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Note: Yes I am aware Caesar’s accounts, apart from not being 100% reliable (like Tacitus for that matter), does refer to Gauls specifically, and that this is perhaps an unfair generalisation of all Celtic tribes during the iron age re. caste, hierarchy, slaves etc. I chose to use it as an example of a society inbetween the two extremes. Also, yes, some tribes were “Germano-Celtic”, and tribes like the Belgae Celtic with Germanic characteristics/influences, so the boundary between Celts and Germans is blurred in places.
We see the same patterns occur in any cult, any dogma.
Be it in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, New Religions like Scientology, or even some attempts at paganism, we see a strict hierarchy.
The more you are able to pay into these cults, the more you can rise up in the ranks, and enter the hallowed inner circle.
If you express any free thought, a hint of dissidence, disagree with any part of the established dogma, even with the best of intentions, and in the most respectful way, you will be shunned, ostracised, cast out, perhaps worse.
Christians will see you as a heretic. Conservative Muslims will want you executed as an apostate. Scientologists will treat you as a “suppressive person”.
Meanwhile the High Priest, the Grand Master, the Supreme Leader, will continue to build a cult of personality, misleading and corrupting people, and silencing criticism or debate without hesitation, with their followers serving only to fuel the cult leader’s narcissism.
Paganism involves the “science of patterns”, but you don’t have to be a pagan, or particularly intelligent, to see these patterns repeat themselves that define anything as a dogmatic cult.
So how did hierarchy work in European pagan societies? Did they have it? Is Ancient Rome a good example? Do modern notions of “class” and “aristocracy” have anything in common with the pagan social structure?
Celts in Gaul were governed by a council of elders, as well as druids. We see fairly similar social structures in bronze age cultures that centred around a “priest-king” and similar (religious) council.
Gaulish tribes were fragmented, and rarely united under one leader except in desperate circumstances, e.g. under Vercingetorix.
According to Caesar two or more “pagi” formed confederations he referred to as “civitas” – “nation” or “tribe, in some areas tribes were ruled by the council or senate, some by a king, and in some a combination of the two.
“each man refuses to allow his own folk to be oppressed and defrauded, since otherwise he has no authority among them. The same principle holds in regard to Gaul as a whole taken together; for the whole body of states is divided into two parties.”
– Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, Book VI, Chapter 11,
“Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account and dignity. As for the common folk, they are treated almost as slaves, venturing naught of themselves, never taken into counsel. The more part of them, oppressed as they are either by debt, or by the heavy weight of tribute, or by the wrongdoing of the more powerful men, commit themselves in slavery to the nobles, who have, in fact, the same rights over them as masters over slaves. Of the two classes above mentioned one consists of Druids, the other of knights.”
– Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, Book VI, Chapter 13
“it is the Gaulish scriptures and inscriptions that attest to the true nature of the Celtic religion – no pantheon, but rather localised deities with localised functions; and this accords with what we know about the Celts politically, for they had little tolerance for centralised authority, even their own.” – Jeffrey Gantz, Early Irish Myths and Sagas, page 14
In Caesar’s accounts we see evidence of the Celtic attitude towards authority, imperialism and subjugation of other tribes, a barbarian practice of smaller local government not limited to the authority of a king or an emperor. We do, however, see a strict and rigidly defined caste system, and a social structure that clearly led Caesar conclude that Gauls, unlike Germans, could be conquered and ruled over.
p.xvii – “In his Gallic War… his whole treatment of the Germani is meant to emphasise their wildness and ferocity; he presents them not as potential subjects of Rome, like the Gauls and even the Britanni, but rather as a threat that must be kept back on their side of the Rhine.”
– J. B. Rives, Introduction to Tacitus’ Agricola and Germania, p. xvii
Xi – “Another theme in Agricola that also comes to the fore in Germania is that of civilisation and its corrupting influence… Tactitus depicts the Germani as a kind of “noble savage”, free from the vices that civilisation brings. Greed and luxury are virtually unknown among them: they have no interest in precious metals, they know nothing about legacy-hunting and usury, they eat plain food and have plain funerals.”
– J. B. Rives, Introduction to Tacitus’ Agricola and Germania, p. xl
“They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour. But even the power of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. As for the leaders, it is their example rather than authority that wins them special admiration – their energy, their distinction, or their presence in the front line. Moreover, no one is allowed to punish, to flog, except the priests, and not as punishment or on the leader’s orders, but as though in obedience to the god who they believe presides over battle.”
– Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, p. 38
(Roman authority was absolute by definition, one of many comparisons between Germania and Rome made by Tactitus)
“Tradition has it that armies wavering and even on the point of collapse have been restored by the steadfast pleas of the women, who bared their breasts and described how close they were to enslavement – a fate that the men fear more keenly for the women than for themselves…they believe that there resides in women something holy and prophetic, and so do not scorn their advice or disregard their replies.”
– Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, p. 38-39
“On matters of minor importance only the leading men debate, on major affairs the whole community; yet even where the commons have the decision, the matter is considered in advance by the leaders”
“It is a defect of their freedom that they do not gather at once or in obedience to orders, but waste two or three days in their slowness to assemble. When the crowd so decides, they take their seats fully armed. (priests have authority here) …Then such hearing is given to the king or leading man as age, military distinction or eloquence can secure; it is their prestige as councillors more than their power to command that counts”
– Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, p. 40
“On the field of battle it is a disgrace to the leader to be surpassed in valour by his companions, to the companions not to equal the valour of their leader”
– Tacitus, Agricola and Germania, p. 41
In Tactitus’ Germania we also see a stark contrast between the way slaves were treated in Germania compared to Gaul with them owning their own households, people generally carrying out their own household chores and flogging and punishment of slaves not being common practice. He does, however, comment that freed slaves barely rose above the social rank of the slaves themselves.
Overall, Germanic social structure was much less civilised than that of the Gauls, with the social structure and customs being so drastically different from those in Rome that Caesar himself thought it would be a waste of time attempting to conquer Germania at all. Here we also see mention of the prominent role women played in Germanic tribal society, but this is a topic I will save for a future video.
The social structure of less corrupted, less civilised “barbarian” communities was what many today might consider to be “anarchist”.
They expected their people to prove themselves, prove their strength, prove their bravery, prove their honour, prove their intelligence, prove their fidelity, their loyalty. Anyone who showed clear weakness, cowardice, degeneracy, dishonesty or stupidity was left behind, or in many cases killed by the tribe.
Originally the “kings” were our ancestors – the crown was the horns of the stag. These pagan societies expected everyone to embody these “Kingly” or royal qualities, the qualities of their ancestors, the qualities of the gods.
A civilisation needs a strict hierarchy in order to function properly. Abrahamic monotheism is a political tool intended to conquer and control people, so likewise it also requires a strict hierarchy in the areas it conquers.
In a healthy, pagan culture and community, people – men and women alike – expect much of each other, empower each other, inspire each other, support each other. This is what modern movements – nationalism, feminism, Marxism, so-called “anarchism” and many attempts at neopaganism – lack.
Modern equivalents of “goði”, “druids”, “seers”, “sybils” etc. should know better than to silence any reasonable disagreement or expression of free thought. People who don’t and can’t say what they are really thinking aren’t being honest. Liars were loathed and punished by pagan societies. Self-appointed leaders, scholars, prophets etc. that enforce this cult of personality and dogmatism are not embodying the pagan values of our wild, pagan forebears, and are corrupting others by instilling cult worship, rather than free thought, strength and independence.
Modern religions and ideologies are more concerned with enforcing a strict hierarchy instead. These same ideologies and movements also, unsurprisingly, reject man’s wild traits, his true nature, they shun and mock those who want the simple life, want to retreat from a city that doesn’t belong to them in order to live a simple life, focus on what really matters and protect their natural habitat.
We must keep in mind how the Germani treated each other, what they enforced and never felt the need to enforce, what mattered most to them and how uncluttered and minimalist their culture and lifestyle was.
Real pagan tradition – our original pagan traditions – was not concerned with the absolute authority, riches, luxuries and social division that we see in Rome. Real paganism was wild, untamed, free and, dare I say it, “equal” in many aspects. People didn’t command respect, enforce authority or inherit it – they earned it, they exuded it.
“Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing”
“Barbarianism is the natural state of mankind. Civilisation is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarianism must always ultimately triumph”
– Robert E Howard
Reject centralised authority, castes and all trappings of civilisation – return to the wild.
Thanks for watching. Sources in Video Description.
Early Irish Myths and Sagas – Jeffrey Ganz (ed., transl.), 1981, Penguin Books
Agricola and Germania – Tacitus; Harold Mattingly (transl.), J. B. Rives (introduction), 2009, Penguin Books
Gallic War, Julius Caesar, Loeb Classical Library, 1917