The Aesirist Cult: Religion in the Sacnoth Dominate
This was the featured article in the September/October 2020 issue.
The following essay is excerpted, including four of the dozen vignettes of Aesiren encountered by the author during her research, from a longer article by Dr. Valgerd Markdottir Roesdahl which recently appeared in The New Century, a literary and cultural commentary magazine published at Ny Kalmar on Gram. Established in 100 F.E. (shortly before the New Colonies—Tyrfing, Sacnoth and Excalibur—and the worlds of the Dyrnwyn Spur—Hofud, Durendal and Dyrnwyn—began to be settled), The New Century is read widely by the well-educated across the Sacnoth Dominate but has at times been criticized by Dominate officials for its editorial stance which is sometimes perceived to be critical of the government.
When the Founders arrived on Gram they brought with them many of the religious traditions of the Old Earth Union. Among those original settlers were people from various Abrahamic, Dharmic, Gaiaic and Taoic denominations. Many communities of adherents of these Old Terran religious groups remain vibrant across the Dominate today. But among the Founders there was also a small group of religious innovators who were convinced that the new civilization being established on Gram called for a new religious tradition. These new religionists, who tended to be people who had not come from Old Terran faith traditions, were influenced by the Cultural Roots Revival of the Old Earth Union which had encouraged rediscovery of a variety of ostensibly ancient or traditional Old Terran cultural practices.
Perhaps because many of the Founders shared Old Terran Nordic and Germanic linguistic traditions, these religious innovators looked to ancient Nordic religious beliefs for inspiration. It is here that we find the origins of the cult of Aesirism. The Aesir were the principal deities of an ancient, polytheistic religion that died out on Terra before the advent of interstellar civilization. Aesiren believe that those ancient deities endure not so much as metaphysical beings but rather as distinct supernatural forces, each of which is suggested by the traditional conception of the ancient deity. Thus, the ancient deity Odin is believed to represent the supernatural forces which enable leadership while the ancient deity Frigg—Odin’s spouse—is believed to represent the supernatural forces which inform wisdom. Contemporary Aesirism mirrors the ancient polytheism as its adherents will look to different Aesir in different circumstances for spiritual needs associated with a given Aesir’s traits and qualities.
Aesiren also have a special regard for the natural environment. Some of this ecological focus comes from the fact that the ancient Nordic religious tradition flourished at a time of primitive civilization on Old Terra, centuries before the advent of industrialization. Some of the ecological emphasis may also be the result of an affinity between the new Aesiren and early Gaiaic communities. And no doubt some of the reverence for nature is the practical result of the early Aesiren living on the frontiers of Sword World settlements, closest to the natural environment of newly-settled worlds.
As a practical matter, Aesiren do not worship in temples, preferring to establish shrines in natural areas, usually centered around some distinct natural feature—a meadow, a glacier face, an oasis, a tidepool. While these shrines are usually discovered in place, others can be created, by planting and nurturing a single tree in a small hollow or by uncovering and maintaining a bolder buried in a windswept dune. Oftentimes a shrine will be located where a dramatic transformation of the environment has recently occurred, such as in a forest destroyed by wildfire or before a rockface which has collapsed in an earthquake. Such sites are believed to be indications of particularly strong manifestation of supernatural power.
While there are no regular Aesirist religious services, each shrine is often maintained by a caretaker—known as a godar (“benign one”)—and usually devoted to a particular Aesir (though all Aesir can be revered at any shrine). The godar will conduct religious ceremonies for key life events such as births, child-namings, coming-of-age rituals, marriages, deaths. While all types of ceremonies are conducted at any shrine, some ceremonies tend to be more common at some shrines than others. Marriages will often be performed at a shrine dedicated to Frigg while coming-of-age ceremonies will be performed at a shrine dedicated to Baldur—an archetype of chivalry. On the other hand, a ceremony might be performed at a shrine dedicated to an Aesir which represents an important aspect of those undertaking the ceremony. A funeral for a scholar might be held at a shrine dedicated to Bragi—an archetype of the arts—or a youth who hopes to become a doctor might have her coming-of-age ceremony at a shrine dedicated to Eir—an archetype of healing. Because Aesiren are still few in number most will generally live near only a single shrine, though journeys may be made to a more distant shrine for special occasions.
Aesiren who participate in a ceremony at a shrine—as “principal” or merely as observer—are expected to make a contribution which supports the godar and the maintenance and operation of the shrine. Both men and women may be godar, with men tending to serve at shrines dedicated to Aesir which are traditionally conceived to be male and women tending to serve at shrines dedicated to female Aesir. Most shrines will have a handful of assistants, older teens or young adults who are apprenticed to the godar. Local Aesirist laypeople will also assist with ceremonies at times and provide material support and services to the godar and apprentices. Some godar are itinerant, traveling from one shrine to another, especially those shrines without a resident godar which have been established and are maintained by a community of laypeople. These itinerant godar often travel on an elaborately-tattooed miniphant. This is the source of the term “circus master,” often used pejoratively by non-Aesiren to refer to godar, itinerant or settled. There is no formal monastic tradition among Aesiren though many godar will practice asceticism.
Aesiren can be found on the fringes of society on all Dominate worlds, though they are more common on the worlds of the Horseshoe than they are on the worlds of the Far Leg, the Dyrnwyn Spur or the Rim Stars. The largest numbers of Aesiren are found on Gram and Sacnoth though even here they tend to reside in sparsely-settled remote regions. Aesiren are rarely found in urban areas, except when traveling in unusual circumstances. Aesiren are generally viewed with ridicule by most non-Aesiren who assume their beliefs to be a sort of absurd, imaginary polytheism. For these reasons Aesiren—including godar—tend not to dress distinctively or to wear symbols of their religious beliefs—though many will have a small, easily hidden tattoo or wear a pendant with the symbol of a particular Aesir. Aesiren generally do not proselytize, with new adherents usually being family members or close friends. This has contributed to the slow spread of Aesirism as compared to other religious faiths.
Maera Eneridotter is a medico in Brunhild province on Joyeuse. Maera is a devotee of the Aesir Eir and operates a small clinic in this frontier region. Recently, she was asked by a local rancher to visit his homestead where she encountered an unusual patient. A middle-aged woman with burns, broken bones and other unusual injuries lay in the rancher’s guestroom. The woman, who spoke with a heavy, unfamiliar accent would only consent to Maera’s assistance if her identity and the circumstances of her arrival were held in confidence. Judging it likely the woman would not survive without attention Maera consented and began treating the woman’s injuries.
Maera had the woman stabilized by the next morning and after some encouragement from the rancher her patient admitted that she was the sole survivor of the crew of a Darrian surveillance starship which had crashed in a nearby lake. In leaving unexpectedly to care for the Darrian woman, Maera missed her plans to assist the local godar, a devotee of Foreseti—an archetype of justice and truth, in a ceremony recognizing a new birth. She has not yet resolved the quandary created by the need to explain her absence to the godar and her promise to her patient.
Hauk Ragnarsson—not his actual name—is a newly-commissioned officer in the Gram Home Guard. Hauk is a devotee of the Aesir Tyr—an archetype of martial excellence—and has wanted to be a soldier since learning as a young boy that his father had been killed in the Gram-Sacnoth War. Hauk’s mother never remarried and he and his siblings were raised in the household of his maternal grandfather, an Aesirist who had also been a soldier. Aesirist views are generally frowned upon in the Home Guard—the sizeable but arms-limited force permitted to Gram by the Sacnoth Dominate in the aftermath of the War—but Hauk’s devotion to Tyr was nurtured by a sympathetic non-Aesirist chaplain he encountered during his officer training.
The chaplain also introduced Hauk to a network of young Aesirist officers within the Home Guard who are committed to ending the dominance of Sacnoth on Gram. These officers, who believe themselves to be inspired by the Aesir Loki—an archetype of intrigue, have been plotting secretly because the bulk of Gram’s military leadership is not prepared to challenge Gram. Hauk has been recruited to join a team of Aesiren who are planning an unspecified act of violent resistance against the Dominate. Their hope is that this action will spark a Dominate reprisal which will lead to a general uprising against Sacnoth.
Rodrik Jacobsson is an itinerant godar who travels along the western coast of The Key, the southern continent on Tizon and northwest across the straits to the southern coast of the Three Peninsulas, the northern continent, traveling back and forth across the equator with the seasons. Rodrik is a devotee of the Aesir Ran—an archetype of the chaotic sea—and travels on an orcadehielo, a domesticated, air-breathing, aquatic hunter native to Tizon. Rodrik tends to the needs of the Aesiren in the fishing communities of The Key and in the mining ports of the westernmost of the Three Peninsulas.
During his travels Rodrik also ministers to a community of Aesirist freebooters who make their homes in the equatorial islets, raiding the ore-carriers traveling westward to the capital city and the starport at Ash Harbour. Rodrik encourages the freebooters both because of the prosperity their raiding brings to their community but also simply because of the turmoil it introduces into the off-planet ore trade.
Arva Jerlesson is a naturalist and hunter in Galicia province on Colada. He is a devotee of the Aesir Uller—an archetype of hunting—and served as a game warden in his community. Galicia’s economy is based upon ranching; the mankebeest, a large, horned, herding grazer native to Colada is prized throughout the Dominate for its meat, milk and hides. Arva spent much of his early life protecting mankebeest herds from the lobopuma, a large, striped chaser also native to Colada.
But in recent years, as the ranches have grown farther and farther into the Galician wilderness Arva has come to realize that the lobopuma are being driven to extinction. He refused to hunt the lobopuma and called on the Galician konsul to limit expansion of the ranches. In their turn, ranchers demanded Arva’s dismissal and his warden commission was eventually revoked by the konsul. Arva took to the wilderness and has since been disrupting lobopuma hunts, often thwarting the efforts of other hunters hired by the ranchers. Recently, some ranchers have petitioned the konsul to issue a warrant for Arva’s arrest.
— Valgerd Markdottir Roesdahl
Agust 25 D.E.
Dr. Markdottir is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ny Kalmar on Gram. Her book, Religious Life of the Sacnoth Dominate, will be released by New Century Publishing early next year.
Note on Sword Worlds calendars
When Gram was settled—in the year 4122 AD of the Old Terran calendar—the event was marked with a new calendar system. The Founding Era (F.E.) calendar begins with Year 1. (The Old Terran calendar was maintained for dates prior to the Founding Era, with no efforts made to connect the two dating systems.) When the Sacnoth Dominate was formed the Dominate government again established a new calendar system, beginning the Dominion Era (D.E.). Founding Era dating continued to be used for dates prior to the establishment of the Sacnoth Dominate, resulting in two distinct calendar eras: Founding Era from the settlement of Gram to the establishment of the Sacnoth Dominate—in what had been 214 F.E.—and then Dominion Era restarting at Year 1. With the shift from Founding Era to Dominion Era, the calendar system became similar to Old Terran “era name” systems which numbered calendar eras from the year of accession of each successive hereditary monarch.
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