As we know there are direct links between Vedic, ancient Iranian (Iran means land of the Aryans) Greco-Roman and Norse religion, because these traditions derive from the same Indo-European roots, but were of course separated by time and by distance, and intermixed with local cults. The concept of a mother goddess is probably not Indo-European, likewise with the tribe of the Vanir, probably.
Interesting to note is that all these cultures have tales of the order of the world being created out of a battle between the gods and the giants. In Greek mythology, depending on the source, because there is some confusion between the battle against the giants and battle against the Titans in the Gigantomachy and the Titanomachy, respectively, most Titans are imprisoned in Tartarus. The exception being certain benign Titans, like Helios (the sun), Eos (the dawn) and Selena (the moon). In Norse mythology the giants have their own realm, and often wander into the world of humans and even gods. In an article I wrote in Norwegian (here: https://akroma.no/hedendom-var-naturlige-religion-er-invertert-hinduisme/) I speculate this is because the forces of nature appeared wilder, more uncontrolled and dangerous for the Norse, and more under control in the mild and temperate Mediterranean region, hence the disparity of the power between the giants of these two cultures. As I also noted, both the Norse, Vedic and Iranian tradition have the same class of gods, named the Æsir, Ashuras and Ahuras, respectively. This class or tribe of gods is associated with the human sphere, and war/law/oaths in particular.
Interestingly the Ashuras in later Indian mythology are degraded. Indra, corresponding to Thor, being a red-haired thunder god, is reduced to a drunkard. All in all, the Ahuras are painted as demons and as enemies of the gods, whereas the Devas have risen to prominence. The Devas can be understood as benign forces of nature, like fertility, peace and sunlight.
It is tempting to connect the Norse Vanir with the Devas, but we have no direct proof of that. There might also, like mentioned, be the remains of other, non-Indo-European cults inside the Vanir moniker. Ironically, Vanir based paganism survived the longest in Sweden, where Freyr was worshipped up until the 19th century in the form of the grain god. Survive the Jive has a video on this, but only on Odysee (here: https://odysee.com/@SurvivetheJive:c/corn-god:a) In my opinion the longest surviving pagan tradition overall must be the Norwegian Hulder, this supernatural creature being revered up until modern times.
The Norse and Iranian religion embraced the Æsir and Ahuras, whereas the Indians distanced themselves from that particular class of gods. It is easy to see why. Both Norse and Iranian paganism retained the militant outlook which also was a feature of the Aryan invasions into the Indian subcontinent. The Norse relegated the Vanir to a secondary role (without me offending the gods here), whereas the Iranians with the advent of Zoroastrianism forbade the Devas outright, the worshipper having to denounce the Devas after the gradual reformation of their religion from ancient Iranian paganism into Zoroastrianism.
Before I go into Zoroastrianism, I want to make a short note on the characteristics of early paganism, as seen in the Rig Veda, Iranian paganism, as well as Norse and early Greek religion. These early forms of paganism are very bodily, physical and can even be said to be naive. As Augustus Hare states: The virtue of paganism was strength, the virtue of Christianity is obedience. Kind of depressive for us older folks, the best you could be in ancient Iranian religion was a 15-year-old boy, probably because of physicality and virility. Make no mistake about it, this is the master morality and to use Norwegian - The Lord Human - Nietzsche speaks about.
Later iterations of paganism got more abstract, more decadent, more law-bound and more dualistic in a certain sense. In the Greek world this turn had its definite display under the auspices of Platonism.
Nietzsche notes in his Birth of Tragedy there is a distinct difference between early and late Greek religion. The early religion was characterized by tragedy, that is to say, the strong man going under in his battle against destiny and the gods. This can also be seen in Norse religion with the constant struggle against destiny there. Later Greek religion was more rationalized and law bound. Do good, obey, and you will get good results. This is not a feature of the earlier Greek tragedy. As for Iranian religion, their move into the abstract came in a definite way through Zoroaster or Zarathustra and his reformation of the ancient Iranian religion. So, who was Zoroaster? We can’t really place him in time. The estimates vary from 1200 BC to 500 BC, but a common estimate is to place him around 700 BC. What we do know is that he is one of the most important human beings in history. This is because he was the first to introduce the concepts of good and evil.
Zoroastrianism holds the world to be inherently good, but that it has been corrupted by evil. We can fix the world through good thoughts, words and deeds. We can defeat the corruption of the evil spirit and create a heaven on earth. The world will be made perfect after evil is destroyed. Also worth noting is that Zoroastrianism represents a movement towards monotheism, and even introduces the concept of free will for humans in our choice between good and evil. Zoroastrianism encourages moderation when it comes to pleasure. The main god in Zoroastrianism is Ahura Mazda, who will judge everyone in the end, in an event similar to the Christian judgement day. The evil god is Angra Mainyu. These represent the principle of good and evil, life-furthering and life-destruction, respectively.
There is a debate on whether Angra Mainyu is an extension of Ahura Mazda’s will, like Satan is ultimately subordinate to God in Christianity. So, what happened to the old Iranian gods? Well, they remained gods for a while, but were increasingly seen as aspects of the supreme god, Ahura Mazda. As mentioned, a believer also had to foreswear the Devas - only embracing the Ahuras. We can envision how the priesthood perhaps was more set on Ahura Mazda only, whereas a rural person retained many gods for the various sides and functions of life. The religion became more rationalized and abstract, because the gods were reduced to twelve in number. We recognize something similar in the later Greek pantheon - with the designation of twelve main gods.
This is a list of the twelve gods retained in the Zoroastrian pantheon - all possibly just manifestations of Ahura Mazda:
Ahura Mazda - King of the gods
Angra Mainyu - Principle of evil, chaos and discord
Mithra - God of the rising sun, covenants, contracts and kingship
Hvar Ksata - God of the full sun
Ardui Sura Anahita - Goddess of fertility, health, water, wisdom, war
Rashnu - An angel, the righteous judge of the dead
Verethragna - Warrior god who fights against evil
Tiri and Tishtrya - Gods of agriculture and rainfall
Atar - God of the divine element of fire, personification of fire
Haoma - God of harvest, health, strength, vitality, personification of the plant with the same name bringing enlightenment, similar to Soma
Vayu - God of the wind who chases away evil spirits
Zorvan (Zurvan Akarana) - God of time, personification of infinite time
To be very brief, the Avesta is the holy scripture of the Zoroastrian religion. It is said to have been much more voluminous, but that most of it was destroyed by Alexander the great in his plundering of Persepolis. For that reason and more he was called Alexander the cursed by the ancient Persians. In this ways Alexander has much in common with Caesar, who burned the library of Alexandria. It is hard separate Zoroastrianism and the earlier ancient religion from each other in what little sources remain. Of peculiarities that can be mentioned is that Zoroastrians left their dead on platforms in the wilderness to be eaten by wild animals. Fire being holy to them, they kept everlasting fires at various locations. The very term “magic” derives from their priestly class, the magi, who indeed were said to possess magical powers.
The Zoroastrian religion was in practice exterminated by the Arab invasion and the expansion of Islam. Some adherents fled as far as China. It took centuries of persecution, but gradually their religion was removed. Now only a few hundred thousand adherents remain. The reason for the downfall? They expended their strength and their nobility in wars against the eastern romans, the rest was lost to plagues. There was little left when the Arab invasion came.
Then some words on dualism. In my opinion it’s a natural developmental line for a religion to turn to dualism when it moves away from its original state. Human perception, after all, is dualistic in so many ways. We separate good from bad, tall from short, healthy from sick, etc. When we turn abstract and create a system to understand the world, dualism is often the result. But there are different kinds of dualism. I once attended a philosophical seminar where it was stated that dualism is not so much about complicating things, but about protesting against an unreasonable oneness. This is probably a quote from a thinker, but I just overheard this and don’t know which one.
I believe dualism in a Jungian sense is philosophically sound. In brief: Every good aspect has a darker side, and you can’t bring something good into the world without directly producing a corresponding evil. Example: Reduce infant mortality and you get more sickly children, maybe even lefties, compliments from the teachings of the biologist Edward Dutton (check him out here: https://odysee.com/@JollyHeretic:d) Narcissism is often created in children by too much praise and neglect, simultaneously. As the philosopher Spinoza states: No matter how thin you slice it, things will always have two sides. This is true, and a form of dualism in-the-world. The problem arises when we create a dualism which is out-of-this-world, and where qualities, no matter what they are, are fully separated from each other. Light without shadow, absolute truths, results without effort. These are the qualities of both Platonism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, representing a huge philosophical mis-step. I cannot stress this enough, the keyword here is out-of-this-world and trying to isolate singular qualities. In-this-world (and reality) the thing will always have two sides.
One example of such an unreasonable form of oneness can be found with the philosopher Epicurus. The Epicurean paradox points out the contradiction between the existence of evil in the world and the supposed existence of a God who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnibenevolent (all-loving), and omnipresent (present everywhere). The Epicurean Paradox is one formulation of the problem of evil and is an argument against monotheism, that is to say, it touches into the very core of why we are polytheists and pagans.
Duality in-the-world (good)
Duality out-of-this-world (bad)
When it comes to ancient Iranian religion, as well as the proto-Indo-European religion in general, it must be stressed there were always certain dualistic aspects. The cosmological dichotomy between order and chaos being an obvious example. In ancient Iranian religion, this was taken further and manifested in the pantheon of gods itself, where the divine beings were separated into gods and demons. The struggle between truth (Arta) and lies (Drauga) was a central tenet. Even animals were separated this way, between useful (good) and dangerous (bad) animals. Up until modern times Norwegians have referred to deep water fish as un-fish and thrown them away, despite such species being edible and, in many cases, now held to be a delicacy.
I’m of the opinion that dualism in-the-world is central to our pagan religions, to the point where the primordial giant in its original inception aways were two beings, one good and one bad. In ancient Iranian religion, these primordial twins were called Man and Yima, the good Man killing Yima and fashioning the world. In continental Germanic paganism, the primordial giant was called Tuisto, most likely meaning twin. Snorre picked from three traditions when he accounted for the Norse Ymir, but for some reason the twin aspect is lost. I consider this a corruption which deviates from the other sources we have.
And now some words on Norse religion as pertains to dualism. All in all, I think Norse mythology is a riddle we cannot fully solve, because we don’t have access to all the parts and components of the riddle. What we do know is that the golden age ended with the figure of Gullveigi and the three maidens visiting the gods, but we do not who they were and can only speculate. Neither do we know whose heart it was Loke ate in the Iron Forest. What we do know is that the world and Yggdrasil is subject to constant entropy were things get progressively worse, particularly Loke himself - going from a helpful trickster to fully evil. I suspect this entropy, based on the diminishing of Aether as some interpreters would have it, is what gives rise to a sort of split or indeed dualism in the world. We go from a world without strife to a world that cannot hold together, where the forces seemingly negate each other at Ragnarök. And in Voluspa with the prophecy of Ragnarök I see the same dualism as was described in the very beginning of the world with the primordial giant, only having a break at the golden age, where the gods and various forces seemingly were one.
Because here is what I want you to consider, what if the entities that kill and negate each other at Ragnarök, really are representations of the same type of force?
Freyr is described as a light god, “the shining one.” He is killed by the fire giant Surtr after having given away his sword. This directly leads to the end of the universe. Could it be that Freyr and Surtr both are aspects of the good and bad qualities of light, which can bring life but also burn?
Loke the trickster and Heimdall the guardian kill each other. As Dumézil noted, the functions of Heimdall cannot be easily discerned, because he has no equivalent in the other Indo-European pantheons, but he is most definitely a guardian.
The law god Tyr and Garm guarding the entrance to the underworld, kill each other. I suspect Tyr is a simplification of the law-pair Mitra-Varuna found in Iranian mythology, much like Ymir at one point was simplified into one being. But the upholders of the order of the world and underworld become each other’s undoing.
Odin, his name meaning divine fury, and Fenrir, also a raging one perhaps representing a bad aspect of rage and vindictiveness, kill each other.
Thor or his Vedic equivalent, Indra, is described in the Rig Veda as the one smashing all obstacles. He kills the serpent Vritra which has blocked the life-giving flood and all the waters of the world, the name itself meaning something akin to “obstruct.” In the Norse end time the picture is bleaker, and Thor and Jörmungandr become the bane of each other. The aspect of the irresistible releaser of all things in form of Indra/Thor and the constrictor of all waters in the form of Vritra and indeed the world itself in the form of Jörmungandr, are seemingly forces in direct opposition to each other, which at the ending of the world become the negation of its counterpart.
In Ragnarök the dead and the living will possibly destroy each other, representing another negation. Another interpretation is that it’s the heroes of Asgard, the einherjar, and the cowards from Nástrǫnd who will be each other’s undoing. The souls of the righteous dead will after all be found in the highest of heavens.
Due to my childlike nature, I’ve always wondered about the destiny of the other gods, like Njord, possibly representing the good and abundant aspects of the sea, and his daughter, the many-faceted Freyja. There is no way to know, neither about their origin or their ultimate destiny, for we do not have full access to the riddle that is Norse mythology.
Snorre tells us there all in all is nine heavens. Three of them are named. The first heaven is Asgard itself. Then there is Andlang, meaning something like “wide expanses of the spirit” where the righteous dead will live. The third heaven, Víðbláinn, is mysterious. Possibly the dead will be allowed to inhabit it, but for now it is not known who dwells there, except for maybe Light Elves. It is there the new hall of the gods, Gimle, is said to be found. Soon this hall will require a new master.
ChildOfAsh420 replies: love it ... I totally agree, although I believe it had the dualistic aspects far before. There was always a duality to it, from the Joining of the Aesir and Vanir. The Order and ingenuity of man, With nature's power and chaos. From the first tales of Thor and Loki you can see the Balance. I think it's more of a balancing than a split duality. But both things go hand in hand. Great post and I look forward to doing another Video with you.
Lysalv replies: You might very well be right. Like Jung and Spinoza point out, reality must by necessity be bound to dualism. Because all things are interconnected, all things must have a double aspect of some sort. However, the golden age as recounted in various Indo-European myths seem to have other qualities. It is interesting to think of the "Cave Song" I mentioned, the original title being Grottasöngr. There the giantesses create a mini-golden age for King Frodi, by grinding wealth out of nothing and creating peace, to the point it is stated that nobody would kill the murderer of their own brother, even if he was brought bound before them. It is by looking at Hesoid that we get a clearer picture of the golden age. There are rivers of milk and honey, and the grain grows and is harvested, without the need for work. So seemingly this is a deviation from the double aspect, which dictates you won't get results without efforts, no light without shadow, no good without a corresponding evil.
Why is this? Plato presents a myth where the original humans were two-headed creatures, which were separated having us spend the rest of our existance searching for our second half. This is interesting on many levels, but at least we can say for sure this speaks about the creation of gender. Maybe the golden age then points towards a very primitive state, like one celled organisms having no need for gender? Possibly, but this doesn't cover the other aspects of physical reality, which, like I mentioned, must have this dual aspect.
I believe the golden age is a divine mystery we cannot access and cannot solve in this Kali Yuga, the age of Iron. We, the lesser men of rust can't even conceive how such a mystery is possible. Discovering this is for other beings in another age.