A little while ago I posted a “Rough Guide to Andî” in which I explained very briefly about my worldview and its Proto-Germanic framing. I intend to write a series of posts to expand upon this whole thing in more detail. I had a specific structure in mind, but given that I have a tendency to ramble—plus the topic being incredibly vast—means I’m going to keep it more flexible. Furthermore, I should also clarify that I’m perhaps not your average polytheist, as I’m very empiricist in my thinking. I quite simply can’t believe in anything without constructing an understanding of how and why based on my perceptions and inferences, something that you will see clearly in these posts, or anything I’ve ever posted here. Perhaps the earliest evidence of growing into this philosophical approach was when I—though growing up devoutly catholic—began to question it, and answers like “You need to have faith that God knows best” seriously frustrated me no end. Nor could I support a morality based on zombie-like, unthinking dogma. And before I get branded an anti-Christian, let me add the following very important statement.
I’m a polytheist, which means I subscribe to a worldview involving multiple gods. I do not subscribe to exclusionist, elitist, or conversionist notions, i.e., only the god(s) I worship is/are true. Every divine being ever worshipped in this universe—whether belonging to a group or being a single supreme being—is valid; the same holds for not worshipping any god. I will condemn groups who commit atrocities, racism, and discrimination on cultural or religious grounds, but that does not mean I will condemn the culture or religion as a whole. I hold myself to this same standard. Therefore, what I post here is not an effort to convince anyone that I’ve got the right end of the stick. I’m posting this for myself to reflect upon in a couple of years, and continue an internal dialogue on where I stand then, and how things have evolved in my understanding. If anything I write helps you to contrast and consider things, then great! I believe there is no such thing as an absolute truth, no black-and-white divide, but everything is grey with nuggets of truth and falsehood which shift or vary depending on many factors. I’m highly sceptical of anyone—including myself—who claims to have the final word or a world-shattering, conclusive theory on anything. This is based on the notion that people are limited beings; our sensory range is finite and defines our subjective and objective boundaries. Speaking of which, that’ll get covered in this very post, but first…
Animism is an academic model developed by the British anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor in his book “Primitive Culture”, published in 1871. He states that animism was the earliest developmental phase in the formation of religion due to it stemming from a belief in souls; hence the coined term being built on “animus” soul. He also clearly expresses that “lower/savage” animism does not concern itself with morality, since his “hypothetical primitive peoples” were incapable of distinguishing objective from subjective reality.1 Eventually, it was replaced by polytheism and then monotheism, which implemented consecutively “better” moral value systems. Many anthropologists have rightly critiqued his work as naively evolutionist and overly intellectual. Considering that the origin of the term discusses “primitive peoples”, it does not centre itself on any cultural or linguistic paradigm. Because of this, one could argue that there is no such thing as a standalone or indigenous “animist” or “animism”. And considering the term’s judgmental baggage—despite its more recent developments—it does not seem entirely free of its evolutionist, colonial, and racial connotations; something that plagues modern polytheism as well. Without a cultural and linguistic context giving name and form to things, animism is a shell, a broad, simplistic, and abstract theoretical outline without substance or nuance. Simply put, culture and language are necessary to define and give form to a worldview. Therefore, a discussion of “animism” as a standalone subject without delving into lore is meaningless and unproductive.
This also applies to the main way of explaining an animistic worldview, e.g., “A belief that events in the world are mobilized by the activities of spirits”,2 which outlines the broad strokes without further qualifiers and definitions: what events, what spirits, and how do they mobilise events, and why? Another definition, e.g., “A belief system in which all material or experienced phenomena—including, for example, humans, animals, plants, trees, rocks, mountains, rivers, rain, wind, sun, moon, and stars—have a soul, spirit, or sentience of some kind, and therefore have agency amongst themselves and with each other. There are no hard and fast divisions between physical and spiritual dimensions in the world, although socially defined relationships and hierarchies may be found”, is much more succinct and helpful, yet again, it does not present us with anything concrete regarding the how and why underlying this belief system. It is like skipping to the end-product without highlighting its underlying rationale. Why is there no division between spiritual and physical dimensions? How are these phenomena sentient, or why is this the logical state for them? Is there a purpose? Many modern “animists” believe in spirits and their agency in the world, but very few—based on personal experience—can qualify such underlying lore. “It is just the way of things” is a static religious trope.
Let me clarify this further before I come across as judgmental and insulting; yet I realise this is definitely possible even so. The fact of the matter is that an animistic worldview is not a belief system, but an ontological endeavour that strives to understand and explain the world around oneself to survive and thrive. Quite simply, there’s no belief involved whatsoever. Similar to science, there is a process of constant interaction—defining and redefining—going on. Furthermore, all the mentioned things in the last description, like plants, animals, mountains, rain, or the sun do not involve belief. They exist in a verifiable state. The same applies to the ways in which they interact with one another. Basically, animism is a method to engage with, what we nowadays call the broader grouping of natural sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, geophysics, environmental studies, ecology, etc., with the minor difference that science has developed the tools to see more distant and smaller aspects of this cosmos. Very little contradiction exists between science and indigenous knowledge on a whole. In fact, the interconnected world of indigenous worldviews is slowly but surely becoming supported by science, e.g., the gestalt formation, mutual aid, and kin recognition of a forest through the mycorrhizal network3, or consciousness theories, such as integrated information theory and panpsychism. Since animism isn’t a belief, plus carries many evolutionist, colonial, and racial notions, I will henceforth avoid the term in favour of laiza “lore”, which indicates learning and skill, and seems a less stigmatising way to consider indigenous worldview and knowledge. Of course, what will be described in this and the following posts will be lore extracted and framed through Proto-Germanic as its linguistic paradigm. It is lived tradition based on my personal positionality and understanding; something that the model described below highlights and clarifies as well.
Anaskawoniz literally means “an observing upon”, perhaps better translated as “outlook” or “mode of view”. At first, this may not seem entirely synonymous with cosmology in the sense of being a knowledge system concerning how the cosmos is structured, but more with worldview. Many online sources indicate that the Germanic worldview begins and ends with the Norse model, which does not seem realistic when considering etymologies, e.g., the term “Yggdrasil”—presumably translated as “Yggr’s steed”—does not implicitly indicate a world tree; one needs to have read the Eddas to build that particular association, though the exact mythology behind that name is one that is not directly attested. What I’ve attempted to do is consider Proto-Germanic terms that have clearly attested implicit meanings for building an Early Germanic worldview.
Fulda: the physical plain; cognate to SKT prithvi (earth, mother Earth), YAv ząm pərəθβīm (broad earth), and Gaulish Litavi (the vast one); the latter attested as a theonym on at least three inscriptions.4 The term is related to the words felþaz (field), Flataz (flat), and flatjam (floor). This could be interpreted as supporting a flat-earth concept, but we have no concrete evidence of such applying to the Germans or Celts of antiquity. In fact, if we consider Pliny the Elder—who dedicates chapter 64 of his Naturalis Historia to the form of the earth5—in combination with the significant Roman-Celtic-Germanic contact and mixing, that such a view may have been—or became—shared. Thus, the predominant contemporary view around Pliny’s time (23/24–79 AD) was that the earth was a sphere, though still within a geocentric model.6
Weraldiz: the subjective plain. This term is a compound of wiraz (human) and aldiz (age, lifetime). This being a compound word, there are no clear cognates outside of Germanic, though it may have conceptual overlap with PCelt Bitus (world, life), which has a similar underlying concept of being. Interestingly, it does not present us with a locative concept, but a temporal one. Therefore, the moment you are experiencing now—and valid throughout your lifetime—is the world as you know it. A similar temporal notion can also be seen in terms such as English afterlife or hereafter, and Dutch hiernamaals (lit. The moment here after).
Combining these two Earths, we have a way to situate ourselves on the X-axis of “where” and the Y-axis of “when” or “what is being perceived”. In so doing, we have a firm foundational concept that every human being has their coordinates at which they are the centre of their reality. Expanding this further may indicate that plants, trees, animals and other phenomena occupy their own central perceptual centre; some of which may overlap with our human ones, while others may be wholly alien. Understanding this as a fundamental philosophy sets a precedent regarding interaction, dialogue, and obtaining knowledge. This is—what I shall refer to as—the 1st and 2nd principles, namely:
- Each living thing resides within the centre (weraldiz; personal, subjective, finite reality). This is the place of role and emotional embodiment (shifting identities and perceptions in response to the infinite reality).
- Knowledge and understanding can only be gained by stepping out of the centre by engaging in observation and dialogue (fulda; interactive, infinite reality). Of course, this is basically an amalgamation of countless subjective realities, and thus never an absolute form of objectivity or truth.
As stated above, I do not believe anyone can pull all of the interactive infinite reality into their subjective finite one, thereby obtaining absolute knowledge. We are limited to one core reality that we can shift in terms of embodiment. To put this into a numeric value, there are 7151 languages spoken today, 40% of which are endangered, and 21% accounts for half the Earth’s population.7 Language is the predominant medium for describing phenomena. In order to obtain all knowledge, one needs to have an understanding of all possible ways these can be described, which is complicated by the fluid nature of language, e.g., the concept of the colour orange existed in Old English, but not as a single colour, but as a compound of yellow and red: ġeolurēad. This illustrates how an explanation of a relatively simple perceived reality can vary based on words; linguistic embodiment. In the Old English paradigm, there was no such thing as a clear orange, which came in later through the import of the fruit that unambiguously helped to qualify the colour. The same is true for a more theoretical form of perception, e.g., temporal orientation. For most of us, the past is behind us and the future in front. However, Quechua—the language of the Inca—and Aymara-speaking populations of South America express the metaphysical directions of the past and the future in an opposite manner, I.e., the anterior space being the past where one can visually perceive the effects of time passing, whereas the posterior space expresses futurity which cannot be seen, yet can be based on the visible—and thus known—past. This may seem somewhat contradictory or unusual, however, one way to begin comprehending such a notion is by considering the orientation and directionality while rowing a boat; in which you can see where you’ve been, but your actions are moving you towards an as-yet unseen point behind you. With both examples, one needs a shift in linguistic embodiment to approach the concept fully and subjectively. Certainly, I may understand yellow-red as orange or the Quechua-Aymara temporal positionality through analogy, but that does not mean I occupy that reality in my own central position. In other words, I do not embody those realities, but I can at least acknowledge them without value judgments of right or wrong or superior vs inferior, and use them to expand my world’s horizons and evaluate my morality. My preamble was based on this very notion of embodiment and acknowledgment. And of course, someone can shift their role embodiment towards a new paradigm over time; this is natural, but will be constantly reinforced—or challenged—by the infinite reality; or rather the countless subjective views present there.
I hear you thinking: “This is not animism, polytheism, or as you call it, lore?” I would argue that this is—without claiming this to be a universal or anything other than my own understanding—the basis of everything; though admittedly, it can be framed in so many different ways. At the foundation of any religion is the embodiment of a certain reality based on interactions and internal evaluations. Why are you a polytheist, monotheist, or atheist? The answer is that you developed that role embodiment by being raised as such or later on based on interactions with parents, teachers, peers, travelling to other countries, reading books, facing life’s easy and difficult moments, etc. As described in the introduction, lore is a knowledge system to help you survive and thrive in the world. This initial bit on fulda and weraldiz lays a solid foundation for explaining how all those things interact to make you you; and by extension it can help explain the interactions of natural phenomena like animals, plants, mountains, rivers, rain, sun, but also spirits and gods by considering their subjective realities, role embodiments, and how they respond to, and are affirmed and challenged by things beyond their centre.
Since I’ve passed the 2.5k word count, I’m going to leave it for now. Next up I’ll be discussing ferhwam, andô, and līkahamô, which in a way is a rephrasing—or different layer—of the concept described here; thus building more nuance.
- Put in other words, these primitive peoples were inferior human beings, not much above animals, who mindlessly acted upon their urges and feelings. ↩
- From the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. ↩
- https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/exploring-the-underground-network-of-trees-the-nervous-system-of-the-forest/ ↩
- From Aignay-le-duc:
Aug(usto) sac(rum) / deo Marti Ci/collui et Litavi / P(ublius) Attius Paterc[l]u[s] / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)↩
- “Every one agrees that it has the most perfect figure. We always speak of the ball of the earth, and we admit it to be a globe bounded by the poles. It has not indeed the form of an absolute sphere, from the number of lofty mountains and flat plains; but if the termination of the lines be bounded by a curve, this would compose a perfect sphere. And this we learn from arguments drawn from the nature of things, although not from the same considerations which we made use of with respect to the heavens. For in these the hollow convexity everywhere bends on itself, and leans upon the earth as its centre. Whereas the earth rises up solid and dense, like something that swells up and is protruded outwards. The heavens bend towards the centre, while the earth goes from the centre, the continual rolling of the heavens about it forcing its immense globe into the form of a sphere.” ↩
- Possibly a geo-heliocentric model in which Mercury and Venus revolved around the sun, which revolved around the Earth. ↩
- https://www.ethnologue.com/guides/how-many-languages ↩