Indo-European Studies 1

by Victoria S. – Approved on 10 September, 2015

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)

The word “culture” itself is defined by Mallory as “the recurrence of similar ceramics, tools, architecture and burial rites over a limited area” (24). Some researchers contend that while archaeological evidence of cultural items is useful in identifying the relationship between different cultures, the study of linguistics can help to enforce, or debunk, those findings. They argue that the misconceptions and preconceptions that archaeologists bring to the analysis of linguistic evidence is an issue for many theories based on archaeological findings (Mallory 166). Due to this argument, we are focusing on the linguistic evidence for this analysis. This analysis views both the language and the mythology of the culture as key to determining if a culture is Indo-European.

The term “Indo-European” is a fairly new term that was defined to identify the family of languages, and thus cultures, that we term as Indo-European today. The descriptor was first defined by Thomas Young in 1813 in his review of Adelung’s work “Mithridates.” In this work, Adelung attempts to identify linguistic affinities based on translations of the Lord’s Prayer (Mallory 14). August Schleicher worked through individual languages to identify the earliest Indo-European form of various words. The linguistic studies that trace the roots of different languages back through time are the key method that we use to identify different groups of cultures.

Using the actual words that are identified, and seem to be used in all Indo-European languages, Adalbert Kuhn identified the Proto-Indo-European culture as one that had villages and houses; was engaged in agriculture and husbandry; and had some concept of “kingship” (Mallory 111). In reviewing the words that the Proto-Indo-European cultures used for various animals and constructions, it seems that horses, as well as wheeled vehicles, were important to Proto-Indo-European cultures (Mallory 119-121). These factors help us to understand that the Indo-European cultures were a combination of mobile herds folk, who used horses and wheeled vehicles to get around, as well as settled agricultural producers with farming and villages.

The Indo-European languages also seemed to indicate a patriarchal community as the derived language suggests that a woman moves into her husband’s household when they get married. In addition, many of the Indo-European myths are very male oriented, and some Goddesses may have been converted into Gods with the invasions of the Indo-Europeans. For example, Winn suggests that the ancient Goddess Nerthus was transformed into the God Nord with the invasion of the Indo-Europeans into Germanic territory (256).

There are some themes that are common to Indo-European cultures. The tripartition that Dumézil identified in Indo-European cultures is also prevalent in most, but not all, of their myths. For example, the Norse Gods include Odin and Tyr as representatives of the Religious and Judicial aspects of the first function of leaders. Thor is included as a representative of the second function of warriors, and Freyr and Njord as representatives of the third function of producers. Dumézil also identifies the goddess Freya as being part of the third function (Littleton 155).

Another common mythological theme is the theme of sacrifice that is often linked to creation. In the Norse mythology, the frost giant Ymir was sacrificed to create the world (Leeming). In Irish Myth, The Dark Bull of Cooley and the White-horned Bull of Ai fought a battle which resulted in the sacrifice of Bricriu and the White-horned bull being dismembered and turned into parts of the land. In the story of the founding of Rome, Remus was sacrificed and became part of Rome’s foundations. In one version of the Indian creation mythology, a human named Purusha is sacrificed and dismembered to create the animals, sacred verses and the castes. (Winn 160 – 166).

The idea of “Divine Twins”, either associated with horses or represented by them, is another common theme in Indo-European cultures. While not always actual twins, these symbols of the “Divine Twins” are often associated with the land and with Sovereignty. These Twins are often represented as horsemen or horses as in the case of, Castor and Pollux from Greek mythology, and Horsa and Hengist, the legendary Anglo-Saxon settlers of Britain. Often, one of the twins or horses is sacrificed. In the Roman practice of the “October Equus” pairs of horses were raced and the right-side horse of the winning team was killed and dismembered (Mallory 135-136).

Cattle are also another common theme in Indo-European mythology, especially associated with creation myths. As mentioned above, a pair of cattle was key in the creation of Ireland while, in Norse myth, a cow nurtured Ymir and fashioned man. In Zoroastrian teachings, a dying ox’s semen created mating pairs of all the animals and many plants (Winn 162 – 166).

Mallory seems to be of the opinion that an Indo-European culture is a culture where the language belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. However, there are some parallels between Indo-European cultures in their mythology as well. In my opinion, we should balance all of the evidence to support theories of the origin and migration of the Indo-European cultures. There is still a lot that is unknown about the history of the Indo-European cultures, but evidence and theories continue to emerge.

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2. 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)

Dumézil’s theory of tripartition came about from his study of Indic and Iranian social patterns (Lyle 25). He came to the conclusion that the mythology and sociology of the Indo-European people were based on three functions: Priests, Warriors, and Herder-cultivators. These functions were organized in order of precedence, with the Priests being the highest stratum and the Herder-cultivators being the lowest. The Priest function included both secular and religious functions and was focused on judicial order as well as magical and religious order. The Warriors were primarily focused on physical prowess and defense of the society. The final, and lowest, function was the Herder-cultivators who provided the sustenance, physical health and fertility for the society (Littleton 148). Dumézil asserted that this tripartite theory was an ideology that was specific to the Indo-European cultures.

One of the initial cultures that were defined in terms of the three functions was that of Vedic India. There the functions were defined with ‘Brahmanas’, ‘Ksatriyas’ and ‘Vaisyas’ being Priests, Warriors, and Herder-cultivators. In addition to these three groups, were the ‘Sudras’ who are considered to be not of the people, but Dumézil discounts them as being “out-castes” (Littleton 149).

Dumézil shows evidence for tripartition in the Vedic gods as well as the social structure of the people of Vedic society. He cites the 1380 treaty between Matiwaza, the King of Mitanni, and the Hittite king which evokes the Indic gods of Mitra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatyas. Based on evidence from the Vedas, Dumézil suggests that the first two gods are co-joined to “Mitra-Varuna” and represent the priest or sovereignty function. Indra is defined as a warrior god, and the Nasatyas are twin gods who are closely aligned with horses and health (Mallory 131).

While Dumézil has shown evidence of tripartition in some societies, there are still some questions about his theory. Including the question of which function does the ‘Sudras’ caste fulfill? There are also some deities that do not fit neatly into any of the functions. Dumézil admits that there are gods that do not fit any one of the tripartite functions (Littleton 157). Mallory also points out that there is little corroborating archeological evidence for Dumézil’s theory, and the Indo-European Myth “is clearly suspect” (219).

My opinion is that Dumézil was looking for evidence of tripartition and thus found it, even if it meant ignoring whole groups of society or deciding that gods could belong to multiple functions. Winn points out that the three functions of tripartition are an ideology that is put forth by the elite of a society. This ideology was used to help to elevate that same elite above the rest of society (137). I believe that Winn might be more accurate in the importance of tripartition than the absolute social construct that Dumézil seems to find.

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3. 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 origins of ancient Greek culture are of particular interest to me as I worked through this course. Growing up, I was exposed to the Greek and Roman myths. It was only in later life that I began to experience the Germanic and Celtic Mythologies.

The Ancient Greek culture seems to have come into being through an interesting series of potential occupations and invasions. Scholars agree that there was a pre-Greek culture that had a significant influence on the Indo-European Greeks. The initial non-Indo-European culture seems to have been more agrarian-based, with words for “grapes” and similar agricultural words being introduced into the Indo-European Greek language. These foreign words include place names, personal names and the names of gods that are not similar to other Indo-European languages of the time. Many of these words are key to the Greek culture such as “Olympus” and “Mycenae”. There are also words that define concepts that are part of Greek culture that seem to have come from a pre-Greek population. For example, the words for King (‘basileus’), slave (‘doulos’) and concubine seem to have come from the Mycenaean culture. This culture had existed before the Indo-European culture existed in Greece (Mallory 67-68).

The Mycenaean culture may have been influenced by pre-Indo-European cultures from Anatolia. These non-Indo-European words, as well as the roots of some of the words, are often also found in Anatolia. It is probable that there was an expansion from Anatolia into the area that is now Greece in the Early Bronze Age (Mallory 67). There is some archeological evidence that supports this theory of contact between Anatolia and Greece before 3000 BC. For example, there are similar small metal daggers and silver ornaments that appear in both locations around the same time (Mallory and Adams 244).

Even the early script that the Greeks used was adopted from previous cultures. The early Greek culture used a script called Linear B and samples of this script have been found as far back as 1300 BC. Linear B has been determined to be the first Greek written script. Linear B is descended from Linear A – a script that was used by the Cretans as early as 1700 BC (Mallory 69).

In addition to the influence from the Mycenaean culture, the Greek language also shows a number of features that seem to be more related to the Indo-European Homeland than the other Indo-European cultures. For example, Greek and Lithuanian are the only Indo-European languages that contain a conjugate for *yewos, a type of grain used for fermentation (Winn 311).  Greek does not contain the ‘r’ isogloss. Among the European languages, we can see this isogloss, which uses ‘r’ to indicate passive verbs, in Celtic, and Italic languages. Scholars believe that the ‘r’ isogloss indicates cultures that are far away from the Indo-European homeland (Winn 320-321). Mallory points out that the relatively close distance between the Greek culture and the Indo-European homeland allowed for linguistic changes that would only be see in the Greek, Armenian, Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages (241). 

Around 1400 BC, in the Middle Helladic Period, the Mycenaean culture became increasingly more complex, and they began to build citadels. Some scholars believe that this increase in social complexity and architecture was due to the external forces of invasions from warlike groups with horses and chariots. Horses seemed to be unknown in Mycenaean culture before the Middle Helladic Period (Mallory 69). Some scholars suggest that these invasions came through Anatolia between the Early Helladic II and Early Helladic III periods, around 2200 BC. While there is some evidence for the shift to an Indo-European style of burial, it does not begin until the Middle Helladic period (Mallory 70). This influx of Indo-European language and culture through Anatolia into Greece brings different words and culture than the Indo-European influence on Northern Europe through the Corded Ware culture. For example, the domestication of cattle appeared first in Greece and Anatolia around 7000 BC and spread North to other parts of Europe by 4000 BC (Mallory and Adams 137). While this occurred before the potential invasion of the Indo-European culture outlined above, it does show the influence that Greece had over the rest of Europe.

Another difference between the Greeks and other Indo-European cultures is the burial techniques.  The burial techniques of the Greeks differed significantly from the burial techniques of the Northern European cultures that are descended from the Corded Ware culture.  The graves found from the Greek culture follow the general pattern of the classic Pontic-Caspian graves.  They include positioning the dead in “the supine position with legs flexed” (Mallory 235). Burial sites in the Corded Ware influenced cultures reflect the Pontic-Caspian rituals, but also contain influences from non-Indo-European cultures.  These additional influences include the presence of corded beakers, amphorae and battle-axes in the graves (Mallory 246).

In addition to a heavy influence from the pre-Greek cultures on the language of Greece, evidence suggests that the pre-Greek culture’s religion was also affected by the pre-Greek culture. Scholars believe that the pre-Greek religion was dominated by the worship of a goddess. The caves at Delphi show signs of possible goddess worship as far back as 4000 BC. Gaia worship seems to be predominant at that location around 1400 BC (Leeming, “The Oxford Book” 161). In addition, the names of the Greek gods seem to have been established by the end of the Mycenaean period as a result of mixing the influx of the Indo-European cultures with the original inhabitants of the area. The gods were also split into the Olympians and chthonian groups. The Olympians are more heaven-centered while the chthonian gods are more earth-focused (Puhvel 130).

In Greek mythology, we find some influences of Indo-European cultures, but not all aspects. We can see the Divine Twins, such as Castor and Pollux, associated with horses (Mallory 135). We can also see some indication of tripartition in the story of the Judgement of Paris, where Paris was to choose between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite (Littleton 159). There is, however, also indication of a non-Indo-European style of mythology seen in the chthonian cycles. Helen is associated with the tree goddess that is prevalent in pre-Doric cultures. Castor and Pollux (Kastor and Polydeukes) were “allotted half-time immortality” where they were alive for one day and dead for the next (Puhvel 141-142).

If we proceed with the definition of an Indo-European culture as a culture that utilizes an Indo-European language as its main language, Greece is still an Indo-European culture as they are still speaking Greek, a descendant of the Indo-European Hellenic language. However, if we look more holistically at the culture and mythology, there is some question about just how Indo-European Greece is. There are a significant number of indicators of Indo-European culture and mythology, and there is also a major influence from the previous local cultures. However, we can see that the Greek cultures are closer to the original Indo-Europeans than many of the other Indo-European cultures.  As a result, I would say that Greece is still an Indo-European culture.

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4. 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)

On the Isle of Britain today, there are two different Indo-European cultures present – the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts. While the two cultures do intermix in today’s society, they have historically been treated separately. For this essay, I’m going to focus on the Anglo-Saxon culture of England.

The Germanic language, from which English originated, split off from the base Proto-Indo-European on a different branch from the Hellenic from which the Greek language originated. Based on the significant number of non-Indo-European words in the Germanic language, Winn proposes that there was a local agricultural society in the area we now call Germany (Winn 311). According to Winn, 30% of the core words in Germanic languages are from a non-Indo-European base (321).

There are a number of theories surrounding the origin of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Some of these theories include the Corded Ware society. There is some evidence that indicates that the Corded Ware society was an Indo-European society that invaded North and Central Europe. Some scholars suggest a link between the Corded Ware society and the cultures of the Pontic-Caspian culture, but there is no conclusive evidence on where the Corded Ware people originated (Mallory 264). What we do know is that the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language was likely formed by the Corded Ware people in around 500 BC (Mallory 87). There is evidence of a different branch of the Indo-European language in England and Britton, which formed the basis for Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. This language seemed to have been driven to the outskirts of England by invaders who spoke Germanic languages (Fennell).

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle outlines a period starting around 450 BC where the Britons were invaded by three different Germanic tribes – the Angles, the Old Saxons, and the Jutes. According to the Chronicle, the brothers Hengest and Horsa, who were descended from the god Wodan, came to Briton with the Angles to help them fight against the Picts. These Angles quickly turned against their hosts and began the Germanic conquest of Briton. Horsa was killed during a battle with the King of Britons, Wurtgen (Ingram & Giles 22). In the years following the Angles’ invasion, other Germanic groups also arrived in Briton to claim territory. Due to the nature of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, we do not know for sure if the details outlined in the Chronicles happened. As a result, we are unable to define if the specifics of the story are historical or legendary.

Not much is known of the mythology of the Anglo-Saxons. Modern Anglo-Saxon pagans often make the assumption that the Anglo-Saxon beliefs mirrored the beliefs of their related Scandinavian kindred. The legend of Hengest and Horsa can be loosely associated with the Divine Twin mythological theme (Mallory 135). They are linked to Sovereignty as they were the first conquerors of what is now Anglo-Saxon England. We can also see tripartition in the gods, with Tiw-Woden (Tyr-Odin) sitting in the primary function as Leaders and Priests, Thunor (Thor) sitting in the secondary function as Warrior, and Frige (Freya/Frigga) sitting in the third function as Producer. However, there was not a lot of tripartition in the Germanic-speaking societies (Littleton 155).

Many of the other mythological indicators of Indo-European culture are missing from what we know of the Anglo-Saxons but are present in the Norse mythologies. As mentioned in my answer to Question 1, both sacrifice, and the sacred cow are themes in Norse mythology. They are, however, not present in Anglo-Saxon mythology as we have no Anglo-Saxon creation myth.

When comparing the Anglo-Saxon culture to the Greek culture, we can see some similarities as well as differences. Although it comes from an earlier branch of the Indo-European language tree, the Greek language is also heavily influenced by the pre-Indo-European culture that existed prior to the Indo-European invasions through Anatolia. Mallory and Adams suggest that as much as 50% of the Greek language came from a non-Indo-European source (243). There are also differences in tripartition as Anglo-Saxon cultures do not have a priestly segment of the population (Littleton 159). The Greek cultures, however, did have a group of individuals who fit into the category of Priest (Mallory and Adams 119). The sources of the Indo-European cultures into Greek and Anglo-Saxon cultures also seem to have gone through different paths. As mentioned earlier, the Anglo-Saxon Indo-European culture is believed to have come through the Corded Ware culture while the Greek Indo-European influence came through Anatolia. These different paths would have picked up different influences from the native cultures as the Indo-Europeans moved through the different lands.

While there is a significant influence from the pre-Indo-European culture, I believe that we can say that the Anglo-Saxons and their British descendants are still and Indo-European culture due to a combination of language and mythology.

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5. 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)

When I began my explorations into Druidry, the Indo-European focus of ADF appealed to me more than the culturally narrower focus of other Druid traditions. Most people in the Western world have some level of familiarity with Indo-European cultures. They may have Indo-European blood or may be experienced with one of the many Indo-European cultures that exist in the Western world. In ADF, we leverage historical research of the various Indo-European traditions with modern adaptations of ways to worship and do magic. By maintaining this balance, we recognize our ties to the past, but we also adapt to our modern life.

To understand how our focus on historical and reconstructed Indo-European traditions helps us shape our present and future world, we need to understand why we do ritual in the first place. According to anthropologist Catherine Bell, ritual helps us to integrate thought and action (p. 31, Kindle Loc 700). Earrach of Pittsburg postulates that too many times we project personalities that are dishonest. According to Earrach, “True religious activity is that which seeks to rectify our relationship with the World” (“Why Do We Druid?”). Isaac Bonewits suggests that humans need to make a connection between the sacred space and time of the ritual and the space and time of the creation of the world (“Neopagan Rites”). All three of these individuals agree that ritual is a way for us to connect ourselves to our community and our inner selves.

Without a solid historical framework to make this connection, people will say “pseudo-historical nonsense” in their rituals (Bonewits, “Neopagan Rites…” Kindle Loc 418). It is important that we understand that what we are doing has a link to the traditions that have gone before us. In creating ADF, Issac Bonewits was seeking to create an organization that fulfilled his desire for a more historically focused Druidry than the Neo-Druidry of the time (Bonewits, “The Origins of ADF”). We use a ritual structure that is inspired by ancient practices, leveraging similarities between cultures and adopting a structure that, at least mostly, works for the different IE cultures. One key part of our ritual is the re-creation of the Cosmos. This component reminds us that we are part of the world at large and helps us to establish our relationship with the Universe.

The ritual structure that we use also helps to pull the various Indo-European cultures together. As I have outlined in the previous questions, there are a number of parallels in both cultural structure and mythology between Indo-European cultures. These similarities give us a basis for a ritual structure that will allow individuals to worship in different cultures using a similar structure. By utilizing the same ritual structure in all of our public rituals, we achieve a sense of community. Individuals from any hearth culture, from any grove or any perspective, can come together in a ritual and understand what each of the components mean. The ritual structure is also flexible enough to adapt to individual hearth cultures without breaking the expectations of attendees from other hearth cultures.

In addition to creating new, modern, technologies and religious practices, ADF pursues research of the Paleopagan religions to improve our understanding of what our Indo-European ancestors may have done before. We seek to improve those connections through our past traditions. A lot of the research leverages archeological and linguistic findings, and so it is our best guess at what our ancestors did, and not necessarily a perfect recreation. We continue to discover new information and adjust our understanding as appropriate. By working to understand the reasons that our ancestors did things, and the similarities across cultures, we are able to create practices that can be leveraged by individuals who worship a variety of Indo-European hearth cultures.

In addition to this academic work, we have individuals within ADF who continue to experiment and evolve our rituals, meditations and methods of devotion. For example, Ian Corrigan has been a leading researcher into Spirit Arte – utilizing both the Ancient Grimoires and incorporating modern expectations and practices. Due to the underlying similarities in approach and mythology of the Indo-European cultures, much of the work that these people have done can be applied across the range of Indo-European cultures (Corrigan. “Core Ideas …”). For example, Corrigan’s work in Spirit Arte was defined using the Irish hearth culture. This work has since been adapted to use in the Norse hearth culture.

With this in mind, ADF has been created with a firm basis in Indo-European reconstruction while still allowing for us to adapt to modern ritual practices and expectations. As Bonewits points out, relying too much on what is traditional can lead to dry, boring and uninspiring rituals that do not engage us in the experience (“Neopagan Rites …” Kindle Loc 209). By balancing the focus on traditional reconstruction with experimentation and adaptation of those traditions, we can create a religion that helps to bring people together in today’s world through our connections in the past.

When Bonewits started ADF, he had a vision of ADF rituals and training helping to shape the future of paganism (“The Vision of ADF”). I believe that our focus on balancing the academic, historical research with innovation is the key to making that vision a reality. With our focus on Indo-European cultures and practices, there is a lot of variety to keep individuals interested as well as to attract additional individuals to our Church. It is in keeping our focus on the Indo-European cultures while still allowing expression of the many cultures within that group, that we find our strength.

Works Cited

Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Kindle.

Bonewits, Isaac. Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work. Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2007. Kindle.

–. “The Origins of ADF.” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

–. “The Vision of ADF | ADF.” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.

Corrigan, Ian. “Core Ideas in Druid Theology.” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Earrach of Pittsburgh. “Why Do We Druid?” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .

Fennell, Barbara. “History of English.” History of English. Web. 8 Jan. 2015.

Leeming, David A. “Creation Myths of the World: Parts I-II.” Google Books. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

–. The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Littleton, C. Scott. “The Comparative Indo-European Mythology of Georges Dumézil.” Journal of the Folklore Institute 1.2 (1964): 147-66. JSTOR. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

Ingram, James, and John A. Giles, trans. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. EBook ed. N.p.: Project Gutenberg, 1996. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.

Lyle, Emily B. “Dumezil’s Three Functions and Indo-European Cosmic Structure.” History of Religions 22.1 (1982): 25-44. JSTOR. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

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

Mallory, James P, and Douglas Q. Adams. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997. 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. University Press of America, 1995. Print.