A Tentative List of Systems of Religion Applicable to Germanic Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

I have previously discussed how systems of religion may be defined in universal ways despite their particular origins (e.g. Roman, Greek, and so on) and may then again be defined in a particularly Germanic way such that they are useful for understanding Germanic religion (see my article on universal and particular definitions of systems of religion). Having gained this insight, we may then proceed to ask the following question: which systems of religion are applicable to Germanic religion? There are quite a few systems of religion that are applicable to Germanic religion. Giving an exhaustive list is beyond the scope of this article, as this article is merely meant to demonstrate such a list could potentially be made. Consequently, here follows an incomplete list of systems of religion that appear to be applicable to the Germanic context if defined in a way that fits Germanic religion:

  • Theism (polytheism, Vættirism, Vættir faith, Vęrðirism, Vęrðir faith, Godism, Goð faith, Mögnism, Mögn faith, Böndism Bönd faith, Męginism, Męgin faith, belief in High-Ranking and Low-Ranking Gods), animism (spiritism, spiritualism, spirituality)
    • Ginnręginism (Ginnręgin faith, Uppręgin faith)
    • Æsirism (Æsir faith, Ręgin faith)
      • Ásynjurism (Ásynjur faith)
    • Vanirism (Vanir faith)
    • Hero worship (Einhęrjarism, Einhęrjar faith, Saint faith, virtuous men worship, glorious men worship, brave men tradition, great men worship, strong men worship, deified ancestor worship, fallen hero faith, great ancestor worship, prime ancestor worship, homourable men worship)
      • Valkyrjurism (Valkyrjur faith)
    • Elemental Spirits, Nature Spirits, Place Spirits, Mithgarth Spirits
      • Landvættirism (Landvættir faith)
        • Landdísirism (Landdísir faith)
        • Stone Spirit Faith (Steinvættir faith, Hörgvættir faith)
        • Tree Spirit faith (Lundvættir faith, Trévættir faith, Trémęnn faith, Skógarvættir faith, Viðarvættirism)
        • Household Spirit faith (Húsvęrðirism, Húsvættirism, Húsvættir faith)
        • Hill Spirit faith (Bjargvættirism)
      • Nykrarism (Nykrar faith, Marvættir faith, Marmęnn faith, Fjallvættir faith, Forsvættir faith, Vatnavættirism, Vatnavættir faith, Sævættir faith, Kęlduvættir faith)
        • Marmęnnillism (Marmęnnill faith)
          • Margýgrism (Margýgr faith)
    • Álfarism (Álfar faith)
      • Dísirism (Dísir faith, Álfkonur faith)
      • Ljósálfarism (Ljósálfar faith, Himinvættir faith, Loptvættir, leukotheism)
      • Dvergarism (Dvergar faith)
        • Dyrgjurism (Dyrgjur faith)
      • Svartálfarism (melanotheism)
      • Dökkálfarism (achluotheism)
    • Fylgjurism (Fylgjur faith)
    • Hamingjurism (Hamingjur faith)
    • Nornirism (Nornir faith)
    • Mörurism (Mörur faith)
    • Maltheism (belief in evil, harmful or hostile Gods, Meinvættirism, Íllskuvættirism, Úvættirism)
    • Eutheism (belief in friendly Gods, Hjálpvættirism, Holl Ręgin faith)
    • Draugarism (Draugar faith, zombie faith)
    • Ormarism (ophiotheism, Ormar faith, Drękarism, Drękar faith, ophiolatry)
    • Jötnarism (Jötnar faith, Þursarism (Þursar faith, trollism, troll faith)
      • Gýgjarism (Gýgjar faith)
  • Traditionalism (siðr, blótism, perspective, philosophy, worldview, way, code, thought, ritualism, custom, rite, superstition, Germanic sacrificialism, hemotheism)
    • Germanic fatalism (Ørlögism, Wyrdism, Urðrism, Urðarbrunnr faith)
      • Shamanism (Seiðrism, faith in magical wisdom, Galdrism, Görningism, Vittism, belief in Trolldómr, heroism, messianism, miracle-worker faith, sōtēres faith, soteric faith, soterotheism, Seiðmęnnism, Seiðmęnn faith, Spámęnn, Spámęnn faith, Görningamęnn, Görningamęnn faith, Galdravættirism, Galdravættir faith, Görningavættirism, Vittavættirism, Vittavættir faith, witch faith, sorcerer faith)
        • Belief in the quality of hamramr (shape-shifting, metamorphosis, transmutation)
          • Zootheism (animal worship, theriotheism)
            • Aviotheism (bird worship)
            • Lycotheism (wolf worship, lycanthropism, werewolf faith, vargúlfar faith, belief in eigi einhamr, hamramar faith, kveldúlfar faith, wolf-themed naming tradition)
            • Hippotheism (horse worship)
            • Arctotheism (bear worship, werebear faith, bęrserkar faith, bear-themed naming tradition)
            • Bootheism (cow worship)
            • Ichthyotheism (fish worship)
            • Myotheism (mouse worship)
        • Spá faith (millenarianism, omenism, omen belief, prophet faith, sooth-saying faith, prophesy faith, belief in fortune-telling, belief in foresight, belief in clairvoyance, Völurism, Völur faith, Seiðkonurism, Spákonurism)
          • Belief in drawing lots
          • Belief in interpreting animal speech (animal speech faith, animal-whispering faith, Speaking with animals
          • Belief in interpreting intestines
          • Belief in interpreting flight of birds
          • Belief in interpreting breezing of horses
          • Belief in foreboding dreams
        • Fetishism (magical items faith, magical objects faith) 
          • Magical weapons
          • Blótspánn faith
          • Totemism, idolatry, idolotheism, idolism
            • Pole God worship
    • Vé worship (sanctuary worship, Friðr observance, irenotheism, sacred space rites, sanctity faith, friðstaðr faith, hęlgistaðr faith), topotheism (place worship, landmark worship, landscape feature worship), nature worship (heimism, universism, cosmism, ‘naturalism’ redefined as the worship of natural events and forces of nature), Odinism (rex deōrum worship, animus mundī worship, King of the Gods worship; King of the Gods = King of the Heavens worship, King of the Clouds worship, worship of the ruler of the whole universe, worship of regnātor omium deōrum, Tīwaz worship)
      • Gardism (worship of the two garths, worship of Mithgarth and Asgarth)
        • Dendrotheism (tree worship, sacred grove worship, wood veneration, xylotheism, blótlundar faith, sacred tree worship, blótviðir faith, blóttré faith, sacred forest worship, hylotheism, blótskógar, forest worship, ‘arborism’ redefined as blóting to trees, dendrolatry, arborolatry)
          • Baduhennism (worship of Baduhenna’s forest)
          • Donarism (worship of Donar’s oak)
          • Yggdrasilism (world tree faith, axis mundī faith)
        • Hydrotheism (vatnablót, water worship, blóting to bodies of water, hydrolatry)
          • Njördism (sea worship, sæblót)
          • Blótkeldurism (sacred well worship, telmatotheism, bog worship, lake worship, blóting to lakes, Sacred spring worship, fanism, fanotheism, blótbrunnarism)  telmatolatry)
          • Forsism, waterfall worship (blóting to waterfalls), stream worship, brooklet worship
        • Ouranotheism and chronotheism (sky worship, heaven worship, heavenly body worship, celestialism, himinblót, ouranolatry; time worship, season worship, chronolatry)
          • Sólism (sun worship, heliotheism, solarism, heliolatry)
          • Mánism (moon worship, selenotheism, selenolatry, lunarism)
          • Thorism (thunder worship)
          • Sumarrism (summer worship, sumarblót, miðsumarblót)
          • Vetrism (winter worship, vetrarblót, miðsvetrarblót)
          • Dagrism (day worship, hemerotheism)
          • Nóttism (night worship, nyctotheism)
        • Geotheism (land worship, geolatory)
          • Blótvęllirism (field worship, heath worship)
          • Jördism (Earth worship, Mother Earth worship, jarðarblót)
          • Island worship (fositism, véey faith, eyblót)
          • Blóthaugar faith (ancestralism, ancestral rites, ancestor worship, howe worship, mound worship, gravehill worship, fęll faith, natural hill worship, arrificial hill worship, terp worship)
          • Sacrificial pit worship (blótgrafir faith, ground-hole worship, sacrificial hole tradition)
        • Petrotheism (Cairn worship, Hörgar worship, Kumbl worship, blóting to a heap of stones, hörgblót, petrolatry, border stone worship, liminal deity worship)
          • Worship of Freyja with cairns 
        • Domotheism (worship in houses, worship confined within house walls, worship in domestic environment, worship of divine houses, worship of dwelling place of deity, álfablót, Temple worship, Hófism, blóthúsism, hófblót, Díar faith, Goðar faith, Gyðjur faith)

Dismissive and loaded interpretations of Germanic religion are superstition and mythology, which we should seek to abolish when speaking of Germanic theology as we should we sympathetic to Germanic religion when studying it, whilst hostility to the object of study only clouds our judgement and understanding. A similarly loaded and dismissive term in the science of language is dialect, which should be abolished just like the terms superstition and mythology when referring to Germanic religion or any other folk religion.

I used the plurals Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, etc. to form Æsirism, Vanirism, Jötnarism, etc. to denote that it is not just about one of the Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, etc. Thus, I used the plurals in the ism-formations to bear the same meaning as poly- in polytheism.

Germanic polytheism requires Æsirism, Vanirism, Jötnarism, Dvergarism, Álfarism, Fylgjurism, Hamingjurism, Nornirism, Nykrarism, Mörurism, Einhęrjarism, Seiðmęnnism, Draugarism, Ormarism, Meinvættirism, Hjálpvættirism, i.e., belief in the existence of the Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, Dvergar, Drękar, Álfar, Fylgjur, Hamingjur, Nornir, Nykrar, Mörur, Einhęrjar, Seiðmęnn, Draugar, Ormar, Meinvættir, Hjálpvættir. The exact relationship with these divine beings may differ, as some require worship and others should be warded against. Similarly, Judeo-Christianity requires God faith, Angel faith and Devil faith, i.e., belief in God, Angels and Satan. This is simply how Judeo-Christianity works.

The full package of beliefs native to Germanic polytheism appears quite complex, yet we should not forget that the bulk of the religious emphasis in Indogermanic polytheism lies in (intuitively) recognising supernatural beings whereas the emphasis in the various strands of Semitic monotheism lies in a centrality and reduction of beings  by enforcing strict rules. The natural human situation is recognising a multitude of beings and the opposite can only be achieved with strict rules prohibiting the natural human situation.

Germanic religion certainly meant a reverence for whatever was native to the North or more specifically the Northwest of Europe, as this was practical; being in harmony with one’s local environment by having a natural sense of respect for said environment is healthy. This may be described as North worship, Nordic veneration, Northern veneration, or septentrional veneration. After all, septentrional languages was a term used in the past to designate the Germanic languages and it would therefore not to be so strange to speak of septentrional veneration or septentrionalism as a key tenet of Germanic society.

Being Northern is a part of Germanic identity since time immemorial. Names such as Northvegr and Northmenn attest to this. Nevertheless, an even more important current in Germanic thought was the concept of centrality. Germanic identity, as seen in the concept of Mithgarth, was linked with the notion of centrality in ancient times. The Germanic peoples perceived themselves as being in the middle of the world, and so while the perception of being Northern has ancient origins, the prevailing Germanic view was that the Germanic peoples were central in the world, meaning that they were the closest to Yggdrasil, the world tree, at the centre of the world. A comparable perception has existed among the Chinese peoples since ancient times, who perceived themselves as living in the Central Kingdom, which is a concept that ultimately has the same intended meaning as Mithgarth.

Germanic religion has different theistic aspects: belief that Gods who have a favourable disposition towards mankind exist (eutheism), belief that Gods who are may or may not be evil, i.e. morally ambiguous, exist (dystheism), belief that Gods who are evil, i.e. misanthropic, exist (maltheism). 

Terms for a folk religionist are: blætr kumbla, blótmaðr. A female folk religionist is a blótkona. A folk religious priest is: goði, blótgoði, blótjarl. Folk religious priests may also be called díar. A female folk religious priest is a gyðja, blótgyðja.

Belief in shape-shifting is intimately related with the tradition of animal-themed personal names, the belief in werewolves and werebears (bear-skins), and the belief in the Fylgjur and Trolls who can appear in a great many animal forms — not even to speak of the shape-shifting abilities of the Gods. Witchcraft is the domain of the trolls, hence the term trolldómr. Troll means Werewolf-Witch-Giant, and can by extension also be used to possess the same magical powers as trolls. Cleasby and Vigfusson say that “the evil spirits of the heathens were trolls and giants” and that the Old Norse concept of trolls “conveys the notion of huge creatures, giants, Titans, mostly in an evil, but also in a good sense.”

I gave more prominence to Nykrar than Sævættir, Vatnavættir, etc. because Nykrar are a generic water sprite. Furthermore, a salt/fresh water distinction is not of primary importance for water spirits; Nykrar occur in both salt and fresh water environments. For example, the Dutch nikkers may be found fresh water.

See the examples of the use of hjálpvættur in Icelandic in this online dictionary.

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.

Moral Engineering: Does Germanic Folk Religion Assume Man Can and Must Be Changed?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Can man be socially engineered according to Germanic religion? Is the goal of Germanic religion to change man?

To answer this question, we need to understand the moral ambiguity that pervades Germanic folk religion.

Although there is a moral code (code of honour) inherent in Germanic folk religion as it is considered worthy to live an honourable life, the moral code of Germanic folk religion is about self-acceptance (being oneself), and therefore it is an acceptance of moral intuition (wisdom) and in-born human conscience.

There is no clear path towards what is moral in Germanic folk religion as the world is not seen through a black-and-white lens; evil and good are intertwined, and morality is thus an acceptance of both good and evil, creating moral ambiguity.

In other words, the morality of Germanic folk religion is moral ambiguity. Germanic folk religion is about man and fate; man will become what he is meant to become, and he will find, by his own intuition, what he is meant to be.

The flow of life is whatever it is; and Germanic religion is the acceptance of that. A Germanic polytheist is thus fate-accepting, life-accepting; amor fati, the love of fate, is the slogan that characterises his life.

All in all, Germanic folk religion is not about changing man or creating a mankind that is better, but it is about man finding himself, accepting himself for what he is meant to be. The goal of Germanic folk religion is not change (social engineering), but acceptance; and therefore its central message is finding peace with one’s fate whatever it may be and this requires one to embrace moral ambiguity.

The goal of Germanic folk religion is the self-actualisation of man; for man ought to find his own potential in life. Germanic folk religion seeks to get out of man whatever is already inside of him; and nothing but that which is already present in man is what concerns the goal of Germanic folk religion.

Germanic folk religion is thus about helping mankind to realise its potential; it is about maintaining man as he is, and letting him become whatever he is meant to become. As a force of maintaining the order of the universe, Germanic folk religion is a device that helps man achieve whatever he is meant to achieve in his lifetime.

Germanic folk religion is like a wise old man who is meant to help a young hero on his perilous journey; Germanic folk religion provides the young hero with wise council, and the young hero may ignore that advice at his own peril.

While Germanic folk religion helps the hero on his way to victory, it takes a passive role in the background; Germanic folk religion is a philosophy that adopts the moral indifference of a wise old man who has seen too much, has come to accept moral ambiguity as a fact of life due to his many worldly experiences and has seen the survival benefit of letting moral ambivalence be his moral compass (guiding philosophy of ethics) in life.

Germanic folk religion does interfere with the life of the protagonist in the sense that it seeks to nudge him in the right direction in accordance with his destined potential; but it does not interfere with the right or wrong choices of the protagonist, as he is free to choose to accept or neglect the prudent councils of the ancient old ones who are responsible for maintaining the order of the universe.

So, Germanic folk religion is both interference and non-interference; it does not seek to change the hero (or villain) fundamentally so as to make him a better human being, but it seeks to help the hero (or villain) to become whatever he needs to become in order to fulfil his destined role in life. Everyone has their role to play and Germanic folk religion does not interfere with the order of things; it accepts man’s nature as it is, regardless of whatever that may be, and it helps man on his way, giving him wise council so that he may achieve his full potential.

Man will ultimately be judged, by men and Gods alike, on the basis whether his actions were worthy or not; an honourable name or good reputation is what ultimately matters according to the Germanic folk religious worldview. In other words, one has to maintain one’s face throughout one’s life and one should not lose face; and even if one loses face, one should try to regain one’s face, thus use actions in order to restore one’s lost honour. Germanic society is a society based on reputation, and man’s reputation is regulated by one’s actions.