The Mysteries of the Goths by Edred Thorsson
I have read The Mystery of the Goths by Edred (Thorsson) – Stephen E. Flowers. As is the case with his other books that I have reviewed, it is well-written and full of interesting insights.
Visigoths and Ostrogoths
The author notes that the names Visigoths and Ostrogoths do not actually refer to West Goths and East Goths respectively, but rather that the Visigoths are ‘the good and noble Goths’ and the Ostrogoths are ‘the Goths Glorified by the Rising Sun.’ As is evident by the title of the book, the Goths are the main topic of the book, but the author also elaborates on certain other Germanic tribes and their relationship with the Goths.
Arian Christianity and the Goths
The author elaborates on the Gothic conversion to Arian Christian. Arian in this sense should not be confused with Aryan (Indo-European); it refers to Arius of Alexandria (AD 256–336). In essence, Arian Christianity views Jesus as subordinate to God. This view would lose to the prevailing Christian view of Jesus as a part of the trinity. Early Church history is full of fascinating theological disputes and heresies – they really took infighting to the next level!
The Arianism of the Goths would lead them into conflict with the Catholic Church. Related to this, the author mentions something interesting, namely that the Visigothic legacy in Spain is honoured, as can be seen when looking at Spanish men’s names: Alfonso, Rodrigo, Fernando (among others). In France, however, the Gothic heritage is not honoured in the same way. This is because the Franks (backed by the Catholic Church) defeated the Goths, and thereby gained control over what would become France. The conflict between Paris (the Frankish north) and the south of France would continue during the Middle Ages – as is detailed by Otto Rahn in his Crusade Against the Grail. I talk more about this conflict in Podcast Episode 9. The Pinnacle of Civilisation –France and will return to it in coming episodes as well.
The pre-Christian spirituality of the Goths was very similar to that of other Germanic peoples, and, more generally, to other Indo-Europeans. The author elaborates more on the topic in the excellent book The Nine Doors of Midgard (review).
Attila the Hun – The Germanic Name Attila
The story of the Gothic people is interlinked with that of the Huns – their allies and enemies. Interestingly, the author notes that the name Attila is of Germanic origin:
‘The degree to which the Hyns were open to foreign influence is reflected in their personal names. A study of these names by Prof. Otto Maenchen-Helfen (pp. 385-442) shows that a surprising percentage of them are of Germanic and Iranian origin, although, of course, their own native Turkic names predominate. Among the Germanic names are Attila. This is a specifically Gothic name. Atta is a familiar form of “father,” as we see the Gothic translation of the “Lord’s Prayer” begins with the phrase Atta unsar – “our daddy.” To this stem has been added a diminutive suffix, –ila. Att-ila means literally “little father.”Edred – The Mysteries of the Goths. Page 21.
This knowledge sheds some light on the relationship between the Huns and their Germanic neighbours. A simplistic narrative is that the Huns were an all-dominating force that drove all others before them. A more nuanced perspective is to view the Huns as the primary force of the region, but still a force that needed to cooperate and ally with its neighbours. A thorough discussion regarding the relationship between the Huns and the Goths is, of course, beyond the scope of this article, and we are bound to return to it at a later point.
The Greek Origins of the Kabbalah
The author mentions that the Hebrew Kabbalah has its roots in Greek esotericism.
‘By the time the Goths encountered the Greek world in the 2nd century, the Greeks had already developed an elaborate and sophisticated numerological philosophy and esotericism. This was pioneered at the earliest stages by philosophers such as Pythagoras, who lived around 500 BCE. This Greek form of esotericism was absorbed by the Hebrews and became a mainstay of their esoteric tradition known as the kabbalah, “tradition.”’Edred – The Mysteries of the Goths. Page 82.
This can be worth keeping in mind when studying Western esotericism in general. Moreover, this is especially important when discussing Christianity’s role in shaping European civilisation – much (perhaps even most) of Christianity is based upon Pagan traditions. A good example to illustrate this is how angels are portrayed: a European angel is beautiful and good; a Biblical angel looks like a nightmarish horror.
The Hidden Treasures of the Goths
In a chapter titled The Hidden Treasures of the Goths, the author discusses various famous Gothic treasures. Among those is the treasure of Alaric, which he acquired upon occupied Rome.
‘Alaric’s sacking of Rome was not a particularly violent act. The Visigoths simply took possession of the city and in an orderly fashion excised the Roman treasury.’Edred – The Mysteries of the Goths. Page 93.
Describing the sack of Rome as such makes perfect sense when viewing the event from an ethnographic perspective. An orderly acquisition of wealth is, it must be noted, more in tune with the Germanic spirit than mindless pillaging.
Where did the treasure end up? Archaeologists have noted a large influx of gold into Scandinavia during the 400s (an influx which does not appear to be correlated to an increase in mining). Therefore, it can be surmised that the gold came from the Visigothic reserves. It makes sense that the Goths on the continent would send part of their treasure back to their kinsmen in Sweden.
Pictured below: not a Visigothic treasure, but the Sword and Shield of Carl Gustaf Wrangel. The sword and shield were taken as spoils of war by Wrangel from Voivode Jan Zamoiskij following the Battle of Warsaw in 1656. The set was, according to some sources, initially a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Murad III to Stephen Báthory – King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Prince of Transylvania. I thought the picture and story fitted this article!
At 128 pages, The Mystery of the Goths is concise yet full of interesting insights. I, for one, would welcome a new edition with more pages – the topic definitely deserves it. That being said, I can definitely recommend the book for anyone interested in the Goths (I cannot imagine anyone who is not).
Onwards and upwards!