Intercultural issues

It’s been almost two weeks since I published a post on orthopraxic identity and already my own ritual practices are undergoing several changes. The reason is that after that post came out, people at the Roman Revivalist group on Facebook started discussing orthopraxy, whether it’s needed or not and what should be the basics. It’s a sensitive topic, but the conversation was civil. People discussed what they do at home, the significance of different gods, traditional background, cross-cultural references and comparisons and all without getting defensive, offensive or on each other’s nerves. It was a mature, highly productive debate, but one that ultimately made me question the balance of the ritual structure I employ and described in the aforementioned post from almost two weeks ago. As a result, I’ve been restructuring my religious ceremonies, rethinking which gods I should pay tribute to during the opening and closing sections, reorganizing the moments when the main offerings are presented and given, clarifying the elements specific to ritus Graecus and considering the creation of a simple and straightforward system to divine the Gods’ (dis)satisfaction. It also prompted me to review the ceremonies I use to honour the Vanir, a move reinforced by the possibility of Latinizing Thor and therefore crafting a more general ritual structure for the Roman worship of Norse deities. I’ll post about all of that in due course, but at the moment, my mind is juggling multiple ideas and my creative juices are flowing.

Of course, creating things – in this case rites – can be tricky, especially when you’re faced with intercultural issues. Which is exactly where I’m kind of stuck. To the point, one of my doubts is whether or not to (semi) formally honour Norse gods with Roman opening and closing sections. So, for instance, when performing a yearly ceremony to Freya, should I start and end with offerings to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter, giving the central moments in-between a Scandinavian flavour? Or should I use a more Norse ritual structure, whereby instead of three Roman gods, I call on two or three northern deities to open and close the ceremony?

Both options have advantages and disadvantages. By Romanizing the first and last parts, basically the brackets that enclose the focal moments, I could also worship Roman gods at the same time, which is practical when, for instance, a yearly celebration to a Norse deity falls on the Calends or Ides. As an example, on May 1st I could burn offerings to Freya and, at a final stage of the ceremony, use the same ritual fire to pour my monthly libations to Janus and Juno. The use of a Roman opening and closing would also follow the historical precedent of the ritus Graecus, which is basically a Latin rite with a few Greek elements for the sake of a sense of foreignness. However, this raises a cultural issue: it’s one thing to worship Hellenic deities in an almost entirely Roman ceremony, since Rome itself was a (partly) Hellenized civilization, but quite another to do the same with Scandinavian gods. Keep in mind that even in conquered Gaul, the acculturation of religious practices went only as far as being Gallo-Roman instead of fully Roman. The fact that temples were built using a different model in order to accommodate native traditions goes to show the persistence of non-Latin practices. Of course, that was then, this is now and things can be different with today’s cultural borders. But even if I were to accept that argument, that still leaves an important question unanswered: is it respectful to simply move Norse gods into an almost completely Roman ritual framework?

The option of honouring Scandinavian deities at the start and end of the ceremony would naturally solve that problem, by creating… let’s call it a “Nordo-Roman” synthesis or balance. But it also has its problems. For one and to use the same example on May 1st, it means I’d pour the offerings to Janus and Juno without paying tribute to the former, plus Vesta and Jupiter, which is something I’m uncomfortable with. Of course, that could be solved by simply lighting two fires, which is less practical, as well as more time and wood-consuming, but nonetheless doable. And finally, here’s my biggest doubt: which Norse gods should be honoured on both the opening and closing sections of a Latinized Norse rite? Freyr can establish peace and holy inviolability, Njord has the qualities of an intermediary (being a hostage and all), Freya is the Dís of the Vanir, Ullr is linked to binding words and gestures, Thor’s hammer hallows, Frigg, like Freya, can perhaps be connected to the hearth, as can Loki, who may well be the Norse equivalent of the Hindu god Agni. There are multiple possibilities and, should I choose a deity that’s not yet part of my pantheon, chances are that I would Latinized Him/Her too. Oh, don’t even get me started on the idea of Latinizing Loki: it both fascinates and scares me! It’s an option, no doubt about that, but I’m simultaneously in love and hesitant about it.

Worst case scenario, I’ll use the old and reverent tradition of sortes: write the names of all possible Norse deities in individual stones, include at least a blank one, pour offerings, ask who – if anyone – is up for it and draw two or three out of a bag. But even though asking the Gods should be part of the process – this is, after all, meant to honour them – I believe it needs to be worked by the human side as well. At least to me, it comes across as lazy if I just sit and wait for the Gods to teach me how to do things without me contributing to it with some of my effort. And right now, this is how it’s going: mentally stormy!

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2 thoughts on “Intercultural issues

    • Or Scano-Roman. But I also took into consideration the fact that Latin texts from ninth-century continental Europe borrowed from the Germanic root *nurtha, from where the words north and Norse derive, to make “nordman” and “Nordmannia” 😉

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