Saturday, May 03, 2014

"You betrayed the gods–all of them"

Vikings ran its second season finale this week. In one scene, Floki, who likes to taunt Athelstan, accuses Athelstan: "You betrayed the gods–all of them."
Athelstan was a monk before he was abducted by the Vikings when they raided his monastery. Athelstan is something of a social chameleon, who blends with whatever environment he is put in. When he's with Christians, he plays the Christian role. When he's with heathens, he plays a heathen role (although he holds something in reserve).
Floki's point is that, having turned his back on the Christian God when he was living with the Vikings, and having turned his back on the Norse gods when he resumed living with Christians, Athelstan has alienated all the gods. He no longer has a deity to turn to. Athelstan is unnerved by the accusation. Is he doomed? 
From a pagan standpoint, Floki's allegation somewhat misleading. To some degree, pagans believed in local gods. You have your war god and we have our war god. The winners are victorious, either because their war god is stronger, or because the losers were fighting on the turf of the enemy war god, which put them at a disadvantage. 
if you married into a different heathen people-group, you might leave your ancestral gods behind and adopt their gods. Indeed, that was expected. 
Mind you, there was also a certain amount of syncretism in heathen piety. Because some phenomena attributed to the gods was universal, the same god would be responsible for that phenomenon. Presumably, there was only one storm god by different names. One sun god by different names. 
Still, if you keep shifting allegiances, your ancestral gods won't accept you back. Changing sides may be acceptable so long as you remain loyal to your adopted gods. But you will run out of divine patrons if you cross that border too many times.
The heathen gods were not forgiving, even when humans were guiltless. For instance, Zeus would force himself on women. They were in no position to rebuff his unwanted advances. This enraged Hera. But she can't exact revenge on her philandering husband. Zeus is too powerful. So she'd take it out on his hapless victims. 
When he was out hunting, Actaeon accidentally saw Artemis bathing. She changes him into a stag, which provokes his hunting dogs to attack him. 
If that's how the heathen gods treat humans who offend them through no fault of their own, imagine what awaits a human who betrays them! There is no one left to protect you. No where you can go to escape the wrath of the gods. 
Although I'm discussing fiction, paganism is not a dead religion. Folk Hinduism and folk Buddhism are pagan religions. There is also a resurgence of paganism in the West. 
And this is one of the differences between heathenism and Christianity. Peter betrayed Christ. And Peter was not alone. Except for John, all the other disciples abandoned Christ when the authorities took him into custody. They feared collective reprisal. 
Yet betraying the one true God is not an unpardonable offense. The blood of Christ redeemed his betrayer. Peter was contrite. God forgave Peter. 

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