On the Holiness of the Powers

On fb scholar and Heathen Mathias Nordvig posted the following and graciously gave me permission to share it as well. It’s a very, very important point. We distract ourselves with trying to categorize and compartmentalize the Powers and that can lead us down very fruitless paths. What is important is Their holiness.

Dr. Edward Butler, in response to this (we’re conversing about it on fb) said rightly, “Any name which has been preserved is precious. We have no way of knowing what sort of cultus They may have had. Chances are, if a name was preserved at all, it’s because it was important to somebody.”  So much was lost to Christian conquest, all the more reason to treasure what we have and to devote ourselves to veneration. Religion, in the polytheistic world, is about right relationship to the Holy, and the ongoing cultivation of those relationships. Through that cultivation and devotion we continually participate in the ongoing process of creation. We sustain the work the Gods have done and continue to do. We do our part. 

mathias nordvig kami post

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on June 27, 2019, in Heathenry, Lived Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Tangentially related: About 45 minutes ago, I was thinking about Internet slang due to a conversation on Twitter about register switching and then I realized that for all of the register switches I see people do (“that’s a really good point about Apollon” and “yeah that’s valid WRT Apollon”), I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone create informal pet name slang for gods’ names. Like you don’t see people call Aphrodite “Aph” or Apollon “Appy.” That was a really comforting thought b/c it reads overly flippant, but I tend to be somewhat religiously conventional.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      I think i might actually ask someone to leave my house if they started using pet slang nicknames for the Gods….i find that so startlingly rude. wow. It IS flippant. I know of one exception to that, but it’s a very particular case.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I vetoed tweeting about the thought because the viral retweet risk was too high. Iamblichus would probably call something like that too (untetheredly) innovative to be effective or appropriate.


  2. ganglerisgrove

    A further comment from our fb discussion:

    “What’s important is that we engage with the Holy Powers. The only time I actually see the distinctions coming into play is when it comes to understanding family ties between the gods, which helps with various levels of interpretation of the surviving stories. I don’t think it’s relevant when it comes to the business of actual veneration and cultus. and even when it comes to exegesis, I’d rather see focus on divine names and relationships rather than these nebulous categories. it’s too easy for it to lead to shitty reverence, reification of “lore,” (a body of writing problematic for many reasons), and then it leads also to debates about “what is a God” inevitably with that term carrying the weighted definition of monotheism. it reduces the holy in ways that I find very problematic.” (my own comment on this whole thing…)


  3. The modern Westerner is not an animist. Even the residual, almost instinctive animism that people have is suppressed by the culture.

    We have names that mean things like “cold”, “snow”, “sleet”, “winter”, “wind”, “cool wind”, “drift”, “fire”, “frost”, “ice wall”, “horizon”, “glow”, “goes at times”, “day”, “night”, “sea”, “wave”, “billow”, “mountain dweller”, “earth”, “yeller”, “uproar” and so on, all attributed to “giants”. I would say all this is obviously from an animistic worldview. That is without going over the great evidence we have in dwarf names, local deity names, place names, and so on. I don’t see too many heathens talking about a “corn mother” or “lodkona(growth-lady)”, or many other widely attested agricultural god-names. It tends to be about a few of the Aesir gods only, or just Odin alone. I don’t blame the confusion we have now only on Christianity, but also on Greco-Roman influence.

    I don’t see why people worry about finding evidence for every little name. I can venerate the powers I see at work all the time without signed and dated evidence from the early middle ages or from the Romans. I know what the sea is, or what lakes and rivers are, and what trees are, what wheat and corn are, what the soil is, without having to put it in Old Norse, or Latin, or Greek. Sometimes it seems to me that people want a ton of evidence for the obvious. Like we need the names of every tree or forest spirit or the names of every mountain deity and every lake deity before we can “confirm” that they were venerated. Most of the names we know were just old words for things we already know of and can easily venerate in our own language if we want to. We know that all of the ancients had an animistic view at the root of their religions, but that some of them got further and further from that over time. It is very obvious from any sources that can be brought up about actual religious practices, in all the lists of divinities and spirits, and in customs that were passed on even until recently. We can also see this view in virtually every other place in the world up to today.

    Another factor I see as an issue is an addiction to mythology, which the ancient Greeks definitely suffered from. People today tend to think of a set of myths as the basis of religious practices. Being a heathen would just be replacing Biblical stories with Eddic mythology in this view. I think that is getting things backwards. Most deities have few myths about them, often just obscure mentions. Put aside Europe for a moment, and look at Shinto and Hinduism. There are many, many obscure deities with few to no myths about them, just mentions or a few local stories at most. Shinto in particular has a lot of this. The very important and ancient shrine at Mt. Miwa, for example, venerates a kami called Omononushi(master of great things). Omononushi was venerated in that place by early Yamato kings(the imperial house). Is there a huge mythos about this kami? Not really, at most we have a story where he appears as a snake, and that in ancient times a certain priestess was considered this god’s wife. For that matter, Amaterasu herself features in a handful of myths about the “age of the gods” and then after that really does not directly figure in anything in the national mythos(Kojiki and Nihon Shoki). Okuninushi(great country master) is another major deity, he has a few stories, though they are very famous ones. Watatsumi(sea god) under that name has only a few mentions in stories. As Ryuujin(dragon god, this is a Sinified form) he features in some fairy tales(otogizoshi). When you get to other gods like Takemikazuchi, Futsunushi, Omoikane, Fuujin, Raijin, or even the popular Inari, you find the same thing. A few myths, or none at all. The vast majority of kami(they are countless) don’t feature in wider Japanese mythology at all.

    In Hinduism, there are deities and malign figures mentioned way back in the Vedas that were already rather obscure, which are even more so in current Hinduism. There are just no myths about many of them, let alone all the local deities worshiped as mountain, forest, and field, and family gods by Hindus. These cases are so important because we can’t use “the Christian/Muslims/Jews destroyed all the sources” as a reason for a lack of myths. There just weren’t many from the start.

    Going back to Europe, the early Romans did not have a complex mythology. They imported mythology from the Greeks, some of that filtered through Etruscans, and applied that to their gods. Greek mythology itself is often a jumble from all over the Eastern Mediterranean region. The vast majority of god-names in the Greek corpus don’t have much in the way of myths either, their names just describe what they are and their powers. I think that many figures in Germanic mythology would have been the same. I doubt there ever were many myths about Mundilfari, or Byggvir, or Delling, or Nott, or Vetr, for example. The evidence we find from artifacts, and the myths from the poetry(including referenced in kennings) show much of what made up the core body of myths that had a wide currency. The rest would have been customs based on occupation and the local way of life, and what we would now consider folklore.


    • I am not criticizing Matthias Nordvig, I am agreeing with him and criticizing trends I see in heathenry/Asatru. I probably need to make that clear before someone gets the wrong idea. The names we have in the sources are important, and what he said is a great point because we don’t always find hard categorical distinctions in the stories. People would have worshipped a wide range of Powers in the old days.


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