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Author Topic: Anglo-Saxon Paganism  (Read 41703 times)

Æscwulf

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Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« on: February 10, 2012, 10:50:35 AM »
I have been researching (trying to) this topic for weeks and I find it the most interesting because the information at hand is so vague. So I thought I'd make a topic on it to get everyone's opinions. 

Their gods/idols as we all know are pretty much similar to their Viking counterparts but I read somewhere (can't remember where) that basically explains that their gods could of been ordinary people like poets and warriors at some point but after many years they were revered as gods. While looking into them I start getting confused because I'm torn between thinking they are these supernatural people living in a different plane of existence to us, but then at the same point I think that they could of been the same as the Viking counterparts but different name?

On wikia I found an article of a Saxon tradition where basically they appoint a tree or an old stone tower as a place of importance called the Irminsul( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irminsul) but I don't know if this is a real piece of A-S pagan puzzle and if it is what was it really used for ? Maybe a place where the earth and sky meets the pillar creating a gateway to their gods?

But the information is so vague it's unreal but during research there's little hints that like shamanistic (maybe) and "people of Ing" but it seems that everyone outside of the tribes hated it soo much that they sought out destruction on their way of life it's like they feared it like it was a plague. Maybe we could fill in the gaps by looking at the religion of the other tribes that lived along side them?

During my journey of this topic I've got to a point where I'm asking so many questions for my brain resulting in many headaches from over thinking. I hope this is a valid opinion as I'm writing this with a huge cold.

Linden

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2012, 01:58:04 PM »
I have been researching (trying to) this topic for weeks ...........................................................

 Maybe we could fill in the gaps by looking at the religion of the other tribes that lived along side them? .............................................

I would thoroughly recommend Stephen Pollington's 'The Elder Gods' - the result of Steve having spent may years researching all of this in depth.  He has pulled together virtually every scrap of evidence and has reached some well-argued conclusions.  To do this he has looked at both earlier and parallel cultures and he provides a lengthy and helpful bibliography.  He discusses ancestor gods in a section on Woden (and Seaxnot) and the various symbols such as Irminsul and the World Tree. 

A word of warning - I can more-or-less guarantee that the book will give you yet another 'head-ache from over-thinking' ;D
Cræft biþ betere ðonne æhta

Æscwulf

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2012, 02:14:48 PM »
Eala Linden!

Thanks for the information, I'll have a look into the book when I can.


With many thanks
Æscwulf

Blackdragon

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2012, 02:33:09 PM »
Yes I second that, having just finished reading it today. I will need to read it several more times to fully appreciate the marvellous work that Stephen has put in.
As a modern day heathen (with interest in AS & Norse sources) of many years experience, I can tell you that the headaches never go away!
As a comparison check out my book Heathen Paths - which compares the sources also.
regards
Pete Jennings

Godwulf

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2012, 05:01:54 PM »
I can certainly recommend both Steve Pollington's "The Elder Gods" and Pete Jennings "Heathen Paths", having read them both.  The Elder Gods certainly needs reading several times if you're to get the best from it and it's a good book to dip in to when you need to refresh your memory. Heathen Paths gives a good insight in to modern-day heathenism, certainly here in Britain.

You'll notice that this appears to be my first contribution to the gegaderung.  I'm afraid the gegaderung elves have been playing games and deleted my account and all my post (all 5 of them)......but I'm back.  :)

leofwin

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2012, 11:43:41 AM »
Yep, 'Elder Gods' is what my son calls a 'mindblast'.

Something that intrigues me is that there seems to be some serious continuity in the social place of the druids in Iron Age society, through to Medieval Christian churchmen - I mean not just as the spiritual specialists of the community, but as political players and movers as well, not to mention teachers, scientists, healers, law-makers, poets and musicians etc.
 -  but we seem to know next to nothing about how it all worked in Anglo-Saxon society.



Was a pagan Anglo-Saxon Saxon 'priest' was just a freelancing shaman, a person of local community importance but no more than that,  or part of a larger socio-political tradition. It would be so tempting to construct a pagan Anglo-Saxon priestly class by 'joining the dots' between Iron-Age, Roman, Christian..... but we can't.

Where exactly did someone like 'Coifi' fit in.... ?

Æscwulf

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2012, 05:10:39 PM »
During my research I was under the impression that the head of the house was the 'priest' for his/her family that tought their children everything and I was beginning to think that maybe the religion was slighty different from family to family interpreting it differently from one another. But I do think that it did change slightly when they colonised Britain and eventually 'settled down' instead of raiding and fighting.

Maybe Leofwin Anglo-Saxon pagan Priests were both? A person of local community importance and freelancing shamans ?

I did a quick read up on Coifi and well I'm not to sure.

It is simply a mystery.

leofwin

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2012, 07:54:56 PM »
I think that with a 'natural' belief system you don't need a pantheon of gods, each with  their stories.

You just wonder at the sun and moon and stars, you feel there's something special about high places, deep pools, dark forests. You wonder what all the different plants and animals are there for, you're baffled by the mysteries of birth and sex and death, you fear the dark and the winter, and you give thanks for warmth and light and summer.

You feel that you don't understand much of what happens in the world around you, and you try to form relationships with the invisible forces that control it by making sacrifices to those forces and asking favours of them. you respected the knowledge and wisdom of the old, and you remembered the ancestors, who gradually grew into legendary and semi-divine beings.

It didn't matter that such basic beliefs didn't hang together philosophically particularly well: you just had an unreflecting acceptance that most of what happened was a bit of a mystery. But you trusted those people in the community who appeared to understand the mysteries of life better than you - the shamans.

I think these shamans genuinely believed that strong drink, drugs, dreams and various meditation techniques put them in touch with the 'Otherworld'. I also think that since they got a reasonably good living from this, and didn't have to work like other people, they used a few cheap tricks to fool the people (like stage magicians do today, for example, in order to convince everyone that were not to be messed with.

The big question, I think, is whether natural pagan Anglo-Saxon beliefs were ever formalised into some kind of system - were pagan priests trained, elected, appointed, as were druids before them, or Christian priests after them? And if so, by whom? Was there ever a canon of dogma which was familiar to every pagan priest north, south, west and east? Did they have a particular way of speaking, or dressing, and was there (literally) a hierarchy?

I'm beginning to suspect that such a formal hierarchy DID begin to evolve before the coming of Christianity, and that it was inspired by the Roman system. By what mechanism, for example, was the pagan seven-day week introduced? It may also have been helped along by a 'folk memory' of druidry. Perhaps the Celtic Christian 'back-and-front' tonsure was a continuation of previous druidic practice.

all just idle speculation, of course, but what do folks think?

John Nicholas Cross

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2012, 08:14:07 PM »
I totally agree with what you say, Leofwin.  I don't feel competent to say anymore, at present.    John.

ubique

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2012, 08:58:32 PM »
Our native religion would have looked diffrent from village to village region to region at diffrent times,There is no evidence for any uniform AS religion in England.We dont even know if Bedes descriptions of dietys like Estore for example is/are local dietys bede has gained information about from other monastic locations in England (Like Kent as may be the case for Estore) or that the Gods as we know them were worshiped England wide and then at local and family level worship was at a more local dietys.

Horsa

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2012, 11:09:30 PM »
One thing that seems to crop up quite regularly in most shamanic traditions is the axis mundi - the pillar of the world or world tree. Which is either a tree or a pillar right in the centre of the otherworld which holds the thing up or acts as some kind of anchoring point for the world.

I used to have a book called something along the lines of "Introduction to Shamanism". It was a thing volume and it  had various meditation exercises each with its own specific purpose. One was to help the budding shaman find his or her spirit helper and another was to contact the spirit guide which translates into guardian angel or daemon. I lent it to a friend of mine, who if I were forced to assign a particular belief system to him would call him an atheist, but he didn't really think about matters theological much. The reason, however, that I leant him the book was that he used to have the most vivid dreams which when he related them would have me in fits of laughter. It seemed he'd get more out of the shaman book than I.

Anyway, the book doesn't mention the axis mundi at all. But he told me that after he'd found his spirit helper and spirit guide he went on a flight around the otherworld and, in the centre of this world there was an enormous pillar. He flew up to the top of it and sat crosslegged on it and had a great view.

This suggests one of three things. 1. The otherworld has a pillar (or a tree) in it and that has been discovered by shamans of all cultures. 2. There's something built into the human consciousness that when he or she goes into an altered state of consciousness he or she will perceive a pillar or a tree in the centre of that internal geography. 3. he'd heard of the axis mundi at some point, forgot about it, and it resurfaced in his altered state of consciousness.

Another interesting thing about the shamans comes from Inuit practices. There they do pretty much the same things as most shamans do, but they have to make do without the mind altering substances, they've got to go there under their own steam. As Leofwin said, anthropologists from the 50's reported that they used to use sleight of hand and conjuring tricks. The lay folk were always deeply impressed by this and the anthropologists thought that they were a credulous gullible folk until they noticed that for fun, in their spare time, laypeople would use similar conjuring tricks for entertainment purposes.

The shaman sessions were therefore a psychodrama which involved a willing suspension of disbelief by the participants.

leofwin

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2012, 09:17:32 AM »
food for thought, chaps!

the 'willing suspension of disbelief' is intriguing!

re the 'pillar of the earth' idea, I read somewhere that the hallucinations brought on by ergotised bread very frequently bring visions of the 'evil old hag' - not a cultural thing, but a universal thing wired into our brains.

I agree with horsa that the most important 'otherworld beings' in pagan AS communities would almost certainly have been the spirits of local streams, trees, hills etc, and the clan ancestors.

The best candidates for 'universal' deities would logically have been the sun, moon and stars

Wulfric

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2012, 11:58:37 AM »
Quote
We dont even know if Bedes descriptions of dietys like Estore for example is/are local dietys bede has gained information about from other monastic locations in England (Like Kent as may be the case for Estore) or that the Gods as we know them were worshiped England wide and then at local and family level worship was at a more local dietys.

Doing some basic reading about Estore I'm inclined to follow the Grimm school of thought. Girmm apparently reckoned that there was a widely followed germanic cult of Estore or similar related deities under related names. He also counters the argument put forward by some that Bede made up Estore. Why he would is a mystery to me. Grimm seems to have been of the opinon that Bede left a lot of pagan beliefs and practices of which he was aware unmentioned, happy to let them fade into obscurity, sugesting that whatever else was going on in AS England the feast of Estore was one that wasn't so easy to sweep under the rug.

This rings bells for me of the frequent discussion about Yule. What then becomes interesting is when did the term Christmas take over from Yule and how did Easter keep it's pagan title rather than being converted to some form of "Pascha". Was it because it was more important to the people than Yule or does the opposite argument hold that Yule was more important and needed a more thorough makeover or from the other direction. Was Christmas just that much more important to the Church? However I’m rambling now and am dangerously under qualified and under read to answer these questions.
Wulfric

ubique

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2012, 03:37:20 PM »
Perhaps.I have no doubt Ēostre was understood on both sides of the continentbut was she worshipped by every tribe in every village in AS England? im going to say yes probably was she worshiped the same way in evry tribe or village probably not.

Even though I concur with Grimms idea I doubt the understanding and worship of Ēostre was Pan Germanic and this Pan Germanicness is something we have to be carefull with,Take Nerthus for example Tacticus makes her out to be a Pan Germanic Goddess of extreme worship and she might be and may have been at that time and place but she is not a figure in AS Paganism,why who knows.

leofwin

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Re: Anglo-Saxon Paganism
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2012, 06:13:11 PM »
I'm puzzled about the easter thing as well: Easter is even more important to Christians than Christmas, and yet the pagan name hasn't been christianized.   ???