Islands Were Sacred in Germanic Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The names Helgoland, Halligen and Fositeland are linguistic reminders that islands were considered sacred by the polytheistic Germanic-speaking ancestors. It is not hard to imagine why islands were considered sacred. Islands feel separated from the rest of the world. One can find the spiritual peace of nature on islands. The isolation is what makes islands attractive for religious purposes. The phenomenon of isolation in nature is what the Germanic peoples considered sacred; for they considered such areas chosen, favoured or preferred by the Gods for religion. Blood sacrifices were usually made in enclosed spaces in nature, which are natural sanctuaries or in Old Norse. Special rules applied to those enclosed spaces called , akin to how the spaces around Shinto shrines are treated by Japanese today. Those spaces had to be kept pure. Any defilement of the space was considered desecration; the purity of nature had to be maintained, thus man’s impurity had to be kept away, otherwise the designated place would lose its sanctity.

The places that were designated by the Gods were made apparent to man by their unusual separation from the world around them; those places were realities of their own, they allowed man to enter into an ideal yet parallel reality. They were essentially gateways into another world. They bring man closer to the Gods; for man is allowed to experience the pristine, peaceful mood of nature. I have experienced such when I was in Hong Kong in 2017 and visited the various Chinese temples there; they allowed me to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. The temples allowed me to recharge; they gave me much needed rest. The Chinese temples were usually surrounded by elements of nature and they were separated from the rest of the city as nature around them had been left alone. Seeing nature in a pristine state is what gave me peace of mind; I know from experience that the purity of nature in such places in Hong Kong has a positive psychological effect on humanity, and the Germanic , which had a religious atmosphere about it thanks to being situated in nature and naturally demarcated, would have had a similarly positive effect on man.

While I was quite sick and was looking for a way to heal, I was on a spiritual quest in Hong Kong and I found many answers as I listened to my instinct; I did whatever felt right or good for my body and mind, this is what kept me healthy and well in Hong Kong. Not only was it my hobby to visit Chinese temples in Hong Kong in order to recharge, but it was one of my hobbies in Hong Kong to visit islands. I was quite sick at the time and did not have much energy, so I needed to recharge frequently. Islands had a similar function for me as Chinese temples. They gave me my much needed rest; they helped me to recover from my physical and mental exhaustion. Islands have a healing effect on the mind and body; they are spiritual healers. One may perceive islands as living beings, they are their own Gods. In addition, giving credence to the notion that islands are enclosed areas designated or created by the Gods is the tale of Gefjon ploughing the land and creating the island of Zealand. Islands may not only be regarded as spiritual entities, but they are also divine creations; whatever is God-created is, on principle, God-favoured while its essence or spirit reflects an aspect of the Gods and is therefore godlike (i.e., like the Gods). Being endowed with features of the Gods could mean being inhabited by the Gods, or at least being very attractive to being inhabited by a divine being. It is, thus, not so strange that the Germanic peoples deemed islands to be God-inhabited. In conclusion, islands may be regarded as temples of Germanic nature religion.

My fascination with islands has only increased over the years as I have become acutely aware of the fact they are ideal places for unique languages and cultures. They attract such languages and cultures, house them and nurture them; islands may be regarded as parental guardian figures for this reason. Unique languages and cultures can be preserved on islands as they are protected by the enclosed nature of islands; precisely the characteristics that made islands attractive to the Germanic-speaking polytheists of yore are what makes them perfect for small languages and cultures. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the existence of the communities of such languages and cultures that emerge on the islands has a guardian function for the islands as well; they feel naturally responsible for the protection of the island through their language and culture which bestows them with unique knowledge of the natural environment of the island. Namely, the island’s nature becomes interwoven with people’s language and culture and philosophy.

It feels like the divine islands have called or attracted human guardians to the themselves in order to aid them and protect them from harm, and the locals who live on such islands seem to take that role seriously as their continued existence is deeply tied to the well-being of the islands; the islanders have merged with the island through their identity, language and culture. This symbiosis is mutually beneficial; the islands benefit and the islanders benefit from this close relationship. When I studied the Frisian island peoples, I noticed that the island is their life, it is their nurturing parent, it is their divinity; the feel one or merged with the island. The ancient Germanic polytheists who would have been naturally charged with protecting the sacred Germanic islands as they were living on them would have felt the same way as these modern-day Frisian linguistic and cultural communities do; the guardian role of the ancestors has been passed on to the Frisian descendants. I find this a very inspiring idea, as the present-day situation among the communities of small languages and cultures is not that different from that of the ancients, and this credence to the idea that these indigenous communities are the heirs of the land on which they live, as they act and have always acted as its protectors; they feel naturally drawn to fulfil that role since it is their raison d’être, the land is what made them unique and of course they will feel indebted to the land, which they usually approach in an animistic way as being spiritually inhabited.

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