Fandom

Religion Wiki

Germanic paganism

34,278pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.

Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age up until their Christianization during the Mediaeval period. It has been described as being "a system of interlocking and closely interrelated religious worldviews and practices rather than as one indivisible religion" and as such consisted of "individual worshippers, family traditions and regional cults within a broadly consistent framework".[1]

Germanic paganism took various different forms in each different area of the Germanic world. The best documented version was that of 10th and 11th century Norse paganism, although other information can be found from Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic sources. Scattered references are also found in the earliest writings of other Germanic peoples and Roman descriptions. The information can be supplemented with archaeological finds and remnants of pre-Christian beliefs in later folklore.

Being pagan in nature, Germanic paganism was polytheistic, with some underlying similarities to other Indo-European traditions. Many of the deities found in Germanic paganism appeared under similar names across the Germanic peoples, most notably the god known to the Germans as Wodan, to the Anglo-Saxons as Woden, and to the Norse as Odin, as well as the god known to the Germans as Donar, to the Anglo-Saxons as Þunor and to the Norse as Thor.

History

Pre-Migration Period

The Common Germanic period begins with the European Iron Age, contemporary to the Celtic La Tene culture to the south, growing out of earlier traditions of the Nordic Bronze Age. Early Germanic history remains in the prehistoric period until the earliest descriptions in Roman ethnography in the 1st century BCE.

Caesar

The earliest forms of the Germanic religion can only be speculated on based on archaeological evidence and comparative religion. The first written description is in Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. He contrasts the elaborate religious custom of the Gauls with the simpler Germanic traditions.

The Germans differ much from these usages, for they have neither Druids to preside over sacred offices, nor do they pay great regard to sacrifices. They rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon; they have not heard of the other deities even by report.The Gallic War (6.21)[2]

Caesar's description contrasts with other information on the early Germanic tribes and is not given much weight by modern scholars. It is worth mentioning his note that Mercury (Lugus) is the principal god of the Gauls:

They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions.The Gallic War (6.17)[2]

The worship of deities identified by the Romans with Mercury (Woden) seems to have been prominent among the northerly tribes.

Tacitus

A much more detailed description of Germanic religion is Tacitus' Germania, dating to the 1st century.

Tacitus describes both animal and human sacrifice. He identifies the chief Germanic god with the Roman Mercury, who on certain days receives human sacrifices, while gods identified by Tacitus with Hercules and Mars receive animal sacrifice. The largest Germanic tribe, Suebians, also make sacrifices, allegedly of captured Roman soldiers, to a goddess who is identified by Tacitus with "TYR"

Another goddess, Nerthus, is revered by Reudignians, Aviones, Angles, Varinians, Eudoses, Suardones and Nuithones. Nerthus is believed to directly interpose in human affairs. Her sanctuary is on an island, specifically in a wood called Castum. A chariot covered with a curtain is dedicated to the goddess, and only the high priest may touch it. The priest is capable of seeing the goddess enter the chariot. Drawn by cows, the chariot travels through the countryside, and wherever the goddess visits, a great feast is held. During the travel of the goddess, the Germanic tribes cease all hostilities, and do not lay their hands upon arms. When the priest declares that the goddess is tired of conversation with mortals, the chariot returns and is washed, together with the curtains, in a secret lake. The goddess is also washed. The slaves who administer this purification are afterwards thrown into the lake.[3]

According to Tacitus, the Germanic tribes think of temples as unsuitable habitations for gods, and they do not represent them as idols in human shape. Instead of temples, they consecrate woods or groves to individual gods.

Divination and augury was very popular:

To the use of lots and auguries, they are addicted beyond all other nations. Their method of divining by lots is exceedingly simple. From a tree which bears fruit they cut a twig, and divide it into two small pieces. These they distinguish by so many several marks, and throw them at random and without order upon a white garment. Then the Priest of the community, if for the public the lots are consulted, or the father of a family about a private concern, after he has solemnly invoked the Gods, with eyes lifted up to heaven, takes up every piece thrice, and having done thus forms a judgment according to the marks before made. If the chances have proved forbidding, they are no more consulted upon the same affair during the same day: even when they are inviting, yet, for confirmation, the faith of auguries too is tried. Yea, here also is the known practice of divining events from the voices and flight of birds. But to this nation it is peculiar, to learn presages and admonitions divine from horses also. These are nourished by the State in the same sacred woods and groves, all milk-white and employed in no earthly labour. These yoked in the holy chariot, are accompanied by the Priest and the King, or the Chief of the Community, who both carefully observed his actions and neighing. Nor in any sort of augury is more faith and assurance reposed, not by the populace only, but even by the nobles, even by the Priests. These account themselves the ministers of the Gods, and the horses privy to his will. They have likewise another method of divination, whence to learn the issue of great and mighty wars. From the nation with whom they are at war they contrive, it avails not how, to gain a captive: him they engage in combat with one selected from amongst themselves, each armed after the manner of his country, and according as the victory falls to this or to the other, gather a presage of the whole.

The reputation of Tacitus' Germania is somewhat marred as a historical source by the writer's rhetorical tendencies. The main purpose of his writing seems to be to hold up examples of virtue and vice for his fellow Romans rather than give a truthful ethnographic or historical account. While Tacitus' interpretations are sometimes dubious, the names and basic facts he reports are credible; Tacitus touches on several elements of Germanic culture known from later sources. Human and animal sacrifice is attested by archaeological evidence and medieval sources. Rituals tied to natural features are found both in medieval sources and in Nordic folklore. A ritual chariot or wagon as described by Tacitus was excavated in the Oseberg find. Sources from medieval times until the 19th century point to divination by making predictions or finding the will of the gods from randomized phenomena as a tradition among Germanic cultures.

While there is rich archaeological and linguistic evidence of earlier Germanic religious ideas, these sources are all mute, and cannot be interpreted with much confidence. Seen in light of what we know about the medieval survival of the Germanic religions as practiced by the Nordic nations, some educated guesses may be made. However, the presence of marked regional differences make generalization of any such reconstructed belief or practice a risky venture.

We do know, however, that in Tacitus' day the Germans discerned a divinity of prophecy in women, and virgin prophetesses, such as Veleda, were honored as true and living goddesses.

Migration Period

During the Migration Period, Germanic religion was subject to syncretic influence from Christianity and Mediterranean culture.[4]

Jordanes' Getica is a 6th century account of the Goths, written a century and a half after Christianity largely replaced the older religions among the Goths. According to the Getica, the chief god of the Goths was Mars, who they believed was born among them:

Now Mars has always been worshipped by the Goths with cruel rites, and captives were slain as his victims. They thought that he who is the lord of war ought to be appeased by the shedding of human blood. To him they devoted the first share of the spoil, and in his honor arms stripped from the foe were suspended from trees. And they had more than all other races a deep spirit of religion, since the worship of this god seemed to be really bestowed upon their ancestor. — Getica

Saint Columbanus in the 6th century encountered a beer sacrifice to Woden in Bregenz. In the 8th century, the Germanic Saxons venerated an Irminsul. Charlemagne is reported to have destroyed the Saxon Irminsul in 772.

The Old High German Merseburg Incantations, the only pre-Christian testimony in the German language, contains a Sinthgunt who is the sister of the sun maiden Sunna (Sól). She is not known by name in Nordic mythology, and if she refers to the moon, she is then different from the Scandinavian (Mani), who is male. Further, Nanna is mentioned.

The Goths were converted to Arianism in the 4th century, contemporaneous to the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire itself.

Unfortunately, due to their early conversion to Christianity, little is known about the particulars of the religion of the East Germanic peoples, separated from the remaining Germanic tribes during the Migration period. Such knowledge would be suited to distinguish Proto-Germanic elements from later developments present in both North and West Germanic.

The Franks, Alamanni, Anglo-Saxons, Saxons, and Frisians were Christianized between the 6th and the 10th century. By the end of the 10th century, only the Scandinavians and the Finnish tribes remained pagan.

Viking age

Early medieval North Germanic Scandinavian (Viking age) paganism is much better documented than its predecessors, notably via the records of Norse mythology in the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, as well as the sagas, written in Iceland during 1150 - 1400.

Sacrifices were known as blót, seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods, and attempts were made to predict the coming season. Similar events were sometimes arranged in times of crisis, for much the same reasons.[5][6]

The goddess Frijja seems to have split into the two different, clearly related goddesses Frigg and Freyja. In Nordic mythology there are certain vestiges of an early stage where they were one and the same, such as husbands Óðr/Óðinn, their shamanistic skills and Freyja/Frigg's infidelity.[7]

Middle ages

In 1000 CE, Iceland became nominally Christian, although continuation of pagan worship in private was tolerated. Most of Scandinavia was Christianized during the 11th century. Adam von Bremen gives the last report of vigorous Norse paganism.[6] Sometimes, the subjects of a lord who converted to Christianity refused to follow his lead (this happened to the Swedish kings Olof of Sweden, Anund Gårdske and Ingold I) and would sometimes force the lord to rescind his conversion (e.g. Haakon the Good).[8] The attempt of the deposed Christian monarch Olaf II of Norway to retake the throne resulted in a bloody civil war in Norway, which ended in the battle of Stiklestad (1030). In Sweden, in the early 1080s, Inge I was deposed by popular vote for not wanting to sacrifice to the gods, and replaced by his brother-in-law Blot-Sweyn (literally "Sweyn the Sacrificer").[9] After three years of exile, Inge returned in secret to Old Uppsala and during the night the Christians surrounded the royal hall with Blot-Sweyn inside and set it on fire.[10][11] However, Inge did not immediately regain his throne and the pagan Eirik Arsale briefly came into power[9] before being usurped by Inge.

In France, the French King Louis d'Outremer crushed a revolt by pagan Normans led by a certain Thormod (Tormod, Turmod),[12] a renegade Christian who sought to make a pagan of the young duke Richard of Normandy[13] (943).

During the High Middle Ages, Scandinavian paganism became marginalized and blended into rural folklore. In folklore and legend, elements of Germanic mythology survived, and appears in the guise of fairy tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm and other folk tales and customs, as well as in medieval courtly literature.

Sources

Most sources documenting Germanic paganism have presumably been lost. From Iceland there is substantial literature, namely the Nordic Sagas and the Eddas, relating to the pagan period, but most of this was written long after Iceland's conversion to Christianity. Some information is found in the Nibelungenlied. The literary source closest to the pagan period may be Beowulf, which some scholars believe was composed as early as the eighth century, and therefore within living memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Limited information also exists in Tacitus' ethnographic work Germania.

Further material has been deduced from customs found in surviving rural folk traditions that have either been mildly superficially Christianized or lightly modified, including surviving laws and legislature (Althing, Anglo-Saxon law, the Grágás), calendar dates, customary folktales and traditional symbolism found in folk art

A great deal of information has been unearthed by recent archaeology, including the Anglo-Saxon pagan Sutton Hoo royal funerary site in East Anglia and the royal pagan temple at Gefren/Yeavering in Northumberland. The traditional ballads of the Northumbrian/Scottish borders, and their European counterparts, have also preserved many aspects of Germanic pagan belief. As York Powell wrote, "The very scheme on which the ballads and lays are alike built, the hapless innocent death of a hero or heroine, is as heathen as the plot of any Athenian tragedy can be."

Although perhaps singularly most responsible for the destruction of pagan sites, including massacres, such as the Massacre of Verden and the subsequent dismantling of ancient tribal ruling systems, the Frankish emperor Charlemagne of The Holy Roman Empire is said to have acquired a substantial collection of Germanic pagan songs, which was deliberately destroyed after his death by his successor, Louis the Pious.[14]

Mythology

Deities

Germanic paganism was polytheistic, revolving around the veneration of various deities. Some deities were worshipped widely across the Germanic lands, albeit under different names. Other deities were simply local to a specific locality, and are mentioned in both Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic texts, in the latter of which they are described as being "the land spirits that live in this land".[15]

The Ansiwiz similar to the Roman Dii Consentes appear as a limited circle of powerful beings, deities or remote ancestors.

  • Teiwaz, god of war, "Germanic Mars", Norse Tyr, Old English Tiw, Old High German Ziu, continues Indo-European Dyeus.
  • Wōdanaz, "lord of poetic/mantic inspiration", "Germanic Mercury", Norse Óðinn (Odin), Old English Woden, Old High German Wuotan.
  • Frijjō, wife of Wodanaz, Norse Frigg. "wife", c.f. Sanskrit priyā "mistress, wife". Probably also addressed as Frawjō "lady" (Norse Freyja).
  • Fraujaz. "lord", c.f. Norse Freyr
  • Þunaraz, "thunder", "Germanic Jupiter", Norse Þórr (Thor), West Germanic Donar, Old English Thunor.
  • possibly Austrō, goddess of dawn and springtime.

Heavenly bodies may have been deified, including Sowilo the Sun, Mænon the Moon, and perhaps Auziwandilaz the evening star.

Religious practices

Worship and sacrifice

Across the Germanic world, there was some variation in the places where pagans worshipped, however, it was common for sites displaying prominent natural features to be used. Tacitus claimed that the 1st century tribes of Germany did not "confine the gods within walls... but that they worshipped outdoors in sacred woods and groves",[16] and similarly there is evidence from later continental Europe, Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia that the pagans worshipped out of doors at "trees, groves, wells, stones, fences and cairns".[17] In some later cases, temples would be built on such sites, the most notable being the Swedish Temple at Uppsala which, according to Adam of Bremen, writing in the 11th century, was built around a grove which was "so holy that each tree is itself regarded as sacred".[18]

Images of the various gods played a part in worship, although Tacitus noted that whilst amongst the early Germans "effigies" were used and even taken into battle, they were not "human [in] appearance".[19] Surviving examples of Germanic effigies, such as the phallic idol recovered in a bog in Broddenbjerg, Denmark, show that amongst some of the continental Germanic peoples at least, religious idols were naturally anthropomorphic wooden shapes that had been roughly carved to make their appearance more humanoid.[20]

At their sacred sites, Germanic pagans widely practiced ritual sacrifice to their deities. This was often in the form of a blood sacrifice such as that of an animal, but also sometimes that of a human being. Tacitus recorded that the early German tribes in the 1st century practiced public human sacrifices "in a grove hallowed by auguries of the fathers".[21] The practice of human sacrifice, often associated with sacred groves or trees, would continue amongst the pagan Germanic peoples for at least the next millennia, for there are several surviving accounts of animal sacrifice amongst the Norse, for instance, Adam of Bremen stated that at the temple of Uppsala in Sweden:

{| |:The sacrifice is like this: Of all the living beings that are male, nine head are offered; by whose blood it is the custom to appease the gods. Their bodies, however, are hung in a grove which is beside the temple. The grove is so sacred to the heathen that the individual trees in it are believed to be holy because of the death or putrefaction of the sacrifical victims. There, even dogs and horses dangle beside people, their bodies hanging jumbled together.[22] | |}

Burial

In certain cases, slaves were killed alongside their masters at death. Such cases have been found from Anglo-Saxon England,[23] and are also recorded in the 10th century account of Ibn Fadlan, who witnessed a ship burial amongst the Rus tribe in which a willing female slave who had belonged to the deceased was treated like royalty, becoming drunk and having sex with whichever men she chose, before she was simultaneously strangled and stabbed to death and then burned upon her master's pyre.[24]

Festivals

There was no singular unifying set of festivals across the pagan Germanic world. Despite this, these festivals likely all held a similar function and structure, described by Thor Ewing as being "a public celebration of the divine, where the local community or the nation renewed its bonds through sacred worship... In renewing the people's pact with the divine, they also renewed their sense of community".[25]

Tacitus relates that the early Germans celebrated only three seasons, the equivalents to spring, summer and winter,[26] whilst the Law Book of Iceland, from a thousand years later, indicates that the pagan Germanic Icelanders divided the year only into summer and winter.[27]

Modern influence

Elements of Germanic paganism have survived for centuries after Christianization, particularly in Germanic given names, in toponymy, and in the names of the days of the week. It has also played an influence in the 18th century artistic movement known as Romanticism, as well as the founding of several 20th century Neopagan religions which take their basis from historical Germanic paganism.

Days of the week

Five of the seven days of the week in English, Dutch, and the Nordic languages, and four of the seven days of the week in German and Finnish are named after the old Germanic deities. For instance, in English, the day Wednesday is named after the god Woden, having originated from the Old English Wodnesdæg, meaning Woden's Day. Similarly, in modern Norwegian, Wednesday is known as Onsdag, named after Woden's Norse counterpart, Odin.

Toponyms

Theophoric toponyms in England include Woodway House, Wansdyke, Wednesbury and Thundersley. Scandinavia has many theophoric placenames, in particular named after Odin or after Thor.

Romanticism

The religion of the Germanic pagans, and in particular their mythologies, provided the basis for much of the artistic endeavours of the Romanticist movement. For instance, Wagner's Ring Cycle is based upon Germanic mythology.

See also

Notes

  1. Ewing, Thor. (2008). Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World. Page 9. Tempus.
  2. 2.0 2.1 De Bello Gallico, Liber VI (in Latin)
  3. Tacitus' Germania, Chapter 40
  4. Russell, James (1994). The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 272. http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/HistoryofChristianity/Medieval/?view=usa&ci=9780195104660. 
  5. See Viga-Glum’s Saga (Ch.26), Hakon the Good’s Saga (Ch.16), Egil’s Saga (Ch. 65), etc.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Adam of Bremen. Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae pontificium Book IV. pp. Ch.26–28. 
  7. Davidson, H.R. Ellis (1965). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin. pp. 110–124. ISBN 978-0140136272. 
  8. Þorgilsson, Ari. Íslendingabók. pp. Ch.7, etc.. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Saga of Sigurd the Crusader and His Brothers Eystein and Olaf Ch.28, etc.
  10. Orkneyinga saga
  11. For a slightly different account of the same incident see The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek (c. 1325), in translation by Nora Kershaw.
  12. British Numismatic Society, The British numismatic journal: including the Proceedings of the British Numismatic Society, Volume 41, British Numismatic Society, 1972
  13. Knights of Columbus. Catholic Truth Committee - Charles George Herbermann - The Catholic encyclopedia: an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the Catholic Church, Volume 11, Encyclopedia Press, 1913
  14. Catholic Encyclopedia: Charlemagne, "Einhard tells us that he caused the ancient folksongs and hero-tales (barbara atque antiquissima carmina) to be collected; unfortunately this collection ceased to be appreciated and was lost at a later date."
  15. Ewing, Thor (2008). Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World. Page 47. Tempus
  16. Tacitus, Germania (Chapter 9)
  17. Ewing (2008:44)
  18. Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgenis (Bk 4, ch 26)
  19. Tacitus, Germania (Chapter 7)
  20. Ewing (2008:51)
  21. Ewing (2008:17)
  22. Ewing (2008:15)
  23. Hutton (1991:274)
  24. Jones and Pennick (1995:138)
  25. Ewing (2008:79)
  26. Tacitus. Germanis (26)
  27. Jones and Pennick (1995:122)

References

  • Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (1835)
  • Peter Buchholz (1968) Perspectives for Historical Research in Germanic Religion, History of Religions, vol. 8, no. 2, 111-138.
  • Richard North, Pagan words and Christian meanings (Cambridge, Univ., Diss., 1987, a study on pre-Christian Germanic concepts of mind and soul, and on Christian reinterpretations of paganism), Rodopi, 1991, ISBN 9789051833058.
Smallwikipedialogo
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Germanic paganism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki