Is Messianism Compatible With Germanic Polytheism?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Even though the concept of messianism is associated with monotheism in the popular mind, the answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding yes and Germanic polytheistic messianism predates monotheistic messianism in Northwestern Europe. So how does Germanic folk religious messianism work? To answer that question, we need to define messianism first: messianism is the belief in a messiah or that a particular group under the influence of a messiah is destined to save the world. Apparently, to understand the definition of messianism, we need to take a closer look at the functional role of a messiah: what does a messiah do? A messiah saves, and so a messiah is a saviour, which is σωτήρ in Ancient Greek. This is a very important semantic connection to understand for Germanic messianism. Additional semantic connections with saviour which I deem particularly relevant for our discussion of Germanic messianism are protector, guardian, patron, hero, and tutelar. So, we may understand a messiah functionally as a Tutelary Deity or Spirit. This tutelary function is what we ought to focus on with Germanic messianism: since time immemorial, Germanic religion has had the concept of Tutelars.

In my estimation, messianism as a concept in monotheism is intrinsically connected with the concept of the Tutelar and ultimately comes from a belief in many Tutelars. Messianism in monotheism may be derived from a polytheistic ur-messianism. The Germanic peoples had Hero-Gods, who exhibited important heroic traits and performed great deeds (presumably for the benefit of humanity); the motif of the protective Deity or Spirit is essential to Germanic religion, and consequently it is essential to Germanic messianism. Additionally, the apparent Germanic belief that Deities or Spirits, to which one may sacrifice, are protectors, guardians, patrons, heroes and Tutelars is particularly relevant to our definition of Germanic messianism.

In Germanic religion, the Gods are messiahs; for their function is to save in return for blood sacrifices. It is a quid pro quo matter: salvation can only be achieved through blood sacrifice. Do ut des is inherent in Germanic polytheism, and this ethos may also be observed in the Hávamál. While blood sacrifice (blót in Old Norse) is the preferred instrument or means of salvation in Germanic religion, blood sacrifice is the way to come into contact with the Germanic messiahs (Æsir); the nature of blood sacrifice is defining for the relationship with the Germanic messiahs. While the concept of Patron God (which is Beskermgod in Shire Frisian and Beschermgod in Dutch) is native to Germanic polytheism, we can assert with confidence that messianism is also native to Germanic polytheism, and Germanic messianism is not about a single messiah but a multitude of messiahs; every single Deity or Spirit that can be prayed to with a blood sacrifice is a messiah of some sort.

While Deities in Germanic religion are to be interpreted as saviours who normally provide salvation by means of blood sacrifice, we can establish with a very high degree of confidence that the concept of messianism is not alien to Germanic polytheism. Germanic polytheism may be defined as the belief in multiple messiahs manifesting themselves as various Vættir (Divine Beings) and the belief that people who are under the influence of the Sacrificial Gods (Blótguð in Old Norse) are destined, or prophesied by the decree of the Nornir who spin the webs of fate, to save the world. In the vein of the second definition, Einherjar may be understood as manifestations of War Saints who help protect humanity.

While the world is continuously saved from the destruction of the Giants by the Gods, blood sacrifice may be interpreted as an act that is aiding the Gods in that continuous struggle for the world. While the Gods fight for humanity and are thus delivering humanity from danger, human beings provide food in return for their military service against the forces of chaos wreaking havoc on the natural world and the strongest, bravest or best of mankind may become Einherjar who aid the Gods in their war; this is the man-Deity role division.

So the concept of messianism is useful for understanding Germanic religion in the same manner that animism, shamanism and polytheism are useful, and while the aforementioned concept is relevant to Germanic theology, it certainly makes sense to tweak the definition to fit the Germanic context; Germanic messianism, which is messianism adapted to the Germanic context, is obviously messianism with Germanic characteristics, and therefore it ought to be understood through the lens of typically Germanic concepts (such as blót, Blótguð, Nornir, ørlög, etc.). Although messianism is superficially a new word, its underlying concept is ancient. Likewise, polytheism is a modern word, but its underlying concept is ancient. Messianism and polytheism describe something that has always been the case among the Germanic peoples. Germanic messianism as an aspect of Germanic religion answers the essential question of what is the ultimate goal or purpose of Germanic religion.

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