Embracing the Fluidity of Distinctions in the Germanic Context: Conflating Gothic, Nordic, and Germanic

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Germanic world, rich in its linguistic, cultural, and religious history, has often been subject to artificial distinctions and rigid categorisations. An aspect of my work has, however, been to reevaluate these boundaries, highlighting the inherent fluidity and interconnectedness of the Germanic traditions. One example of particular interest in this context can be found in Hampson’s extended use of “Goths” and “Gothic” to refer to the early Germanic peoples in general — a usage that mirrors my application of “Nordic religion” to encompass Germanic religion as a whole. This peculiarity of Hampson’s language, which clearly includes non-Gothic peoples in the narrow sense in the Gothic category, came to light in my recent article on dough and clay idols during my discussion of a quote from his work, where Hampson covered the topic of Julagalt, and so this became the inspiration for the current article, which delves into the topic of the extended use of Gothic and Nordic.

Both the Proto-Nordic and Gothic languages, cultures, and religions share intimate ties to their Proto-Germanic roots; in fact, the Proto-Nordic and Gothic languages, cultures, and religions are almost the same as their Proto-Germanic predecessors. Consequently, using the terms “Nordic” and “Gothic” to refer to all aspects of Germanic identity showcases the linguistic, cultural and religious connections between these groups. This practice also aligns with historical traditions, where Germanic peoples have often claimed the legacy of the Gothic identity. The extended use of “Gothic” and “Nordic” does not negate their original, narrower meanings. Instead, it allows for a more nuanced understanding of the common genealogy and origins of the Germanic languages, cultures, and folk religions. By adopting this broader perspective, we can generate increased interest in the topic and encourage further exploration into the interconnectedness of these traditions.

While it is possible to trace the developments that distinguished Proto-Norse and Gothic from their linguistic ancestor, the lines become increasingly blurred when looking further back in time — an insight which extends to cultural and religious matters as well. This paradox highlights the fluidity inherent in the linguistic history of the Germanic world. Modern times have seen a tendency to draw strict distinctions between various aspects of Germanic identity. However, by acknowledging the fluidity of these boundaries, we can gain a deeper understanding of the true nature of Germanic religiosity. For instance, the non-distinction between animism and polytheism in the Germanic context demonstrates that, upon closer examination, certain distinctions may not be as consequential as initially believed. Whether rigid distinctions hold up to scrutiny is relevant to the discussion of Hampson’s broad use of Gothic and Goths, and I find it wonderful to learn something — as well as adopt something — from a man born in another era; of course, the tradition of using Gothic in a broad sense is not confined to Hampson, but observing this usage again in Hampson’s work brought it to my attention and made me weigh the merits of referring to Germanic religion as Gothic religion, resulting in the view that whilst I already refer to Germanic religion as Nordic religion at times, I might as well refer to it as Gothic religion occasionally; I see merit in doing so, as it helps break down rigid barriers to understanding the interconnectedness of Germanic traditions.

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