The good news: Indo-European Studies I was submitted and passed! Woohoo! That’s two down!
On another topic, I go through my list of blog links now and then and remove blogs that haven’t had an update in six months or more. Anyone out there have an ADF or general pagan blog that they would like me to link to?
It’s been a while since I posted an essay…. summer just seems to rob one of time. Hopefully this will complete my I-E Studies 1 course!
From its beginnings, ADF has defined itself in relation to Indo-European pagan traditions. What relevance do you think historical and reconstructed IE traditions from the past have in constructing or reconstructing a Pagan spirituality for the present and future? (minimum 600 words)
The Oxford Dictionary defines a tradition as “a custom or belief which is passed from one generation to the next”. However, we have already discussed how immensely difficult it is to identify any traditions at all as being specifically ‘Indo-European’ in the sense of having clearly had a common heritage originating with the Proto-Indo-Europeans.
We have noted, for instance, how even the most important traditions, such as burial rites, can change over long periods of time. We have noted the key role that contact with other cultures plays in the evolution of traditions. And finally we should note that our knowledge of the Pagan traditions of most of the Indo-European speaking peoples is slim indeed; with the exception of the ancient Indians, Greeks, and Romans who were literate while still Pagan, much of our knowledge of these societies has been filtered through foreign or Christianized eyes.
So given our body of evidence, what religious traditions can we consider to be uniquely Indo-European? I would suggest:
- a belief in the ritual centrality of fire,
- the *ghosti relationship between hosts and guests,
- a unique perspective of the role of sacrifice in religion, and
- a functional tripartite view of society.
Let us explore the relevance of each of these in turn.
The ritual centrality of fire in the religions of ancient Indo-European speaking peoples has a very relevant role to play in neo-Pagan spirituality. As Michael Dangler points out, Our Druidry is a fire religion. We have incorporated fire deeply into our rituals; as a means of providing hospitality to the Kindred, as a gateway to the heavens, and as a channel to send our sacrifices to the Gods. In addition, revel fires are an ubiquitous aspect of every Pagan festival.
The *ghosti relationship is a tradition that Our Druidry seems to struggle to incorporate. I believe that this is because it has become such a foreign concept to us. Most of us were raised on the maxim “Do not talk to strangers”. Even relatively modern incarnations of *ghosti, such as hitchhiking, have fallen in more recent decades due to this fear of people we do not know. But the need to trust strangers is absolutely central to *ghosti. I believe that Our Druidry pays lip service to the *ghosti relationship through the Kindred invocations, but does not fully embrace it. This could be because it is more of a secular tradition than a religious one, but I believe that more effort needs to be put into determining how the *ghosti relationship can be incorporated into modern Pagan spirituality.
The concept of ritual sacrifice is not unique to Indo-European speaking cultures. However, these cultures do seem to have a particularly unique perspective upon it. Formulated most concisely in the Latin “Do et Des” (“I give that you may give”), it implies a reciprocal transaction. The Indo-European speaking peoples did not view worship and offerings as a one-way bargain, or even as a hedged bet; a gift deserves a gift, a tenet central to Indo-European Pagan religions. Our Druidry recognizes the importance of ritual sacrifice by placing it at the heart of ritual. We make offerings to the Kindred in the best way that we know how and we fully expect an offering in return. Indeed it is now a common practice to no longer even attempt to divine whether the Kindred have accepted our sacrifice; it is assumed that they have, and the only real question is what blessings do they offer in return?
Finally we turn to the functional tripartition perspective of Indo-European speaking societies. For many people this is the most immediately recognizable tie that binds these cultures other than language itself, thanks to the popularity of Dumuzil’s work. Yet, ironically, it is also seems to be one of the most challenging aspects to incorporate into religious practice. Our Druidry encourages (but does not require) the use of certain sets of three: three hallows, three Kindred, three worlds. However, none of these seem to be definitively linked to the Indo-European tri-functions of magic/religion/sovereignty, warfare, and fertility/production/prosperity. ADF as a larger organization has made some attempts to accommodate the functional tripartition through the use of guilds, but the guild structure seems more horizontal than vertical. At this moment it seems that the adoption the I-E functional tripartition is more a matter of a personal approach to spirituality rather than an institutionalized path.
Choose one other Indo-European culture and compare and contrast it to the culture discussed in question 3 above with respect to each culture’s Indo-European nature.
In many ways, the story of the Celts and Romans demonstrates how interactions with other peoples, and the subsequent diffusion of beliefs and cultural practices, are more important to the evolution of a culture than is a common heritage.
Some 4,000 years ago, a group of migrants arrived in central Europe. They, perhaps, spoke a language that historical linguists would call Proto-Italo-Celtic. A few centuries later some of these migrants continued migrating, moving south into what we now call the Italian peninsula, leaving their cousins behind to become the Celts. By the time they returned as conquerors the Italics, led by Rome, had become very estranged cousins indeed.
Looking at the differences between the La Tène Celts and the Roman Republic it seems clear that the Celts, entrenched in their deep forests, were the more conservative, retaining many traits of earlier Indo-European society while the Romans, by moving south, had become part of the great crucible of knowledge sharing that was the Mediterranean with its adjacent trade routes out through the Middle East, India, and onward to China.
For instance, the Celts retained their chieftain-ruled tribal nature which they shared with the Germanic peoples among others, while the Romans, inspired by the Greeks, deposed of their monarchs and adopted a democratic system of government which served as a central governance body as the state grew. The Celts also seem to have retained a simple tripartite societal structure while Roman society became far more complex with different classes based more on wealth than on function.
As far as religious life went, our knowledge of La Tène Celtic beliefs is sketchy indeed with most archaeological evidence only dating back to after the Roman conquest. With the Latins, however, it is clear that they quickly re-aligned themselves towards the east, subsuming many of their own divinities into Greek mythology and adopting eastern, non-Indo-European cults via the Greeks such as that of Bacchus and, later, Isis, to name just two.
The Latins and Celts shared a much closer common heritage than did the Latins and the Greeks. However in the end, the closer contact between the latter two over the last few centuries before the common era meant that when the Romans came conquering, they were by far more like the Greeks in religion, government, and social structure than they were to the Celts.