7/20/2013

3 The Gravemound and the Modern Heathen

A problem for most moderns with acceptance of the ancient Germanic heathens' attitudes toward dying and death is that the ancient does not match very well with what is customary in the modern era and that the factual ancient concepts don't match well with the modern perception of what ancients believed. The problem, then, is at minimum twofold. On the one hand there is a pervasive desire for eternal life, and eternity is now not only defined by the dominant religion, Christianity, but also by the scientific fields of mathematics and physics: it is taught in the schools, popular science and pseudo-scientific magazines, TV shows, new age philosophy and, now, alternative religious philosophy. The problem on the other hand is the Golden Age Myth, the idea that at some point in the memorable past things were wonderful and beautiful and that technology and science lived in perfectly balanced harmony with spirituality and philosophy.
The facts as we can best know them reveal the Golden Age Myth for what it is: a myth.

 3.1    The Worldview Problem

Worldview presents a specific problem which is not easily overcome. The primary reason that it is not easily overcome is that, in general, it is not seen. Worldview underlies all that which an individual knows. Raymonde Carroll in his book "Cultural Misunderstandings: the French American experience" out-lines the problem fairly clearly.
 
"Indeed, my culture is the logic by which I give order to the world. And I have been learning this logic little by little, since the moment I was born, from the gestures, the words, and the care of those who surrounded me; from their days, from the tone of their voices; from the noises, the colors, the smells, the body contact; from the way I was raised, awarded, punished, held, touched, washed, did; from the stories I was told, from the books I read, from the songs I sang; in the street, at, at play; from the relationships I witnessed between others, from the judgments I heard, from the aesthetics embodied everywhere, in all things right down to my sleep and the dreams I learned to dream and recount. I learned to breathe this logic and to forget that I learned. I find it natural. Whether I produce meaning or apprehended, it underlies all my inner actions. This does not mean that I must agree with all those who share my culture: I do not necessarily agree with those who speak the same language as I do. But as different as their discourse may be from mine, it is for me familiar territory, it is recognizable. The same is true, in a certain sense, of my culture
 
"Part of this logic is tacit, invisible, and this is the most important part. It consists in the premises from which we constantly draw our conclusions. We are not conscious of these premises because they are, for us, verities. They are everything which ' goes without saying' for us and which is therefore transparent." 

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Worldview then operates completely below the radar. In general, people are completely incapable of noticing it in operation or by its effects.
 
Worldview, although it appears to be, is not "hardwired." The vectors through which it is taught are myriad. From the time that we are born, through our schooling, and through our adulthood, we are inundated by that which defines our current, modern worldview. It is taught behavior that is culturally bound and it is most certainly not "hardwired" (i.e., neurological) in nature even though it feels to most of us as if it is.
 
Not only, however, does a worldview defined how events in the real world art cataloged, in other words, 'how they are perceived,' but worldview also 'defines' what is perceived as possible and impossible. The concept of dualism is an example. Dualism states that an individual is born with at least two components: a physical body which is subject to aging, and an 'eternal' soul which is ageless. Although not every culture in the world subscribes to the philosophy of dualism, Western culture most certainly does. Our training begins early with Saturday morning cartoons: Sylvester the Cat dies by being hit by a semi truck, and his 'soul' immediately sprouts wings and flies up to heaven where he immediately dons a robe and plays music harp in hand. There is little that we observe through the media which is not continually teaching the philosophy of dualism: the news, sitcoms, commercials, the radio, newspapers, popular books (from the romances all the way up to college textbooks) and our day-to-day interactions with our fellow community members. Dualism, then, moves from 'philosophy' or theory to 'indisputable fact.'
 
For us, then, to encounter a culture which does not accept dualism as a primary philosophy feels 'wrong' or 'impossible.' When this author first encountered the 'soul beliefs' of the Cochiti People of New Mexico, the author was astounded and thrown temporarily into a state of confusion. The author was a student at the University of New Mexico at the time and was working with a native of the Cochiti Pueblo. One day, we were cataloging a book the subject of which seem to irritate my partner much. I asked her what was wrong and the following is her paraphrased explanation.
 
"I'm really angry that the State of New Mexico would choose to flood this particular part of Cochiti Pueblo. It is the place, exactly the place, the valley to where the souls of my people go when they die. Now, all the souls of my people, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents will all be underwater. This is like a slap in the face, and the State of New Mexico is responsible."
 
I was somewhat shocked and I asked "You mean the souls of your people go to a valley?" (One must understand that I was still under the illusion that "going to heaven" was a universal belief amongst all people - I was still young at the time.)
 
"My people when they are buried are taken to this valley. Their bodies are laid out and their souls will live in this valley and wander it for the rest of all time."
 
Mary Francis was the girl's name. She was attractive, young (in her early twenties), and very pleasant to work with. Oddly enough, she laid one of the biggest bombs on me that I would experience in my entire life. At first, I though she meant that the bodies were taken to the valley like a native graveyard, but when I mentioned how insensitive the government can be, she quietly explained that my view was naïve just like all the rest of the white people's.
 
"You can't really understand it because you're one of the white people, but this valley is where the ghosts of my ancestors live-the place where souls go after death. Just like white people go to Heaven or Hell after they die, my people go to the valley of the dead and, now, thanks to the State of New Mexico, they are under water."

I was astounded and didn't have much to say for quite a while. I was somewhat hurt, I suppose, that she had lumped me into a group of 'naïve white people'; I felt excluded that she had a secret that she wasn't telling me. I felt confused and even somewhat guilty that I belonged to the group of people who had done this to her people. My mind, course, generated a dozen reasons why she had done this to me, had made me feel this uncomfortable. What I didn't understand at the time, though, is that when one worldview collides with another, there is a feeling of discomfort, and this feeling is little more than a response to what is commonly called "culture shock." I also didn't know that because of it, my grip on my own worldview was loosened for a moment at that point.

"Culture shock" is a common enough term among anthropologists. It is the point at which an individual is able to revise his own worldview. In essence, it is two worldviews coming together, clashing, and eventually coming to some type of resolution. The outcome is manifold. Worldview A confronting worldview B can result in A winning out, B winning out, or A and B. somehow melding together into something new which is neither A nor B. Secondly, the results are not necessarily immediate. In my particular case it took several years to come to some type of resolution.
 
The point of this discussion revolving around worldview, and that of the two papers that I had written previously, is that the individual is generally completely unaware of the stranglehold which worldview holds. The general assumption as described above is that worldview manipulates one's perception according to cultural rules, but at this point it is also necessary to bring up the idea that worldview also determines possibility and need. The example above plainly demonstrates the problems associated with one possibility confronting another, but it is also important to note that 'need' was also seriously affected. For my training as a human being to function properly as a worldview it is, or was, necessary for souls to separate from the body and travel to 'Heaven,' 'Hell,' 'Purgatory,' or some type of limbo to await rebirth. I simply did not have it in my vocabulary that a soul 'could not' be separated from the body. It had never occurred to me.
 
All my training since childhood (watching cartoons, the news, listening to the radio, listening to preachers, reading New Age books, reading the newspaper, singing songs with the radio, etc.) did not train me to deal with or find acceptable the idea that, culturally, some people can and do believe that the soul simply does not separate from the body. The reason that it took me several years to digest this idea after I first heard it from Mary Francis is that deep inside me, ingrained into me through years of repetition, had developed the need for the philosophy of 'dualism.' The 'need' developed because if it did not then numerous parts of my worldview will no longer function as they should. Worldview, then, does not necessarily generate 'need' in the sense that 'hunger' is a 'need' but rather in the sense of necessity, or an integral part, to allow the worldview to function as a whole.
 
Without dualism, the modern worldview does not function properly.

3.2    Christianity's Early Role, Christianity's Gift


Modern heathenry, or modern paganism in general, is probably not the the true source of the change in worldview when it comes to concepts of the Afterlife. There were much earlier influences occuring during the heathen era of Scandinavia. These have been a personal fascination of the author for the past two decades which we choose to lump together as "borderzones" and "borderzone philosophy." These influential zones would have been the romano-turk to the southeast of the Germanic realm, romano-christian to the south, celtic to the southwest and west, Samí to the north, and baltic to the east.
 
Borderzones have always been places of cultural exchange, and have been studied to a large degree. They have existed through history and continue to exist today in any area where two or more cultures come together within a single geographical area. Borderzones are not always places of peace and harmony: harsh clashes, prejudice, discrimination, economic unfairness and imbalance are common as well as are harmonious blends. In modern times, in industrialized countries, borderzones exist as "ethnic neighborhoods."    Cultural lines of opposition and lines of transmission can be documented with accuracy, and have been. but these are often also ignored when writing history. 'History,' traditionally, is a field of study which has been fraught with the political agendas of the historian, and, in a sense, is a field of study which has more in common with writers of fiction than with writers of scientific fact. The fact is that borderzones are of places of culture clash/ meld and individual cultural boundaries are blurred.
 
Figure #1 shows not only the lines of sharing between worldviews during Anglo-Saxon England but also the lines of opposition. Documentation of the Conversion of Britain as well as the entire Germanic North of Europe between 450 CE - 1000 CE shows that, contrary to the common modern myth, heathen Europeans were not necessarily butchered into converting to Christianity but were, for the most part, slowly reacculturated, and that this reacculturation process, much like which has occured in the American southwest among the pueblo peoples, resulted in a pervasive common popular religion/ worldview

Figure 1: Cultural relationships during Anglo-Saxon times
 
which was at the same time found to be acceptable or at least tolerable by both traditional heathens and formal Christian religionists. It is the product of this 'slow moving blend' during the beginnings of the historical period which produced the the incredibly beautiful, yet mysterious, collections of AS poetry, the body of Norse Sagas, and the Eddas.
 
Written literature was a gift brought to the north by the southern scribes of the church, but the literary descriptions of the worldview presented in those texts are representative of the mixture common to what Jolly defines as the 'popular religion,' i.e. that which was common to the greater community. In this common worldview, this blend, one finds elves and dwarves existing alongside angels, saints interacting with heathen demi-gods, and Þór locked in an 'all-or-nothing' contest of strenghth and wit with Jesus over the Atlantic between Norway and Iceland. Jewelry molds for both the Christian crucifix and the heathen's Þór's Hammer which judging by the late appearance in the archaeological record could have been a lucrative jeweler's attempt at an early 'knock-off copy' of a prehistoric fad. Utilizing a 'borderzone approach' to Germanic history, the often debated issue of 'how heathen actually is the body of Norse literature' becomes a moot point since the very fact that the literature is written on parchment demonstrates a mixing of cultural or worldview values to some degree. Without benefit of the archaeological record, teasing out the heathen parts of the Völuspá from those which are blatantly Christian are about as effective as attempting to reverse engineer a common lilac bush to its basic (and still unknown) ancestors. From a literary standpoint, the entire corpus of Germanic literature represents the 'hybrid era,' the borderzone between the heathen (pre-450 CE) and the completely Christian Era (post-Industrial Age, according to many of us who lean conservatively).
 
Understanding the idea of concept exchange in a borderzone region is important to reconstructionism. Borderzones, as stated above, have always existed and will continue to exist so long as cultures exist. While one of Jolly's theses reiterated throughout her entire book is that we, as researchers, can only surmise lines transmission between the heathen and Christian worlds of Anglo- Saxon England based on literary and archaeological evidence, the mechanics of borderzones are well-known in modern anthropology.

"These same processes of acculturation at the domestic leve, although virtually impossible to document, undoubtedly occured after the baptism of Guthrum in East Anglia and throughout the Danelaw during the reconquest of the tenth century. The Viking settlers displaced the exisyting landholders and brought with them their own customs and laws; yet these newcomers also made new relationships with the English Christian population, as their new owners, as neighbors, and as inölaws. While we may question the depth of Guthrum's conviction at the moment of baptism, there is no denying the evidence of Scandinavian Chrisitanization over the next century at the grassroots level of popular culture, as seen, for example, in the rise of Danish churchmen in the tenth century and the popularity in the Danelaw of the cult of St. Edmund, martyred by Danes themselves. Most of all, the growth of Christianity following the Danish settlement is visible in the spread of local, lay-owned churches, both inside and outside the Danelaw."

It is also interesting that even though it is possible to study 'living' borderzones between heathen and Christian in real time, for example among the Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico, determining exactly which part of a specific tradition is native and which is imported becomes as elusive as studying a single electron among physicists.    The problem is that the tradition is interpreted by each practitioner on a personal level. One practioner may accept one part of a foreign system as being compatible with his worldview, such as the existence of a Christian god among the kachinas of his clan, but not Jesus, while another may accept both the god and Jesus plus the existence of the Christian Heaven as an alternate afterlife. Another may simply utilize elements of Christianity in poetic reference in a manner similar to modern poets who utilize Greek or Roman mythological analogies. The tradition is the by-product of a community, however, encompassing the cumulative personal interpretations and because the entire collection of personal interpretations is constantly in a state of flux so is the tradition itself.

The model which Jolly presents is very similar to what is still observed currently among the Pueblo Peoples. She restricts her discussion to the processes and events of Conversion among the Anglo-Saxon tribes, but because the mechanics of a borderzone remain the same, one can expect the Conversion to have been similar among the Scandinavian peoples upon which most modern heathenry is based although, as a matter of course, the details of the interplay between conversion processes and conversion events will generate a completely different story than among the Anglo-Saxons or the Pueblo Peoples. Important to our discussion is the lines of transmission versus the lines of opposition in the above Figure #1. There is absolutely no evidence that any of the so-called "heathen literature" was actually produced by heathens. In fact, there is evidence against it especially when one realizes that all writing was done by those trained by churchmen and training in literacy did not come without strong interaction with the world of the Christian. Additionally, there is no direct line to heathenry. Heathen tradition overlaps into the world of the Christian only through folkloric practices which were found acceptable at a pragmatic level or a social level to both the heathen and the Christian. Presumedly, these practices would include medical practices, traditions pertaining to home and land, and social practices such as ritualized drinking at special events among the Germanic peoples, for example. Where such practices overlap into worldview, such as the cause of a particular disease, one makes note that Christianized explanations dominate. Thus, one will note the Christian origin of elves early on in A-S literature, and the dualistic thinking injected into the existing corpus of Norse mythological poetry in spite of the apparent conflict with what is known about heathen Germanic burial customs.

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