“The Rune-gilder does not “believe” in the Gods and Goddesses in the same way Trothers do (or might). The underlying “reason” for this is made clear by what is implied by the Germanic Epistemology presented in Section II. Gilders may begin with a faithful approach to the nature of the reality of the divinities – but they eventually learn that such a belief is a fetter which must be loosened if they are to progress further.”
“All the Gods and Goddesses are real in a practical sense. But ultimately they are creations of the threefold All-Father. The only (apparent) exception to this is Freyja – who is the only deity who teaches him anything he did not already know, that is, the mysteries of seid”.
Both quotes from Gildisbok by Edred Thorsson.
After Clint’s recent and very rousing posting on the subject of so called “hard polytheism” I somehow felt the urge to make a perpendicular response – by reflecting on the words of Edred Thorsson in the Gildisbok, the Rune Gild’s members-only handbook. Note that I haven’t been in the Gild for years so my copy might be dated.
Regular Elhaz Ablaze readers know that I’m not a huge Thorsson fan, considerable though his contributions have been. I particularly take exception to his goal of attaining a state of immortal, isolate intelligence – this notion seems to fly in the face of both Heathen and specifically Odinnic cosmology and philosophy.
Given this goal is directly inspired by Temple of Set philosophy – which seems little more than a hilariously confused manifestation of late modern nihilism – it is no surprise that I am not Thorsson’s only critic. But I digress.
The two quotes above are fascinating launch pads for reflection on the nature of the Northern divinities – not least because they appear on the same page in the Gildisbok. With the first quote I find myself (mostly) cheering. With the second quote I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.
In the first quote I think Edred is saying that we need to get beyond the trappings of form. I think he is saying that we need to recognise that there is a lot more to Heathenry than memorising lists of facts or aping what we would like to think is old-fashioned behaviour (but may reflect more our own insecurities). I could be wrong in my reading of course.
He also seems to be saying that when we are talking about divine beings we will be well served if we avoid being too literal about who and what they are, and how they might interact with us.
After all, how can we really know? Whether they are ideas, myths, archetypes, or fully existent and independent conscious beings, they’re way beyond our limited perspective.
However, I do note one little discordant note in this first quote. It suggests that Edred has a monopoly on this point of view, or less strongly that somehow it’s an insight very specific to his philosophy or knowledge.
This is obviously absurd – I’ve known plenty of Gilders and plenty of non-Gilders, and if anything it’s the latter that have tended to be much less literal and simplistic in their grasp of matters divine.
That isn’t intended to be an absolute claim of course, and I know there are many, many exceptions in every category. I’m just speaking from my own direct and personal experience of specific individuals.
So it seems either the Rune Gild is not proving too good at promulgating Edred’s point of view (which in this instance is a point of view I broadly agree with), or else something odd is going on – who knows what the answer to this is, I guess it ultimately doesn’t matter.
There’s also something odd about the appropriation of the more ‘sophisticated’ view on the gods that is evident in the first quote. Why shouldn’t mere “Trothers” have understandings of the gods every bit as complex, contradictory and weird as the supposedly elite Rune Gilders?
The notion that simple dogma is good enough for the (implied) less discerning masses is obnoxious to a Chaos Heathen such as myself.
I’m sure Edred has copped flack from dogmatic types over the years, but you’d think the Yrmin-Drighten would be a little more thick-skinned. But hey, what do I know?
Maybe indirectly bagging out his more literal-minded critics in a book like the Gildisbok, a book to which they can’t respond, is the best way of dealing with the problem. Far be it from me to throw the first stone from the doorstep of my glass house.
It is the second quote that really floors me. All the gods and goddesses (save Freyja) are really Manifestations of Odin? If nothing else, isn’t this very definite and concrete claim substituting one dogma about the nature of the gods for another? The two quotes seem contradictory to my addled mind.
Putting aside the way that Edred very forcefully presents a flamboyant piece of UPG as though it were written “just so in the Edda”, this second quote really makes me wonder: just what is going on in his mind?
(I’ll put aside the comment about Freyja in this post because it really opens up a huge can of worms that needs separate attention).
The local Hindu temple near where I live has occasionally put out the following slogan: “God Is One, Though The Wise Call Him By Various Names”. Now that’s a subtle and very interesting point of view to hold. Viva the pan-Indo-European connection!
This slogan recognises the ultimate interconnectedness of everything (which is the spiritual truth of monotheism at its best), but also the significance of individual beings’ unique spirit (which is the spiritual truth of polytheism and animism at their best).
But to say that Odin – who really doesn’t strike me as being at all like the One, or Brahma, or whatever – is the secret source of all the other divine beings? Well that surely wouldn’t make sense under a comparative mythological lens. And intuitively it just seems like putting the cart before the horse.
I would have thought that the work of people like Paul Bauschatz and Bil Linzie resoundingly demonstrates that the closest cognate to the Totality of Existence (that is, God) in the Heathen myths would have to be some combination of Yggrdrassil, the various wells of memory and time, Wyrd, and possibly the surface of the Ginnung.
Conversely, Odin is surely best seen as somewhere between Mercury and Zeus, a definite divine entity of some kind but not a representation of the Totality.
Personally I lean towards seeing him as being more Mercurial, since Mercury is very similar to Odin; and Tacitus certainly glossed Wodan as Mercury. And also since the whole “king of the gods” thing only came on in late Dark Ages times and almost certainly isn’t representative of the whole spectrum of Heathenism.
Odin’s biography is maddeningly complex and with so few sources available there is a lot we just cannot know (and you can’t even ask him because he’s a bloody liar, so UPG isn’t much help either).
I get that Odin has a starring mythic role in shaping the cosmos, but even as Odin-Vili-Ve there was a whole lot of life and creation going on prior to his arrival.
This “Odin is behind all the gods” point of view just seems bizarre. It doesn’t square with the mythological evidence and as a speculative opinion it seems extremely left-field. It also seems rather disrespectful to a whole bunch of beings that I personally at least think have plenty of their own stuff going on.
Surely it would be prudent to refrain from making very strong, unusual and textually unjustifiable claims about Odin’s nature with no more authority than that old faithful “because I say so”. I mean speculate away (I know I do), but a bit of honesty about it please! What is lost from admitting the limits of one’s perspective?
Furthermore, it seems like a weird crypto-monotheism to reduce all the other gods to guises of Odin. If we are going to do that then why not just adopt monotheism for real? Or for those feeling the need to be contrary and ‘tough’, the Satanic road is there in its various absurd forms. Although Edred also walks that path, so who knows?
Hence the title of this post – “Soft Monotheism”. Just as Catholicism sneaks in all kinds of gods and goddesses through the back door of the Saints, one could be forgiven for thinking that Thorsson wants to sneak monotheism in through the back door of the endless hordes of divine beings that crowd out the old Germanic myths.
He is entitled to whatever opinion he wants of course. It just seems odd for someone who built their career on being so well grounded in actual historical evidence and research to then leap off into such a wild opinion and present it as though it were a matter of objective fact.
Maybe the New Age influence on Heathenry affects Edred more than he realises. Again – that isn’t a criticism, though given his marketing angle I imagine he might take it as one.
I for one have no idea what the gods and goddesses are; nor what the ultimate nature of reality is. I do have lots of personal experience with these things, but personal experience and rational discussion don’t necessarily like to hold hands.
I do know this though – every time I think I have it figured out, I find out there’s more mystery still. Silent, awe-struck, in the face of the infinite reaches of Runa – that’s where the truth lies. And I suspect the horizon of mystery is always going to foil any attempt at expressing it (though of course it might be possible to invoke…)