Whelp. The second decade of the 21st century has drawn to a close. I expect there will be a number of these retrospective posts coming up within Contemporary Pagan blogging circles. We’ve seen an immense diversification and explosion within those circles in the past decade, and an entire generation of new Pagans has come of age in that time. For my part, we’ve seen an expansion and dedication (although the last two years may not seem like much) in writing, consolidation of theme, forays into alternative methods of information dissemination, and the establishment of foundations of growth for other people to use as a reference (should they desire to do so!).
Communally, torches have been passed – some to the good and some to the bad – and we’re in a more secure state regarding our online representation (although public representation still is lacking). With new technological platforms, the continued growth of social media usage, and ever-increasing connectivity, we’re able to collaborate like never before. r/Pagan has surpassed over 70,000 subscribers since I became “top mod”, and that casual interest in Paganism is growing, seemingly, like never before.
But with the benefits of technology comes all the problems associated with it, beyond the innate toxicity of non-personal social media.
The world is currently shuddering with tumultuous and chaotic energies, with the rise of dangerous ideological forces finally stepping into the accepting brightness of day, and the world seems to be on a precipice of complete disaster. The Right surges, the Left withers, and the Centre appears to be accepting of an ever-tightening noose of inequity and social, (and seemingly) amoral depravity cinching around their necks. The climate fails, wildfires and “once in a century” storms rage, and all around the world a minority of people are digging up the valuables for their own coffers, while damning their children and grandchildren to poverty and strife. And it all keeps trickling down to us.
We’ve seen Pagan initiatives come and go, and major voices have passed beyond this world into the next and, with their passing, in many instances we’ve seen their transgressions and problematic views appearing to light. Abuse is, at the least, more willing to be spoken about in the open air, despite defenders of those characters tightening their ranks. While we no longer allow abusers to remain unnamed under the guise of ‘tradition’ or ‘solidarity’, we have seen that today’s Pagan circles (increasingly) lack the immunity from predatory depredations of abusers, demagogues, and aspiring cult-leaders.
Identities, traditions, and practices have been flashpoints, with concerns of negative appropriation, irreverent representation, and the ‘right’ of practice.
Polytheistic identity, in at least my experience, was one of the hot button issues of the past decade. We saw the polytheistic schism attempt to take hold through dissatisfaction with the Wiccan and Wiccanate orientation of the wider Pagan community, with new initiatives pushing reconstructionist methodology into the spotlight. The diversification of polytheistic ethnocultural identity (not to be confused with intrinsic ethnic ties) has exploded with various traditions gaining a firm foothold through new sources of communication (ever-increasing social medias, Discord, etc.). From this, we saw Polytheist Leadership Conference, and the Many Gods West conventions, the growth of Polytheist.com, and the growth of regional identity in terms of establishing a relationship with the divine.
Of course, there is death as well: the announcement of Pantheacon’s end, Witches & Pagans shutting down, Polytheist.com’s withering, Dun Brython ceasing, and a bevy of other false starts and aborted projects. All things pass. We’re more well equipped than most to understand that as a religious grouping, I feel.
We’ve also seen a growth of the marginalization of polytheistic identity within Contemporary Pagan circles, with the advent of multiple platforms of atheistic and anti-theistic rhetoric who continually believe that they have the right – if not the obligation – to edge us out of our own religious housing. What’s worse is that this is continuing apace. We have individuals who, quite literally, are attempting to redefine what it means to be polytheist, what it means to have a view of a pluralistic nature of divinity, in order to hedge out and shout down people who they believe to be problematic (theists). This is on top of other voices drawing baseless comparisons between polytheist theology and belief to ideological cancers, or otherwise using the belief of polytheism as a litmus test of acceptable associations.
And that’s nothing to say of the ire of non-Pagan anti-theists who are becoming increasingly aware of our voice and existence and using inflammatory rhetoric not unlike the kind which we see galvanizing attacks on other vulnerable populations. And it’s only going to get worse, when this blatant disrespect is allowed to become the norm.
Heathenry? Woof. Where to begin with that one. The AFA finally shedding the vestiges of attempted decency with the whole passing of McNallen from leadership, leading to the creation of Declaration 127. The Troth jettisoning old members because they reveal themselves to be Islamophobes. Just…everything…to do with TAC. Heathen Talk coming, and going. It’s been an eventful decade. But it’s not been a totally negative one, not by a long shot.
Heathendom has expanded, starting to embrace an attitude towards reconstructionism that does not shy away from innovation in the contemporary sense, in an effort to move away from the stagnation that has periodically cropped up in the past decade. More people are coming to Heathenry, in my experience, without being either Wiccan or Asatru to begin with, which requires altering the culture and the presentation of the religion to be more accommodating to the fact that we’re not all Norse focused.
Alliances have been forged between traditions to pull together and work on knowledge. Toutâ Galation, Thia Frankisk Aldsido, Lārhūs Fyrnsida, Ērsidu, and so many more (really, I need to update my links, still waiting on a good site for Norse Heathenry, though) have communications between each other in order to flesh out our respective religious practices. The Troth is in a good place to start reorganizing (from an outsiders perspective), rescinding pointless bans and addressing problematic views within their organization. While I am not convinced that national organizations of that type are wholly necessary, I do not wish to see something so long-lived just putter out. Sites like The Longship have created a new type of accessibility for people interested in Heathenry, and have inspired (at least) calls to form similar sites for other religions. Open Halls has lead the fight for military recognition of Heathenry and Asatru.
And Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, my pet project and the place where I hang my “hat”, has grown quite a bit in the past decade. Wodgar has a great retrospective from earlier this year (which I reblogged), that highlights a number of points that I think people are starting to see – that innovation is not something to be feared, that holistic comparative works are required for what we do, or else we’ll simply have a halfassed and bland caricatures or imitations of Norse Heathenry with some Anglo-Saxon veneers. There’s a growing acceptance that there can’t be a monolith or orthodoxy of a singular Anglo-Saxon Heathen identity, just as there can’t be one for Heathenry at large. And while we absolutely have to deal with all the same problems that Paganism and Heathenry at large have to deal with (nationalist and fascist incursions and their attempts to appropriate the terms, symbols, and history that we have, along with shedding the vestiges of dangerous rhetoric and trying to excise potentially cancerous ideologies which have been implanted in the past two decades) we have more voices willing to stand up to stop these problems and work through them.
For my part, I am not going anywhere, even if the past two years (with the life changes I have had) has seen a reduction in publication. You’re not getting rid of me that easy. I’ll continue to grow, to write, to theorize and experiment, and try to work my practice into something longer lasting.
So before I get busy with the next two weeks, the last two weeks, of this decade, I will end this here. There are challenges, there are trials, and the world appears excessively grim, with a long, rough road ahead. To that I will say, “Confragosa in fastigium dignitatis via est.”
To my readers: Glad Geol, Happy New Year.
So long Twenty-Teens, and thanks for all the fish.
Ealdmōdru and Mōdra, those to whom I give praise,
Who within me persist,
Those who share with me bonds of kith and kinship,
Mothers, Grandmothers, ancestral dead,
Protectors, prosperity-weavers, caretakers,
To you I pray on this holiest, darkest, night.
To you I call, and make place for, and venerate.
Heorþmōdoru, Festermodru, Wyrdwebbes, Hǣlugifu, all,
Hear of me and mine, look kindly upon us,
On my home, on those who I love,
And on those who I call friend.
Give to us the wealth or your knowledge,
Health and wellbeing of heart and mind,
Bounty of safety, and prosperity, and sustenance.
Continue to nurture us, to support us, to protect us,
As long been your way,
Holiest mothers guard and guide us, lead us,
With your voices, share with us your wisdom,
in these times of darkness and danger.
As is often the case with De Temporum Ratione, the information provided by Bede regarding Winterfylleth is decidedly scant and provides us little to work with in terms of reconstruction. Bede’s brief description of this month is recorded thusly: “Antiqui Anglorum populi […] annum totum in duo tempora, hiemis et aestatis dispertiebant, sex menses […] […]
I very rarely reblog other posts, but this is a good, important one, written by my bro. I encourage everyone to read it.
When it comes to protesting development over sacred sites, the wider Pagan community (online as it is) tends to be relatively vociferous. With the Dakota Access Pipeline and the conflict which erupted at Standing Rock over that situation, writers of Paganism unleashed a flurry of information, coordination, and protests. A search of the “Dakota Access Pipeline” in the archives of the Wild Hunt reveals (as of 7.21.19) eighteen distinct post hits, from link roundups, to editorials and columns of Pagan involvement, or otherwise community notes. On Patheos Pagan, numerous known bloggers wrote about the fight over the sacred space which the oil robber barons would bulldoze through, pollute, and tarnish with their unmitigated and unnecessary (scientifically and morally) project. Witches & Pagans has a clear seven hits, if one were to utilize Google’s algorithm to do a cursory search, writers invoking the Cailleach to protest, advocating solidarity with Standing Rock, and other such acts.
Peter Dybing said it was one of those moments that “demand we stand for what is right”.
Perhaps fueled by the coverage the nation had on the protests, Contemporary Pagans were likewise enamored, willing to take up metaphorical (and often metaphysical) arms in order to support what they believed was right. In this, it was morally and ethically clear for Pagans to take a stand: Radical Pagans could say that this was a feature, not a bug, of the system of economics we’re smothered under, Environmentalist Pagans or Nature Worshiping Pagans could clearly argue that this was a violation of the sanctity of the Earth, and Polytheistic Pagans of every stripe could stand behind the indigenous tribal peoples who were struggling under another, continuing, form of colonization.
Three years later, another planned defilement and desecration of sacred land is playing out, with protests erupting, government overreach in the establishment of states of emergency and the deployment of militarized police, SWAT, and (probably) eventual National Guard deployment. Native voices are being run roughshod over, just as they were at Standing Rock. Peaceful Protestors are being arrested, just as they were at Standing Rock. Sacred land is being purposefully stolen by Western interests, just as they were at Standing Rock.
Except this time, the wider Pagan community is all but silent.
There is a fight going on for the holy mountain of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, already desecrated by the establishment of several observatories, given the conditions which make it ideal (although not by much) for the observation of the night sky. For the past five years, arguments, protests, and lawsuits have been levied to try to stop the construction of a new, thirty meter telescope which would necessitate removing literal stories worth of dirt and mountain for its construction, located right in the heart of indigenous, sacred, conservation land. This is the site for the honored dead, a site of sanctity and worship, and spiritual well-being.
The wider Pagan news networks or active blogging sites have not reported on this, in any great capacity. The Wild Hunt, Contemporary Paganism’s largest news outlet, has not reported on this since 2014. Witches and Pagans, likewise, has not mentioned it since then. No blogger or author on Patheos has reported on this since 2017. There is no word of this on Pagan Bloggers. No word on this on Gods & Radicals. The so-called Humanistic Pagans are, perhaps predictably, silent.
Independent practitioners that fall under Contemporary Paganism are only just finding out about this struggle, through Twitter, or tumblr, or other social media sites. There are no calls to action from the Pagan bloggers with large followings, no drives to join in the protests or to assist by signal boosting, donating, or offering long-distance support. It takes accounts like @lakotalaw to get the information out.
Why? Where are the cries of outrage? Of solidarity? How is it that there is little enough being said among Pagan circles?
Distance, perhaps. Hawai’i is a lot further away than North and South Dakota, and a lot more isolated. With the lack of news coverage, people may not even be aware.
Efficiency, maybe. Social media networks like Facebook groups and pages, Twitter accounts, tumblr notes and reblogs, all enable people to reach more, faster, than contemporary static blog posts.
Convenience? Conviction? Intent? There is the concern.
With DAPL there was a clear “enemy”, something that all but a minority of Pagan voices can point to: Corporate depredations attacking a marginalized group of people for clear financial gain, utilizing an extension of the United States Army, a 21st century variant of 19th century ‘solutions’.
A telescope being erected on a mountain top, half a world away, ostensibly capable of ushering in new cosmic insights and scientific knowledge, with the majority of Contemporary Paganism being educated and supportive of secular education over faith-based denials?
The choice here should be clear.
Instead, the silence in this case is deafening. And it is, perhaps, ultimately damning, in its hypocrisy.
With their silence, Pagans are showing themselves to be just as hypocritical, and as colonial, as the people they’ve previously raised their voices against – willing to look the other way when the auspices of “progress” and “scientific merit” appear, regardless of that selfsame progress trampling over the rights of people. There is no natural dovetail of political or practical views here, as there was with DAPL, where the support for these indigenous rights and beliefs and their right of self-determination enabled them to express their anti-corporate, anti-big business, anti-oil views.
The silence for Mauna Kea shows that their support was seemingly as a thin veneer with no backing, as morally and ethically repugnant as the shovels that would continue to pierce the holy ground of these native people for “progress”, bereft of virtue of conviction. The silence shows that these people stand with those who would view indigenous beliefs as superstition, unworthy of survival in the modern age, dragged forcibly under the wheels of progress, or otherwise swatted aside as an annoyance. That their beliefs are inconsequential.
This is a moment that demands we stand for what is right, just as much as it was three years ago.
Donate to the bail fund, if you can.
Donate the Mauna Medic Healers HUI, if you can.
Share these links. Talk about it. Bring awareness to this. Don’t be silent, even if you cannot do anything else. Sending a Tweet costs nothing.
Stand with Mauna Kea.
“If evil thou knowest, as evil proclaim it,
And make no friendship with foes.”
Havamal 127, Bellows Translation
I periodically – very infrequently – write Pagan, Heathen, and other Western polytheistic book reviews. Typically, the books I read which inform my writing here are academic in nature, so I do not feel the need to do reviews for them. I must also admit that I am out of touch with the plethora of pan-Pagan publication (say that five times fast), and I rarely purchase the works of my colleagues.
It is for that very same reason that I am writing a review of a near four-year-old book. Why? I absolutely forgot that it existed until this week. It’d been on my list when I first heard about it being published, and then my life went absolutely topsy-turvey. I only recently saw a suggestion for it on my Amazon that a light went back on and I remembered it was a thing.
My apologies to Rev. Thomas.
Without further ado.
Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods
Date of Publication: 2015
Publisher: ADF Publishing
Author: Rev. Kirk S. Thomas
Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods (2015), by Kirk S. Thomas of Ár nDraíocht Féin, a Druid Fellowship, presents a broad survey across the breadth of pre-Christian, Indo-European religious beliefs and focuses on the act of gift-giving within what is ultimately a divine context. Deriving itself not as a commentary on any other Contemporary Pagan publication but, instead, presenting and synthesizing an academic study into a wide scope Pagan context, Thomas’ book distills both original and secondary source material into what amounts to a functional introduction to what is often a confusing system of reciprocity and relationships between humanity and the divine. Thomas’ utilization of Vedic, Greek, Norse, Roman, and Irish source material throughout the chapters of his book highlights the religious commonalities that these peoples had regarding the act of giving a gift, however distantly they were related.
While ultimately geared towards, and including features which may be more appropriate to, practitioners and initiates of the wider sphere of Ár nDraíocht Féin (Neodruidism, at large), a solid portion of the book contains useful, worthwhile reading material for beginning Pagans who seek to expand their understanding of the gifting cycle as it can be interpreted from the past. It clearly delineates the myriad cultural expressions of the phenomenon of gifting, settling it within a Pagan (not THE Pagan) cosmogonic expression.
This book introduces and covers concepts such as the sacred-profane dichotomy, ideas of gifting as systemic recreation of the universe (cosmogony), the axis-mundi of varying pre-Christian pagan peoples, and other varying types of gifts (votives, foodstuffs, etc.) as well as their acts of offering (libations, burning, drowning, etc.), which are all supported by archaeological, literary, and legal precedents. These precedents are provided in a concise manner, drawing an unmistakable conclusion that this practice was, indeed, pan-Indo-European.
Of particular value in the this discussion is the fallacious concept of gifting being equivalent to what Thomas, among other writers, calls the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky”. This concept, so common among both theistic and atheistic Western thinkers, is a theme which belies the cultural ignorance that has been accepted regarding what was once the fundamental paradigm of reciprocity within religious engagement. That Thomas addresses it speaks to the recognition of these wider forces that practitioners of contemporary polytheistic religions must grapple with. That he directly calls it out is only beneficial for people who may not be able to articulate their concerns, and can only aid in dispelling false notions of polytheistic worship as simple transactions or business-like dealings.
However, for more seasoned researchers within Pagan studies, this book will not offer much in the way of new material for consideration. It is very much an introductory survey, attempting to fit a wide paradigm of pan-Indo-European views into a mere 222 pages (including the index). This fact necessarily leaves much to be desired with the individual cultures mentioned, each requiring their own monograph for further expansion. Its brevity precludes more unique manifestations of the gifting cycle within these religions, which may be more desirable by a specialist or experienced practitioner. Further, the latter section of the book includes rituals which are ADF-specific, which can be discarded at the whim of the reader.
One criticism of this work is the lack of comparison between traditional gifting cycles from its historic context, compared to the attitudes which inform the contemporary societal views that continue to foster a lack of respect for this institution. Thomas details a section of his book titled “The Great Heresy“, where he attempts to explore the nature of “Abrahamic” (really, Christian and Islamic), submission with regards to divinity, versus the competing gifting cycles of the polytheistic religions. It is scant, perhaps by design.
It would have been better to expound on Max Weber’s views of Do Ut Des being that of a “formalistic ethic” and not any true belief [Weber, 1963], or of Pauline theology’s fundamental positioning of this very same view as inferior to the unilateral concept of Christian grace. Approaching the criticisms of the gifting cycle and identifying and deconstructing them can only combat the unease with returning to this traditional mode of worship, and in doing so the groundwork can be laid for a more concerted effort of dismantling these indoctrinated views.
While this book covers the act of gifting in broad strokes, by necessity, it cannot include what is wholly appropriate (or inappropriate) for each particular religion. In this we can think of the particular value of the sacrifice (libation) of wine in various Mediterranean religions, of being one of the most important acts of offering which can be enacted.
Readers must be made aware that this book cannot be a ‘one stop shop’ regarding this topic, and further study depending on the chosen ethno-cultural paradigm will absolutely be required. Thomas’ work presents a rough road map for those individuals curious for a crash course in this style of religious veneration, connecting various dots of disparate religious perspectives which we often group under modern Paganism. This single book cannot be expected to give us an exacting and comprehensive account throughout that will satisfy all readers.
What Sacred Gifts does is lay out a starting point for those curious as to the precedents of the gifting cycle, outside of what might be considered an unnecessarily restrictive “reconstructionist” view. Thomas doesn’t preach from the pulpit about maintaining unerring and constraining historical purity, which may turn some hopeful readers who want an easily accessible, yet rigorously enforced paradigm away. Of the non-Wiccan, non-Wiccanate introductory Pagan books, Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods should find a prominent home on any beginner’s bookshelf.
Author’s Note: Due to the growing length of this piece, it will be subdivided into further posts detailing this topic. Consider this ‘part one’, with more Heathen-specific interests forthcoming.
This entry deals with one of the most contentious topics of religious identity as it is approached by reconstructionist polytheistic paganism, especially Heathendom and reconstructionist Germanic practices – the issue of syncretism. As Contemporary Paganism and the reconstructionist polytheisms establish their own identity, grow, and eventually diversify with regards to internal developments a discussion as to what is and what is not syncretism and whether it is allowable within ‘Heathenry’ will invariably occur with greater frequency. Indeed, questions regarding the role and appropriateness of syncretism in the face of what is considered “traditional” approaches to religiosity and religious identity as it pertains to our collective understanding of Heathenry (and, whether it is proper to engage in syncretic practices and still be considered “Heathen”) are already common.
The discussion of syncretism is necessarily multifaceted as it engages with numerous other debatable topics, each warranting their own dedicated surveys. These are topics like the intersection of cultural and religious appropriation in modern Pagan practice, religious practice and the idea of purity (or ethical authenticity) of those religious traditions, and the very understanding of the definition of ‘religion’ itself as both a useful term and as a human institution. We find that these topics are inextricably tied together and experience the same pitfalls of understanding due to the language which is employed with regards to the religious understandings that Western polytheists are exposed to; these terminological traditions are steeped in Western peculiarities and the discussion of these facets run afoul of inexact definitions which are so often mirrored when non-monotheistic religious traditions are discussed.
As with the definition of ‘religion’, there can be no clear or linear narrative to designating the totality of this concept. This entry will necessarily touch upon and explore the subjects mentioned above, although it does so with a focus on the incidence of “syncretism” and accusations thereof as it applies to Heathenry. A further case will be made that Heathen identity as a religious subculture is naturally indebted to practices of syncretisation which are employed, both intentionally and unintentionally, to establish its sense-of-being beneath a theologically hostile system of perception, belief, and practice. Since its inception, Heathenry has been a naturally syncretized piece and the very historic continuum of rich cultures and beliefs which it draws its inspiration from were likewise.
Such a detailed historic survey is beyond the scope of this writing, but one would show a variety of attributes to the (re)distribution of the meaning of what it is to be and what it is to engage in a syncretic practice. We invariably find that syncretism is intrinsically tied to political positions; positions regarding the maintenance and the role of the religious act, at both the institutional and deeply personal levels. This political position has been the case since the beginning of the concept of ‘syncretism’, and modern authors engage in a ‘typology of phenomena’ which are associated with varying stages and types of syncretic practices, including the phenomena of ‘amalgamation’, ‘symbiosis’, ‘coherence’, ‘identification’, and other such terms .
At its most simple definition, syncretism pertains to the melding of ideas. Wiktionary’s definition is clearer, detailing it as “the (attempted) reconciliation or fusion of different systems of beliefs.” . Etymologically, it is derived from Latin’s syncretismus, directly from the Ancient Greek συγκρητισμός (sunkrētismós), and is attested in Plutarch’s On Brotherly Love. This is an important point in the foundation of the concept of syncretism, where Plutarch writes:
“…imitating in this point, at least, the practice of Cretans, who, though they often quarreled with and warred against each other, made up their differences and united when outside enemies attacked; and this it was which they called “syncretism.”” 
This is the foundation of the wider concept of syncretism – an understanding between peoples based on the ideas of reconciliation, alignment, and mutual agreement to a common good of the parties involved. From the roots of a strategically beneficial brotherhood between peoples and their belief systems we can see a deeply political act of contact and intercultural exchange emerge . The recognition of this innate importance to humanity is reflected through modern anthropological classifications, placing the importance of syncretism as a fundamental facet of human interaction .
Syncretism is a social-scientific term for a thought process rising questions with regards to roots, influences, and contacts, and how these borrowings are to be used and interpreted by a group . It is a question within virtually every culture or religion, as all cultures have changed over time and adopted exogenous elements and ideas.
This is the foundation of the concept of syncretism – an understanding of peoples based on the ideas of reconciliation, alignment, and allegiance to a common good of those parties involved. From these roots of a strategically beneficial brotherhood between peoples and their belief systems we see a deeply political act of contact and reconciliation emerge . Modern anthropologists place the importance of syncretism in religio-cultural exchanges as a fundamental facet of human interaction, being an admixture of ideas which is treated as intrinsic to the cultural condition of humanity . That is as virtually every culture (except in the most extreme cases, as uncontacted Indigenous tribes) or religion is exposed to alternating ideas, it is in the human nature to interact with them, developing and syncretising in doing so. In the end, the result is a changed experience.
Two particular points in Western dialogue transformed the relatively positive (or at least, neutral) connotation of ‘syncretism’ which are rooted in both the problematic interpretations stemming from the period of the Reformation, as well as that of the 19th century. From the time of Plutarch until that of George Calixtus in the 17th century, the term was fairly well regarded. After this period it was used as a theological bludgeon in the promulgation of Protestant theologies, with its detractors claiming that its use amounted to an advance of “purposeful confusion” or religious identity and an injection of religious ideas that clouded the purity of faith and religion . In terms of the studies of Heathenry it should be wholly unsurprising that Protestant rhetoric and residual interpretative infection are to blame with the conflation of syncretism as a problematic endeavor.
A final phase in the development of these negative connotations is relegated to the latter half of the 19th century, where the pejorative meaning of “syncretism” was further expanded. In the case of Classicists at the time (those studying Roman and Hellenistic religions), the search for a “pure” religious example brought about further connotations of “disorder” and even a reduction to a “lowest common denominator” . Plutarch’s solidarity and mutually beneficial relationship is treated as a weapon of assimilation by an enemy power through further treatment as an extension of a Roman imperialist strategy (again, attempting to slice to the core of a fictitious “pure” religion). Peter Schineller wrote that syncretism as a word “cannot be redeemed”  .
In effect syncretism has entered into popular and non-specific (non-anthropological) context with the connotations of deviancy through the use of Western Christo-academia, fueled by the perceptions of the execution of power over the beliefs and practices of others. The preference of academics to use Christian theology to distinguish between “good” and “bad” forms of syncretism remains couched in this non-specific discourse (As Robert Schreiter stated in 2011, in “Cosmopolitanism, hybrid identities, and religion”). Some scholars have gone so far as to integrate “syncretism” into their grand evolutionary scheme of religious development, treating it as a point towards monotheism in a biological model of religious growth and evolution, coinciding with the rhetoric of other ‘psychologists of religion’ (Welhausen, Hegel, etc.) . While anthropologists, in a sense, have engaged in the rehabilitation of the term in order to bring it back to a more neutral perspective, other disciplines nevertheless appear to break the mold of the past four centuries of academic and theological opinion on the concept.
“Syncretism” becomes a problem when clerical authoritarianism and hierarchicalism becomes the de facto interpretation of religious truth, where everything running contrary to this notion of truth becomes a deviancy or degeneracy of its original form. Leveraging this mode of thinking can lead towards portrayal of any particular civilization and religion as a pure, sui generis phenomenon, excluding innately important (but nonetheless foreign) facets which aided in their genesis . The dialogue of authors in Heathenry who promote such attempts at revisionist purification appear cut from the same ideological, intellectual cloth as those Classicists attempting to establish a bildung for their chosen culture – as Mueller did in the Introduction to a Science of Mythology (1825), and following in Herder and Fichte’s formulations of the relativism of cultures and national identities which generated an anti-Enlightenment form of nationalism. At the very worst, the stressing of Heathenry’s supposed religious purity and autochthonous nature mimes rather unfortunate racialist social rhetoric for which anything related to Germanic culture needs be wary of.
Bemoaning syncretism as some negative impact on a religio-cultural idea possesses within it a certain blindness and tone-deafness to the issues of power within any singular grouping of identities, and their struggle for extricating themselves from erasure into the wider cultural demographic. Likening syncretic movements wholesale to Cargo cults or millenarian pre-political movements of charismatic leaders (as in E.W. Mühlmann’s Rassen, Ethnien, Kulturen, 1964) casts particularly nativistic aspersions at what is a fundamental religious dialogue in a multi-religious environment; simply, it is patently difficult (if not self-defeatingly impossible) to avoid expressing identity without reference to ideas or rituals that have meaning in other religious groups .
If we are to take that culture does not exist, usually, within a vacuum and that culture and religious identities, mores, and practices do not arise totally from nothing (similar, perhaps, to the Buddhist concept of Pratītyasamutpāda, that nothing arises independently of others), then we can begin to see how a strictly anti-syncretist approach to Heathenry will do more harm than good. In further discussion we will engage in concepts of syncretism, of historic appropriations, and the positioning of contemporary Heathen practice and belief through a lens of syncretic understanding so as to develop a living identity that exists beneath the overculture of monotheistic values.
 Droogers, Andre, ‘Syncretism: The Problem of Definition, the Definition of the Problem’, in Dialogue and Syncretism: an Interdisciplinary Approach, eds. Gort, Vroom, Fernhout, Wessels, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, pg. 14
 Wiktionary contributors, “syncretism”, Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary, https://en.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=syncretism&oldid=49793444 (accessed January 8, 2019).
 Plutarch, ‘De Fraterno Amore’, published VI. Loeb 1939, trans. W. C. Helmbold, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/De_fraterno_amore*.html (accessed, January 25, 2019).
 Shaw, Rosalind and Charles Stewart, “Introduction: problematizing syncretism” in Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: the Politics of Religious Synthesis, ed. Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw, Routledge: London, 1994, pg. 3.
 Shaw, Introduction, pg. 5.
 Stewart. Charles, “Syncretism as a dimension of nationalist discourse in modern Greece”, in Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: the Politics of Religious Synthesis, ed. Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw, Routledge: London, 1994, pg. 120.
 Shaw, Introduction, pg. 3.
 Shaw, Introduction, pg. 5.
 Shaw, Introduction, pg. 4.
 Shaw, Introduction, pg. 10.
 Schineller, Peter, “Inculturation and syncretism: what is the real issue?,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 16, no. 2 (1992).
 Fabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object, Columbia University Press, 1984, pg. 9
 Stewart, “Syncretism”, pg. 120
 Roxborough, John, “Syncretism and Identity”, uploaded on academia.edu, accessed 01/31/19 http://www.academia.edu/4482341/Syncretism_and_Identity, pg. 1
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one who asketh, I know not.” – Augustine of Hippo, Confessions XI.XIV
“Time” is a phenomenon which is fragmented and multifaceted in scope, consisting of numerous subjective views that range from philosophical discourses to personal perceptions to scientific principles. The theory and philosophy of this phenomenon has always been one of contention, a controversial issue that has spawned debate and argumentation over the centuries of human intellectual history. It is ubiquitous and familiar – the ticking hands of a clock in the classroom, or the memories of things which had previously happened – and it is also esoteric and unknowable; it exists in a state of both total subjectivity and total objectivity. One can perceive its passage and influence in life in an entirely separate way from another observer, yet it is utilized, ordered, and employed as a form of universal, quantum measurement. This is a simple slice of the paradox which surrounds the phenomenon.
Time receives its meaning through individualistic and subjective perceptions which ultimately inform its conceptual reality from the view which is commonly ascribed to its existence. Its origin is rooted in fundamental psychological and philosophical premises, including whichever crucial moral, eschatological, or cosmological ideas that the viewer in question may hold . All the same, the concept of time mutualistically reinforces (or perhaps more appropriately enforces) a certain attitude in relation to one’s own position with regards to the phenomenon; one’s understanding of time supports their own purpose of life, their ideas on how to face death, the concepts of religious practice and theology, the ideas of divinity which they may hold, and other theological/philosophical/metaphysical concerns.
It is a portion of these theological and metaphysical concerns which this paper seeks to address, specifically as “time” exists in the perspective of a modern, Western, Heathen. As a religious culture which is affixed to a pre-Christian cultural identity, there is a marketed difference in the engagement with the ritualistic and subjective realities of time between Heathendom and the Christo-Classical influenced over-culture within which modern practitioners are ensconced. Concepts of “Time” run concurrently with the very basic understanding of Heathen cosmological worldview, intersecting directly with the cosmic forces which form them, as well as extend in importance into the ritualistic engagement with the religious performance of Heathendom.
A thorough treatment of the concept of time is outside the scope of this writing, but it nevertheless behooves us to discuss some of the more superficial and common understandings of this concept, as it impacts modern Heathens.
Time guides humans through their lives without a strict uniformity of occurrence. There is no formalized constancy to the rate of time’s passage, because subjectivities can be reorganized through varying internal and external effects of the viewer (age, states of emotion, life situations, etc.), and it is up to the individual human groups to establish orderings of time for their social coordination and temporal ritual experiences . The perception of time which one possesses is due to the repetition of rhythmic events that combine to order and construct one’s sense of progression, ultimately leading to ritualistic development . In modern culture it is ordered linearly, in what is known as a “progressive” time, from the subjective viewpoint of one who themselves experience progression from point A to B, a common feature in the numerical and structural elements of the tripartite system .
Philosophers and scientists have been entranced with the importance of time in human understanding, even if it is paradoxical. Levi-Bruhl’s work argued that linear time was an intrinsic feature of the modern world due largely to the subjective nature of humanity’s microcosmic existence, and it was phenomenologically created by the scale at which human society experienced reality .
Emile Durkheim said that:
At the roots of all our judgments there are a certain number of essential ideas which dominate all our intellectual life; they are what philosophers since Aristotle called categories of understanding: ideas of time, space, class, number, cause, substance, personality, etc. They correspond to the most universal properties of things. They are like the solid frame which encloses all thought…they appear to be nearly inseparable from the normal working of the intellect. They are like the framework of intelligence. , Emphasis by Author.
This preoccupation with the idea of time has existed from early antiquity and it, as Durkheim writes, is an intrinsic and essential motivator behind many philosophical thoughts. A quick treatment of the vagaries between philosophical schools is as follows: Aristotle’s philosophy positions time not as a kind of change but as something which was ultimately dependent on change. As one’s perceptions and self-awareness are influenced by time, the metaphysical reality of the concept itself was a matter of mutable succession, which lead to the doubt of its actual existence as a force. Contrast to this to Platonic time, in which it was viewed as an image of the totality of the universe, an independent existence which is not necessitated by that which is placed within it .
The Stoics were the first Western philosophers to offer an elaborate accounting of time, viewing it as “something” in between being and not-being, but the school failed to work itself out of what exactly this entails. A wider treatment of the Stoic conception of time is given by Robert Heller in “Innovators in Thought: The Stoics on Time Perception”.
Buttressed in the Stoic argument and inculcated throughout the Classical world was a tripartite division of time. Seneca said, “But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”. This division of time is familiar to all Westerners, creating a linear system of one’s life and its reckoning and divided into these three parts. Theologically, this was represented by the Greek Moriae and the Roman Parcae, the Fates and the personification of this phenomenon that they represented.
This tripartite division was inherited by Christianity, which ultimately inserted its own ontology into the concept through the workings of Origen. Taking the Stoic foundation, it was Christian thought that ultimately innovated something new , expanding the notion of the perception of time in order to anchor a counterpoint to the materialist explanation of Stoicism’s time. Where Stoicism viewed that which was real was that which suffered, time could not necessarily be “real” due to its incapability of suffering, time was ultimately positioned secondarily to the concept of Eternity, which was positioned outside subjective time and the nominal flow of it. This was elaborated upon from Origen by Irenaeus of Lyon, Basil, Gregory, and finally treated by Augustine of Hippo:
“Quisnam est, qui dicat mihi non esse tria tempor, sicut pueri didicimus puerosque docuimus, praeteritum, praesens et futurum, sed tantum praesens, quoniam illa duo non sunt?
Who is he that will tell me how there are not three times, as we learned when we were boys, and as we taught other boys, the past, present, and future: but the present only, because the other two are not at all?” 
Stoicism’s immaterial perception of the nature of time can perhaps be glimpsed within Augustine’s views, which could potentially give Christianity it’s forward-facing concern and the eagerness for what comes beyond the flow of time. This forward-facing concern is ultimately one of the reasons why Christianity is considered a world-rejecting religion (among others, coined by Max Weber). In the Discovery of Time, Steven Toulmin and Judith Goodfield assert the reinforcement of a fixed origin of creation (necessitating a finite end) reinforces the concept of linear time through the assertion of a 6,000 year period regarding the origin of matter.
Even ignoring these theological paradigms, the concept of a fixed linear timeline has found purchase within Western society: the universe was given form at a point in time and will invariably find its end, in whichever scientific model one chooses. The application of this perception creates a conundrum for modern Westerners who might be approaching the ritual and cosmological endeavors inimical to the Heathen religious and cultural identity. We will endeavor to explore these concepts and how contemporary Heathens can approach the nuanced and subjective phenomenon of time within a Germanic ritual context.
Heathen Time and Ritual
We should now speak of “Heathen time”, a tradition of ritualistic reckoning and cosmological perception towards the phenomenon of time which is anchored squarely within the pre-Christian Germanic understanding of the universe and reality. This includes the ebb and flow of cosmic, metaphysical facets which are inherent to the contemporary Heathen edifice and of paramount importance in understanding Heathen religious identity. The same rigorous issues which suffuse all other aspects of reconstructionist methodology within Heathenry are readily apparent here; a lack of a wide breadth of written information on what was predominately an oral culture makes such an inquest fraught with perils. While the Sagas and Eddas provide a literary foundation for the discovery of such views, it is difficult to ascertain the relative depth of their comparative purity from Christian influence, as the writers of these otherwise oral histories are inculcated in their own Christo-centric worldviews.
Unlike both Classical and Judaeo-Christian perceptions of time, traditional Germanic cosmological approaches to the phenomenon are decidedly not forward facing at the expense of the past, nor of the world around them. Germanic, thus Heathen, time is ultimately oriented behind, towards that which we have considered the past. Time was essential bifurcated, divided into two states identified as the past and not-past . This bifurcation is mirrored through the division of the cosmos, ultimately, into two realms: the Well and the Tree.
Above all, time was actionable, and the truest expression of reality was that which had already occurred. This view is fundamentally tied to the nature of cosmology within the Germanic system: the worlds of creation, all of the worlds, hang in the World Tree which grows invariably from the Well of Wyrd. The Tree draws nourishment from the Well, which perpetuates the reality of the worlds, but the worlds reciprocate this nourishment by depositing the actions which are put into motion through their enactment and eventual execution (or failure!) back down into the Well. These actions are laid down and form reality, and in doing so replenish and nourish the Tree which supports further actions that spring from those in the past. This dichotomy of action vs. inaction possesses a cyclical nature, and represents a spiritual force which is reflected not only in the mythic remnants of Germanic culture, but also in material and literary remains .
In consideration to the cyclical nature of cosmology, it would appear at first glance that Germanic time follows roughly what Evans-Pritchard termed “oecological time”, or a reckoning of measurement ultimately rooted in a mimicry of the continual return within the world’s life cycle, understandably inspired by seasonal and celestial changes experienced by the community , otherwise known as a circular return to the same point.
Contemporary Paganism typically is assumed to utilize a calendrical system based off of the seasonal cycle of the year, the so-called “Wheel of the Year”, which echos a celestial and oecological fixture of timekeeping as it utilizes these celestial movements in order to arrange both its ritual and temporal understanding. Heathenry, as a de facto “Paganism” largely gets lumped into this same system by those who may be unfamiliar with its particular timekeeping, which is an inaccurate assumption. Germanic time is distinctly cyclical, and not circular, an important consideration.
The actions of the worlds which filter back into the Well of Wyrd ultimately merge with the fabric of reality, integrating with that reality as layers of strata which are laid down after the daily speaking of orlæg (the first law). In this way, the actions of the world become an intrinsic, immutable, and inexorable facet of reality, a past made manifest, which at once is capable of guiding those who are favored (as in Beowulf) and hindering those who have acted poorly enough to become Doomed or otherwise ill of luck (as in The Wanderer). The past becomes significant action, dominated ultimately by what is factual and realized, e.g., that which is enclosed within the Well . In this system, the ‘past’ is the only thing with the strength of reality; indeed, it is the only solid reality, and one which grows as it pulls more events into itself.
Past actions notably do not fade into obscurity as they do in a linear system, relegated to the unreachable past; they cannot. Time does not return to the exact same moment, the return to the past-as-it-occurred as it would do in a circular system. Instead, actions compound on themselves in an ever-growing, ever-reaching, ever more powerful cacophony of existence and force, an up- and outward- reaching movement of past events as they involve and shape the present . The Worlds of the Tree and their not-past (in the case of the Heathen, the world of Man) exist outside the solid reality of the past and while they cannot necessarily perceive the whole of the force or structure of it, they are driven towards the becoming of it . Whoever speaks this original law, this orlæg, which forces the actions of the worlds to lay down as strata in the Well (be they Norns or some other force) is unimportant to this system; it is a universal constant that the past is built upon itself and is a perpetuating, ever-building force behind the propulsion of the universe.
Human activity, then, exists in a way which creates or enters the past which is oriented towards producing a reciprocal reaction within the strata of reality. They exist in a liminal point between the past and non-past, and by extension can experience the solidification of these actions . Whether through mundane or dedicated ritualistic means, this reciprocity of action drives the past onward, and this is the metaphysical seed from which Heathenry should cultivate its understanding of time and ritual.
The intersection with time and attitudes towards the past within Germanic cosmology raises an interesting point of consideration for the application of contemporary Heathen ritual. Much of Heathen ritual theory and wider ritual mechanics are drawn of elements from the works of Mircea Eliade. His work on the positions of ritual in the Sacred-Profane dichotomy, the importance of Mythic Time and its role within the structure of reality itself, and the inevitable cyclical nature of the enactment of ritual play an intrinsic part of an understanding of contemporary Heathen ritualism.
In Eliade’s conception of time the most prominent and most important point within the world of ritual was that of creation, an uncorrupted point when the universe was wrought into existence. In this system the act of ritual is an act of paradigmatic recreation and imitation of this First Time (illo tempore). This ritual creates and returns the space to the conditions of creation and through its ultimate imitation confers the ontic substance upon the activities of humanity, enabling human ritual participants to engage with and enter that which is the Sacred .
This is the central concern with what we shall refer to as “Eliadean ritual”: the centrally located point of prominence of Mythic Time within this system and its notable use as an agent for the sanctification of space in order to manifest and experience hierophany. The First Time is undiluted, uncorrupted, and within the context of hierophanic phenomenology, thoroughly pure. Ritual abolishes the polluted and profane time which Eliade identified as “historic time”. This is done through the recreation of the sacrifice of the cosmogony and in doing so the space of the ritual is brought into the same primordial moment as that of creation, bringing about the state of Sacredness required for divine interaction .
Sacred time was reversible and recoverable and the mythic present was ultimately regenerated through these ritualistic acts . Both kinds of time, Sacred and Profane, were thus lived in. This cyclical view would at first appear to be compatible with the core of what constitutes Heathen ritual, but ultimately provides an inexact fit (at best) for the purpose of contemporary Heathenry. Despite being oriented towards the past, both of the ritualistic concepts of Heathen and Eliadean ritual derive their force of power and cosmological energy from markedly different approaches to past actions.
Consider Eliade’s own words:
“The abolition of time through the imitation of archetypes and the repetition of paradigmatic gestures, a sacrifice, for example, not only exactly reproduces the initial sacrifice revealed by a god ab origine, at the beginning of time, also takes place that same primordial moment… “ . Emphasis added by Author
There is a significant emphasis to the importance of spatial centers as distinct and separate from sequences of time, and contemporary Heathen ritual has tacitly accepted the Elidean thesis that “religious experience of the non-homogeneity of space is a primordial experience homologizable to a founding of the world” . This is understandable, as a reading of Eliade would appear to be authoritative, although inaccurate, in light of the varying human cultures that intrinsically bind temporal and locational space within greater or lesser degrees within ritual.
“Heathen time” in contrast to “Eliadean time” does not place emphasis on any one point of origin of reality, no primordial Mythic Time that serves as an uncontested, sacred source of ritualistic “power”. The “sacred time” of Heathenry is instead the “profane time” of Elidean theory, the actionable historic time which has already occurred . Only one origin myth survives within the Germanic corpus, that of the Norse cosmogony, and even this can be seen as one indicative of action-inaction than purity-impurity.
Heathen past time is not distant or inaccessible, and it does not deteriorate through the progression of continued events or the accumulation of new, more recent actions. As such it is not intrinsically profane in and of itself. The reality of those actions continue to grow in power and the Heathen past, which acts immediately (if discontinuously), manifests at its most potent and strongest at the point between the past and not-past.
It is thus not reasonable to expect Heathen ritual to seek to abolish historic time (Eliade’s “profane” time) in the same way which Eliade’s ritual mechanics would otherwise attempt to do.
Eliade’s works show that his position of “primordial time” is above all notional and conceptual and not located in any one long-gone historical era of our (known) world, but instead not to be found in the historical past . Eliade’s own words position him as exploring an archaic conception of ontology, how time and conceptions of time were said to be, and not necessarily how these “archaic peoples” were said to have truly viewed time . This focus on primordial time extends from Eliade’s desire to restore the “paradise of animality”, of some innate and archaic desire to possess a simpler and ideal existence .
Further, “all sacrifices are performed at the same mythical instant of the beginning; through the paradox of the rite, Profane time and duration are suspended…insofar as an act or object acquires a certain reality through the repetition of certain paradigmatic gestures…there is an implicit abolition of ‘Profane time’, of duration of history.” .
This is an intrinsic contrast in the roles and importance of this historic time between the two systems: where Eliade’s work of Myth and Reality claims that the sacralization of history through the migration of historic events into mythology (the mythologization of historiography) merely camouflages or confuses sacred time with that of profane time, Germanic time would put this very same time into a position of preeminence and continual prominence. The actions one may have accomplished are more than renown, they are transmuted into a fundamental, existential, cosmic worthiness.
As theorized, Eliade’s mechanics would see the suspension of profane, historic, time in favor of some sacred ‘other time’, a facet of practice which clashes with the importance placed on the sacred (historic) time of Germanic cosmology. The Well of Wyrd and the past-as-reality form what Rappaport would identify as a “ritual eternity”. The reality of the cosmos, all that which has been laid down in the Well, is a ceaseless and irreversible expression of the eternal; it is not one of an endless repetition in a cyclical system, but possesses a singular fundamental truth that what was, is, and always shall be will be extant and having an impact on the not-past . The inherent power of the past will always be now, supporting the world of humanity (and all the worlds of the Tree) even though it exists out of sight. Thus any repetition of Heathen ritual would engage with the changelessness of Wyrd as it exists and grows in a paradox of continuation.
The speaking of orlæg has a transmutative effect on the incidence of mundane time, making it an irreversible and mythic occurrence which ritual acting can then engage with, the performance of which distinguishes the newly established (or previously established) extraordinary intervallic time from the ordinary and periodic time of the Tree . Thus exists a system where mundane time is unable to escape the duration of the historic movement, but through the transmutation into mythic occurrence and the repetition of ritual becomes a successionless duration which is able to be grasped by the performers.
Orlæg imparts a sacredness to historic time, providing a mechanic that Eliade lacked in his concerns for and fears regarding the mythologization of historicity. It is thus set apart from the lives and histories of the ordinary, and the “statistical history” of Rappaport becomes the structural and mechanical supports of the cosmos, a worlds-spanning absolute existence .
The unity of statistical history with that of cosmic history within the Well preserves that which would otherwise be lost, and in this way the preservation of these features, peoples, and entities is transferred from nonexistence to the recurring domain of vitality through orlæg’s speaking and humanity’s ritual engagement. In this way we can see that Cicero’s statement in the Ninth Philippic of “Vita enim mortuorum in memoria est posita vivorum” explained more appropriately in the context of metaphysical mechanics – the life of the dead is placed in the living through paradigmatic recreation of ritual, ritualistic commemoration, and engagement with the unrelenting and ever-flowing past as it exists in the moment. As their actions, inactions, glories, and sins have entered and commingled with reality, they affect the living and, through ritual, can be re-engaged, glimpsed, and honored in their own right.
Should this be taken as the central concern of the mechanics behind Heathen ritual, the engagement between the past and non-past, then we can begin to see how Eliade’s metaphysical mechanics are a somewhat inexact fit, and his concerns about the mythologization of historicity create an incongruity within the nature of such ritual enactments. The idiosyncratic and subjective applications of concepts of time, which we have alluded to within the beginning of this work, creates a tension when utilizing ritual theory – a tension which Eliade himself was keen to attempt to reconcile within the realities of his own life.
Sacred traditions of humanity are apprehended as the real by those who engage in their systems and Eliade’s own interpretations are products of his system of exploration. To him, the “religious man lives in two kinds of time, of which the most important, sacred time, appears under the paradoxical aspect of a circular time, reversible and recoverable, a sort of eternal mythical present that is periodically regenerated by means of rites.” .
Germanic time is not, however, circular.
 Tzamalikos, Panayiotis, “Origen and the Stoic View of Time”, Journal of the history of Ideas, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1991), University of Pennsylvania Press, Pg. 353, Accessed 08-03-2018.
 Rappaport, Roy A., Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1999. pg. 177.
 Seligman, Adam B. and Robert P. Weller, Rethinking Pluralism: Ritual, Experience, and Ambiguity, Oxford University Press: New York, 2012, pg. 101
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 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, On the Shortness of Life, Trans. Gareth D. Williams. 2014.
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 Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Trans. Edward B. Pusey, D.D, Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Grand Rapids, MI, 199. Pg. 137
 Bauschatz, Paul, The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture, University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst, 1982. Pg. 16
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 Bauschatz, Well, pg. 132.
 Bauschatz, Well, pg. 21.
 Bauschatz, Well, pg. 140.
 Bauschatz, Well, pg. 139.
 Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask, Harper: New York, 1959. Pg. 35.
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 Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask, Harcourt, Brace, and World: New York, 1959. Pg. 70.
 Eliade, Sacred, pg. 35.
 Eliade, Sacred, pg. 21.
 Bauschatz, Well, pg. 151.
 Eliade, Sacred, pg. 72
 Rennie, Bryan S., Reconstructing Eliade: Making Sense of Religion, State University of New York Press: New York, 1996. Pg. 71.
 Eliade, Myth, pg. 91.
 Eliade, Sacred, pg. 35.
 Rappaport, Ritual, pg. 231.
 Rappaport, Ritual, pg. 230.
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 Rennie, Reconstructing, 78.
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*Note: Special thanks to Widukinding for helping with the Latin translation for the title.
In rekindling and perpetuating their devotion and engaging in the cosmic gift cycle with the multitudinous divine polytheists within Contemporary Paganism (especially those within Heathenry/Heathendom and its ancillary religions) engage in basic ritual acts in a daily or weekly practice. Among these acts are practices which can rightly be considered “sacrificial” in expression. The act of sacrifice, or more precisely the act of offering, is an intrinsic facet to the proper expression of polytheistic piety. In engaging with these practices, popular attitudes towards the ritual components and mechanics of the sacrificial act vary across the spectrum of belief and practice, sometimes rather drastically.
The practice, mechanics, attitudes, and values of the sacrificial ritual are all hotly discussed within contemporary circles of Heathendom and Paganism. The most frequent of these discussions tends to focus on the item given over to the divine in question; there is ultimately a class of ideological viewpoints regarding the perceived or tangible value of the item in question. A prevailing opinion is the belief that [Sacrificial Thing] ought to be something of worth to both practitioner and divine, so that its giving (and thus, loss from the profane to the sacred) can be keenly felt. This ‘worth’ is most often associated with financial impact/burden or, otherwise, an expenditure of relative skill (in the case of crafted items), which gives the offered goods a quantifiable level of associated value.
This is a position that scholars such as Raymond Firth take, believing sacrifice to imply a substantial offering of sometimes limited resources, thus to give it up would be to “give something up at a cost” . In doing so, the sacrificial item is dependent on factors located outside the mechanics of the ritual itself – it is anchored to wider ecological, economical, and social concerns. As scholarship often asserts the value of the commodity in the sacrifice it is understandable that modern practitioners would otherwise overlay such a view upon the traditional understanding of the gifting cycle, ritual efficacy, and relative value in the act. This leads to the aforementioned expectation that something given must be costly.
Ultimately this is what is referred to in this work as ‘the Economy of Sacrifice’ the views of the economic value and perceived commodification of ritual gifting goods within contemporary Western polytheistic rituals. In studying the history of the ritual sacrifice we find that this is not an unusual question. Unsurprisingly, this debate is very ancient. Different theories placed different weights upon the expected worth of offered goods, some of which will be discussed in the following text.
This work holds that emphasizing the perceived value or financial impact of the commodity for ritual is a particularly anachronistic modernism that is influenced by the West’s position within its economic systems, and proves to be more of a hindrance than a benefit to the establishment of a budding resurgence of polytheistic identity. It does this by continuing to internalize materialistic concepts with the expectation that this is desirable to the deity worshiped.
A brief survey of what is meant by “sacrifice” must be undertaken so we can more fully appreciate the discussion as it has raged throughout religious history. As scholars can have sometimes wildly differing views, compounded by colloquial usage of the term, this is beneficial for us.
Etymologically ‘sacrifice’ is derived from the Latin ‘sacer’ (holy, sacred), and ‘faciō’ (make, do). From ‘sacrificium’ we get the usage pertaining to our concerns: to offer something to a deity . There’s long been a question made in what constitutes a sacrificial act, making a distinction between ‘sacrifice’ and ‘offering, treating them as distinct things. In modern parlance, ‘sacrifice’ has connotations of bloodied acts (the ritualistic slaughter of livestock) or otherwise ritual offerings of objects intended for consumption (Van Straten, Gifts for the Gods, pg 65).
Despite these connotations of consumption or bloodied acts, traditional commentaries make use of the terms interchangeably, examples of which include Vedic writings and Roman accounts . This has given rise to scholarship which treats sacrifice as a subclassification of ritualistic offerings, as is the case with Frith’s treatment above or, otherwise, scholarship in the steps of Huebert and Mauss (1898) by hinging the classification of sacrifice on the destruction of the victim or oblation as the essential characteristic differentiating the two.
As we are concerned primarily with the perceived value of the offering in question, we will be treating sacrifice and offering as analogous and interchangeable terms under the broad definition given above.
The purpose of sacrifice in a polytheistic religious system should be well known. In order to enter into and sustain a good personal relationship with the gods, practitioners engage in what is colloquially known as the gifting cycle, in varying ancient cultures this was resorted upon primarily by two distinct means: prayer and sacrificial offering . This cycle of do ut des is intrinsic to traditional Western polytheistic traditions, and forms the basis of many pre-Christian societies around the world (as explored by Marcel Mauss in The Gift, inspired primarily by Seneca’s De Beneficiis).
In studying the history of the polytheistic sacrifice in the West we can discern that the value of appreciated goods is ultimately philosophical, as seen through and understood by the scope of traditions promulgated by philosophical fathers and the schools which followed them. Except in cases of theological concern which required or hinged specific desires and accepted sacrificial practices to a specific deity in question any literary views which survive are informed by the dominant tradition of intellectualism held by the authors in question .
Polytheistic identity is mutable to such an extent that it is common that thinkers can be worshiping the same deities with different opinions regarding the value of sacrifice. In this way where we have Pythagoras and Epedocles caution heartily against blood sacrifice as reprehensible to the gods and, thus, valueless no matter how much is spent upon such things, Socrates and Plato advance an attitude of support for the act . Neither view is wrong to this system.
It is thus that Theophrastus, in following the tradition of Pythagoras, values the philosophical kinship of all life within a sacrificial context and did not partake in animal sacrifice. But, more importantly for this discussion, he cautioned against the overburdened expenses of such things:
“The gods like what is cheap and the deity attaches more importance to the disposition of the sacrifice than the quantity of what is sacrificed.” – Peri Eusebeias, Fr. 7, 53-54
Theophrastus’ concern for moderation, ethics and virtue is thus philosophical as it informs his interpretation of proper religious piety. More importantly to him and to other authors is the concern of goodness and propriety reflected in ritual action and offering – the idea of spending mightily on sacrificial goods to buy the favor of the gods was abhorrent. Xenophon would have us believe that it would be “ethically monstrous” were the gods to derive more gratification from large sacrifices than the small ones from the pious .
Stoic philosopher Epictetus cautions towards moderation:
“But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.” – Enchiridion, 31
However as Van Straten is keen to point out these are opinions of Greeks and not the opinion of the Greeks, or of any other group of people who may commentate on religious matters. It is otherwise difficult to explore the reality of popular views regarding the value of offered goods . Votive representations, religious offerings in their own rights, also sometimes commemorate the sacrifice of goods which would not remain (livestock, and thus a meal), in order so that it is remembered as a memento. In the case of such votives are themes of the poor sacrificer who apologizes to the gods for the exiguity of their gift due to extraneous circumstances, and this theme is not rare; it is often assumed that the large and expensive sacrifice is preferable .
A discussion of the value and weight of sacrificial goods in ritual is this intertwined with these concepts: of piety, of religious virtue, of ethics and metaphysics, and the other subsets of theological consideration heavily influenced by (if not truly the purview of) philosophical schools. It is within this sphere of thought which many religions under the umbrella term of contemporary Paganism, especially that of Heathendom, are deficient. When attempts to reconstruct pagan religions moves away from the literate regions of antiquity the paucity of information prevents us from discerning what, if any, motives regarding ethical philosophy existed. Little of the traditional views of the Germanic peoples, for instance, exist in an easily identifiable way, and those views which can be gleaned from the texts tend to be more identifiably societal in nature with little direct correlation to apparent ritual value.
In a culture with a paucity of written information, the overall analysis of such ritualistic practices are beyond difficult. Where creative or poetic literature may use imagery, metaphors and metonyms to convey abstract meaning, grave goods and material remains contain their own ‘symbolic grammar’ which are taken as indicators of information as to the status, social position, and intent of the person buried, but nothing as to the intent of those goods found with them . Ornamental grave goods are no indication as to the disposition towards what can be classified as attitudes of religious offering, either for or against our argument. Even the rare snippet of Germanic literature that speaks to the moderation of goods (Havamal, 145), or of the qualities one should possess can be seen as a perspective and not the perspective.
There is no denying that Germanic polytheism viewed their sacrifices within the same context of the sacrificial act of gift-giving. Norse literature provides us with implications of such sacrifice. The verb gefa is the most common of verbs used for sacrificial purposes, most frequently used within the extant literature. The reciprocal nature is readily apparent, where figures ‘give of’ their sacrifices to their deity, an example being within the Víga Glúms saga, where Thorkell the Tall gave to his patron:
“Frey, you who have long been my patron, and accepted many gifts and repaid them well, now I give (gef) you this ox, so that Glúmr may leave the land of Thverá no less compelled than I leave it now.” 
Sacrificial efficacy is ultimately related to the effects or functions which they are phenomenologically believed to bring about . This makes it a matter of ritual necessity and less so the perceived value of goods. Studies into Indo-European sacrificial rituals, especially those of Roman and Vedic concordance, identify certain acts of ritual to have greater importance in social concerns than nritual effect – this is especially the case in Roman animal sacrifice, which performs the function of social stratification and hierarchical creation moreso than providing a greater benefit to ritual offering. Were we to compare the expected values of animal sacrifice – oxen as an example – with the first libations of wine it would be probable that the sacrifice of cattle would appear of far more “value” for a multitude of reasons: rearing, sustenance, dramatics, etc. Yet John Scheid has shown that within a Roman context sacrifices of wine (and of wheat) were of the same ritual importance, if not truly greater in a ritualistic setting .
Modern practitioners can in part see the goods-value in the ritualistic context of their sacrifices. The role of the sacrifice in ritual, within the ritual myth, is perhaps viewed as more important than the value itself. The concept of mimesis, conveying the ritual realities of myth, helps to conceptualize the authority of the ritual – so long as society assents to the values contained by the framework of the myth, they will have continued value . Those who hold to the Eliadean framework of ritual will see the value of the ritual in the recreation of the first time of reality, where the first sacrifice will be enacted in every practice in order to bridge profane space with mythic time .
Jaan Puhvel has identified hierarchies within the victimal sacrifice of Indo-European religious spectrum which feeds into the accepted role of sacrifice-as-cosmogonic-creation, that each event enacts such a thing . If we are to accept Germanic sacrifice, notably provided through treatments of Old Norse religion, is ensconced within this same religious continuum , then we can expect a similar weight placed on such a hierarchy of victims. However, if animal sacrifice does indeed do more to create a social hierarchy of religious participants as Scheid would position, then it behooves modern practitioners to view their actions through a lens of religious activity in which modern Heathendom is found.
We are speaking here to the distinction between secular and religious spaces and the simple logistical fact that many contemporary practitioners do not have the ability to engage in a wider social action of group religious ritual. Traditional polytheistic identity was interwoven in what modern practitioners would consider their secular “day-to-day life” and so many themes of their social and cultural ethics would have been replicated in their daily and civic cultic activities. Modern Heathens, by contrast, invariably treat their religious exercise as something separate from their day-to-day lives, its own specific sphere of concern and influence.
Heathendom finds itself ensconced in contemporary Western society, which remains thoroughly dominated by prevailing themes of ethics and theological influences gifted by Christianity. This is true in societies which are perceived to be the most “secular”. It is understandable as the basic foundation of Western social thought has been laid down through centuries of Christian thinking and rhetoric. While it is argued that the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic” of the West is not as pronounced in its influence on a materialistic drive for wealth and ensuing commodification and exploitation of the world as it first appears it nevertheless has had a strong hand in the internalization of such capitalistic forces.
If we were to place ever-increasing monetary values on gifted goods – that they should be a financial burden, or something that we keenly feel – is contemporary Heathendom not perpetuating the over-excesses of such displays of wealth? And in doing so, in attempting to bedazzle the divine with these gifts solely in exchange for asked favors or attention, can Heathendom be considered different than some manner of prosperity gospel?
More important to this point of discussion is the very nature of the gifting cycle itself and associated understandings of that system. Polytheists give so that the gods might give in return, entering into an ever-deepening and increasing cyclical relationship of obligation that ties the two together. Through our votive remnants we clearly see that individuals petitioned by the holy powers for very specific requests (or otherwise presented such goods as fulfilled oaths for receiving their desired blessings) but it is rare (if ever) that we see such things affixed with a clear sense of value or wealth associated with it. Those that had the means would give within them, and those that did not would do the best that they can.
Affixing a dedicated sense of cost to such a deeply important act pushes these gifts into the realm of an emotionless business transaction. In effect the indoctrination of Heathens into the mindset that a financial burden is a virtue that must be reached in order for it to have meaning does nothing but treat the devotional faith as a religious vending machine. This pay-to-win bastardization of the virtue of gifting goods treats the numinous divine as little more than repositories of the pleasures and desires of their so-called worshipers.
A lack of defined Heathen philosophy is keenly felt in the perception of gift-value. Until such a time as dedicated schools of philosophies arise, Heathen practitioners have to judge for themselves utilizing their personal ethics their perceptions of worth, value, and the circumstances in which gifts are given to their gods. As one provides a fine meal for a cherished guest without intending on purchasing their affection, so too can Heathens provide for their deities, if they have the means to do so. Impiety occurs when one engages in a cycle of rampant consumerism and perpetuates an emphasis on financial strain for the benefit of impressing their gods.
 Raymond Firth, “Offering and Sacrifice: Problems of Organization”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 93, pg. 13
 “Sacrifice.” Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. 7 May 2018, 22:39 UTC. 8 May 2018, 10:34 <https://en.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=sacrifice&oldid=49462445>.
 Clemens Cavallin, The Efficacy of Sacrifice: Correspondences in the Rigvedic Brahmanas, Goteborg, 2003, pg. 1.
 F.T. Van Straten, “Gifts for the Gods” in Faith Hope And Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, ed. H.S. Versnel, Leiden, 1981, pg. 63. In reality, Van Straten identifies three means, splitting sacrifice and votive offering into two distinct categories. They have been combined here
 Examples are readily available of this, as Ovid accounts in Amores 3.13.13-18, where the “she-goat” is hateful to Iuno Curitis of Falerii.
 Van Straten, “Gifts”, pg. 65. Yet nevertheless still couched within their ethical paradigms.
 P.A. Meijer, “Philosophers, Intellectuals, and Religion in Hellas” in Faith, Hope and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, ed. H.S. Versnel, Brill, 1981, pg. 247.
 Van Straten, “Gifts”, pg. 68.
 Van Straten, “Gifts”, pg. 68.
 Christina Lee, Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals, Boydell Press, Suffolk, 2007, pg. 52.
 E.O.G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, Greenwood Press: Westport, CT. 1964. pg. 252.
 Cavallin, Efficacy, pg. 2.
 John Scheid, “Roman Animal Sacrifice and the System of Being” in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers, Chr. Faraone, F.S. Naiden eds., Cambridge, 2012, pg. 84. Scheid interestingly puts forward the idea that where animal sacrifice creates social hierarchy, the actual act of libation is the defining feature which separates humanity and divinity.
 Kimberly Christine Patton, Religion of the Gods: Ritual, Paradox, and Reflexivity, Oxford University Press: USA, 2009, pg. 179.
 See Mircea Eliade’s Myth of the Eternal Return for a thorough treatment of this phenomenon.
 Jaan Puhvel, “Victimal Hierarchies in Indo-European Sacrifice”, in The American Journal of Philology, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 354-362.
 As Daniel Bray asserts in “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Ideology in Old Norse Religion”.