘the festival of colours’, and is marked by people smearing each other with coloured dye and throwing water balloons at each other. It is also customary to imbibe bhang (a traditional drink with cannabis as the primary ingredient) as a way of getting in touch with the feminine energy of Springtime and feeling joy at the prospect of growing days and a fruitful season. Among the Iranian peoples, the festival is celebrated as Nowruz, and is traditionally the New Year in Central Asia. This time of the year is marked in all Aryan cultures as a time of increased activity, and a good opportunity to make good on personal promises or ‘New Year’s resolutions’, which are much harder to fulfil while the days are still dark and the weather is still cold. Though it is still cold in Scotland at this time of year, it is starting to get warm enough that we don’t have to pile on as much clothes to keep warm, and we can look forward to spending more time outside, either in Nature or simply in our back gardens or local parks. I have always personally had a certain distaste for Spring, though understanding the importance of the yearly cycle and coming to appreciate the religious and spiritual significance of the Spring Equinox has made me more content with this time of year.

Hail Ostara!

Wulf Willelmson

 

‘Myth’ and ‘Falsehood’

The word ‘myth’ is commonly understood to mean something that is untrue, false or otherwise not supported by evidence. This meaning is itself untrue, as myths are neither, strictly speaking, true in a literal sense, but neither are they false, as they are meant to convey a deeper truth. A ‘myth’ is simply a story, and can be interpreted to convey truth or to spread falsehood. What is usually labelled as a ‘myth’ today is not a story with a variety of meanings, but rather a lie which has no basis in fact. For example, the myth of Scotland’s landscape being formed by the actions of a primordial woman known as the ‘Cailleach’. It would be absurd to think that a giant woman existed and shaped the land by doing things like letting a well in a mountain overflow to form a loch, but since the Cailleach is a personification of Mother Nature herself, this helps us to interpret the myth in a way that we can understand.

This is because the events described in myths have taken place so long ago that none now live who remember them, and so it is necessary to describe the events in a way that is easier to remember rather than completely accurate. The problem with the modern use of the word ‘myth’ is that it assumes the inherent falsehood of stories like this because they cannot be true in a literal sense, and so discredits the entire story altogether. This is a narrow way to perceive reality, as it means that only that which is material or tangible can be considered true, while deeper meanings and multiple perspectives are neither considered nor questioned.

Mythology is highly dependent on factors such as culture and environment. The features of a particular country’s landscape give myths observable meaning to the people that inhabit it, which is why the forests and mountains of Northern Europe are said to be home to elves, trolls and fairies, beings which are specific to the traditions of these lands. The mythological creatures that are said to inhabit the jungles of South-East Asia are of a similar nature but different form, because their appearance and behaviours are rooted in the folk-consciousness of the people that inhabit that part of the world, as well as the local environment. This also means that different mythologies reflect different values depending on culture. The aristocratic and pastoral ethics of the Ancient Persian epic, the ‘Shahnameh’ (‘Book of Kings’), where the main characters are noble cavalrymen who play polo, hunt lions and fight in great battles for their king, would find little resonance with the hunter-gatherers of Prehistoric Finland, whose mythology is primarily concerned with creation and supernatural tales of heroes journeying to the underworld.

The peoples of the world tell stories about heroes and gods that they admire and aspire to, as they represent the best people to survive in their own environment and embody the potential excellence of their own folk. Our ancestors would look to their lore in times of hardship to give them strength and wisdom. The story of Robert the Bruce, who was inspired to continue pursuing his ambitions by a spider who never gave up when tying to build a web, even after successive failures, serves as a moral to encourage us to learn from our mistakes and push ourselves to reach for success. Now, this story is probably not literally true (apparently the spider was actually seen by one of his kinsmen who told the king-in-exile, in order to encourage him) and is technically more of a legend, since it is based on a historical event. This matters not, its purpose is not simply to inform us about the past, but to apply what our ancestors have learned in our current and future endeavours.

However, a people’s mythology can be obscured or obstructed through competing forms of media, namely modern mass media and academia. These institutions do not exist for the sake of the survival of a race of people, but rather for their own survival as institutions and the international system that they support. Greek and sometimes Egyptian mythology may be taught to school pupils who learn about history or, if they’re lucky, Classics; but Nordic or Celtic mythology is only at best taught at university level and available for enthusiastic readers, but at worse is portrayed in heavily watered down and maladapted forms in Hollywood films and TV series. The effect of mass media is that it creates its own mythology in place of that belonging to a particular race, and serves only to promote ideas that reflect the values of the establishment rather than the folk that consume it. This is also the case with organized religions, who have a universalist approach to mythology which manifests as dogma, which is interpreted as literal truth by their most fundamentalist adherents. This is why only among the most honest academics, and hardly ever among mainstream Abrahamic clergy, is it admitted that their own teachings are simply variations on Judaic mythology (which is itself a mishmash of Babylonian, Egyptian and Canaanite mythology). Since the events of the Old and New Testaments are not generally presented to us as ‘mythology’, this means that the word ‘myth’ as applied to other traditions gains the connotations of ‘false belief’; which is why, to many today, it sadly retains this meaning.

One size does not fit all in this world, there are many ways to determine truth and it is important that this is what we look for when we interpret stories. Myths that are interpreted incorrectly or purposely misused to control or abuse a population should not receive the support of the masses, as the acceptance of lies only creates an impregnable castle in the clouds for those who gain power by fleecing ordinary folk. While it is is interesting to study the comparative mythologies of nations around the world (which is especially helpful if your people have a mythology that has been suppressed and only survives in fragments), it is one’s own local and ethnic tales which will appeal most to the soul and whose meaning can be best understood by the individual. In a way, the myths are themselves abstract constructions, but they are designed not to distort or obscure history; rather, their importance is more applicable to the present state of things than the past, which has passed into the well of memory and slips further away from us in time.

We will not find Truth in lies, nor lies in Truth. Objective Truth is beyond literal and metaphorical, it simply is. Our folk myths are precious and must be preserved, though it is only natural that once they come into regular, oral use, the descriptions and language will change over time, but the meanings will remain the same. Mythology is not simply a static collection of literary verses, but a living and growing body of lore which maintains and is maintained by a people through regular recitation and discourse. Those of us who enjoy reading regularly can find more books and other information about mythology than ever before on the internet, while others with more aural sensibilities can listen to recitations either in audio-book form or by seeking out storytellers active in their communities. Tradition helps us to continue our story, while modernity makes us forget it. We have precious little time to recover our heritage before we are tested to survive in the new world that is emerging…

Wulf Willelmson