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home / heithanissa / an introduction to heithanissa

Introduction

Whenever I meet up with other Heathens, I like to discuss heathenry in the broadest sense. Yet when we get down to the nitty-gritty, I am often told my views are... well a little different from the 'norm' if there is such a thing in Heathenry. As suggested by some of my friends, I've written a brief outline of my beliefs and why it differs from say Asatru. I've tried to keep it as brief and general as possible, focusing on a general overview rather than an in-depth exploration.

Trifunctionality

Three gods or kings
If I have to sum up my view on Heathenry in one word, it would be Trifunctionality or Trifunctional Order to be more exact (but that's two words technically). The trifunctional hypothesis - which forms the basis of my beliefs - is something that has been first suggested by the great comparative scholar George Dumézil. In short it states that all Indo-European societies were divided into three groups: the martial, the sacral and the communal. This division was found in their cultural caste system (warriors, priests and commoners), was found in their triads of early gods (see below) and is still found today in modern Indo-European flags (combinations of the colors red, white/yellow, blue/green/black). I will be the first to admit the hypothesis is contested by some scholars, but it has grown quite a foothold in comparative studies and to me, it simply makes a ton of sense. Not just historically, but also on a spiritual level.

One should not however see this division as us modern folks tend to do; a neat little triangle of equal sides. The trifunctional order is an ever-changing and fluctuating balance of three sides, often countered by a fourth. Furthermore, it is very common to have a strong duality within the trifunctional order. Sound confusing? Well, it is. At first at least. Once you get the concept, you sort of start to see the pattern show itself in almost everything. A great example for this I find the Norns.

The Tripartite of Fate

The Norns sit at the well at the bottom of Yggdrasil and here they spin the fate of all of mankind. The Norns are three goddesses or divine beings, named Urð, Verðandi and Sculd. This is a trifunctional concept, a tripartite; three beings governing one aspect. However, there is a duality hidden in these three. Urð is the oldest and her name stems from the Old Norse verb verða, 'come to pass'. Urð is essentially the past tense, meaning 'that which has come to pass'. Her younger sister Verðandi shares this aspect with her as her name too is a form of the verb verða. Her name meaning 'that which is coming to pass' or in better English 'that which is happening now'. Something we know today as 'the present', although the Old Norse term places it just beyond 'now' in a more active sense. It's not right now as is our present, it's more an active sense of becoming and forming.

Verðandi and Urð are connected in their name. They are both a tense of an active verb and they represent the active reality; the past and that which is forming now. One could view the past on video for example or witness the present as it unfolds right at this moment. Furthermore, Urð is in that sense a version of Verðandi and vice versa. They are connected to each other, but in a much more different way than their sister Sculd is. Sculd is a product of her sisters. Her name meaning 'debt' from the verb skulu 'ought to' (as the modern Dutch word schuld still shows), giving us an insight into her role in this tripartite. Sculd is by no means to be interpreted as future, but as a direct result of the paths chosen in the past and present. She is the promise of the past, the reaction to the actions of then and now. Her role in this tripartite then is to be the result of her two sisters. She is what the two combine in their duality.

And so the tripartite stands, with a duality and a third role. Yet, there is more to consider. The sisters weave the fate of the universe, of all living things. Their role then can only exist by an outside balancing force that is the universe (symbolized as Yggdrasil). Without the universe, the sisters would have no wyrd to create and thus they need the universe as much as it needs them. Which brings us to the complex, yet surprisingly simple concept of the duality in a tripartite, balanced by a second duality.

Warriors, priests and the people

Still with me? Good. This trifunctional order is one I see in the gods as well as ourselves. The creation myth shows this in a fantastic way, where the three brothers create mankind from pieces of wood. They grant us three gifts: life/soul, wit/intellect and senses and form. This roughly translates into soul-mind-body, something that is quite common if you've been paying attention to other religions, cultures and philosophy over the last few millennia. One might rephrase these gifts into the gifts of the warrior, priest and commoner. The warrior needs to rely on instincts, on his passion and the wuod, his divine anger if you will. The priest on the other hand relies on his intellect, his knowledge of how the world functions and uses that cognitive power to make decisions and give advice or counsel. The commoner stands for our bodily senses, relying on sight, hearing and speech to react to the situation. He relies on the lusts of his body to guide him/her in the forms of hunger, thirst and other bodily needs. In our Christian influenced society, we often frown on this, seeing this as 'lower' or 'dirty' or 'bad' ways of influence, but modern scientific research (and plain common sense) shows us again and again that a lot of our simplest decisions are influenced by hunger, taste and sexuality. Sex sells and so does bacon, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

As you might have guessed, the three gods from the creation play a major part in this trifunctional order, but they are not the only ones. A tripartite like this, as stated earlier, is a fluctuating thing. This means that these three gods, do not always have to be the same gods. Throughout history we can see different triads form in mythology, not just in our own Germanic roots, but also in Indo-European neighboring myth. However, their core roles remain the same. There is always a martial, sacral and communal presence. The most known triad of this in Germanic mythology is one that most Heathens will know of, that of Óðinn, Freyr and Þórr. Óðinn presenting the martial, Freyr standing for the sacral and lastly Þórr as defender of mankind, symbol for the community.

Trifunctional Heathenry

'So?' you might think at this point, 'why is this different from Asatru or ?' Well firstly, my views are based on Indo-European roots. I firmly believe this triad of gods to be the very same as they are found in other Indo-European religions. This doesn't qualify as a really universalistic approach I suppose, as I do not see all religions as one, but I definitely see a large overlapping area between the Indo-European cultures and religions (Roman, Greek, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic and more), which can only hint at a commonly shared root-religion. This makes the Germanic heathen path a brother to the Roman or Greek etc, all different versions of much older ideas.

Secondly my views are based on a tritheistic concept. Although Óðinn is usually found in the triads of the gods, to me he is not the All-father as he is so often described. Yes, he has the role of the chieftain of the Æsir in my views as well, but the Æsir are just one of the grander tripartite that is Æsir-Vanir-Jötnar. The original tripartite as I personally view it, contains Óðinn, Ægir and Loki. Something I'm actually writing a small book about (it started out as a revision of an article) as I'm sure some people will want to have that one explained as I assure you it's not simply based on UPG and has strong roots in our lore.

Yet I feel the biggest difference may lie in the approach of everyday life. Heathenry and in a larger view, paganism as a whole, has become something of a religious ordeal. We think, we write, we discuss and we meet to perform rites on occasion. These are all expressions of the sacral division of the faith, bound to our intellect. Even when we 'feel' the presence of the gods, it is often a mental sense of that presence, not so much a bodily touch. A process that is not wrong in any way, but to me looks too much like its Christian counterpart. It is only logical to assume Christian influences to be found at such a deep level of our faith, since we are born and raised with the church as a prime example of religion (or at least in the western world). We thus form our own religious experience to suit that platform. We might not like admitting it, but we do, at least to some extend. We have split our religious practice from the everyday life, from the mundane. Much like the Christian church has it's service on sundays, we have ours on the days of celebration throughout the year or on full moons or meetings. That doesn't make us less heathen during say days of work, we're just not actively approaching it at that time, right?

Although I do understand the concept as described above, I simply can not agree. I have always battled this idea as people would ask me a simple question, one I found, I could never answer: 'How does your faith show itself in everyday life?' As simple as that question may sound, to me it's one I could not possibly answer. Until I realized why. To me my faith does not show itself in forms like prayer, a meeting or a sacrifice. It is my life. That may sound quite corny, but it is the essence of it. My spiritual experience can be found in rites, but just as much when I see a crow fly over, when I taste some great food, drink when I'm thirsty, read a great book, laugh with friends or see my son grow up. It is in the wind in the trees, the rain against my face, the gentle purring of one of my cats. Am I more mentally attuned to my faith when I'm performing a bluot? Perhaps yes. Just as I might when I write about it or discuss it with fellow heathens. But that's not my faith, that is part of my faith. The faith is mind, body and soul. It is feeling that divine inspiration and giving into it, it is standing up for yourself and your family or friends, it is in experiencing life and laughing through bad times, it is in great sex. I believe I perform on average less rites than most of my fellow heathens in the sense of ritual, but I like to think I perform countless rites each day, just by consciously embracing life as being heathen. I won't say I'm living my faith every second of the day, as I too get distracted by the world around us. But I do dare say that I am trying to.

In the end though, I think many of you are as well. We might have a slightly different emphasis on certain things, but the core is the same. Yet, I'm told it does, which is why I've dubbed it Heithanissa instead of calling it Asatru or Irminism or Forn Sidr or anything else. In the end it is but one of the many forms of heathenry out there and part of the whole that is Heathenry. This section of the website will be dedicated to these views and will mainly serve as a mental exercise for myself, to give more order to my thoughts and beliefs. I can only hope my words will be of interest to you or may even inspire discussion or thought.

 


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