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What Autumn Meant to Our Ancestors

What Autumn Meant to Our Ancestors

Now that Haustblot (or Harvest or Winter Finding) has come and gone, you’re probably saying, “Okay, autumn is here, so what?” After all, with the exception of pumpkin spice-flavored everything or school starting, fall is pretty much a non-issue in our lives today. Sure, we see cooler weather and the leaves turn, but really, other than that, we really don’t see anything particularly special about autumn.

And that’s a shame. Why? Because autumn was an important part of our ancestors’ lives, even if they considered it as part of summer or winter.

Why Autumn Was Important to Our Ancestors

First, our ancestors lived on an Earth with a warmer climate. (Yeah, I don’t want to go into the climate change politics, so we’re so not going there.) Earth was about 1 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today during the Medieval warming period. (That’s about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit for us Americans.) The Medieval warming period happened between 900 to 1300 CE, which doesn’t cover the time before that, but it was certainly warmer than when the Little Ice Age took hold. Before the Little Ice Age, our ancestors dealt with better conditions for farming, but it was often dicey. Bad harvests meant everyone would starve during the winter, including the animals. Good harvests meant that you had a fighting chance for seeing the next winter. Winter was still cold and difficult, so our ancestors used fall to prepare for the upcoming cold and dark months.

Storing for Winter

Harvest wasn’t the only thing that happened in the fall. As the temperatures plummeted, people would slaughter and preserve most of their meat for the upcoming winter. Having storehouses where you kept your smoked and salted meats for winter naturally kept the meat cold. The fall temperatures often dipped below freezing, but on days when the temperatures were above freezing, the air still acted like a refrigerator. Smoking and salting were ways of stabilizing the meat so it didn’t turn rancid during the occasional temperatures fluctuations. Hence, hunting for big game often happened in the fall and winter months. Unless you were planning on eating the whole critter in a few days, you really had no way to preserve the meat during the summer months, unless you were drying it. Hence eating small game and young animals were more fitting for the spring and summer months.

During this time, people were busy drying fruits and vegetables. Canning hadn’t been invented until the Napoleonic Wars, so that didn’t happen. People did store in what food they preserved for the upcoming winter months, presumably in precursors to root cellars. They ground grain into flour. It could be stored as flour or baked into bread, which usually stored okay, at least if it was too cold for mold to grow. Grain was also made into ale, which our Northern ancestors drank quite a bit.  Milk was processed into cheese. Cheese stores better than milk, so they could have fresh dairy once the cows or goats stopped producing. Often, they slaughtered their milking cows to reduce the herd so they didn’t have to feed so many animals. (The cow’ heifer it calved the previous spring usually replaced the cow.)

What Northern Peoples Did in Autumn

Beyond hunting and foraging for food as well as harvesting and preserving food, the Northern peoples spent time enjoying themselves too. Those who lived in the Viking era enjoyed playing board games, drinking games, and other indoor games when the weather got too cold or in the evenings when they had a little time to relax. When they had free time outside and the weather wasn’t too cold or snowy, they’d practice fighting and even hold mock battles to improve their skills. Some of these “games” ended up pretty bloody.

Our Northern ancestors were into telling stories and creating poetry during these times. The sagas and poetry we have show how our ancestors loved a good story.

When the ponds and lakes froze over, they’d strap bones or short pieces of metal to their feet and ice skate. Of course, there were contests to see how fast one could skate across the ice. Northern peoples often used skis or snowshoes to travel and get around. So our ancestors could still hunt and do other activities outdoors.

How You Can Enjoy the Autumn…Like a Viking!*

If you live in urban or suburban areas, chances are you don’t have to prepare much for winter besides dusting off your fall wardrobe. The local coffee shop now has pumpkin-spiced lattes and Hel, even Siggi’s Skyr Yogurt has Pumpkin & Spice skyr. (Now, isn’t that oxymoronic?) But if you have a farmer’s market near you or a particularly good sale at the local supermarket on fall produce, now is the time to stock up and make some jams, dry some foods, or stick some foods in the freezer. Get that honey and start your mead for Yule.

If you’re a writer—or even if you’re not—spend some time writing or making up stories that you can tell to entertain your family and friends. Hel, you might even have something that’s worth putting online and sharing. You never know.

If you hunt, now is the time to prepare for hunting season. If your season is in full swing, it’s time to get out there and get some food for the table. This year, pick up a book on how to butcher your deer, if you’ve never done it before. I like Making the Most of Your Deer. There are other books which work too. Butcher and wrap your deer. I guarantee there will be a lot less waste.

As the nights get longer, consider dusting off those board games or picking up some new ones, and having a gamer’s Friday or Saturday night. Invite over your friends or play board games with your family. Have a one night of being unplugged and force them to have to deal with you. (Hide the weapons!)

My point is that autumn was an important time to our ancestors and by doing some simple things, you can be more of a Heathen and offer respect to our ancestors, even though in our modern society we don’t necessarily have to do these things.  By incorporating these little things in our lives, we can get in touch with what our ancestors did to survive.

*The game is to add “like a Viking” to the last thing you did.

 

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Walking a Razor’s Edge: Folkish Beliefs

Walking a Razor’s Edge: Folkish Beliefs

A fan of mine and supposedly long time reader took umbrage on my statements about folkish beliefs in Heathenry.  Never mind that I’ve been stating what I have been stating as long as I’ve had this blog, which puts me in direct opposition of folkish beliefs.  Why?  Because scientifically, archaeologically, anthropologically, and historically, none of the folkish beliefs have any basis in fact. Unless you count the past 100 years as a reason to be folkish, i.e. Nazi beliefs, there is no record of exclusion from Heathenry.

Anyway, the fan deleted our conversation, left in a huff, and unliked my page (There!  That showed me!), giving me plenty to think about why folkish beliefs are a bad idea.  So, without further ado, let’s get talking about what folkism is, why it’s racist, and ultimately in league with white supremacists.

What Folkish Beliefs Are

Let’s talk about the root of folkish beliefs.  People who believe in folkish beliefs hold that Heathenry is only for those who are of Northern European descent.  That our gods can only be worshiped by those whose ancestors lived in the Northern European lands.  That our gods do not call to those who are not from those lands.

In other words, they do not believe in a multicultural religion.  They believe that people should worship the gods of their ancestors, whichever those are.

Now, let’s talk about the fallacy of their arguments.

First, Some Evolutionary Facts

Let’s look at the human race, that is Homo sapiens.  Our race came out of Africa at least 200,000 years ago, according to scientists, although latest findings suggest that our species came from there before that.  I don’t want to quibble over time frame.  The point is that we all came from a small group of humans.  Those who eventually made their way up north eventually became Norse.

It’s not like humans beamed in there. It took a fair amount of time, walking, and generations of living in one place for a while before pushing on.  We know that many of them were most likely black (even though there isn’t a specific gene for being black) due to the genetic material that we have found.  Our species is black in Africa to provide some protection against the sun’s rays.  As humans moved up north, our skin lightened to adjust to the lack of sunlight so that our bodies could make Vitamin D.

Genetics also shows that humans, as a species, nearly went extinct at least twice.  We’re inbred apes, pure and simple, because of bullshit patriarchy and polygamy as well as sticking with kindreds.  Yeah, I get that kindreds were needed back then to survive, but our genetic diversity as a species is sorely lacking because of it.

Racism as We Know it Today Was Nonexistent

Racism–that is, judging people on their physical appearance and skin color–was virtually nonexistent in Viking and Early Medieval times.  People were judged according to their belief system and their allegiances, not their skin color.  We know this because Marco Polo seldom mentioned skin color unless it added something to the story.  Race was considered as religion.  You were considered a different “race” if you were Heathen, Jewish, Christian, or some other religion.  That gave people the excuse for barbaric acts (like they seldom needed an excuse?).

Not All Vikings Were White

We know that there was at least one “black” Viking, and yes, there are people who have Mongolian genetics in Iceland from him. We know that our Viking ancestors explored, traded, raided, raped, and pillaged all the way south to Africa, east well into Asia, north to Greenland, and west to North America.  They found wives and husbands among indigenous folk and settled in those lands.

Some of our northern ancestors added the gods and religions to our pagan practices.  Some fully adopted the other religions.  We have Viking hoards with Buddha statues and other religious objects.

Heathen Religion in the Grand Scheme of Things

Now, given the facts I’ve presented (and if you have the doubts as to the veracity of my statements, I back them up in the links provided above), Heathens were pretty willing to take in others who swore allegiance to their leaders and their gods.  It made a kindred stronger.

Our northern ancestors practiced a religion that came from an offshoot of a Proto Indo-European religion.  That evolved from a much earlier Nostratic pantheon. The further back we go, the fewer religions we have.  The fact that there are so many similarities in the Indo-European religions suggests that the ideas and gods came from a central source going back tens of thousands of years.

So, Let’s Talk Folkish

So, how does folkishness fit here?  If you say it doesn’t, you get a star.  Our northern ancestors didn’t differentiate where you came from.  What they did care about was your religion and your loyalties.  What was your kindred and whether you were a friend or foe.  Given the overall dissemination of Nordic genes, we can assume that everyone had ancestors that lived in the overall Viking sphere of influence, including African tribes and Mongols.  Even if this weren’t so, if someone who joined up with the Vikings, raided with them, and worshiped their gods, you can bet they would’ve had status in a kindred.

Segregation or Apartheid, Anyone?

If you take a chapter from history, what the folkish people are doing is the “separate but equal” bullshit that we saw in the United States in the form of segregation.  Or the South African Apartheid.  They’re saying, “Our religion is for white Europeans, but you have your own traditions.  Go do those.”  They  shut out people just because of the random chance that they were born with different colored skin.

You are on the Razor’s Edge with this if You’re Folkish

Folkish people, you may not be Nazis, but you are so on a razor’s edge with this.  What you are doing is racism, pure and simple.  If a black person hears the call of Thor, shouldn’t he or she be allowed to practice Heathenry?  If the answer is “no, because of their ethnicity” then yes, I am calling you a bigot.  Why can’t a black person be a Heathen?  Don’t give me that’s not their religion — they should stick to African religions.  That is complete and utter bullshit.  Separate is NOT equal.  We know this from history.  People fought hard to end segregation, and you’re dragging Heathenry down with your bigoted beliefs.

Furthermore, separate but equal is bullshit because we’re all the same race.  We’re the same people with minor genetic variations.  We are Homo sapiens, people. Most of us have a small amount of Neanderthal and Denisovian genes in our DNA, making us not even pure Homo sapiens but a mutt of different races.  Hel, that makes Neanderthals more enlightened than you.

Okay, I’ve railed enough on this.  If you’re folkish, I hope I’ve enlightened you why you’re racist even if you think you’re not.  If you are looking at anyone’s ethnicity and determining whether someone can do something based on it or not, you are a fucking racist.  Period.

 

Pop Culture Heathens

Pop Culture Heathens

Quick, without Googling, name five Heathen gods or goddesses other than Odin, Thor, Freyja, Loki, or Hel.  Now, assuming you didn’t cheat, can you tell me whether they’re Aesir, Vanir, Alfar, or Jotunn? (Again without Googling.)

If the names came easily to you, chances are you’ve been in Heathenry awhile.  If you’ve equivocated on some of the races of the gods, chances are you’ve been in Heathenry for years.

However, if you really can’t name five, let alone understand why anyone would equivocate on what race some of the gods were, then you’re probably new at this.  You may have come to Heathenry through pop culture, either from watching one of the Thor movies or watching Vikings.  And that’s okay.

Neophyte Heathens and Asa-popes

The other day, I was talking to an agnostic on Facebook (yeah, you know who you are) who quizzed me about being a real Heathen.  I wasn’t really bothered by it, but it got me to thinking about the Neo-Heathens who have joined Heathenry from watching pop culture movies and TV shows about Vikings and the gods.  (Marvel springs to mind.)  I also started thinking about the tendency for certain people in our religion to declare themselves gatekeepers or Asa-popes.  Inevitably, there’s a clash between the Asa-popes and the neo-Heathens, because the Asa-popes and Gatekeepers are annoyed with the neophytes. They are annoyed that someone would show interest in our religion because of some pop culture reference.

Loki wives.  Not historical. Neo-pagans.  Neo-Heathens.  None of this is particularly new.  So, the Asa-popes discourage the newbies, and the newbies think all Heathens are asshats.

That’s Fine, Except…

That would all be well and good, except Heathens are pretty much a drop in the overall pagan pool.  We don’t have the numbers to turn anyone legitimately seeking knowledge away. (Except the neo Nazis, whom we really don’t want.)  Heathenry and all its forms (with the exception of the white supremacists) might equal 250,000 in the world.  If that.

The Good Old Days of Heathenry

Back in the good old days when Heathenry flourished and people were lucky to live to 50 years old, there weren’t any Asa-popes telling people what to believe.  Sure, there were gythias and gothis, but they weren’t connected by some universal Church. Some gods and goddesses were worshiped over others; some stories were told in some parts that weren’t told in others. When the Vikings went to new lands, they’d add gods and goddesses from those pantheons.  Or maybe they figured that the names of those gods matched the Heathen gods.  We have some artifacts that show the Christian god being worshiped alongside Thor for a time.

My point is that people back then didn’t have a single view of the gods.  Like now, they chose their own traditions and their own gods to believe in.  The concept of organized religion occurred with the growth of cities and with priesthoods looking to grab power and keep themselves within the power structure. Sure, you had shamans and whatnot doing the power thing if you were in a tribe, but I suspect most Heathens revered ancestors and tutelary spirits, with an occasional major god or goddess thrown in for good measure.

So, How Does This Work for Today?

Heathens weren’t a particular picky bunch when it came to revering gods and goddesses.  How you came to what kind of gods you worshiped was probably your own business and really not worried about, as long as you weren’t a dickhead about it.  You were pretty much considered a Heathen if you believed in the Heathen gods–as far as we know, you didn’t get singled out because you believed that Thor was better than Odin, or you worshiped Perun or Frau Holle.  Hel, our ancestors probably gave you a pass if you revered Loki as long as you were part of the kindred.  When you started identifying with Christian ideals that were aimed at destroying Heathenism, that’s when they got a bit tetchy about it.

So, when I look at where new Heathens are coming from, I shrug and think that they have to come from somewhere.  If not from pop culture, then where?  See, I think a lot of Heathens, especially recons, don’t give our gods enough credit.  Who is to say that Bragi didn’t inspire the original writers at Marvel to dip into Nordic mythology and bring Thor to life on comic book pages?  Who says that Odin couldn’t have given the mead of poetry to the writer of Vikings?  And who can say that the interest in our gods in pop culture isn’t fueled by the gods, themselves?

But It’s Not Right!

At this point, I can hear the recons screaming: It’s NOT right!  The stories are screwed up! You know, you’re right.  The stories aren’t the legend and myths, and they don’t portray the gods exactly according to our beliefs.  Doesn’t matter.  They have piqued an interest in our gods and the Heathen ways that cannot be denied.  Sure, some will become interested in the context of the movies, the shows, or the graphic novels and that’s all.  Some may blend the pop culture and the legends together.  But some will dig deeper and explore what it is like to be Heathen.  Those are the ones we need to foster.

What About Pop Culture Heathens?

So, what should we do about pop culture Heathens?  Nothing.  Let them have their fun.  Do you actually think that all Heathens were serious followers of our gods?  If they were, then why was it so damn easy for Christianity to take hold?  Christianity took hold because the powers that be declared it their religion.  The masses joined up because that’s what kept them in good graces.

So, that’s my take on the neo-Heathens from pop culture.  As usual, your mileage may vary.

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Medieval People Were Prejudiced (Just Not the Way You Think)

Medieval People Were Prejudiced (Just Not the Way You Think)

Our medieval and Viking ancestors were a prejudiced lot.  They routinely attacked, enslaved, and killed people who weren’t like them.  Furthermore, there was a lot of fear associated with those who were not like them.  Does this sound familiar?

If you haven’t read my posts, you’re probably thinking that I’m talking about their prejudice and how it had to do with race.  (Never mind that race is a construct.)  But, you’d be wrong.  I’m talking about their prejudices when it came to beliefs.  Particularly, religious beliefs.

What’s a Color?

People in Medieval times didn’t think much in terms of skin color.  Those who traveled through lands where the Mongols, Indians, and other peoples lived didn’t bother describing the color of the skin or the superficial characteristics that people nowadays seem to pay attention to.  In fact, it was common for people to believe that the skin color was changeable and had to do with where you lived rather than what “race” you were from. It was genuinely thought that if you lived in the area long enough, you too would have the same types of features and skin pigments.  Maybe it had to do with your skin tanning if you were out in the sun?

Those who traveled abroad and kept journals seldom, if ever, mentioned the color of the skin, unless it was pertinent to the story at hand, such as using something such as white markings on the skin to mark where the opponent was going to cut.  Marco Polo mentioned skin color or other defining features only 10 times in his writings, and all had to do not with the color, but with defining a particular action or to clarify why something was done (like the white markings on dark skin) so it made sense to the reader.

Race was an Odd Concept Back Then

Race actually encompassed not color, but religion and even the station in one’s life. For example, nobles were considered another race entirely from  serfs and even freemen, Christians were considered a different race from Pagans, and clans were considered different races from each other.  In one of my posts, I talk about the “differences” between the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotunn.  In our modern way of thinking, they come from the same “race” or same stock — the Jotunn actually intermarry with the gods and beget other gods.  What makes the Aesir and Jotunn different races is their clans, kindreds, and beliefs.

Rig in Great-grandfather's Cottage In the Rígsþula, a story where Heimdall sleeps with three women from three different houses and begets Þræll, Karl, and Jarl, we see that even though these are all children of Heimdall, they are considered very distinct and different.  They aren’t just separate classes, but actual separate “races” that should never mingle, even though technically they could have children, should they do.

People Traveled (Surprise!)

People had feet (now, there’s a surprise) and they actually journeyed to other lands, even in the Viking Age. Sure, there were people who stayed stuck at home, (serfs and slaves, for example), but the Middle Ages was a happening time.  People went on pilgrimages.  Traders who sought a livelihood by bringing goods from the East certainly traveled. Many spices people used didn’t grow where they lived — someone had to travel to get the goods and bring them back.  (As an aside, did you know spices were considered so valuable that people locked them up?)

We know that people from Africa, both Christian and Muslim, traveled in Europe. Coins from Africa turned up in Europe and yes, even England.  I’ve seen a Viking cache with a Buddha statue in it.  People encountered other races all the time.  If you’ve read the tragedy of Othello, you know that he is a “Moor,” that is, black.  You don’t get racial overtones from that play and even though Shakespeare lived in the 16th century, which was more the Renaissance than the Middle Ages, you can already see that having a black person as a tragic hero wasn’t a far stretch for people.

You’re Not of the Body!

Philpot, Glyn Warren; Richard I Leaving England for the Crusades, 1189; Parliamentary Art Collection People didn’t really care about color.  Instead, they cared about who you were allied with and what your religion was.  Consider the Crusades.  It wasn’t against people of Arabic descent.  It was against the Muslims taking Jerusalem.  Now, granted when Crusaders went on the Crusade, they would consider sacking just about any city that looked different, but that is more unfamiliarity and the desire to earn wealth.  (Many Crusaders were willing to overlook the moral implications of sacking another Christian city, if it meant gold.)

We know that slave trade existed, but Christians generally didn’t own Christians; they owned Pagans, Jews, and Muslims.  Muslims generally didn’t own Muslims; they owned Christians, Jews, or people of other beliefs.  The Vikings had a huge slavery economy (because someone had to tend the farms while they were off raiding) and the slaves were (surprise!) Christian and Muslim.  I won’t say that there weren’t exceptions (there were), but those were the rules (more like guidelines, actually) and if you were of a particular belief, you generally didn’t own someone of that same belief.

People also cared about where you came from and who you were allied with.  As countries started to solidify, you had people being more nationalistic, like the English considering themselves one country. There were still “others” in the country: Pagans, Jews, Muslims, heretics, and other beliefs. Those were different and were considered “less than” those who were Christian. (Note: it was not race, but religion that separated them.  You could easily move from those “others” to Christian if you swore by the beliefs and weren’t labeled a heretic.)

Vikings made this concept very clear when it came to raiding.  Other people hated them not because they were blond and fair-skinned (and not all were), but because they were pagan, raided the heck out of them, and held different allegiances. What ended the Viking era was that they found lands and became assimilated into the cultures they conquered.

What’s the Point?

The point is that yes, our ancestors were prejudiced, but they divided the world into those who held their beliefs and those who didn’t, those who were in their class and those who weren’t, and those who were in a particular kindred, clan, or followed a certain leader, and those who didn’t.  Note that there really wasn’t a distinction when it came to color or “race.”  Race to them was something that distinguished them from the “other.”  But the “other” had to do with beliefs and not physical characteristics.