So we’ve talked a lot about Marxism and anti-fascism lately, but one of the things G&R mentioned in their “Confronting” was the idea of “imperialism” and “colonization. Now, despite making a fairly big deal about it (along with feminism), there hasn’t really been much in the way of “anti-colonial” stuff to talk about over on G&R. But, while flipping through the “polytheist” tag here on wordpress, I did find an article that will let us talk about it.
This article is by Heather Awen, I believe. I have no idea who that is, if she’s tied to G&R (I don’t think so), or anything like that. But we’re not here to talk about her, so we’ll leave her out of it as best we can. So let’s look at this post.
From an email discussion .
Note: This lore is based on writing by an Icelandic Christian whose own religion made the world divided into good versus evil and would not have explained the necessity of having three different tribes of Goddesses and Gods, much less the historical changes as Heathens learned the Christian hatred and terror about women of the time. I don’t believe this is the normal attitude between the these two tribes in different times and places. But for the Christian Viking era? Probably.
So, first thing, Heathens of old did not have a Good vs Evil mindset. They did, however, tend to have a very Order vs Chaos mindset instead. Traditionally, the Aesir (and Vanir) represented the ideas of Order and things that brought order to the universe. The Jotuns, however, were beings of Chaos, and represented the forces of unbridled nature in its most destructive forms.
I will also point out that there were not “three different tribes of Gods and Goddesses” in Germanic religion. The Aesir were Gods. The Vanir were pretty much Gods, though there is some debate as to if they were “gods” or if they were more akin to the “High Fae” found in Celtic mythology. The Jotuns were not Gods, they were instead Giants. Now, most modern people here of immortal beings who have abilities over domains and think they are all “Gods,” but this isn’t exactly true. Most of those beings we consider Gods are not, in fact “Gods.” The best way to explain it is that the Germanic Aesir were “Gods” (Gods being their Race/Species), and that word was then used to describe beings of similar nature and effect, despite the fact that the beings all had their own racial identity (Deus for the Olypians, Fae for the Celts, Kami for the Japanese, etc). This does not mean that any of these groups is more or less Divine than the others (I would certainly say the high fae of Celtic religion are as strong as the Deus of Roman religion), it just means that they are different peoples, like the French and English are both humans, but one does not call a Frenchman an Englishman. But as texts were translated, the name of one divine group was spread about to describe all divine groups so that people would know what those other groups “Were.”
So there are at best, two tribes of Gods in Germanic religion, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Jotuns, though being primordial beings of inherent power and like nature to the Gods, were not considered Gods themselves, they were Jotuns.
So let’s get to the article proper.
The Aesir men have relationships sexually with Giants but many of them are rape and most others manipulation to use them. None appear loving and none lead to marriage. The men are killed. This is really colonialist behavior. …
And…I see were jumping right into prejudicial language and ignoring recorded texts completely where they do not suit our desires.
Yes, there are records of the male Aesir having relationships with female Jotuns. However, there are records of female Jotuns tricking male Aesir both into relationships and cockblocking them as well (there’s at least one story of Odin thinking he had seduced a Jotun maiden only to be met with a goat at the place they were supposed to make love). There’s also stories of the Jotuns attempting to do much the same with Aesir women. A good percentage of the stories involve Jotuns trying one trick or another go gain an Aesir woman as a wife, generally without her consent and completely against her will (Freya often being a target of this behavior due to her great beauty).
This also completely ignores the fact that Loki, Odin’s blood brother and best friend, was a Jotun who was married to an Aesir woman and had a couple sons. This ignores Skadi, a Jotun woman granted an Aesir for her husband as recompense for the slaying of her Father (after he had tried to engineer a marriage to Freya, if I recall correctly).
Now, is this behavior “colonialist?” Well…no. This was actually standard behavior back in the day for everyone, Gods and mortals. People weren’t trying to colonize each other, they were competing with each other, trying to kill the other side’s warriors, and yes, try and get the most beautiful and healthy women over to their tribe in an attempt to make themselves stronger.
There are no records, however, of the Aesir ever attempting to colonize or settle on Jotunheim. They might have raided that realm, just as the Jotuns raided Asgard. So inter-tribal violence? Yes. Colonization…not so far.
…The Aesir treat to the giants the same way that colonialists treat natives, kill the men, kill the women – unless you want to inflict more harm and then rape them or lie to them and steal from them and abandon them. This is how Viking raiding would be. The later wave of Indo-European warriors who worshiped the sky Gods had that type of relationship with the indigenous people while their Gods had same relationship with the indigenous peoples’ Gods.
That’s…not exactly how Viking raiding would be. Viking raiding certainly did involve its fair share of rape, and slavery, and killing, but the primary focus of “raiding” was to hit soft targets and steal anything of wealth, or when they could, charge the potential nation a shit ton of money so that they wouldn’t hit the soft targets and go about killing and raping.
Not exactly colonialist behavior. Now certainly, as time went on Norse peoples did settle in lands and “colonize” them to an extent, but that didn’t always involve as much murder and rape as the raiding.
I’m not sure who this “later wave of Indo-European sky worshipers” is supposed to be. Does the author mean the Christian Spanish, French, English, and other peoples who went off to settle the Americas and elsewhere in actual colonies? In which case that doesn’t really have much to do with Aesir-Jotun relationships.
War often includes raping “the enemies’ women,” the sense of sexual ownership of the women of that tribe. Those who studied Native American nations that raid other nations for women came to the conclusion that Stockholm Syndrome, bonds of love towards your captor, was necessary psychologically for these women to survive their new lives.
So wait, people of color can be colonizers as well and engage in colonialist behavior? I thought that wasn’t possible and that only evil white people did that. Well, thanks Heather, at least you are wise enough to see that anyone is capable of this.
But to be frank…this is talking about Native American tribes and their warfare…not Aesir vs Jotun warfare. I will completely agree that war has often included raping the enemies women, but I’m not sure that has as much to do with “sexual ownership of the enemy women,” as it does a desire to completely wreck the other tribe (I mean, rape is supposed to be about power, not lust, so…?) in any way possible so that they can’t come hurt your tribe. Not that it tends to work all that well…
The impregnated women would have the colonists’ children. In patriarchy where the father determines the offspring’s clan, the Jotun mother/Aesir father child would be Aesir. Historically with colonialism there is the movement to make the child hate the part of them that is native or “savage” or “primitive,” to be able to “pass.”…
Except…there isn’t really much of any of that recorded in the Lore. There’s not a lot of Lore about the Aesir raping Jotun women (in fact, most lore about that tends to be it was fairly consensual), theres a large number of Aesir/Jotun gods where in there’s nothing said about them hating the Jotuns or trying to pass for Aesir, and this also completely ignores at least three full blooded Jotuns who were made Gods that the Aesir never treated as anything less than full members of the tribe (Skadi, Hela, and Loki, the latter of whom did get a lot of shit from the Aesir, but that was for his malevolent tricks, not his blood).
Even Thor, born to Aesir and Jotun, and primary fighter against the Jotun, didn’t hate them for being the lesser part of his heritage he’d been trained to hate, but hated them for the harm they kept doing to the Aesir and the humans.
…Thor’s killing of Jotun although his mother is Jord, the actual world, is Jotun fits into the “Go with Daddy” dynamic…
Except…it doesn’t. If you read the Lore involving Thor, there’s very little, if any “go with daddy’s tribe” dynamic at all. When Thor goes out to fight Jotuns, it’s always because they have recently attacked Asgard, because they are presently attacking Asgard, or he was out on a walkabout and one of them decided to mess with him or try and kill him. At which point, Thor starts killing Jotuns.
That’s not “colonialist” behavior, that’s normal old defending yourself or your tribe behavior. There’s a large number of stories in the Lore of the Jotuns either trying to kill all the Aesir and take over Asgard, simply invade Asgard, or do something involving violence towards Asgard. There’s not much in the way of stories of the Aesier ever trying to take over Jotunheim or trying to colonize it. If anything, there’s a better case for the Jotuns being colonizers using Heather’s criteria than there is the Aesir doing it if you go by the Lore.
…How odd that this matches much of the feminist Paganism I spent my teenage years studying because I tossed it out baby with bathwater when the Great Goddess theory was proven wrong. I had never read anything about the Aesir raping Jotun or this matching the experience of colonized people, but this verges close to some of my education. While there was no massive pacifist Great Goddess matrilineal agricultural culture* ruined by Indo-European pastoralists, the mythology of the three tribes of Deities – Jotun, Vanir and Aesir – does appear to match Scandinavian/Northern German historical events. The way the Aesir treat the Jotun fits a colonial model.
Not it doesn’t.
To colonize something is to basically leave your original home and settle in a new land to replicate your home nation’s culture and beliefs. For example, the Pilgrims were colonizers, because they left England and yet created an English settlement in America.
The Aesir are never recorded as leaving Asgard to go set up an Asgardian settlement on Jotunheim. If anything, the Jotuns are recorded as having attempted to do so on Asgard, except they got themselves killed every time. In fact, the same could be postulated about the Vanir (we’ll get to that in a minute).
Now, do the Aesir, Vanir, and Jotun relations appear to match historical events in Europe? Possibly, but then again they would appear to match the historical events of any three armed groups who find themselves in conflict with each other around the world. War is kinda universal, so is migration and the conflicts that arise from it, and even just tribal behaviors between competing groups. That the actions of the Gods mirrors the actions of mortals doesn’t automatically mean that the actions are the same actions or that one group is “colonizing” the other group.
The Vanir however are more complicated, speaking to a different cultural situation…
I’m just going to go ahead and translate this to mean “the Vanir shoot a giant hole in my intended scourging of the Aesir as colonizers, so I’m not going to talk about them).
Why? Well, let’s look at the Aesir v. Vanir war and its consequences.
There is almost nothing known about the war between the Aesir and the Vanir. What we do know is that the Aesir tend to be Gods of a more “Civilization” bent (not unlike the Olympians) and that the Vanir tend to be Gods of a more “Nature” bent (not unlike the High Fae). We know there was a war, but despite what had to be an epic set of battles none of them are recorded except for a very basic outline of the last battle, where the Aesir are driving inside Asgards walls, are on the defensive, Freya tears down the Walls of Asgard (thought to be indestructible up until that point) by herself and then…there’s a battle and at the end the Vanir sue for peace, their King, Prince, and Princess come live with the Aesir, a couple of the more notable Aesir go live with the Vanir and…that’s it.
Outside of Ragnarok, that War honestly sounds like one of the most Epic fights in all of religious lore. You’d think a people as loving of battle as the Germanics, and Gods as loving of battle as the Aesir, would spread tales of that war far and wide because of how epic it sounds in concept…but they didn’t. Even if you ask them today, the Aesir and the Vanir will pretty much shut up tighter than black holes. Even Jotuns like Skadi and Hel will not talk about it except in very discrete ways.
Here’s my conjecture about it, from what little was recorded and the major differences between the Aesir and Vanir vs other Pantheons.
- The Vanir started it.
I can’t really put it into words, but this is just an impression I have. The fact that the only recorded battle is the last one, with the Aesir on the defensive, just pushes me in this direction. Why did it start? Probably for any of the usual reasons wars between Germanic peoples started. Someone insulted someone else, there was a land dispute, who knows. The fact that the original reason isn’t recorded to my knowledge tells me that it was buried for a reason.
Now, it is recorded that Aesir marched on the Vanir and that Odin threw the first spear, but that the Vanir were well prepared. It’s easy to assume that because Odin attacked first, the Aesir were responsible. However, if you’ve ever seen or read the 13th Warrior or any number of other original or derived Norse stories, you will note that it was very easy to force someone to fight you by insulting them and making them throw the first punch. There’s an old Germanic law that states two insults can be recompensed, but a third must be answered in blood. I suspect something like that happened, hence why we don’t know what started it. Perhaps the Vanir are too ashamed of the insults they used, and the Aesir to humiliated by them to repeat them.
If you look at a lot of Roman wars, it’s much the same. Rome is there, someone feels threatened or insulted, attacks Rome, and then Rome stomps the hell out of them.
Regardless, it seems that despite Odin throwing the first spear, the Vanir stomped the shit out of the Aesir all the way to Asgard’s walls.
2. The Climax of the Battle was a Massacre.
Freya tore down the impregnable walls of Asgard all by herself. This should tell you just how sure the Vanir were of winning. One of their people was enough to destroy the indestructible. We know this event, we know the Aesir were backed into a corner…and then the next thing we really know is that there’s peace. That there’s almost no named Vanir left and their own King moves in with the Aesir along side his children, one of whom was the Goddess that tore down Asgard’s defenses.
There are virtually no Named Vanir left.
The number of Named Aesir is incredibly limited.
If you look up Norse Gods there’s maybe forty or fifty of them counting both Aesir and Vanir. If you look up other pantheons though, like the Greek and Roman, there’s hundreds. The Olympian pantheon, especially under Rome, had Gods and Goddesses for everything, right down to hinges. If you look at other pantheons there’s typically a large number. And the Average God or Goddess has maybe one or two domains that they cover. Three or four if they’re a major God or Goddess.
Your average Aesir or Vanir God or Goddess tends to have between 5-10 domains, even the minor deities.
Now, one might dismiss this as cultural to the Germanics, but I’ve been studying “deusology” for a while and Domains are serious business. Not only is a God of a Domain responsible for creating the existence of that domain, that domain shapes them and has a lot of power over who they are. Too many domains, especially ones that contradict each other, can weaken a God (by canceling out) or drive them mad (as they try to uphold both domains).
I think that before the War, the Aesir and the Vanir were both much larger tribes, filled with a lot more Gods and Goddesses each. And I think that whatever happened to end the war killed the vast majority of them. Leaving all their domains wild, chaotic, uncontrolled, and possibly threatening to unravel all of existence. I mean, imagine if there was a war so great that things like Light, Gravity, Photosynthesis, and other natural things we rely on were suddenly…Gone. Basically…think Ragnarok.
If the Aesir/Vanir war was basically Ragnarok that got stopped at the last moment, it would explain why Odin’s single driving quest throughout all of the Lore is to prevent Ragnarok. Not because he feared the prophecy, but because he had lived through something that nearly was the destruction of everything in existence. So the Aesir and the Vanir all snatched up as many domains as they could handle safely and sanely and bound themselves together in a single pantheon to try and stabilize everything.
3. It might Explain why the Jotuns keep attacking Asgard.
Imagine sitting on your world and watching the universe unmake itself. Imagine that you’re an immortal being with unfathomable power and you’re completely helpless to stop everything from ending. You watch the heavens themselves tear apart in showers of light and magic and all you can hear is the dying screams of your people as forces fundamental for life either wink out of existence, or go so wild that even your command of them isn’t enough to save you.
How terrifying would that be?
Now imagine that by the smallest of chances, the war stops. The two sides, so devastated by their war, have to come together and live in peace, regardless of whatever hatred or insults or war crimes happened…simply to hold the universe together. (I mean, we’re talking about “Germanic” Gods here, the type of people who don’t let anything slide, who had just watched nearly both their races be annihilated by each other, everyone you loved killed by the other side so completely that nearly both peoples are extinct, and you have to live with each other without any violence what so ever for the rest of existence with no chance of revenge at all, or else everything dies). And you, on your world, see the power that nearly destroyed everything all in one place.
What would you do?
Would you try any means at all to make sure that power was destroyed? I mentioned that Jotuns tended to want Freya as their wife. It wasn’t just her Beauty, it was her power. She destroyed Asgard’s defenses all by herself. Imagine if the Jotuns could have that power. They could destroy the Aesir and Vanir in one go, make sure that they never destroyed the universe again. Another favorite target of the Jotuns was Idunn, the Goddess who helped the Aesire and Vanir retain their youth and vitality. Cap her, and the Aesir and Vanir fall.
Not only does the Lore not support the idea of the Aesir attempting to colonize the Jotuns, the Lore shows the Jotuns every action was to destroy the Aesir post the Vanic war, despite the fact that the Aesir never attempted to colonize the Jotuns or any other of the Nine Worlds, (even if they did kill Jotuns a lot post the Wall Builder incident).
At least, that’s my theory.
Now, some may be wondering why Heather is trying to argue that the Aesir were “colonialists” towards the Jotun when there’s no evidence that the Aesir ever attempted to colonize Jotunheim or it’s people, and some evidence that points the other way around.
Here’s my thing, there’s this idea that the Aesir are “White.” The same way that Europeans are “White.” And so, the sins of “white people” are the same sins for “white Gods.” “White people” are colonialist murderers? Well then “white Gods” must be colonialist murderers. “White people” are inherently exploitative of minorities? The “white Gods” must be inherently exploitative of “minorities.”
Even if those “minorities” vastly outnumber you…
There’s also a trend (for some reason) to view the Jotuns as “deities of color” you could say. Despite the fact that they’re not “Deities” but more chaotic nature spirits who…tend to be the color of snow (white) or fire (flaming yellow and orange). And the idea that the Jotuns were “oppressed” by the Aesir in the same way that “people of color” were”oppressed” by “white people.”
Which, I’ll be honest, is a shit ton of projection and very light on actual reality.
Just from the Lore, it’s pretty easy to pick up that there’s a very limited number of Aesir and Vanir. They tend to stay inside Asgard except for the occasional trip to Midgard. Thor is the only one who really spends much time visiting Jotunheim after a while, and that’s clearly visits involving hunting down Jotuns who have tried to attack Asgard or an Asgardian. Heck, the Aesir have a God whose job is it to simply watch the bridge to Asgard to make sure no one is coming to attack them.
It’s also fairly easy to pick up that there’s a lot of Jotun, and that these Jotun tend to attack Asgard on a regular basis. I forget how many stories there are that start off with Thor going out because the Jotuns are attacking, or coming back just as the Jotuns finish attacking an manage to stop them before they murder and rape everyone. The story of the Aesir is the story of a people under constant siege, waiting to be invaded…not of invaders going out and conquering other peoples.
But, like the Spanish in 15th century Iberia, because they’re “white” they’re the bad guys even though they were the ones being invaded and colonized by “people of color.” At which point I would like to draw to our author’s attention where she stated even PoC could be colonizers.
Colonization was a thing. However, if one is going to accuse a group of colonization, and insist that colonization is a bad thing, one may desire to check the facts of the case and see who is doing what…rather than assuming who is the colonizer based simply on “race.”