I’ve realised I need to make my own practice/tradition.
It’s not that I think the way other people have created their traditions is wrong – on the contrary, I would take many of the same approaches. But I believe that everything needs to be transparent, and there needs to be visible sources for every single thing put into a tradition, whether that be historical sources, linguistic reconstruction, or even UPG (yes, UPG is okay if it’s signposted as such!) – I want to know where everything comes from. And that’s a problem for me regarding lots of neo-Pagan traditions in the Germanic and Celtic sphere: I don’t know if your terms are attested or reconstructed. I don’t know if your deities are attested or amalgamated from barely-there inscriptions. I don’t know if your rituals are attested or if they’re based on, for example, Gardnerian tradition (Hammer rite, anyone?). I don’t know how much you’ve used comparative mythology or linguistics to reach your conclusions, and if you have, I can’t tell if you’re using good sources or not.
Basically, I need something “real”, and I can’t tell if your “real” is the same as my “real”. It differs for everyone. And I’d like to be able to make that choice for myself.
The thing about a reconstructed religion, and especially one made for the modern day with modern analogues, is that some, if not much or most of it, is not going to be linked to historical practice. It’s just going to be too different.
Back up a bit. The whole point of me doing this is to create a practice that 1. reflects and matches the experiences I have had in my life, 2. makes me feel whole and connected with the natural world around me, and 3. allows me to contact some form of “the Divine”, whatever that means. I’m a pagan through and through, and Continental Germanic stuff speaks to me, and I think Gaulish polytheism might too, so I’m basing my janky practice on Germano-Gallic practices. With a little Slavic thrown in. Gee, that sounds hard.
How shall I do this? Follow my nose. (Note: while I have gone through available sources and applied a cursory critical eye to their quality and ‘accuracy’, a more in-depth, rigorous survey would be valuable. The work I’ve done is good enough for my personal pantheon, but nowhere near quality enough for an academic pursuit. Researching will be an ongoing iterative process.)
Step 1: Start with Germanic sources (Continental and southern Scandinavian) – 0-500 CE
Basically I combed through all my Davidson books and similar to find out what was said about (continental) Germanic practices before the Viking Age – this means Roman Iron Age (roughly 0-300 CE) and Migration Period (roughly 300-800 CE). And maybe a little pre-Roman Iron Age thrown in, whatever. What sources do we have? Of the written sources, mostly all we have was written by Classical authors, chief among them Tacitus. Archaeological sources include lots of things, which I am not across because I am a word person and not an object person, but important runic finds include the Lindholm amulet and the Elgesem runestone.
From what I can find, these are the important deities (Proto-Germanic *ansiwiz) of this period and region, with respective languages listed where known or relevant:
- *Wodanaz (Proto-Germanic)/Uuodan (Old High German)/Wodan (Old High German)/Wuodan
- *Tiwaz (PG)/Teiws (Gothic)/Tyz (Gothic?)/Tiw (Saxon?)
- *Thunraz (PG)/*Thunr (Proto-West Germanic)/Thonar (early OHG)/Donar (OHG)/Thuner (Old Frisian)
- Ing/*Ingwaz (PG)
- The Mothers
- The Alcis Twins
Other observations are that the people of this region held lakes, trees, and groves to be especially sacred, and that serpents/dragons were associated with the dead and with funeral rites.
Step 2: Fill in with post-Migration Germanic (e.g. Alemannic, Frankish) – 500-800 CE
Why the split between these two first-millennium periods? Roughly, and by that I mean really roughly, post-Migration Era is around when Christianisation started occurring in what is now Germany, so I place greater weight on information before about 500 CE when it comes to pre-Christian practices. Important sources for this period include the Merseburg Incantations, Agathias’ Histories, hagiographies like the Vita Columbani, the Nordendorf fibulae (Alemannic), and the absolute plethora of bracteates we’ve found.
Deities (also called *ensî in OHG) include:
- Baldag (Old Saxon)/Bældæġ (Old English)/Balder (OHG)
- Perchta/Berchta/Bereht (OHG) (probssibly later than this period – more on her later)
Agathias has this to say about the Alemanni, a tribe who lived in southern Germany, Alsace, and parts of Switzerland:
“They worship certain trees, the waters of rivers, hills and mountain valleys, in whose honour they sacrifice horses, cattle and countless other animals by beheading them, and imagine that they are performing an act of piety thereby.”Histories, Book 1, 7.1
Step 2b: Fill in further with Anglo-Saxon (~400-800 CE)
Yeah, there’s sub-steps. While I want to focus on the continent, i.e. what is modern-day Germany and surrounds, Anglo-Saxon has a lot to offer us because a) the people who settled in England were from Germany, and b) there’s a lot more written sources available, though unfortunately in the form of Christian accounts. Basically, I operate on the assumption that if the Anglo-Saxons did things around 400-800 CE, it’s possible that people on the continent were doing the same things. Up to a point. And if they weren’t doing those things, well, I’m trying to make a usable practice, so I won’t worry about it overmuch. (However – the continental people who migrated also mixed with the people who were already living in the British Isles.) Sources I used for this section include the Old English Rune Poem and Bede’s writings.
Deities (also called ēse in Old English) include:
Why not Eostre or Erce? Simply put, the evidence provided wasn’t enough for me to assume that they were considered deities by Anglo-Saxon pagans. But you do you.
Step 3: Select what feels right from Gaulish practices (~0-500 CE)
A brief summary in one sentence: Gauls were Celts who lived in Europe from ~400 BCE to 500 CE, centring on France, Switzerland, and southern Germany. Generally, sources for the Gauls are archaeological, since they didn’t write anything down, although we have inscriptions written by Romans, Gallicised Romans, and by Romanised Gauls. I don’t fuck with inscriptions or archaeology; I just read secondary analyses about them. Written records include accounts written by Caesar, Tacitus, and Lucan. (Don’t get me started on interpretatio romana.) The thing about the Gauls is that they had an absolute shitload of gods, many of them apparently local spirits/deities of specific natural features, regions, or tribes, so it’s hard to say who the most “important” gods are – instead, I focused on the gods who were linked to the area where my ancestors are [probably] from – the Schwarzwald area, Karlsruhe, and the Upper/Middle Rhine – and also gods who just tickled my fancy.
Deities (also called dêwoi) include:
- Matres and Matronae
- Taranis (or Taranus if we correct Lucan)
Another interesting thing to note is that water, light, and healing seem to have been associated with each other, and there are many deities linked to healing waters and natural springs. Here’s a very brief summary of the way natural features were perceived:
“Animal and plant species were sacred because they were part of a system maintaining and ensuring the survival of the human race. Animals were hunted or bred for food, while fruit, vegetables and plants were easily picked up and prized as food. Hill-tops and mountains seem to have been particularly revered. Their majesty, mystery, impressive size and potency in the landscape certainly inspired a feeling of smallness and admiration. Hills and mountains were often chosen as a place of ritual observance or habitation where fortified cities or sanctuaries were built.”Beck, 2009
Gaulish/Celtic cosmology, too, is very attractive to me, but that will be described later (it’s also mostly reconstructed rather than drawn from the historical record).
Step 4: Bring along my Viking Age ride-or-die’s (~800-1000 CE)
Gods that I simply cannot “leave behind” as my practice changes are as below:
Step 5: Slavic deities (~500-1000 CE)
I’ve never been a proper Slavic practitioner, but I have incorporated some Slavic elements into my practice before, and I intend to keep these deities with me:
- Mati Syra Zemlya
The Final Result: A Gallo-Germanic pantheon with a little Norse and Slavic spice
After some thinking and reading and tentative offerings, here’s the list of deities I’ve initially settled on for my pantheon:
- Matres and Matronae
- The Alcis twins
- Nerthus or Mati Syra Zemlya
I should note that, while some scholars think there are specific roles that most Indo-European religions fill, I think that’s…simplistic, so I have not sought to fill a pre-determined list of roles with these choices. You might notice I have two thunder gods and several sky deities. Yes! I guess I have a thing for sky gods! It’s also interesting to note that some gods, like Nehalennia and Nemetona, seem to be both Celtic and Germanic – or, at least, it’s unclear where their names stem from and who they “belong” to, although distinguishing between Germanic and Celtic peoples in the Iron Age is probably missing the forest for the trees.
But these are just the gods! And a practice is more than just a list of deities. I’ve also chosen a rudimentary cosmology, list of holidays, and a [heavily borrowed] ritual format, which will be addressed in Part 2.
Beck, N. (2009). Goddesses in Celtic Religion — Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul. PhD thesis. Université Lumière Lyon 2, École doctorale: Lettres, langues, linguistique, arts. https://theses.univ-lyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2009/beck_n
Frendo, J. (1975). Agathias: The Histories. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin.