squishy polytheism and hearth culture transitions

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It was back in September of last year that I started really getting into Heathenry/Asatru. There were a number of reasons why. I was a Celtic Reconstructionist for a number of years, and a member of ADF off and on. I was working on the ADF Dedicant Program (as I am again now) and was having thoughts toward adding Norse as a hearth culture because ADF celebrates eight Pagan holidays instead of just the Celtic four. I thought that adding some Norse traditions would be an excellent way of celebrating those other four holidays, and at the same time, honor my German ancestors.

But at first I put off looking into it. I guess I didn’t want to “clutter up” my spirituality with a bunch of new stuff. Well, its more than that, I suppose. It may have had to do with a subtle feeling of being ashamed of my German ancestry. I think part of my reason for getting into Celtic Paganism in the first place was that I wanted to identify with my Celtic roots (however far back in the family tree they were hidden). I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had more German roots than Celtic. But when I started doing some genealogy research, that fact became obvious.

As I mentioned in that blog entry in September of last year, “Finding Heathen Ways“, it was a picture (“Odin, the Wanderer” by Georg von Rosen) that gave me that “aha” moment and triggered what would become a “conversion” from Celtic Paganism to Asatru/Heathenry. You wouldn’t have known it judging from the posts made to this blog in the months following that article (they were scheduled far in advance), but I’ve all but completely gone over to Heathenry, instead of just “supplementing” as I had originally planned.

Some might say this makes me a “traitor” to my Celtic gods. Yet, I was still very much a soft polytheist when I first took up following them, and I never “oathed” to them. Even yet, I wondered at this transition of hearth cultures, thinking perhaps I hadn’t believed in the Celtic deities at all (I had been feeling rather agnostic at the time just before my revelation). But upon further contemplation, I realized that I had just taken a different path to some of the same “deity types” that I was revering before. This goes back to my article “my kind of polytheism”. In that article I explained that while I couldn’t quite embrace the concept of hard polytheism, I wasn’t quite a soft polytheist either, but something in between. In that article I called it “medium” polytheism. Not long ago, I found another term for it, summarized quite simply on a Waincraft website:

Squishy polytheism; the idea that the same gods may appear across cultural lines.

So I finally found the type of polytheism that makes the most sense to me, and wrapped up those questions I had postulated in my polytheism article. This type of polytheism doesn’t go so far as to claim that the gods are mere archetypes, it just states that the same gods appear across cultural lines. (And actually, I think not all the gods do, but many.) Using the mom allegory, a hard polytheist might argue “your mom is not my mom”. The squishy polytheist might reply, “you’re right, but go back far enough and my ancestor is your ancestor”- and that farther-back picture is key. (The mom allegory is not so much just allegory when you consider that the gods were often thought of as ancestors.) I like to think of squishy polytheism as being a concept related to the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European religion.

So much Celtic lore was lost, that it was no wonder I often felt agnostic as a Celtic Pagan. When I first got into Celtic Reconstructionism, for a long time I mainly studied traditions and customs (so sue me, I‘m a homemaker and it‘s what interested me the most). When I finally got into researching more on the deities I had chosen, I found I had been misinformed by popular Neopagan notions concerning the nature of the gods themselves.

For example, as a CR, I chose Danu as my patron deity because I thought she was an earth goddess and ancestral mother. But after reading “Danu and Bile: The Primordial Parents?” by Alexei Kondratiev, I felt that I was indeed on shaky ground. That article really delves into misconceptions the Neopagan world has about those two deities. Not only are they not who we think they are, we don’t even know what their roles were, really, if they were (historically) deities at all. In Heathenry, the gods and their roles are much clearer. I now refer to my earth goddess as Hertha/Nerthus, and have found my mother goddess by the name Fríge/Frigga.

Another of my patrons was Curnunnos (surely a hold-out form my Wiccan years). I love the notion of a god of wild things and the cyclic symbolism of the shedding of antlers. But I found, much to my surprise, that nothing is actually known of this deity either; we have depictions, and one inscription of the name, which was actually a title meaning “horned one”. Again, no stories, no lore; just speculations of which god he may have represented. Lately I’ve been thinking that the “Curnunnos” figures could have actually depicted a Norse god… Freyr is a fertility/nature god and the lore says that he will fight with an antler at Ragnarok.

Other Celtic deities have similar counterparts in Norse mythology that I could give examples of, but I mentioned Danu and Curnunnos specifically because they were my original patrons and the details I have given about them were key to sorting through the intellectual components of my hearth culture transition.

So I don’t feel that I’ve abandoned or lost anything in this hearth culture transition, but instead I’ve gained a clearer picture and found a deeper story. I’m not saying it’s better in general, just better for me. My finding Heathenry has been a journey from vagueness to rich complexity, from agnostism to Gnostism, from long wandering to finding true home.

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One response »

  1. What a wonderful relating of your experiences. Interestingly, my family hid from us that we were of Irish descent and somehow didn’t mind the German bits. My grandfather was Irish, but he told everyone he was Scottish, as he was ashamed of being Irish in 1930’s America. I started out more Heathen in my spiritual ideas and have shifted to more Celtic, but the two have mixed well for me so far.

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