Animals Bearing Messages From the Gods

Written by Dyami Millarson

The polytheists living in the Viking Age and early Germanic times saw omens everywhere. They were firmly convinced that the Gods attempted to communicate with them in mysterious ways, and that they Gods were trying to warn them about their destiny; in fact, they believe that virtuous and heroic humans, who were well-liked by the Gods, were worthy of being spoken to by the Gods.

They held no doubt that the Gods spoke to them, and that this meant they were virtuous in the eyes of the Gods; while these beliefs were so firmly held – the degree of conviction was definitely strong – by all of the Germanic peoples practising folk religion, they believed without any shred of doubt that they were liked by the Gods and that for this reason, the Gods were doing them many favours.

Germanic people saw divine messages in the sky in the form of birds, clouds and other celestial objects and phenomena; they closely watched the motion of everything in the skies, hoping that this might tell them something about their fate. Everything that moved in the sky was believed to have a spirit, and therefore flying birds, moving celestial bodies and phenomena in the night sky were regarded as manifestations of the spiritual world, to which the Ansiwiz (major deities, big spirits) and Albīz (numinous beings, elves, lesser spirits) belonged.

They saw divine message on earth in the form of wild animals and domesticated animals; they closely watched the movements of horses and the intestines of slaughtered cattle. They not only paid attention to the motions that they observed on earth and in the sky, but they also paid close attention to sound; they listened to the songs of birds and they listened to the breezing of horses.

Germanic folk religion definitely included an emphasis on careful observation of one’s local natural environment. After all, being familiar with one’s surroundings was vital for the survival of the Germanic peoples. If a foreign army encroached upon their territory, they could perhaps have heard it in the songs of the birds in the forest as they might fall silent or show other unusual behaviours.

The songs of birds and other sounds of the forest may be a way to tell whether there are intruders in the local environment. The forest communicates and the Germanic peoples were paying attention to this natural communication that was occurring around them. They were in touch with nature and they possess knowledge about their local ecology: they knew the normal sounds and motions that occurred in nature, and they knew how to recognise deviations from the norm.

Those deviations could provide them with a lot of information about what was to come, and so this allowed them to react properly to any impending disaster. The forest might warn them about an invading army or a natural disaster. The forest was their friend who protected them from harm and so they listened to the forest. The Germanic peoples were not just forest-dwelling peoples, but they were one with the forest in which they lived and they had successfully adapted to the forest.

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