Indo-European Studies 1

  1. Describe several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture. (minimum 300 words)

There are several factors that define a culture as Indo-European.  The big three factors as they apply to the study of Our Druidry are having the same root language, having similar social or class structures, and having similar myth cycles.  Each of these three is important when studying Indo-European cultures in general because with those three factors combined, it is possible to postulate regarding aspects of each Indo-European culture that is missing sources from other Indo-European cultures that have that information documented.  It allows us to better flesh out each culture and better understand how the context of the culture impacted the life and the religion of the people.

The cultures we define as Indo-European all have language that root back to the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language.  Having this same root language allows us to reconstructive certain deities and worship practices based on the tracing the roots of other cultures back.  For instance, we can look at language to see the similarities in various deities. The Thundering Sky God is a strong archetype present across the Indo-European cultures, and in Greek myth Zeus “is in name identical with the old Vedic sky-god Dyaus (Indo-European *Dyews ‘Bright Sky’)” (Puhvel 130).  Similarly the Norse Thor shares a root with the Gaulish Taranis, both reducing to *thunar-, meaning thunder (169).  The similarities in the roots of the deity names are a way that we can reconstruct an archetypical deity for a certain culture that doesn’t have a reliable record or complete record of one existing.  This same method holds true for important cultural rituals, such as rites of passage and celebrations linked to the seasons.

Indo-European cultures also have a similar social or class structure in place.  This is commonly referred to as Dumezil’s Theory of Tripartition, which will be discussed in more detail in question 2.  In general, this is the theory that there are three general classes of people that all must exist in a society and all play an important role to that society.  The three classes are the priestly class, the warrior class, and the agricultural class.  None can exist without the other and they work together to maintain a culturally rich society.  This tripartition is important to understanding the culture because it allows us to compare the functions of the deities of that culture to the people that culture.  This allows us to better understand their values and why they exist and are observed in the forms that they are.

The third factor that gives us a better understanding of Indo-European cultures is each cultures myth cycles.  There are various archetypes that appear across Indo-European cultures.  These archetypes that present themselves in the various myths give us a wealth of information that can be used to help reconstruct myths, or at least give us general information about a specific culture.  For example, in cultures that are missing archetypical myths, such as a creation myth for the Celts, or any wealth of Gaulish information, the lack of a myth doesn’t mean that one didn’t exist, simply that we don’t have the records of it anymore.  So having the ability to cross-reference all the different Indo-European cultures allows us to gives a better understanding of the similarities and differences about each myth in each culture, as well as allowing us to fill in the missing pieces a little more reliably.

 

  1. George Dumezil’s theory of tripartition has been central to many modern approaches to Indo-European studies. Outline Dumezil’s three social functions in general, and as they appear in one particular Indo-European society. Offer your opinion as to whether you believe Dumezil’s claim that tripartition is central to IE cultures. (minimum 300 words)

George Dumezil’s Theory of Tripartition is the theory that the there are three classes of people in (Proto)Indo- European cultures.  Additionally, not only does this division of classes occur among the people of that society, but it is also reflected in the pantheon that is particular to that hearth culture.  The three classes that are present across these (Proto)Indo-European cultures are the class of priests (the sacral class), the class of warriors (the martial class), and the class of herders and cultivators (the economic class) (Mallory 130-1).

Using Ancient Greece as an example, the priestly class, or the class of sovereignty, had kings as well as priests serving this function.  The gods within this class include Zeus and Hera, and arguably Apollo.  Zeus and Hera were often referred to as the King and Queen of the gods.  The kings of the various city-states honored both the patron of their city, as well as giving honor to Zeus for his role as the dispenser of justice.  Apollo is the most commonly associated with prophecy and magic, two things that fell most often to the priestly class (Mallory 131-2).

The warrior class consisted of those members of society who were either on the defensive or offensive. The hoplites that served in the various armies, as well as the naval and cavalry forces would fall into this class.  The gods within this class include Ares and Athena, and arguably Artemis and Poseidon (both of whom may also fall within the economic class depending on the task at hand).  Ares is often referred to as the god of military prowess, courage, and brute strength, whereas Athena is praised for her tactical prowess and wisdom in the cunning that accompanies a victory.  Artemis, while primarily regarding as a deity of the hunt, is also honored as a protector of children, allowing her fall within the defensive military realm.  Her skill with the bow also gives her a place as a warrior.  Poseidon is primarily known as a sea deity, but he is who gave horses to man, allowing a cavalry to exist.  And while his blessing is necessary for fishing and gaining things from the sea, it is also required for naval support, as evidenced by the many myths that involve his refuses navies to set sail, or throwing ships full of warriors off course (Mallory 131-2).

The third class, the economic class, consisted of the majority of the common people, as well as a majority of the gods.  These people were the farmers and the tradesmen.  They were involved in tasks that relate to productivity and a strong economy.  The gods that fall into this class are Demeter, Dionysos, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, and Hestia, and arguably Athena, as well as Artemis and Poseidon, as mentioned above.  Demeter is associated with farming and the grains of the earth. Dionysos is associated with the cultivation and processing of fruits.  Hermes is the patron of shepherds and herdsmen, as well as the patron of tradesmen, merchants, and thieves.  Hephaestus is the patron of people who make things with their hands and craftsmen, specifically of the forge.  Aphrodite is a fertility figure.  Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and the home, and thus of all the people.  Athena, while known for her tactical genius, is also the goddess of wisdom and of crafts, specifically processed goods such as textiles (Mallory 131-2).

I do think that Dumezil’s claim that tripartition is central to Indo-European cultures is a valid one.  I think these three classes can be found within every Indo-European society, as well as each Indo-European pantheon.  I think some of the specifics may be hard to find within culture, such as the horse association with the third function, or, as demonstrated above, some of the deities may fall within multiple functions. I’m also not sure that this tripartition is specific to Indo-Europeans, or if it is a theory that could be applied to every human society (Mallory 130-135).

 

  1. Choose one Indo-European culture and describe briefly the influences that have shaped it and distinguish it from other Indo-European derived cultures. Examples include migration, contact with other cultures, changes in religion, language, and political factors. Is there any sense in which this culture can be said to have stopped being an Indo-European culture? (minimum 300 words)

The Greeks are one of the earliest Indo-European civilizations that developed.  They were likely an invasive population that moved through the Mediterranean area because they were following the same route that farming and agriculture took as it spread.  There is evidence that “in earlier times there were two races living in Greece: the Pelasgians; who never left their original home, and the Hellenes (Greeks), who frequently migrated” (Mallory 68).  This account by Herodotus reflects the theory that the Greeks moved into the area and absorbed another culture on their migration.

Some of the evidence that suggests they absorbed an indigenous culture comes from an examination of the Greek language. There is much linguistic evidence that that the Greeks borrowed considerably from a non-Greek language in a calculated manner that suggests they incorporated words that are specific to the resources and knowledge of that indigenous culture (Mallory 68).

The Greeks also had contact with other cultures from all sides.  Notably they had the Persians to the north, India to the east, Egypt to the south, and later Rome to the west.  The Persian in the north was where the majority of the military conflict arose.  In some cases the Persians invaded Greece, and on other occasions Greece invaded Persia.  There is evidence of some imported deities from the east, such as Dionysos, and perhaps Artemis and Poseidon.  Later there was mixing with the Egyptians and their culture.  An incorporation of some Egyptian deities, specifically in magic work, occurred.  This can be seen in the Greek Papyri.

As far as politics are concerned, initially Athens and Sparta were the dominating city-states, but with military conflict this shifted.  The Peloponnesian War led to the downfall of Athens and Thebes and Macedon eventually became leading powers, overshadowing their predecessors.  Macedon eventually united the city-states in the League of Corinth, which was led by Alexander the Great.  Alexander the Great is who led The Empire, however following the confusion after his death Greece eventually became one of the regions protected by the Roman Empire (“Greece”).

When taking into account the hallmarks of an Indo-European culture, such as the common root language, the similar social structures, and a common myth cycle, I think Greece can still be considered Indo-European.  They still speak a language that finds the roots of the majority of its words in proto-Indo-European.  They still have three basic classes of people: the ruling class, though it now may have less clergy participating within this class and more government officials and law makers; the warrior class, who now also include protectors of the people and city, such as policemen, as well as traditional military figures; and the economic class functioning much as it always has because the need for food and trade continues throughout cultural changes.  The final aspect, the common myth cycle, is still present within the culture, though neither it nor the pantheon are followed and worshiped as the primary religion of the area.  However, I think this lack of a current majority of followers of the old religion does not preclude current Greece from continuing to be an Indo-European civilization.

 

  1. Choose one other Indo-European culture and compare and contrast it to the culture discussed in question 3 above with respect to each culture’s Indo-European nature.(minimum 300 words)

Considered by some sources to be the homeland for Indo-Europeans, the early Vedics set a standard for what is seem in many, if not all other Indo-European cultures (Winn 333).  When discussing migration, while the Greeks moved from the east and eventually settled along the Mediterranean coast and surrounding areas, the Vedics appear to have migrated from the Iran and Afghanistan areas into what is now India.  This migration happened at the same time the Indo-Iranians were migrating.  So, while the Greeks migrated into a new area and then came in contact with an indigenous culture, it seems likely that the Vedics and Indo-Iranians came in contact with each other while both were migrating, though it is debated in what order they came in contact and in what region (Winn 186-7).

The Vedas were written down no later than 1400 BCE, which was around the same time that the migration from the Indo-Iranian lands to northwest India occurred.  Unlike the Greek language, which appears to have borrowed extensively from the indigenous culture, the text of the Indic text of the Rig Veda bears enough resemblance and parallels to the Iranian language that it is almost certain the two cultures had extended contact during which time their languages evolved alongside each other (Winn 187).  It was at first assumed that Sanskrit was the mother of the Indo-European languages, though upon further examination it is generally agreed upon now that it is a sister language to the Indo-European family tree of languages, all of which date back to an even earlier Proto-Indo-European language (Ford).  Sanskrit has been used extensively in the reconstruction of the PIE language, while the other IE languages, including Greek, have been used to aid and verify the reconstructed words (Winn 333-4).

The Vedic religion has gone through changes and evolutions in religion, most notably transitioning from the ancient worship of Vedic deities as they are mentioned in the Vedas, to the modern religion of Hinduism.  At first this appears to be similar to how the Ancient Greek religion evolved as more and more ancient poets wrote hymns and other texts, slowly altering the perception of the deities, and eventually splitting off into their Roman and later forms.  However, within the Vedic society as more texts were added, the focus of worship shifted into a less Indo-European polytheistic practice observing the tripartition of classes and placing an importance on ritual, and moved more towards a monism practice focusing on the ideas of all things being one and individual reflection more than ritual practice (Winn 187-9).

In the same way that Greece can still be considered and Indo-European culture, I think the Indic culture can still be considered Indo-European.  While it may not follow the same religion as it did in ancient times, it still displays the hallmarks of an Indo-European society with its common root language and observance of social structures, particularly with India’s caste system.

 

  1. From its beginnings, ADF has defined itself in relation to Indo-European pagan traditions. What relevance do you think historical and reconstructed IE traditions from the past have in constructing or reconstructing a Pagan spirituality for the present and future? (minimum 600 words)

ADF has defined itself as a neo-pagan religion that focuses on the cultural and religious practices of Indo-European traditions.  There are a few points that need to be made regarding this focus: the difference between reconstruction and reimagination, how this applies to the focus on reputable sources, and the depth and community of the new religion that results from these sources.  These three points are relevant to the continued growth of ADF because of the ways they allow us to move towards a deeper and more meaningful spirituality.

First, I think it is extremely relevant that ADF is a neo-pagan religion, rather than a reconstructionist religion.  By reimagining the practices of the Indo-European cultures we’re able to move towards things that will allow ADF to continue to progress towards a mainstream religion.  It also allows us to maintain a path that will continue for multiple generations rather than the few that so often happens with new religions.  Our ability to reimagine, rather than reconstruct allows us to take the best pieces from the ancient religion and culture, and leave behind those which no longer apply to our current society and modern culture.  We are able to apply the social justices we’ve learned over the centuries to our new religion.  By doing this we are acknowledging that religion evolves over time, and are making an educated guess at the direction the worship practices would have gone.  Overall, this means that knowing the historical Indo-European traditions is imperative to both reconstruction and reimagination of those traditions.

Second, when beginning the process of this reimagination it is relevant to ADF’s practice that we focus on scholarly work and reputable sources.  These sources are about the historical traditions of the ancient Indo-European cultures. This focus allows for both accurate reconstructed practices and better guesses at what those practices would look like if they had continued to evolve.  Because of this focus on scholarly work, members of ADF are given opportunities to study the ancient religions and beta-test new ideas.  If these new ideas work, they then have the sources to back up what they’ve done, and thus continue the path of Our Druidry through the present and into the future.  Being able to draw from these historical traditions is relevant to ADF.

Finally, most relevant to the continuing ADF spiritual community, it is important to answer the question, “Why restrict cultures to only Indo-European ones?” or “Why allow more than one culture?” This is important for a number of reasons.  Due to the commonalities that Indo-European cultures share, it allows for a common discourse and a common ground between members who worship following the practices of many different hearths.  Also, by allowing all Indo-European cultures to be represented it allows for a broader community base in a religion that has a minority following it.  It also allows for the common language that all ADF members can relate to, such as discussion of the Three Kindreds, the Earth Mother, and the Gatekeeper.  In addition, by focusing solely on Indo-European cultures we can draw deeply from a few sources, rather than shallowly from many.  This allows for less inconsistencies or discrepancies within a ritual when blending multiple cultures.  All these reasons for focusing on the historical traditions of ancient Indo-European cultures, and the ways they are now reconstructed and reimagined make the resulting religion that ADF is fostering a more coherent and valuable whole.

 

Bibliography:

Ford, Clark, Ph. D. “Early World History: Indo-Europeans to the Middle Ages.” Iowa State University. N.p., Fall 2012. Web. 02 Jan. 2013. <http://www.public.iastate.edu/~cfford/342worldhistoryearly.html>.

“Greece.” Topic Pages. Boston: Credo Reference Contributors, 2013. N. pag. Credo Reference. 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2013. <http://www.credoreference.com/topic/greece>.

Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Print.

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987. Print.

 Winn, Shan M. M. Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness: The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology. Lanham: University of America, 1995. Print.

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