The Old Ways Model: What do We Reconstruct from Historical Sources?
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
In twenty-one years in Heathenry, I have had someone say this to me so many times I lost count: "We do not do the Old Ways and should abandon them. When is the last time you sacrificed an enemy you vanquished in battle?" And: "Are we to go back to living in mudhuts too?" There are MANY things wrong about these two statements. First, our Ancestors called the names of their faith "The Old Ways" (I will prove that below.). However, our Heathen Ancestors wore modern clothes in their time, and did not run away from modernization, and even pushed modernization forward, especially in sea navigation and ship building. Heathens welcomed and even invented new technology. However, they still performed religious customs (and the word "customs" implies old traditions). Second, the Old Gods that the "new ways" people want to venerate, did accept human sacrifices in the past. So, if they are going to toss the Old Ways aside because the world has changed, why not toss the Gods aside as well? Why stop at the traditions associated with these Gods? Can people who dislike historical traditions and Ancestral customs make good Heathens? Yes, times change. Today, we worry about "Geneva Convention" laws, but how often do armies in battle actually worry about cruelty laws? War is war! It is kill or be killed. And were Germanic tribes wrong to kill those captured in war as offerings to the Gods, like Arminius and the Germanic tribes did, annihilating to the last man 22,000 Roman troops, three legions in 9 AD for example? Did this annihiliation not keep the Germanic tribes free and Heathen for another 800 years? (I would say ABSOLUTEY, it kept the bulk of the Germanic tribes Heathen and outside of the Roman Empire and its later adoption of Catholicism for literally 800 more years. Augustus Caesar gave up on Germania when Arminius wiped out three legions, the entire Roman presence in Germania. Therefore, I am glad Arminius did not try to capture these three Roman legions in order to play nice with them. In olden times, to release prisoners of war to fight them again on the battle field, was the opposite of wise. To keep prisoners of war for long periods of time against their will was a strain on manpower for the next battle/war. PS- Many modern TV shows show "Vikings" sacrificing their own people to the Gods. There is strong evidence showing that Heahtens sacrificed those captured in battle, or prisoners, as sacrifices, and not their own cildren and people... Sidonius “Nine Books of Letters” (489 AD)
Sidonius, Apoll, “Nine Books of Letters” ep, vi. Lib.8, as quoted from Page 192 of “The History of the Anglo-Saxons” Volume 1 by Sharon Turner
“When the Saxons prepare to set out from their homeland (patriam), their custom (mos) dictates they sacrifice one-tenth of their prisoners. The victims are chosen by lot and killed by water or crucifixion. (per aquales et cruciarias poenas)”
Some translate this last phrase very differently, instead of "killed by water or crucifixion" they translate it as: "They were made to die by torturous drowning.” PLEASE NOTE: This is a reference that states that the Saxons did not sacrifice their own people, but prisoners (of war) to their Gods. I can give many more quotes, but lets get back to the point. What is the difference between Old Ways and New Ways Heathenry? What is the Reconstruction model for Old Ways Heathens? Heathenry is about PRACTICE, i.e. OrthoPRAXY. (OrthoDOXY is about belief, i.e. in Christianity, what you believe saves you, like believing Jesus is the Christ and accepting this fact brings you salvation. Wrong belief is heresy or unbelief.) Heahtenry historically was about cultural practice: i.e. the words in the historical sources for Heathenry were not words like "Asatru", but words like "Aldsidu" (Old Saxon, meaning the Old Ways), or "Forn Sed" in other Germanic/Scandinavian languages (meaning the "Old Ways"). We have words like "thau" (or "thew") meaning "customs" and words like "uuisa" meaning practices, like words for a foreign religion: "landuuisa" meaning "practices of (that) land" and even "heithenuuisa" in Old Saxon Christian writings attacking the Heathenry of the Old Saxons... Point being, the words in historical Heathenry, describing Historical Heathenry, were not words about belief, but words about practices, customs, and traditions. Historical Heathenry was not about correct belief, but about correct (common, tribal) practices. This doesn't mean that Heathen blot and sumble historically were as liturgical as a catholic mass in Latin. But there were certain things that ALL Germanic tribes did in a blot, like creation of sacred space with blood/fire, pouring blood on altars/haergs, sprinkling blood on people, sprinkling blood on the Mead/Wine Halls, etc etc etc. Blot was always before Sumble, i.e. our Ancestors had the wisdom to eat before they drank, despite the fact cars were not invented and DUIs were not an issue in their days. These ideas are found throughout ALL the Germanic tribes, and to say they are not, shows lack of knowledge and study in the historical sources. PS- the word "Asatru" means "true to the Aesir." To be true to the Aesir, people should approach the Aesir the way the Aesir were historically approached. Our Ancestors had centuries of experience in approaching the Gods on the Gods' terms. Heathens historically knew so much about our Ancestral Gods. To toss aside the wisdom left by our Ancestors on how to approach the Gods of our Ancestors, is the opposite of wisdom. Many people toast their Ancestors in Sumble. But when I see people claiming that they love their long ago Heathen Ancestors, but their posts on social media imply that their modern world view contradicts the historical Heathen world view of their Heathen Ancestors, I tend to wonder why they are toasting them, as they do not share their world view. Our modern world has a very different mindset than the Heathen world did, and most Old Ways Heathens will tell you their goal to gain the mindset or worldview of our Heathen Ancestors as much as possible. What is the difference between Old Ways and New Ways Heathenry? What is the Reconstruction model for Old Ways Heathens? The essence of Old Ways Heathenry is only fourfold:
1. When were the holidays and what were they celebrating?
2. How Blot was done historically
3. How Sumble was done historically. 4. Other Tribal viewpoints... Lets address these four points: 1. When were the holidays and what were they celebrating? People argue with me that Heathens changed A LOT historically. I really struggle with their claim here, and their reasoning, because it is wrong. To be blunt, Christmas has been on December 25th since 336 AD, and Christmas has always celebrated the Birth of Christ. This has NEVER changed in Christianity, nor will it ever change. Christmas (or Christ Mass) is a mass done at midnight in Rome (on Dec 24th into the 25th) at Midnight, to celebrate the birth of Christ. The Roman Church borrowed this date from the ROMAN pagans, and Roman Saturnalia and the Mithras Cult. Christmas has been dated to December 25th, since 336 AD. Again, I repeat: The meaning of Christmas, and its celebration, has not changed AT ALL, Christmas has ALWAYS been about the birth of Christ. This is what is being celebrated by Christians on Christmas. This has not changed in 18 centuries. The date and meaning of Christmas to Christians is NOT going to change. Easter has been celebreated on the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon after the vernal equinox, quasi copying the Biblical Lunar Calendar of Passover, since 428 AD. The dating of Easter, and its celebration of the death (Good Friday) and resurrection of Christ, has not changed in 17 centuries, nor will it. Judaism has not changed the dating and meaning of its holidays in 23 centuries, and Islam has never in 14 centuries changed the dating and meaning of their holidays. Therefore, had Heathenry survived until today, the dating of the Heathen holidays would NOT have changed, nor would the Heathens have changed the meaning of these holidays. And you neo-pagans making this stupid argument with me, are you going to tell me that 300 years from now that your descendents are going to abandon the current calendar that completely ignores the moon and focuses on only the sun? (i.e. solstices and equinoxes?) So, by your own reasoning why should I follow you all off a cliff when you have decided without research that Yule is about the returning of the sun, when the Eddas and Sagas say it is about something else? Ynglinga Saga chapter 8 for example says Mid-Winter is a blot for good crops, not a celebration of the Solstice, nor was Yule on the Solstice. Yule was on a full moon in January, as even Thietmar of Merseburg says in 1000 AD: The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 1000 AD):"As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter sacrifices (blots), I will not allow this custom to be ignored. The middle of that kingdom is called Lederun (Lejre), in the region of Sjælland, all the people gathered every nine years in January, that is after we have celebrated the birth of the Lord [Christmas/Solstice], and there they offered to their gods sacrifices (blots)…” Yule was originally after the solstice, but due to Christian persecution was moved to the solstice, which back then, December 25th was the Solstice on the Julian Calendar. Hakon the Good Saga, chapter 15, is about Hakon the Good being the Christian King of all Norway, and eventually turning on Heathenry to make Norway Christian. I would suggest people read the Saga of Hakon the Good, and read about his forced conversion of Norway. Hakon moving Yule to the solstice (then on Dec 25th) is the reason why Xmas is called "Yule" in Scandinavia today. Paska (or "Passover") is the name of "Easter" in Scandinavia today, as "Ostara" is not mentioned in the Eddas nor the Norse Sagas, as she was NOT a Norse Goddess. A little reading goes a long way... I will post chapter 15 of Hakon the Good below... Ynglinga Saga (chapter 8), from the year 1225, lists the three great blots of the year: “Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On winter day (first day of winter) there should be blot for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third blot should be on summer day, a Victory-blot.” 2. How Blot was done historically I have a blog article on historical blot, but it explains how it can be done today. It is called "How to do Solitary Ritual." Please click "Blogs & Beliefs" above and scroll down to my article. I will get to the point here, had Heathenry survived until today, most people would not slaughter their own food and collect blood from killing their own food. Having lived in New York and New Jersey part of my life, I have seen my share of Kosher restaurants. Had Heathenry survived until today, I have no doubt that we would have Heathen butchers who give blood along with the meat to those buying it. My wife grew up on a farm, and owns farm land. I did not. But since historically, it was blood that was the offering in a blot, I have no doubt, even if we no longer kill our own food, we would still offer the blood on altars outdoors. We would still sprinkle our altars, our statues of the Gods, ourselves, and even the walls inside a long dining room in our house when we did sumble after blot. Sure, we would use modern drinking vessels, as our Heathen Ancestors did. We would even have modern electricity and lighting. But the meaning and purpose of blot, would not change, just like Xmas Mass has not changed in Catholicism in 18 centuries.
3. How Sumble was done historically As I stated above, eating happened before drinking, i.e. blot before sumble. Hakon the Good Chapter 16 shows the order of a historical Yule Blot and Sumble. Had Hethenry survived until today, thyles would still challenge oaths that were unattainable, but they along with hosts would make sure people were safe to leave, and sober enough to drive, or call a cab. None of these changes in our society would change the boasting, toasting, and oathing done at random in Sumble after a blot. The songs and renderings of stories (poetry) may not be as poetic, as our modern world likes more naration in story telling than poetry, but stories would still be told, the Gods toasted, as well as the Ancestors. To argue that modernity would have changed the meaning and significance of Sumble, is wrong. 4. Other Tribal viewpoints... This is the LEAST important of the four view points. I could quote Old Saxon poetry here, and prove that the Saxons had a "uueg" (road) and not a rainbow bridge between the realms, the Saxons called "the end" Mudspelles and not Ragnarok, the Saxons had Uurd and Shapers (in Old Saxon giscapou) and not Urthr and Nornir like Norse Heathens did. Uurd and the Shapers even took the dead to "the Meadow" (i.e. Norse Folkvangr) but we see valkyries in Scandinavian literature taking the dead to Valhall. I can go on and on here, but these are just historical tribal idealogies that were similar, and not exactly the same from one Germanic tribe to the next. All Germanic tribes celebrated the same holidays on the same dates, but they did have some local variations. The Ynglings, the royal house of Sweden traced their descent to Yngvi-Freyr, the Saxons to Sahsnoth, the Old English, mostly to Woden through Beldag (though Essex went through Seaxneat, son of Woden.) But these are good things to know, but these do not really affect practice. In other words, I think other tribal viewpoints would be more known today in the Heathen world. Modern Asatru, is not exactly a hub of good research and scholasticism. Nonetheless, these four points, are really all that historical Old Ways Heathens try to reconstruct. And had Heathenry survived the onslaught of Christianity until today, it is clear, these would not have changed over time, which is why our Ancestors called their ways "The Old Ways." Religion is in itself an "old" concept in human history, going back a long way in time. Religion and language were the defining parts of a culture, the differentiated one culture from another. The Germanic tribes venerated the Aesir, and spoke Germanic languages, and the Scandinavians were/are Germanic Peoples. Please join us on the Facebook Group "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry." Chapter 15 of the saga "Hakon the Good": King Hakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathen sacrifice, and as many great people, as well as the favour of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private. But he kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy-days. He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted. Formerly the first night of Yule was hǫkunótt, that is midwinter night, and Yule was held for three nights. It was his intent, as soon as he had set himself fast in the land, and had subjected the whole to his power, to introduce Christianity. He went to work first by enticing to Christianity the men who were dearest to him; and many, out of friendship to him, allowed themselves to be baptized, and some laid aside performing blot. He dwelt long in the Throndhjem district, for the strength of the country lay there; and when he thought that, by the support of some powerful people there, he could set up Christianity he sent a message to England for a bishop and other teachers; and when they arrived in Norway, Hakon made it known that he would proclaim Christianity over all the land. The people of More and Raumsdal referred the matter to the people of Throndhjem. King Hakon then had several churches consecrated and put priests into them; and when he came to Throndhjem he summoned the bondes to a Thing and invited them to accept Christianity. They gave an answer to the effect that they would defer the matter until the Frosta-thing, at which there would be men from every district of the Throndhjem country, and then they would give their determination upon this difficult matter.
Andreas Nordberg, the world’s foremost scholar on Norse Holidays, makes clear in his book on the dating of Yule that “The pre-Christian Yule feast occurs at the first full moon after the first new moon following the winter solstice, while the disting took place at the third full moon according to the same method of calculation.” (Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden Uppsala 2006, P.4)