Epicism · reconstructionism

The Epicist School

At least in the circles I run in nowadays, I’ve seen a resurgence in activity by the people who are followers of/inspired by the 19th century Swedish author Viktor Rydberg. They’ve published books, they’ve expanded beyond his original texts, and they’re very, very vocal on social media. They’ve been around for 25 years or so (first championed by William Reaves, who is still very active in the movement), and now call themselves the Epic School, or Epicists, after Rydberg’s main thesis that the corpus of genuine Norse myths constitutes a single vast epic narrative, and that the key to understanding it relies on such an interpretation.

Dave Martel gives a definition of Epicism over on his YouTube channel (forgive his lapses in grammar; this is a car video, so I won’t give him any grief):

…Epicism was drawn from Viktor Rydberg, and it is now being continued by Mark Puryear and the Noroenna Society, and it has the innate, the inherent, the origin intent to look at the Gods as real, because They are real, to look at the lore as real texts, not just, you know, a bunch of crap, or myth, or whatever; these are real texts. … … to stop relying on academics, to stop relying on atheists, to stop relying on, on, you know, crap, so we can, ourselves, have a proper formulaic approach to establishing, understanding, and teaching our spiritual philosophy, which not only is real, it is also legitimate. And what this does, is kind of cuts out any possible nefarious intent. And it ensures that the formula is for us, by us, as Asatru, as Heathens, as Pagans.

I’ve got to say, when I hear “stop relying on academics” my warning lights go off immediately. It feels a little… culty. Urging people to not look at the work of accepted academics who’ve spent their lives researching a particular topic? Who are objective reporters who base their conclusions on evidence? Who’ve got access to sources that laymen simply can’t easily see? Who attend conferences, write for and read journals, and otherwise interact with one another to share ideas?

And what do they replace the entire academic world with? A single 19th century author, his theories, and themselves and their interpretations and expansions of his work. Doesn’t that sound more than a little like “don’t listen to those so-called experts; they’re all wrong, and we have the real answers”?

And the reason they eschew mainstream academia isn’t because of some atheistic (or is it Christian? – they are inconsistent on that point) plot to distort pre-Christian Germanic lore for some nefarious reason, but because those mainstream academics reject their (and Rydberg’s) main thesis.

If the experts say your theory is wrong, the problem must be with the experts! It’s almost like the Flat Earthers of Heathenry.

More to come, I have no doubt, because if there’s one thing the Epicists cannot stand, it’s criticism in any form. Personally, I think it’s a sign of insecurity, but that’s entirely just my interpretation.

7 thoughts on “The Epicist School

  1. We openly invite criticism. By all means bring it on.

    Rydberg is far from the only mind we consult. We regularly make use of Carolyn Larrington, Grimm, Dumezil, Ursula Dronke and many others. The reason behind the focus on Rydberg is quite simple, he is one of the few scholars who made an honest effort to weave a cohesive epic narrative out of all the fragments of lore that have survived.

    As for casting aside much of conventional academia, the reason for it it’s not because we believe that there is some large organized nefarious plot. Most of academia can roughly be divided in to two camps, religious and scientific. The religious camp, which is usually christian-based, looks upon anything that is not part of a modern accepted religion as being primitive and inferior, if not outright demonic and evil. The scientific camp views religion of any kind as being rooted in the primitive superstition of savages. I’m not saying that all academics fall into one of these camps, but most of them do.

    While it is true that academics spend their lives researching these various topics, most of their work is dedicated to finding evidence to support their preconceived notions, which is a very flawed research method. Most academics are only concerned with making a name for themselves, and glorifying their egos by proving themselves to be experts in their field. I know this from experience as I spent a good deal of time in college trying to be an academic. I found the bureaucracy and politics to be a complete and total waste of my time.

    Once upon a Time, after the Christian conversions, the church controled the flow of all knowledge. During the Renaissance leading into the enlightenment, academia arose to be a competitor, to challenge the establishment of the church. Academia has now become no different than the church once was. They see themselves as being the source of all knowledge now. An organization that was once dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, and distribution of knowledge is now no better then the organization it once sought the challenge. They are the epitome of the pearl of wisdom which states, “in your quest to slay monsters, take care not to become a monster yourself”.

    I noticed that the name of this blog is “Theodish Thoughts”, so I am going work under the assumption that you are Theodish. Let’s take a moment to talk about cults.

    I am a former Theodsman. I have in my library a collection just about everything Theod ever published. So I’m very familiar with the history of the movement and its leadership.

    The story of the movement begins when Garman Lord cast a Wiccan circle and invoked Odin. Odin appeared and gave him a mission which resulted in the founding of the Witan Theod and the establishment of his sacral kingship. This established the tradition of sacral leadership within Theodism.

    Divine revelation? Visions from Gods? Leaders who cannot be questioned because their word is channeled from the gods? Could this not be misconstrued as cultish? Just food for thought.

    I would like to add did I am not attacking Theodism. I’m not actually accusing it of being a cult. I simply want to point out that it could be interpreted as one. I actually have a lot of respect for Garman Lord and all of his work and contributions to the Heathen movement.

    May the Gods see you

    1. Hi Edward!

      Same apology I gave to Dave; sorry for taking so long to reply. Soon as I saw you had replied, I approved it.

      I have to say, though, that the tone and tenor of your reply lends credence to my statement; “…if there’s one thing the Epicists cannot stand, it’s criticism in any form.” I apologize if my original post came across as overly dismissive, and I will try to keep further posts on the subject more substantive (see my reply to Dave, below).

      I never accused you of thinking there was “a nefarious plot.” In fact, I said exactly the opposite, that it *wasn’t* for the nefarious reason, but simply because modern academia didn’t agree with the Epicist theory.

      You throw out a lot of completely unsupported statements. Academia either views religion as primitive/evil or primitive/savage. Most academics just look for evidence to support preconceived notions. But, unsurprisingly, academics who agree with you seem to be above such base concerns.

      As to your comments on Theodism, trust me, with the convulsions in Theodism with Dan Halloran and other things, we’ve all undergone periods of introspection on that and other topics. No one, least of all me, will claim it’s perfect (although compared to Asatru just about now, it has some advantages!).

      But I will as a matter of fact support the idea of divine revelation and visions from the Gods. Indeed, someone who would seemingly throw the concept of the Gods today acting like the Gods of a thousand years ago out the window seems, once again, like an attempt to demonize any source that might not agree with your own preconceived notion. May I ask when you were a member of a Theod, and who was its lord? Because I’ve never heard of a Theodish lord running down academic sources merely because they were academic. Quite the opposite; Theodsmen have a well-earned reputation for being of a scholarly bent (among other things).

      Does divine revelation mean “leaders cannot be questioned?” Of course not, and if you really are formerly Theodish you’d recognize that as being absurd on its face. All such revelations must be treated with discernment and care, and weighed against further revelation and omens from other sources. But does that mean we throw out oracles and those who are touched by the Divine, simply because it doesn’t fit our modern model of religion? Of course not.

      And, it may interest you to know that I once asked the question, during an oracular ritual, “Is Rydberg right?” The answer that came back was “Some.”

      Food for thought indeed.

  2. Nah man, we love criticisms. Bring it all on, we’ll happily explain our positions.

    So, firstly, I appreciate presenting my spoken words respectfully. That was good stuff, I would have ignored this entirely if it started out as a smear piece.

    I think my words on Epicism might’ve been misconstrued here or possibly I wasn’t clear enough in my video with what I meant by “Academics”.

    Your concerns about cults are exactly the concerns we have. That’s why we’re doing this work. There are too many goofballs just making stuff up and claiming to be a source because of celebrity status or whatever. It’s been a cancer in our faith since day one. That is NOT what we’re doing.

    Our aim is to establish our own academia. We want to ensure that our sources are translated and studied by those who have a real spiritual worldview. Folks that truly understand that this is a religion, not just old stories in a book. We can do it and we are doing it.

    We also want to put this work out there as a safeguard against cult leaders who want to pervert our religion for individual gain.

    You seem like a bright guy with similar aims. Why don’t you join us? Or at least come take a look at our work and give us a fair shake.


    1. Hi Dave!

      Again, sorry for the delay. I approved your comment as soon as I realized it was there.

      You said:

      “You seem like a bright guy with similar aims. Why don’t you join us? Or at least come take a look at our work and give us a fair shake.”

      Many thanks, and I would also like to apologize for coming across as too flippant and harsh. I have, as a matter of fact, been following William Reaves’ stuff for many years now (since before it was even called “the Epicist school”, as a matter of fact).

      I actually intend to do a deeper dive into some of your stuff at some point. My problem with the work of your movement has always been that you take a couple of pretty good points, make a not-so-out-there conclusion, and then veer off into taking things way too far.

      The problem, of course, is that I really don’t want to devote my waning years to investigating everything you guys say, posting debunkings of the stuff that goes too far, and then replying to your responses. It would take decades. First Viktor Rydberg, and then William, and now you and others, have literally devoted lifetimes to this work. Trying to react to every single thing, and trying to suss out the reasonable from the “you took it too far here” is a game that’s simply stacked against me, if only from the standpoint of time and potential ROI.

      I can post an example or two in a future post, which I might hope would help you see the direction I’m pointing at. But a critique of the whole corpus is, frankly, beyond me, because it would simply take too long, and I’ve got rituals to perform, dramas to write, and feasts to enjoy.

  3. Please accept my abject apologies. For some reason comment notifications started going to spam, and as soon as I realized you had commented, I approved it of course. Responses to come, but thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. And a serious question, if I may. I hear you’ve got insights into ritual format through your researches? Can you point me to that? It’s a particular interest of mine.

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