When Scholarship and Practice Seem to Collide

In the Retrospective Methods Newsletter of December 2010, Rudolf Simek, a respected scholar of Norse mythology wrote an article “The Vanir: An Obituary”.  In that article, he deconstructs the meanings of the words with the vanir root. And through that etymology, Simek asserts that Snorri Sturlson made up the Vanir as a family of gods.

He ends the article with “No Viking Age heathen Scandinavian, apart from a handful of skalds interested in arcane terminology, would have known what is meant by vanir, and even these would not have known which gods to ascribe to a group of them called Vanir. Whatever the connecting link between the important gods Njǫrðr, Freyr and Freyja was, it was not the name Vanir. The Vanir were not alive in heathen days, and as a figment of imagination from the 13th to the 20th centuries, it is high time to bury them now: May they rest in peace.”

My first reaction to this was negative. Freyja is the first and most intimate of my deities of choice.  To disregard her entire family… monstrous!

So I went back through and read the article again. The article is brilliant, with a depth of scholarship one would expect from a highly respected professor and authority on Norse mythology. It doesn’t diminish the importance of my deity of choice. It just redefines the framework of how Njordr, Freyja and Freyr are related. With some really cool implications about the River Don, Hungarians and their relationship to the Finns.

So I went to the practical question: how does this change my practice?

It doesn’t.

My practice has evolved over the past 20+ years based in what my deities of choice have asked of me. Not what I read in a  book, although the lore and  several books based in or discussing the lore have given me insight into how my practice could be more useful or more effective.

Any religious practice has to be a living, changing thing. We don’t live the same lives our medieval ancestors did. We don’t have the same priorities, social structure or economic base. Our religious practice has to change to reflect those changes.

Read the article, read the entire newsletter, it’s extremely interesting and informative from a scholarly standpoint. But before you decide to make changes to your practice based on scholarship, ask your deities of choice first.

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