Indo-European Studies I: I-E and modern Paganism

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.

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