7/14/2013

1.1 Dying into the Halls of One's Patron

This is a new belief which appeared in modern heathenry between the years of 1990 and 1995 and very quickly became accepted. Acceptance came with such speed that many having become heathen after that time have assumed that the belief has been a standard part of heathenry since the beginning of organized heathenry in 1973. This is not the case, however. Early articles in the Ásatrú Free Assembly's (AFA's) Runestone and in the AFA's goðí training course several concepts of Afterlife were mentioned which included, "into the grave," "Hel," "Valhalla," and the "Halls of Rán" but the term 'patron' was not part of the AFA specialized heathen vocabulary, and secondly, other than Óðínn, Hel, and Rán no other gods (if we may consider the latter two to be gods or god-like).

The term 'patron' as well as the short lived 'matron' did not become part of the standard vocabulary of heathenry until the mid-1990s. Neither term shows up in writings by AFA members or in Edred Thorsson's writings up to that point. The term 'patron' first appeared in email groups in the early 1990 and its entry into the heathen vocabulary seems to correlate with the earliest appearance of the 'profession' (used specifically by modern heathens to mean 'the formal dedication of oneself to the Germanic pantheon, the gods'). 'Profession' seems to have been imported into American heathenry from the Odinic Rite based in the UK, but the source of the use of the word, 'patron,' in heathenry is not known. However, its popularity in email posts increased dramatically during the span of time when Harry Harrison's The Hammer and the Cross trilogy was popular among heathens who enjoy the sci-fi/ fantasy genre of literature. This trilogy was discussed among heathens on email lists almost daily between 1993 and 1996 (when the final volume was published). The hero of the trilogy, Shep, loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon hero, Scyld Scefing, spent a number of his early adult years looking for signs which would indicate which god had chosen him and who would act, in effect, as the patron of the hero, protecting and guiding him as his fate was acted out. The correlation between the appearance and popularity of the term and the publishing of the trilogy is strong and cannot not be blithely ignored, but, to date, the author has been unable to find anyone who will admit to having been influenced by the trilogy.

The term 'matron' appeared about two years after the first appearances of 'patron,' but it has never enjoyed the same popularity. The term seems to have come from Wicca. Although modern heathenry and Wicca have been viewed by some as being 'cousin' religions and have co-existed side-by-side since 1973, American wiccans, between 1992-1998, began exerting influence some of the modern heathen organizations such as the Ring of Troth and the American Vinland Association; some members of the RoT's High Rede and officer positions were not only practicing members of the wiccan priesthood but many were also consistent contributors to the organization's official journal, Iðunna. Most notable were the steersmen, Diana Paxson and Prudence Priest who were both high priestesses with covens of their own in the state of California. The influence of Wicca was somewhat less among the so-called 'folkish heathens' since they have had a tendency to be somewhat more conservative but they were not completely immune. It is surmised, again by dating the approximate appearance of the term, that 'matron' was popularized by new-comers to modern heathenry through the 'cousin' religion of Wicca and that it was meant to emphasize the 'goddess principle' and the feminine (both popular topics by wiccan authors of the time) both in imitation of meaning and sound of the word 'patron.' The term does not appear to have been accepted as readily as 'patron' which now is often utilized as a generalized term for both the masculine and feminine protective deities.

The concept of 'patron' came into modern heathenry relatively quickly and is supported through generalization of two concepts found throughout sagaic literature: general fulltrúi and and the fulltrúi of the blótsmaðr. General fulltrúi most likely originally involved the dedication of oneself to a single god, presumedly that of the local cult-center. Place-name studies combined with archeological evidence suggest that certain areas were dedicated to a specific god. Although the word is often translated as 'patron' the sense of the is 'that in which one can trust.' Thomas DuBois in his investigation of 'faith' cites Viga-Glúms Saga as being the primary source for a description of a personal relationship to a particular god and indeed those modern heathens claiming a personal relationship to a particular, in the sense of 'patron,' generally cite this text as a main defense for their belief and practice. DuBois' choice of this particular saga was careful, however. In discussing his choices of source material, he describes Viga-Glúms Saga in the following manner:

"Details of paganism acquire in [this work]-as in others of the thirteenth century-particular function within a Christian philosophical and literary tradition. Wile purporting to focus on the era of con- versions, these texts actually help us to understand the complex relations of paganism and Chritstianity in the generations which foollowed. . . . The mid-thirteenth century Viga-Glúms Saga presents the life and times of the Icelandic chieftain Glúmr Eyjölfsson, an irascible leader and poet who lived in an era roughly simultaneous to that of Óláfr Tryggvason. . . . At the same time, Viga-Glúms Saga reflects and author of deep Christian outlook and learning. He uses produces a text that uses paganism as the thematic basis for a portrayal of a proud and vengeful society, one which can escape its failings only with the final acceptance Christianity. . . .Throughout [the] opening portion [of the saga], no explicit mention of religious adherence is noted but the author hints at religious factors in a manner presumedly clear to a thirteenth century audience."

In other words, heathenry had been translated and reinterpreted for the limited understanding of a Christian audience, and one of Christianity's main selling points that one can enjoy specialized, personalized treatment from a god through prayer, devotion, and through some sort of process which essentially results in one giving up possession of his own soul.

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