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Author Topic: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?  (Read 3673 times)

Megatherium

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Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« on: August 31, 2012, 11:49:22 am »
Although I have been interested in traditional European religions for quite some time, it is only recently that I have begun a more serious analysis of these traditions. At this point, I have focused primarily on Pre-Christian Germanic traditions. From what I can surmise, the “Heathen worldview” includes...

  • An emphasis on one’s relationship with their ancestors
  • Regular offerings to local wights and spirits
  • A more distant relationship with the Gods than in the Christian tradition-as I understand it, Germanic heathens did not have a close, personal relationship with the Gods. The Gods were to be respected but they were not petitioned for material benefits, or personal strength, etc.
  • A lack of belief in an afterlife in another realm. As I understand it, Germanic heathens mostly believed that one existed “in the grave mound” - in this world- and continued to influence the lives of their descendants.


There is of course far more than this, and I know I am making wild, sweeping generalizations to even speak of this fairly abstract group of people know as “Germanic Heathens”. If there are any Heathens willing to correct me on the above points, I would greatly appreciate your comments.

However, my main concern with this post is to see if any other practitioners of reconstructed European religions (Hellenic, Celtic, Slavic, Roman, etc.) can describe some of the similarities and differences in their traditions and worldview from the Germanic ones described above. My suspicion is that there is little difference between the broad outlines of the worldview of Northern European cultures, while I expect the Hellenic and Roman traditions would be more dissimilar given their vastly different economic base and social organization. (Major literate Empires vs. Smaller and less economically complex temperate cultures).

Ultimately, I am interested if the idea of a closer, more personal relationship with the divine is more characteristic of Mediterranean religious traditions, and that perhaps it was Hellenic and Roman approaches to polytheism that influenced Christianity and gave it a much different idea of one’s relationship with the divine than in temperate European cultures.

Gracias para todos for anyone who bothers to respond to this Noobs inane and frankly lazy questions.
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MattyG

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2012, 04:05:07 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;71630

  • An emphasis on one’s relationship with their ancestors
  • Regular offerings to local wights and spirits
  • A more distant relationship with the Gods than in the Christian tradition-as I understand it, Germanic heathens did not have a close, personal relationship with the Gods. The Gods were to be respected but they were not petitioned for material benefits, or personal strength, etc.
  • A lack of belief in an afterlife in another realm. As I understand it, Germanic heathens mostly believed that one existed “in the grave mound” - in this world- and continued to influence the lives of their descendants.


 
I'm a fairly new Celtic Reconstructionist, but I can try to answer you're questions, and anyone who's more educated than me can feel free to correct me.

Celts certainly put a great deal of emphasis on respect for the ancestors. There's even some material suggesting that a dead ancestor could become a god. For example, the Irish god of the dead, Donn, was the first of the children of Mil to die in Ireland. Then he became responsible for taking the souls of the dead into his house at Tech nDuinn. Most Celtic Reconstructionists keep a shrine to their ancestors.

There's also a focus on offerings made to more localized land spirits. If you're familiar with any faerie lore, this translated into the custom of leaving offerings of milk, butter, and bread for the faeries.

Celts seemed to have a very close and personal relationship with their gods. There are stones and monuments around Europe that seem to memorialize specific contracts made with the gods. In the Isle of Man, they have a tradition of paying rent to their patron god, Manannán mac Lir. Also, tradition holds that a number of the gods held residence in the land itself, living under the hills and in healing springs.

There are varied beliefs in the Celtic afterlife. Some Celts believe in reincarnation, some believe that they'll move on to Tír na nÓg, "Land of the Young," and some believe that they'll spend some time in the Otherworld before being reincarnated. Many Celts believed that reincarnation would carry down the family line, so contracts could be made that would be legally binding to your descendants. So no, Celts have very rich and varied beliefs in the afterlife.

I hope that helps you.

Megatherium

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2012, 10:30:37 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;71674
I'm a fairly new Celtic Reconstructionist, but I can try to answer you're questions, and anyone who's more educated than me can feel free to correct me.

Celts certainly put a great deal of emphasis on respect for the ancestors. There's even some material suggesting that a dead ancestor could become a god. For example, the Irish god of the dead, Donn, was the first of the children of Mil to die in Ireland. Then he became responsible for taking the souls of the dead into his house at Tech nDuinn. Most Celtic Reconstructionists keep a shrine to their ancestors.

There's also a focus on offerings made to more localized land spirits. If you're familiar with any faerie lore, this translated into the custom of leaving offerings of milk, butter, and bread for the faeries.

Celts seemed to have a very close and personal relationship with their gods. There are stones and monuments around Europe that seem to memorialize specific contracts made with the gods. In the Isle of Man, they have a tradition of paying rent to their patron god, Manannán mac Lir. Also, tradition holds that a number of the gods held residence in the land itself, living under the hills and in healing springs.

There are varied beliefs in the Celtic afterlife. Some Celts believe in reincarnation, some believe that they'll move on to Tír na nÓg, "Land of the Young," and some believe that they'll spend some time in the Otherworld before being reincarnated. Many Celts believed that reincarnation would carry down the family line, so contracts could be made that would be legally binding to your descendants. So no, Celts have very rich and varied beliefs in the afterlife.

I hope that helps you.


It helps me a lot, thanks! I suspected that the veneration of ancestors and land spirits was common in both traditions, since this is something that we also see in traditional religions throughout the world. It does seem very interesting to me that the Celts had a more "personal" relationship with their Gods than the Germanics, though your statements lead me to suspect that the closeness of the Gods is something that is downplayed in modern Germanic Heathenry.

Finally, the variety of Celtic beliefs about the afterlife also lead me to suspect that the modern Heathen view of the afterlife may be a bit restricted compared with the actual ancient practice. I find the idea that one would spend time in the "otherworld" before being reincarnated in the family line fascinating-sometimes my own children remind me A LOT of my deceased grandparents. Again, thanks for your help!
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Alex

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2012, 12:49:33 am »
Quote from: Megatherium;71630
  • A lack of belief in an afterlife in another realm. As I understand it, Germanic heathens mostly believed that one existed “in the grave mound” - in this world- and continued to influence the lives of their descendants.


I am not Heathen or Northern Tradition, but my understanding of the Northern idea of afterlife was that Odin claimed half the fallen warriors to Valhalla, Freya claimed half the fallen warriors to Folkvangr, and Hel received the remaining dead in, well, Hel.
« Last Edit: September 01, 2012, 12:50:05 am by Alex »

Jezebel

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2012, 05:07:48 am »
Quote from: Megatherium;71630

  • An emphasis on one’s relationship with their ancestors
  • Regular offerings to local wights and spirits
  • A more distant relationship with the Gods than in the Christian tradition-as I understand it, Germanic heathens did not have a close, personal relationship with the Gods. The Gods were to be respected but they were not petitioned for material benefits, or personal strength, etc.
  • A lack of belief in an afterlife in another realm. As I understand it, Germanic heathens mostly believed that one existed “in the grave mound” - in this world- and continued to influence the lives of their descendants.



I can't speak for all Hellenic influenced people on this board but, as far as I know Hellenes do acknowledge their ancestors and during the Agathos Daimon (third night of the new month celebration) special tribute is paid to them as well as the household daimon to protect the household and the family.

Regular offers to local spirits was practised in certain areas, and still is in some occasions. Nymphs, river gods, the winds, Hamadryads all these sorts of spirits were more localised and could incur worship and offerings if they were seen to have special significance to the community.

The Theoi were and are a huge part of every day life for the ancients and Hellenic Reconstructionists. The way of thinking is yes, they are gods so therefore deserving of worship no questions asked but they're not unapproachable. That's pretty much what offerings and libations are for and though it would be bad form to go "I want a pony please", respectful petitions were asked for all the time. You can still see a lot of the reverence for the gods in the temples and sanctuaries still around, it was a huge deal.

The afterlife existed in another realm, Hades, and the Greeks didn't really think it was a nice place. If the proper funeral rites weren't seen to then the soul was doomed to be stuck on the banks of the river Styx for a hundred years and the plane for mortal souls was a little drab, so death wasn't exactly celebrated. That being said, Plato and the Orphic tradition had a big thing for reincarnation, thinking that a soul was reborn over and over again before it had become pure enough.

(Everyone help me out if I've missed anything!)

Finn

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2012, 01:47:01 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;71674

Celts seemed to have a very close and personal relationship with their gods. There are stones and monuments around Europe that seem to memorialize specific contracts made with the gods. In the Isle of Man, they have a tradition of paying rent to their patron god, Manannán mac Lir. Also, tradition holds that a number of the gods held residence in the land itself, living under the hills and in healing springs.

 
I'm not so sure that evidence of contracts made between individuals and gods necessarily means they had a "close and personal relationship" with those gods. After all, you don't need a close and personal relationship with your, say, state legislator, in order to petition them, and you don't need a close and personal relationship with a client for you to execute a job according to a contract.

What exactly constitutes evidence of personal relationships between pre-Christian Celts and their gods for you?


This isn't all to say that a lot of pre-Christian Celts didn't have close relationships with their gods (or heck that Celts today don't have those kinds of relationships either! :)), but it's a generalization that, in light of what little evidence we had, may be more wishful thinking than anything else.
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Finn

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2012, 01:59:56 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;71630

Ultimately, I am interested if the idea of a closer, more personal relationship with the divine is more characteristic of Mediterranean religious traditions, and that perhaps it was Hellenic and Roman approaches to polytheism that influenced Christianity and gave it a much different idea of one’s relationship with the divine than in temperate European cultures.

 
Interesting idea. But based on what I know of Roman worship, I wonder if it may have been the other way around. I find it easier to think that Christianity, the Abrahamic religions, and heck, maybe even ideas from way over in Hindu tradition introduced the idea to the Romans that one can have a personal relationship with deities. Christ was, after all, supposed to be the link between man and God.

Hellenic and Roman religious tradition relies a lot on upholding the power and tranquility of the state, not cultivating relationships with gods. Christianity (as it came from the mouth of Jesus) was all about becoming as Christ -- living as God intended us-- not establishing a base of political power.
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iulla

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2012, 02:14:27 pm »
Quote from: Megatherium;71630


However, my main concern with this post is to see if any other practitioners of reconstructed European religions (Hellenic, Celtic, Slavic, Roman, etc.) can describe some of the similarities and differences in their traditions and worldview from the Germanic ones described above. My suspicion is that there is little difference between the broad outlines of the worldview of Northern European cultures, while I expect the Hellenic and Roman traditions would be more dissimilar given their vastly different economic base and social organization. (Major literate Empires vs. Smaller and less economically complex temperate cultures).

Ultimately, I am interested if the idea of a closer, more personal relationship with the divine is more characteristic of Mediterranean religious traditions, and that perhaps it was Hellenic and Roman approaches to polytheism that influenced Christianity and gave it a much different idea of one’s relationship with the divine than in temperate European cultures.

Gracias para todos for anyone who bothers to respond to this Noobs inane and frankly lazy questions.


Well, Jezebel answered for the Hellenic approach, and I'll take it from the Roman side.  Answering your bullet points one at a time.  If anything I say doesn't sound right, then feel free to step in and correct me.

Quote
  • An emphasis on one’s relationship with their ancestors


This is very big in the Roman tradition(s).  The big group that is honored is called the Manes, which are ancestral spirits as a collective.  Within the Manes there are different groups, for example the Lares, or guardian spirits.  There's the Lar familiaris, which is basically the guardian spirit of the household.  The Romans were *insistent* on honoring their ancestors.

Quote
  • Regular offerings to local wights and spirits
 

While local wights and spirits *were* (and are) acknowledged to exist (in pretty much everything, from rocks to trees and bodies of water), I'm not sure that they were regularly given offerings.  Sometimes they would have been, yes, but not regularly.  Unless you count the household spirits.

Quote
  • A more distant relationship with the Gods than in the Christian tradition-as I understand it, Germanic heathens did not have a close, personal relationship with the Gods. The Gods were to be respected but they were not petitioned for material benefits, or personal strength, etc.


Not...exactly.  As far as writings are concerned, the Romans saw their deities as more of a client-patron relationship than something close and personal.  That's why some argue that mystery cults (such as those of Isis and Mithras) were so popular - because they offered the people a close, non state-influenced relationship with deity(s).  But as far as what your average, everyday Roman plebeian would have assumed - well, we don't really know.  And today, many Roman Reconstructionists do have a more personal relationship.

Quote
  • A lack of belief in an afterlife in another realm. As I understand it, Germanic heathens mostly believed that one existed “in the grave mound” - in this world- and continued to influence the lives of their descendants.


The belief in the afterlife is...not very clear.  They certainly believed in something - the fact that they regularly honored their ancestors is proof, along with the Archaic (in this sense, a time period, not an insult) belief that spirits of the dead "haunted" their graves.  Or their families, and thus had to be exorcised.  Later on, when Rome came into contact with Greece, they liked the idea of the separate "worlds of the dead" so much that they incorporated it into their myths.
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iulla

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2012, 02:19:29 pm »
Quote from: Finn;71808
Interesting idea. But based on what I know of Roman worship, I wonder if it may have been the other way around. I find it easier to think that Christianity, the Abrahamic religions, and heck, maybe even ideas from way over in Hindu tradition introduced the idea to the Romans that one can have a personal relationship with deities. Christ was, after all, supposed to be the link between man and God.

Hellenic and Roman religious tradition relies a lot on upholding the power and tranquility of the state, not cultivating relationships with gods. Christianity (as it came from the mouth of Jesus) was all about becoming as Christ -- living as God intended us-- not establishing a base of political power.


I think that's why Christianity became so popular - the whole personal relationship thing, which probably was unheard of unless the individual was in a mystery cult.  The Romans were all about the state and maintaining a balance with the gods so that the state would prosper: which left little in the way of a personal relationship with the common individual.

I mean, if you look at how formulated and precise the rituals were (you had to get every single word and phrase correctly, and make sure there were no loopholes in your speech), that left little room for anything personal.  It's like drawing up a contract.
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MattyG

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2012, 06:54:23 pm »
Quote from: Finn;71807
I'm not so sure that evidence of contracts made between individuals and gods necessarily means they had a "close and personal relationship" with those gods. After all, you don't need a close and personal relationship with your, say, state legislator, in order to petition them, and you don't need a close and personal relationship with a client for you to execute a job according to a contract.

 
Ahh, I see what you mean. I was just commenting on the fact that the Celts seemed willing to petition their gods for specific things. At least in groups. For example, there's an inscription found in Spain that says "L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers," so it seems like businesses might consider specific gods to provide patronage. Also, I was commenting about the fact that Celtic gods were often depicted as living very close to our world, rather than in a far off, more divine realm. But you're right. It was probably a very different relationship than something like the Christian god. It would have been more about a relationship with a group or community than with individuals.

Megatherium

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2012, 08:16:11 pm »
Quote from: Alex;71741
I am not Heathen or Northern Tradition, but my understanding of the Northern idea of afterlife was that Odin claimed half the fallen warriors to Valhalla, Freya claimed half the fallen warriors to Folkvangr, and Hel received the remaining dead in, well, Hel.

 
Yes, this is also what I understand from the later Icelandic sagas and eddas. I've read that some scholars believe the idea of Valhalla, Folkvangr, Hel etc. may have been a rather late development, and partially influenced by the expanding Christian tradition. Of course, it's difficult to say with certainty, and it may well be that various pagan Germanic cultures had differing ideas of the afterlife depending on the particular group and time. There may well also have been differing ideas within the same culture, just as we have today.
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Finn

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2012, 08:30:14 pm »
Quote from: MattyG;71863
Ahh, I see what you mean. I was just commenting on the fact that the Celts seemed willing to petition their gods for specific things. At least in groups. For example, there's an inscription found in Spain that says "L. L. Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers," so it seems like businesses might consider specific gods to provide patronage. ... It would have been more about a relationship with a group or community than with individuals.

 
"Asking for things" seems to be at the heart of religious practice, and not just for the Celts. ;)

I think that it's clear that Celtic and Roman individuals are very willing to petition particular gods for personal reasons (again, just look at what's written on some of the curse tablets found around Britain) but it doesn't necessarily imply that they were specially devoted servants of that god, or doing particular work for that god, like many relationships found today among practitioners.

And it doesn't rule out that creating some of these curses in the first place may have been part of upholding property laws (lots of tablets found were made against thieves of personal property) or even due process ("Well, did you fill out this paperwork when it was stolen? ... Did you make a curse tablet at the baths?" :p) in addition to getting personal satisfaction.

In fact, the texts read more like business transactions, police reports, or something found in a complaints department. :p
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Megatherium

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2012, 09:00:03 pm »
Quote from: Jezebel;71755
I can't speak for all Hellenic influenced people on this board but, as far as I know Hellenes do acknowledge their ancestors and during the Agathos Daimon (third night of the new month celebration) special tribute is paid to them as well as the household daimon to protect the household and the family.

Regular offers to local spirits was practised in certain areas, and still is in some occasions. Nymphs, river gods, the winds, Hamadryads all these sorts of spirits were more localised and could incur worship and offerings if they were seen to have special significance to the community.

The Theoi were and are a huge part of every day life for the ancients and Hellenic Reconstructionists. The way of thinking is yes, they are gods so therefore deserving of worship no questions asked but they're not unapproachable. That's pretty much what offerings and libations are for and though it would be bad form to go "I want a pony please", respectful petitions were asked for all the time. You can still see a lot of the reverence for the gods in the temples and sanctuaries still around, it was a huge deal.

The afterlife existed in another realm, Hades, and the Greeks didn't really think it was a nice place. If the proper funeral rites weren't seen to then the soul was doomed to be stuck on the banks of the river Styx for a hundred years and the plane for mortal souls was a little drab, so death wasn't exactly celebrated. That being said, Plato and the Orphic tradition had a big thing for reincarnation, thinking that a soul was reborn over and over again before it had become pure enough.

(Everyone help me out if I've missed anything!)


Wow, I didn't really expect the Hellenic worldview to be so similar to that of the Germanics. I'm sure there were major differences based on climate, economic and political structure, etc., but the basic commonalities of ancestor veneration, acknowledgement of local spirits, and polytheism seem to be fairly similar. I also was unaware that the idea of reincarnation developed within Greece. I've always associated reincarnation with the Hindu/Buddhist traditions, but it appears that this idea was not unknown among European cultures. I wonder if this idea was transmitted   from other cultures, or was an indigenous Greek development?
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Megatherium

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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2012, 12:48:26 am »
Quote from: iulla;71814


Not...exactly.  As far as writings are concerned, the Romans saw their deities as more of a client-patron relationship than something close and personal.  That's why some argue that mystery cults (such as those of Isis and Mithras) were so popular - because they offered the people a close, non state-influenced relationship with deity(s).  But as far as what your average, everyday Roman plebeian would have assumed - well, we don't really know.  And today, many Roman Reconstructionists do have a more personal relationship.


 
Quote from: Finn;71808
Interesting idea. But based on what I know of Roman worship, I wonder if it may have been the other way around. I find it easier to think that Christianity, the Abrahamic religions, and heck, maybe even ideas from way over in Hindu tradition introduced the idea to the Romans that one can have a personal relationship with deities. Christ was, after all, supposed to be the link between man and God.

Hellenic and Roman religious tradition relies a lot on upholding the power and tranquility of the state, not cultivating relationships with gods. Christianity (as it came from the mouth of Jesus) was all about becoming as Christ -- living as God intended us-- not establishing a base of political power.


Okay, first time responding to multiple quotes, so as Spider-Man used to say, "here goes nothing!"

Thank you both for these posts. I think this has really helped to clarify things for me.
As far as I understand, most traditional European religions were more "community-based", i.e.. worship was primarily directed towards the Gods for the sake of maintaining the group, whether that be a small tribe or a major Empire.

The "mystery cults", offered a more individualistic relationship with the divine, one that could be outside of normal social roles. It is interesting to me that these traditions (mystery cults) seemed to have developed in larger, more urbanized societies (Isis via Egypt, Mithras via the Persian Empire, later to flourish in the most urbanized societies in Europe) where, presumably, traditional social roles were weakened by urbanization and the economic shifts that entailed.

Eventually, Christianity emerged as a synthesis of aspects of the mystery cults along with Judaism and Greek philosophy to create a system that was both individualized, and capable of sustaining large states and Empires. Unfortunately, this partly came about through a stringently applied intolerance of most aspects of traditional religion.

Now I may be pulling this out of nowhere, but it seems to me a downside of a personalized relationship with a monotheistic deity is the problem of evil. If, as most traditional societies believed, the Gods were not necessarily good or concerned with the individual, then explaining why bad things happen to good, devout people is not much of a problem. However, if one believes in a kind, loving deity that cares about you individually, then we see the crisis of faith produced by the "bad things to good people" phenomenon which still troubles Christianity and Islam today.

Ultimately my reason for starting this thread was to try to get a better idea of what an appropriate relationship with the deities would be for a modern polytheist. To what extent do Christian (and the Mithras and Isis cults?) ideas about the appropriate relationship with the divine affect modern paganism, and to what extent should we embrace or reject those influences?

I still don't have answers to that, but I think I now may be able to formulate some better questions. Gracias para todos!
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Re: Differences between Germanic/Hellenic/Celtic traditions?
« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2012, 03:47:22 am »
Quote from: Megatherium;71876
Wow, I didn't really expect the Hellenic worldview to be so similar to that of the Germanics. I'm sure there were major differences based on climate, economic and political structure, etc., but the basic commonalities of ancestor veneration, acknowledgement of local spirits, and polytheism seem to be fairly similar. I also was unaware that the idea of reincarnation developed within Greece. I've always associated reincarnation with the Hindu/Buddhist traditions, but it appears that this idea was not unknown among European cultures. I wonder if this idea was transmitted   from other cultures, or was an indigenous Greek development?

 
There's some discussion about where the idea originally came from, and it most likely did trickle in from more eastern influences. I don't think it was a sole Greek idea, they just made it their own and built on it as they were want to do with ideas they liked.

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