Official logo of the German Asatru organization Eldaring

The original German text was written in 2000, an unpublished English translation was done by Penda Ullrsson in 2010 and revised by the author GardenStone in Autumn 2013.


 

Knowledge means to understand the world and to expound the signs, Odd and puzzling, of the Past and of the fleeting hour that shines. And since from the ruins of the old, the coming days are built, Sceptic eyes can see how much of future folly is our guilt

Friedrich Wilhelm Weber, Dreizehnlinden (1887),
translated by Maximilian A Mügge, 1923..

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The date of origin of a Proto-Indo-European people is estimated to be the epoch between 4500 and 2500 before the common era. The area of origin cannot clearly be named but there appears to be a connection with the Kurgan culture, whose representatives are also known under the name of the Corded Ware People.  They are said to have settled circa 5000 BCE North of the Caspian Sea. The Pre- and Indo-European people are assumed to have been a pastoral and equestrian people, half nomadic with very little agriculture.

In the term ‘Kurgan-culture’ (Kurgan comes from Russian курган (Kurgan): “hill” or grave hill “), various Neolithic and Eneolithic cultures of Central and Eastern Europe are combined, who share a burial habit in which the deceased in/under large grave mounds, built with big stones and/or to bank up earth are buried.

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KurganisierungAdvance of the Kurganvölker to Eastern and Central Europe during the time from 4300 to 3500. BCE. Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurgankultur, public domain. The German names at the map were replaced by English ones by GardenStone.

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On their trek to Europe they ran into the diverse megalith cultures, whose area of prevelance stretched over the wide spaces of middle and northern Europe (south of the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic). These cultures, to whom the so-called Funnelbeaker people also belonged, were essentially settled farmers. 

Megaliths are very large stones which were used during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages for dolmen and stone circles.

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Roots1Rectangle Dolmen at Hüsby in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Picture by GardenStone

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The immigrated Corded Ware people, including the so-called peoples of the Battle Axe Culture (also called Single Grave Culture), inherited the settled way of life from the megalithic farmers. Their cultural influence certainly led to a extensive Indo-Europization (Indo-Germanization) of the population in Europe – the Basque being perhaps the only exception. With our current state of knowledge, the process of Indo-Europization is barely (re)constructable, while the literature delivers citations of diverse explanatory models, such as conquest and subjugation of the Megalithic farmers. Yet the example of rash expansion of the Slavic culture in Eastern and Middle Europe in the 6-7 Century shows that this process can be explained differently.

Diverse language and cultural groups were formed out of the Indo-European population in Europe, among them the Celts, Illyrians, Latins as well as the Germanic peoples. The development of the Germanic language group consummated itself in the first half of the last millennium BCE, and was concluded between 500 and 100 BCE – more recent research results put the time at 200 BCE – with the so-called first Germanic sound shift. There was such a manifest change in the Germanic language at this juncture that it became distinguishable from other Indo-European languages.

This process probably occurred in the southern coastal region of the Baltic Sea, along the lower Elb and the Jutland peninsula. The Germanization of this area went along with the transition to the Iron Age, which presumably exerted a large influence.

The oldest archaeologically documented culture, which is clearly identified as Germanic by historians and philologists, is the so-called Jastorf-Culture in nothern Germany. It was developed out of the northern Bronze Age of the Proto-Germanic cultures. It is geographically documented in northern Germany, southern Scandinavia and up to Estonia. It was influenced during its development by the southern Hallstatt and La Tène-Cultures, which points to even (Pre-)Celtic influences.

 JastorfcultureThe red-colored area points to the area of the Jastorf-culture. Source: scientific source: H. ; Beck, H. ; Steuer, D. ; Timpe (ed.): Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. ; Die Germanen, 1998, de Gruyter, Berlin New York, p. ; 145, ISBN: 3-11-016383-7 – source: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Archeological_cultures_in_Northern_and_Central_Europe_at_the_late_pre-Roman_Iron_Age.png. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic.
The original picture containes quite a few more ancient cultures, it was reduced by GardenStone to present only the geographical area of the Jastorf-culture.

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The oldest roots of the modern heathen religion Asatru may lay in this historical epoch. It must be immediately added, that almost all knowledge which we have about the culture and religion of the Germanic people originates from a much later time. We know sparsely little from the first 500 years of Germanic history but meticulous research is bringing very slowly more and more to light.

The people, who we today combine under the term Germanic, did not view themselves as one Germanic people, they did not use the word as a self designation and likewise did not view themselves as members of an exclusive Germanic people. The unity, which the term suggests, did not exist.

When the name was initially used by the Greeks and Romans, it most likely did not denote the whole collection of tribes in Northern, Western, and Central Europe – as we use the term today – but instead only to a single tribe or only a few tribes – that likely were either the Suebi or the Tungri. For the ancient Romans, the term served foremost only to differentiate between two fairly similar looking groups of barbarians, who in the eyes of the Romans differed only in their language (Celtic and Germanic peoples). There is also the perception, that Gaulish (Celtic) tribes adapted and used the term for ethnic groups, which stemmed from the east side of the Rhine and moved into the Gallic lands.

Up till now, the origin of the word “Germanic” could not be ascertained beyond doubt. At any case, it was supposedly known a long time before the Romans came into contact with the Germanic peoples known to us. A written record which containes the term appears from the year 220 BCE as the Romans achieved a victory over the Gauls north of the Alps. It was spoken of GALLIS ET GERMANIS in the record of their victory. Yet even up until the first century CE, Greek and Roman authors were of the opinion that the Germanic peoples and the Gauls would be related. Therefore, we can surmise that the term indeed originated from an early characterization of one of the two aforementioned peoples of the Suebi and Tungri.

It was not until a long time later that the name “Germanic people(s)” was conferred on all the tribes of the same language family. This led to the major misconception that there must have been one large Germanic people. Even today, many people do not want to accept the fact that this is not true; that it cannot be. We possibly owe Julius Caesar for that mistake. He labeled the Rhine as a river border, the population south and west of it as Gauls and those on the other side as Germanics. That was not even true in his time, but at least that way he was able to report to the Roman Senate that Gaul had been conquered.

In addition, modern research does not designate with the term “Germanic” a large populace or race. It uses it instead as a collective term for different peoples, in whose languages so many similarities are present that they can be seen as close related, yet still different, with correspondingly similar – but just as different – ethnic identities.

Linguistically, all Germanic peoples belong to the Indo-European language-family. Once again it should be noted, that this does not define a biologically special group of people but instead only people, who spoke an Indo-European language. That does not mean that all Germanic peoples spoke the same language. It only means that their language originated out of the same early language roots a long time ago and then there was kept enough similarities to bring them in the language-category of Germanic languages. These may have rather rapidly developed in different directions so that the language of a foreign, not neighbored person first had to be learned before being able to communicate.

All the more because peoples, which had settled farther south, interacted with the people living there and incorporated parts of their language. But a collective language pedigree does not justify in any way the assumption of a being of unity.

Altogether, the term Germanic has no universally valid meaning anymore among the different sciences (archaeology, linguistics, history). In every field it means something different: Linguists characterize the attributes of languages; archaeologists categorize their finds as Germanic according to the material composition, the motives and the location of the find; historians define ethnic, cultural, and social aspects.

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  • Since modern research has adduced that related languages do not mean a consubstantiation between different peoples,
  • Since there were peoples who probably spoke Germanic, who obviously were highly influenced in their culture, religion and language by the Celts that some historians today even suggest they might have been Celtic or mixed Gallo-Germanic,
  • Since there are grave finds in core area, which are associated with specific peoples from which it is unclear whether they belong indeed to the Germanics or to other people,
  • which cannot be clearly assigned to the Germanic people and they belong, if anything, to other tribes other reasons, previously seen as significant, can be dropped as arguments to view the Germanic people as one unified, coherent people,

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… it implies, that the argumentation in which Germanics are seen as one large coherent people omits.

altogether, the many research results signifies that we cannot speak of one single large folk of being ‘the’ Germanic people.

 Nowadays, we designate with the term ‘Germanic’ a large number of ancient peoples, nations or tribes originating in western, middle and northern Europe whose ethnic identity is partially ascertained through their Germanic language.

The first ‘Germanic’ tribes began to move in a south/southwesterly and southeasterly direction in the 3rd century B.C.E and fanned out in the next centuries over a large portion of the European continent. In that process, in which they encountered other peoples, a blending, which influenced their culture, was inevitable. They learned to acclimatize themselves to many different geographical (geological, botanical, etc.) and climatic conditions. This as well must have strongly modified their habits. If the Germanic peoples possibly may have had a similar culture earlier on, the southward migration on the European mainland and the migration to England later  at any rate resulted in large changes, so large, that one may easily speak about the creation of multiple independent cultures. In addition to this, independent autonomous religions belong in this category. Alongside the adaptation to local and regional factors, it is very possible, that religious substance was incorporated. This even to the point of incorporating other deities of those peoples, who had already been living in the area of settlement. Furthermore, the deities of the natural religions of the time likely were embedded in their respective environments and thus were quite different from region to region.

 New tribes arose and many of them disappeared again relatively soon; without us knowing exactly to where or why. One can only speculate, e.g. that they dissipated and were absorbed by other tribes or perhaps were destroyed in tribal wars. At the same time, the influence of the Romans must have played a role because they resettled tribes whenever they had a practical reason to do so. Homes and tribes must have been weakened to the point of not being self-sufficient by the exodus of young warriors lured away by Roman luxury goods. There is a lot of speculation about this, there does not have to have been a single reason.

 A reconstruction of the most well-known tribes of the first century BCE and their geographical location is rendered in the following summary table.

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 Assignment of the Germanic tribes in the 1st century:

TRIBLE GROUPSTRIBES (PEOPLES)
North Sea Germanics:Frisians, Chauci, Saxons, Batavians, Cananefates, Tubanti, Frisiavones
Rhine-Weser-Germanics:Tencteri, Bructeri; Cherusci, Chatti
Elbe Germanics (Elbe Swabians):Langobards, Semnones, Hermunduri, Marcomanni, Quadi, Angles
Vistula Germanics:Rugii, Burgundians
Oder-Warta Germanics:Lugii
Baltic-See Germanics:Heruli, Suiones (Svear), Jutes and many small Scandinavian tribes such as Gautes, (Geats) Hilleviones, Eutdoses, Sitones, Vagoth, Harudes, Chaedini, Firaesi, Favonae, Dauciones

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The Baltic-See Germanic peoples composed the most northerly tribes and their northernmost border was approximately the Oslo-Uppsala line at that time.

This and similar overviews are disputable, scholars and well-informed laymen do not agree on all parts of it, so they should be taken with some distance.

From the 3rd century onwards powerful tribal federations were built, either by creating real new confederations or by the expansion of one tribe by adapting other tribes.

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In an overview:

Frisians: They mostly remain as they were in their small territory; at their peak their realm ranged from the Wadden Sea Coast in the north of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany to present-day Dutch part of the Rhine – but only for a short time.

Thuringians: Thuringian is possibly another name for the Hermunduri because Hermunduri means “Large Duri”, where ‘Duri’ is another form for ‘Thuri-. Thuringian ist still called Duringian in dialect. Except for the older Hermunduri also (parts of the) Angles und Warni who had migrated southwards were likely part of this confederation.

 Franks: The name Franks was supposedly derived from a word which meant “Free Men”. According to various researchers, some of the tribes, which were merged into this large tribe are the Chammavi, Bructeri, Ambivares, Chatti and some other smaller ones.

Alemanni: This name indicates a federation of “all men” and it is conjectured that most of the tribes, which belonged to the early Suebi-Affiliation, joined together as the Alemanni.

Saxons: Indeed, there was a tribe of the Saxons before, however, it probably absorbed smaller neighboring tribes and subsequently their areas of influence until the Rhine. They also spread their area of influence in particular through sea-raiding.

Baiuvarii (Bavarians): The later Bavaria was also a fusion of many smaller tribes which all lived near one another.

From the German book “Germanische Magie” by GardenStone,– modified.

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 In the history and mythology of the Germanic peoples and the later Vikings exist an abundant lore of gods, giants, elves, dwarfs, kobolds and other beings; usually they are today all grouped together and labeled as ‘the’ Germanic pantheon. From a historical point of view this it is not correct.

The people, which we now combine under the common denominator Germanic peoples, had settled in different areas in Europe from ca. the 3rd century BCE onwards. This must have brought so many cultural differences with it, that it is not a legitimate simplification when speaking about the religion or the pantheon of the Germanic peoples. There was no central religious body and the Germanic peoples left no religious texts behind. We have only the sparse Roman sources, which in this regard only have a limited value. The other few existing accounts of the Germanic religion were first written in the Christian time period after the 10th century. Whereupon neither copying errors of the oral delivery of the days of yore or substantial falsification can be ruled out. Furthermore come the, by all means sincere, good-willed attempts by mainly 19th and early 20th Century scholars to close the informational gaps with help from their knowledge of other peoples.

In addition, these sources primarily pertain to the Vikings and not the previously described smaller and larger tribes from many centuries before on the European mainland. A transfer of the viking culture and religion onto the early Germanic people is objectionable and not correct.

 The question is justifiable, whether Odin (Wodan), Frigg (Frija), Thor (Donar) and generally the Norse (Scandinavian and Icelandic) deities were worshiped by all pagan Germanics through the ages and in all regions south of Scandinavia – even among the Norse peoples this is questionable. Nowadays this question is increasingly often being answered with “likely not”. See for a valid example of this the small book “The Mercury-Woden complex” by GardenStone in which he, consulting many primary sources, offers an extensive research on the worship of Wodena.

 With the current state of research, the term “Germanic religion” is to be regarded as a collective term for a multitude of appearances of religious history with strongly differentiating prevalence. Similarly but not equal, the term “Judean” summarizes the Jewish faith, Islam and Christianity.

The conception of a uniform Germanic religion is neither theologically nor historically maintainable. Yet many people still hold on to this romantic conception, although they could know in the meantime, that it is not consistent with the real historical records.

When a current follower of Asatru claims his or her religion is the continuation of the old religion of ‘the’ Germanic people, then one may and should attribute such a statement to lack of enough knowledge. It would be more correct to say, that Asatru searches for its roots in the religious heathen conceptions of the Icelandic or Norwegian or Swedish Vikings or the Germanic peoples, who lived in the first 7 Centuries CE on the European mainland, or the Germanics who migrated to England we call Anglo Saxons.

The reference remains even then imprecise and is mainly based on non-scientific reconstructions but the statement approaches the factual circumstances somewhat better. Not only geographically but also the different eras of time caused large differences.  The present world-wide Asatru community actually mirrors these differences. There are Asatru who place the Swedish myths and sagas, which (probably!) stem from heathen Germanic time, in the center of their religious picture. Others place the stress mostly on historical but predominantly mythological information from time of the Vikings from Iceland, Norway, Denmark or the northern coastal areas of the European mainland. Still others search their roots among the Germanic peoples further to the south from the time of the Roman Empire until the Christian conversion waves. Often they narrow themselves to a certain area, for example, one only can aim for the Germanic peoples of England, others to the western part of the European mainland e.g. the area along the North Sea or central Germany. Certainly though, one better rely on historical sources which have a large variance in scientific reliability.

Additionally the study and research of folk tales and folk customs play a role. Their possible derivation from the Germanic people of heathen time is highly problematic but that study is a challenge and it already has lead to a few specific streams of Asatru.
Moreover, there are adherents of Asatru, who do not pay much attention to the historical roots, they prefer to follow their own personal views and interpretations, no matter of lacking historical or mythological roots. And that is legal as well, because a religion does not ask categorically for historical evidence or mythological sources for its legitimacy, the legitimacy lies in the belief of its adherents.

However, historical information, mythological sources, linguistic (etymological) clarifications and folk tales should be strongly preferred as a starting point. One can build upon them the way, that a bridge between at least assumable remnants of ancient Germanic beliefs and a modern religion remains, no matter how shaky in many cases this may be. They do not absolutely have to be specific Norse sources, such as the Edda, Heimskringla or the Icelandic sagas, although precisely these sources are the most prolific.

Likewise, the many local and regional folk tales from England, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and the German-speaking countries also can build a good starting basis, as well as the ancient and early Middle-Age historical writings and the abundance of archeological finds. Not to forget the related writings from Classical Antiquity and the many inscriptions on votive altar stones. But as previously indicated, the scientific value of that conglomerate of sources differentiates strongly on the scale of well verifiable to completely untraceable.

The here admittedly sketchy drafted differences of the historical Germanic peoples, including the Vikings, almost lead as a matter of course to quite a few rather fundamental differences within the worldwide Asatru community – the many ‘streams’ show enough evidence for that; some of them even do not see themselves as a stream of Asatru but consider themselves as a separate religion.

Nowadays, because all the Germanic gods and other beings, without regarding peoples, time and geographical area, are often ‘pushed’ into one ‘Germanic’ pantheon, Asatru folk often loosely state – although not correct – among each other: “We believe in the same gods”.
Whereby, of course, in reality that should be:
“We have the same pantheon.”

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