by Koenraad Elst (Belgium)

In the present article, I will posit a somewhat dissident concerning ancestral religions and universalism. Being a scholar of Asian religions by profession, my involvement with heathen revivalism originates in my study and practice of several continuous non-Abrahamic religious traditions, viz. Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism. It is from that angle, and especially on the advice of the foremost contemporary Hindu philosopher Ram Swarup (1920-98), that I have started taking an interest in indigenous (in my case European) heathendom and its modern revival. His and my premisse is that, if the said Asian religions have been able to survive till today, there is no reason to accept the disappearance of the native European religions as a historic inevitability, nor to dismiss their revival as a priori ridiculous.

So, I have done some participant observation of mostly Celtic and Germanic revivalist groups. And, frankly, I have seen a few strange things there, childhood diseases. Many non-authentic ideas are read into the vague notion of "heathenism": firstly, all manner of post-Christian ideas from the past couple of centuries, such as Romantic anti-rationalism, traditionalism (the heathen or convert-Muslim counterpart of the Catholic Church's First Vatican Council of 1870, viz. an in-your-face rejection of modernity), feminism, environmentalism and nationalism; and secondly, the Christian enemy-image of heathenism as primitive, immoral and violent.

The philosophia perennis
A number of post-Christian movements, from the Theosophists to the Traditionalists, have posited the existence of a worldwide stream of quintessential religion underlying all the diverse religions known to us. Skipping the occasion to formulate a critique of these highly imperfect attempts to identify that common stream, that "perennial wisdom", I would like to point out that the basic idea is quite old. The Rg-Veda (1:164:46) says:

"They call it Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni,
Also that divine and noble-winged Garutman;
The one being, the wise call by many names;
Be it Agni or Yama of Matarishwan."

It was totally obvious to the Vedic seers that there was one truth, and that people of various climes and nations and classes and life stages will come up with their own perceptions of this one truth. Variety is a fact of life, not an evil to be combated nor a value to be defended, but what matters is the underlying single truth.

The old heathens were tolerant and pluralistic in matters of religion and philosophy; but they did not practise cultural relativism (now propagated both by New-Rightist "differentialists" and by Leftist "multiculturalists"). Thus, in morality, they did not think that any one thing was as good an any other: they honoured certain forms of behaviour and punished others; they praised the mores of certain neighbouring cultures and tried to emulate them, while holding others in contempt for their barbaric, effeminate or otherwise undesirable customs.

This acute sense of better and worse created a dynamic of progress. Certainly they held to the mores of their ancestors, but not blindly. Caesar was shocked at seeing the human sacrifice practised by the Celtic Druids, because to Romans this was a primitive ancestral custom abolished centuries earlier. Likewise, the Chinese abhorred the human sacrifices of the Shang dynasty (ca. 16th-12th century BC) and praised their abolition by the succeeding Zhou dynasty as a great forward step in the march of civilization. Without sending their ancestors to hell, as the Muslims and Christians do with their heathen ancestors, they did feel that ancestral mores were more primitive and in some cases just no longer acceptable.

This way, when our heathen ancestors saw something worthwhile in a neighbouring culture, they did not ask themselves: but is this the tradition of our ancestors? What they cared for was: is this true? Is this useful? Does this work? And the reason why they didn't mind borrowing from other cultures, was their basic awareness of the commonness of the human condition to all nations. Unlike so many neo-heathens, they were not wailing about their "roots"; they were quite securely rooted and roots were not an issue, they could focus on the truth. The most widespread visualization of the Gods in all heathen cultures was the starry sky (Isis was Sirius, Osiris/Prajapati was Orion, Balder/Mithras/Apollo was the sun, etc.), the universal canvas par excellence, there for all to see. So, from their roots upwards, they reached to heaven, breathing a lot of good atmospheric oxygen along the way.

They rejected Christianity, alright; however, they rarely rejected it because of its foreign origins, but rather for its funny or silly dogmas. Those neo-heathens in Europe who reject "foreign Christianity" in favour of "native Indo-European tradition" ought to realize that for most of them, Indo-European tradition was once a foreign innovation too. The oldest European religions, along with the oldest Indo-European languages, now only remain as fragments incorporated in the Indo-European languages and religions which immigrated from the East.

Most of our biological ancestors at one time looked up to the culture of the newly arrived Indo-Europeans, and assimilated themselves into it. They sacrificed their "identity" for something which they perceived as superior. I am convinced that we, too, should not worship "ethnic identity" as our central value; identity is there and will be there, but we should aspire to the truth. In the age of globalization, our aim should not be to oppose globalization, but rather to appropriate it, to infuse it with our ancestral civilization rather then letting it get usurped by aberrations like consumerism, missionary Christianity or conquering Islam.