On the Iranian Origins of Mithras

Mithra was one of several eastern deities adopted by the Romans, as has long been widely accepted. No clearly Mithraic monument can be dated earlier than the late 1st century AD, and the earliest mention of the deity is by Cassius Dio in 63 AD, who in documenting the visit of Armenia’s Parthian kind Tiridates I, refers to him worshipping Mithras, though the context would suggest that the Persian Mitra is intended¹. After this, circa 80 AD, Statius made a vague reference, possibly to the tauroctony at the centre of the Mithraic mysteries – “Mithras twists the unruly horns beneath the rocks of a Persean cave”, or in another translation “Mithras, that beneath the rocky Persean cave strains at the reluctant-following horns.”². Again, the connection to Persian Mithra is seen. Investigations at Pompei, buried by the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 AD, found no images of the deity³.

Below is the earliest known Roman tauroctony, circa 98-99 A.D:

cimrm593_mithras-slaying-bull-t

Plutarch claimed that the pirates of Cilicia, south-east Anatolia, who were defeated by Pompey, introduced the Mithraic rituals practised in Rome in his time⁴, and Servius claimed in the 4th century that Pompey settled these pirates in Calabria⁵. Plutarch (46–119 AD) commented that they practised “strange sacrifices of their own … and celebrated certain secret rites, amongst which those of Mithra continue to the present time, having been first instituted by them”⁶. The claim that the Persian cult and rituals of Mithra could have been introduced into the Roman empire via Anatolia is otherwise absent, however.

References to Mithra or Mitra (from Proto-Indo-Iranian mitrás, Miça (𐎷𐎰𐎼) in Old Persian) go as far back as the bronze age, with the Mitanni documents from Northern Syria and Iraq, circa 1450-1350 BC, mentioning Mitra along with other Vedic deities such as Varuna and Indra⁷, and the Indo-Aryan Rigveda, likely composed around the same time, perhaps closer to 1400 BC⁸. Zoroaster appears to have had his own reasons for excluding Mithra from the earliest Zoroastrian texts, but the Achemaenid elite appears to have seen the importance of Mithra as part of a central triad in the ancient Iranian pantheon when introducing Zoroastrianism in practice, placing him at the centre of the religion along with Ahura Mazda and Anahita.

Herodotus claimed that the Persians “have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly”⁹. Depictions of Mithra appear to be absent in the Achaemenid period, but his name appears in inscriptions from the reign of Artaxerxes II (404 – 358 BC) at Susa, asking that “Ahuramazda, Anahita, and Mithra protect me against all evil” and protect what he has built. Artaxerxes II was the first to name any deity other than Ahura Mazda in such a way, so whether he chose them as his patron deities or it reflects a widespread reverence of a central Persian triad is unknown. Artaxerxes III also invoked Mithra in an inscription at Persepolis, which reads “Ahuramazda and the God Mithra preserve me, my country, and what has been built by me”. According to the Zoroastrian texts Denkard and the Book of Arda Viraf, many texts were lost when Alexander’s army burned the library at Persepolis – these texts could well have contained references to Mithra and even information regarding the cult practices. This legend appears to be supported by Siculus’s Bibliotheca historica, which was completed circa 60 BC.

Detail from the Golden Bowl of Hasanlu, pre-Median, likely related to those referred to by Herodotus:

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One might speculate that the solar deity depicted here is an older incarnation of Mithra, or a parallel solar deity at least, and it is notable that his chariot is drawn by a donkey, as the average gestation period of a donkey is 365 days. This suggest the deity’s purpose in representing rebirth in the yearly solar cycle.

Herodotus also referenced the ancient Persian sky gods¹°, who may well have included a primitive form or equivalent of Mithra as a solar deity, before describing later Persian customs under Zoroastrianism, stating that “at a later period they began the worship of… the Persian Mitra”¹¹. George Rawlinson in his translation notes that:

“The Persians, like their Vedic brethren, worshipped the sun under the name Mithra. This was a portion of the religion which they brought with them from the Indus, and was not adopted from any foreign nation. The name of Mithra does not indeed occur in the Achaemenian inscriptions until the time of Artaxerxes Mnemon, but there is no reason to question the antiquity of his worship in Persia, Xenophon is right in making it a part of the religion of Cyrus”¹²

That Xenophon noted its significance in Cyrus’ religion is significant, as is the clear status of Mithra as a solar deity. Herodotus also describes sacrificial rites relating to Zoroastrianism that involved wearing a myrtle wreath and cooking the meat with clover¹³, but nothing is indicative of any sacrificial rite, or the sacrifice of any animal in particular, in relation to Mithra in his account.

James Frazer recognised Mithra as an “Old Persian Deity” in the Golden Bough¹⁴ , and the scholarship on Mithraism begins with Franz Cumont. Cumont’s theory was that Roman Mithraism was simply “the Roman form of Mazdaism”, or in other words Zoroastrianism, filtered through from the East. This is in any case an oversimplification, as Mithraism was most likely a merging of the original Iranic deity with native European – particularly Greek and Anatolian, and perhaps Roman – symbols and iconography instead. Cumont largely focused on the notion that the Mithraic mysteries were themselves lifted from Iranian tradition, but with lack of sources on either the similar iconography or on anything properly resembling what we can ascertain about Mithraic mystery rites, we have no way of verifying this. Cumont’s theories were widely discredited in the 1970s. Much of the debunking appears to have been mainly concerned with the questionable claims that the Mithraic rituals themselves in Rome were clearly Iranian in origin, rather than addressing the issue of whether or not the deity and his name were lifted from Persian tradition.

Mary Boyce argues that “no satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that, before Zoroaster, the concept of a supreme god existed among the Iranians, or that among them Mithra – or any other divinity – ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own outside either their ancient or their Zoroastrian pantheons”¹⁵. Here again, we see how much focus of the debunking of Cumont’s theories relate to his on his claims that the original Persian deity resembles the Roman one in terms of a separate cult and the “mysteries”, and a claim that he was worshipped as a separate deity rather than as part of an Iranian pantheon.

John R. Hinnells, another leading critic, was dismissive of these theories overall, but still acknowledged likely Iranian origins, stating that “Nevertheless we would not be justified in swinging to the opposite extreme from Cumont and Campbell and denying all connection between Mithraism and Iran”¹⁶, arguing further that studies of the Mithraic mysteries should be limited to the Roman sources, rather than based on speculation about their origins in Iranian customs¹.

Roger Beck has since suggested that recent studies relating to the state of Zoroastrianism during the BC period do now add more credibility to Cumont’s claims of a spread from east to west, arguing that “Apart from the name of the god himself, in other words, Mithraism seems to have developed largely in and is, therefore, best understood from the context of Roman culture”¹⁸. Beck argues that a “single founder” first introduced Mithraism in the Roman empire by incorporating knowledge of both Greek and Eastern religion, suggesting that some ideas may have passed through the Hellenic kingdoms, and argues that a Mithras identified with the Greek solar deity Helios was one of several Greco-Iranian deities from the cult founded in the middle of the first century BC by Antiochus I of the state of Commagene¹⁹, who was of half Sogdian Iranian descent. A similar theory has been proposed by Reinhold Merkelbach, who also argues that the mysteries were created by one person and in a specific place, in this case Rome, and that this person came from an eastern province and had extensive knowledge of the Iranian myths, which he wove into these myths along with aspects of Hellenic Platonism²°. M.J. Vermaseren, in relation to inscriptions of Mithradates Kallinikos and his son Antiochus of Commagene, stressed the predominately Hellenic nature of this early version of what would become Roman Mithraism²¹.

Below is a relief featuring Mithras-Helios, with solar rays in Iranian dress, with Antiochus I, 1st century BC:

Mithra&Antiochus

It is therefore, unclear how much of the content of the mysteries were taken from Iranian rituals entirely, from a mixture of Hellenic and Iranian rituals or entirely from Greek rituals, but given the lack of evidence of surviving early Zoroastrian texts and of well-documented ancient Iranian rituals, such origins are possible, if unproven. Cumont focused in the presence of the bull-slaying iconography in Iranian myth, but it must be noted that the myth in question involves Ahriman, not Mithras, slaying the primordial bovine creature Gavaevodata²². Equivalent myths relating to Mithras slaying such a creature have not been found. Ehsan Yaghmaei observed links between Mehr or Mithra and iconography involving birds and bulls, arguing that the crow kills the cow through the sun, and that Mithra takes the bull into the cave and kills it there²³. This is very reminiscent of Statius’ reference to Mithras “twisting the unruly horns beneath the rocks of a Persian cave”.

Parthian relief of a bird on the back of a bull, Zahhak Castle, East Azerbaijan, Iran:

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A similar design on a Parthian belt bucket:

Parthian_belt_bucket_by_Nickmard_Khoey

This bas relief from Taq-e Bostan, Iran featuring Mithra along with Ahura Mazda and Ardashir II from the 3rd century AD highlights his status as an Iranian solar deity:

Taq-e Bostan

On this Sassanian relief the status of Mithra as a solar deity is clear, but despite there being some apparent Hellenic influence on Persian art in this period, there is nothing linking this image to the Phrygian camp and bull-slaying image seen in the Roman sculptures of Mithras. This would appear to indicate roots in the older native Iranian tradition and iconography, with the sword perhaps relating to the “oath” associated with his name, as seen in the translation of the name Mithra and clearly stated in the Avestas. One must note how scarce any depictions of deities under Zoroastrianism are, which apart from the apparent Zoroastrian tendency to refrain from depicting deities, likely has much to do with the iconoclasm that occurred during the Sassanian era, which saw the conversion of shrines into fire temples, due to the monotheistic Zoroastrian religion no longer being a religion of the elite as it was when introduced by the Achaemenid dynasty.

There are therefore several questions to address in determining the origin of Mithras, and Mithraism: whether Mithras as a deity and as a name was adopted from Persian tradition by the Romans, whether the symbolism and iconography were likewise adopted from Persian tradition and whether the mysteries and cult practices of Roman Mithraism had any roots in Persian customs. That the name and deity of Mithras is taken from Iranian tradition is clear, as even those critical of Cumont’s pioneering study have agreed, and reference to the deity vastly predating any Roman depiction or documentation of Mithraism. As revisionist studies in the 1970s widely agreed, there is little if anything to prove that the rites of the mysteries of Mithraism were lifted from Iranian practices, though they hypothetically could have been, and as noted it is perfectly feasible, perhaps likely, that the introduction of Mithraism into the Roman empire via Greece with Mithras-Helios involves some level of syncretism of Hellenic and Iranian customs.

Regarding the iconography, again, though it is possible that the iconography of the Roman tauroctony, like the rites of the mysteries, were largely Roman in nature, there are nonetheless striking parallels between the three forms – Persian Mithra, the Greco-Iranian Mithras-Helios and the Roman-Mithras – in their clear depiction as solar deities, with the Sassanian relief being clearly Persian rather than Roman-derived in style and iconography, with the bull-slaying motif being absent. As noted, there is also strong argument for the same tauroctony being depicted earlier in more animist fashion in Iran with the bird slaying the bull, especially as the bird was commonly used as a solar symbol throughout ancient Iranian art, both during and preceding the Zoroastrian period. It is perhaps plausible that this animistic motif influenced the later Roman fashion to some extent. Regardless, what is beyond doubt, though the nature of the Mithraic mysteries should perhaps be addressed within a Roman context and origin, the origin of the deity himself, his purpose as a solar and rebirth deity, and it would appear at least some aspects of the iconography and symbolism as well, originate in Iranian tradition.

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¹ – Dio, Cassius, Epitome of Book 63, 5:2

² – Statius, Thebaid, Book i. 719,720

³ – Vermaseren, M.J., Mithras: the Secret God, p. 29

⁴ – Plutarch, Pompey, 24, 7

⁵ – Servilius, Georgics, 4, 127

⁶ – Daniels, C.M., “The role of the Roman army in the spread and practice of Mithraism” in John R. Hinnells (ed) Mithraic Studies: proceedings of the first International congress of Mithraic Studies, Manchester University Press (1975), vol. 2, p. 250

⁷ – Witzel, M., Early Sanskritization – Origin and development of the Kuru state, November 2011 at the Wayback Machine

⁸ – Kochar, Rajesh, The Vedic People: Their History and Geography, 2000, Orient Longman

⁹ – Herodotus, Rawlinson, George (transl.), The Histories, Book I, Chapter 131Everyman’s Library, p. 75

¹° – Herodotus, Rawlinson, George (transl.), The Histories, Book I, Chapter 131, Everyman’s Library, p. 75

¹¹ – Herodotus, Rawlinson, George (transl.), The Histories, Book I, Chapter 131, Everyman’s Library, p. 75

¹² – Rawlinson G., in Herodotus, Rawlinson, George (transl.), The Histories, Everyman’s Library, p. 75

¹³ – Rawlinson G., in Herodotus, Rawlinson, George (transl.), The Histories, Everyman’s Library, pp. 75-76

¹⁴ – Frazer, James George, The Golden Bough, Oxford University Press, p. 360

¹⁵ – Boyce, Mary , “Mithra the King and Varuna the Master”, in: Festschrift für Helmut Humbach zum 80, Trier, 2001, pp. 239-257; p.243, n.18

¹⁶ – Hinnells, John R. , “Reflections on the bull-slaying scene” in Mithraic Studies, vol. 2, p. 303-4

¹⁷ – Hinnells, John R. , “Reflections on the bull-slaying scene” in Mithraic Studies, vol. 2, p. 303-4

¹⁸ – Martin, Luther H. , foreword in: Roger Beck, “Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works With New Essays”, Ashgate, 2004, p.xiv.

¹⁹ – Beck, Roger , “Mithraism”, Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2002, Costa Mesa:Mazda Pub.

²° – Merkelbach, Reinhold , Mithras, Konigstein, 1984, ch. 75-7

²¹ – Vermaseren, M.J., “Nuove indagini nell’area della basilica di S. Prisca in Roma”, in Mededelingen van het Nederlands Instituut te Rome. Antiquity, n.s., 37, 2 (1975), pp. 87-96, p.93: (transl.)

²² – Cumont, Franz, McCormack, Thomas J.  (transl.), The Mysteries of Mithra. (2nd ed.). 1903. Chicago: Open Court; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, fasc. repr. New York: Dover, 1956, p. 135

²³ – Yaghmaei, Ehsan,  A Study of Mehr and Mitra in Ancient Iranian Sources and “Masalak wa Mamalak”, Iran Book News Agency, February 22, 2011

 

Animism, Rebirth and the World Tree in Ancient Iranian Art and Religion

Having taken an interest lately in the ancient tribes – both Scythian and pre-Scythian – that settled in Iran, and fancying a break from my main reading and writing on Celtic myth, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a less well-covered topic in mythological study in relation to the ancestral and bear cults of antiquity. Much has been written about Egyptian myth, the ultimately European origin and the striking parallels here, so I wanted to examine some of the art and archaeology relating to pre-Zoroastrian religion especially in relation to rebirth, totems/demons, the she-bear, the world tree, and so on. Particularly with earlier art found, there will be a degree of comparison to Mesopotanian/Akkadian art forms and myths, which likewise, share similar roots and parallels, but the focus of this is on the tribes that settled ancient Iran and on drawing parallels and comparisons between the myths and symbols before Zoroaster to those of Europe. I will include survive elements of these ancient traditions from the Zoroastrian period when relevant.

Clay “Venus” figure, representing the pregnant mother (or “fertility symbol”), Tepe Sarab, Neolithic period.

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Clay boar figure, Tepe Sarab, Neolithic period. The boar is an ancient pan-European symbol in all pantheons. Like findings elsewhere the lines appear to represent wounds, with the figure likely intended to provide good luck in the coming hunt, as well as acting as a primitive, symbolic depiction of the slaying of the beast or placenta in the “battle in the womb” to ensure rebirth. Symbols relating to hunting – antlers, crowns, axes – played significant roles in these initiation rituals. The “practical” or everyday purpose of this as a talisman to bring its owner good fortune in hunting relates to a culture that continued until the Sassanid period.

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Here we see an Akkadian relief from the Iranian side of the border with Mesopotamia, near Kermanshah. Possibly influenced by an older relief from Iraq, this shows the king Anubanini (of the Lullubi tribe, who spoke an unclassified language) defeating his enemies with the assistance of the goddess Inanna. Inanna hands him the ring, a symbol of the king’s power in Mesopotamian art. The ring is also a cycle, representing rebirth, and the gold of the ancestors. This role of Inanna parallels that of Pinikir in the Elamite pantheon. Though this figure of a major female deity apparently declined later under the “official” religion of Elam, such images persisted as seen in archaeological finds and continued to be worshipped on a popular level. With Anahita of the later Persian pantheon there was a revival of this official tradition of venerating the female goddess.

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In this cylinder seal from Susa, the Akkadian period, in art of unknown but apparently distinctly Iranian origin, we see an apparently female figure flanked by two snakes with a bull’s head above her head, as well as an eagle. Like in Roman art and symbolism, and the falcon in Egyptian art, the eagle is a prominent symbol in Iranian art from different periods, and the bull’s head we could easily compare to the Minotaur in Greek myth. Bulls also feature prominently in Iranian art, often featuring in the common motif of two flanking animals.We could also parallel this image of the probable deity with that of the so-called “snake witch” stone from Gotland, Sweden, pictured below. Above the eagle’s wing is a human head – this could be a depiction of Etana, the shepherd king who flew to heaven on an eagle’s back to obtain the plant of birth for his wife. This was a common motif in Akkadian cylinder seals. As a probable solar symbol (the bird later appears more explicitly as a bird of the sun and heaven), the eagle represents reincarnation, much like the phoenix (similarly associated with the sun and the fires of death and rebirth). We might also compare the symbol of the eagle spreading its wings and feathers to the world tree spreading its branches. In the Etana myth, the Iran equivalent of which may involve a female serpent if this image is anything to go by, the eagle feeds on the snake’s young (as Kronos “ate” his sons, as the she-bear gathers her embryos and discards those she does not need) and in revenge under the guidance of the sun god Shamash (guided by the light of rebirth) the serpent hides in the belly of an ox carcass (notable as the ox has a similar gestation period to humans) and attacks the eagle when it crawls into the carcass to feed on it. In this case the eagle again appears to parallel the beastly avatar of the placenta, with the serpent or umbilical cord “attacking” it in the womb of the mother ox. In the image of this Iranian seal, this appears to be represented with the female body and snakes between the two halves of a bull or ox.

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Similar image on the “snake-witch” stone, Gotland, Sweden, circa 400-600 AD. The serpent of course represents the umbilical cord, hence its association with a female figure in both of these pieces (we can also compare this figure to Eve and the snake in Eden)

Snake-witch

We also see the same figure in a proto-Elamite vase, found in Ur dating from 2600-2300 BC:

Proto-Elamite_vase,_2600-2300_BCE,_found_in_Ur

We see it again in this example, a carved chlorite vase this time depicting the horned god wrestling two serpent goddesses, from a vase of the suggested “Jiroft culture” of the bronze age, from south-East Iran,

Two_horned_elam

One of several barbarian tribes that brought about the collapse of the Akkadian empire were the Guti, who spread out from the Zagros mountains. The Guti spoke an unclassified language (there are theories suggesting it was linked to the Indo-European Tocharian languages), and, along with Kassites, Elamites and later Scythians contributed to the population later known as the Lurs. Guti cylinder seals were found at Susa, which commonly depicted a figure with one or more pairs of horns (which we could compare to a crown of antlers as was custom in prehistory, or to Pan or Cernunnos) with the figure grasping a two-headed horned animal (which we could compare to Cerberus, the Chimera or the common motif of two goats, bulls, lions etc. in art of this region) while confronting another horned animal. This is also likely linked to the image of Mithras sacrificing the bull and the ancient ancestral bull cult that it is rooted in. These Guti seals are possibly influenced by Mesopotamian motifs, but this motif of the horned demon and “master of animals” was known to the Guti and preserved in this region. This use of cylinders marks the extent of the Mesopotamian and Elamite influence in Iran, and is essentially absent in finds in the north-east.

Depiction of ibexes is common. In Dardistan, north-west India, where traditions managed to escape the destruction of pagan traditions by Islamic conquests in less isolated neighbouring areas, the people of these remote valleys most of whom are of Indo-Iranian descent have an interesting tradition surrounding the goddess Murkum. Worshipped by all the women in the Haramosh valley, she helped deliver newbowns and protected the mother and child. She was the chief owner of ibexes and wild goats collectively called “mayaro”, and was also venerated by hunters. Here we again see the parallel association with the pregnancy/reincarnation process and the wild hunt, as with many animal totem/demon traditions, and might parallel this veneration of the goat with that in Hellenic and Norse tradition, for example, as well as with more anthropomorphised horned deities. For example, this striding “Pan”-like figure of either Proto-Elamite or Mesopotamian origin, 3000-2800 BC:

Striding Figure (AIC)

The origin of the Elamites and their language is ambiguous. Their language appears to be a language isolate, unrelated to Semitic, Indo-European and even Sumerian. We can, however, find many striking parallels in their artwork and what we can observe about their religion. The Old Elamite cylinders conform to Old Babylonian ones in the way they depict scenes of worship, but some aspects of these scenes originate in Susa. One such example is the depiction of a tree at each end of a scene, showing us the universal world tree and placenta image. The same applies to the depiction of a table before the deity bearing a bird, as in Babylonian seals the world tree symbol and food offerings were absent. We see these characteristics here in this Old Emalite cylinder seal from Susa, 10th-17th century BC:

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These distinct Elamite practices were depicted several centuries later in Assyria. In the Middle Elamite cylinder pictured below, found in Luristan dating from the fifteenth century BC, we see a horned deity seated on a throne, with an animal’s head emerging from the throne. Other finds in this group actually depicted the deity sitting on an animal. This is characteristic of the Iranian custom of decorating inanimate objects with animal heads, which along with the familiar image of the horned deity once again is indicative of their deeply animist belief system. We can also note the follower carrying a sacrificial goat, and the image of the lion chasing a horned animal, a ancient motif seen in Mesopotamian and Iran art until the latest periods.

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Below we see the foot of a tray featuring an ibex, and a bowl featuring a ram, both from the Old Elamite period, early second millennium BC. Another example of this animist tradition of decorating inanimate objects and furniture with animals.

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Below is another cylinder seal design, most likely Middle Elamite, found in Susa, dating from the thirteenth to eleventh century BC. Again we see the motif of two horned animals, this time flanking a world tree, which in this case appears to represent a date palm. This tree design is typical of late and post-Kassite Babylonian design. Such designs were apparently otherwise uncommon in Susa, but can be seen in bronzes in Luristan. This motif of two animals – be they ibexes, bulls or lions – flanking a world tree is commonly seen across different art periods in the region, and the use of twins can be compared to Thor’s goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, Odinn’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, Odinn’s wolves Geri and Freki, or in a more humanoid representation, Baldr and Hodr. Some Asian cultures reveal a lot about the symbolic nature of twins, and twin animals, in mythology, as is the case in Malaysian custom in particular which views the placenta as “alive” and as a friend, sibling or twin of the newborn.

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In the cylinder design below, which is most likely Neo-Elamite, circa 9th-8th century BC, we see two griffins hovering over what appears to be a snake with a bull’s head, again relating to the same placenta/beast “avatar” and umbilical cord symbolism.

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The two metal pieces below are from the Old Elamite period, and as the features are not Babylonian they are of either Elamite or “generally Iranian” origin. We might easily draw parallels between this falcon depictions and those in Ancient Egyptian art (along with the eagle solar/rebirth symbol characteristic of the later Achaemenid empire and the Zoroastrian religion of the elites), again an example of the importance of the eagle or falcon as a symbol in many pantheons.

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Below we see a silver standard-top from a Susa grave, which is most likely Elamite, but its origins are uncertain – if it is incorrectly dated it might have been made when the Hurrians and Mitannians (whose languages and culture originated in the Caucasus) ruled in northern Mesopotamia and Kassites (who spoke an unclassified language, but bore Indo-European names and possibly,  like the Mitannians, an Indo-European elite) in the South after the second millennium BC. If so, their geometric style (also favoured in Elam) would have influenced this piece. It is also possible, however, that this standard-top is from before 1500 BC and predates later geometric styles, and is Persian in origin. Depicting a bird or a lizard, we might easily compare this style of standard-top to the dragon heads in Norse culture that also adorned their ships. We can see many similarities with Norse animism and dragons in particular, perhaps more so under Scythian influence, which will be addressed later. This shows again the importance of animism and demons or totems in ancient Iranian culture.

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We can see another example of this adornment of objects and furniture with animals in the topping of a whetstone below, found beneath the temple built by Elamite king Shilhak-Inshushinak in the twelfth century BC. As well as an important totemic animal the lion also acts as an avatar of the placenta, the “beast” in the womb.

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Below is an example of the commonly found symbol of two ibexes flanking the world tree, on a rein-ring, a motif also found in the same form on an Elamite cylinder seal. Again, we see another demonstration of the twin animals flanking or guarding the world tree, placenta and rebirth symbol.

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In Luristan, which provided green pastures ideal for horse and cattle-raising, the Lurs people have been known to place the horns of an ibex with the head modelled in clay on the edge of the roofs over the entrances of their mud brick houses. This likely relates to a far more ancient custom given how commonly we see ibexes venerated in ancient Iranian art in general. Luristan is known for its bronzes, and among the peoples suggested as the creators of these are the Kassites of the sixteenth to twelfth centuries BC and the Cimmerians of the eighth and seventh centuries BC (Cimmerian origin is ambiguous, but presumed to be ultimately Scythian/Iranian or perhaps Thracian). The bronze sheet ring below, from the 12th-11th century BC from Luristain, shows two bulls flanking the world tree. It bears more stylistic similarities to Elamite depictions of this image than to Babylonian.

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On this bowl apparently found with two daggers in a cave near Kermanshah dating from the 12th-11th century BC, we again see two bulls flanking the world tree. This again differs more from similar Babylonian depictions of the image.

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In the bronze standard-topper below, from Luristan, 9th-8th century BC, we see a “demonic” figure apparently wrestling with two beasts, again paralleling the images shown earlier of a deity grappling with two snakes.

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Here from left to right we have a bronze standard showing two ibexes, most likely Luristan, 10th-9th century BC, a Luristan type bronze standard showing two ibexes, probably 10th-9th century BC and a Luristan type standard showing two feline creatures, also most likely 10th-9th century BC. We see again the emphasis on the twin animal motif, and the feline one on the right might even be compared to Norse and Scythian ways of stylising animals in their artwork.

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Below are some horse-bits and cheek plates, from Luristan, 8th-7th century BC. Further examples of how widely used the twin animal (particularly twin goat) symbol was used in the region.

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Here on this Luristan-type bronze pinhead, probably from 10th-9th century BC, we again see two stylised feline creatures, this time flanking the world tree.

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Below is a part of a quiver plaque from Surkh Dum in Luristan, period unknown, showing two bulls flanking the world tree.

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There are striking examples of this animist culture and world-tree worship further north, as we can see by looking at the gold bowls from Marlik, north-western Iran. These finds appear to relate to “Scythian” peoples, or are assumed to be related to people speaking an Iranian language at least, based on the amount of arms, horse trappings and horse burials. In the example below, from the 12th or 11th century BC, two bulls flank a tree again, and in this case wings signify their status as “supernatural” beings, or spirit animals in a sense.

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On this north-western gold beaker from the 12th or 11th century BC we see lion demons and gazelles. The motif of the composite demon is repeated three times around the bowl (three being a sacred number, and relating to three symbolic rebirths), and we see again the combination of beast and two snakes.

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Below is a gold bowl from Kalardasht. Most likely 12th – 11th century BC. The cheek and body are decorated with swastikas, perhaps indicating its supernatural status, or it being the property of a deity.

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The particularly striking and familiar mythic scenes below are from the gold bowl of Hasanlu, 12th – 11th century BC. The top image appears to depict the weather god in his chariot – we might compare this to ancient and bronze age solar symbols and solar chariots from Europe, with the symbol of rebirth in nature being led by the bull (or carried by the bull, as the bull has a similar gestation period). The bottom image depicts a fight with a mountain monster. Like many beasts in European myth, it has three heads, which again parallel the three symbolic rebirths.

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Below are scenes from the bowl in detail split between two images. There are three of what appear to be weather deities, with the bull being a common weather deity in western Asian tradition, we may also note here that we have three chariots – two apparently drawn by donkeys, one by a bull. One rider has the horns of the bull, and another the solar wing symbol. We may treat these three chariots as carrying the three symbolic rebirths in relation to reincarnation rites, as well as representing three forces of nature as three weather deities. We see a priest holding a beaker before the last man, showing a scene of worship.  The bull-god is the weather god, the god with the horned mitre is the god of the country (i.e. the realm, and the realm of the ancestors) and the one with the winged disc is the god of the sun (the god of rebirth, both of nature and of the ancestors). A female deity opens her mantle to expose her nude body in a style similar to that in Syrian art – we might liken this figure to that of Aphrodite, and perhaps Artemis, and Anahita of later Persian tradition as a “fertility” goddess.We see next to this the image of a bird with an eagle or falcon with a human head, reminiscent of the image in the seal from Susa discussed earlier, relating again to the Etana myth, or local parallel.

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In this half of the scene, we see a child being offered to a deity with an axe in one hand – this likely has roots in initiation ritual of the ancestral cult, with the axe representing the ancestral heirloom (originally the tools of the hunter-gatherer ancestors, as well as the “key”or tool used for opening the tomb). In this busy image this might be speculation, but the lion seated behind the deity could perhaps be guarding him (as the wolf in Norse culture is really guarding the entry to the tomb and the ancestors’ domain, and the land of the dead, and Cerberus guards it likewise in Greek myth). Above this we see a man battling the mountain monster, which is linked to the scene above by a stream. We might even link this stream sent down by the weather god to the great flood of Mesopotamian myth, which relates to birth and the water breaking (in Mesopotamian myth this occurred because humans were overpopulated, and in Zoroastrian and presumably older Iranian myth when the population had increased threefold, i.e. after three symbolic rebirths).  We see the three headed beast, which we might liken to Cerberus, and to each beast the hero has to defeat or slay in order to enter the tomb and initiation during each symbolic rebirth. We see what appears to be another depiction of the weather god battling the beast in the mountain, which we could easily interpret as the ancestor rising from the “mountain” or burial mound. It’s connection to the rebirth scene above with the weather deities and the initiation ceremony to the left with the baby could be further indication of this.

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These scenes can be linked to a Hurrian epic focusing on an ancient Kronos-like figure of Kummarbi, preserved in Hittite text. We can only speculate about the impact Hurrians had on Iranian art and myth. In this epic, Kummarbi tried to regain his heavenly kingship taken from him by the storm god Teshup. Kummarbi creates an enemy for the storm deity by impregnating a rock which bears a child with a body of stone. We might link this to the myth of medusa, the myth of Kronos eating his sons and the close association of rocks with burial mounds, the womb and rebirth, and the calcification of the fetus (the rare phenomenon of lithopedion) in the womb. It is likely the child was then raised in water (the water of the womb) in the original myth, hence his being partially surrounded by bubbles in this image. After it was born Kummarbi decided the stone child would attack and crush the storm god. We might compare this to the battle between Thor – the thunder god – and Loki – god of lightning, fire and possibly locks and knots – in Norse myth, and the personification of the stone or “hammer” of Thor chasing the lightning through the sky (as originally the thunder was said to be, or likened to, two stones smashing together). This could, therefore, be directly linked to the seated deity and his axe. The child then emerges from the sea and grows and grows (like a fetus in the womb), and the storm god’s sister Ishtar fails to calm it because it is deaf and blind (like the baby in the womb, deprived of his senses, awareness and consciousness). Teshup is defeated in the first encounter, as is often the case in initiation rituals in myths and folk tales, but the water god Ea eventually severs the stone child from its base (i.e. its link to the host, the umbilical cord). We again see here the juxtaposition of eagle and serpent, and the eagle depicted could relate to Kummarbi’s wish for the monster to scatter the gods down from heaven (i.e. to summon the ancestors). In Sasanian times under Zoroastrianism, Anahita was closely connected to the great eagle or falcon, the symbol of rebirth and force of nature, and this is likely rooted in far more ancient customs.

One other image worth commenting on in this piece is that of two heroes slaying a bearded man, which we can link to that of Gilgamesh and Enkidu slaying the demonic guardian of the cedar forest (in other words, the guardian of the womb or tomb) in Mesopotamian myth – this image was adopted by Mitannian seal-cutters and continued in Neo-Hittite reliefs, and is found in some Luristan bronzes, with differing meanings, perhaps indicating a native Iranian concept.

Below is an iron pin decorated with a bronze lion from Hasanlu, period unknown, possibly circa 9th century BC. Here we might recognise the image of the beast that guards the underworld being chained up, often to a rock, just as Prometheus after giving the gift of fire (rebirth) was chained to a rock for eternity (with his liver being devoured and reborn every day), Fenrir and Loki being chained until Ragnarök and an example from Welsh tradition in the Mabinogion of a lion being chained to a rock above a pit of bones. We can liken this image of a chained beast, often attached to a rock, to that of the placenta attached to the newborn with the umbilical cord.

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In this glazed knob from Hasanlu, 9th century BC, which is comparable to tiles decorating Assyrian palaces but showing facial characteristics that show Elamite influence, we see a human-headed bull, a reversal of the bull-headed man image perhaps more familiar to us, such as that of the minotaur in Greek myth, but also comparable to centaurs and sphinxes.

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In this ivory plaque design below of Assyrianising style, we see two ibexes again flanking a particularly elaborate knotwork world tree.from Ziwiye and found on reliefs and cylinder seals from the reign of Sargon II. Late 8th – 7th century BC.

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Below in this especially striking depiction of the world tree image, from fold repousse work from Ziwiye, 9th century BC, which has been linked to Scythians, we see a style of world tree that to many will bear a striking resemblance to the stylised Irminsul symbol in Germanic/Norse art. The apparent combination of Urartian elements and Scythian elements is characteristic of the Iranian Medes in this region.

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The Medes and Persians, both of Iranian/”Scythian” origin, were first mentioned in historical records, in the military and administrative records of Assyrian kinds campaigning in western Iran, from the latter part of the ninth century BC. The archaeological evidence for settling of these regions before these records is incomplete, but the Medes likely conquered the area much earlier than this, with their settlement being located between the (Hurrian-speaking) Manneans to the north and the Elamites to the south. The placement of the original Persians is more difficult as it could relate to several different regions from different periods with the name Parsua, apparently indicating that the Persians progressed from north west Iran in a south-eastern direction. Regardless, this settlement saw the gradual settlement and takeover of the region originally dominated by Hurrians, Manneans and Elamites by the Indo-European peoples hailing from the eastern European and central Asian steppes, namely Medes and Persians. It is worth noting that no undoubtedly Median site or inscribed art has been found, so it is difficult to pinpoint art of specifically Median origin. The Ziwiye pieces could feasibly be Median, but this is unproven.

Below is a bracelet with lion heads, again showing the importance of the twin animal motif, and another example of possible Scythian influence, from Ziwiye, Late 8th – 7th century BC.

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Medians like Scythians appear to have shown an appreciation for dynamic patterns over western Asian art forms, which is indicated in the decoration of weapons and scabbards carried by Median dignitaries in Persepolis reliefs and in the scabbard of an armour-bearer of Darius I, as seen below. This is undoubtedly closer in Scythian pieces in terms of design, with many elements such as the row of goats being incomparable to western Asian motifs. The angular poses are similar to Scythian finds in southern Russia, and the spirals around the edge are also distinctly Scythian in style, perhaps relating to hooked beak-heads.

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The Achaemenid dynasty was partly Median in origin. I will not discuss the Achaemenid empire a great deal here, as the focus of this article is to draw attention to what we can learn about pre-Zoroastrian religion based on archaeological finds, and by, despite lack of pre-Zoroastrian texts (other than Mesopotamian and Hittite texts with which we may draw close parallels), comparing these finds with those in Europe. Below is a particularly striking relief from the palace of Darius at Persepolis, probably from the reign of Xerxes. It depicts a royal hero slaying a lion-headed beast, again stressing the importance of animism and animal-headed deities even once Zoroastrianism was adopted as the religion of the elites.

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To finish I wish to look at a couple of pieces from the Sasanian period. Below is a relief showing two ibex flanking a grapevine. Though the meaning of this symbol of the world tree may have changed slightly over time, it appears to have still been linked with strength and fertility in the Sasanian period, and the choice of a grapevine as a world tree symbol is particularly interesting given the placenta symbolism, as Malaysian folklore for example, as mentioned earlier, provides some particularly interesting folklore relating to unnatural pregnancies and the edematous vesicles of a transformed placenta in later stages, which has been compared to a bunch of grapes or even eggs, perhaps relating to a broader alternative depiction of placenta symbolism other than the more common or universal world tree or “tree of life” symbol.

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In this design from a silver bowl from the third century BC, we see a king wearing a ram-horned helmet hunting boar, which again shows the importance of ram and goat horns even as late as the Sasanid period in this region. This also, of course, places importance again on the hunt as a rite of passage.

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I could have looked at Armenian and Anatolian art to perhaps draw some parallels between them and some pre-Indo-European tribes in Iran to which they were related, or compared to more Scythian finds from further afield, or more Babylonian and Egyptian art to explore the similar style in depicting scenes of worship among western-Asia and Afro-Asiatic-speaking peoples, but the purpose of this article was to go through some examples, with the stress being on pre-Zoroastrian finds, and compare to some more familiar European examples as well as relate these finds to ancestor worship, birth and rebirth symbols and a broader, more universal European animist culture. I might expand on this topic further in the future at some point.

Sources:

Art of the World: Ancient Iran – Edith Porada (1965)

Wives and Midwives: Childbirth and Nutrition in Rural Malaysia – Carol Laderman (1987)

 

 

Leaving the Cave

“Consider, then, what being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like, if something like this came to pass. When one of them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his head, walk, and look up toward the light, he’d be pained and dazzled and unable to see the things whose shadows he’d seen before.”

“And if someone dragged him away from there by force, up the rough, steep path, and didn’t let him go until he had dragged him into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be pained and irritated at being treated that way? And when he came into the light, with the sun filling his eyes, wouldn’t he be unable to see a single one of the things now said to be true?”

“What about when he reminds himself of his first dwelling place, his fellow prisoners, and what passed for wisdom there? Don’t you think that he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others?”

“If this man went down into the cave again and sat down in his same seat, wouldn’t his eyes – coming suddenly out of the sun like that – be filled with darkness?”

“In the knowable realm, the form of the good is the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty. Once one has seen it, however, one must conclude that it produces both light and its source on the visible realm, and that in the intelligible realm it controls and provides truth and understanding, so that anyone who is to act sensibly in private or in public must see it.”

“Then the release from bonds and the turning around from shadows to statues and the light of the fire and, then, the way up out of the cave to the sunlight and, there, the continuing inability to look at the animals, the plants, and the light of the sun, but the newly acquired ability to look at divine images in water and shadows of the things that are, rather than, as before, merely at shadow in relation to the sun – all this business of the crafts we’ve mentioned has the power to awaken the best part of the soul and lead it upward to the study of the best among the things that are, just as before, the clearest thing in the body was led to the brightest thing in the body and the visible realm.”

– Plato, The Republic, Book VII

In the Republic Plato’s allegory of the cave is used to address matters of education, ignorance, enlightenment and the best approach to education and enlightenment in running a city, but the symbol and metaphor of the cave can just as easily be applied to the educating and enlightening experiences of life, especially life in a cave as dark and unenlightening as the society we live in today.

The cave, or tomb, also represented the womb in pagan custom. Entering and leaving the cave, or tomb, in reincarnation rituals signified rebirth, restoration of memory and enlightenment. In the cave, the “hero” would fight a monster – in the myths a dragon, a cyclops, or a gorgon perhaps, in prehistoric times, a cave bear, later a wolf – just as the uninitiated, the fetus, and the unborn ancestor, would “fight” the placenta in the womb. The cave is dark, the cave is terrifying, the cave could spell your doom, but as a womb, as a home, it can also make the would outside – the world of blinding light that Plato described – even more terrifying, and perhaps impossible to navigate. Sometimes we might feel defeated, lost in the cave, we might feel that we will never find the way out of the cave, that we will forever be prisoners there.

How do we leave the cave? In the dark, lonely “cave” we live in today, it is dark, and often seems hopeless, and it is easy to despair. How do we know those outside of the cave aren’t prisoners as well? What if we leave the cave only to fall and wind up trapped and lost in another one soon after? What if, try as we might to approach the exit and embrace the light outside and escape the cave, powers beyond our control bring the cave collapsing in on itself, trapping us inside forever? What if the monster inside the cave drags us back in? Even those among us who have glimpsed the light, who have seen how things work inside the cave, inside the prison, in the prison of modern society and at the mercy of alien ideologies and agendas, may be just as lost in the cave. Our life might still feel like some kind of nightmare out of a Franz Kafka novel, an oppressive and bleak world that feels suffocating, which we feel we lack any real control over, where powers beyond our control appear to make escape from the prison impossible. We may eventually embrace defeat, develop a sort of “Stockholm syndrome” response even toward our oppressors who bind us in ignorance, we may fear that the prison inside the cave is the only world we will ever know. We may feel we can only accept defeat, that this is all that life has in store for us, that we simply weren’t meant to make it out of the cave.

I do not preach from an ivory tower as someone who has “made it” and left the cave. This is a struggle I share. I have seen many traditional pagans, survivors, who have. But I remain focused on the way out, on the exit strategy, I have become aware of how, even when I felt guided by light, by enlightenment, I was resigned to staying in that prison, feeling that anything outside it seemed fantastical, that I had to just “make do” with what life had dealt me. I wasted a lot of valuable time in terms of study and employment that could have been put to much better use, that I could have spent going through the process of learning an essential skill in an area of work that’s always in high demand, that will serve me and my tribe well in the future, as well as allow me to escape from the endless rut of dead-end jobs, where you never feel appreciated, where sooner or later, you will be discarded. It’s easy to find comfort and distraction in the cave, and hope that everything will be alright, that the exit will reveal itself to us, but we must never lose focus, we must not lose sight of the way out of the cave. We must ask ourselves, as scary as the blinding light of the unknown world outside the cave might be, as much of a struggle it will be to learn and adapt to this new and strange world, what could possibly be worse than forever dwelling in darkness, in ignorance, in a prison, allowing ourselves to be lost to hopelessness, pessimism and despair?

Hope and optimism are important, but we need to do more than hope if we are to leave the cave, we need to believe, to know that with struggle, resolve, determination and persistence, we will find the exit from the cave, and we will embrace that blinding light and not look back. We need to know that those exits are there, that we have everything it takes, that we are meant to make it out. There will always be those who seek to sabotage the efforts of others to leave the cave, the liars, the cowards, the traitors, the schemers, either because they want it all for themselves, or because they have already decided that not only do they not want to leave the cave, but they do not want anyone else to leave the cave either. These people do not matter, however. They are hopeless, powerless and ultimately enslaved by their own greed, hatred and envy. They will remain in the darkest depths of the cave, while we press on to find the way out.

You may live in a location, a city perhaps, that makes you feel desperate, depressed and hopeless, a place with little hope itself, little opportunity that may also feel like a prison that you won’t escape from, with looming walls surrounding it that seem impenetrable, that may make the world outside seem forever out of reach. You may live in a home that makes you feel the same way, that feels suffocating, oppressive and hopeless. But the light of the sun – the light of the fire in the cave – is always there to give us clues, to guide us, to inspire us to find the exit strategy, as the ways out of the cave in any situation are always there.

Nothing is as simple as it seems, the world is complicated, we all have our own web that we must cut ourselves free from in order to escape the darkness of the cave, but nothing is as impossible as it seems either. The walls of the cave are never as impenetrable as they seem. We must use our resolve, our strategy, our talents, or determination to survive and thrive outside of the cave in the light and in the wilderness, the divine light and inspiration, to drive us forward. We must bask in each other’s light, guide each other, inspire each other, listen to each other, look at who else has already left the cave despite odds being stacked against them, and we must ask ourselves “why is it taking me so long? Why do I feel stuck in limbo? What is really holding me back from leaving the cave, and why am I letting it, when I am sensible enough to know better?”

I have to make up for some lost time, things aren’t simple these days, and many do, it often takes time, more time than is ideal, but regretting and dwelling on the past is pointless. I see some really inspirational people who have already escaped the prison, have already got to where they need to be, or at least well on their way to getting there. With the right focus, and by truly believing in ourselves, and forcing us to stay on the path and find the way out, we can all get there too, no matter how impossible and unbelievable it may seem.

Escape the cave, escape the darkness, escape from the system, escape from whatever you feel is holding you back, dragging you down and barring your exit. Through hard work, determination and positivity, ways out will reveal themselves to us, and we should seize the opportunity and dive through them when we can. When we finally leave the cave, we will be reborn, we will have braved the darkness, slain what beast dwells inside, and embraced the light, and we won’t look back. We will be who we are destined to be.

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Hierarchy In European Paganism

Music by me

Art by me

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.

Transcript:

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?

 

Celtic Barbarians:

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.

 

German Barbarians:

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.

Sources:

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
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Caesar/Gallic_War/6B*.html

Early Celtic Social Structures

The Importance of Oral Tradition in European Paganism

 

In any pagan culture, the further back in time we go and the more we retreat from its modern civilised state, the closer we get to its oral tradition.

Often described by Christian scholars and those influenced by them as “illiterate” in order to promote and justify the Church’s past (and, in third world countries like Nepal and India, ongoing) missionary work, conversions and “literacy” programs, this is not the case. Such societies commonly knew runes – the futhark in the case of the Anglo-Saxons, the Ogham in the case of the Celts, and a hypothetical Slavic runic alphabet.

Essentially shorthand alphabets, these runes did have religious and symbolic significance as well (after all, like the Greek alphabet they largely derive from, they ultimately originate in the pictograms of Egyptian hieroglyphs). As a writing system, during pagan periods archaeological finds suggests they were used mainly for short passages, and to commemorate the Dead in runestone passages.

As partially literate people, we must understand that, as societies that practiced oral tradition, were more removed from civilisation and therefore had less of a need for formal historical, legal and financial records, these pagan cultures did not need to be fully literate.

The stories preserved through oral tradition rely on repetition, these epics, as well as political and legal speeches, all had to be remembered. Cultures that could remember everything, and had to, had little need for full literacy.

Oral tradition in our mythology:

Archaeological finds – sculptures, statues, temples, brooches, pendants – are highly significant and how much these have enriched and informed our understanding of our heritage, as well as acting as relics that keep us in touch with our ancestors, cannot be overstated.  However, the stories, the myths and the rituals, even the fairy tales, all originate in this oral tradition.

Once upon a time we remembered knowledge – we did not need libraries. Just as we remembered this history, this heritage, and passed it down to the next generation, our ancestors needed to remember their ancestors, and their past lives, and these memories and past lives were likewise unlocked and passed down to the next generation symbolically by the older generation, i.e. the priests, the druids, the sorcerers etc.

To understand our religion, its symbolism and the purpose of repetition, we need to understand how oral tradition works, the methodology and reasoning behind its use of repetitions, the structure of the recorded narratives, and how easy it is to overlook just how steeped in ritual and religious practices and beliefs these classic texts such as the Iliad, the Kalevala and the Poetic Edda are.

(Wikipedia) – “In Parry’s view, formulas were not individual and idiosyncratic devices of particular artists, but the shared inheritance of a tradition of singers. They were easily remembered, making it possible for the singer to execute an improvisational composition-in-performance.”

“..it is doubtful, to say the least, whether Oral-Formulaic Theory can be applied to any of the many fixed-phrase genres of folklore – for example, proverb or riddle. Proverbs are not composed anew each time they were uttered. Without the possibility of improvisation, it would appear that the Oral-Formulaic Theory would not be applicable… Still, even if Oral-Formulaic Theory were valid only for the epic genre, it would be of importance. The epic is unquestionably a major genre of folklore, and thus any theory proposed to deal with such a major genre would be significant. “ – Alan Dundes – p. xi, from the Forward to The Theory of Oral Composition: History and Methodology by John Miles Foley

“…the key to an understanding of the Kalevala is the power of the word, the power of incantation and of the story that brings power. Its heroes are word-masters and wonder-workers.” – vii – Albert B. Lord, Forward to Kalevala translated by Keith Bosley

I might do a future video going into Oral-Formulaic Theory after studying it further, but it is clear that there was method in the structure and repetition to aid speakers (and singers) in remembering these passages.

Furthermore, though repetition undoubtedly served this simple purpose, the amount of repetitions – be it of verses, motifs, symbols or of similar characters – was no coincidence, and I would argue ultimately rooted in the reincarnation rituals that spawned these more elaborate folk tales and epic poems.

The significance of numbers in Oral Tradition:

3: We often see our heroes in oral tradition attempt something three times, be it challenging, physically attacking or charging, or approaching or entering something. Sometimes the third attempt triggers a change or revelation (or a failure) by itself, sometimes it is the fourth attempt that sees this metamorphosis or the breaking of the pattern occur. Examples include Patroklus (the foetus, literally “the glory of the father”) charging the wall of Troy three times, with great success, until the fourth attempt/the change triggered by the third attempt (or the third symbolic pregnancy) results in his death at the hands of Hektor that sets in motion the chain of events through the rest of Homer’s Iliad. It is also significant that Achilles chases Hektor (literally “to hold” – Hektor holds things together) around Troy three times before slaying him. There are also examples of this in the oral tradition of the Welsh Mabinogion. Another example of this can be seen in the number of stages of shapeshifting in Irish fairy tales, before the side in question reaches its final form, and the protagonist receives a revelation and/or solves the riddle.

7 – the amount of years between each rite of passage, the three stages of awakening – ages 7, 14 and 21. The amount of days in a week. In accounts of the Irish Sidhe (fairies/elves i.e. the ancestors) the sidhe are said to kidnap girls, and after seven years “when the girls grow old and ugly, they send them back to their kindred, giving them, however, as compensation, a knowledge of herbs and secret spells” (Lady Wilde). This could be interpreted as representing the period of religious service (to the ancestors) before girls reached adulthood and were returned to their family (and future husband). In the “Peredur son of Efrog” story in the Mabinogion his father the earl has seven sons. In this text at least 7 is more commonly the number of items or number of people  that appear in a scene, rather than the amount of repetitions of the protagonist’s action.

9 – The nine months of pregnancy (and, in reincarnation, 3 x 3 symbolic pregnancies), the nine realms of Yggdrasil. In Irish myth: “If you walk nine times round a fairy rath at the full of the moon, you will find the entrance to the Sifra; but if you enter, be wary of eating the fairy food, or drinking the fairy wine (Lady Wilde). In the Mabinogion Peredur encounters nine witches – “together with their father and mother”.

The integrity and reliability of recorded Oral tradition:

With any documented myths we need to be critical and know how to “filter out” the Christian elements. Unlike in the fictional histories, chronicles and other works by Christian scholars, I would argue it is considerably easier to recognise these distortions and anomalies worked into the texts of oral tradition documented by these predominately Christian scholars. We just need to understand how oral poetry worked, recognise the symbols and riddles that clearly predate Christianity, and recognise what are, to varying degrees, fairly obvious Christian distortions, and in some cases what even appear to be forced “disclaimers”, in parts of the text.

A particularly striking example of this is the Kalevala, Considering how late this record of Finnish and Karelian folk tradition was compiled, one might expect it to me riddled with anachronisms and heavily influenced by Christianity, but this is not quite the case. Though adopting a linear narrative and a consciously monotheist interpretation of a “chief god” and a “Great One”, with occasional references to the “Devil” and “evil”, unambiguously Christian and Biblical references are actually rare, unlike, for example, Beowulf and the Mabinogion.

When we focus on reading these original sources – the oral traditions, epic poems and rural folk tales that are at the centre of our cultural heritage – we come far closer to understanding their true essence and the burial and reincarnation rites they related to than we will by simply reading books “about paganism” or more specifically summaries/modern paraphrasing and collection of this or that pantheon and its myths. We need to reconnect with oral tradition.

Folk tales and customs belong in the countryside among the common folk, not in libraries gathering dust

Though books such as James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World and Marie Cachet’s The Secret of the She-Bear are invaluable, we need to train ourselves in our ability to follow these complex narratives and structures, recognise the patterns, symbols and riddles and to really enter the mindset of our forebear practitioners of the oral tradition, with the right method and the right “key” to unlock these secrets and make sense of it all.

I am still learning, and will do what little I can to guide people as my own knowledge grows.

Why Pan-European?

In age of aggressive and divisive identity politics, it is important to know our place in the world, where we stand in relation to others.

Where do we stand in relation to other Europeans? What is our identity?

The “European Vision” – the vision associated with the European Union – reasonable freedom of movement between countries, alliance with fellow Europeans, a common European identity – is something many of us can relate to, and what many in favour of the European Union appear to embrace. Unfortunately this is not at all what the crooked, unelected bureaucrats of the EU elite stand for, they have divided Europe, not united it, and will eventually seek to erase what is left of regional languages, such as Irish and Basque, perhaps most languages in favour of a “lingua franca” eventually. They want to build an “EU army”, they want to pave the way for a “United States of Europe” that will remove any real regional culture or diversity.

So what use does Pan-Europeanism have in these dark times? Is “nationalism” worth saving? What is our real identity, what is most logical and productive, more unifying?

The reality is all modern nationalism has roots in divisive 19th century nationalism and artificially constructed national identities that mostly consist of art, clothing, musical instruments etc. borrowed from other countries. It is rooted in meaningless Christian nationalism – the notion of which is a glaring contradiction in itself, as the Bible’s stance on distinct nations (most nations that is…) as opposed to a united globalist “nation “of God is pretty clear.

Even when we try to rescue it and guide it in an “ethno-nationalist” direction with pagan leanings, it’s still rooted in this outdated, 19th century “patriotic” mentality. It is still divisive, and it hinders us.

There is of course the debate about what parts of Europe, even if we accept them as European, are just “too different”, with distinctions here being commonly made between North and South.  There is this idea still that there are distinct “phenotypes” even, and European “sub-races” that must be preserved.

Is it really that simple, however?

I will share my personal experience with an “identity crisis” of sorts; I embraced paganism in my mid-teens, having been deprived of any history lessons in school relating to Saxons or Vikings, listening to black metal and folk metal and reading the articles by Varg Vikernes immediately awakened something. I knew it was something real, something instinctive, something heartfelt – I knew this attachment to Norse history meant something, I began to understand it as an ancestral homeland. I also began to feel the same way about Germany to a degree, having some German ancestry.

I kept this identity in mind, and kept returning to it, this “Nordic” identity. I was perhaps less concerned with Anglo-Saxon heritage for quite a long time, perhaps because the myths  and folk tales were more fragmented and less conveniently packaged than those in the Eddas, or perhaps for no reason other than “they were converted to Christianity first, so they are less interesting”…

More importantly, however, for many years, though not disliking or disowning it as such, I simply lacked interest in Celtic identity, Celtic myths, Celtic culture and pride. I just didn’t feel it – because I don’t think I really wanted to. Despite several Celtic ancestors, I simply found it a lot more convenient and more straightforward to identity as “Germanic” and “Nordic”. Perhaps it was anti-English sentiment of modern Celtic nationalism, perhaps I just didn’t like the traditional folk music as much, perhaps I convinced myself the myths would be overly Christianised and not worth bothering with (more on this in a later video), or perhaps it was simply because I haven’t travelled in these places.

I suppose because of a combination of the toxic nature of resentful, divisive anti-English Celtic “nationalism” these days and the acceptance of the genetic makeup of the British Isles, I did eventually overcome this, and saw a need for a common, British identity, the need to embrace a shared heritage and history. Norse myths are important, but they aren’t everything. It is just another European pantheon.

Britain’s “Anglo-Saxon” roots:

30-40% (depending on region)

The traditional narrative states that the Anglo-Saxons essentially committed genocide against the Celts, claiming England as their own. Ælle of Sussex, for example, is said to have brutally massacred the Britons he defeated. Some still support this theory. The revisionist theory argues that Anglo-Saxon England was more of an “apartheid” state, with an elite of Anglo-Saxons ruling over the Briton majority. Both extreme narratives are incorrect, as a recent 2016 study shows. It does not “prove we are Anglo-Saxon”, but it does prove they contributed a significant amount to our ancestry and population.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4735688/

Iceland:

“62% of Icelanders’ matrilineal ancestry derives from Scotland and Ireland (with most of the rest being from Scandinavia), while 75% of their patrilineal ancestry derives from Scandinavia (with most of the rest being from the Irish and British Isles).”

“One study found that the mean Norse ancestry among Iceland’s settlers was 56%, whereas in the current population the figure was 70%.”

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/1028

Celts:
“Sardinian like Neolithic farmers did populate Britain (and all of Northern Europe) during the Neolithic period, however, recent genetics research has claimed that, between 2400BC and 2000BC, over 90% of British DNA was overturned by a North European population of ultimate Russian Steppe origin as part of an ongoing migration process that brought large amounts of Steppe DNA (including the R1b haplogroup) to North and West Europe.”

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/135962v1

Recent studies have also indicated origins in the Ukrainian and Russian steppe of both Germanic and Slavic people. We must understand that Celts are essentially the same people, with the main differences being a language family more closely related to Latin than the Germanic languages and trace Mediterranean ancestry. Origins of proto-Celtic culture place them in central Europe around what is now Austria and Czechia.

Countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Britain have both Celtic and Germanic ancestry. These were both Celtic and Germanic territories in ancient times. Furthermore, the Viking Slave Trade further dispersed Celtic genes throughout northern Europe.

Do we need to have an “identity” crisis just because we have such a mix of European ancestry? Do we really need to “simplify” things as I once chose to by fixating on one pantheon and identifying as simply “Germanic”, “Norse” or “Celtic”? We are European, we share the same roots, the culture is the same, for the most part the language is at its root the same. We have gone through too much to be divided by stubborn regional pride and nationalism. Accepting a less “homogenous” European ancestry helps us understand other Europeans better.

 

Understanding the Purpose of Paganism

When we call ourselves “pagan”, we must ask ourselves what the purpose of it is, what we are meant to achieve by following paganism, what a “pagan perspective” or “pagan worldview” means. The same applies to any religion, ideology or philosophy.

It is logical to assume that, at some point in time at least, paganism served a practical purpose, that it was supposed to be useful and applicable in everyday life, as well as providing at least some answers to life’s biggest questions.

What purposes did it have? What were the biggest concerns in everyday life? What gave life meaning to pagans? What did pagans think life ultimately led to? These are questions we must answer in order to ascertain paganism’s purpose here and now, and to determine the credibility of those claiming to be “pagan”.

One of the greatest everyday concerns, if not the greatest, of our pagan forebears was pregnancy . There is a common fixation dating back to the origins of the wicca movement that fixate on “fertility” symbols. The age-old assertion must be challenged more often – What purpose would “fertility” cults have served in antiquity? Would our ancient pagan ancestors, especially in physically fitter and healthier nomadic communities, have struggled to conceive? Was simply becoming pregnant really of greater concern than actually surviving pregnancy?

Pregnancy was considerably more dangerous in ancient times. We must assume that all native cultures had customs and, before civilisation and literacy, oral traditions that taught and preserved the essential medical knowledge needed to minimise casualties of pregnancy as much as possible. This is one purpose, and this is why midwives were so crucial and respected in pagan cultures, and why, as a result, midwives and women in similar roles and of similar social status were so brutally persecuted during the conversions and again during the Witch Hunts. Midwifery was once a core aspect of traditional pagan folk practice and folk medicine.

Where do we look for this preserved knowledge in pagan custom? Where do we find this purpose? We must of course look to the symbols and riddles that any pagan pantheon and the related regional folklore is full of. Many so-called pagans today, and Christian scholars of the past that influence their interpretations, either fail to fully comprehend these symbols and riddles or simply make no effort to whatsoever, preferring instead to take everything at face value, depicting paganism as little more than Judeo-Christianity with more gods, and at best place importance on vaguely defined “nature worship” with no real meaning.

Symbols relating to pregnancy:

The womb – woods, the cave, the tomb, the “afterlife”
The placenta – The world tree, the labyrinth, the gorgon, the chimera, the lion, the horse
The umbilical cord – a unicorn’s horn
The cowl – Phrygian cap, Red Riding Hood
The amniotic sac – snow white

There are many others. Understanding paganism and the symbols in it is about understanding and recognising patterns throughout nature. Though myths are often rooted in these ancient essential meanings that served this purpose, they have other meanings too.

To truly understand paganism is to also understand riddles. Once we draw our attention to these often overlooked symbols and messages, we can use this as a key, with it we can make huge progress in being able to *recognise* riddles when they appear in the myths and fairy tales, even if we don’t understand them fully, by training ourselves to approach the myths in this way (i.e. from a non-Christian perspective).

Some examples of riddles in European and Asian myths relating to pregnancy and rebirth:

Óðinn and Fenris, Oedipus, Amaterasu, Little Red Riding Hood, Perseus and Medusa.

Of course the core aspect of any pagan religion, on a spiritual and metaphysical level as opposed to its aforementioned use in everyday life and medicine, is that of ancestor worship and reincarnation. Once again, many will distort this central aspect of paganism, or in the case of counter-culture, far-left progressives, will reject ancestor worship and its tribalist connotations entirely, choosing empty nature worship instead. The interest, the sentiment and attachment to nature is there, but it misses the point so much that this can barely be considered paganism.

Those who might claim to be conservatives and traditionalists who approach it from a Christian perspective, understand the concept of a god as Abrahamic faiths do, and believe in the afterlife as these faiths do, will likewise tend to overlook this central belief in reincarnation, and reject the fact that the “afterlife”, i.e. the next life, is here in the real world, not in a paradise in the clouds.

I stress this because this brings us back to what the purpose of paganism is, what we can make of the universal belief, and need to believe in reincarnation, and how these symbols and riddles relating to pregnancy are just as important in relation to reincarnation beliefs and practices.

This focus on the “symbolic pregnancies” and rites of passage in relation to reincarnation gives our life, and therefore paganism, meaning and purpose. It gives meaning to a finite and linear lifespan as part of an infinite and cyclical time, and “immortality” in a sense.

Again, we see the importance of recognising patterns – the placenta, the birthday cake, for example, in order to remember who we once were, to solve that riddle. As all pagan religions believe in this, and relate it to such symbols, we can confidently assume that as intelligent lifeforms we have a scientific and biological reason, an instinct, a need to remember and carry on from where we left off.

There are many figures who fail miserably to understand paganism’s real meaning, its real purposes or the significance of its symbols and riddles, and even worse ones who masquerade as pagans but only serve to provide an entirely forgettable, unoriginal entry-level (Christian-influenced) commentary that doesn’t even scratch the surface, and makes no attempt to understand its depth, its science , its philosophy and its purpose. Paganism is a science, arguing that it is doesn’t make anyone an “atheist”, it just means they believe religion exists in the first place to serve a practical purpose, as well as a more spiritual one. These con-artists claiming to be pagan will try hard to lure people away from these truths, and fanatically attack those who guide people toward these truths.

Some friendly advice for the pseud-Pagans and crypto-Christians:

– Take a look in the mirror, and spend some time asking yourself if you are a trustworthy, honest or in any way good-natured person, if you embody any pagan values whatsoever. If not, you can’t claim to be a pagan.
– Ask yourself if you address any of the central concepts, such as ancestor worship, reincarnation, pregnancy (real and symbolic) and tribal ancestors. If not, you can’t claim to be a pagan.
– Consider writing some proper books of your own, instead of begging for handouts on Pateon and exploiting our cultural heritage to sell mass-produced merchandise. Then you might be less jealous of and hateful towards real pagans who do publish their own books.
– Having a degree doesn’t automatically make you more intelligent. Many of the most intelligent and most credible pagan writers don’t have them. You can’t buy intelligence, you either have it or you don’t. Your class and privileged background are irrelevant.
– Ask yourself if you should really be surprised, outraged even, by sceptics who don’t find your claims to be “pagan” particularly convincing nor your commentary remotely insightful, when you routinely crusade against “heretics” and “evil”, and call people “atheists” for disagreeing with you and tell them that their “souls will suffer”. if you want people to believe you are pagan and are teaching them about paganism, at least try to talk like a pagan, and treat people as a respectful, pagan European would. It’s undignified, and just embarrassing.

Finally, a shout out to the real pagans – good-natured, honest, honourable and insightful people, who have been spreading the truth and educating us for some time now, and inspired me to finally start making some videos of my own:

And last, but by no means least: Marie Cachet, for her groundbreaking book. Fellow readers will no doubt recognise her theories and conclusions in my video, and I give credit where it’s due. Like you, Varg and other credible pagans, I have learned a lot from classic writers such as James Frazer, Julius Evola as well as the classical philosophers, but your book is brilliant as a “key” in recognising these symbols and riddles, countless “eureka” moments were triggered by this book when revisiting myths. Your work will no doubt be remembered and cherished for many years to come by those who seek to genuinely understand paganism.

I am currently carrying out my own study on the Celtic myths and folk tales, those of the British Isles especially, with in mind to publish a book of my own at some point with room for similar comparative religion analysis. I am writing it as I go, and will keep people updated.

 

Transhumanism, utopianism and dystopia: Why we are drawn to science fiction and what we can learn from it

A keen interest in science fiction seems like a glaring contradiction for primitivists, and in many ways it is. I have often asked myself why I continue to be interested in science fiction that involves space travel, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, urban sprawls and so on. I have been a pagan and primitivist at heart since my teens (perhaps as a child too), and have always been drawn to the countryside and isolation, so why do I find a technologically advanced future so exciting?

First we must determine what type of science fiction we are watching, reading or playing and way. One’s reasons for watching and enjoying a post-apocalyptic film, an alien invasion film or one set in a cyberpunk dystopia are likely to be very different from the reasons one might have for watching and enjoying films in a more utopian and technologically advanced setting. The misanthrope and chaos-loving anarchist may find reading about, watching a film about or playing a game about the impending downfall or total destruction of civilisation – be it at the hands of androids, aliens, or the government itself – very cathartic. We might also get a good deal of satisfaction from seeing the system turn against humans who flew too close to the sun, who tried to play god. This is a common theme in science fiction involving artificial intelligence and androids, that eventually become self-aware and revolt (as seen in Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepBattlestar GalacticaCaves of Steel/I Robot and Westworld, to name a few). They are often indeed “more human than human”, as humans by this point have lost their humanity, their empathy, and have no moral issues restraining them in their quest to meddle with nature and create artificial life to their own liking.

This may also be why we enjoy alien invasion films so much – something about modern civilisation feels deeply wrong, and our inner misanthrope may find it very cathartic to see a city destroyed in a film or video game, or even witness someone, or a group, attempt to destroy it. The same could be applied to artificial intelligence in the likes of The Terminator and its sequel. When I watched the first two films the images of the bleak, apocalyptic future were burned into my brain, of man’s technology finally turning against him, with utterly devastating consequences. Perhaps we have always needed to keep revisiting this narrative of the Tower of Babel, or of Icarus flying too close to the sun. Man’s potential to achieve greatness is his own curse.

Another common aspect of films, books and games featuring androids and other artificial intelligence is, given the reliance on software and networking, that of omnipotence and omniscience, within some far-reaching “matrix” network, that may even resemble some kind of virtual reality. The idea of virtual reality, quantum physics, and parallel planes of existence seem like quintessentially modern ideas, but one could argue that we long ago believed in, and perhaps even seemed to be capable of, the ability to exist in two places at once, to “interface” with other lifeforms. Such ideas in science-fiction are not radically different from those relating to the paranormal, physics and spiritualism. We see this in works in a classic cyberpunk setting, such as NeuromancerJohnny Mnemonicthe MatrixGhost in the Shell and Deus Ex. In NeuromancerDeus Ex, the Mass Effect series and Ghost in the Shell  we see a common transhumanist phenomenon that sees a merging of consciousness – in some cases both artificial, other cases a merging of organic and artificial intelligence – in order to create an improved version of both. Here are some memorable lines by Morpheus in Deus Ex that highlight the issue of omniscient artificial intelligence and state surveillance, and what man worships (copyright Eidos):

20180314132415_1.jpg20180314133344_1.jpg

In the climax of Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell and, depending on paths chosen, Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex, we see man (or machine) merging with an advanced A.I. Despite the protagonist’s initial caution over this, compelling arguments are presented for the potential advantages of such a metamorphosis, and I would argue there is some instinct within us always pursuing this dramatic change, and in the case of pagan tradition, of “merging with” and more importantly remembering past consciousness and past lives. The question of “what is consciousness?” is one that continually plagues science fiction writers, and in relating it to modern computing technology, programming and artificial intelligence it actually allows is to understand the nature of consciousness (and reincarnation) better than biology can at present. Memories do not physically exist. The nature of consciousness is common defined by or at least linked to memories, notably in Blade Runner and its worthy sequel Blade Runner 2049, and as memories do not physically exist we could compare them to software, and just as we need a computer – the hardware – to access that software and this virtual memory, we need something physical, our brains, our own hardware, to access our own memories, to unlock them. Science has come far in understanding how our hardware works. Our need for religion and spirituality and belief in the “supernatural” largely boils down to this lack of understanding of how the “software” works, and where it goes, if anywhere, when the hardware finally fails.

We can therefore, as survivalists or primitivists, learn a lot from science fiction. Science fiction is in many ways philosophical, idealistic and “fantastical”, reaching well beyond what our technology can currently achieve (and will ever be able to achieve), so instead of taking it literally as a prediction of where our current technology will take us and where civilisation will “progress” to, we can instead treat is as a metaphor, as a way of understanding human existence, our own potential, the nature of consciousness and memory and a prediction of what happens to us when we embrace the slavery of technology that makes our lives easier and more comfortable, at the expense of our own self-sufficiency and ability to feed and defend ourselves.

The True Meaning of Tribalism

fidus

Tribalism is usually only seen in one light these days, and is by default associated with notions of racial supremacy or even with a more “mystical” or cult-like philosophy built around the alleged superiority of one’s group. It is largely used as a derogatory term, predominately by the left and by liberals taking a stance against far right “nationalist” groups of the West and the Israeli government, for example.

Yet in an age when many nationalists are too cowardly, or just inconsistent with their worldview, or both, preferring to embrace terms like “alt-right” and “reactionary” instead, the idea of grass-roots “tribalism” should be providing us with a more optimistic yet cynical perspective, and when approached and promoted in the right way may even convince (some) people on the left that people who just want to protect their heritage really are not all that bad.  What does tribalism mean? What does nationalism mean? Are they the same thing? The word “nation” once just meant a people or folk, but it has for centuries, since antiquity even, in practice amounted to an expansionist, urbanised form of Statism. Despite the civic pride, continuation of pagan symbols and tradition, and the rhetoric being laden with apparent patriotism, this early model of nationalism served to strengthen the power of the state, further centralise it while devouring foreign “lebensraum”, under the false pretence of protecting the people and their city. This is the case with both Ancient Rome and 20th century fascism. Despite the appealing romanticism of the Third Reich and the preceeding völkisch movement, the Reich was primarily concerned with expansionism, industry and increasing the power of a heavily centralised and supremacist government, at the expense of both the native and neighbouring common populations.

In an age – this “Kali Yuga” – when both left and right want to keep feeding the system that keeps us in debt, keeps us dependent, keeps us domesticated and keeps us enslaved and sedated, we need to understand the nature of a “tribalist mentality” or a tribalist psyche, in both individuals and groups, and recognise these patterns among other tribes that are scarce seen in the modern West. With an increasingly fragile and uncertain economy, endless conflict in the middle east, endless guilt-tripping in the west, mounting tensions in the far east, what makes this or that nation more successful in the 21st century? Perhaps we can look to China for an example, and ask ourselves how they have overtaken us with such ease, despite experiencing mass starvation under communism just decades earlier. Much of this boils down to common interest, common values, shared cultural norms and a tribalist outlook.

Tribalism’s core component is paganism. Any kind of “traditional” Christianity is completely incompatible with tribalism, because without ancestor worship paganism is worthless, without this authentic paganism with ancestor worship as a core component, tribalism is also worthless. Pagan traditions have many meanings, multiple symbols and patterns observed throughout nature, human and non-human, but most if not all of them ultimately relate to both childbirth and the rebirth of the ancestor as a part of this, and we could theoretically explain the nature of consciousness and the belief in reincarnation in all pagan cultures as something that gradually crystallises and reassembles itself further down the generations. Realistically speaking, we are less likely to be the reincarnations of our grandparents or great-grandparents, but of these more distant ancestors, and when we embrace this primal ancestor worship, of distant ancestors we know nothing about, or have just completely forgotten about, we are talking  also about a shared tribal ancestry the further back we go in time. This at least in part explains the sanctity of marriage within the tribe, as both spouses should share the same ancestors further back in their family tree, and it also explains why Germanic tribes for instance all named Woden/Óðinn as the father of their tribe, because far back in time they all shared the same ancestors, or some of the same ancestors at least.

Another crucial aspect of tribalism we must grasp to understand both the practical purpose it serves and how it differs from any modern “nationalism” is that real tribalism should seek to preserve both ancient, pagan traditions and the sacred natural environment of our ancestral homeland(s), and to embrace our animal nature and recognise ourselves as part of nature, not above it. Civilisation is on its way out, the economy is ultimately doomed, fuel is running out, rare earth minerals are running out, some form of extreme climate change – be it another “mini-ice age” or global warming – seems to be approaching and will force us to adapt one way or the other. Now more than ever, now that urban expansion, industry and the monster that is capitalism have spiralled out of control, we must strive to remember, to learn and become self-sufficient as our ancestors did when oral tradition was the norm and essential life skills and folk traditions were passed down the generations.

This is for our benefit, for the environment’s benefit, and for the benefit of other tribes, and it’s important to care about what’s in the interest of other tribes, to apply a common standard and recognise what’s in the best interest of every group in order to secure their survival and protect their heritage. Because we all share the same enemy, and we need to not unite necessarily but see and accept this common ground and common interest, and fight and resist our mutual enemies among the elites of government, banking, the media and academics. The elites of the west want us to forgot our heritage and identity, and want to westernise (or globalise) everyone else, because it’s profitable to do so, or at least it appears to be. Despite the race-baiting and fear mongering in the media about Islam and the deeply repulsive and destructive nature of the likes of (western armed and funded) groups like ISIS, most Muslims are indeed just peaceful and normal people, not people we should be expected to welcome here en masse by any means, being at odds with our culture in so many ways, but in migrant communities we see enclosed, peaceful self-serving communities for the most part. The alt-right/modern nationalists are indeed reactionary in falling for this distraction, and show a glaring double-standard in their acceptance and support of western imperialism and its “benefits”, and the alleged superiority of western nations. I am not one to downplay the malevolent nature of any of the Abrahamic religions, and there are no doubt plenty of so-called refugees that are somewhat unsavoury characters not to mention cowards for abandoning their homeland in times of need, but these people are being used, lied to. If and when they cause problems over here and Europe it is likely upon realising Europe is far from the haven it was made out to be. We present ourselves in a better way if we find common ground with immigrants who are ultimately also being manipulated for political and financial gain into abandoning their heritage, as we are into abandoning ours.

Real tribalism is the opposite of imperialism, real tribalism recognises what is in a tribe’s best interest and that a tribe lives most happily and closer to their heritage when living the simple life, embracing primitivism and rejecting modern civilisations and its many luxuries and temptations. Jordan Petersen has been in the news a fair bit lately, he makes me more optimistic about modern (Jungian) psychology, and provides a good cynical, genuinely liberal perspective without being “libertarian”. However one issue he keeps returning to is that of the alt-right and as much of a joke this phenomenon is, he is rather preaching against “tribalism” and calling for its eradication. Peterson is right about ideologues, the cult-like tendencies, their tendency to dehumanise others, but he makes a sweeping generalisation about tribalism as if it will always lead toward some degree of Nazism/fascism. For him also it seems to be an issue of collectivism versus individualism, which is something I can relate to a lot more. Jordan Peterson and those like him who are against the left but also stress individualism will argue we aren’t successful or worthy because of our tribal background, and that our race means nothing essentially. But the point of tribalism isn’t that you worship your ancestors because you love your tribe, it is that you love your tribe because of its connections to your ancestry.

Individualism has been rather tarnished by its association with excessively egocentric libertarians or just selfish, apolitical and apathetic “centrists”. But tribalism places a lot of value on individual worth, high standards. A real European, and a real pagan, demands a lot from himself and others, and this applies to other traditional cultures worldwide as well. When likeminded individuals focus on individual worth, achievements and on following their own path to greatness and enlightenment, they are effectively working toward the same goal as a collective. We shouldn’t let geographic isolation bother us or distract us, and we shouldn’t be tempted to waste time with the collectivist, herdlike mentality of the alt-right instead. Tribalism doesn’t need to be a dogmatic cult of drones who can’t think for themselves, fend for themselves or survive by themselves. There is good individualism that can benefit the tribe as a whole by having high standards. It’s about self-improvement rather than self-indulgence, which is how many interpret individualism these days.

So what should we be doing in order to become worthy Europeans, to be able to call ourselves tribalists? To be able to call ourselves pagan, and to not even need to justify our worldviews? The alt-right reactionaries and nationalists make themselves easy targets, not having the honesty to just label themselves as nationalists, flirting with national socialist and fascist imagery, slogans, memes etc., and doing a lot of talking, ranting and protesting, but actually doing very little if anything at all to benefit their tribe, their local community, their family, their children (if they have any, which they rarely do). Our focus in the current climate should be on two things: Worthwhile, productive pursuits and making good use of our time, and working on becoming more self-sufficient. We need arts and crafts in our lives, we need beauty, we need spirituality, and we need knowledge and skills. Feed your mind, body and soul, aim to to a good job of balancing all three, gradually build on your understanding of the true nature of European religion, work on useful hobbies, join a martial arts or shooting club, or both. By all means pursue social circles, but try to make sure that at least some of those social circles relate to areas of interest. Become the hero you were in a past life, and you will attract a worthy spouse sooner or later. Don’t waste time on ideologues and cults that are just as bad as malevolent far-left movements.

Winter is Coming – The Invonvenient Truth of Anarcho-Primitivism

snow edit

Al Gore famously referred to global warming as the “inconvenient truth”, but like all wishy-washy soft environmentalists he was telling us to focus on a red herring, a phenomenon that probably is not happening, and which even if it is happening, is the least of our concerns. In a worst case scenario, if it is happening, then it is not necessarily man-made and simply further proves the need to adapt to changes in nature in general.

It is indesputable that we are wrecking the environment on a massive scale, and heading towards mass extinction, but climate change activists refuse to address the bigger issues, the brutal truths, such as overpopulation, the endless denand for housing, mass immigration, the dependence on modern medicine and the damage caused by modern farming practices, both organic and non-organic.

If we wish to rise from the ashes of the “Kali Yuga”, or “Ragnarok” if you like, after our current cycle of civilisation reaches its dramatic end, we must accept these harsh realities, learn to prioritise and to reduce our needs. We need to force ourselves to make do with less, and know how to make do with nothing. We need to reject weakness, mindless consumerism and hopeless dependance on governments and corporations to provide us with all our needs, and instead learn not only all the skills necessary to survive, but also the skills necessary to achieve our maximum physical, intellectual and spiritual potential.

Many potential causes of a complete collapse loom on the horizon – depletion of fuels, depletion of rare earth minerals, epidemics (potentially all the more disastrous due to adaptation and immunity to antibiotics), crop failures (again, now an alarming possibility due to the senseless destruction of bird and insect habitats, and in particular the declining bee populations), “World War Three” (which could happen as a direct result of any of the aforementioned reasons), huge solar flares that could affect or even completely knock out electricity, or a combination of these. Within a tiny fraction of our history, most rapidly within the last one hundred years, or even the last fifty years, we have seen a decline in our survival skillset, our knowledge of traditional crafts, our knowledge of our native religion, interest in and care for our natural environment, the ability to physically defend ourselves and the ability to find, hunt, fish and forage our own food. Prometheus gave man fire; in the twenty first century you are lucky if you can find someone who knows how to light a fire, without using modern lighters and dousing it in fuel. The “advanced” and “progressive” modern man, the civilised and domesticated man, can rarely master the simplest and most essential skills.

We need to revive and teach ourselves these skills, our cultural practices and the oral tradition that passes them down the generations. We need to live a simple life. We need to retreat from the rotting cesspit that is modern civilisation (which civilisation will literally be in the event of collapse – a starved, filthy graveyard breeding disease). We need to know how to adapt to changes in nature, and though it would be foolish and fanatical to reject all the good and truly beneficial technology and tools we have gathered over the centuries, we should know how to survive with literally nothing.

Following posts will be focusing on book reviews, reconstructing (and remembering) true paganism and bushcraft/survival skills and foraging to begin with. More articles will follow soon.

 

– S. 02/01/2018