Saturday, 8 February 2014

New Myths

Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006).

The Eddas have three hereafters:

Valhalla, for warriors slain in battle;

Aegir's hall, for drowned sailors;

Hel, like Hades or Sheol, not like Hell (cold and sad, not hot or bad), for everyone else, even Balder, at least until after the Ragnarok.

I imagine that, originally, Valhalla was merely endless fighting and feasting, until the mythos had to be closed. Then, at that stage, the cyclical killing and dying but rising again became instead preparation for Ragnarok. Mythology has two deaths. The first gives entry to a hereafter but the second is final. When Fenris Wolf swallowed Odin and Vidar, Odin's son, avenging his father, seized the wolf by the jaws and tore him apart, that probably released Odin in earlier versions but not in the surviving Ragnarok version.

Veleda's Niaerdh creates a fourth hereafter, for women dying in childbirth. Thus, Veleda introduces a special devotion for women which, in Northern paganism, need not be practiced in a separate mystery cult.

This Niaerdh:

receives the dead in her hall;
leads a hunt through the sky;
is a goddess of war, the destined destroyer of Rome;
commands the elements, the Moon and childbirth.

Thus, she usurps the roles of Odin, Tyr and Thor, while retaining her goddess roles. Janne says that this religion:

"'...would not become monotheistic or anything like that. But this goddess would be the supreme figure, around whom everything gathered. She would give folk as much, spiritually, or almost as much, as Christ could. Few would ever join the Church.'" (p. 568)

This in turn could become the basis of a Germanic civilization, resisting Christinanity, as Zoroastrianism did. The process that Janne describes is one of the ways that monotheism can arise from polytheism. Either all gods become one or one god becomes supreme.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Except you omitted one seemingly small but important point. Whether or not you believe in the Incarnation of God the Son as man, Christ was a REAL, not mythological person. All these pagan gods suffer from the fact they were not REAL actually present persons, as was Christ. So, I'm more inclined to share Janne's apparent skepticism on how "real" Niaerdh would have been to people in northern Europe.

Btw, Zoroastrian Persia under the Sassanian dynasty, did have a very large Christian minority, mostly in what's now Iraq. Altho most of these were Nestorians, not orthodox Catholics. So, who knows what might have happened if the Arabs unified by Mohammed under Islam had not burst out of Arabia to conquer Persia?