An indigenous people are those whose ‘root, branch, leaf and seed’ are deeply connected with the land they inhabit. They are made of the soil and they return to the soil that makes them, connecting them to future and past generations through the land. Their culture reflects this closeness and sympathy with their environment, and through the transmission of traditions, aphorisms, beliefs, stories, songs and art they are connected to a ‘vanishing point’ in the past where the idea of the land and the people are merged as one. From this place they develop their legends and dreams – their philosophies and models of the temporal and spiritual – the physics and metaphysics by which they describe their past, present and future existence. It is the ultimate expression of connectedness. It is their unique art and unique gift – the most precious thing they own, next to their children.
The cultural aspects of indigenous habitation are so deeply linked with the land that indigenous culture and belief has a strong biogeographical component: Land and climate determines plant life, plant life determines invertebrate life, and this in turn determines the patterns of habitations by vertebrates, including humans. Each type of life then negotiates the position of each other form and this in turn ultimately re-shapes the geography. It is the web of life. Here is a map of the patterns of plant life in Europe (credit: Wolfgang Frey and Rainer Lösch – image from Wikimedia Commons). Note how it relates to historic cultural zones of indigenous Europeans:
You may notice that the ‘Atlantic’ zone corresponds most strongly with peoples who have maintained a cultural identity of ‘Celtic’ in more recent times, although when considering the eastern part of the biogeographical zone (modern Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Norway) it is notable that archaeological evidence of pre-Iron Age material cultures is often very similar to that in the western part of the ‘Atlantic’ zone.
Before the invasion of Northern Europe by middle-eastern literary religious philosophies during the early centuries of the ‘Common Era’ (CE), religion and belief was a matter of interpretation of nature and man’s place in it. It was a system of what might be called ‘Natural Philosophy’ which explained the origins, mechanics and inter-relations of natural phenomena, employing ‘spiritual’ ideas to explain supra-rational and metaphysical concepts. These ideas and concepts were illustrated and transmitted in a deliberately non-didactic manner using story, poetry, aphorism, drama, music, song, dance and other similar types of non-literary transmission. ‘Gods’ and ‘spirits’ were therefore an artistic means of expressing aspects of what we today refer to as ‘Science’,’Knowledge’ and ‘Philosophy’. As with all ‘art’ it was a plastic mode of expression based upon a synthesis of inductive reasoning and empirical knowledge attained through the survival of generations of indigenous peoples with a deep spiritual link to the land of their birth and of their ancestors. It was a self-contained, self-explaining worldview whose authority was written in the landscape and by the forces which controlled and modelled it – something that no book would be able to do.
Pagan religion grows from the land which sustains it. Anciently, it was one with ‘philosophy’, art and the practicalities of daily living.