It is humbling to realize how often our, poorly educated, often illiterate ancestors, were brighter than we are. Of course this happens fairly frequently, so you would expect some of the sting would be gone. At Nanaimo Pagan Pride this year, Old One Eye decided he had waited long enough for me to suit action to words and deal with the wonderful Odin statue that I loved so much. I had won a Freya statue at Vancouver Pagan Pride, shortly after her mother Nerthus’s procession. Done in the ancient style, it was crudely styled, harshly primitive, more suggestion than depiction. Made of fired clay it looked like something pulled from Sutta-Hoo, or Ranheim. My Odin statue was bronze, and elaborately detailed. At Nanaimo Pagan Pride, before Thor opened the sky to signal the Heathen business of the day was done, and the pagans could run for their lives, Odin weighed in on statuary.
A swift gust of wind came and blew over the statues. Odin landed atop Freya, and smashed. Bronze met clay and shattered. I looked down at the ruins of the fine, admittedly Grecian in detail, statue of the god, and saw instead the magically unmarked clay goddess, and the stone carved valknut looking back at me. The gods spared all of our flyers, and our mead, but destroyed the attempt to capture the primal essence of a northern god in southern elaboration. OK, lesson learned. All the gathered heathens sharing sumbel at that point discussed how the while the grave good recovered in the heathen digs at Sutta-Hoo, Upsala, Ranheim, showed incredible detail in the secular grave goods, the statuary was always harshly primitive and evocative. The essence of the gods can be glimpsed, can be felt, but cannot be captured by the arts of man.
I am skald; I use poetry and prose to capture what I feel, what I learn about the gods. I don’t write as much in the way of essay on their nature because words are as poor a tool as bronze or stone for capturing the unfathomable depths of the gods. They can be evoked by our arts. They can be experienced indirectly through song, poem, and the power and purity of primitive art, where they can not be captured by the most learned of treatise, nor by the most perfectly formed statue, frieze, or painting.
Our ancestors were a sophisticated and worldly folk who understood what technology could do for them. More than any other, they sought out arts and learning from every land on earth, and brought new technologies home with an appetite legend would pretend they held only for gold. Yet their god statues remained primitive, evocative, powerful. They understood where the power lay; in the purity of essence, not sophistication of form. In our society of style over substance, this is a hard lesson to learn.