Working at the Nexus of Two Traditions
Over the past few years I’ve been moving more and more toward a more Germanic-Roman polytheism in my personal practice. I practice Heathenry and that will always be my primary tradition, but I also venerate many of the Greco-Roman Gods (especially Hermes, Apollo, and Dionysos). This all started when I began studying Classics academically in 2010 and Odin indicated I should honor the Greek God of language. Well, apparently, give Them an inch…and the rest is history.
I’ve never worried overmuch about working in two traditions. I’ve never been one of those Heathens who gets the vapors if one mentions the words ‘dual trad.’ largely because looking at ancient polytheisms, the traditions we’re trying to restore, such a thing simply didn’t exist. The concept wouldn’t have computed to a pre-Christian polytheist. This cracks me up too. I’ve spent the better part of 15 years studying ancient religion at one level or another (both academically and theologically) and there was a flexibility, fluidity, and polyvalency to ancient polytheisms that I think we, tasked as we are with restoration, can only envy.
If I was living in say, the first century, navigating between Rome and Germany as I do, this is largely how it would have worked: I’d have honored the Germanic Gods of my ancestors, paying special cultus to the Deity or Deities — in my case Odin– to Whom I am specially devoted. I might also honor various Roman Gods, depending on where I lived, what I did, and how strongly the Roman Gods had permeated into my region or I into Roman culture (romanitas). Perhaps there was a mystery cultus or two that caught my attention. If I were a soldier, I might initiate to the mysteries of Mithras, for instance. Then of course, if I were part of the Roman Empire, I’d pay cultus to the deified emperors (even if I were not Roman, per se. The spread of this cultus was one of the means of creating unity through disparate provinces) and on top of this there was ancestor cultus, honoring the vaettir, etc. etc. It was naturally very fluid. We’re not today, and I think that one of the reasons, perhaps the biggest reason that we’re not is that we’re restoring something that has been broken and we want to do it cleanly.
What amuses me the most is that if we want to look solely at written sources, in some cases there’s more written evidence for the veneration of Dionysos in Germania than there is for Odin and company. It cracks me up. So when the Gods started pushing me toward cultus deorum in addition to my Heathen practice I thought it a bit strange, but well within bounds. Of course I don’t mix worship: I honor each Family as They wish to be honored, but it does mean I’m juggling two festival calendars, two offering schedules, two very different requirements for ritual purity and such, which can get a bit overwhelming at times. That’s a small price to pay though for doing right by the Gods.
Polytheism can be messy. Gods don’t always stay in Their neat little boxes and that’s ok. Our ancestors were travellers, explorers, (mercenaries * cough *, I don’t judge :P) and they brought their Gods and their practices with them wherever they went. Likewise, they occasionally picked up Gods and practices. The Roman Empire went everywhere and just as they brought the Roman Gods with them, setting up temples, engaging in veneration, making offerings, and so forth, so they too honored local Gods. We owe our knowledge of certain Germanic Goddesses (like Tamfana) to Roman votive inscriptions, for instance, so we know that they sometimes honored Germanic Deities. It was a non-issue because it sorted itself out in practice.
I think part of restoring our traditions is going to include making room for these blended strands too, because they existed in the time of our ancestors. They are part of our polytheistic inheritance. For me, doing rightly by all of the Gods means rooting myself in my ancestral tradition first and foremost. I’m Heathen and I move out from there. This may mean that in some ways I’m always on the outskirts of the mysteries of Dionysos or Hermes or Apollo, et Al and that’s ok. I do what I need to do in order to honor Them all cleanly. It’s an interesting sensation moving from “Germanic space” into “Greco-Roman space.” It affects everything even down to the way I carry myself (what anthropologist Pierre Bourdeau would have termed my ‘habitus’). That’s something I may need to watch more closely because I think it offers interesting clues as to what the Gods may want, and the type of interaction They expect. We shall see. It’s certainly been an interesting ride.