I had plans to write about the subject for a while. There is a small group of people familiar with a particular line of thought. Current events (summer 08) make that these ideas may fall victim to forgetfulness, so I decided to speed up my plans somewhat. On the other hand, there seem to be people who think that Traditionalism and “paganism” is a combination growing in popularity in certain music scene circles. I personally have my doubts about that. In any case, what you will learn below is a hypothesis of its own.
I do not intend to display a complete system. I only want to present a hypothesis (or a few if you like), a line of thought so to say and in the process introduce the English speaking world to a couple of books that are only appreciated by a few and completely unknown to many which is truly a shame. The reasons for this I will get to later on.
The sole reason I use this term is to give you an idea of what I am going to talk about. I don’t particularly like the term “Asatru” myself, but it became quite well known and most people get an idea of what the subject will be. “Traditionalistic” refers to the ideas that you can read more about in these pages: the ideas of René Guénon (1886-1951), Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) and the like. Julius Evola (1898-1974) only in a way. As you will learn “Traditionalistic Asatru” is not simply Asatru in a Guénonian cloth, like I said, the term is only meant to be a pointer.
As you undoubtedly know, the scholarly investigation of pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe started around the beginning of the 19th century, mostly in Germany. This went calmly for about a hundred years and in the early 20th century and after, a great number of highly interesting works saw the light of day. There were massive works on “Germanic mythology” as a whole, but also works about interesting aspects of Teutonic religion and living. One of the recognised standard works on the larger subject is the massive Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte (‘history of the old-German religion’) by Jan de Vries (1890-1964). However De Vries was Dutch, this work is written in German. It was first published in 1935 (part I) and 1937 (part II), but when he learned about the theories of Georges Dumézil (1898-1986), he felt the need to rewrite the work with those ideas and the most recent scholarly and archeological findings and the book was republished in 1956/7. Inspite of the fact that this book is regarded as the ultimate reference work about the wide variety of subjects within the scope of the title, the book is pretty hard to get and very expensive when you find it. The reason for this is that is has not been reprinted since 1970 and that must have been a small edition, since I have never seen a 1970 copy for sale.
It were difficult times in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. De Vries kept working during both world wars, but since he also started working with the enemy, he fell out of grace in his own country and his works are still controversial for the sole fact that he had a controversial period in his life. As far as I know De Vries has never written anything political and his works on Northern mythology have nothing political in them, but since he got “spoilt” (or “burned” as we call it), his books will not be reprinted and the sole mentioning of the name and/or the works of De Vries practically makes you burned yourself. Also the copyright will only expire in 2034, so until then the heirs will have to agree with republication.
Another Dutch writer has a similar history: Frans Farwerck (1889-1978) who had a high rank in the Dutch nazi party NSB during WWII. I will come back to him later.
According to Guénon, a tradition is only truly Traditionalistic if there is an unbroken link to the Divine Source. Guénon was particularly this radical when he says that an initiative order is only such, if there is an unbroken link with that “Philosophia Perennis” (Örløgr (‘Divine Law’) in our own tradition). Since especially in the West, these links have been broken in almost all occasions, there remain only two genuinely initiatic orders in the West: Freemasonry and Le Compagonnage. The latter is a similar organisation (in many ways) to Freemasonry, but it has its own peculiarities and can be found almost exclusively in France and some parts of Germany. Having said that, it is only through Freemasonry that an initiatic order can be “regular” (to use the Masonic term) nowadays.
As far as I know he was no Traditionalist, but Farwerck has written at length about how elements of the Northern mysteries found their way into Freemasonry. His amazing work Noordeuropese Mysteriën en hun sporen tot heden (‘Northern European Mysteries and their traces to the present’) (1970, second print 1978) deals with that very subject entirely and that means: for about 630 pages. Farwerck says that we know quite a lot about the mysteries of Northern Europe and he dug through myths and sagas, but also a lot through folklore and habits with forgotten meanings, symbolism in and on buildings, rune stones, etc., etc.
Let me try to give you an idea of what could become putting all that together.
The ancient North had its initiations, not just the famous ‘rites of passage’, but also of a deeper and more esoteric nature. Towards the end of part I of his Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte (483 and on), De Vries writes about “Kultverbände” (‘cultic unions’) in a variety of forms. There were trading unions for which the old German word “hansa” is used (remember the German term “Hansestadt”) which De Vries says: “originally meant an offering-society or cultic-society” (p. 487). Later such groups would be called “Gilden” (‘guilds’), like we know from the Middle Ages. Many professions were organised in a guild. According to De Vries there already were guilds in Scandinavia in the 11th century, they even had written regulations. Even some runestones refer to guilds. Again the term refers to offerings and cults, since the Old-Norwegian term “gildi” “also actually meant offering-society” (p. 490).
Both De Vries and Farwerck heavily used the book Kultische Geheimbunde der Germanen (‘cultic secret societies of the Germans’) (1934) of Otto Höfler (1901-1987). Indeed a very promising title. Unfortunately I have not read the book myself yet (not easy to get either).
There have been several cultic groups in the North in these days, such as the “Chatten” and the “Hariern”, but more famous are groups such as the “Einherjar”, the “Ulfhednar” and the “Berzerkr”. “The most important feasts of these men-bonds are connected to the death-cult” (p. 494), meaning: the ancestors. As a matter of fact “acceptance to the men-bonds insures eternal life in the community of the ancestors. The nature of these Germanic men-bonds – thus demonstrates Höfler – were esoteric secrets cults.” (p. 495).
On page 499 De Vries describes death-and-resurrection rituals that we know from virtually every mystery-cult and other “initiation practices” are described. Now let me turn to Farwerck who has written an entire book about these “Northern European mysteries”.
Farwerck makes a flying start with giving information about initiations into Indo-European mysteries. He describes practices around death, ideas about the afterlife and burial practices. In the next part of his book, Farwerck investigates applicants for the vacancy of initiation God. Wodan/Odin of course has a good curriculum vitae, but he is not the only one. Still a large part of the book is dedicated to Wodan and ‘surrounding subjects’. Offering feasts, ‘army of the dead’, the Einherjar and Valkeries, the “Wilde Heir” (‘wild army’, not a very good translation, but I need to keep it separate from…), the wild hunt, horses and horse-offerings, Yule and fertility feasts, name it, Farwerck has investigated and described it. Of course he also wrote at length about the men-bonds and he attends to a while lot of them. Farwerck would not be Farwerck if he did not scratch off the surface of folkloristic practices and investigate remnants of ancient beliefs in Christianity and used a load of visuals. He even takes about 80 pages to find remnants of the practices of men-bonds in folkloristic habits that were still practiced in his own time. Shooting-guilds, Saint Nicholas celebrations, Yule feats, Morris dancers, steal-right of youth-groups, etc., etc.
After a dazzling amount of information, the writer continues with the “reconstruction of ancient initiation rites”. The places of the initiations (still recognisable by the names of places in the landscape), strange figures in churches, “trojan forts”, the hanging rite, wounding with the spear, mead, dances and singing; Farwerck works towards a comprehensive picture of cultic bonds.
Of course having passed the “Männerbunden”, we continue with the guilds and their rites and habits and their current descendants. The building-guilds bring us close to the dawn of modern Freemasonry and indeed, the last part of the book investigates the rites and habits of Freemasonry and their relation to what we have seen earlier in the book. The dimensions of the lodge, the small and large lights, the three “gems of Donar” (his hammer, also used by the Grand Master; his iron gloves became white; his power-girdle became the apron (and of course it is also a reference to animal disguises). Another 100 pages with that subject.
Farwerck frequently jumps conclusions when there are holes to fill, but when you read his book, you can not deny his vast knowledge and deep esoteric insight. He had reached the top of Dutch Freemasonry, but his persistence in the ideas as described above, costed him his membership.
As a branch from the Divine Source the Northern-European mysteries were not totally unlike the mystery-cults from around the Mediterranean Sea that we know quite a lot about, but they had their own peculiarities. Parts of the rites, habbits and dress-codes survived in folklore, but also in the present-day mysteries of Freemasonry. However this will be denied by many lodges, there are also lodges (especially in France) that do not mainly focus on Jewish or Egyptian symbolism, but also that of Northern Europe.
The larger branch that the pre-Christian faith of Northern Europe belongs to, is the so called Indo-European one. In particular Georges Dumézil had made a convincing point in showing similarities between the different Indo-European religions with its tripartite division. This fact also makes us able to fill gaps in that very pre-Christian faith of Northern Europe. Other sources are “folkish Christianity”, folklore in general and the great many (half-)secret societies that preserved ancient practices without even knowing that. Shooting-guilds, students organisations, workers-guilds, there still are plenty of forms of very old traditions.
The person convinced that there one Divine Source (transcending the Gods), an esoteric continuous (and unbroken) passing on of a Divine Spark but also a continuous exotericism and seeing (and finding) that in his/her native religion, could be regarded as a “Traditionalistic Asatruar”.
Do I mean to say that every (Traditionalistic) Asatruar has to become Freemason? I am not one myself and I do not think that in many lodges I would feel myself at home. On the other hand, it is a comforting thought that perhaps not ALL is lost, even when I personally do not yet take part in the ‘esoteric preservation’.