What is a "God"?
In Asatru, and in the heathen community, there is a very debatable discussion occurring. What is a god? Now this may seem like a simple answer. Those of us coming from Abrahamic faiths may see this as an odd question? Is it not obvious what a god is? Are we not constantly told who are gods and who are not etc? Well, frankly, no. There is not a simple answer. Not when you look at the entire picture.
When you have a faith that has no dogma, no set rules, and differentiated thought is not only excepted but encouraged, you come along many people who have different views than you. Neither are wrong, they are right to and for that person and that is all that matters! But what this creates, is a sense of confusion for those new to Heathenry, and event so some veterans! Some would say that the Jotnar (The Giants), are not Gods, but would without hesitation say Odin is; however, Odin is the son of Jotuns! So where does the change occur?
The earliest use of the word God is in the Gothic Bible (Wulfila Bible), before that we have the Proto-Germanic word of *ǥuđán, its etymology is uncertain. It is generally agreed that it derives from a Proto-Indo-European neuter passive perfect participle *ǵʰu-tó-m. This form within (late) Proto-Indo-European itself was possibly ambiguous, and thought to derive from a root *ǵʰeu̯- "to pour, libate" (Sanskrit huta, see hotṛ), or from a root *ǵʰau̯- (*ǵʰeu̯h2-) "to call, to invoke" (Sanskrit hūta). Sanskrit hutá = "having been sacrificed", from the verb root hu = "sacrifice", but a slight shift in translation gives the meaning "one to whom sacrifices are made." Other school of thought believes that the word comes from Sanskrit “gau” meaning cow considered sacred. Refer Hathor in Egyptian mythology. What this all means is, that the word “God” is clearly not a new invention, but its meaning changes throughout place and time, and in some cases, brings with it drastic change.
I believe that a god, which I think is a term meaning a being of power beyond human understanding, is what we make. I do not think you can say Odin is a god, while some giants/Jotnar are not. I do not think all Jotuns are gods, in fact a small amount are. But to say none are while Odin is, makes no sense to me for his parents were giants, and their parents were giants, thus Odin is a giant. A god is a "holy power" a being that is not part of this world, but can be, and has inhuman sway over it. I am not sure how to describe it, but I think you know what I mean. A god is not a god in the sense of the Hebrew god. While the "Holy Powers" is a term that encompass the Aesir, Vanir, some Jotnar that are the personification of nature, Vaettir, spirits, Alfur etc, not all of those beings under that term are "gods".
At least that is what I think. A god is what we designate to be a god. Some Alfur (elves) it is said, almost rivaled the power of some of the Aesir, so we can surmise that power alone does not make a god a god. Immortal? Not that either, because the Norse gods are not immortal and need Idun's apples to survive. Is a god something we make offerings to and pray to? Well some may think that, and that is of course possible, but I, and many others, make offerings to the Vaettir and Alfur, to our ancestors, and I do not consider those races to be "gods" Are they important and powerful? Of course! In some cases and situations even more so than the "gods" So if that does not make the gods, gods, what does?
So what makes the Aesir, and Vanir gods while beings with equal if not more influence and power in our daily lives are not? I think it is simply that we make them gods. If we do not call them gods, they do not loose any of their might and majesty or power over the nine worlds and elements do they? No! It is a name, Odin has plenty of them! If we were to change their names from Gods to Vaettir, or to the Holy Powers would it change what they are? Not in the slightest. They are the divine, beyond our understanding and for us to try and wrap hour heads around all that they are…is unpractical.
So, thus gods, at least the word, is a title that we give to these beings, it is not, in my opinion a race or class of beings. They were only called gods after the Christianization of Europe! This was not how it used to be! I believe that the term "god" is to show that those beings are above all others. For me at least, this does not work! I think that some of the Alfur and Vaettir rank up there with the gods! Are they of the Aesir and Vanir? Well some of them, but some are not. Does that make them less on the divine food chain? No I do not think so. I think the term god tries to set them above others while in some cases they are simply not. In your day to day life, the Landvaettir and spirits are more relevant to you than the gods are. Some beings that are not of the Aesir and Vanir are as mighty and as important and I think should not be deemed lower. Of course I do not want to lower the gods either!
I think that the Holy Powers consist of many races of beings and levels of their power, influence and existence. To me, making it so black and white just does not make sense and does not seem right! Some Jotnar who are the personifications of elemental forces may be more influential and powerful than what we know as gods! In my opinion, we should not be specifying levels where the gods are at the top, the jotnar lower, and alfur lower and so on. They mix! Some even intermarry!
When there is only one god, the term works great, but for heathenism I think it just adds to the confusion and misunderstanding. Changing the names and "ranking" of these noble, Holy Powers does not change anything about them! It does not change how we interact with them, or how they interact with us! Yes I think Odin is all-father, maybe he is in charge of it all and is the top "rank" but that may not make him more powerful or important. Is a king more important than the farmer who provides food for the kingdom?
All of these beings from the "lowly" vaettir to the mightiest of the Aesir are so important to the workings of the universe. We cannot put some higher than others and I think that is what the term god does. We should worship who we wish and for what reasons we feel are necessarily and pertain to the situation!
I would like to not use the term "gods and goddesses" anymore but it is so burned into our minds that it will be very hard. From now on, I shall still refer to them as that, but also other more specific names. Such as the Aesir, Jotnar and Vanir, Vaettir. That way you shall know exactly what beings I am talking about and know what I mean by it!
It is not someone’s place to tell you who or what is a God, the lines are not that clearly drawn! You must search in YOUR mind and heart for what you deem a "god". And that, is the only "right" way to look at it. (in my opinion of course)
And that, is what a god is.
May the holy powers of the nine worlds guard and guild you on your path under the stars!