Ancient themes, and modern times “I think Scandinavian Paganism, to us here, is more interesting than any other. It is, for one thing, the latest; it continued in these regions of Europe till the eleventh century; 800 years ago the Norwegians were still worshippers of Odin. It is interesting also as the creed of our fathers; the men whose blood still runs in our veins, whom doubtless we still resemble in so many ways.”
Vickie and I spent part of the late afternoon relaxing watching a Disney Channel movie called ‘Buffalo Dreams’. It was a cute and family-safe movie with many of the Disney cliché moments. But it was also a really interesting movie for me due to it’s dealing with the Native American sociology in relation to modern times and values juxtaposed with ancient traditions and the habit of many youngsters of turning away from the ancient ways.
I enjoy examining peoples from an Anthropological perspective. And this movie allowed me to again examine many of the beliefs that were common long ago in Native American cosmology and the similarities with the ancient Norse traditions. My father raised us three kids up with a deep appreciation for the ancient ways, both Native American and our own Norse ancestry (we have some Cherokee as well). And the common thread in both cultures is a belief in a main god, as well as a host of lesser beings, both spirit and minor gods. The animals of these people serve as intermediaries between the land and the heavens, and to cause offense to animals might mean a disconnection from the providence that the Creator gives. Therefore it is permissible to kill an animal as long as an adequate need exists, and a prayer of thanks is made.
The movie has one fun part where the young man who is one of the main stars has a dream where an eagle speaks to him after he shares the hamburger he is eating. Mentioning the dream to his young Navajo (La Dene) friend he is told that the Eagle carried messages from the people to the Spirits in the sky. This is reminiscent of the Norse tradition wherein the earth is under the branches of a giant tree called Yggdrasill. This giant Ash tree has large roots that are continually gnawed at by a giant dragon named Nidhogg and his accompanying serpents, and goats and deer pluck its branches. There is a giant Eagle that sits on the top of the tree, and he has a hawk that perches on his beak between his eyes. There is a squirrel named Ratatosk that climbs up and down the trunk carrying insults from the dragon to the eagle. This is the tree that the god Odin (AllFather) is said to have sacrificed one eye to and hung from upside down for nine days (three times three, three being a magic number) in order to gain knowledge of the location of the sacred spring named the ‘Spring of Mimir’ which gave knowledge and wisdom when one drank the waters.
There is a telling moment in the movie when the young Indian says “I’m tired of being Navajo. When the Navajo did not know why something happened they made up a story of animals that caused something, or that explained why something happened a certain way”. Yes, this is true, people without science must explain things in a way that their children can understand even if it is not correct, but erronious explanations are usually seen as better than none at all. Yet it is the lack of explanations that leads one to explore and to find the answers, and modern scientific inquiry will lead one to a deeper knowledge of all things, and it seems to me to lead to a deeper appreciation of nature and the presence of a higher power we might well call ‘AllFather’ as the Norse did, or ‘The Great Spirit’ as many of the native tribes did here.
The world is large, and still very much unknown to us, at this stage of our evolution into this exploratory field we call ‘science’ we are like children on tricycles and not men sending spaceships into the heavens. But as the secrets of the earth are opened up, I predict that the enormity of the earth and heavens will cause us to revert back to worship of a Creator that built all the things we find, as no logical explanation will be found in the Life Sciences.
It is interesting to note also that in many of the ancient traditions of the Americas, the times are in cycles, and each cycle draws to a close with earthquakes, famines and wars. The Mayas said this cycle would end on December 21 2012. And that creation would start over. The Norse did not give a date to the end of this cycle, but it would end with a huge battle between the forces of good and evil at a place called Ragnarok. The earth will quack as the giant wolf-beast called Fenrir breaks loose from his bounds beneath the earth. He would wreak havoc on the earth and swallow the stars with his upper jaw while his lower jaw destroyed all the land. The only people to survive this cataclysm would be a man and a woman who would hide in the crevices of the giant Ash tree, and when the catastrophe is over would venture out onto the land, to start the process over again.
This also reminds me of the sad story of the ‘Ghost Dance’. Native tribes throughout the USA were misled by a medicine man named Wavoka from the Paiute tribe of Utah. He said that if the people all joined together and danced to exhaustion the lands of the White Man would roll up like a blanket and take them away with their high buildings, farms and factories. And the land of the ancients would be fresh underneath like the fresh skin of a newly-shed snake. He even sold ‘bullet proof’ ‘ghost-shirts’ of nice buckskin. He would fire his old musket at them, and the people would see a puff of dust as the ball struck home, but there would be no hole in the shirt. It is said that he might have fashioned his balls from dirt coated with a thin layer of lead to resemble a standard ball. Sadly for his followers, the ghost-dance was made illegal, and the tribes were prevented from dancing it enough to cause the earth to roll the white man out.
All my life, I’ve thought it was a bit of a shame that we did not adopt more of the Indian values into our culture. Being able to live a hunting-gathering culture with a limited basis in science and private property might be a fun way to live (even though life-spans would be lower). But the less technologically-oriented are likely to lose in a war. So I suppose what we have is what has to be in order to survive.
We are now the holders of this great and fine land. The N/A people are not gone; they are here; both on their reservations, and the farms and the cities. They are also here in the blood of nearly every American living. Most Americans carry some of that noble ‘Red blood’, we are a group of people with blood from all four corners of the earth. And it is this ‘hybrid vigor’ that gives this land its strength, power and nobility. Let’s learn from the wisdom of the ancients, all that they can teach us of morals and values and mix this with the modern tenets of science, culture and higher principles taught by all the great religions.
God Bless the USA!