The Significance Of The Conflict From A Religious-ritual Standpoint

: Teutonic Mythology

In regard to the significance of the change of administration in the

world of gods, Saxo has preserved a tradition which is of no small

interest. The circumstance that Odin and his sons had to surrender the

reign of the world did not imply that mankind should abandon their faith

in the old gods and accept a new religion. Hitherto the Asas and Vans

had been worshipped in common. Now, when Odin was deposed, his name,

ured by the nations, was not to be obliterated. The name was given

to Ull, and, as if he really were Odin, he was to receive the sacrifices

and prayers that hitherto had been addressed to the banished one

(Hist., 130). The ancient faith was to be maintained, and the shift

involved nothing but the person; there was no change of religion. But in

connection with this information, we also learn, from another statement

in Saxo, that the myth concerning the war between Asas and Vans was

connected with traditions concerning a conflict between various views

among the believers in the Teutonic religion concerning offerings and

prayers. The one view was more ritual, and demanded more attention paid

to sacrifices. This view seems to have gotten the upper hand after the

banishment of Odin. It was claimed that sacrifices and hymns addressed

at the same time to several or all of the gods, did not have the

efficacy of pacifying and reconciling angry deities, but that to each

one of the gods should be given a separate sacrificial service (Saxo,

Hist., 43). The result of this was, of course, an increase of

sacrifices and a more highly-developed ritual, which from its very

nature might have produced among the Teutons the same hierarchy as

resulted from an excess of sacrifices among their Aryan-Asiatic kinsmen.

The correctness of Saxo's statement is fully confirmed by strophe 145 in

Havamal, which advocates the opposite and incomparably more moderate

view in regard to sacrifices. This view came, according to the strophe,

from Odin's own lips. He is made to proclaim it to the people "after his

return to his ancient power."

Betra er obethit

en se ofblothit

ey ser til gildis giof;

betra er osennt

enn se ofsoit.

Sva thundr um reist

fyr thiotha rauc,

thar hann up um reis

er hann aptr of kom.

The expression, thar hann up um reis, er hann apter of kom, refers to

the fact that Odin had for some time been deposed from the

administration of the world, but had returned, and that he then

proclaimed to the people the view in regard to the real value of prayers

and sacrifices which is laid down in the strophe. Hence it follows that

before Odin returned to his throne another more exacting doctrine in

regard to sacrifices had, according to the myth, secured prevalence.

This is precisely what Saxo tells us. It is difficult to repress the

question whether an historical reminiscence is not concealed in these

statements. May it not be the record of conflicting views within the

Teutonic religion--views represented in the myth by the Vana-gods on the

one side and the Asas on the other? The Vana views, I take it,

represented tendencies which had they been victorious, would have

resulted in hierarchy, while the Asa doctrine represented the tendencies

of the believers in the time-honoured Aryan custom of those who

maintained the priestly authority of the father of the family, and who

defended the efficacy of the simple hymns and sacrifices which from time

out of mind had been addressed to several or all of the gods in common.

That the question really has existed among the Teutonic peoples, at

least as a subject for reflection, spontaneously suggests itself in the

myth alluded to above. This myth has discussed the question, and decided

it in precisely the same manner as history has decided it among the

Teutonic races, among whom priestcraft and ritualism have held a far

less important position than among their western kinsmen, the Celts, and

their eastern kinsmen, the Iranians and Hindoos. That prayers on account

of their length, or sacrifices on account of their abundance, should

give evidence of greater piety and fear of God, and should be able to

secure a more ready hearing, is a doctrine which Odin himself rejects in

the strophe above cited. He understands human nature, and knows that

when a man brings abundant sacrifices he has the selfish purpose in view

of prevailing on the gods to give a more abundant reward--a purpose

prompted by selfishness, not by piety.