Over the next couple of days I will will be posting chapters from Bil Linzie's wonderful paper "Investigating the Afterlife Concepts of the Norse Heathen: A Reconstructionist's Approach". This paper is a great resource that I believe needs to be readily available and read by every person who calls themselves a heathen. It is a very well thought out and researched piece of material and will be a valuable resource in the community for years to come.
Investigating the Afterlife Concepts of the Norse Heathen:
A Reconstuctionist's ApproachBil Linzie
12th October 2005
This paper reviews the modern heathen movement's commonly accepted beliefs regarding the heathen concept of Afterlife and compares them to what is known about the ancient Germanic sense of Afterlife. The discussion is a continuation of this author's proposal that the standards of research among modern heathens be at least consistent with standards currently acceptable to researchers in other fields of study. As with previous papers by this author, this document has been subjected to peer review, and has been adjusted to reflect their comments.
The intent is not to undermine the progress at reconstructionism reported by various groups of modern heathens but to enhance it since we have attempted to not only draw directly from heathen sources via the most current research, but have also suggested methods and techniques with which one should be able to shift one's frame of reference from that of the commonly accepted modern era to that which would have been completely acceptable to most of the various Germanic peoples living during the Viking Era.
Any survey conducted in the year 2005 regarding belief in life after death is not only certain to reveal a large percentage of the population maintaining such a belief, but will also reveal a large variation in the numbers and types of destinations for the soul after death. Common beliefs in western industrialized nations include the following examples taken from the author's personal experience in discussions over the years: belief in the Christian version of Heaven which includes a personal audience with either Jesus, Jehovah, or both; belief in various forms of of punishment after death from Dante's vision of Hell, to a Purgatory until atonement for transgressions are paid for, to simply being denied rest and comfort; an ancestral home where one passes into a shadowy existence to be with friends and relatives, a world much like this one but filled only with souls; a slumber which exists out of space and time to await another incarnation, a cycle continuing until all the 'lessons of life have been learned'; absorption into the Universal River of Life which is considered to be God. The variations are endless depending on one's religious or spiritual leanings which may also vary over the course of time so that one may change belief systems perhaps several times within a span of a few decades. Americans seem particularly prone to changing religions, but the trend is also becoming very common in Europe.
So-called 'alternative religions' are fairly common in the US. Some are variations on the dominant Christian theme, but many others are imitations of a large number of pagan, indigenous religions around the world, particularly those religions of the North and South American Indian tribes, African, and southeast Asia. Most of these imitations are in reality combinations of pieces of several pagan religions creatively held together with 'new age glue' which is essentially philosophy which allows for the blending of two completely different belief systems into a single. The end results of some of these mixtures is at times harmonious and strangely beautiful like an heirloom crazy quilt from the American South, and at other times is irritating like a New York traffic jam on a hot August day, but they are almost always interesting in of the fact that rarely resemble their parent worldviews in any way. Each of these hybrid-sytems has its own vision of what life after death entails adding to the seemingly endless variety found on American soil. One thing can be said for certain: "There is no collective or cultural view of an Afterlife, at least in the USA."
Modern heathenry was started with a different purpose than to be another 'alternative religion.' Rather than seeking out new options for spirituality by exploring a variety of religions, and culling out compatible pieces from anywhere and bringing them together under a single name, modern heathenry, or Ásatrú as it was called early on by adherents from the largest group operating at the time, The Ásatrú Free Assembly, was to be the revival of the heathen religion of the Germanic Peoples through a two-pronged process of historical reconstruction bassed closely on the best of literary and anthropological research on the one hand and through systematic practice on the other hand. Although the AFA and it's approach was the first on the North American continent, it was followed closely by the similar but independent developments of Theodism in the US , the Ásatrúarmenn in Iceland under the farmer/ poet/ goðí, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, the the beginnings of the Ódinic Rite in England. This approach of historical reconstruction was supported early on by members from the Berkeley based Society for Creative Anachronism.
The reconstructive approach to heathenry was not an isolated phenomenon either. During the same period of time other groups were attempting to reclaim their cultural heritage. The American Indian Movement had started several camps based on traditional cultural ideals; the reconstruction of the traditional Celtic worldview was well under way by several independent groups; black Americans were looking to rediscover their traditional roots and worldview. This was the same period of time which saw the birth of Mother Earth News, the Whole Earth movements, Foxfire Books, etc. It was a period of time when the loosely organized 'anything goes' philosophy of hippiedom showed definite signs of failure and individuals were pulling together communities based on the tested workable ideals of their ancestries. Not only was the approach to many of these movements a historical reconstruction of traditions and traditional values, it was the reconstruction of the younger generation in the aftermath of the prior decade. People wanted their lives to be much less turbulent and unpredictable and sought out the more peaceful, harmonious life of a by-gone era.
Over the years, however, reconstructionism and its proponents known at the present by the somewhat derogatory term 'recons,' is gradually being replaced by the seekers and proponents of the alternative religion approach which requires 'an updated conduit to the spiritual consistent with the 21st century.' To this end, young seekers have once again picked the banner used by the early American Wiccans of the 1960s "All paths are a viable approach to the spiritual life" or the common byline of "all paths lead through the forest." An author calling himself Sannion has produced a website called Sannion's Sanctuary and addresses this backlash in an essay called 'Defending Reconstructionism' http://www.winterscapes.com/sannion/defending_recon.htm
His introduction states
"Over the last couple months a curious trend has begun manifesting itself within Pagandom: the Fluffy backlash against Reconstructionism. At first it was just a few stray comments in the chat rooms and on the various lists and boards. Nothing special, really. Just the usual venting of "Recons are elitist bookworms," which is actually a pretty accurate description of us. I mean, back in the 1970s Asatru (one of the first Recon religions) proudly proclaimed itself the religion with homework, and someone who prefers their books to come from Harvard or Cornell University Press instead of the likes of Lewellyn or HarperCollins is bound to engender a reputation for literary elitism. However, this anti-Recon trend is growing. There are now several websites (for instance Why I Don't like The CRP Path! and De Dannan Magick and Lore) and even an anti-Recon banner which people can place on their sites. What was once a low murmur on the lists and boards has now grown into a slightly asthmatic wheeze, that could, possibly become a thunderous and indignant roar, but probably won't. Even so, I have undertaken to answer their charges, since I'm waiting on my copy of Gilbert Murray's Five Stages of Greek Religion to arrive by mail, and have nothing better to do in the meantime."
He continues on to list out 5 major categories of complaints by the new generation of pagans.
- "All Recons do is study: they don't actually live the religions they claim to follow.
- Reconstructionism is too restrictive and doesn't allow for personal expression.
- Recons are mean.
- Recons are too focused on the past
- Recons are just making it up."
This author has also noted some of the distaste while interacting with email groups and bulletin boards on the internet with an increase over the past 15 years and can vouch for the anger expressed by some of the newer generation.
In two previous papers, we have sought to separate out evidence based historical reconstructions from blatant borrowings from either alternative religious/ 'new age' arenas or non-Germanic sources. The papers were relatively well received and remain available on the internet in portable document format. We cannot state, however, that the two have not resulted in irritation by those who believe religions require periodic updating but for the most part the response has been favorable. Up to this point, however, we have primarily discussed specific traditions such as calendars, ritual formats, etc.; the current review will look at the 'heart' of current religious belief: the Afterlife. We expect that this may touch a few sore spots amongst the newer generation of heathens, i.e. those introduced to Germanic heathenry within the past 15 years, and ask that the reader suspend judgment at least temporarily and try to read with an open mind.
We also expect that some problematic areas may have to do with difficulty shifting from the prevailing worldview to the older Germanic worldview. This was covered in "Uncovering the Effects of Cultural Background on the Reconstruction of Ancient Worldviews" by Bil Linzie, published privately at http://www.angelfire.com/nm/seidhman and mirrored at http://www.northvegr.org. and although we recommend reading it before reading this article, we will attempt to utilize a similar approach in this paper so as to maximize understanding while minimizing irritation.