Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Today is Tiw's Day

So, I was bemused by an article last week about Icelandic pagans (the Asatru Association) building themself a new temple for the first time in a thousand years, to house services for the newly revived worship of the ancient Norse gods (Thor, Odin, Tyr, et al):


What struck me as odd about all this is that their high priest, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, says

he doesn’t pray to the Norse gods 
or worship them in any recognisable sense, 
nor does he believe in the literal truth of the texts 

From the description in the article, their typical gatherings sound more like a book club meeting than a religious ceremony:*

. . .  the group will gather for weekly study 
and for the five main feasts of the year 
when, . . . they will gather around a central fire,
recite the poems,** make sacrificial drink
 offerings to the gods – unlike some pagan groups 
they do not practise animal sacrifice – and feast 
on sacred horsemeat. (. . . “We have caterers.”)

On the other hand, they have their own graveyard and services for weddings and funerals, as well as a naming ceremony that serves the place of baptism, all of which sounds like a religion to me.

In any case, I was particularly struck by this piece because I'm finishing up an essay that early on in it quotes Tolkien's comments about Thor and Odin and why they don't appear in Middle-earth.*** And of course, being a Dunsanian, I was immediately reminded of his short piece "The Return of the Exiles" in FIFTY-ONE TALES [1916], in which the narrator comes across a gathering of men who are holding a sacrifice to recall Thor and Odin and honor them with a blood sacrifice. When the two gods unhappily complain "It used to be men", the worshippers shuffle uneasily, then all turn and look at the narrator, the only outsider among their midst -- who sums up his situation in one masterful phrase:

there are moments when it is clearly time to go, 
and I left then there and then.

--John R.

*a friend to whom I was describing it dubbed it 'Unitarian pagans', which is funny but probably not fair to Unitarians OR pagans.
**they use the POETIC EDDA as their testament -- and if there are some texts in there which seem an odd choice for use in a religious ceremony, the same can be said of the OLD TESTAMENT
***"The man of the twentieth century must of course see that . . . you must have gods in a story of this kind. But he can't make himself believe in gods like Thor and Odin. . . . I couldn't possibly construct a mythology which had Olympus or Asgard in it. On the terms in which the people who worshipped those gods believed." (JRRT 1965 radio BBC interview)

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