The Indo-European Trinity and How it Relates to Heathenism

I got into a really interesting conversation with Allen Alderman over in the Asatru and Heathen community in Google+. We discussed the Indo-European trinity. This is a really important metaphysical concept that seems to weave it’s way through all Indo-European based spiritual traditions, including Heathenism. I already covered one aspect of this concept in a previous post:

Allen Alderman: I read your post on the trinity in Heathenism. I would also enjoy discussing your views on Dumézil’s trifunctional hypothesis – which I, personally, think he just nabbed from much older thinkers – but I should probably save that for a comment on the post itself.

Volmarr Wyrd: *laughs*. Yes already had the discusion with someone who brought up Dumezil. I of course believe that most things end up dividing into 3 but the nature of what each part of that 3 is differs in each circumstance, it is rarely the same set of 3 things. Though I have not studied Dumezil, my understanding is he reduces all 3-fold divisions to the same one, but that is where I disagree with him. Three is metaphysically a natural division for most things in the universe, but there is not a fixed nature of everything being the same 3 things everywhere.

Allen Alderman: I was pointing more in the direction of the theory of guna in Samkhya philosophy. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? If you haven’t give it a good mulling over before discarding it prematurely (i.e. don’t just read Wikipedia’s treatment). There is a wealth of very old insight stored in that particular theory. You might find parts of it interesting, particularly in connection with what remains of Germanic lore.

Volmarr Wyrd: Yes the tattvas from Hinduism as you pointed out. In astrology they have this same concept with the cardinals, fixed, and mutable signs. In Hinduism there is Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In Christianity there is Father, Son, and Holy-Spirit. It is the idea that all things have a creation, solidifying, and releasing aspect. In some ways many thrinities do fall into this division but it seems not all. But I agree with what you wrote elsewhere that studying other things, in particular Hindu stuff since it is an intact older Indo-European spiritual system gains one a much greater understanding of Heathenism. I studied Hinduism a lot as a matter of fact for many years.

Volmarr Wyrd: Even in alchemy is sulfur, salt, and mercury.

Volmarr Wyrd: Also Theosophy, that last 19th century and early 20th century spiritual movement which is the foundation of the modern New Age movement gets into this trinity a lot in their writings.

Volmarr Wyrd: Those Theosophists were heavy into Hinduism. They mixed Hindu Jnana Yoga with with western Spiritualist tradition ideas to come up with the tradition basically.

Allen Alderman: You might already know this – I’m not sure – but the theory of guna reaches a lot deeper than the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – which is a comparatively late development. The part of the theory which interests me most is their function in metaphysics and the theories which that idea later inspired in Hindu practical disciplines – especially medicine. But, essentially, it has to do with the Harmonic, Dynamic and Static principles in nature. I’ve always considered it a nice way to explain the relationship between the Vanir, the Aesir and the Jöttnar. That is to say, whenever someone contrasts the Vanir and the Aesir, there’s a voice in my head which says “You know, the Jöttnar actually belong to that particular trinity.” I usually bit my lip, however. :)

Volmarr Wyrd: I should look deeper into the gunas! Got any books to recommend? So which of the three races of divine beings do you relate to each of these principles?

Allen Alderman: Good books are always hard to find. My introduction to Samkhya philosophy was Nandalal Sinha’s Samkhya Philosophy (1915). Short but generally accurate treatments can be found in the shorter introductions, like M. Hiriyanna’s Essentials of Indian Philosophy (1948). A slightly more materialistic presentation, but valuable nonetheless, can be found in S. Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy (1922). (The latter work, which can be found online at archive.org, is quite good at giving a broad but detailed overview of Hindu philosophy, Vol. I particularly, despite its typically late 19th century, “ancient philosophy can be harmonized with modern science” approach. It’s helpful to view Samkhya in its context, as that allows the reader to smooth over the personal preconceptions of the author.) Other than that, it has taken me years of reading in a variety of sources to recognize how all-pervasive this theory was and continues to be in weird and wonderful ways – several of which you mentioned in your comments above.

As for your second question: Well, it’s actually slightly more complex. None of the gunas are found in their pure state in anything manifest. Everything has all three in varying proportion. Thus, all three races are Dynamic, for example, but in varying degrees. For me, the Vanir are, by and large, the prime embodiments of the Harmonic principle, the Aesir embody the Dynamic principle, and the Jöttnar embody the Static principle. “Static” can be a bit misleading, as the original tamas (literally “darkness”) actually refers to a kind of “drawing down” or “drawing away” of energy, a destructive, sometimes lethargic tendency.

Just so you know, I’m not an “archetypal” Heathen, either. I consider myself as close to “hard” polytheism as a rational person can get.

Also, it might help to compare what you read on the gunaswith their analogy in Vedic medicine, the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. These were directly inspired by the theory of guna, and if you are versed in alchemical tradition, you might find that interesting, as well.

Volmarr Wyrd: Nice! My guess for the 3 races of spiritual beings was the same you mentioned. So static in that sense is like the primordial dark womb of creation? Kabbalah has these three as well. The pillar of mercy is dynamic. The pillar of severity is static. The middle is harmonic. Also we can see this in the creation story. Fire is dynamic. Ice is static. Where they meet in the middle and life is created is harmonic.

Allen Alderman: Exactly. Glad to have found someone on the same wavelength. ;)

Volmarr Wyrd: Indeed is nice! Yimir was very static and sort of taking up a lot of space in the middle of existence and thus is why Odin and his brothers needed to kill him. The material from that which is static is that which is needed to make stuff, thus his body became the Earth. Ever since there is an ongoing cold-war between the dynamic and static forces. The only ones somewhat outside of that tension is the harmonic forces. Notice how in the story of Ragnarok Njord withdraws his forces from the battle before it really begins. By the way the Kabbalah is 3×3+1. That 1 is the result of energies moving through all of the 3×3 in order from most abstract to most formed. I am also as well very much a hard polytheist. I strive to get to know the gods and goddesses of the Vanir and Aesir on as personal of terms as I can, with my biggest focus tending towards the Vanir.

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