The manipulation of divine personalities

The WordPress Reader directed me to this post, by Beth of the Wytch of the North blog, and I was inspired to leave a rather lengthy comment. Before hitting the ‘Post Comment‘ button, I decided to bring my comment back to my own blog, and give it its very own post (I’ve been leaving some long-winded comments on other blogs of late, and thought I’d try something different for a change!).

The original post that inspired this response discussed the inaccuracy of some of the generalizations that exist regarding Thor, a subject I think deserves more reflection from the Heathen and Pagan communities (in all honesty, I can see where any religious community might benefit from more of this kind of reflection, especially on considering the ‘wars’ and ‘battles’ being fought in the names of Jesus, Yahweh and Allah). Here, then, is my original response, followed by why I feel like more reflection on this is needed:

The thing with Thor and Odin – and a few of the other gods (like Njord), for that matter – has to do with propaganda, in that the ‘characters’ of some gods were manipulated to suit the purposes of the people at various times and stages in the evolution of Norse and Germanic culture. The easiest way to explain this is the shift in perception of Odin: he was once more or less a god most heavily associated with commerce and communication, the Romans even equated him with Mercury, rather than Jupiter. He was also a healer god in some regions, and a weather god. There was, of course, the ecstatic and frenzied aspect of Odin (despite the Roman approach, the Odin-Mercury fit wasn’t a neat one). With time, as raiding became more important, and more lucrative, Odin became the patron of the ruling and military elite. His blood-mad fascination with dead heroes became a matter of primary importance; along with his ability to inspire the skalds, who were typically employed to entertain the ruling elite. This period also marks the decline of Njord’s influence … he’s described in later lore as subservient to the Æsir, even if he and his Vanir did defeat Odin during their war, and the place names stemming from Njord’s name are rather numerous. If you look closely at the lore and the history from this period, you’ll notice that the commoners came to trust Odin less and less – a reflection on their lack of trust for the ruling elite. Thor, on the other hand, remained the trusted favorite among the commoners; and thus took on many of the same characteristics associated with the commoners, from the eyes of the elite classes … brawny, good for putting up in the front lines against enemies, farming associations (to include a goat-drawn wain), drinks ale instead of wine, etc.

This is where I feel we can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors (and yes, they made a few): the gods are not there for us to manipulate their characters, in the hopes of more efficiently manipulating our fellow peoples. They have much to teach, much to share; and I am usually quite relieved to encounter people who are insightful enough to get to know the gods on their own terms, rather than our own, somewhat more politically- and financially-driven terms. This is one of the reasons why I tend to be more solitary in my religious practice – less politics enables me to focus more on the gods themselves.

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