It is important to note that the following is a gross oversimplification of my thoughts, research and rationale of these ideas but for the sake of brevity and in an attempt to be concise this will have to do.
By I.M. Knosp
Across every race of man, every tribe and category therein are traditions, spirits, gods and more that all connect to the people. In Europe those who followed these Old Ethnic Ways, were known by many names Ethnikos, Pagans, Heathens, Goodfellows, Witches, Cunning Folk, Fey, Elves, Devil Worshippers among many other names more or less savory in their meaning. These names are all unsuitable, and truly there is and can be no good word for what these various ethnic traditions are, merely one can string together adjectives in an attempt to describe the various collections of customs, beliefs, gods, spirits, and celebrations; to encompass the whole of a people and their beliefs, history and ways in one word could never be done satisfactorily. Though some have tried by compartmentalizing different regions in a bound tradition, as if in a vacuum unable to be accessed or influenced and shared with their neighbors.
Asatru and Rodnovery are some that come to mind, though these are New Age religions and can’t truly be called Ethnic Faith in even the loosest sense of the term, these are not the Goodfellows of the Heath, or the Cunning Folk of the Stone Circles.
So what if anything can be said of Ethnic Faith? A placeholder name as good as any other for the purposes of this discussion one may turn to the gods. But in this respect I must warn people that the gods are in fact not the most important part of ethnic faith, as ludicrous as this may sound. If the veneration of a figure such as Yahweh, Amaterasu, Allah, or Krishna could preclude someone of the Hyperborean (European) tribes from practicing ethnic faith. The first and foremost item of importance within ethnic faith is the people, yet as much as if one was to consume a food that we were not designed to eat, the spiritual traditions and nourishment and yes even the gods are not going to lead to a healthy life. One may leech out the poison, or burn away the bacteria, but one would still find it better to simply eat what one is meant to, nay… born with the ability to eat and enjoy. Yet, because it is one of the most predominant topics of Ethnic Faith I shall discuss the gods from multiple, at first glance conflicting, viewpoints.
The concept of “Archetypes” is one of the most common, it is often used either to belittle the pagan gods or for atheistic ends. The former of which is misguided and the latter of which is irrelevant. So I shall try to examine this in the way that is most befitting, the most egregious idea of archetypes is that the archetype of say the Trickster is all of the Tricksters. This may be the case in the same way that using the word Boxer to mean a job title or role would include all Boxers but no one would Say Jack Dempsey and Tyson Fury are the same person for both fulfilling the same general occupation in their day to day life. In the same vein the Tricksters of various traditions may all be “Tricksters” but they are not all the same Trickster, even in the same tradition of say the Eddas both Loki and Odin are tricksters, having different roles, goals, and methods. Loki like a Court Jester or Mafia Don expertly plays against expectations, he is honest if misleading promising his head in a bet only to deny it so long as they cannot remove it without taking his neck as well, saving his head and resulting in a massive amount of wealth and treasures for the gods. Odin on the other hand is closer to a leader of street urchins, a magician or a conman. He puts on a false face and shrouds himself in lies, often using any means at his disposal regardless of moral implications to achieve his goals. The death of several giants is but a small obstacle, a simple calculated tossing of a blade and there is a job opening, a false name and false face lands him a job and a romance, his shape-shifting allows him to escape with his prize, the mead of poetry. Which he delivers to the gods but not without first excreting the waste of “Bad Poetry” upon Midgard. Both achieve their goals through Trickster tactics though their execution and methods are vastly different.
Then there are other Tricksters such as Manannán Mac Lir or Puck who will act as tricksters both violently at times but more likely than not simply for the purpose of a practical joke. Puck who will run around as a chimney sweep calling “Chimney Sweep! Chimney Sweep!” until someone arrives to hire him then run away giggling like a maniac. While Manannán will disguise himself as a beggar and make boasts such as being able to move one ear up and down while the other stays still, saying this is proof of his great power. When called to perform such a feat Manannán will take his hand and wiggle one ear up and down. If the individual chooses to mock him in this moment he will strike them or someone near them dead, only to resurrect them shortly after. All of these figures are Tricksters from the Celtic and/or Germanic regions of Europe, no one would say these are all the same figures their demeanor, abilities and even their area are different. Even if one were to say as they are all Trickster Archetypes and therefore are all just masks of the Trickster, This is not how Archetypes work. A god inventing writing does not make it the same as any other god of writing, just as Benjamin Franklin and Saint Clement are not the same person for each inventing a script for writing. Africa is exploding in scripts as of late since they’ve been exposed to the variety from across the world, does that make every instance of script invention the result of the same “God or Archetype of Letters”?
In the vein of Jungian thought the archetypes are themselves their own individual conceptions. Wotan is a distinct archetype of the Germans and their relatives, an archetype alive within their own collective unconscious or as some call it blood memory or the group spirit. Even if one does not imagine Wotan literally riding across the sky in the Wild Hunt or wearing a golden bear cloak as he delivers visions to hermits before slumbering atop or below his mountains, he lives on in the people; a sort of semi-autonomous being that the people are both masters of and servants to. He is not merely their instinct for War, their wonder at the mysteries of death; he is Wotan! He may rally, he may fight, he may reveal, but he is not simply these things. In the same vein Dionysus among the Hellenic tribes can not be said to simply be a wanderer or a god of insanity; he is Dionysus! Each archetype a living thing caught between the consciousness and soul of every person who birthed them. Removed these archetypes WILL reappear, as long as the race of man they are a part of remains. Apollo will string his lute and shimmer like the sun, Ogma will entrance and sing in the Irish lilt across the effervescent threads that connect all of a certain group together these archetypes will remain and over time new ones may be born or surrogates cultivated in order to fill the hole of loss. The sun god appears in the form of Superman, the Wanderer puts on a long Scarf and a dopey grin becoming The Doctor, the Wild God sheds his fur and leaves donning a hood and bow and Robin Hood steps into view. The first of these two are surrogates, a fictional band-aid given further life and breath through storytelling, the latter of which is an example of a Hero Cult; though this is something we shall discuss another time.
Now having spoken of “Archetypes” let us discuss the other most popular conception of the gods. That they are literal.
A magic one eyed man with a spear and Spider Horse will ride down the tree of life to speak to you about the old Germanic alphabet. A giant with a massive appetite, super hot wife, badass bunch of sons, eight foot cock and magic club is going to come out to make sure your field is working great and maybe throw a party and fuck your wife (When you’re not looking). While this may sound as if I am dismissing these ideas or the idea the gods are literally just that, gods. It could not be further from the truth.
I believe in the gods myself, though the stories themselves are a bit more complicated. The gods are their own entities, a sort of extended divine family of the people, related by blood and spirit to the people who venerate them. The gods are not sitting on clouds bored out of their minds working endlessly to accomplish your prayers or wishes. Nor can they be bought, our gods are neither merchants nor servants (Even the gods of Commerce aren’t) to be bribed or employed at our whims. Our gods are a part of us and just as Thor is masculine to a T, complete with both the good and bad, so too do many of us have to find a way to control our tempers as young lads full of piss, vinegar and general “fuck you” attitude. Only Thor has lived a long time and has been through quite a bit, as such he has mastered things we have yet to master, or envies us for our ability to do so (one of the benefits of a mortal existence is a sense of urgency after all) and has also inevitably settled into certain habits and ways of doing things that have gotten a bit out of hand; much as one may imagine an immortal human may. As such the gods on the pages of say the Iliad, The Eddas or the Kalevala are not the gods they are now, while at their core much as ourselves they are still the same, much has happened since these tales were written down.
One need only look to the folklore to see how the gods adapted or were manipulated. Perchta and Harke of Germania for instance were aggressive in their response to the church. Harke used her mighty strength to try to rid her forests of Churches but failing this she abandoned her sacred grove for greener pastures. Perchta meanwhile became much harsher like a mother who has seen her children fall into drugs and depravity, a whiff of Abrahamic ideals is enough for her to bludgeon a man to death. In direct contrast the Church took a very different tactic in other areas. They re-branded some gods as Yahweh (Perun for instance) others as the Devil (Veles) or in the case of Celtic Christianity simply had the gods convert such as the Children of Lir or Oisín or just slapped “Saint” in front of their names. These latter types one can see are rather obvious propaganda, while the former involving the German gods shows the gods never went away but just as our tribes were effected by the coming of the church so too were the gods.
In the insanity that followed they adapted in different ways. Some like Thor, Harke, The Morrigan, Diana, Perchta etc. struck back angry at what had been done to their people. Others attempted to adapt some such as Holle did so fairly well her cult too well entrenched among the Germans she flourished despite Christianity. While others almost vanished or were repurposed as symbols such as Cupid, Fortuna, etc.. Meanwhile new gods were born to fill their holes, either in the case of apotheosis such as Joan of Arc and Paul Bunyan or with a “Birth Cry” a moment of intense emotion and historical significance where simultaneously across the lands a god seems to appear among the people. After the tragedy of the Black Plague, the wars, the disease, the Danse Macabre a period of darkness, pain and confusion followed by the Witch Trials and the murders of millions, a god many will recognize was born. Seemingly across the lands at the same time, once a babe, sometimes a corpse, he was short than he was tall, he was cloaked in rotting flesh and then a black cloak; his name is Tod, though you may know him as The Grim Reaper.
In the same vein across the pond centuries later Columbia was born among the newly made Americans, mother goddess and rebellious war goddess, an American Freya and Athena. Born in the joys, hopes, dreams, and ideals of everyone who built the nation she protected; introducing herself in visions to Washington and in pleas to her children.
So the gods are certainly real to me. Perhaps Thor has swapped his armor for some flannel or maybe Frigg found she loved the Southern Sundress, perhaps Perun is dressed in modern military gear, and Apollo is dressed in the casual dress of a Grecian playboy. The gods do change over time but they change like we do. I grew a beard, got taller, put on muscle mass, shaved my head and stopped giving a fuck in comparison to the rather nicer and more timid me I was in my awkward years. I changed but the old me no longer exists, this is not a mask over my childhood or adolescent self, it is merely me as I changed over time.
So the legends, myths, tales we tell may be real but the gods in them are most certainly not the same now as they were then. Too much has happened, too much has changed, just like us they too evolve, adapt and fight upstream. They are not all powerful like Yahweh is described, though in truth I doubt that Yahweh is that strong and if the Christian God is as powerful and horrid as their book describes him, than that makes our gods that much more worthy of veneration; because they fight a seemingly unwinnable war because it is the right thing to do.
I guess an analogy may be found in the earlier reference to Superheroes but only if one were to say that Superman never helped unless it was a threat that required his attention. The gods are not above getting directly involved, though it is not as simple as walking to us, just as we do not easily pass to their realm, they at least in physical form can not do so as easily to ours.
Hence the need to whisper to the bards and to confer in our dreams.
The gods may become something else entirely, though Odin would still be Odin if say Santa Claus was Odin, which I honestly doubt given Santa’s Celto-German origins. Just the Odin who walks around in a blue cloak, with flowing red or grey beard, one eye, and a spear has long since grown his eye back, gone fully white, gotten over both his ego and his selfishness, devoting himself to making toys for all the good girls and boys, through his diet of milk and cookies he put on quite a gut, though with that heavy sack he carries around he has the traps of a strongman. He long since got rid of his blue travelers cloak and decided Red Velvet and White Fur Trim was ideal for the North Pole Winters and Sleipneir well poor thing just wasn’t cutting it so he traded him in for a bunch of Reindeer. Odin of the Edda’s becomes but a shed cicada shell. If Odin is Santa Claus, then Santa-Odin is the true Odin; the old Odin was some midlife crisis or something. Separated by hundreds of years one can see how someone could change that much but the one eyed wizard would be gone then, just a memory we recall. So I guess it’s a good thing for the One Eyed Wizard Fans that Odin isn’t Santa Claus then eh? Though this brings me to the most prolific use of the gods today and one that is important to bring up.
Gods are just symbols right? I mean Athena is just thought, same with Odin and Mercury, Tyr and Mars are just War! They symbolize these things….. yes, yes they do but those who speak this way are confusing the use of the gods in a symbolic manner with the gods themselves. For instance there are many different tales as to how the world was made in the various mythologies. Instead of arguing which would be right or not let us go with the assumption that the reason for variation is these myths of creation were more about trying to convey the idea of how the world may have been formed. Sometimes it involves the creation of Life in Chaos which Life requires the divine masculine and feminine, so in doing so a male god and a female god are cast in these roles. Then to further that it is not only the male and female but the connection and draw between the two the “Love” one could say that generates life, well then we need a love god.
If you are unaware of what I am referring to this is one of the origin of the world myths from the Greeks I encourage you to look into it, more than likely it will involve the “Birth of Eros” a god who is also the son of a goddess who isn’t born yet… so genealogies of gods are mostly symbolic. While I do not doubt that the “older” gods may indeed be older to their respective areas they may in fact be very new to an area just to the west, then as needs and hierarchies shift gods shift in their importance. Venus was of immense importance to the Romans and many of their great emperors traced their lineage to her. As such she was given quite a bit of attention and honor, especially given her part in the later genealogies of Romulus and Remus via Aeneas her son; not bad for a goddess of Vegetation that got fused with Aphrodite in the literary tradition.
In effect what I am describing is just because a god is related to a certain function and is symbolized as such does not mean it is literally the thing itself. Nemetona goddess of sacred places for the Gauls was not herself the sacred places, Helios may represent the sun in myths but he is not himself the Sun, Ares may fight in war but he is not himself War, Themis may carry out Justice but she herself is not justice. Inevitably especially in the upper classes who are far removed from the day to day functions that the gods are involved in, a literary tradition is begun, removed from the folklore just as most American elites would scoff at Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed as anything other than a rural joke, and know next to none of their stories, so too would the Greek gods become less and less prominent in the minds of the elites of the time being rendered down to their symbolic function. Save perhaps their patron deity, though this is doubtful.
This is not to say these figures are not of some use as symbols, many an allegory has been painted using the gods as symbols. In the broader sense of the gods in this function they go from being archetypes or beings of great renown adored by the people to stock characters with little difference in literature to the use of literal personifications or the superhero pantheons of DC and Marvel. Yet there is something of note to say here as well, even if one were to render the gods down to stock characters; symbols to be used by a talented or not so talented author to create songs, epics, novels, short stories, film and radio plays. This is where the storytelling tradition comes into play.
Among the Hyperborean tribes each group has a slightly different storytelling style, even in America one can see the yarns and whoppers spun around the fire, the tall tales that spread like the plague, a mix of humor and wonder in every tale of this American Fairyland. Yet one can see the interconnectedness of the various tribes of the Hyperborean (European/White) race. There is a way we tell a story regardless of media and we are furious when it is done poorly. Again I must rely on fictional characters but it is rather blatant. The abuse that many fictional franchises from Star Wars and Doctor Who to Marvel Comics and Fantasy Books have suffered is inexcusable to our people. But one can see the immediate reason for it, if one knows the storytelling style of the various races to some extent. Among Europeans our gods are flawed, they are very “Human”. Just as Superman is also Clark Kent, he is vulnerable with the woman he loves, he loses his temper, he loses… and even dies. In the same vein figures like Thor have done the same. He is vulnerable with Sif, playful with Tyr and Loki, loving with his sons, he loses his temper, he loses and even dies. Yet we still venerate him regardless. We do not demand perfection. Only that you tried your best. An honorable death is still heralded not scorned. Failure can be learned from and forgiven. There are lessons in these stories, literal, archetypal or symbolic. Our gods are like us they are very human, and very extreme, for we are a people of extremes.
Yet in most other traditions the gods and heroes are near perfect. The hero or heroine is what would be scorned in the Hyperborean storytelling tradition as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Look to gods and heroes such as Krishna, Amaterasu, Mwindo, Yahweh or Quetzalcoatl, they are perfect for all intents and purposes, even if they mess up it is for the best in the long run. There are no real lessons only an idealized power fantasy, or perfect being to adore, at least from our perspective this makes neither a good myth or a good story. It would be a movie that would have to rely on their diversity for success, a book that would have to tout its transgender author to avoid the inevitable crushing criticism levied at it and that is keeping in mind these stories are often written down and translated by people of European descent, so they are already partially filtered from the original just because we can’t help ourselves, we have to “Jazz it up a bit”.
Wonder Woman is not Wonder Woman when she is written as a perfect female who chastises men for being men and is more about Feminism than Women embracing their inner warrior. Wonder Woman wouldn’t have an essay long speech on the evils of manspreading and mansplaining. Wonder Woman is flawed, she makes sacrifices, she fails and she loves and loses! Now taking that same genre we can look at America Chavez who is perfect in every way designed by a Latina author she is incredibly powerful and can do no wrong, a Mary Sue with a political goal. A talking post with less personality than a cockroach in your sink. Even if Wonder Woman or heck Poseidon was used as a mere symbol could it be executed correctly? Would it still be Poseidon or Wonder Woman in the hands of someone with a complete spiritual and cultural disconnect to the traditions and people that birthed them? Is Poseidon still the Sea to the Japanese? Even if they chose to place him as god of the Sea in their tradition would he simply be a poor facsimile of their own god and story telling tradition with foreign imagery and titles? In the same case a talking post with Wonder Woman’s visage is just that a talking post; not the character or what she symbolizes.
Apotheosis, Ancestry and Incarnation
When I say the gods are family and tied to us directly, I am not being poetic or hyperbolic. From the birth of our race the gods gave us the gifts to become what we are. Whether born of trees or sprouted out of the ground like flowers or were born from bears and beasts of the Northwoods, whatever the specific tradition of Hyperborea the gods nurtured us. They may not have made us literally but they made our spirit, our souls. One could go off in a certain direction and tie it to siphonophores and various other connections, but safe to say that would be overkill and sticking more or less to the lore would be pertinent. Which gods did this, who knows? In the oldest tales it wasn’t just a first man and a first woman but whole groups, tribes, something that was echoed in the last century with Tolkien’s works and the birth of the races of elves and dwarves, who were born in groups almost as if blood memory sang to him. I could go on about bears and Neanderthals, adaptations and biology but this is already rather long and they deserve their own article.
By nurturing us whatever ancient gods these were whether they were born from us or chose us, we are theirs and they are ours. There are ancient gods, gods that it is hard to tell how old they may be; Tyr, The Morrigan, Cernunnos, The Eternal Hunter and the Bear Mother to name a few so old their very names and imagery stir the blood and touch the frequency of the soul. From here the gods also rose from us and bred with us, the beautiful thing is we have no idea which were born of us and which were born gods. How could we?
Over time the oral tradition would place those who underwent Apotheosis like Aesculapius, Sviatoslav, Joan of Arc and Washington in the same category as the ancient ones. Many peoples traced their lineages to the gods; Hengist and Horsa of the Saxons traced themselves to Woden, the broader Saxon tribe traced themselves to Saxnot, the Marauders found their origins in The Morrigan, the Arcadians had Callisto and Zeus, the Bernese their Bear Goddess (Artio or Urschel), the list goes on and on so it becomes a bit superfluous to name all the people who considered themselves descended of the gods. Essentially every god had at least one tribe that claimed descent from them, the Spartans had Heracles, even Hesperus a virtually forgotten god had tribes devoted to him and spawned from him. Sometimes one among us is truly great and we call these figures demigods. Often they will go on to enter legend and go through apotheosis from being human, other times through odd happenings a god can find itself a mortal once more in myth such as Orpheus or Achilles, who became mortals in average Greek myth. In honesty this is why the people are the most important part of ethnic faith. Gods? Spirits? Heroes? Ancestors? Frank from Next Door? All on the same playing field more or less. A god could be a spirit or a hero in one area and the Chief God in another, these natural varieties and complications only grew to further extremes after Christianity. But it is easy enough to decipher if we take the time to do so.
The gods also incarnate taking human form, either being reincarnated themselves with no memories (a new round on the Mortal realm). While others will simply possess animals like The Morrigan with Wolves or Veles with Bears. As a result it is not only the blood connection and therefore spiritual connection that is required for ethnic faith.
If one were to say… be half German and half Vietnamese, one would neither be truly Oriental nor truly Hyperborean, they would be a Chimera of two races of man. Incomplete and accepted by neither.
One could picture it as a bridge, if you are all of one race your bridge is full but once you are that disconnected you have two (or more) bridges each missing at least half their pieces and the half is random. So the bridge may be hard to cross or even impossible. Then if you can make it to the other side would the gods even accept you? And this is for the poor souls who are chimeras, those who are not are searching for a bridge they do not have by looking to foreign gods. Leading to the first two ways of looking at the gods archetypal and literal to fall away. The gods would not reach out to someone they have no connection too or even pay attention to them if they tried. The archetype does not live within their collective unconscious, hence they resort to symbolism, and still they do so in a mindset foreign from the nature of the people who the god belongs.
A lesser version of this happens when someone with non Germanic Blood say… Greco-Slavic from the Balkans would try to reach say… Holda; while she may not be rude its kind of like knocking on someone’s grandmas door with no warning, no explanation and then with how most modern pagans behave, begging for stuff. The same would work in reverse as well say someone with no Slavic heritage tries to reach out to Perun, it’s not going anywhere but awkwardville.
So are the gods Literal? Symbolic? Archetypal? Historical? The answer is yes, to all of them. The gods do not need to be fictional to be archetypal or symbolic, and vice versa. The gods live within us, around us, in other realms. Where they do not live… is in the pages of a book! Historical figures that ascended to godhood did so by making an impact so even if their soul is what became the spirit of a god as if they and us are “Baby Gods”!
Yet their legends also made their way into the collective minds of people the likes of Washington, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, are just as imprinted within the Group Spirit as the Old gods and Heroes of myth. For those whose myths and names that have faded or vanished they still call to us, as we tell stories we recall them giving them shape and form and purpose. The gods live because we live! Just as we become but ghosts turning into shadows if all we are is names in a book, we too long to be part of legends and myth, so we boast and tell our stories, and we continue to tell theirs, whether as great heroes or perhaps putting Thor or Paul Bunyan in a dress to get those half in the bag laughing like crazy before the fiddle comes out untuned to end the night in a soulful serenade. The gods live, we live, and our story is not done being told.