Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Germanic Caste System: A Reappraisal

I have in the past discussed the Germanic and Aryan caste systems on this and other blogs and this article is intended to add to that discussion.

The Rigsthula of the Elder or Poetic Edda sets out this caste system in very clear terms. First of all it should be noted that Heimdall is considered by many but not all scholars to be the Rig referred to in the text:

"People say in the old stories that one of the Aesir, who was called Heimdall, went on a journey, and as he went along the sea-shore somewhere he came to a household and he called himself Rig. This poem is about that story." (Rigsthula, Larrington translation)

That is the header to the poem. Nowhere else in the poem is Heimdall referred to which has caused some to question Rig's actual identity. As a matter of interest Rig is derived from the Irish ri meaning 'king'. This supposed Celtic connection is intriguing. However elsewhere in the Elder Edda Heimdall is referred to as the father of man, or Germanic man, to be more precise.

"Attention I ask from all sacred people, greater and lesser, the offspring of Heimdall," (Voluspa 1.2, Larrington translation)

Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology takes a different view. He is more inclined to associate Rig with Odin:

"The picture of the the god who wanders about under a pseudonym visiting people and finally conveying the knowledge of the runes to a chosen one among them fits better with Odin who was probabally originally meant by Rigr."

It is of course Odin, rather than Heimdall who is noted to be the lord of the Runes. The Rigsthula does refer to the youngest son of Jarl, Kon as being taught the Runes by Rig. If we accept the Irish connection to Rig's name, then this God should be regarded as a king among the Gods and only Odin fits that description. If Odin then is the progenitor of the three castes then He is not only the God of the nobles as is emphasised in the genealogy of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian kings but He is truly the All Father and as ordinary people we can and should call upon Him.

The Voluspa reminds us that Odin along with Hoenir and Lodur gave life to Ask and Embla the original Teutonic human beings who initially were in a vegetative state existing as trees. Snorri Sturluson in the Gylfaginning of his Younger or Prose Edda adds the extra detail that Ask and Embla were found alongside the sea shore. This may be significant for Rig on His journeys finds the three women he mates with near the shore as well.

One significant factor with the three children which Rig sires is that they each have different complexions and hair colourings. The first child He sired was called Thrall. Thrall's mother was Edda-great grandmother, the wife of Ai-great grandfather. Thrall is described in Thorpe's translation as having "swarthy skin".  In Larrington's translation he is described as being "dark as flax". The second child He sired was called Karl. Karl's mother was Amma-grandmother, the wife of Afi-grandfather. In Larrington's translation he is described as being "red and rosy, with lively eyes". Thorpe's translation describes Karl as being a "ruddy redhead" and "its eyes twinkled". This could be an indication of light eyes. The third child was called Jarl. Jarl's mother was Modir-mother, the wife of Fadir-father. In Thorpe's translation it is said "Light was his hair, bright his cheeks, his eyes piercing as a young serpent's". Interestingly the characteristic of having 'serpents' eyes' is related to the clan of the Volsungs which was certainly sired by Odin, not Heimdall. Larrington in her translation says of Jarl "blond was his hair, bright his cheeks, piercing were his eyes like a young snake's."

These three children gave rise to the castes of Thrall, Farmer and Lord to use Larrington's terminology. In other words the castes of nobles, free peasants and servants. These hair or complexion colours may be represented roughly as white, red and black. These colours are strongly associated with the caste system of other Indo-European peoples and are reflected today in the flags of many Indo-European countries although blue is sometimes substituted for black. I believe that this is an unconscious manifestation of the Aryan Blood Memory or to use a Jungian term, the Racial Collective Unconscious.

However the Germanic caste system is not a true reflection of what many deem to be the original Aryan system. At some point in the pre-history of the Germanic peoples a distortion of the caste system occurred. Other Indo-European peoples such as the Celts, Latins, Indo-Aryans and Iranians had separate castes for the priests and warriors, who were nobles, and the farmers. Servants or slaves were not considered as part of the tripartite Aryan caste system. Even in India which technically has a four caste system the Sudras are not considered to be Aryan, only the first three castes. So something must have happened, unique to the Germanic peoples to have caused this shift. The caste of Thralls was introduced to replace a lost caste, the priestly one. Furthermore honour was only attached to the first two castes, those of the priests and nobles-warriors. In India the third caste of Vaisya who are largely merchants are looked down upon by the Aryan Brahmin and Ksatriya castes. I am not saying that this is morally right: I am merely stating a fact! Today people view the English merchant class-the Middle Class in a similar light.

We know from the history of the Middle Ages that in England and other parts of Germanic Europe that there was an ongoing power struggle between the church and the monarchy and I believe that this struggle which in a sense is still lingering on has its origins in pre-history at a time when the original two higher castes, priest and noble struggled for supremacy. Eventually in the Germanic world they were merged together to form one caste, the noble one which had two separate functions: religious and rulership. If we consider that the Indo-European pantheons are a reflection of the three original functions of sovereignity, war and production (see Professor Jean Haudry, The Indo-Europeans) then it is clear that sovereignity was originally vested in the priestly caste, represented by the very ancient Germanic God *Tiwaz. We see some evidence of this in the Eddas as Tyr was regarded as the upholder of justice and law, originally a function of the priestly caste. His power, authority and role were subsequently challenged by the emerging power of the noble or warrior caste represented by the God *Wodanaz who subsequently became the new All Father, a role that originally belonged to *Tiwaz whseo origins may be traced to pre-Germanic Proto-Indo-European times. There is a faint echo here of the original power struggle. The Gods may be divided into three functions, a caste system of sorts. These are priestly or sovereign, warrior and producer.

In later Germanic times there was some confusion in the role between Wodan and Tiw and even Thunor who is a God of the third function of fertility or production does have some characteristics that belong to the first and second functions.

It is interesting and significant that Caesar in the mid first century BCE made the remark:

"The customs of the Germans are very different from those of the Gauls. They have no druids to preside over religious matters, nor do they concern themselves with sacrifices."(The Gallic War, Book 6:21)

We know from history and from other writers that this statement is incorrect. The Germans did practice both human and animal sacrifice (See Tacitus' Germania and Adam of Bremen).  He is technically correct in that they did not have 'druids' as this was a priesthood specific to the Celtic peoples. What is clear though is that by the time Caesar wrote his book the pre-historic shift in the Germanic caste system had already happened making the Germanic priesthood a faint echo of that which it had once been.

The Rigsthula also indicates one more thing and that is the societies which we now call Germanic were not always racially homogenous as the differing racial characteristics of the three castes indicate. Clearly by the time that the Rigsthula had originally been orally formulated Germanic peoples through conquest and colonisation had already begun to mix with the peoples they had subjugated (the third caste). The same thing happened to the Celts and this is why there is such a wide variation in racial characteristics between so-called Celts who were originally a Nordic people like the Teutons.

Thus in summary any discussion of reviving the Germanic system must take into account that the Rigsthula does not represent the original Indo-Germanic system which is better reflected in the Celtic one. Caesar in the Sixth Book of The Gallic Wars refers to the Gallic three caste system but points out that honour was only accorded to the first two castes which were druids and knights; in other words the priestly and the noble castes. These were in my opinion Nordic in race.

It is an undeniable fact that the higher castes in Indo-Germanic societies were more likely to be Nordic as Nordic man is better fitted to rule rather than to serve. This is why greater honour was always given to the higher castes. The lowest caste was invariably mixed in race, composed of subjugated and often non-Nordic individuals.

"The racial unity of the Indo-European aristocracy was necessarily reinforced by endogamy. Its physical type was seen as a mark of superiority, the external sign of the *menos ('character'-Wotans Krieger's edit) which gives it life and of all good qualities. Pope Gregory the Great, looking at some Anglian prisoners, who had 'fair complexions, fine-cut feathers and beautiful hair' claimed, when he was told the name of their nation: 'That is appropriate, for they have angelic faces, and it is right that they should become joint-heirs with the angels in heaven." (The Indo-Europeans, Jean Haudry)

Despite Hollywood propaganda and awful films such as The 300 the ancient Persians were also a Nordic people:

"It was even felt to be a link (ie race-Wotans Krieger's edit) between Indo-European peoples who were strangers to one another, over and above linguistic difference (despite the fact that it is in terms of the latter that 'barbarian' is defined) and in spite of mutual conflicts. How otherwise, for example, can we explain the astonishing reference made by Aeschylus (Pers. 185f.) to Persia and Greece, locked in a war with one another, as 'sisters of the same blood.'?" (Haudry)



Steed EOW said...

Very interesting, but it is interesting to consider the relavence of this today. I find the aesthetic differences between the modern Celts and Teutons to be fairly negligible. We have ethnic Nordics who are non-Nordic in appearance but seem to hold the nobility of the Jarls in their mind and soul. Likewise we have those who appear to be pure descendents of the Jarls who act like Thralls. So it seems to me that some of the lessons of Rig's legend have become irrelevant. Just a thought.

Wotans Krieger said...

Thanks for your comment Steed.I will post something further about the Caste system this week on the Aryan Myth & Metahistory blog and it will have a contemporary theme.