Analysing Systems of Religion as Universal and Particular

Written by Dyami Millarson

Theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism, which are respectively based on Greek, Latin, Manchu, Hebrew and Ojibwe terms, are systems of religion that may be analysed as universal despite their respective Greek, Latin, Manchu, Hebrew and Ojibwe origins, and therefore may also be analysed as particularly Germanic; for if the definition of each of these terms can be universally applied, it can also be particularly applied. When defining Germanic religion as theistic, animistic, shamanic, messianic and totemic, we need to define those systems of religion in a fitting Germanic way. The definitions, in other words, have to be adapted to the Germanic religious context if our stated aim is to study Germanic religion. The use of these terms in relation to Germanic religion is therefore no mere application of their universal definitions to the Germanic religious situation, but the universal definitions are merely a stage they pass through before being adapted to properly fit the Germanic context as we need an intermediate stage, free from particulars (e.g. Greek, Roman, Manchu, Hebrew or Ojibwe characteristics), that may help us get an idea of why the term may be useful. Regardless of the etymological origin of these concepts that we may define in such a way that they fit Germanic religion, the aforementioned terms are useful for describing the Germanic religious situation. After all, whilst students of Germanic religion, what we need is proper and familiar-sounding descriptors without preoccupying ourselves too much with their non-Germanic origins despite truthfully acknowledging these origins. When one speaks of Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism, one is speaking of Germanic religion. To make any sense, these terms have to be defined in such a way that they are synonymous with (façets of) Germanic religion; they are merely alternate approaches to the same concept. In other words, each system of religion highlights another aspect of religion, and thus they are different, non-mutually exclusive ways to define what religion really is.

The key take-away from this article ought to be the insight that Germanic religion is theistic, animistic, shamanic, messianic and totemic as much as it is religious. The fact of the matter is that a Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism defining and defined by Germanic religion are merely possible on the basis of the study of Germanic society as it once was before the decline of Germanic religion as an integral part of high culture (the culture of elite circles) as well as after Germanic religion was pushed out of elite discourse and receded to being merely part of low culture (the culture of the lower classes), as the decline of Germanic religion was a complex process whereby it did not die outright but simply gained a lower-class status in which it was socially locked and from which it could hardly escape before Protestants revived intellectual interest in the matter and began studying Germanic religious survivals into the modern era earnestly, which historically helped improve intellectual understanding of (continued) Germanic religion in elite circles. Given the unique situation of Germanic religion, culturally sensible definitions of Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism cannot come from without by forcing universal definitions simply and mechanically on the Germanic situation, which will only create an anachronistic monstrosity unhelpful to our endeavour of trying to understand what Germanic religion is and what it is not – we seek to penetrate the Germanic zeitgeist using modern terms that may serve as tools for achieving that scholarly aim. Cultural sensitivity is a must when studying religion that is particularly Germanic rather than generally human, even though the general may be useful for the particular and vice versa. In other words, we cannot study Germanic religion unless we are sensitive to – and curious to learn – what makes it stand out as Germanic. The problem of the study of Germanic paleopaganism is that we have to be open to the ancient Germanic world and whatever that entails; we must not limit ourselves in seeking to understand, and thus our definitions ought to be flexible in that they may be adapted to what we learn as our study of Germanic religion progresses further.


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