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Author Topic: Questions about Norse religion  (Read 2550 times)

MattyG

Questions about Norse religion
« on: October 15, 2013, 02:36:40 am »
So, I'm familiar with a lot of the Norse myths, but not so much with modern practice. I've always felt a deep sympathy and for several Norse gods, but I really have a more Celtic view of things like cosmology and the afterlife. I just have a few questions about some of the aspects that seem more problematic to me, and hope to gain some insight into modern Norse belief and practice. Any personal anecdotes, articles, or lore I might check out would be appreciated.

1) Norse myth has always appeared very male-centric to me. I wouldn't say misogynistic, but I'm not familiar with many female figures besides Frigga, Freya, and Skade. Are there more figures that I should know about? Do we know anything about the role of women in Norse religion? Do many Norse pagans worship the goddesses, and if so, how?

2) I'm generally a pacifist, though I do accept the use of violence for defensive purposes. I know that the Norse were a warrior society, so their myth conveys a lot about war and violence. The Celts do too, but in my experience they have an equal if not greater focus on the role of magicians and poets. What role does a Norse poet have? Would he be invited into the halls of the gods? Perhaps Freya's?

3) I'm not sure where I read this anymore (I think it was in the endnotes of my translation of the Poetic Edda), but I've read that there is a possibility that some Norse pagans believed in reincarnation. Do you know if there's precedent for this belief?

Thanks for tolerating my bulky questions :)

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2013, 10:05:48 am »
Quote from: MattyG;125385
So, I'm familiar with a lot of the Norse myths, but not so much with modern practice. I've always felt a deep sympathy and for several Norse gods, but I really have a more Celtic view of things like cosmology and the afterlife. I just have a few questions about some of the aspects that seem more problematic to me, and hope to gain some insight into modern Norse belief and practice. Any personal anecdotes, articles, or lore I might check out would be appreciated.

1) Norse myth has always appeared very male-centric to me. I wouldn't say misogynistic, but I'm not familiar with many female figures besides Frigga, Freya, and Skade. Are there more figures that I should know about? Do we know anything about the role of women in Norse religion? Do many Norse pagans worship the goddesses, and if so, how?

2) I'm generally a pacifist, though I do accept the use of violence for defensive purposes. I know that the Norse were a warrior society, so their myth conveys a lot about war and violence. The Celts do too, but in my experience they have an equal if not greater focus on the role of magicians and poets. What role does a Norse poet have? Would he be invited into the halls of the gods? Perhaps Freya's?

3) I'm not sure where I read this anymore (I think it was in the endnotes of my translation of the Poetic Edda), but I've read that there is a possibility that some Norse pagans believed in reincarnation. Do you know if there's precedent for this belief?

Thanks for tolerating my bulky questions :)

 
From what I have read it seems that Freya is the one that is most commonly worhipped. In addition to her there is Idunn (with the apples), Hela (Loki's daughter who presides over Hel), Sif (with the golden hair, wife of Thor). I know there are more but those are the ones that come to mind right now.

Poetry was very important because that's how all the stories were passed down. Nothing much was written. Another example of importance of poetry is the story of how Odin brought poetry to Asgard and in the process accidentally shared it with Midgard.

I know nothing really about reincarnation within Norse tradition. It looks as though after death everyone goes to one of several places, none of which include being reincarnated. That's just what I have found in my research so far.

As far as day-to-day life for Vikings, I have been reading the Viking Answer Lady's website a lot. There is a ton of info there, not much on the gods, but knowing how the Vikings lived helps make sense of the myths.

Megatherium

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2013, 11:19:53 am »
Quote from: MattyG;125385
So, I'm familiar with a lot of the Norse myths, but not so much with modern practice. I've always felt a deep sympathy and for several Norse gods, but I really have a more Celtic view of things like cosmology and the afterlife. I just have a few questions about some of the aspects that seem more problematic to me, and hope to gain some insight into modern Norse belief and practice. Any personal anecdotes, articles, or lore I might check out would be appreciated.

1) Norse myth has always appeared very male-centric to me. I wouldn't say misogynistic, but I'm not familiar with many female figures besides Frigga, Freya, and Skade. Are there more figures that I should know about? Do we know anything about the role of women in Norse religion? Do many Norse pagans worship the goddesses, and if so, how?

2) I'm generally a pacifist, though I do accept the use of violence for defensive purposes. I know that the Norse were a warrior society, so their myth conveys a lot about war and violence. The Celts do too, but in my experience they have an equal if not greater focus on the role of magicians and poets. What role does a Norse poet have? Would he be invited into the halls of the gods? Perhaps Freya's?

3) I'm not sure where I read this anymore (I think it was in the endnotes of my translation of the Poetic Edda), but I've read that there is a possibility that some Norse pagans believed in reincarnation. Do you know if there's precedent for this belief?

Thanks for tolerating my bulky questions :)

 
1. The relative lack of female Goddesses in North mythology is likely, at least in part, due to the fact that the mythology was written down by male christians. It’s actually quite hard to find solid evidence for the worship of many Norse deities, with the exceptions of Odin, Frigga, Freya, Thor, Freyr, Njord and Baldr. For example, well known deities such as Heimdall and Loki aren’t really mentioned outside of the Eddas.

As far as the role of women in Norse religion, there does appear to be good evidence that activities involving what we might call “magic” or “prophecy” were the domain of women. For example, Seidr, a type of “magic” that may have involved predicting the future, or attempting to change the “weave” of wyrd was apparently an almost exclusively female occupation - to the extent that Loki taunts Odin about practicing it in the Lokasenna.

Finally, as far as modern practice goes, I don’t think there is any meaningful difference between how male and female deities are worshipped. Make a toast, offer a gift, libations, etc.

2. Poets were also very important in Germanic societies, and I imagine that all non-literate societies would have an honoured role for whatever people were responsible for preserving and transmitting cultural knowledge. Some have even argued that the apparently dominant role of Odin in the eddas is due to the fact that poets would probably have an exalted view of a deity concerned with their craft. (Again, in different areas it appears that Thor or Freyr were more important to the community than Odin)

3. A lot of strict recons are hell-bent against the idea of reincarnation; Bil Linzie’s article, which can be found here - http://www.angelfire.com/nm/seidhman/reincarnation2.pdf
is probably the best articulated of these viewpoints.

There was an idea that an aspect of the person, their Hamingja, (something akin to “luck”) could be passed on to one’s descendants. This is not the same as the literal rebirth of an individual, but it does suggest that some aspect of a person could be passed down the family line.

Of course, Germanic peoples were influenced by neighboring cultures, and to the extent that they came into contact with cultures where there was a belief in reincarnation, some Germanics may have adopted those beliefs. However, that should not be seen as a key component of (that near mythical beast) “the germanic worldview”.

None of which of course means that you can’t believe in reincarnation - it should just be seen as a modern innovation created by people in contact with Hindu/Buddhist cultures which do hold to this belief.

Finally, I have question for you! I’ve read that a belief in reincarnation is quite common among Celtic recons. Is this true in your experience? And if so, how does such a belief differ (if at all) from Hindu/Buddhist notions of reincarnation?
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Juniperberry

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2013, 04:50:37 pm »
Quote
1) Norse myth has always appeared very male-centric to me. I wouldn't say misogynistic, but I'm not familiar with many female figures besides Frigga, Freya, and Skade. Are there more figures that I should know about? Do we know anything about the role of women in Norse religion? Do many Norse pagans worship the goddesses, and if so, how?

Megatherium answered most of your questions but I would like to add an opinion to the first.

I feel that women actually play a very large part in Norse religion. There are the goddesses you mentioned (as well as Perchta, Nehellenia, Eir, etc) who are quite powerful and influence the worlds. Then there are the Norns, who are powerful and influence wyrd. There are the Valkyries, who influence death.  There are the Giantesses, who often foster relationships with influential humans. There are the Hamingja (luck), which take on the shape of a woman. There are the Disir (female guardians), who shape life and afterlife. There are the over 1000+ matronae votive stones of goddess worship. There are the volvas who influence magic. Living women ,considered as deity. The guardian female spirits of the wild in the forests that hunters feared and petitioned. Odin seeks out the female dead. Freyja seeks out the Female Giantess. Thor must become feminine to recover his power. Loki becomes feminine to give Odin Sliepnir. Adhumla, the female, fed creation. The guardian of the Underworld is female. Grendel's superior was his mother. Haddingus was led to the underworld by a female. Siegfried was at the mercy of female desires. Frigga outwits Odin. Loki almost castrates himself to save the Aesir from the female Skadi's revenge.

Women are often terrifying and powerful figures in Norse mythology. Goddesses don't often approach gods for favors or imitate them for power, gods often do of goddesses.  One could even say that aside from the 'great gods' in the lore, there isn't a lot of prominent male energy on the spiritual/mystical side of things. Of course we  know that there is a prominent male energy and that it has its own strengths and influence, and so it actually can be a very gender balanced religion, depending on perspective.  

Anyway. You might like Roles of the Northern Goddess by HRED.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2013, 04:56:07 pm by Juniperberry »
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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2013, 06:43:35 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;125385
So, I'm familiar with a lot of the Norse myths, but not so much with modern practice. I've always felt a deep sympathy and for several Norse gods, but I really have a more Celtic view of things like cosmology and the afterlife. I just have a few questions about some of the aspects that seem more problematic to me, and hope to gain some insight into modern Norse belief and practice. Any personal anecdotes, articles, or lore I might check out would be appreciated.

1) Norse myth has always appeared very male-centric to me. I wouldn't say misogynistic, but I'm not familiar with many female figures besides Frigga, Freya, and Skade. Are there more figures that I should know about? Do we know anything about the role of women in Norse religion? Do many Norse pagans worship the goddesses, and if so, how?

2) I'm generally a pacifist, though I do accept the use of violence for defensive purposes. I know that the Norse were a warrior society, so their myth conveys a lot about war and violence. The Celts do too, but in my experience they have an equal if not greater focus on the role of magicians and poets. What role does a Norse poet have? Would he be invited into the halls of the gods? Perhaps Freya's?

3) I'm not sure where I read this anymore (I think it was in the endnotes of my translation of the Poetic Edda), but I've read that there is a possibility that some Norse pagans believed in reincarnation. Do you know if there's precedent for this belief?

Thanks for tolerating my bulky questions :)

 
response to question three: i read an article a while back saying that there was strong evidence that the norse people believed in reincarnation, and they gave examples of such evidence. however, i can't remember where i read that article, or what information they gave (for that, i apologize since i couldn't be more helpful). i personally do, and always have believed in reincarnation.

Hyacinth Belle

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2013, 08:10:01 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;125385
So, I'm familiar with a lot of the Norse myths, but not so much with modern practice. I've always felt a deep sympathy and for several Norse gods, but I really have a more Celtic view of things like cosmology and the afterlife. I just have a few questions about some of the aspects that seem more problematic to me, and hope to gain some insight into modern Norse belief and practice. Any personal anecdotes, articles, or lore I might check out would be appreciated.

First off, good questions! :) Knowing what you don't know if half the battle. You've already gotten a number of good answers, so here's my two cents.

Someone already mentioned The Viking Answer Lady, but here are two direct links. And article about Valkyries and an article about seidr. In addition, look up disir, etc. on TC for more info on those other topics.

Poets are quite important! Odin is not only the god of war but also of poetry. How cool is that? And we just had a conversation on this SIG about kennings.
"Silent and thoughtful a prince\'s son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15

MattyG

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2013, 02:08:28 am »
Quote from: Megatherium;125602
Finally, I have question for you! I’ve read that a belief in reincarnation is quite common among Celtic recons. Is this true in your experience? And if so, how does such a belief differ (if at all) from Hindu/Buddhist notions of reincarnation?

 
Thanks for all the answers everyone! They're really helping me out.

To answer your question Megatherium: I'm no expert, but in my experience many if not most Celtic recons believe in some form of reincarnation. There are several characters throughout myth who are shown to reincarnate in several ways. In the story of Cu Chulainn's birth, one child dies and another is aborted before Cu Chulainn is born for good, so it's claimed that Cu Chulainn was born three times. Multiple characters take different animal forms as their lives run out. There are instances in the law where contracts could extend to your descendants, based off of the belief that you would be reborn down your family line.

I wouldn't really say that Celtic reincarnation beliefs are that similar to Eastern notions. For one thing, there's really no idea of Karma in Celtic Recon philosophy that I've heard of. Additionally, there's no notion that breaking away from the cycle of rebirth is either possible or desirable.

One common Celtic philosophy of rebirth, and the one I enjoy most, is the idea that upon death you spend another lifetime in the Otherworld, and upon ending your life there you return back to our world. I've heard this as an explanation for Irish wakes being so celebratory. Death is interpreted more as a transition into a better life.

I have one more question: Is there any kind of consensus on the nature of Ragnarok in modern Norse religion? Is it generally considered a Christian addition, or genuine Norse theology? Is it seen as something that's already occurred, something that will occur, or something that is constantly occurring? What about the idea that a new world will come out of it that Baldr will rule over? I understand that there's not going to be 100% agreement, but if anyone wants to share their personal beliefs, I'd be interested.

EDIT: Also, I just want to add that belief in reincarnation in CR is really not influenced by Buddhism or Hinduism at all. It's really just native to Celtic theology. Even Roman and Greek historians noted that the Gauls had a belief in reincarnation. Cesar claimed that this belief was what allowed the Celtic tribes to be such ferocious fighter, as they didn't have a fear of death.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2013, 02:15:38 am by MattyG »

Megatherium

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2013, 01:29:21 pm »
Quote from: Norse Wolf;125682
response to question three: i read an article a while back saying that there was strong evidence that the norse people believed in reincarnation, and they gave examples of such evidence. however, i can't remember where i read that article, or what information they gave (for that, i apologize since i couldn't be more helpful). i personally do, and always have believed in reincarnation.


Yeah, I also believe in reincarnation, even though I think Mr. Lindzie does make a strong argument against it being a traditional belief of Germanic-speaking peoples. I think the reason some heathens are very much opposed to the idea of reincarnation is that it is believed to violate notions of the dead continuing to be an important part of the community, as well as the idea that one should be focused on this life rather than what happens after death. And when you look at reincarnation from a Hindu/Buddhist perspective, with the emphasis on liberation and moral development over many lifetimes, there is good reason to argue that this particular view of reincarnation is incompatible with many fundamental ideas in traditional Germanic religions.

I believe the most widely accepted idea of the afterlife among strict recon heathens is that one continues to (perhaps) have subjective experience and awareness, but that this    
awareness is physically located in the grave. From this location one can continue to play a part in and affect the lives of the community.

However..
 
Quote from: MattyG;125742

To answer your question Megatherium: I'm no expert, but in my experience many if not most Celtic recons believe in some form of reincarnation. There are several characters throughout myth who are shown to reincarnate in several ways. In the story of Cu Chulainn's birth, one child dies and another is aborted before Cu Chulainn is born for good, so it's claimed that Cu Chulainn was born three times. Multiple characters take different animal forms as their lives run out. There are instances in the law where contracts could extend to your descendants, based off of the belief that you would be reborn down your family line.

I wouldn't really say that Celtic reincarnation beliefs are that similar to Eastern notions. For one thing, there's really no idea of Karma in Celtic Recon philosophy that I've heard of. Additionally, there's no notion that breaking away from the cycle of rebirth is either possible or desirable.

One common Celtic philosophy of rebirth, and the one I enjoy most, is the idea that upon death you spend another lifetime in the Otherworld, and upon ending your life there you return back to our world. I've heard this as an explanation for Irish wakes being so celebratory. Death is interpreted more as a transition into a better life.


 
I think Celtic beliefs in reincarnation can be reconciled with Germanic notions of “(after) life in the gravemound” much more easily than with Hindu/Buddhist ideas of reincarnation. I can imagine the “other world” as the realm of subjective experience located in the grave, from where one continues to have a role in the community as an honoured ancestor, etc. However, as the body decomposes and the memory of a person is forgotten, they are gradually pulled back into the world of the living, possibly being reincarnated along the family line.

Now this would be my own UPG, and I’m sure many strict recon heathens would think it a horrendous affront to everything they hold dear, but hey, thems the breaks. I honestly don’t see why borrowing religious ideas from closely related neighbouring cultures should be any more verboten than believing in other non-traditional Germanic concepts such as a heliocentric solar system.
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Hyacinth Belle

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2013, 07:52:17 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;125793
. I think the reason some heathens are very much opposed to the idea of reincarnation is that it is believed to violate notions of the dead continuing to be an important part of the community, as well as the idea that one should be focused on this life rather than what happens after death.

This makes sense to me. If my ancestors are no longer my ancestors, that puts a serious wrench in things. lol. And if they are my ancestors and reincarnated, like a split soul or something, that just seems... well, dumb.

And I never have and never will wish to be reincarnated myself, I don't think. This life is my life and mine alone. I intend to live it to the fullest, without regret, and feel done at the end of it, gods willing. ;)
"Silent and thoughtful a prince\'s son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15

MattyG

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2013, 01:31:58 am »
Quote from: Megatherium;125793
I can imagine the “other world” as the realm of subjective experience located in the grave, from where one continues to have a role in the community as an honoured ancestor, etc. However, as the body decomposes and the memory of a person is forgotten, they are gradually pulled back into the world of the living, possibly being reincarnated along the family line.

 
Strictly speaking, the Celtic Otherworld is the land of the gods and the fairies. Entrances to the Otherworld are occasionally linked with grave-mounds and hills, but just as often with islands to the West, the bottoms of pools, dreams, or forests. It's a place where  living heroes go to adventure and dead kings can be taken (like King Arthur being taken to Avalon). As a Celtic Recon, I wouldn't describe spirits in the Otherworld as continuing to participate in the community the way you're talking about. They might visit on occasions (like Samhain), but they're most definitely not remaining in the grave. The grave is more of a gateway to the Otherworld.

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2013, 09:19:54 am »
Quote from: Hyacinth Belle;125824
This makes sense to me. If my ancestors are no longer my ancestors, that puts a serious wrench in things. lol. And if they are my ancestors and reincarnated, like a split soul or something, that just seems... well, dumb.

And I never have and never will wish to be reincarnated myself, I don't think. This life is my life and mine alone. I intend to live it to the fullest, without regret, and feel done at the end of it, gods willing. ;)

 
Quote from: MattyG;125840
Strictly speaking, the Celtic Otherworld is the land of the gods and the fairies. Entrances to the Otherworld are occasionally linked with grave-mounds and hills, but just as often with islands to the West, the bottoms of pools, dreams, or forests. It's a place where  living heroes go to adventure and dead kings can be taken (like King Arthur being taken to Avalon). As a Celtic Recon, I wouldn't describe spirits in the Otherworld as continuing to participate in the community the way you're talking about. They might visit on occasions (like Samhain), but they're most definitely not remaining in the grave. The grave is more of a gateway to the Otherworld.

 
Well, then I guess, no, Norse beliefs can't really be reconciled with Celtic ones regarding the afterlife. Epic fail on my part. C'est la vie.
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MattyG

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2013, 03:33:58 pm »
Quote from: Hyacinth Belle;125824
This makes sense to me. If my ancestors are no longer my ancestors, that puts a serious wrench in things. lol. And if they are my ancestors and reincarnated, like a split soul or something, that just seems... well, dumb.

And I never have and never will wish to be reincarnated myself, I don't think. This life is my life and mine alone. I intend to live it to the fullest, without regret, and feel done at the end of it, gods willing. ;)

 
That all seems fair :) It's just not the way I approach the afterlife. From a logical perspective, I know that my body continues to participate in the cycle of life after I'm dead, so why wouldn't my soul? Besides which, I hope to live on in this world through my family, my friends, and my works, so reincarnation (particularly down the family line) just makes a lot of sense to me.

From a more moral perspective, I don't see reincarnation as an excuse to not live this life to it's fullest. I see it as an affirmation that I am intrinsically tied to this world, and that I remain responsible for the consequences of my action after this body has ceased to function. If I work to make this world a better place, then I'll have a better place to return to the next time around.

Hyacinth Belle

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2013, 09:53:02 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;125874
Well, then I guess, no, Norse beliefs can't really be reconciled with Celtic ones regarding the afterlife. Epic fail on my part. C'est la vie.

 
haha. I'm no "voice of all things Heathen" by any means! I'm also no expert in reincarnation / afterlife mythologies. But as a Heathen, that was my gut reaction.
"Silent and thoughtful a prince\'s son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15

Hyacinth Belle

Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2013, 10:00:31 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;125931
Besides which, I hope to live on in this world through my family, my friends, and my works, so reincarnation (particularly down the family line) just makes a lot of sense to me.

From a more moral perspective, I don't see reincarnation as an excuse to not live this life to it's fullest. I see it as an affirmation that I am intrinsically tied to this world, and that I remain responsible for the consequences of my action after this body has ceased to function. If I work to make this world a better place, then I'll have a better place to return to the next time around.

In this sense, in a more Heathen worldview you live on through your honor, legacy, reputation in those who remember you (family and community). That's not a "reincarnation," but that's one "incentive" to live well like you talk about. But you aren't making the world a better place, building frith, for yourselfto return to. You're making it a better place for those who come after you.
"Silent and thoughtful a prince\'s son should be / and bold in fighting; / cheerful and merry every man should be / until he waits for death." ~ Havamal, stanza 15

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Re: Questions about Norse religion
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2013, 01:15:27 am »
Quote from: Hyacinth Belle;125970
haha. I'm no "voice of all things Heathen" by any means!


Oh shit........... here I have been hanging on your every word like you were the Asa-Popette........... ;)

Don't sell yourself short lady, I have learned a lot from reading your posts, as well as the little bit on your sadly neglected blog.
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by Aethiriel

Special Interest Group

Warning: You are currently in a Special Interest Group on the message board with special rules and focused discussions.

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* In Memoriam

Chavi (2006)
Elspeth (2010)
Marilyn (2013)

* Cauldron Staff

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