Saturday, November 19, 2011

Proto-Indo-European's Continued

When daylight came they would return to their work in the fields to harvest plants and cereals or to the Steppes to herd their animals and hunt for food. Later Indo-European peoples would have clearly defined work for men and women, with the later sometimes staying at home or cultivating cereals as the men went out to hunt and herd. It is impossible to say if the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a similar system but it is likely that they did divide work into various castes as nearly all later Indo-Europeans groups would.
The men and women would continue their stories here under the sky which seemed to go on for ever, the sky which they watched carefully for signs of storms as they both passed the time and built upon their values. These stories were likely different from the tales of the night before, for while poetry is an important part of Indo-European mythology so too are folk tales, tales of the clumsy and weak, the ordinary surviving and thriving in a harsh world as well as amusing tales of animals doing strange and silly things. They needed these stories too not only for the distraction but also for the courage and humor they could take from them for like all ancient peoples they faced what seemed an infinite number of dangers After all for most people heroic deeds mean little, for most of us are altogether ordinary. We dream of heroism but relate to the Jacks of folk tales.
In order to help those of them who were ordinary with their ordinary tasks they had the fairies, the spirits of the land. For like later peoples of the steppes and their decedents they too very likely had a fairy faith of sorts, a belief in spirits and souls of the land and sky that could harm or help them. It is these people of the Steppes, the Proto-Indo-Europeans who would come to define the fairy faiths of Europe as they moved into Europe to bring with them what would become the Slavic, Greek, Roman, Germanic, and Celtic languages while replacing the original languages and many of the original ideas of the Native Europeans. So while the Proto-Indo-Europeans weren’t the first peoples of Europe these articles start with them because they became by far its most significant.
The challenges that exist in understanding the original culture of the peoples would eventually come to dominate European culture are many not only because they have fractured into many cultures but because they were likely formed from multiple tribes with multiple leaders and different shamans or priests long before they began their Journey into Europe and India. However there are a number of similarities between Indo-European cultures and a number of linguistic clues which can help us to better understand the general culture of this group of peoples.
The Proto-Indo-Europeans where a pastoral culture, one of the first if not the first to have started breeding horses and wagons (so heavy that they were likely pulled by oxen as horses were still too small to do this) which gave them a level of mobility not enjoyed by nearly any other culture of the time. Such mobility offers many advantages to a society which needs to hunt and herds animals for much of its food. However it can also offer some level of disadvantage as well as horses make it far easier for one tribe to make quick raids on another in order to loot food and women. This in turn can force these societies to become more war like and it is under this catalyst that the Proto-European society developed. This war like nature can be seen in their development of a clear warrior cast whose role was perhaps to raid for cattle from their enemies and recover cattle taken in raids. To aid them in their raids many of their deities including Dyēus ‘the sky father’ who was perhaps one of their most important deities became warlike and could be asked to aid them in their battles, He would later evolve into Zeus, Jupiter, Tyr and other deities of the European pantheons.
Their rituals to these war gods seemed to be of special importance as they would sacrifice great horses (surely one of their most valuable positions) to them in a festival that involved the drinking of *Medhu (the root word for mead and many other sweet honeyed foods and drinks from India to Ireland). They would punish those who failed at war by the sword or the fire or sacrifice humans using the sword and fire to aid in victory.
One of the most important tales of nearly all Indo-Europeans from the Hittites and Vedic to the Norse and the Greeks involved a heroic figure who would loose his cattle to a giant and often times three headed serpent and then would seek the aid of the war god to get them back.
Another important tale is that of the heroic last stand, of warriors fighting a battle that they are destined to die in for glory and to insure the survival of even a few humans. This story would eventually evolve into Ragnarok when spirits of the dead hero’s and the gods would battle a great evil in order to avoid the complete destruction of humanity, knowing full well that they would die in this battle. Such stories would have been important to the warrior cast as part of their role as guardians, for there would likely have been many times when a group of them from one clan or another would have had to face unbeatable odds while allowing the other casts to escape.

It’s important to understand however that while the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a warrior cast with a deity, rituals and tales of their own the whole society was not necessarily obsessed with war. The Proto-Indo-Europeans like other Indo-Europeans societies after them was a triple society with two castes other than the warrior; the priestly caste and the caste of herders. Thus the vast majority of spirits, elements and deities appear to have been related to fertility and the land. Indeed for the Indo-Euorpeans who entered Europe the land and the wilderness were perhaps the most important thing. Oak trees were held to be sacred and the word for temple comes from their word for wood, for sacred grove. The Proto-Indo-European too lived in an area with at least some forestation and would bring their cattle and sheep to the elms and oak to forage, they would use the ash trees to make their spears, the birch to make cloth, and the willow tree to weave baskets. They would plough their fields and use sickles to aid them in harvesting cereals. Their food came from farming and pastoralist activities so the bulk of their people were engaged in these activities. Fertility was of key importance and most of the festivals of Europe and India involve fertility not war. They would sacrifice he-goats and or occasionally people by drowning them to assure the fertility of their animals and the land.
The reason war stories were of such importance may be due in large part to the fact that they are interesting. Just as many of the movies from now are related to heroic fighters even though combat itself doesn’t necessarily define our society so to could their society have been much more peaceful then their tales would seem to indicate.
Ultimately the Proto-Indo-Europeans worshiped the elements and what to them were heroic figures. Their sacrifice to rivers and fire along with the importance of these elements to the Indo-Iranians, the Vedic, and early Europeans indicates that they believed in the importance of the spirits of these elements. Trees too as mentioned previously were likely believed to have important spirits who could aid them in their time of need as did the sun and the moon. In addition to the elements they worshipped what to them were heroic figures. Deities with very clear flaws that involved womanizing, a horrible temper, and a propensity to throw nearly childish temper tantrums. It would seem that like later Europeans they believed fairly early that immortal beings may never completely mature in the way one would expect a human too. But such ‘faults’ were likely considered to be more amusing then actual faults as we see from the dualism of many of their decedent cultures the worst flaws were weakness, guile and trickery much like what would be displayed by Loki in Norse mythology. It was okay then for their deities and the fairies to act lecherous and lusty so long as they weren’t weak or deceitful.