Mannus seized Yemós; he struck him hard. Mannus took the knife and said the words of the sacrifice. He divided the body and from it made the world. From the skull he made the sky, from the brain the clouds, from the eyes the celestial lights, from the hair the plants, from the flesh the soil, from the bones the rocks, and from the blood the rivers and streams. The Cosmos was ordered, the Xártus established.
And when the world was made, Mannus lived in it, ruling as king and priest of it.
But the soul of Yemós took the final journey to the land on the far side of the river of memory, the flowery plain surrounded by high walls of earth. There he now sits and rules as king.
– Reconstructed Indo-European creation myth, from Deep Ancestors, Ceisiwr Serith, 2009 (p.21-22). .
On the banks of an Otherworldly river, by a deep well, grows a hazel tree. The salmon that eat the hazelnuts are fed by wisdom. Five streams flow from the well, and they are the secret of knowledge.
This picture, or at least variations on it, might be seen in several Indo-European cultures and myths. The bile. The mighty pillar Irminsul, of the Saxons. Yggdrasil, the Norse world tree. The Vedic world mountain. The Jupiter Columns of Roman Britain, Gaul and Germania. The Well of Mimir; the Well of Segais…
In the Proto-Indo-European language, this Tree was (probably) called the *Xartus (or Artus, or something similar). It is the symbol of the beautiful pattern of the universe – and our part in that. You could call it the flow of fate, or Wyrd, or Rta, or cosmic order. Ceisiwr Serith calls it the “living structure of the universe” (2009, p.35). The gods are bound by the pattern of the Xartus, and so are we. As Serith writes, “All of Proto-Indo-European life and religion is simply an attempt to know the Xartus and to live by it. We are to find our place in things and to fulfill that place to the best of our abilities.” (p.39).
The Xartus is fed by the dark well of chaos, from below. Above, it forms Harmony in its branches. And like the hazelnuts, its seeds return to the well below, to begin again.
While this is philosophy, there is a very practical side to it. Hospitality and justice are central to the Xartus. The concept of *ghosti (living in reciprocal relationship, where a gift requires a gift) is important in ADF because of it.
Beneath these ‘big’ ethics, though, our values and virtues will always be personal and fluid, and dependent on where and who we are. For me, the more important thing is to choose: to choose justice, to choose hospitality. Right action, of the kind that contributes to the Xartus, involves choice.
I have Kemetic friends who talk about upholding Ma’at. Though it’s not the same concept, the Xartus has some things in common with it. We help maintain the cosmos by becoming the seeds of Harmony, by walking the path of its branches. We help uphold the things that need upholding. We help disrupt the things that need disrupting. Whether that’s volunteering in soup kitchens, or honouring our ancestors, or campaigning against injustices, or doing inter-faith work, or rioting against unjust regimes. Or the little things: finishing the washing up at the conference so that other people can attend rituals, or picking up litter at the river, or listening to the person who needs to feel heard. Or being the support system for the people who do the really consequential stuff: doing the work around the house so that your partner can go to the Transgender Day of Remembrance events, or babysitting so that your friend can do unpaid advocacy work for people who can’t afford legal representation. Or just getting out of bed (even if you’re in so much pain that you really don’t want to) and plodding on with work that feels really dull, because it contributes to something bigger. Things that seem hugely consequential, and things that don’t (but still are).
On an internet forum I frequent, someone was recently asking what the ‘long-term goal’ of our religious (or spiritual) practice should be. I don’t need a great goal, a heavenly destination, anymore. But I really do want to develop the philosophy of my religious perspective a bit more. There has to be a point to what I do, beyond passing the time, beyond spiritual development, even beyond honouring the gods.
For me, this is a big part of the reason. Participating in the flow of the river. In the growth of the Tree.
We are the fruit of the tree. We are the seeds in the well.
What is your religion for?
 For accuracy’s sake, I should point out that I’m conflating myths here. You know – poetically. And all that.
 But we don’t really know. (Also a point made for accuracy. If you must shout ‘evidence!’, do it quietly. I have a headache.)
H.R.E. Davidson, 1988. Myths and Symbols of Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions.
F. B. J. Kuiper, 1975. ‘The Basic Concept of Vedic Religion’. In: History of Religions, vol 15, no 2, pp.107-120.
J. P. Mallory, 1989. In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth.
C. Serith, 2009. Deep Ancestors.
G. Varner, 2009. Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells & Waters.
R. Wall, 1988. Medieval and Modern Ireland.