It must be understood that the ultimate goal of practicing a traditional, ancestral religion is to obtain the most accurate incarnation of these beliefs from the time right before the conversions, then use the sources the best that we can. This is not a perfect process, for the faith was subjected to generations of persecution and was outlawed by the Church. Documents were hidden or destroyed, priests banished or executed, and sacred lines of oral tradition were lost forever. However, this does not mean that we do not have a religion here, nor does it mean that we should use this as an excuse towards Anti-Christian reactionism as a basis for any belief.
By using methodical research in connecting the sources, and demonstrating the lines of convergence from the texts we know are authentic to those we have doubts about, we can determine exactly what was practiced in ancient times and what may have been corrupted by the conversion era. Although the sources are fragmented, there is a process by which we can trace authentic traditions and decide whether or not to use them in the practice of our faith. We call this the Epic Method, which is basically the pricinple that our lore was once part of a grand epic, a chain of chronological events told from Ginnungagap to Ragnarǫk, which has its blueprint in Vǫluspá.
The process begins by looking at what the Poetic Edda and skaldic poetry have to say on the matter, for these are the primary sources on our religion and they guide us through the material in a way that can rebuild this ancient system. By comparing the Poetic Edda and skaldic poetry to other sources and finding extant customs, we can then say with confidence that those customs are genuine. We can also look to historic sources such as the Roman chronicles or the Risāla of Ibn Fadlan, for when we find a text that cannot in any way be accused of perpetuating propaganda against the religion, we can trust the authenticity of the account.
In order to use this process, one must first overcome a serious hurdle to the investigations, and indeed to the study of our entire faith. This is the theorem of the Biblical School. We have categorized the mythic schools of thought in five primary groups: the Interpretatio School, the Euhemerist School, the Biblical School, the Nature School, and the Archetypal School.
Our school is called the Epic School. While each of the academic schools have their problems, which we have fully delineated in other works, the Biblical School has done the most damage in within the study of our source material because they developed a very flawed methodology in equating all things within those sources as coming from the Bible and thus were corrupted by the hands of monks. We have fully demonstrated that this is theory has been greatly exaggerated and that this was not done in order to find or disprove the actual validity of any source, but rather to give credence to Biblical teachings and belief. Sources were emendated to fit the model, books not even known in the ancient North were used to “prove” one theory or another, and words were stretched beyond belief to make the idea work as a research method. When confronted with the Epic School, Sophus Bugge, founder of the Biblical School wrote Viktor Rydberg (who created the Epic Method) in February of 1887:
“I have read and with every page I read my enthusiasm grows. I have been wonderfully taken by the rich, fresh images. I have read with happiness and in full agreement, surprised to find here combinations that in part have wound around in my own thoughts, but also – for the sake of truth—many times in disagreement and inclined to make an opposite interpretation (for example with many applications of the principle of polyonymy). Forgive these words from one, who confronted with such a magnificent and in many respects important work such as yours, has realized that he is nothing more than a philologist. I deeply regret that your Investigations arrived too late to have any influence on my final volume of mythological Studies. Please accept my warm thanks for your work, which is more dear to me because you sent it with a friendly word.”
In spite of this, Bugge’s theories have been used by scholars for decades to demonstrate that hidden Biblical propaganda lies within the ancient Teutonic sources as some form of secret code one needs them to decipher. However, when we actually look at the sources and compare actual Christianized texts to the polytheist works, we find that a different story unfolds, and in every case when Christians are seeking to represent their faith they do so blatantly. Why would a religion that is seeking to displace another religion hide symbols or concepts within the mythos of the people they are trying to conquer? Why would a people rebelling against this religion (and the histories do tell us of a rebellion against the foreign creed, such as the accounts of Widukind, Radbod of Frisia, or Rauð the Strong) seek to interject their religious values and stories into their native narratives? We have never seen such things occur and they defy logic to a point that one has to question why these theories were ever taken seriously in the first place.
To take on the methods of the Biblical School would be an entire treatise in and of itself, which we do not have the ability to do here. However, we can look at one example in order to prove what we are saying and put these ideas to rest. Although the Indo-European research (which Viktor Rydberg was one of the earliest writers on the subject) has pretty much dismantled the school, we can look to native sources and see how this faulty method does not hold water when comparative analysis occurs. The best example we have of a Christian/Heathen source is the Sólarljóð, which incorporates images of the Teutonic Underworld with those of the Biblical teachings. We can then compare what is mentioned in the poem with sources that contain purely polytheist material and see how the author alters and twists the views in order to fit the Biblical model. There is no hiding of symbols, no exchange of characters, and no secret codes. The changes are direct, and easy to see. We can make a simple comparison between a couple of passages as an example:
Utan ok innan þóttumk ek alla
fara sigrheima sjau; upp ok niðr
leitaða ek æðra vegar, hvar mér væri greiðastar götur.
Frá jötna rúnum ok allra goða
ek kann segja satt, því at hvern hef ek heim of komit;
níu kom ek heima
fyr Niflhel neðan;
hinig deyja ór helju halir.
Without and within,
I seemed to traverse
all the seven nether homes:
up and down,
I sought an easier way,
where I might
have the readiest paths. –Sólarljóð 52
Of the mysteries of jǫtuns and of all the gods
I can tell truth,
because into every
world have I been;
into nine homes I have come
down to Niflhel;
men die from Hel into there.–Vafþrúðnismál 43
From this you can see that both passages are describing the realms of death or damnation in the Underworld. The Sólarljóð passage turns the number of these realms to seven, whereas the earlier Vafþrúðnismál verse shows that the original number was nine. The former then goes into the punishments in these realms, which we also find in Vǫlsupá 39. In Sólarljóð the author often invokes the Christian god and the latter half of the poem is a description of their Paradise. It is a direct correlation that provides us with a blueprint on how we should examine Christian influence within the sources.
Once we establish a basis for the reconstruction by developing a hierarchy of source material, we can then begin working through all of the material left to us to find customs and concepts that would be deemed authentic. This process is then proven by first making primary source comparisons, then by looking at other tools in our box such as linguistics, Indo-European studies, symbolism, and so on. By approaching the material in such a systematic order we can then determine precisely how the material has retained the ancient beliefs and what has been left to us. We first find the larger picture within the texts of how certain rituals were performed, then we begin following lines of convergence to pick up on further details as the investigation continues.
Once we have established a sound methodology in investigating these traditions, we then begin to see a system unfold. This system is the religion. It is the building of a massive puzzle that requires thousands upon thousands of hours of research to piece together. But this work is close to completion and soon we will have fully reconstructed every fundamental aspect of the faith step- by step. But more than simply acting as reenactors trying to live in the past, the idea is to find a working religion that will actually be useful for people today. It is the idea that we must connect to our ancestral ways in the most authentic manner possible, but then we build the religion from that core and begin establishing customs and schools of thought around this central system. This is how we recover what has been lost, and how we will regain the ancient ways that are our sacred birthright.
-Excerpt from Æfinrúnar-book 1