In the comments of my previous post, the question of the appropriateness of “divine revelation” and “visions from the Gods” came up. This is actually a subject I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time, so it seemed a perfect opportunity.
The commenter felt that such things led to “Leaders who cannot be questioned because their word is channeled from the gods”. In my own personal experience of Theodism, such is absolutely not the case. Indeed, although Garman Lord was the recipient of a well-known visitation which launched the Theodish movement as a whole, I’ve never heard it claimed that divine revelation was the source of loyalty to one’s king. As a matter of fact, Garman is quite dismissive of the Christian-inspired tradition of the “divine right of kings”.
But let’s broaden the conversation beyond Theodism.
Among Asatruar, there is a small tradition called “oracular seidh” (the inappropriateness of connecting the practice to traditional seiðr is a subject unto itself, but let’s set that aside for the moment). Practitioners of this art attend Asatru gatherings and will sometimes do public rituals, but the focus is almost entirely on the personal level.
Much like the famous example from the Saga of Erik the Red (whose details are quite possibly suspect, but once again that’s a topic for another post), such sessions deal with individuals asking personal questions, with little of import on a community level, let alone revelations that impact Heathenry as a whole, nations, or the world.
(I should at this point note that it’s entirely possible that such revelations have happened in the past, and I’ve just not heard of them. I can personally attest to have participated in a half-dozen or so oracular seidh sessions, and the results have always been as described.)
The devotional polytheist community also has a strong tradition of divine revelation; indeed, it’s pretty much their defining trait. It is the intense, personal, one-on-one relationship between a God or Gods and the individual (to the point of “god marriages” being a thing) that is at the heart of devotional polytheism.
That said, it should be no surprise that divination and divine revelations are very important in devotional polytheism. But I am similarly unaware of any prominent examples of such pronouncements being done at any but the personal level, and often then to the practitioner themselves.
There is, however, another perspective that needs to be brought into this, and that is the historical. In fact, there is a long tradition of prophetesses who have a huge impact on tribal decisions. Take this example from the Histories of Tacitus:
Munius Lupercus, legate of one of the legions, was sent along with other gifts to Veleda, a maiden of the tribe of the Bructeri, who possessed extensive dominion; for by ancient usage the Germans attributed to many of their women prophetic powers and, as the superstition grew in strength, even actual divinity. The authority of Veleda was then at its height, because she had foretold the success of the Germans and the destruction of the legions. Munius Lupercus legatus legionis inter dona missus Veledae. ea virgo nationis Bructerae late imperitabat, vetere apud Germanos more, quo plerasque feminarum fatidicas et augescente superstitione arbitrantur deas. tuncque Veledae auctoritas adolevit; nam prosperas Germanis res et excidium legionum praedixerat.
They were not, however, allowed to approach or address Veleda herself. In order to inspire them with more respect they were prevented from seeing her. She dwelt in a lofty tower, and one of her relatives, chosen for the purpose, conveyed, like the messenger of a divinity, the questions and answers.sed coram adire adloquique Veledam negatum: arcebantur aspectu quo venerationis plus inesset. ipsa edita in turre; delectus e propinquis consulta responsaque ut internuntius numinis portabat.
Here we have a clear historical example of a woman leader of a Germanic tribe (the Batavii), who ruled over them as a direct result of her prophetic powers. It’s important to note that Tacitus tells us that such was “attributed to many of their women”. There is some debate as to whether “Veleda” is a proper name or a title, but it’s really irrelevant to the point at hand. She was a prophetess who was granted command over the Germanic tribe by virtue of her direct contact with the Gods, proven by her successful prophecies.
There are other similar examples, but Veleda is the most striking. So where are our modern Veledas?
We seem replete with “little volva’s” who are content to provide personalized prophecy for a family or an individual, but where are our prophetesses or prophets who have insights from the Gods that we can trust to help Heathenry move forward?
The obvious answer is that it has become impossible to trust the prophetess in today’s climate, especially if they claim to make pronouncements that impact all of Heathenry. Seriously, who would take a sibyl at their word when she pronounces that the Gods Themselves have said that Universalism is anathema? Or that folkishness is a straight ticket to Nástrǫnd? Nobody, and it’s sad to say, rightfully so.
I can see a definite role for such a person on a tribal level, though. One who had proven themselves through a series of unambiguous, prescient, and above all correct predictions. Saying “the Gods speak through me!” isn’t enough. But a proven track record of being right, and having a general consensus of that track record, will certainly go a long way towards establishing the credibility needed to have that sort of influence.
Much like Veleda foretold the victory of the Batavii over Rome, and that led to her having the necessary credentials to rise to a position of influence and leadership within the tribe, we need to be cultivating a generation of prophets. Track their successes. Make sure they really do have the attention of the Gods. Heed their words once they’ve earned the trust of the folk.
Hel, if someone has a substantive enough track record, they might even have enough stature to be listened to by people on both sides of the various divides within Heathenry; folkish/universalist, Lokean/anti-Lokean, recon/modernist, and so forth.
But doing something like that, and achieving the reputation for neutrality, accuracy, and wisdom necessary to be believed, would take literally decades. Imagine how far Heathenry could go if we had not one person, but a coterie of prophets and prophetesses, each individually vetted as being accurate and impartial, yet coming from different sides of the various Heathen divides, all saying “the Gods say we need to do X RIGHT NOW”!
But the members of Hrafnar saying something will only attract the attention of a few people, especially if they start coming out with pronouncements that obviously advance their own preconceived notions. Ditto with the AFA (although the Folkish side of the house has always seemed to lag behind the unis when it comes to things magical). Hrafnar saying “the Gods say folkishness is eeeevil!” would be met with a yawn, as would a Gering Theod sibyl saying “the gods say we must not honor Loki!”
But what if, a decade or two from now, an AFA spákonasgild announced that the Gods think there should be a path of adoption into the folk? And what if, around the same time, Hrafnar’s sibyls said they were told that anyone just can’t walk into Heathenry because they want to, but there needs to be a path to entry with a relatively high bar?
Oh, it’s a complete hypothetical of course. But imagine the impact!! Especially if both had been successfully predicting events such as natural disasters, the death of prominent Heathen leaders, and so forth? What if they started looking beyond “should I look for a new job” and into “what will be significant to Heathenry as a whole in the next year”? Or if we could start to get consensus on unclear, contradictory, or otherwise difficult bits of lore? With a proven track record of success, such pronouncements might start to take on more weight.
I think there’s a place for personal revelation and prophecy. But I think it needs to be accompanied by stringent standards for accuracy (I would weigh such pronouncements against what we do know about the way our ancestors practiced their religion), and from that a foundation of trust can be established. Once that exists, then people might start to pay attention to pronouncements on a broader plane, and I think that’s something we sorely need.
Our ancestors trusted in Veleda’s prophecies enough to let her determine policy for an entire tribe. Surely we can take the first steps to establish some basic level of trust in our modern sibyls.