Natural religions today

This text about natural religions, emphasized to Asatru, was translated from my German book “Germanischer Götterglaube”. The initial raw translation was altered at many places in 2013 by GardenStone to make this short article out of it.

When speaking of religions, most people still think first of the so-called world religions Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, which for centuries have dominated the cultures of many countries. Yet they represent only one group, the so-called revealed religions.
Asatru and many other ‘neo-heathen’ religions belong to the group of natural religions, whose roots are much older than the revelation ones when viewed from the history of humanity. A sketchy comparison should point the characteristics of both groups.

Characteristics of a revealed religion are:

  • They are almost always monotheistic.
  • It is assumed that God did not create and remain silent but instead “revealed” himself at certain times to certain people (prophets). The substance of this revelation comprises religious and sociopolitical instructions, which are to be followed.
  • The content and basis of the given information are not accessible over the path of empirical perception but belong in the realm of the intangible and non-deducible.
  • New revelations often occur when the adherents of the respective religion find themselves in a phase of upheaval or crisis. At that moment, they serve to stabilize the community.
  • Socio- and health-political rules are likewise issued as revelations because they can obtain a legal status without any further justification.
  • Institutions such as churches or mosques are viewed as the outcome of the revelation(s).
  • From the revelation itself one infers an absolute claim to truth.

Characteristics of a indigenous (natural) religion are:

  • Their polytheism, which can have two forms:
     – Every god and goddess is a self-contained, independent entity with its own dominion and accordingly a sphere of responsibility. This includes the intrinsic power within that sphere to act as they see fit. This is called ‘real polytheism’.
     – A feminine and a masculine principle is accepted and they are typified through dedicated deities. The autonomy and individuality of each of these two deities here is often unclear and sometimes only deals with the personification of the respective principle and then the polytheism is really questionable,s all the more when it stems from one universal principle of creation. This is called ‘pseudo-polytheism’.
  • The acceptance of natural forces as primal, elementary and permeating all that is living and non-living.
  • The absence of interpreters, who dictate sociopolitical behavior based on their point of view. There is no mediator between the gods and the people. There is no authentic charter, no founders and no fixed doctrine.
  • Direct communication for every person with their venerated gods on an individual manner. This does not change when celebrating religiously in a group. Anyone who puts on airs as a “Religious Leader”, “Heathen Pope” or similar simply does not understand this basic principle.
  • A point of view in which the gods do not stand outside of Creation. They are a part of it and operate in interdependence with humanity.
  • Networked thinking in contrast to linear and goal oriented thinking. Not simply causality is observed but the interconnection of all things.
  • The definition of the soul as a part of a person, which can also sometimes leave the body. For example, dream or trance voyages (soul traveling). It is not a type of higher ethereal being that is understood as a contrast to the physical body.

The transition of the spirit (ghost) at death in the form of a disembodied being and its continued existence in another realm. Some indigenous religions also know the belief in a form of rebirth, in other indigenous beliefs this spirit travels to another final hereafter and does not return in some way the ‘here’. Both views exist inside Asatru. Beware, this differs from the Christian view where in early times a trinity from body, Ghost (spirit) and soul was accepted and was later changed into body and soul only, the ghost was reserved for the Holy Ghost only. Nonetheless, a transition of the ‘spirit’ (or whatever it is called) also exist in revelation religions.

Those who want to determine their own natural religion on the basis of these criteria, in which the two groups a religion should be classified, will discover that not always all criteria are met. There are, for example, natural religions whose polytheistic claim is highly debatable. In that case another kind of classification might apply better.

Natural religions will sometimes also be labeled as ‘religions of experience’. In this case, “experience” is meant as a particular manner of belief, which differentiates fundamentally from the modern prevalent understanding of belief in the western industrialized nations. A few examples may make this clear:

The question “Do you believe in storm gods?” should be posed as “Are you willing to acknowledge a storm as an expression of one or more divinities?”
The question “Have you ever seen a god of the forest?” is also incorrect and should be posed as “Have you ever had an experience in the forest, which convinced you that a forest god has made itself known to you in a particular manner?”
And instead of asking whether there really is a god of the sea, you should ask yourself and consider whether you have had experiences which can be reasonably understood as a manifestation of a sea god.
It may now be apparent that the elements themselves and natural events are not divinities but can be mediums in which divinities manifest themselves and communicate with us. As the case may be in dreams or when things happen they way we wish.

Another characteristic of natural religions is the self-evident effort stemming from within the religion itself to live close to and in harmony with nature.
Nowadays it may appear ostensibly unnatural to adhere to a natural religion because in western oriented industrialized nations, especially in industrialized conurbations and bigger cities the gap between humanity and nature is rather large. Many people seem to live so cut off from nature that unnatural behavior is often not perceived as such, especially in big cities or other centers of high population density. He or she who would like to eat strawberries at Yule in the northern hemisphere, is extracting himself from the cycle of nature in his area. That cycle, which causes strawberries to only be available during a specific season – just as an example for food imported from far away regions with different climates in stead of seasonal food from the own region.

However, even if you live in a large city, there are many practical possibilities for a way of life in harmony with nature. Not only the choice of foods which fit the seasons of the own area, but also the manner in which the foods are grown and bred can be an important criteria when shopping. Furthermore, there are definitely more possibilities to behave in harmony with nature in many areas. For example, not buying products which have been produced through the exploitation of nature, getting involved in the conservation of endangered species and through appropriate behavior which contributes to a healthy environment. For that purpose, you should inform yourself about nature and the environment because such knowledge is in most cases necessary in order to develop adequate behavior.

The mindset of taming nature does not fit with natural religions because it implies trying to turn the gods into servants! And the gods do not let themselves be taunted. Humanity is not above nature and thus they are also not its keeper. They are a part of nature, a nature which is to be respected and appreciated, just as you would like to protect yourself and your own home. In many cases, it’s a delicate balancing act to reduce natural religious and socio-political actions to a common denominator. Very often it does not work out and then you can only aim for the best compromise: Should the airport be expanded? Should a bypass be built around the small town? What should happen with nuclear waste?

And again, it’s applicable that you must inform yourself and be aware of the consequences of your actions and at least knowingly be able to cast your vote.

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