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Author Topic: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?  (Read 1052 times)

ethelwulf

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I wanted to do a post about how a person learns about what they believe in and why. I want to start with a short introduction of my on experience coming up to this forum followed by examining how we learn about what we believe.
 
When I first entered my first religion forum I was surprised by how differently people who called themselves pagan saw the pagan religion to the point of some hostility. I then came to this form and found the same diversity in beliefs (although not hostile). I then realized I had expected there to be more things in common between people in the pagan faith than what I found and reflected on a really short history of my past.
 
I was introduced to paganism in the 1960s and separated from Christianity in the 1970s in favor of learning about Taoism, Zen, Buddhism, Paganism, Hinduism, and Native American religion.  I entered the workforce in the 1980s with little time to think about religion except for an attempt to become catholic to appease my wife and her family (failed miserably). I worked even more hours in 1990s but finally returned to considering paganism in the 2000s after reading a book by Ronald Hutton. I had one last attempt to return to Christianity for my new wife's sake (Methodist- not disastrous but not me) but, finally found myself always returning to paganism and realized it was because I felt it was the religion that best connected me with where I felt at best - in nature. During the last 20 years I have isolated in small city in Texas with almost no other pagans to talk to. Thus I joint a forum with the na├»ve belief after 50 years of exposure to paganism that most pagans believed in an earth centered religions that is polytheistic and which celebrated the mysteries of the world. This is not exactly what if found in the forum (that does not mean I disagree with the forum, on the contrary I like the forum even if I do not always agree with it).

I took a holiday from the forum and I asked myself where did I come up with my beliefs? I realized (whether correct or not) I saw paganism as a religion coming from western Europe especially the British Isles and realized my influence is mainly from Celtic and Germanic beliefs.
 
The first question I asked on holiday was why even go back and reconstruct what pre-Christians believed in? All I can say to this is there is a desire in many people to find a connection with the past and to connect with something ancient and timeless that you believe will endure in the future. The Romans had some respect for the Jews because the Torah showed a connection to the ancient past. Christians wanted to claim that not only was the new testament theirs, the old testament also belonged to the Christians. They claimed it was their rightful history which laid down the foundation for the new testament and also gave them a connection with the ancient past.

So how to connect with the Celtic or Germanic pagan past when these pre-Christians did not write down what they believed in; handing their beliefs to the next generation by an oral tradition.

 The first thing I re-evaluated was my Sources (not in any order) 1. Folklore  2. Mythology and literature  3. Archeology  4. Comparative anthropology  5. History records.  What are the problems with these sources and are there other ways of learning about Celtic/Germanic pre-Christians? I would like to know what other pagans think?

herkles

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2013, 03:15:03 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;129564


So how to connect with the Celtic or Germanic pagan past when these pre-Christians did not write down what they believed in; handing their beliefs to the next generation by an oral tradition.

 The first thing I re-evaluated was my Sources (not in any order) 1. Folklore  2. Mythology and literature  3. Archeology  4. Comparative anthropology  5. History records.  What are the problems with these sources and are there other ways of learning about Celtic/Germanic pre-Christians? I would like to know what other pagans think?

Hello and welcome, :)

as for your sources that is what a number who practice the methodology of Reconstructionism would do. I use it myself as an Irish polytheist. As for the pros and cons of each source, lets see.

1.) Folklore: The world view and the people have long been christanized so it does change over time; yet despite that looking at folklore is vital for it gives some idea on the beliefs. Other things related are folk festivals. For ireland two that I look at are Wren's day and Pucks Fair. Both of which while not obviously pagan show a glimpse into the past.

2.) Mythology and Literature: The major issue is obviously that they were written down by Christians. This poses the biggest problem for us. While obviously these are the myths written down. We know that they are for the fact that some of the authors explictly sort of go "these gods are all fake and just silly stories." paraphrasing here. So this is tricky here, but it is the best we got so we use this but we have to read critically too.

3.)Archaeology: Archaeology is one of the best resources we have. For instance Archaeologiest uncovered a pre-christian Norse Temple in Norway recently which is awesome.

4.)Comparative anthropology: This is useful but one should be careful here to understand culture of the places you are comparing. But comparing and looking at other cultures can be useful.

5.) History records: These can be good, though you have to understand the biases and issues with each historian. The ancient Romans were biased against the 'barbarians' and thus wrote accordingly. Yet despite this they do give us an idea of what it was like. More modern historians have issues in which new research can invalidate their ideas.

just my two cents :)

ethelwulf

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2013, 02:47:58 pm »
Quote from: herkles;129586
Hello and welcome, :)



1.) Folklore: The world view and the people have long been christanized so it does change over time; yet despite that looking at folklore is vital for it gives some idea on the beliefs. Other things related are folk festivals. For ireland two that I look at are Wren's day and Pucks Fair. Both of which while not obviously pagan show a glimpse into the past.

2.) Mythology and Literature: The major issue is obviously that they were written down by Christians. This poses the biggest problem for us. While obviously these are the myths written down. We know that they are for the fact that some of the authors explictly sort of go "these gods are all fake and just silly stories." paraphrasing here. So this is tricky here, but it is the best we got so we use this but we have to read critically too.

3.)Archaeology: Archaeology is one of the best resources we have. For instance Archaeologiest uncovered a pre-christian Norse Temple in Norway recently which is awesome.

4.)Comparative anthropology: This is useful but one should be careful here to understand culture of the places you are comparing. But comparing and looking at other cultures can be useful.

5.) History records: These can be good, though you have to understand the biases and issues with each historian. The ancient Romans were biased against the 'barbarians' and thus wrote accordingly. Yet despite this they do give us an idea of what it was like. More modern historians have issues in which new research can invalidate their ideas.

just my two cents :)

 
I agree with you completely. I think it is important to understand both aspects of these sources and remember each of their limitations. That is why it is important to use all of them and not to rely on any one too much. Archeology gives us our most objective information but unfortunately without a record of how to interpret it. Comparative anthropology has risks when applying it to cultures of the past but in can still help us to understand possible aspects that could not be done in any other way.

What I also found interesting as I re-examined what I believed in was our understanding of Celtic paganism comes mainly from Ireland in the same way that our understanding of Norse paganism came from another Island, Iceland. Paganism remained longer in these outposts and became our important sources of information especially in reference to myths and folklore.

futureseek

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2013, 04:50:38 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;129643
I agree with you completely. I think it is important to understand both aspects of these sources and remember each of their limitations. That is why it is important to use all of them and not to rely on any one too much. Archeology gives us our most objective information but unfortunately without a record of how to interpret it. Comparative anthropology has risks when applying it to cultures of the past but in can still help us to understand possible aspects that could not be done in any other way.

What I also found interesting as I re-examined what I believed in was our understanding of Celtic paganism comes mainly from Ireland in the same way that our understanding of Norse paganism came from another Island, Iceland. Paganism remained longer in these outposts and became our important sources of information especially in reference to myths and folklore.

 
Yes, I certainly agree. I think that probably many people doing this use their intuition, and a kind of living logic, to understand the hints in the material we do have from the past. People will probably be comparing and updating their interpretations for some time to come, because so much was lost.

One hopeful thing is that one doesn't need everything because many ideas and patterns in a culture or subculture repeat themselves. So we can know what a current school of thought is thinking and doing without reading everything its members have published. Just a sample will tell us everything about that school of thought. and sometimes, we can know that somebody belongs to that school of thought just by reading one paragraph that person has written.

Jim

herkles

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2013, 05:39:25 pm »
Quote from: ethelwulf;129643
I agree with you completely. I think it is important to understand both aspects of these sources and remember each of their limitations. That is why it is important to use all of them and not to rely on any one too much. Archeology gives us our most objective information but unfortunately without a record of how to interpret it. Comparative anthropology has risks when applying it to cultures of the past but in can still help us to understand possible aspects that could not be done in any other way.

What I also found interesting as I re-examined what I believed in was our understanding of Celtic paganism comes mainly from Ireland in the same way that our understanding of Norse paganism came from another Island, Iceland. Paganism remained longer in these outposts and became our important sources of information especially in reference to myths and folklore.

 
I myself am looking into hinduism; I missed out on my proffessor's class on hinduism unfortunatly but I am taking a world religions course which covers it. While I know that their are differences between my faith of Irish polytheism and Hinduism. A good example is that there are a number of sacred groves in India that have religious significance in hinduism. But their might be some insperation for us when looking at other religions. For instance when I look at Hindu temples and Shinto Shrines, the question to me comes up "what would an irish polytheist shrine or temple look like?"

It also helps me understand other religions, and learning more is always good IMO.

Quote from: futureseek;129650
Yes, I certainly agree. I think that probably many people doing this use their intuition, and a kind of living logic, to understand the hints in the material we do have from the past. People will probably be comparing and updating their interpretations for some time to come, because so much was lost.

One hopeful thing is that one doesn't need everything because many ideas and patterns in a culture or subculture repeat themselves. So we can know what a current school of thought is thinking and doing without reading everything its members have published. Just a sample will tell us everything about that school of thought. and sometimes, we can know that somebody belongs to that school of thought just by reading one paragraph that person has written.

Jim

 
One thing to keep in mind is that there never was one standard religious view of the pre-christians. This is why their might be some contradictions in some of the myths. They were never the same, and instead were for their own local area. Also things were never static and beliefs changed over time, like they do else where. I think sometimes we forget this when we look at the past for our beliefs.

ethelwulf

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2013, 11:40:51 pm »
Quote from: herkles;129653



 
One thing to keep in mind is that there never was one standard religious view of the pre-christians. This is why their might be some contradictions in some of the myths. They were never the same, and instead were for their own local area. Also things were never static and beliefs changed over time, like they do else where. I think sometimes we forget this when we look at the past for our beliefs.

 
Very good comment. This is a very important concept which I have recently become more aware of. Our ideas of Germanic paganism is heavily influenced by Iceland because it was one of the last Germanic place to convert. In reality there was most likely far more variation in beliefs with local influences including contact with neighboring groups of people including Celtic culture and later Roman Culture. Our understanding of Celtic paganism is even more localized and with the greatest written records from Ireland. The number of names for the Celtic gods alone suggests local diversity. We do not know for instance how much contact with Rome influenced the Norse eddas and sagas by the time they were finally written down in Iceland. We do know that they were altered to some degree by Christians who wrote them down. The same was true for the Irish writings.

ethelwulf

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2013, 12:22:01 am »
Quote from: herkles;129586
Hello and welcome, :)

 

2.) Mythology and Literature: The major issue is obviously that they were written down by Christians. This poses the biggest problem for us. While obviously these are the myths written down. We know that they are for the fact that some of the authors explictly sort of go "these gods are all fake and just silly stories." paraphrasing here. So this is tricky here, but it is the best we got so we use this but we have to read critically too.

:)

 
The mythology alone does have its problems and care must be taken in reading them knowing the bias of the Christian authors, but they are some of our most descriptive accounts of Celtic mythology.  The relationships to the Gods seems very different than a Judeo-Christian view. I do not find such a distinction from the gods and the human heroes in the stories and little to no barrier between them. There are two views of their mythology one as in the Book of Conquests is a mythological history where the Tradition of Places is a mythological geography. We even have the gods who are the peoples of the Goddess Dana, called the Tuatha, in battle with the sons of Mil who would become the Celts of Ireland. Amairgin , on of the leaders of the sons of Mil, calls on the land of Ireland itself to help them defeat the Tuatha by allowing them to enter Ireland. The defeated Tuatha enter underground along with the Dema of the past (according to folklore) and are a part of the land of Ireland. There is a clear connection between the earth and the gods. This makes Celtic mythology very different than for instance the mythology of the old and new testament.

One other aspect to mythology we cannot completely account for because of the lack of records written by the Celtic tribes or the Germanic tribes is how much the mythology evolved/changed. I believe that Snorri, who recorded many of the Norse sagas and myths told in Iceland, saw the god Odin as originally as a wizard king who became the god Odin. We also do not know how much influence that Celtic or Roman mythology had on the development of the Germanic myths. Roman mythology was more structured with clearer roles to each god which may have contributed to the myths and sagas finally written in Iceland.

These are just some of my thoughts while I reviewed my beliefs about Celtic mythology and would like to see other views.

ethelwulf

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Re: Reflecting one paganisms past. How do we know what we believe in?
« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2013, 12:50:38 am »
Quote from: herkles;129586
Hello and welcome, :)



1.) Folklore: The world view and the people have long been christanized so it does change over time; yet despite that looking at folklore is vital for it gives some idea on the beliefs. Other things related are folk festivals. For ireland two that I look at are Wren's day and Pucks Fair. Both of which while not obviously pagan show a glimpse into the past.



just my two cents :)

 
I think folklore has more to offer than we realize. The conversion to Christianity did not happen over night and some areas converted far later than others. This aspect of conversion was seen in the protestant conversion of England. Despite the Queen's or King's, depending on at what point you are talking about in England's history, decree to become a protestant country the conversion did not happen quickly and in some places did not happen. The conversion was clearly first in the cities and last if at all in the more remote country and this was when there was a better forms of communication when compared to the initial conversion to Christianity.

It is very likely that pagan practices continued well into the period after the conversion especially in the most remote areas of Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Another issue was the degree of education in the country and therefor the lack of understanding of the bible and Christianity itself. Thus even people who might call themselves Christian were still at heart pagan except for some name changes. I believe the folklore contains much of the pagan practices as well as the beliefs as long as you are not mislead by some of the propaganda the Christians infused into the folklore.

Another problem in reading folklore has to do with some of the authors attitudes towards primitive culture as they would describe it. Many writers especially during the age of reason saw the world order as a clear progression form primitive to civilized. Many of the authors of England for instance had superior attitude over the people of Ireland at one point and write about the folklore in a negative viewpoint. Thus we get both the demonization from the church mixed in with the references of the primitive mind at work in the folk people and folklore. I believe if you read it with these two prejudices in mind you can see the folklore in a new light.

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