One of the things I constantly bang on about in relation to the various Norse-spectrum faiths is that we aren’t a revealed religion. This is a very simple statement, one with profound implications in regards to religion and devotional practice. The thing is, however, that these differences might not be obvious to the average person or lay worshiper; religious nomenclature is a bit of a specialized niche, so even the presumption of basic comprehension can be a little bit overly optimistic. So let’s quick take a look on what the word “revealed” means in terms of religion, and why the ability to exclude is profound and meaningful.
A revealed religion is one where the practices were defined by holy people and/or prophets who revealed the word and will of their God(s) to the world. The most recognizable ones are, of course, Christianity and Islam. Jesus, his disciples, Mohammad, Moses, Abraham, John Smith, and others are all examples of religious leaders who were, in essence, the revealers of their faith.
Heathenry (or whatever you call it), is not a revealed religion. We have no text, code, or doctrine delivered to us from an Odinic prophet or oracle. We have no body of written work which firmly defines our faith or constructs ethical boundaries, myths, and cosmology. We have no reason to believe that such a work of literature exists, and no reason to attempt to craft one in order to ensure “authentic practice”.
So what are the Poetic and Prose Eddas? Simply put, they are a collection of stories and legends, as transcribed by Christian historians, both clergy and laity. There is general consensus that the myths and legends were altered and modified to fit the mythic biases and beliefs of their transcribers. Further these accounts did not take place in a time where impartiality was valued; this was an era where the victor writing history was not seen as a bad thing, but rather a privilege of power. This isn’t to cast them away as useless; while they are not pure truths, they are truths after a fashion. They provide anthropological and etymological fingerprints that we can use to trace legacies and saga that would have otherwise been life. The issue is that many people treat these as the pure extraction of our ancestral paths.
To take a page from Buddhism, they are not the moon. A finger pointing to it however? They can be, so long as we are put them in the proper place.
Our religion really can’t be defined by texts. Every text we have was written by those with a bias that was defined by another faith and, unless we can speak the language they were originally written in, translated by a scholar or academic with their own biases in regards to that translation. The texts are, to be plain, a horrid source to use in isolation. The aforementioned sciences of anthropology and etymology, by contrast, are a much more viable tool. These academic realms provide us the capacity to look at the few heirlooms our ancestors had that could not be changed at the whim of a few literate men. Ancient artifacts, language, and reverse engineered looks at modern day cultures give us things that the lore just cannot do in of itself.
Naturally, it’s also important to be balanced in ones approach to these methods. For example, people are quick to state that there is no evidence for Loki worship. If we want to state this with any strength, we must force ourselves to ask the appropriate opposite questions. For example, is there any evidence that it was a cultural or theological taboo? How much evidence do we have to identify and reveal the existence and terms of the worship of other Gods and Goddesses within the pantheon? When looking through broken historical remnants, the lack of proof either way simply proves that you don’t have enough information to craft a hardline stance, and than display the stance as the way of our ancestors.
Also we must recognize that our religion is a living breathing thing; all true religious are. Catholicism has gotten over the “sin” of usury, and the Mormon faith has retracted some of it’s racial stances. Wicca has splintered into a virtually limitless number of sects, with many of these denominations differing only slightly. Religions are not static, though we must be somewhat comforted by the process of viewing them in this manner. The thing is that theology, religion, and spirituality are not truly about our own comfort, almost by definition.
When people talk about this thing or that being “against the Aesir” or an act of “treason against the Gods”, it must be remembered that these aren’t concepts that appear to be entirely native to our faith. This is conjecture on my part, but I feel that the only truly treason action against the Gods is to cease in their worship or to use them as tools for your own agendas.
Just my two cents.
* Also, potentially false. I’ve heard more than once that most of the continental German sources have yet to be translated into English, accounting for why American Heathenry is largely unaware of them.