The following is a paper I penned during my senior year at Hannibal LaGrange College for my Communication Theory class. It represents what later became part of the underlying philosophy behind how I see the world and understand my place in it. This, in turn, deeply affects how and why I write. Sit back, relax, and open your mind...
Once upon a time...
Stories, Mythos, Fantasy and Fairy Tales serve both as a mirror reflecting and a lamp illuminating (God’s) Truth. Pagan (or pre-Christian) stories reflect and illuminate God’s Truth too. Many bright eyes have seen the writing on the wall across all creation and within life. These stories, both written and oral, hold within themselves rare, timeless beauties to be treasured and retold-- not censured. Brooding tales found in the icy, Viking north such as in The Poetic Edda, or the plethora of oral Celtic tales told by firelight for thousands of years or even The Heliand all, through myth-telling, speak God’s story.
We are seemingly estranged from these ancient peoples. Many would refer to them as “heathen” while failing to understand the connotation, a common treatment of all things not found in the Christian bookstore today.
“Hedinen ‘some one who lives out on the heaths, a heathen’
'Heath' originally connoted wasteland, and later came to mean the scrub vegetation on it. A ‘heath person’ is therefore someone who lives away from the farming and fishing communities, and is deemed ignorant and backward. Christian urban prejudices made this the word for a ‘nonbeliever’ in Germanic, analogous to pagan in Romance speech.
If God is truly real and the events He tells us about in the Bible have, are, and will happen; if what is pure and right and true, and if what is evil and vile and wrong are also real (both true and factual), then these elements will turn up in other stories besides just the Judeo-Christian mantras. This is a lovely, freeing idea because it means the entire world and everything in it is speaking God’s ultimate action-adventure-romance story which we are all in and actively apart of. It’s not us (Christians) versus them (Pagans), it is all of us together, telling stories about the God who is really there- about goodness that truly exists and about heaven reaching down to earth. This does not excuse evil or injustice within our own stories, rather it draws it out like venom from a wound, while simultaneously not insisting on explaining away the fantastic and/or supernatural either. If we are all talking about the same God and the same events, about the same beauties and the same darkness then, perhaps we are all on to something, describing the same God-reality all around us. If this is true then perhaps there is stock in Christianity past the back pew after all. When the Israelites were still wandering in the desert, the Celts were encountering I Am in the virgin forests of Britain; when the last piece of gold was taken from the Temple of Solomon for the first time, the Viking’s grandfathers sailed the wild Baltic seas, pillaging at will; when Christ was dying on a cross, peoples far away also knew gods who hung on trees. We are all being drawn to the echoes of heaven through the recounting of the everyday- through the telling (and retelling) of stories.
The Vikings knew. They spoke guttural tales about gods and men reaching for greatness and immortality through bloody heroism hewed with cunning strokes and mighty words. They saw heaven too. Whether it was the mysterious allusions to the stark end-of-the-world-battle, Ragnarok, or Odin’s never ending quest for secret wisdom, the Norse poets and bards spoke of the Truths and the Heaven they had seen and touched with their own hands. And so it should not surprise us when Ragnarok sounds chillingly familiar to the war(s) mentioned in Revelation:
“Circling the world is the Ocean in which lurks the Midgard-serpent, a monstrous serpent which will attack the gods at the end of the world (Ragnarok).” - Larrington xiv
In Christian tradition, Lucifer is also often portrayed as a dragon or serpent.
“More serpents lie under the ash of Yggdrasill
than any fool can imagine:
Goin and Moin, they are Grafnitnir’s sons,
Grabak and Grafvollud,
Ofnir and Svafnir I think for ever will
Bite on the tree’s branches.”
- Grimnir’s Sayings, stanza 34
This poetic stanza conjures up images of the common Norse understanding of Dragons eating away at the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree, the Viking’s conceptualization of metaphysical reality. Both Biblical and Norse texts recognize that there are many adversaries (demons), and both tend to locate them underneath the earth in reference to Hell.
Ragnarok and Christian eschatology both allude to a highly similar end, perhaps each description representing either culture’s attempt to comprehend and describe them:
“Then the glorious son of Earth,
Odin’s son, advances to fight against the serpent,
In his wrath the defender of earth strikes,
All men must leave their homesteads...”
- Seeress’ Prophecy, stanza 56
“Then the powerful, mighty one, he who rules over Everything, Will come from above,
to the judgement-place of the gods.” - Seeress’s Prophecy, stanza 65
Both describe the world ending in fire as well
(“Muspilli” in Old Germanic), echoing the words of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians.
Finally, there is the curious case of Odin, the Norse god of wisdom:
“I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,