Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mounting Sleipner: Indo-European Roots of Germanic Polytheism

Book Review: Mounting Sleipner: Indo-European Roots of Germanic Polytheism
By Michael William Denney (Kindle Version 2013)

This was a nice read. It was not overly academic and often based in the author’s own unique insights and UPG (for better or worse) as a practitioner of polytheistic reconstructionism. I found some of his ideas quite interesting and others more speculative. The comparisons between the Vedic and Germanic traditions were fairly well done. Some of the root word cognates are fascinating and revealing. He comes from perhaps an unusual perspective of practicing in the Vedic Hindu tradition before discovering his ancestral roots in Germanic paganism. One of his suggestions is that some aspects of Germanic polytheism may actually be older than those of the Vedic tradition – harking from a time before the undifferentiated Indo-European tribe split up. I think he rightly notes that modern notions of pre-Christian Teutonic polytheism are often overly influenced by post-Christian attitudes initiated by the Christian compilers. Therefore utilizing textual and traditional knowledge of Vedic polytheism can be a very good aid to reconstruction. The post-Christian bias, he says, can distort understanding of the animist worldview of pre-Christian Germanic polytheism.

Denney suggests that Indo-European traditions may stretch back further in time to encompass a notion referred to as the “Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm” which I see as quite speculative – though there are likely some continuations from Paleolithic shamanistic peoples. 

The author seems to be a devotee of Thor in the Anglo-Saxon version as Thunor, the god of thunder. The first Vedic-Germanic comparison is that of Thunor and Indra. He makes the observation that in the Mediterranean Indo-European traditions the Sky Father (Zeus, Jupiter) is the chief of the gods while in the Germanic and Vedic versions Donar is the son of the All-Father Woden and the Earth Goddess Holle and Indra is the son of Dyeus Pita (Sky Father) and Pritvi (Earth Mother). The original head of the Germanic gods was Tiw (Tyr) cognate with Dyeus, Zeus, and Dyu-pater (Jupiter). It seems that after the Roman conquest of Europe, Woden came to replace Tiw. So the author conjectures that Thunor was originally the son of Tiw and Mother Earth. Since the Sky Father is also the god of thunder in the Greek and Roman systems, he also conjectures that this suggests that the Vedic and Germanic traditions made the “switch” at a later time and also suggests a later connection of Germanic and Vedic traditions. The author sees Thunor and Indra as originally the same deity. Since some scholars give Indra’s name as Indura (IN-DU-RA) and “du” means “drop of soma”, in this sense Indra can mean “ruler of the bright drop of soma” or “ruler of the bright shining moon” since the moon is also soma. Indra was the great imbiber of soma, the nectar of immortality. The author sees “du” also as “thu” and notes a Vedic mantra seed-syllable (THOONG) which consists of THU and NG. NG is an alternative sound of M as in OM, which can be pronounced ONG. The sound NG is said to represent the sacrificial fire carrying the chants to the heavens (presumably as a form of Agni). The author thinks that the runic sound ING – also the mystical fire that carries prayers and sacrifices to Asgard, is a parallel. He also conjectures that Vedic seed syllable mantras may reflect a very early Indo-European or proto-Indo European language that was kept alive through the oral tradition of the Vedic priests, the Brahmins, later to be forgotten as a language and preserved only as a liturgical language.

Indra was protector of humans against the serpent/dragon Vritra, who held back the waters (presumably a drought demon). Indra defeated him with his thunderbolt (vajra) and freed the waters of life. Indra also captured the moon when it was full and gradually brought it under the earth to squeeze the soma nectar from it but it would escape back into the sky. When the moon was not in the sky and Indra was extracting the soma it was thought to excrete as the morning dew. The author sees the “drop of nectar” (DU) as possibly originally THU so Indra’s original name may have been INTHURA, which if pronounced quickly can sound like “Indra’. The author also thinks it could have been INGTHURA.  Interestingly in Old English and other Germanic languages the character that looks like a “d” is pronounced “th”. Regarding Thunor, the author notes that the origin of the name is shrouded in mystery. NOR is derived from NAR which means “lord” or “ruler.” If one accepts the THU as DU then Thunor can mean “ruler of the moon drop.” Interestingly, he notes that the Indo-European Hittites had a thunder god called both Indara and Du. Du was the Hittite word for storm. Thunor could also mean “lord of the dew drop or rain drop.” He thinks our English word “dew” is directly related to the soma (moon drops) leaking up onto the surface of the earth. The thunderbolt of Indra releases the drops of rain as Vritra is defeated. Just so, Thor, or Thunor, as ruler of the drops summons rain with his thunderbolt.

The author sees the stories of Thor battling the Thurse-giants in Jotunheim as battling the destructive forces of entropy, ignorance, and chaos. Gravity and inertia may also be thurses to overcome. The author sees Thunor (and Indra) as representing electro-magnetism and the energy mechanism of the sun. In the Norse creation myth there is the northern mist-world (Nifleheim) and the southern heat-world (Muspelheim). Surt – who he says as the impersonal force of entropy – was the guardian of these destructive fires. The function of Woden’s warriors of Valhalla is to keep Surt bound in Muspelheim. The author even suggests that our current predicament of the human-induced global warming is a modern reality that parallels this myth. The giant Ymir and Audumbla, the cosmic cow who suckles him, are the first beings to emerge from Muspelheim. The cow also licks the primal ice to reveal Buri, the grandfather of the Aesir. Buri gives birth to Borr who gives birth to the gods Odin, Villi, and Ve. Those three slay Ymir and use his body to create the manifested universe. The name Ymir and the Indian Yama are thought to come from a proto-IE word (Yemos) meaning “twin.” Yama is the first mortal who experiences death – as Ymir is. Yama also means “restriction” or “limitation” in Sanskrit. The “yamas” in yoga are the restrictions, or disciplines, such as fasting that yield energy and clarity in one’s spiritual practice. Ymir/Yama is both life and death, the twins of duality. Denney also notes that it is Odin (awareness), Villi (intention, will), and Ve (perception) that shape the external universe. He equates Buri with Brahma, noting that both are called grandfather of the gods and both possibly denote “creator”. The root of Brahma is Bri which means “expansion”. Thus Brahma is also known as the “word that grows great”, or expands. Bri and Buri are very similar. Brahma’s wife Sarasvati is also associated with the wish-fulfilling cow Khamadenu whose function closely resembles that of Audumbla as well as the Persian cosmic cow. Since the Vedic, Persian, and Germanic versions of the cosmic cow have totally different names, he thinks they came from a very old proto-IE source.

Next he examines the Sky Father deity Zeus/Tiw/Tyr/Dyeus Pita/Jupiter who he thinks was originally equated with the North Star. The Chinese “Di” or “Ti” and the Siberian/Mongolian “Tenger” may be related in a pre-IE sense. “Ti” may have been a widespread extremely ancient North Star sky deity. He suggests.

Freyja is compared to Prajaapati. He disagrees with the common conclusion that Freyja derives originally from the Germanic word “frau” which means “lady”.  Since Freyja is a goddess of fertility – birth and procreation – so too is Prajaapati, the ”lord of procreation”. Our word “progeny” is directly related. Prajaapati was the creator of animals and plants. By language rules – assuming in this case a transition from Sanskrit to Norse – Prajaa could very easily and plausibly become Freyja. Even though the name Freyja may be younger than the name Prajaa, he sees the deity Freyja as possibly older, indicating an older matrilineal society which may have changed when Prajaapati came to be seen as male – interesting but speculative.

Next we have a comparison of Ing and Agni. He mentions scholars who see IE words for fire and water in two forms, active and static. The active fire form is the Latin “ignis” , the Sanskrit “Agnis” and likely the Germanic “Ing”. Ing is the rune for sacred fire. Ing and Agni are this “sentient” form of fire – as it is said Agni carries the prayers to the gods through the smoke of the sacred fire. Since the human relationship with fire goes way beck to homo habilis there is reason to think that keeping lightning fires lit was an early form of duty which may have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be associated with a kind of priestcraft. Keeping the sacred fire burning is a common motif in many ancient myths and religions. The author considers that the sacred fire may have been the first deity to be worshipped by humans. He also thinks that Freyr is not equivalent to Ing as most suggest, but that he is the “lord of the Ing, the sacred fire” – (Ingunar Freyr) which is his title.

The next comparison is that of Aesir and Asura. The author says that Asura originally meant “celestial god” (Asu = breath and Ra = celestial fire) in the Rig Veda and later was corrupted to mean non-Sura (not –light), but this is questionable since many myths revolve around the non-sura meaning. Certainly, by early post-Vedic times asuras were associated with the powerful but demonic jealous gods. Sura is closely related to words for the sun – surya, and self - swaha, svar. He says the Germanic tribe the Suevi (Swedes??) may mean “people of the self or people true to the self. Asura and Aesir may both also translate as “Great Power”.

The Vanir are associated with Venus. He equates the war between the Aesir and Vanir to the Hindu war between the Shukras (followers of the planet Venus) and the devas (shining ones). The planet Venus in Indian mythology is called Shukracharya – the teacher of the earthly demi-gods. The author sees the Aesir as the celestial gods of the upper world and the Vanir as the earthly gods of the lower world.

He equates Frigga to Priya “beloved” and sees Frigga as celestial love and Freyja as earthly love and fertility/procreation.

Next he considers what he thinks are indigenous Teutonic deities, or possibly some simply lost to the Vedic tradition. Surt is one as the impersonal entropic destructive fire. He notes that the Greeks distinguished celestial fire as sacred and terrestrial fire as destructive.

Woden is seen as god of shamanic awareness, the initiator. Interestingly, he sees Ymir as the first shaman, the first to undergo the dismantling as shamans often have a vision where they are cut up and then reassembled. Ymir (and his Vedic counterpart Yama) is seen as a god of death and life – since with his “death” he becomes the life force of all.

He thinks our word “wow” as well as the Indian “wah” is related to Wod as ecstatic awareness. He sees Woden as a late-comer as the All-Father, even though he was a very old deity being a part of the creation myth. His rise to power may have been influenced by the gathering threat of the Roman empire. He suggests that if the animistic Teutons had not been Christianized they may have shifted to a focus on spiritual awareness like the Indians did.

Next Denney shows his own little system of Woden, Will, and Weoh (Odin, Villi, and Ve) equated respectively to the third eye zone, the navel, and the heart. He associates Will with our lower nature exemplified by the dwarves under the earth. He sees the travels of King Gylfe in the Gylfaginning as shamanic travels. He conjectures about a yogic-like tradition among the Northern shamans and notes the carving on a bucket-handle found in a burial of two women (possibly priestesses or shamans) found with a Viking ship burial in Norway in 800 CE of a figure in full lotus posture. He and others see the three kings “The High One”, “As High”, and “Third” as Odin, Villi, and Ve, again as the three powers of Awareness, Will, and Perception. He sees Will as The High One, Perception as As High, and Third as Awareness – apparently Third is also a kenning for Odin. He notes a similar shamanic triad of powers in Taoist Chinese tradition. He gives a meditation practice to balance Woden, Willi, and Weoh based on visualization of the Big Dipper and the body zones mentioned.

Next we come to Loki. He notes that Loki is directly responsible for acquiring all of the magical items of the gods: Thunor’s hammer, Freyja’s Brisingamen, and Woden’s magical horse, Sleipner. He thinks that the contemporary common equation of Loki with evil and bad luck is due mainly due to the influence of Christianity. He sees Loki as unconventional and causing discomfort but otherwise associated with personal evolution and fiery ego-cleansing. Thunor, representative of spiritual purity, is often the travel companion of Loki. He analyses the Lokasenna a bit, seeing Loki’s slaying of the mead server at the feast as a warning against complacency – a common warning in Teutonic lore and history where it leads to being attacked. He sees such complacency as symbolic of our consumeristic greed which threatens our own Ragnarok, or destruction. Thunor was not present at this feast. He sees Thor as having a balancing or calming effect on Loki while Loki has an amplifying effect on Thor. He thinks Loki planned his flyting. Thunor was away in the East fighting thurses, so perhaps he thought the mead feast a trivial affair. He, like Indra fueled by soma, loved mead and perhaps used it to fuel his thunderbolt. Loki manages to insult each of the gods deeply, yet truthfully. For this he is chained to a rock till Ragnarok ensues. The author thinks that how one reacts to Loki reflects one’s spiritual maturity. He sees the purpose of Loki as removing unresolved psychological stress that can be very harmful to us. He also notes that Loki was the only one to take a blood oath with Odin.

He associates the dwarves with our lower, animal drives and nature. He notes the story of Fafnir and Sigmund. Fafnir’s greed turns him into a dragon-serpent but he is also called a dwarf. Dwarves can be very powerful and dangerous, he says, but like dogs they can be trained to follow higher forces. He exemplifies the story of Fafnir and Sigmund as one where Will is unleashed without the reins of Wod and Weoh. Fafnir is obsessed with riches and driven by will alone, or one might say by the lower will. The elves are seen as the influence of our higher nature that can rein in our lower drives. He refers to them as “ascended masters.” When the Elves are present the Dwarves are obedient. He says things like ritual and meditation can bring about this situation where the lower will is aligned with perception and subjugated by awareness. He sees ritual as a psychological survival mechanism that renews our sanity.

He gives a quote from “Odin’s Korpgalder” or Wodens Corpse Song:

“Allfather acts, Elves discern, Vanir know, Norns point the way, Wood-wives give birth, Humans endure, Thurses wait, Valkyries yearn.”

The author makes a detailed commentary on this quote, emphasizing that this is how pre-Christian Teutonic animists saw different spiritual beings.

“Allfather acts” he interprets as the results of choices and actions, much like the Eastern concept of karma. Actions  affect our destiny (orlog).

“Elves discern” is next interpreted. He sees the elves as the guides of mortals along their destiny (orlog). Elves were venerated at “Alfablot” rituals likely as sacred ancestral spirits. He sees them as the more enlightened of the ancestors who have gone beyond the need for rebirth, like demi-gods, rather than those ancestors who regenerate from Helheim. The discernment of the ascended elves helps to guide us along the paths of our true destinies.

“Vanir know” – the Vanir are called the elder gods. Denney sees them as dwelling in time and within the 3D cosmos in Vanaheim while the celestial Aesir are secluded and sheltered in Asgard which is their fortress. He sees the celestial Aesir who “act” as impulsive and intense while the earthly Vanir who “know” are more peaceful and observant.

“Norns point the way” – he describes Wyrd as the life-force energy of the multiverse. The three giantess Norns are called Origin (First Cause), Coming Into Being (Present), and Debt (Future). He says that “the future is called “Debt” because the results of past choices must be paid for in the future to keep balance in the Life Force Web of Wyrd.” This is how, he says, Norns “point the way” to our highest Orlog.

“Wood-wives give birth” – wood-wives are a form of wight or spirit of a tree, a female nature spirit, a “tree woman.” It is customary to offer pieces of bread and weaving hair to the wood-wives. He notes a custom of carving a triangle of three crosses with another triangle within – on a stump - as a means to keep the tree spirit at home in the stump after the treetop was cut. Such rites are common among many peoples who cultivate a reciprocal relationship with nature. That wood-wives “give birth” is an acknowledgement of the life-giving power of nature.

“Humans endure” – he thinks refers simply to the fact that humans are undergoing spiritual evolution – that we endure to evolve spiritually.

“Thurses wait” – there are two classes of giants: the Etins (Jotuns) represent primordial natural forces like gravity, old age, inertia, times, etc. and the Thurses represent the forces of ignorance, violence, and destruction. He says Thunor is half-giant and represents the natural force of electro-magnetism, but that he also initiates human evolution and fights the predatory Thurses. He compares Thor battling the Thurses and the serpent Jormungander to Indra fighting and decapitating Vritra to symbolically overcome the influence of the reptilian brain. Thus Thor is unsuccessful in slaying Jormungander since the reptilian brain is still useful in some ways to our evolution. They “wait” in the shadows of our mind, he says, due to their predatory and fearful nature.

“Valkyries yearn” – these hand maids of Woden select the slain warriors for Valhalla. Denney suggests that it is not dying in battle that is key to being “chosen” but living fearlessly, so it may have more to do with battling one’s personal demons. He says the Valkyries yearn for human enlightenment. He notes that the names of Valkyries in the lore exemplify both war and peace.

Sleipner (Slipper) gets his name from his ability to “slip” through the cracks of the nine worlds. Another name is Ygg’s horse – or “the Mount of the Fierce One.” Ygg is cognate with the English word “ugly” and the Sanskrit word “ugra” which means “frightening” rater than “unattractive.” Ugra is also a name of Shiva and indeed this “fierce” aspect is a character of the wrathful deities of Tantra. Shiva and Odin share some functions, though he does not suggest that they have a similar origin.

Woden’s horse (Yggdrasil) shares the same name as the World Tree (Yggdrasil). The author makes an interesting glyph of the Helm of Awe (symbol of invincibility) where the center is Midgard and the eight “spokes” are the other eight worlds – Asgard, giant home, dwarf home, fire home, hel home, Vanaheim, elf home, and mist home. These are the eight legs of Sleipner in his magical system. He sees this configuration of the Helm of Awe as one of many eight-spoked medicine wheel mandalas that appear in many cultures.

His philosophy of myth and lore is that it is revealed teaching perhaps like the “shruti” or revealed teachings of the Vedic rishis (seers) who composed the Vedic hymns. It is knowledge arrived at by shamanic means. Such “seeing” can be ongoing at any time so the codified UPG (unverifiable personal gnosis) of various magical and shamanistic practitioners can add to the lore and tradition in various ways. He is confident that the Norse myths were written in the Indo-European style. Shamanistic journeying can aid in rediscovering ancient animistic views and practices for those involved in reconstructionist traditions.

The author has written several books and calls the path he teaches Teutonic Animism. He sees it as a way to connect with and honor one’s most immediate animistic ancestors through the DNA connection. Overall, this book was quick and easy to read, quite fascinating yet not intellectually demanding, perhaps overly speculative in parts, but I think it will be quite helpful and meaningful to anyone treading such a path.







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