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what is a god? -- a workable model

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what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez bil » wtorek, 21 sierpnia 2012, 18:15

This year I have been Germanic heathen 44 years. I've written stuff, participated in stuff, shifted from one group to another starting with the original Ásatrú Free Assembly in 1975 to the Hamburger Stammtisch. Over my rather long journey I've encountered Europeans who've either denied Americans the status of heathen or who've at least thought about 'the puzzle of the American-Heathens.'

The argument goes like this: the gods of the Germanic peoples sprang from and grew to power from the soil of Europe (or Scandinavia depending on the nationality of the arguer). How, then, can American-Heathens claim any right to be heathen at all since the Germanic gods are part and parcel to the European continent? While it is true that North America is only 500+ yrs. old if one uses Columbus as a rule or 1000+ yrs. old if one goes with the Vinland Colony rule. Iceland was settled 125 yrs. and Greenand about 50 yrs. earlier than the Vinland Colony.

Never in its history was Iceland ever completely heathen; there were Christians there from a time even before Scandinavian settlers, i.e. Irish monks. The method for heathenizing the new island is generally accepted as the process of 'land-taking' by Scandinavian immigrants, and the method varied but seems to have involved on the one hand of bringing something from the old hof in Norway; on the other hand, there may have been other ritualistic formats of 'laying claim to the fresh land by carrying fire around it or plowing over the course of a day. Whether this was the case for Greenland, though, or later in the Vinland colony is not recorded, but according to the sagaic literature, settlers carried heathenry with them to to both places.

What is curious, though, is that the Icelanders laid less importance on the ritualistic land-taking for Greenland and Vinland than they did in sagas of the settling of their own land. Perhaps they regarded the Greenlanders as somewhat rogues, outlaws and undesirable? (There are indications in the literature that this was at least somewhat true.) Perhaps the larger percentage of Christians in Greenland made the conducting of the ritual land-taking less important or maybe even problematic? In any case, land-taking was very important for the settling of Iceland and and essentially non-existent for later colonies.

The Migration Era, when Germanic tribes were wandering the main continent, seems to have been devoid of land-taking rituals. At least, these were not brought up by any Roman historians. Most likely because tribal movement and politics of the time were not so much focused on land and settlement but rather on warring, alliance building, etc. that there was little need for ritual land-taking. (I haven't done a thorough research re this, so should someone have info otherwise, please post the corrections.)

The 'American-enigma' was a popular forum topic between 1995 up through about 2003 or so, and much of the arguments at the time seemed to center around the idea that North America was never dedicated to the heathen gods. Much of this was resolved over the years, but part of the problem continues today as well, and seems to be focused around “if the gods are viewed as belonging to the soil of the region, how, then can each god be both of European soil and American?” In fact this came up on another list which got me wondering and hence this long post.

Part of the problem, I think, may lie in the fact that in many ways we still have leftovers from North America and Europe's long Christian history. In both continents, Christianity has colored the fundamentals of all 'religious reasoning' (if there really can be such a thing). This problem of getting rid of these leftovers while at the same time rebuilding the Germanic-folkways has been and probably will be ongoing. One of these leftovers, I think, is how a god is conceptualized.

Case in point: while the word 'God' is translated into all sorts of languages the Hebrew name of their god, IHVH, is not. In other words, the assumption is that the god called IHVH is the same the world over. That, in fact, is the nature of a popular proselytizing religion like Christianity. Given the popularity of Christianity in Europe and the Americas it is understandable how their thinking colored the modern heathen idea that Thor, for example, is the same the world over and ultimately results in the 'American-enigma.'

Curiously, the name Thor, unlike the Hebrew 'IHVH,' varies significantly from land to land and time to time: Dunner, Donar, Thor, and there even seem to be European counterparts among Poles, Prussian, Celts, Balts, Saami, etc. The questions came to me while posting on another group “What if our modern concept of a god has been, without thinking, assumed from Christianity?” and “What if their concept doesn't really apply to an ethnic folkway?” and “What might be the alternative?” In fact, what if the reasoning we've assumed from the Religious Right is flat out wrong?

For the sake of the argument, let's toss out the common concept of what a god is and look at the left over pieces.
1) Among Germanic peoples, a Thor-like being exists from Roman occupation onward.
2) The being has similar iconographs and often similar names.
3) These characteristics/ names shift from time to time and place to place.
4) There are enough differences between these Thor characteristics and surrounding folk traditions that they on the other hand appear to be separate entities.
What if heathens carried in their worldview not so much the being of the god but rather the title/ role? Through worship and results, the role is filled and the folk are satisfied.

Playing around with the idea a while, I realized that such a model could go a long way to explain
1. why the differing names for what appear to be the same or a similar god-concept,
2. how the tribes during the Migration Era, the Greenlanders, and Vinlanders got by without without ritual land-taking,
3. why different areas seemed to have honored different clusters of gods,
4. why low mythologies differed greatly from region to region,
5. how a goddess like Frau Holle could seemingly spring up from nowhere,
6. how a goddess like Percht could have a mixture of Frigg-like characteristics but also many from Babayaga,
7. lastly, how modern heathenry is as much American as European.
I realize that this model sounds much like Georges Dumézil's tripartite model for Indo-Europeans but I never felt his model could be applied across the board for Germanic peoples as this model does nor could his easily handle the border-zones.

The next question is that if such a 'god-concept' is proposed as being part of an ethnic folkway, are there correlations in real life which can be studied or already have been studied? The New Mexican pueblo tribes provide us with a modern example of these very processes in play. With the exception of Apache and Navajo, the tribes are linked by language and culture, and spiritual praxis. Each pueblo has its own distinct language, culture, and the religious practice is similar but very distinct as well. Some pueblos have their own rituals belonging to no other. They are various branches developing separately from one another yet they share the same early ancestors. Uno Holmberg in his Finno-Ugric Mythology found similar processes in place for many of the tribes occupying the eastern flanks of the Ural Mtns. The processes seem to have been in place historically and continue today within the borders of NMex.

Tossing out the idea of a universal god borrowed obviously from Christianity and taking a deep look into what it means to be a part of an ethnic folkway can bring a lot of simple explanations to the table for what have been puzzling questions over the past 20 yrs. in regards to the building of modern heathenry based on reconstructionist principles.

Just some thoughts,
lewwe woohl un faahr mit de Gedder,
bil
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bil
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez Szerszen » wtorek, 21 sierpnia 2012, 23:15

At first, I am far away from any state, that "American" can't be heathen.

bil napisał(a):....
Curiously, the name Thor, unlike the Hebrew 'IHVH,' varies significantly from land to land and time to time: Dunner, Donar, Thor, and there even seem to be European counterparts among Poles, Prussian, Celts, Balts, Saami, etc. The questions came to me while posting on another group “What if our modern concept of a god has been, without thinking, assumed from Christianity?” and “What if their concept doesn't really apply to an ethnic folkway?” and “What might be the alternative?” In fact, what if the reasoning we've assumed from the Religious Right is flat out wrong?

For the sake of the argument, let's toss out the common concept of what a god is and look at the left over pieces.
1) Among Germanic peoples, a Thor-like being exists from Roman occupation onward.
2) The being has similar iconographs and often similar names.
3) These characteristics/ names shift from time to time and place to place.
4) There are enough differences between these Thor characteristics and surrounding folk traditions that they on the other hand appear to be separate entities.
What if heathens carried in their worldview not so much the being of the god but rather the title/ role? Through worship and results, the role is filled and the folk are satisfied.


I fully agree with 1, 2 and 3... but 4 is for me too far away thesis. The differences in looking at the same entity don't create from it different entity.
There is an old tale about blinded scientists who were studying an elephant - one was catch the trunk and said - "it's a snake", second catch it's leg and said "no, it's a tree", third catch it's ear ans said "no, it's a leaf". IMHO the same is with Thor and the rest of our gods - we can only recognize part of their powers, so we have different point of view on them, but they are still the same entities. The Woden had a lot of names in mythology, and it didn't create from him "a lot of entities" (story about him as probably "imported god and created from few others is another long story).

Playing around with the idea a while, I realized that such a model could go a long way to explain
1. why the differing names for what appear to be the same or a similar god-concept,
2. how the tribes during the Migration Era, the Greenlanders, and Vinlanders got by without without ritual land-taking,
3. why different areas seemed to have honored different clusters of gods,
4. why low mythologies differed greatly from region to region,
5. how a goddess like Frau Holle could seemingly spring up from nowhere,
6. how a goddess like Percht could have a mixture of Frigg-like characteristics but also many from Babayaga,
7. lastly, how modern heathenry is as much American as European.
I realize that this model sounds much like Georges Dumézil's tripartite model for Indo-Europeans but I never felt his model could be applied across the board for Germanic peoples as this model does nor could his easily handle the border-zones.


In many cases, the answer for above points is the same as in below "pueblo model" - heathenry was never codified religion - there were differences depending on tribe, region, time (in global meaning) and natural conditions - in effect the more real is sayon about set of believes and religions than about "one religion of german tribes", but it still don't create the need (from my opinion) to say that "continental Donar" and "icelandic Thor" are different entities - there were of course different needs from people on Iceland and different from people on continent, but it still don't create different god (but it's enough for having different local wights and landvaettir).
Of course - there is possibility, that enough powered local entity is growing in it's mythology to the "level of god" (or deity from neighbouring believs) - as example Frau Holle, Percht... even Ostara. There is possibilty too, that some of gods just have no sense in certain regions (as example Njord in the middle of the Europe), so this is the reason why the pantheons are differing in differ regions. The same problem is with melting the gods in one - as example the role of "wife of the Odin"- in some regions it was Frigg and in another it was just Freya and then Frigg didn't appear in the local pantheon.


The next question is that if such a 'god-concept' is proposed as being part of an ethnic folkway, are there correlations in real life which can be studied or already have been studied? The New Mexican pueblo tribes provide us with a modern example of these very processes in play. With the exception of Apache and Navajo, the tribes are linked by language and culture, and spiritual praxis. Each pueblo has its own distinct language, culture, and the religious practice is similar but very distinct as well. Some pueblos have their own rituals belonging to no other. They are various branches developing separately from one another yet they share the same early ancestors. Uno Holmberg in his Finno-Ugric Mythology found similar processes in place for many of the tribes occupying the eastern flanks of the Ural Mtns. The processes seem to have been in place historically and continue today within the borders of NMex.

Tossing out the idea of a universal god borrowed obviously from Christianity and taking a deep look into what it means to be a part of an ethnic folkway can bring a lot of simple explanations to the table for what have been puzzling questions over the past 20 yrs. in regards to the building of modern heathenry based on reconstructionist principles.


I have feeling, that we understand in different manner the word "universal" - and this is the point of our misunderstood.
In any way, thank you for your words - it's good to have possibility to compare different points of view for the same things.
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez Isa » środa, 22 sierpnia 2012, 00:15

Little offtop, but somehow connected with the topic of being or not being classified as heathen because of origin. (I am not going to join you to discussion about nature of the gods).

This (and previous) conversation was focused on the land. And the land is not the only important thing here. The second one is a blood. And I'm quite sure, we all have crazy mixed genotypes. None of us (or almost none, I guess, we don't have to many nobles with old pedigrees here) is able to say, who was his/her ancestor in 11th century.

If I lived in Ghana, I would be still Pole. If I had Swedish greatgrandfather, I would have a little of Swedish blood (mixed with bigger part of Polish blood). Conclusion? It is quite possible after centuries of interbreeding, that we actually have Germanic ancestors - no matter where we live now - and we have Germanic origin. A Germanic blood. A Germanic lineage. And I am quite sure, I don't have to explain, what does it mean in Heathenry: in this case those gods are our ancestors' gods. In this context, what is our nationality now, it is just meaningless.
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez bil » środa, 22 sierpnia 2012, 02:01

Szerszen napisał(a):At first, I am far away from any state, that "American" can't be heathen.

bil napisał(a):4) There are enough differences between these Thor characteristics and surrounding folk traditions that they on the other hand appear to be separate entities.
What if heathens carried in their worldview not so much the being of the god but rather the title/ role? Through worship and results, the role is filled and the folk are satisfied.


I fully agree with 1, 2 and 3... but 4 is for me too far away thesis. The differences in looking at the same entity don't create from it different entity.
There is an old tale about blinded scientists who were studying an elephant - one was catch the trunk and said - "it's a snake", second catch it's leg and said "no, it's a tree", third catch it's ear ans said "no, it's a leaf". IMHO the same is with Thor and the rest of our gods - we can only recognize part of their powers, so we have different point of view on them, but they are still the same entities. The Woden had a lot of names in mythology, and it didn't create from him "a lot of entities" (story about him as probably "imported god and created from few others is another long story).


In looking at ethnic folkways around the world one finds essentially a common defining point: the folkway = family/ community + land + gods. What happens is that the folk petition the gods, for example here in the SW USA, re the welfare of both land and folk. Our needs, therefore our petitions, are so vastly different from folks in the NE USA and our methods for petitioning, and our results that there is very little chance that any of us could successfully break into the triad of NE USA family/ folk, land, gods. For us everything is completely different: the reason for the blót (we are high desert), how the blót is conducted, even the name of the god. Even though there are some similarities (like we all can speak English), we New Mexicans are 3380 km from Maine. The distance from Reykjavik to Warsaw is only 2773 km.

Playing around with the idea a while, I realized that such a model could go a long way to explain
1. why the differing names for what appear to be the same or a similar god-concept,
2. how the tribes during the Migration Era, the Greenlanders, and Vinlanders got by without without ritual land-taking,
3. why different areas seemed to have honored different clusters of gods,
4. why low mythologies differed greatly from region to region,
5. how a goddess like Frau Holle could seemingly spring up from nowhere,
6. how a goddess like Percht could have a mixture of Frigg-like characteristics but also many from Babayaga,
7. lastly, how modern heathenry is as much American as European.
I realize that this model sounds much like Georges Dumézil's tripartite model for Indo-Europeans but I never felt his model could be applied across the board for Germanic peoples as this model does nor could his easily handle the border-zones.


In many cases, the answer for above points is the same as in below "pueblo model" - heathenry was never codified religion - there were differences depending on tribe, region, time (in global meaning) and natural conditions - in effect the more real is sayon about set of believes and religions than about "one religion of german tribes", but it still don't create the need (from my opinion) to say that "continental Donar" and "icelandic Thor" are different entities - there were of course different needs from people on Iceland and different from people on continent, but it still don't create different god (but it's enough for having different local wights and landvaettir).


The pueblo model was brought up for convenience because the State of New Mexico is essentially the size of Germany. We are really discussing the overlaps (borderzones) of Europe as well. Our group has been discussing a region ca. 10 BCE which would encompass everything from the Alps, to the Urals, to Scandinavia including Iceland to the Iberian peninsula. Overlaps between Celt, Slav, Balt, Germanic, and Finno-Ugric has resulted in some very interesting but documented overlaps to the point, when we have written documentation, we can see overlap of function of the gods but not necessarily continuity of name. The question, then, getting back to Thor, are we to treat all thunder gods as Thor, or do we, as I am suggesting, talk only of the thunder god of such-and-such group? We are discussing large areas and large periods of time. The evidence that these really are a continuous stream of the same god is sorely lacking. When we do this we have a list that looks like this:
Prenj
Montenegrin perun
Perperuna
Perkūnas
Perkwunos
Thor
Veles
Varpulis
Saint Elijah the Thunderer

It is difficult for me to say that these are the same god (unless I'm a Wiccan). So, what I am pointing out is that because of large differences in region, language, culture, need, environment that perhaps the germanic god-function, Thor, was carried by Germanics to different regions, and that the being, called Thor, was restricted by his worshipers and by the actual need of the worshipers in the region.

I have feeling, that we understand in different manner the word "universal" - and this is the point of our misunderstood.
In any way, thank you for your words - it's good to have possibility to compare different points of view for the same things.


The only reason I brought the thing up is because there seem to be these 'puzzles' like 'how can Americans, consider themselves heathen,'or 'how can you participate in a blót in a foreign country,' or 'how does one regard land wights that might be related to the Native American heritage?' I've puzzled over them as well. Growing up as a German-American in a Polish-German community, I asked myself similar questions. I think there is continuity between all the groups I mentioned both over time and space (the pueblo example), and that closely related peoples understanding one another, but distance and time creates a difficulty in understanding. As a consequence I feel satisfied that we, as heathens, are dealing with similar god-functions but that I, personally, am incapable of understanding the precious relationships between my Stammtischgbrüder/ Gemeinschaft und die Götter because I understand mainly my own. I could not function in their setting without serious assistance, but I know how to function and behave here. To me, the gods of my Stammtischgebrüder operate so differently that I would have to become a member of the community for several years to understand it. They are different gods to me, but we are kin.

lewwe woohl un faahr mit de Gedder,
bil
lewwe woohl un fahr mit de Gedder,
bil
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez bil » środa, 22 sierpnia 2012, 15:01

Isa napisał(a):Little offtop, but somehow connected with the topic of being or not being classified as heathen because of origin. (I am not going to join you to discussion about nature of the gods).

This (and previous) conversation was focused on the land. And the land is not the only important thing here. The second one is a blood. And I'm quite sure, we all have crazy mixed genotypes. None of us (or almost none, I guess, we don't have to many nobles with old pedigrees here) is able to say, who was his/her ancestor in 11th century.


I would say 'maybe.' Mathematically, the numbers double each generation: 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 16 great grandparents, 32 great great grandparents and so on. If I trace only the male line, for example, it still doubles: 1 dad, 2 grandfathers, 4 great grandfathers, 16 great great grandfathers and so on. When one considers there are 4-5 generations per century, well, the actual blood mixes become quickly meaningless.

Genetically, it's not much better. 90% of Icelanders are a mix of Celt and Norse. DNA mapping of ancient lines in Europe shows a lot of mixing anciently probably due to the Migration era. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_history_of_Europe Even the genetic mixtures in Poland and Germany are quite diverse just considering the Y DNA: http://ask.inwiki.org/images/3/30/Mapbp0fz1.jpg

Of course, we have racist idiots here who can't understand genealogy or DNA mapping and who think that inbreeding is the way to go. Actually, most of them seem to be a product of inbreeding judging by their poor command of logic and language. :-?

I think how one's family allied itself is probably of greatest importance. My family considered itself American since ca. 1870 CE but remained German, German-American, specifically. Genetically, we have bits and pieces from French, Scottish, Native American, Polish, German, and probably a bunch of other stuff that I don't care about. What is important to me is the fact that I was raised German-American within a German- & Polish-American community by a GA dad who was raised the same way and a mother who had to give up being a French Canadian-American and adopt the GA culture.


Isa napisał(a):If I lived in Ghana, I would be still Pole. If I had Swedish greatgrandfather, I would have a little of Swedish blood (mixed with bigger part of Polish blood). Conclusion? It is quite possible after centuries of interbreeding, that we actually have Germanic ancestors - no matter where we live now - and we have Germanic origin. A Germanic blood. A Germanic lineage. And I am quite sure, I don't have to explain, what does it mean in Heathenry: in this case those gods are our ancestors' gods. In this context, what is our nationality now, it is just meaningless.


Agreed. No matter where I move to the culture/ ethnicity I was raised with remains. I am a G-A (formerly called Linzinski) living in the SW USA and feel completely comfortable. I can't easyily change who I was raised to be.

lewwe woohl un faahr mit de Gedder,
bil
lewwe woohl un fahr mit de Gedder,
bil
bil
 
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez bil » środa, 22 sierpnia 2012, 15:04

Of course, we have racist idiots here who can't understand genealogy or DNA mapping and who think that inbreeding is the way to go. Actually, most of them seem to be a product of inbreeding judging by their poor command of logic and language.


Note: I'm speaking of 'here' as 'in the USA.'
lewwe woohl un fahr mit de Gedder,
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez Szerszen » środa, 22 sierpnia 2012, 16:02

bil napisał(a): The question, then, getting back to Thor, are we to treat all thunder gods as Thor, or do we, as I am suggesting, talk only of the thunder god of such-and-such group? We are discussing large areas and large periods of time. The evidence that these really are a continuous stream of the same god is sorely lacking. When we do this we have a list that looks like this:
Prenj
Montenegrin perun
Perperuna
Perkūnas
Perkwunos
Thor
Veles
Varpulis
Saint Elijah the Thunderer

It is difficult for me to say that these are the same god (unless I'm a Wiccan). So, what I am pointing out is that because of large differences in region, language, culture, need, environment that perhaps the germanic god-function, Thor, was carried by Germanics to different regions, and that the being, called Thor, was restricted by his worshipers and by the actual need of the worshipers in the region.


I can only fully agree with that - there is possibility that many beings are "thunder god" but we as a heathens just are familiarized with Thor/Donar
It don't exclude Veles, Perkun and others from existing - like, sorry for simply example - there are many dogs in many houses and every dog has his owner and house to defense.
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Re: what is a god? -- a workable model

Postprzez bil » niedziela, 16 września 2012, 15:26

Here's another point or analogy:

Trees are a big thing in Germanic mythologies. Here's a mind-experiment:

Let's say a German heathen cult/ hof has a yew tree that is an important feature of the hof; it is where the sacrifices are laid after the slaughter, but, now, a portion of the cult center is bent on migrating, say, to Keystone, South Dakota. Do they chop the tree down and haul it with, or do they lovingly gather a packet of seeds to take with? If they plant the seeds in the middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota, will the tree be the same? As the tree grows and is nurtured, does it look the same as in the homeland? Given that the environment is different, the locale, the languages, the surrounding cultures, the prevailing weather, will the tree mean exactly the same as the one did within the original cult? Would they ever claim that they brought 'the original' with them? Would they consider the tree to belong to the 'homeland' or belong to their home now?

I ran these questions through my pea-brain and came up with a different model than we as heathens have used up to this point for the most part. As stated, my model answers far more questions than the model I inherited when I first became a heathen 43 yrs. back. For me, the new model even explains the historical existence of mixed cults in borderzones such as in the Alps, the Germano-Celtic, Germano-Balt, Finno-Swede, etc.

I also must consider the responses by the people when their 'sacred trees' were cut down like the 'Donnereiche' (Thor's oak) or the Irminsul of the Saxons. A friend of mine, Erick Lacharity, wrote an article re this practice and responses by the folk in Óðroerir.

Given that early Germanic folks had a penchant for treating their cultic idols as gods, my model appears to be a closer fit than if we assume that the ancient definition of a god was the same as today's. A god can be seen as a function of the local family/ community-land-regin triad without interfering with either local or country-wide praxis. The Germanic view of community as recorded in the literary records (both Germanic Sagas as well as foreign historians) would indicate that rather than being country- or nation-centric, they saw the world as family/ community-centric as being the 'center of the world' a related to the rest of the world in ever-widening concentric circles of trust and friendship, both of which decreased in trust as the circles became further from home. The regin then should naturally be viewed as local rather than somehow 'universal' as we were taught at the knee of our Christian forefathers.

Regarding a god as a function (in the overall picture of Germanic religions) means that the 'god-functions' can be carefully packed, brought to a new place and planted to sprout from the moist mother earth of the new homeland. The purpose solely being to fill a need of the people; however, it will be recognized, I think, that the needs won't necessarily be exactly the same or in the same proportions -- my model, then, allows the family/ community -- land -- god triad to grow together as a single, new homeland whether that be in America, Canada, Australia, Finnland, France, South Africa, or Brazil. With such a model, Germanic heathenry could spring up in any region spontaneously, and the adherents of the new local cult can feel rest-assured that the gods are local while also feeling assured that they are participating in their own history and utilizing another piece of the ancient worldview.

I think the model matches fairly well with evidence that we have from literary and archeoligical records as well and it certainly is useful when modern heathens are trying to understand these ancient worldviews of our ancestors.

bloos en Paar Gdanke meh,
lewwe woohl un faahr mit de Gedder,
bil

[Fixed bad link. KozioU]
lewwe woohl un fahr mit de Gedder,
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bil
 
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