Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans by Ceisiwr Serith


Have you ever looked forward to reading a book and then waited impatiently for it to arrive and when it did, you just didn’t want to read it because if you did you won’t have anything similar to it to follow it?  This is how I felt with this book.  There aren’t a lot of books on the Indo-Europeans (I know I read almost all of them) and there are no books (that I know of) besides this one on the religion of the Indo-Europeans.  That this book is written by Ceisiwr Serith is actually very fitting because of you google the Proto-Indo-European religion (hence forth PIE religion), his name would be among the first to appear in relation to it.

In the preface of the book Serith finds it necessary to define what he means by PIE because PIE history covers thousands of years and he gives excellent reasons for why he defines it this way.  To Serith the term PIE is used to denote the period when language and culture were beginning to break up.  This is around the third and fourth millennia BCE.

Chapter One: The Deep Ancestors

This chapter deals with the questions of why we should study the PIE culture, religion and history, where the PIE homeland is thought to be, the methodology that the author uses to reconstruct the PIE religion and finally the misconception of PIE or IE being a race.  PIE and IE are both linguistic and cultural labels that have nothing to do with race.  The methodology used by the author to reconstruct the PIE religion is a mixture of reconstructed linguistics, archeology and comparative mythology.

Chapter Two: Proto-Indo-European Society

This chapter was both simple and complex.  The author attempts to explain the nature of the PIE society.  He discusses Dumeizil’s tri-function system and how it relates to the PIE society and religion and how it doesn’t, and to explain this discrepancy.  He also discusses the nature of the PIE society, which is as a society with a transhumance economy and how that shapes their religious worldview.  It is a short chapter but an interesting one.

Chapter Three: Beginnings

This is another short chapter that explains the creation myth of the PIE religion and its parallels in descendants of the PIE culture.  It shows the need for balance and the cyclic nature of the PIE worldview.

Chapter Four: The Lay of the Land

This chapter is an important one as it discusses the cosmology of the PIE religion.  The author is able to show the preservation of the cosmology in almost all of the descendants of the PIE culture.  The concept of reciprocity is very evident and central to the cosmology.

Chapter Five: Xártus, Dhétis, Yéwesã, Swãrtus, Swédhos

This chapter is a discussion of order/law (Xártus) and the different concepts associated with it.  Concepts like dhétis, which is the law of society, yéwesã or the laws of ritual, swãrtus or the laws that govern individuals similar to the concept of geas in Ireland, and swédhos or ethics.  I thought this chapter was a really important one as it explains a lot about the way the PIE culture lived and what governed its actions.  It also presents a way of life for the modern pagan to try and emulate.

Chapter Six: Spiritual Beings

This is a long and very interesting and extremely important chapter.  It talks about spiritual beings, which are divided into Deities, Ancestors, Land Spirits, Miscellaneous Beings, and the Outsiders.  However, these categories are not hard and fast.  There are worlds that these beings dwell in; Above where the celestial Deities live, Below (in the land of the dead) where the ancestors live, the Horizontal plane where the Land Spirits live, and the water or beyond them where the Outsiders live.  The chapter then continues to discuss the nature of the gods and the different gods and goddesses of the PIE religion.

Chapter Seven: Yéwesã

This chapter was pretty cool.  It talks about some of the primary rules of ritual.  Things like reciprocity, offerings, and what direction to face when you pray to the gods.  At the end of the chapter he also tells us how he puts the rituals in the book together and what his sources for the rituals are.

Chapter Eight: The Domestic Cult

This chapter is a short one and centers on the practices that one can make in the home.  This is basically what one would do for their personal worship of a patron deity and the honoring of the ancestors.  It is an amazing chapter to read, and very informative.

Chapter Nine: The Wíks

Chapter nine is another short chapter that talks about how a study group or a group of people who come together to worship should behave and what sorts of divisions can be offered within that group.

Chapter Ten: Preparation For Ritual

This chapter discusses the purification of self and the materials to be used in rituals and what type of clothing is appropriate to wear in a ritual.

Chapter Eleven: Sacred Space

In this chapter that discusses sacred space; the author makes the distinction between what is sacred and what is holy and how the two are related to each other.  He also discusses altars, and other tables that might be used in rituals.  The chapter ends with an example of a ritual to create sacred space.

Chapter Twelve: Public Rituals, Chapter Thirteen: Rituals For The Ancestors, Chapter Fourteen: The Horse Sacrifice, Chapter Fifteen: The Triple Sacrifice

These four chapters all contain examples of rituals each with its own purpose.  The author uses chapter twelve to give a basic sacrifice ritual and the rest are specific ones.  He also uses chapter twelve to express how much of these rituals are reconstructed and how much is put together by following the basic ritual rules and what can be put together from the daughter cultures of the PIE culture.  These chapters were REALLY interesting to read.

Chapter Sixteen: Nekter

This chapter discusses the idea of the ritual drink.  The Greeks know it as the drink of the Gods and it is also known in the Irish myths, in Gaul, and in the Germanic lands as well as in Iran and in India.  After a brief introduction to the ritual drink in all the daughters of the PIE culture the author gives an example of the Nekter ritual and why it can be preformed.

Chapter Seventeen: Seasonal Festivals

This was a fascinating chapter to read because it discusses the seasons of the PIE culture and how because of their nomadic nature things had to be adopted and adapted.  The author tells us how he reconstructed the Lunar-Solar connotations he has in this chapter as well as when the year ends and begins and why he made these assumptions the way he did.  He also gives us examples of the different rituals he thinks the PIE culture celebrated.

Chapter Eighteen: Rites of Passage

This chapter is in a way an extension of the chapter before and where the previous chapter dealt with the changing of the seasons this one deals with the life of the PIE individual.  The chapter includes rituals for naming a baby, wedding, funeral rituals, and introducing living ancestors.

Chapter Nineteen: Divination

In this brief chapter divination by using milk-giving animals is described and examples from many of the descendants of the PIE culture is given.  Then a ritual is presented for this form of divination.

The book ends with four Appendices, the first is a brief glossary, the second is a pronunciation guide, the third is an explanation of how to clarify butter, which is VERY interesting and the four is an explanation of how to mark a sacred space.  The book also has an extensive reference section, which I really appreciate.

The book took me a while to read because I was trying to digest everything in it.  It is written in a simple manner for anyone interested in the PIE religion to read.  I would suggest though that you read a bit of PIE history before you read this book because it assumes that you know the history already.

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