Friday, September 21, 2012

Odinism: a reflection

I just finished reading "Odinism The Religion of Our Germanic Ancestors in the Modern World" by Wyatt Kaldenberg on my kindle.  I'm not going to call this a review, but a thoughts on it after having read it.

The first thing I have to say is that I am glad I slogged through (okay, I skipped past) the first big section of this book.  I really had no desires to read a bunch of quotes about how Heathens hate Islam (and to a lesser extent Christians, Jews and Wiccans).  It was a pretty big chunk, I would guesstimate about a third of the book.

But once that was over, I thought there were some really good points brought up.  I also liked the no nonsense voice of the author (probably a bit abrasive for some, but I like snark).  Wyatt makes no bones about speaking for all Heathens, nor even about there being a cohesive "Heathendom".  He actually suggests that diversity is desirable, and that everyone should explore their own expression of their Heathen faith and practices.

The biggest thing I walked away with was a really interesting explanation of deity evolution.  The author talked about how the Gods adapted to the evolution of the people.  Wyatt's premise starts with Yggdrasil being a sort of spiritual creator for our world (with there being other trees for other worlds).  As people developed and had needs, a god or spirit would be created to fill that need.  So when man started using tools, a god (Odin) was formed to represent the basic tool (a pointed stick...spear) and what it represented (war, hunting, innovation).  Man also used clubs (Thor), but they weren't as useful in the beginning (spears had the advantage of deadliness) so Odin was a mightier god than Thor.  There were no swords yet so no Tyr (this whole thing was kind of an explanation of why he felt Odin was an older god and more important than Tyr).

He then goes on to talk about how man started to develop different technologies:  flint napping, metal forging, agriculture.  As each came about, the gods changed and adapted, and sometimes their positions in relation to each other changed.  Here we come back to Tyr, and when the sword became the prominent weapon, Tyr rose in power.  But as people became less hunters and more agrarian, the Vanir grew in popularity and Frey comes into the picture. 

This evolution was taken into the present.  We no longer fight with swords and spear, nor are we a farmer society.  Why would the gods have stopped the evolution they had shown and not picked up the tools and resources of the new age.  Would not Odin (god of knowledge) be tapped into the internet?  Would not Ullr (god of hunting) take up hunting rifles?

I think this is a really potent thought.  There is a lot of anachronism in the Pagan world.  A lot of people really approach their faith from an antiquated perspective.  It's like the whole concept of deities couldn't possibly have matured with us.  Sure there are spells and rituals for modern things, but they almost always call upon ancient gods that are kind of slotted into modern usage.  And yet, our perception of them is almost always ancient in nature.  If you call upon Epona (horse goddess) to help you acquire a new car (figuring that horses were a main form of transportation), do you visualize Epona riding in a shiny mustang...or on a brown mustang?

I have always understood deities to be people.  In the sense that they have personalities and lives outside of their archetypal attributes.  I think they have their own motivations and interests.  I definitely think they evolve and mature as the world does.  It just makes no sense in my mind that deities would be stuck in a primitive state.  I do think that some may have a certain fondness for their glory days, if you will.  Sort of like the big football start from high school, who grows up and becomes a banking investor, may always remember those high school years as the 'best time of his life', and sometimes he likes to put on his old jersy and relive those experiences.

Wyatt also had a lovely section of prayers.  I agree with him, that prayer in the Pagan world can be something fraught with controversy.  Which I think is ridiculous.  People think of Christianity when you say the world prayer, but what is prayer except talking to deity?  And if you aren't talking to your deity, what are you doing with them (and why should they listen when you ask for something in a spell)?  Prayer is one of those things that I sort of struggled with, but I found that if I just let go of all concepts I had with the word prayer, and just lit a candle and started talking, I would do just fine. 

The prayers included in this book mostly revolve around  the concept of Gebo:  the gift exchange.  It is more than just a social convention, it is an obligation.  A gift deserves an equal gift in return.  Wyatt works this into daily offerings.  He gives offerings with two intentions it seems.  Firstly as a gift in return for the gifts of his daily life, and secondly as a gift given to encourage future abundance in return.  In some ways this may sound quite mercenary, but I really think it depends on how you think about the exchange.  If you approach it as a child might thinking "If I give you this toy, then you have to give me that ice cream I want," then I think you are in for some disappointment.  However, if you approach it as an act of love and respect, like you might give something to your spouse knowing that they will give you things in response because they also love you but not expecting anything in particular, then it becomes something else entirely.

The book ended with a list of beliefs and oaths expressing these.  I skimmed this part too, because they were just a touch too exclusive for me.  I have a lot of Heathen leanings, but it is not my only interest.  I approach a fusion of Heathenry with other things, and I feel it works for me.  I do have ancestors in that area, so from a "Heathenry is the worship of your ancestors and if you don't have them in this area, the gods will not speak to you" I technically count, although I don't follow that line of thought at all.  I definitely believe in spiritual ancestry:  I think you can be deeply spiritually connected to people, cultures and deities that you have no blood link to.

I was a little put off by the importance breeding had in the book, as in breeding new generations of little Heathens and raising them in the Heathen faith.  Not that I have a problem with the importance of family, nor of families raising children in their beliefs, but it just gave off the feel like the whole purpose of life is to breed more followers and that just was a bit much for me.

All in all, I think that parts of the book were brilliant though there are parts I will never fully read.  The book wasn't deleted from my kindle, but put in a folder for future reference.  If anyone was interested in reading it I would probably suggest skipping the first bit, but the rest was worth the time it took to read.


  1. I have always found 'folkish' odinism to carefull tread a line near some of the more racial versions of heathenry. They seem to feel that it is a war and that outproducing their religious enemies child bearing is important. The rest sounds interesting though.

  2. I have always wondered why reconstructionists felt like they needed to use the old rituals to talk to the Gods. I had assumed Gods evolved with us. I, too like book that make me think, even if i disagree with the author. The author then has at least done me the service of feeding my brain to generate thoughts i wouldn't otherwise have. I especially feel that way when I read Crowley.

  3. An important cross-cultural social structure identified in anthropology is that of reciprocity. You have summed it up well. Studies have even shown that supposedly altruistic actions all come with some expectation of future return. For instance, some might tithe to a church or do charity works to "store up treasures in heaven," while others might do so for a tax deduction. If it works for all humans, then why wouldn't it work for deities as well?