7/15/2013

2 Historical Views

2.1    Difficulties Researching the Past

Now, we will present what is known about the Germanic worldview. There is a counter-argument against the reconstruction of the Germanic which commonly appears on email list and bulletin boards; the argument runs thus:

"It is completely impossible to know exactly what was accepted by the ancient Germanic peoples as part of their worldview. There are no living examples and the ancient heathens left no real records of their own. Everything that we know about that period of time has been translated and interpreted for us by the Christians who picked and chose what would be preserved, how it would be preserved, and in many cases, as part of their own propaganda machine to further their own cause. Anyone believing that they are re-creating the worldview of the ancient heathen is mistaken."

There are some errors in the above arguments, however. First, heathens did preserve much of their worldview, albeit at times unconsciously, in a very careful fashion. The archaeological record is as good as any written document for the preservation of facts. So important and so well preserved is the archeological record that it is used to verify written records. The main differences between approaching heathenry from the written records and the archaeological record is that the primary written records pertaining to heathenry, i.e. the sagas and poetry, do not have to necessarily represent the truth and come pre-interpreted. The New Methods for research of the Viking era call for a cooperative effort between a large number of fields:

  1. "interdisciplinary co-operation, extending outside university departments if possible towards collaborative inquiry with the whole of society;
  2. vaster and vaster accumulations of evidence 'preferably in machine readable form,' using Automated Data Processing;
  3. international co-operation on all levels; and
  4. more rigorous application of more standardized standards of research, publication and training."
Some of the research fields which Christiansen lists as being currently involved in Viking era research are
  • Paleoclimatology 
  • Paleoachaeology 
  • Paleobiology 
  • Paleobotany
  • Paleoentomology
  • Landscape achaeology
  • Various dating procedures such as tephrochronology, accelerator mass spectometry, as well as older carbon -14 dating, DNA sampling as well as blood-typing, and computerized correspondence analysis.
  • older fields of study like linguistics, philology, runology, straight achaeology, marine archaeology as well as the oldest literary studies of sagas, poetry, etc.
Up to ca. 2000 CE much of the reconstruction of the modern heathen 'religion' has relied upon the reading of the sagas and eddaic poetry and imitating the actions found therein, but this is just the tip problematic iceberg.

Ásatrú in the USA started to organize itself under Stephen McNallan in 1973. The original thought by most at the time was that "if we reconstruct the heathen religion, we will regain our noble spiritual heritage much in the same manner as those of American Indian or African rootstock." It was a noble effort which by luck and the perseverance of the adherents to the Ása-faith has now lasted more than 30 years. Not everything has been a failure by a long shot. Groups and organizations have come and gone including the original Ásatrú Free Assembly, and some groups continue to meet annually for the modern re-creation of the ancient Norse blót. New information regarding the modern version of heathenry has been written down and much of it is available on the internet either for free or at a nominal cost barely covering the printing of the material: the concerted effort continues.
 
Along with new material which is rarely if ever held up to research standards has come general misconceptions which affects how the heathen worldview is applied in the 21st century. In this paper, we are discussing the Germanic heathen sense of an Afterlife, but there are misconceptions at a far more fundamental level than the specific area of the Afterlife. The idea that "if we reconstruct the heathen religion, we will regain our noble spiritual heritage" is a major misconception which affects the reconstruction efforts even before research begins.

The word 'religion' and the underlying concepts are foreign to the European north. During the Viking Era, religion could not be separated out from any other tradition of the small community. The practice of law, government, religious observance, birth, death, house-building, land-taking, communal sense of ethics, the practice of medicine, redistribution of wealth, adoption and relief for the disadvantaged, the relationships of social/ economic classes between each other were all bound so tightly together that prior to the coming of Christianity none could be separated from the rest. To speak of Germanic 'religion' then separately from the rest, one must necessarily utilize the same mental constructs brought up from the south by Christian missionaries. In other words, to reconstruct the Germanic religion and put it into practice, is in itself practicing the methods of the monks and bishops who first brought the idea to the north from Greece via Rome.

There are other basic assumptions which cause problems as well. Some of these assumptions are not in the modern heathen's approach to research but actually stem back so far as to underlie the very reasons why the individual became heathen in the first place.
 
1. Although it is true that there are now children and a few grandchildren who were born into heathen families, the fact remains that close to 100% of all heathens have self-converted to heathenry, and to do so certain frames of mind were present as impetus; some of these are as follows:
 
(a) A general dissatisfaction, and a feeling of being spiritually unfulfilled under their default religion, usually Christianity.
 
(b) Dissatisfaction with how their default religion has interacted with the rest of the world spiritually, socially, politically, and ecologically.
 
(c) Feelings of incompleteness in the areas of tradition, culture, and personal family history.
 
(d) In the case of new-age alternative religions having been the default, a sense of 'fakeness,' 'living a lie,' or of artificiality.
 
(e) In the case of another ethnic religion (Red-Road, Yoruba, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism), there are the above in addition to the feeling that one is embracing the wrong ethnic culture.
 
2. Because one already has a basic world view, certain so-called 'universalisms' are usually part and parcel to the default worldview/ religion. In general these are
 
(a) there is, in fact, such a thing as 'religion' for every culture;
 
(b) there is a soul or spirit which
 
i. is separable and distinct from the physical body, 
ii. is on an evolutionary path to perfection, 
iii. will be rewarded or punished after death based on overall performance while 'living' even if the process of reward/ punishment is furthering or not futhering one's evolution;
 
(c) there are spiritual beings which are there to serve man by helping him towards some form of enlightenment;
 
(d) there are ceremonies, when done correctly, which will 'pull the individual further down the path of perfection;'
 
(e) there are gods, who although they are at or have reached a certain level, are willing to have a personal relationship with the individual, in order to guide and assist him towards the 'reward' after death.
 
3. Because these are 'universalisms,' one feels justified in using them as preconceptions prior to research the 'new religion,' and vindicated when 'evidence' has been found.
 
Utilizing only the 3 points and 13 subpoints above, when #3 has finally been met one feels fully converted to the heathen 'religion,' but, in reality, one has been duped by one's own logic. Because he has fallen for the above 'universalisms,' he has successfully generated a new, and possibly unique, syncretism of the dominant worldview with Norse heathen overtones, colorings, and detail-he cannot possibly be lead to Norse heathenry in this fashion. The errors are not many but the flaws are fundamental rendering any results inconsequential.
 
A primary rule in logical research is that data collection must be fair and representative of the population being sampled. It sounds simple: one goes to a barley field, collects 10% randomly, and throws it all into a large tub to investigate the sampling for various consistencies and inconsistencies. However, when a modern heathen approaches the corpus of evidence from the Viking era, there is a preconceived agenda; hypotheses are formulated prior to sampling and the researcher. These pre-conceived notions, these 'universalisms,' lead one not to a random sampling which is representative of the population being studied but rather to justifications for preconceptions. To this end, 'justifications' are often anecdotes removed from their original contexts; poor translations of texts often allow one to mold the meaning to suit one's preconceptions; one is able to 'select' a sample rather than grabbing a random one representative of the entire population. To bypass this problem of justification/ vindication, in general, a researcher will design a sampling procedure which, by plan, is to avoid prejudice.
 
Once a sample is collected and sifted for patterns, there may be enough significant data to formulate a hypothesis. The heathen attempting to walk into this area of research, just by his presence in heathenry itself, implies preformulated hypotheses: these are the 'universalisms' outlined above. The 'universalisms' are not general laws or axioms; they are patterns based on personal experience limited to a single worldview. They are, in fact, hypotheses, and, in research, a fundamental error is to generate the hypothesis before random sampling and analysis of the data collected because as above the sampling procedure will swayed either in favor of retaining or rejecting the hypothesis.
 
Of course, there are errors committed in interpretation as well. Some of these were mentioned above in Section #1. These errors will be revisited below.

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