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"Gods" Is Spelled with a Small "g"
"Their leaders were Hengest and Horsa; who were the sons of Wihtgils; Wihtgils was the son of Witta, Witta of Wecta, Wecta of Woden. From this Woden arose all our royal kindred, and that of the Southumbrians also."
(trans. J. Ingram, The Saxon Chronicle, (Studio Editions; London), p. 14.

These old people were certainly presumptuous, weren't they? I mean, really, thinking that they were descended directly from the Gods. Not just this Saxon scribe, either. Snorri says as much in the the Heimkringla, Saxo Grammaticus says the same in the Gesta Danorum, and that rascal, the Venerable Bede also noted it. We moderns can't be descended from the Gods because, as it has been handed over to us from the Christians, the Moslems, the Jews, and some of the oriental religion which has been translated into a hodge-podge by the wishy-washy New Age, Gods, by nature, are omnipotent, extremely mystical, and far above ordinary humans. But what if this information that we take for granted, i.e. "we can't be descended from the Gods," is wrong?

There is a good possibility that the word "god" did not mean exactly the same thing in the pre-Viking Era as it does now. We moderns have a tendency to assume that it always meant the same thing. After all, a chair is a chair no matter what period of time we are talking about (well, the details may have been a little different, but basically it is recognizable as the same thing , at least, from the standpoint of function). When we talk about a "god," though, we are talking about much more than a "thing"; we have to concede that along with the idea comes certain qualitative and quantitative issues which do not necessarily have the same stability over time as an object does.

Talking about a titled person, even though the actual person may not change over time (which they do, really), the significance of the title will. For example, "king" does mean the same thing now as it did in the early Viking Age. Kingdoms at that time were rather smallish (compared to modern standards). A king could well afford to know most of his subjects and could walk across his kingdom in a day or two. Nowadays, a king would be hard-pressed to be able to drive around his country on a freeway in the same amount of time. Kings and Presidents, these days, carry a lot of weight in their decisions (possibly more than they should be allowed), but this was not so in the early Viking Era. Not having yet given up all control in their lives, freemen set it like this: Kings made a suggestion and the rest of the village council (made up of members of the community) would decide if it were to be followed or not. Tacitus says in the beginning of Chapter 7 of Germania

"They choose their kings for their noble birth, their commanders for their valour. The power of even kings is not absolute or arbitrary." (Tacitus, H. Mattingly, trans., Tacitus: The Agricola and the Germania (Penguin Classics; London) 1970, p. 107.

Foote and Wilson in The Viking Achievement write

"The king derived his special nature from his paternal ancestors but his real powers were firmly regarded as lent him by the people. . . .The old Frostathing Law says: 'No man shall make an attack on another, neither the king nor anyone else. And if the king does this, then an arrow message shall be sent round all the [eight] fylke, and he is to be sought out and killed if he is found. And if he escapes, he is never to return to the country.' The king was subject to the law, not above it" (p.138).

These days, we aren't even allowed to make a joke about the king (or President, if you live in the U. S. A.) without that the remark goes into some file in the intelligence agency under our name. Things have certainly changed over the years and kings have gained in power somehow.

The view of politics becomes the spiritual cosmography of a people. Interactions between man and king mirrors the interaction between man and a God. When the head political figure becomes unavailable to the common man for audience, so does a God become also unavailable hiding behind priests, gurus, and other professional bull-shitters. Views of the Afterlife also fall into this "mirroring." It's almost as easy to get into Paradise as it is to get into the palace or the White House; everybody loves to spout off about how they are going to get there someday. Name-dropping is a custom that has become popular for the weekend shaman (or, in the case of the weekend heathen, seiðman of little sands and small seas).

From this Seiðman's experience, Gods are not often run across in the Otherworld. Far more common are the inhabitants of the Villages of the Dead in Helheim.

Gods can be disobeyed or even tricked. They are mortal, of this world (Yggdrasil/ Laræþ), and are subject to the whims of Their Norns as we are subject to the whims of ours. (Note: read Snorri's Prose Edda for a discussion of the different Norns; Umo Holmberg also has a chapter in his Finno-Ugric Mythology dealing with this.) The Gods are powerful by Their heritage; They have enormous amounts of luck doled out as Their fate, but They are not omnipotent by a longshot.

(Neither is the southern God, YHVH, who, for the most part, controls His own followers, and even those He seems to con and threaten to keep them in line. This Seiðman caught a chuckle when he attended a Methodist wedding last fall. YHVH's threat came when a glass which was holding a candle atop a 6 foot candlestick exploded above my head and fell into shards at my feet. A quaint trick. He didn't like me there apparently. I smiled, told Him "Good Show!" picked up the broken glass from around my feet, and later tossed the mess in the gutter outside.)

Do I work with Gods ever, or do I just hang out in the Land of the Ancestors? Sure, I work with Gods. I work with one Goddess regularly when I do healings (whole-makings). She shows me how to mix the brews. Others seem to show up irregularly. Far more often elves or giants or other ancestors. To the North, there is a God who herds reindeer and who is most congenial. His forte is knowing where everything in the Tree is to be found. What of it? A seiðman can run into almost anybody or anything in the Otherworld. Gods are there, but ancestors usually take more of a personal interest in the lives of an individual.

(The folks who spout off about personal relationships with the Gods usually either have very large and obnoxious egos, or are mentally unstable. Go ahead; check the theory at any Ásatrú Gathering during the year.)

The point is that our Gods would probably be better off with a small "g" than a capital. They are powerful, but not omnipotent. It goes better if all can work together to make something of the stay on Midgarð. Respecting and honoring Them as the powerful leaders that They are (in the original sense of "worship") is always good and appropriate although I doubt that They mind if some go into a drooling obeisance (New Age neo-pagans are exceptionally prone to this). It is right to claim Them as the First Ancestor of our lines and to act accordingly, to lead our lives as if our holy heritage was something to be grateful for and to act in a manner which will not draw shame to it. It is right to ask for favors as long as the asking of these is to lead to honor and is not merely some selfish wish of a spoiled modern child. Standing up in the subway, for example, and screaming "Hail Óðin!" at the top of one's lungs is a shameful, childish act that only makes everyone in the community of the subway car nervous and uncomfortable to be around heathens. I'm not even sure YHVH enjoys that kind of stupidity from His followers. But, there are such childish Christians, and it seems that some of us may have picked up some of their bad habits.

(hint: if you feel offended by the last remark, then you're probably one of the closet Christians in heathen drag~try and get a life! Hurry!)

In this modern era, I think it is difficult not to envision Gods bigger than They are, not to envision Them as omnipotent. They aren't, though; it's just that we have lost much of our own power over the years, and this has, in effect, made us feel much smaller than we really are. We can gain this back by acting in a proper manner, one which is a demonstration of honor (like being helpful to the community) rather than by acting in a shameful fashion (like judging others wrongfully and then refusing to pay the debt we owe because of an act committed out of the judgement), or, worse yet, by reacting instead of acting.

(Acting in a proper manner isn't a matter of someone telling us how to act nor is it being sure to "express how one feels" [since no one except yourself really cares how you feel, anyway]; for us, it means taking a serious look at the Hávamál and applying it to our own lives instead of, as some are want to do, telling others how they should be applying it to their lives.)

You know, I don't think those old-timers were being presumptuous at all. They could afford to claim Óðin or Frey as their ancestor because they still understood the importance of community, family, and lineage. Rather than acting selfishly, they understood that promises (like marriage, for example) should not be made or taken lightly, but when they must be broken, a debt is incurred and requires payment to bring family and community back into a state of Wholeness. They understood that people are people until they prove beyond a doubt that they intend harm (racists keep trying to find intent of harm where there never was any). Even wars were of a matter of honor.

Want to worship the Gods? Seek to understand Their mortality as well as Their power. Look at the Frostaþing Law [above] again, reread the Hávamál one more time, then go out and do your First Ancestors honor.

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