The present book is, as the title suggests, a series of reflections and afterthoughts regarding the ancient and original European traditions now generally denominated as “paganism” (a word used by the Christian world to refer to anything different in a derogatory manner). The study of European traditions is taken up and explored by Vikernes, not with the distanced aloofness of a scholar trying to match foreign theories to a strange phenomenon completely disconnected from himself, but as someone who cares for it as someone would care for a loved one —a living thing in the full sense of the expression (for it certainly is, a point I am sure Vikernes would agree with).
The present article will briefly go through what the writer considers the main themes and their attitudes that stand out when one first reads this book. It is important, however, to point out that it becomes apparent to the sensitive reader that Reflections on European Mythology and Polytheism has a rather personal touch to it, like most of what Vikernes does, and one feels as if he were sitting close by talking and expounding on the topics at hand, immersing both himself and the listener in a magical well of knowledge that melds with experience. It mixes the giving out of facts with insightful pointing out of relations and cross-references, sprinkling the discussion of certain topics throughout different texts so that they build up in the mind of the reader.
“To me only the beauty of European polytheism remains”
— Varg Vikernes, ‘The Lord of the Elves’
These are given in a rather unapologetic tone proper of esoteric treatises which do not make claim to a perfection of the text but which deem the reader worthy enough to receive the statements as they are and then proceed to judge on their own. The mistaken modern view that expects a writer to keep apologizing and self denigrating so that the reader does not think he is pretentious is a waste of energy, time and material resources. If only people would consider content before rhetoric, and then proceed to the discourse only after they have understood the value and significance inherent in the content itself, something close to a proper understanding of things would be possible for the public.
§ Correction of outsider interpretations
The most important feature of Vikernes’ writing and attitude that should be considered as the most important for even the casual reader is the attempt he is making at correcting the biased and often twisted view of ancient European traditions. Somehow, in the sudden upsurge of views that sought to bring respect and awe for traditions of the East as well as American aboriginals and other foreign groups, the establishment forgot that before the invasion of Christianity, Europe also had equally valid and rich customs that deserved the same degree of respect. Furthermore, they forgot that these being their own, they deserved an even larger amount of attention.
This may, at first, sound like bigotry, but it can be easily shown it is not when one points out that it is natural and proper that the Chinese person protects and seeks to understand the ancient cultural roots of his folk1; so are the Quiches of Guatemala encouraged and protected that they may cultivate their Mayan roots free of the invading oppression of colonial Christianity and sterile modernity. Why should it be any different for the peoples of Europe?
“When I — arrogantly as some have claimed — said in the foreword to my book Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia that there are no good books (at least not in English, German or Scandinavian) out there about our mythology and religion, to some degree save The Golden Bough, by the anthropologist Sir James Frazer, this is what I mean; just about everything we know about our mythology from these books is seen through dense Judeo-Christian filters and interpreted in a Judeo-Christian light, it is twisted and distorted, and is unrecognisable.”
—Varg Vikernes, ‘Shadows amongst the Ruins’
The point he makes is very important because while we have striven to correct our views on, for instance, Hinduism, so that we can try and understand (as far as that is possible for us as foreigners) them from their own perspective, no such attempt has been made by academia to understand the original traditions of Europe, we have been seen as lowly enemies by the invading and strangling thought of Christianity as an aristocratic way of controlling large masses of people. Thus arose the image of the Witch-cult2 as an enemy of all that was “proper and good” in the eyes of the authorities throughout Europe, while these were most probably just the extreme expressions of the actual local culture.
1 “Mythos gives rise to Culture and Culture gives rise to Folk, and Folk gives rise to Race.”, K.
2 The reader may want to refer to Margaret Alice Murray’s book, The Witch-cult in Western Europe; though certainly not perfect and based on conjectures from sparse evidence, this is a book despised on an ideological level because it challenges the standard conception people have of Europe to the point that they start to panic when confronted with the idea of a Europe unified by underground expressions of original culture.
§ A physical and psychological naturalism
It is important to clarify that, to the best of my knowledge, Varg Vikernes is a traditionalist of the most pragmatic kind. The esoteric overtones which his subject matter contains are cut down by him after the manner of Sir James Frazer himself, who saw anything beyond material explanations as mere superstition. Now, Vikernes does not strike one as having this opinion, for he believes in inspiration and the power derived from symbols and stories. For him, however, this is simply manifested on the psychological level that then may transfer that into physical action.
This in itself does not contradict occult thought and is perfectly in line with it. But we can perceive from the text that nothing higher than that in the manner of spheres of existence or levels of manifestation are implied. For him, the interpretation is of the most flat one can give to Jungian explanations of a collective tradition functioning through interaction with the human unconscious. What must be clarified here is that Vikernes is not a mystic per se, because there is no conscious and direct search for a purposely created space.
The naturalism that he seems to follow with stoic resolution, however, clearly opens up a channel and we see in him, his thought and his artistic work traces of greatness and inspiration. It might be further observed that contrary to the pretentiousness of self-aware mystics or would-be occultists of the common variety who make overt attempts at being something by following trends in fashion and ways of speaking, there is no such attempt at pretending in Vikernes’ work. On the contrary, we find a constant flow of observations, facts, and conclusions which are then sprinkled with stout opinions.
We see action before speech, we see concrete results and facts instead of the empty banter of he who claims to experience but has nothing to show for it. Not that proving your personal journey to someone else is important, in fact, the contrary is closer to the truth. But Varg Vikernes stands out as an honest man of deep thought who exemplifies through action who he wants to be, offering us in his book the results of his meditations, as it were, through the eye of his own knowledge and experience.
§ Judeo-Christianity as alien to European customs
The other prominent theme that runs throughout the whole of Vikernes’ work is his emphasis the fact that Christianity as stemming from Judaism is an alien religion that was imposed on European peoples. That this is still contested by the public at large is unsurprising for they have been brought up believing that Christianity is essentially a European religion. It is incumbent upon the writer to reassure the reader that Christianity was in fact an artificially adopted tactic by the aristocracy which was then used as a tool to oppress and manipulate the native people of Europe.
We do not need to refer at all to any of the books written by Vikernes to confirm this as anyone acquainted closely with Charlemagne’s unification of Western Europe and his involvement and use of religion to this end will already understand this. The reason why any conquering aristocracy might want to make use of Christianity rather than stick to old religions of local variations is simple: Christianity’s character is essentially universalist. This means that anyone and everyone should be brought under its banner. In this, it mirrors Islam, which seeks to spread its righteousness like black clouds over the whole of the world (and the universe, if they could).
To make a clear distinction here, completely unrelated to the book under discussion, although Judaism is the indisputable father of those two other monotheistic religions, they do not share that attitude of ideological conquering, for Judaism is more of a closed ethnic and tribal authentic tradition that seeks to separate itself from outsiders through custom and race. Vikernes does not speak about Judaism itself except in some passing light remarks, but we here recommend the reader to inspect books such as Maurice H. Harris’ Hebraic Literature, to understand both differences and roots of Christianity and Islam in Judaism. It is, furthermore, important in understanding its difference with European tradition as seen in Germanic, Celtic and Hellenic traditions, for instance.
Europe has a unifying general concept throughout its geographical territory that is expressed in particular modes that can be easily and directly correlated without much effort. These all express the values of individual freedom and the value of a personal strength of will, even when under a leader and a duty towards tribe. This contrasts highly with Judeo-Christiantiy which is, as a famous philosopher once said, “slave morality”. European tradition is one imbued with pride and one that seeks to find its place within a nature it admires and worships as mother. The desert religions, on the other hand, see everything as given to them by god to use as they see fit, and they see humans or themselves as separate from it. Fundamental contrasts like this one go on and on.
“Man has a free will and is left to find his own way around in the universe, but he is not free from the consequences or the impulses of nature. In ancient times this free will was seen as a sorcerous tool; a man with a strong will could by the force of his sheer will cause different effects in the world.”
—Varg Vikernes, ‘The Power of Will’
§ A glorious rebirth
Despite the permanent theme of European traditions in opposition to Christianity, the dominating tones in Reflections on European Mythology and Polytheism remain in the reverential and calmly explanatory. There is, furthermore, a very proud and hopeful outlook that believes in the rebirth of a European population that will reach back and connect with its original roots. This is completely in line with the traditional beliefs of Europeans, which see after the twilight of the gods, the rule of new and perhaps lesser gods who then become the old gods themselves. This last bit cannot be understood correctly when Germanic/Scandinavian religion is sought to be Christianized or understood in terms of sterile anthropology or Freudian terms, but becomes readily apparent when understood and inspected from the inside out.
“Return to your roots! Like any tree out there, you too need your roots to survive: to grow tall and old, strong and beautiful.”
—Varg Vikernes, ‘The Roots of Europe’