Two Trees

There are two passages in surviving Norse lore about the first two humans. I find them particularly fascinating.

From Vǫluspá 17 and 18:

Unz þrír kvámu
ór því liði
öflgir ok ástkir
æsir at húsi,
fundu á landi
lítt megandi
Ask ok Emblu

Until there came three mighty and benevolent Æsir to the world from their assembly. They found on earth, nearly powerless, Ask and Embla, void of destiny.

Önd þau né áttu,
óð þau né höfðu,
lá né læti
né litu góða;
önd gaf Óðinn,
óð gaf Hænir,
lá gaf Lóðurr
ok litu góða.

Soul they possessed not, sense they had not, blood nor motive powers, nor goodly colour. Soul gave Óðinn, sense gave Hœnir, blood gave Lóðurr, and goodly colour.

In chapter nine of Gylfaginning it is said:

Þá er þeir gengu með sævarströndu Borssynir, fundu þeir tré tvau ok tóku upp trén ok sköpuðu af menn. Gaf inn fyrsti önd ok líf, annarr vit ok hræring, þriði ásjónu, mál ok heyrn ok sjón, gáfu þeim klæði ok nöfn. Hét karlmaðrinn Askr, en konan Embla, ok ólst þaðan af mannkindin, sú er byggðin var gefinn undir Miðgarði.

When the sons of Borr1Presumably Óðinn, Vili, and Vé. were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them soul and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, countenance, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Miðgarð.

Despite the differing list of gods, the two passages are largely in agreement. My fascination only grows because of the basic similarity to Mašyā and Mašyānē, the first two humans in Zoroastrianism who grew from the branches of a tree.

While Askr is unambiguously “ash tree”, Embla is more of an issue. It’s been supposed to mean “elm”, derived from *Elm-la < *Almilōn < *elmaz, but this is not without its problems. A competing theory is that it means “vine” from an unrecorded *Ambilō, which may be related to Greek ἄμπελος “vine”.2Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 74

Possibly also related, but hardly with sufficient proof, is Æsc of Kent, son or grandson of Hengest, the ancestor of the Æscingas.3Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 21 I’m personally not inclined to agree with the interpretation. Elsewhen and elsewhere, the Braak Bog Figures may be related, but nothing can be definitively said.

As for why any of this is fascinating, it’s because this is an indication that the gods have taken an interest in us. I don’t take any of this literally, of course, as we were never trees, but it’s a good way to describe us. They shaped us and made us into something useful, just as we would for a tool or a godpole. I see this as being something over the long term. It wasn’t overnight; it was over countless generations. It was our evolution from earlier primates into anatomically modern humans.

Unlike Christian creationists, I don’t take this idea of divine involvement very far. Evolution is real and undeniable. I see it as the gods poking about here and there, moving us in certain directions for a desired outcome. Fascinating, indeed.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Presumably Óðinn, Vili, and Vé.
2. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 74
3. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 21

A Christian Apology

The Wild Hunt just posted an article titled “Should the Catholic Church apologize to Pagans?“, which is in turn inspired by Debra Macleod’s “Should the Catholic Church Acknowledge the Destruction of Classical Pagan Culture?” The original article is interesting, even if the author seems to notice only Vesta and even links to the questionable New Vesta organisation.

I’m not terribly impressed by the articles. The original article and the non-quoted sections of the Wild Hunt article don’t seem to understand the complexities of Christianity at the time. The Orthodox Church isn’t even mentioned outside the later quotes of the Wild Hunt article. The Patriarchs of the time aren’t mentioned in the slightest. The Catholic Church is the focus because it’s the standard Big Bad™ used in such discourse.

I grasp why these people are wanting an apology, but what will it accomplish? The religions, of which only Hellenic religion is mentioned by the Wild Hunt, were crushed. Countless, irreplaceable things were destroyed. We lost centuries and millennia of development that we must start over. Any complexities were washed away. An apology will do nothing to fix these losses.

Let’s think about financial reparations. Where does the money go? Who controls disbursement? Does the money go to academics who will conduct new research, but are not part of the religions in question? Will it go to local governments for conservation efforts for which they care nothing? Or will it go to religious organisations who love to serve themselves? I don’t think that I want, for example, the Troth or the AFA to receive money to do as they please. I have enough issues with them solely in regards to their clergy programmes.

Would a new umbrella organisation control the money instead? Who would lead this? How are they chosen? Will money be given out fairly? To whom? For what? How will expenditures be tracked? What is considered a worthwhile expenditure? What if money is stolen or mishandled? How would officers of this organisation be held accountable outside of local law?

Questions are many, yet answers are startlingly few.

The one thing that I want and is simultaneously more likely to happen is to have greater research conducted in the Vatican Library, the Vatican Secret Archives, and any other archive controlled by Christianity. Countless documents reside there. Ignored and forgotten information is there for the learning. To have everything searched for the smallest scraps of information would be astounding and a boon for us, while also allowing Christian leadership to dance around the issue of culpability.

But it’s not enough to read the texts alone. The information must be public and easily available so that the knowledge isn’t controlled by a handful of historians with their own biases and faults. Every little thing must be searched, too. The bindings of books, for example, often contained older books that were recycled; bits of information can be found in that manner.

It’s not a small undertaking. It would take many, many years and willing, sympathetic historians. Never mind the major turnaround required for Christian leaders even to accept this, let alone maintain the generosity. And that’s why, even with its being one of the likeliest things, it will probably not happen any time soon.