Paganism as a Modern Day Religion
As I have talked about in my previous post about authenticity in paganism today, modern paganism will always be associated with the dichotomy of an old, mostly non-recorded religion from a thousand or more years ago that was shaped by very much different minds and the modern times, with atheism and agnosticism becoming increasingly more popular, people disconnected from major world religions. Authenticity and “trveness” cannot and should not be objectives of any modern religion, especially paganism, as I have detailed previously (→ Germanic Paganism and Authenticity)This opens up the question: How should a modern day pagan religion look like? What can we take from the sources that we have, what should be left in the past?
There will never unified answers on this topic. Rudolf Simek, in his book “Religion and Mythology of the Germanic Peoples”, points out two archetypes of modern day Germanic pagans – he misses quite a lot of them, but let’s put that aside for a second -, firstly people, that mainly worship Óðinn as an All-father figure, almost as a monotheistic god, and secondly people who take the gods a lot less literal and adopt a pantheistic view, with divinity present in everything and every being, but especially strong in the human, like some famous authors like Goethe adopted during the so-called “Age of Reflection”, but with a focus on Germanic paganism. Let’s call the first group Odinists – I am aware that that name carries some right-wing association with it, but it’s the best word I could come up with – and the second group “Ásatrú”. There are many more “denominations” of modern-day Germanic paganism, like esoterics i.e. a lot of “The Asatru Community”, folkish ultra right-wing groups like AFA – whom I don’t respect in the slightest as pagans-, recontructionists like the Forn Siðr groups in Sweden and many others, but I’d like to focus on these two groups in particular, because they present basic principles of how Germanic paganism is being perceived by modern people.
Odinists seem to be more influenced by modern Christianity, with a heavy focus on a strong and almighty father figure that pulls the string of fate, which is vastly different from what, we think, the Germanic peoples believed during the Viking Age and previous times. It is a strong break with the polytheistic nature of pagan beliefs of the past and seems to cater to the need of the modern human to have someone to directly talk to, someone who always has time and that cares for us, even if not necessarily loving like the Christian god. As modern society makes us more distant, more busy and more lonely, different people have different reactions. A lot seem to break with religion, leaving it behind like a relic of the past, with some never even becoming religious in the first place. Others seem to seek cults, sects and other dubious religious societies, that profit off of their members vulnerabilities and need for community. The ones that are not sucked into the darkness either embrace a stronger version of their original faith, be it Christianity, Islam or whichever, or turn to convert. A small percentage of them turn to pagan beliefs, such as modern Germanic paganism. Those that came from a monotheistic religion in the first place seem willing – understandably so – to keep that system of thought intact, but change the context and the lessons provided by that faith, so they construct an Allfather-centric, almost henotheistic, religion, adding many aspects to that of the Allfather and making him the absolute centre of their worship. This enables them to develop a much stronger connection to that deity, to Óðinn, and thus create a personal bond to that god, similar how a lot of modern christians – at least that I have met – interact with Jehova.
Pantheists on the other hand focus a lot more on the nature-worship aspect of Germanic paganism, that they perceive to be the most important focal point. While that thesis may not be necessarily true for the Germanic peoples of yore, it certainly has become extremely prevalent for a lot of people today, in the wake of New Age and Esotericism in the western world. Ever since the start of the industrialization of the world, many have longed for a return to nature, a flight from the giant, ever expanding cities, feeling that man has lost his connection to something primal, something integral to our very nature when we started to build metropolis. That’s where our need for travel, for touristics and escape from the modern world comes from, but it’s also what made every piece of the earth into a destination to explore, leaving only the most hard to reach places solitary. In most industrialized countries, especially in Germany, France and the UK, it has become hard to find places where true solitude can be felt. As a result of our fast life styles, we have become disconnected from the divine, science explores for beyond what we can comprehend, and so many turn to Agnosticism, Atheism; the need for religion becoming drowned out by focus on science – while still believing things that one cannot comprehend without extensive study, therefore just as unverifiable as religion to the non-expert – and by a life style to fast to stop and think. Those that still turn to religion – and that don’t find themselves in monotheistic faiths -, seek to disconnect themselves from that modern life, seek to reconnect with nature, and sometimes find their way to a number of pagan beliefs. Be it Wicca, Druidism, other Ethnic faiths, or esotericsm, they all have influenced the pantheistic version of modern Germanic paganism most prominently practiced by the Ásatrúarfelagið on Iceland. Most of them still worship the gods under their names as recorded in Norse folklore and more or less under the same aspects – even though there are a lot of common misattributions like Týr being a god of war, of which there is no mention in either Edda. What has changed though is the focus, many worship nature itself way more prominently and view the gods more as manifestations of that nature, instead of as personal beings, like the worshipers of yore most certainly did.
These two views differ significantly from each other and are nearly incompatible, making modern Germanic paganism even more fractured than it already is. I see no hope of ever uniting these two denominations, since they disagree so fundamentally on the nature of the gods, their hierarchy of gods and so much more. Still, I would like to present my view of the gods, my faith, shaped from my experiences and – in my opinion – one highly compatible with modern day man.
Nature-bound Paganism – A Proposal
I am a pantheist. I believe that the gods – as I worship them – ultimately stem from my lack of understanding and incapability to comprehend the divine aspect of the world, that I believe and feel is all around us. That means that I believe the gods to be only discrete slices of that divine aspect, filled with things that I believe to be important. While I know, that they are in the end one, I cannot wrap my head around that. In order to still have a functioning faith, I have to accept that partition in multiple gods, that are all aspects of the great divine force. They are certainly not real to me as they were to my ancestors, I know that Donaraz doesn’t sit above the clouds and controls the Thunder, but I see the Thunder as a way to experience the might of Þórr. I pray to them, I talk to them, I thank them. I know that that is a weird dichotomy, but as I said, I cannot worship them as one, it just doesn’t have a starting point. In taking the basic view of the gods from my ancestors of yore I am giving myself a starting point, gods that portray values that I deem important, like duty, honor, legacy and kinship, while simultaneously honoring my Odal in carrying their gods through the times. I also worship my ancestors, I feel them watching over my in times of need and in times of solace. I seek nature and solitude when praying, when I want to be near my ancestors and my gods. I seek the old Germanic forests through which my ancestors have too walked. I hold my blóts by the fire, near the forests, under the starlit sky. I try to partake little in modern life, I keep to myself and nature. I feel like a lot of people that I have seen post in pagan groups and fora could use a more modern way of thinking about the gods, instead of pretending that they really think that “Thor makes the Thunder”.
Thanks a lot for reading, please leave your thoughts down below (Comments are moderated, so they might not appear immediately). I leave you with Heilung’s brilliant ᛬ᛟᚠᚾᛁᚱ᛬ [Ofnir] and bid thee farewell, until next we meet.
Copyright notice: All photos by me, feel free to reuse. Taken at the “Großer Arbersee” in the Bavarian Forest near the Czech border.