CTP Prelim – Indo-European Studies I

  1. Describe several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture. (minimum 300 words).

“Indo-European” (IE) is first and foremost a linguistic classification.  It covers a group of languages that are thought to have derived from the same Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root language (Mallory 18).  Through the efforts of linguists, the evolution of the language has been followed.  The Indo-European language group includes languages from India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Parts of China, Iran, Scandinavia, the United States, and other locations (Mallory 15).  As the linguists were examining the IE languages, they noticed some common words and realized that they may be able to make conjectures about the culture by the words the people used or did not use.  For example, if there was no word for snow, then the culture was probably in a warmer climate.  If there was no word for corn, it was probably not a crop that was planted by that culture(Mallory 110-127).

Using this method, linguists conjectured that the Indo-Europeans led a mainly agrarian life (Littleton 26).  The word for plow was common across many of the languages and they had words for grazing animals such as sheep and cows (Littleton 26).  They also had domesticated the horse.  It is may that this is one reason the language group was able to spread so far.  They also had the wheel, and axle (Mallory 121), but the spoked chariot wheel may not have been because a word for chariot has yet to be found (Littleton 26).  Trees also seem to play an important part in the culture, according to the linguistics (Mallory 115).

The languages of various Indo-European cultures also have many references to Sky Gods (Mallory 129), and things tended to be passed from fathers to their offspring rather than from the mother (Mallory 123-124).

Another factor that helps define an Indo-European culture is their burial practices.  According to Littleton, the IE cultures mainly used “inhumation and cremation” for this purpose (Littleton 27).

Knowing these basic characteristics, along with the word roots and the way they evolved over time, will allow individuals to compare and contrast other cultures and see which are similar.  This is especially important for cultures such as the Celts where there is little surviving knowledge.  If you know they are part of, or evolved from, a cultural group, then even though there may be no history of a certain process written in their language, you can extrapolate what the culture was probably like by using the information that can be obtained plus the information that you have from other cultures and civilizations that shared roots.

Outside of the linguistically based characteristics, there is a trait called tripartition.  George Dumezil theorized that an Indo-European culture would have three functions within its society.  The first is that of Sovereignty, the second function is that of the Warrior and the third function is that of the Provider (Mallory 132).  This theory can be used in conjunction with some of the above mentioned traits when evaluating whether or not a culture should be considered Indo-European.  One must keep in mind, though, that while these traits show up in most of the Indo-European cultures, they do not show up in all of them.

  1. George Dumezil’s theory of tripartition has been central to many modern approaches to Indo-European studies. Outline Dumezil’s three social functions in general, and as they appear in one particular Indo-European society. Offer your opinion as to whether you believe Dumezil’s claim that tripartition is central to IE cultures.(minimum 300 words)

One theory about the organization on Indo –European culture comes from George Dumezil.  His theory is one of tripartition, or three parts.  Dumezil states that an Indo-European culture should show evidence of three classes, or functions.  The first function is that of Sovereignty.  The second function is that of the Warrior.  The third function is that of the Producer (Mallory 132).

In the Celtic world, the first function would include the Kings and the Druids.  They are the people with the highest level responsibilities within a society.  They interact with the Gods and pass along their messages.  They make decisions for the community as a whole.  They are the judges and mediators when conflict arises.  They also teach others to connect with the Gods.  They are the earthily sources of wisdom and knowledge for the people they serve.

The second function is the class of the soldier or warrior.  They protect the community from negative influences.  They are physically strong and guard against all that may come against them or ones they consider their own.  They tend to be more passionate and stubborn.  They exemplify courage and persistence and are not afraid to die in battle.  CuChulainn is an example of a Celtic warrior.  He is said to have fought off an entire army single handedly while defending Ulster (Ellis 70).

The third function includes people such as farmers and artisans.  They are the ones that produce the goods that keep the community running.  While this function seems to be rather unexciting, they are vitally important.  Without the third function, the Warriors would have nothing to defend and the Kings and/or Priests would have no one to look over or minister to.  The third function represents the everyday good citizens of a society.   The bards that come to entertain the court are an example of this function.  They produce and retell stories to entertain the first and second functions.

I think Dumzel’s theory of tripartition is a good tool in the anthropological tool box but I don’t think it is the ultimate criteria by which an Indo European culture should be judged.  There are cultures such as the Norse, where this neat and tidy division does not hold up as well as others.  It also seems that sometimes we run into the problem of fitting the data to the theory.  It is fairly easy to assign functions to things when they are examined in extreme retrospect and when there is not a lot of documentation.  As I stated before, I think it is a handy tool, but, we need to be careful that we aren’t skewing the data to fit into the mold we think it should instead of letting it speak for itself.

  1. Choose one Indo-European culture and describe briefly the influences that have shaped it and distinguish it from other Indo-European derived cultures. Examples include migration, contact with other cultures, changes in religion, language, and political factors. Is there any sense in which this culture can be said to have stopped being an Indo-European culture? (minimum 300 words)

            There are many languages that have come from the Indo-European (IE) language group.  As a Germanic language, English is considered Indo-European in origin.  The first civilization that comes to mind when I think “English” is the British.  Let us look at how the British culture reflects the culture of the Indo-Europeans.

The British have been subject to many changes over the time.  These include invasion by the Angles and the Saxons, the Normans, and Romans.  Later on Germany laid waste to them during World War Two.  They also did their share of expanding, conquering, and colonizing.  They had a presence in India and, of course, settled the original thirteen colonies of the United States.   All of these things had an effect on the language and the culture.  As new people came into the lands, new words were adapted from their languages.  The same happened when the British went to colonize other parts of the globe.  Once the Industrial revolution came, new words were needed to deal with the new technology.  This continues to this very day.  All living languages are subject to evolution over time.  If the language does not change, then neither does the culture and when the culture doesn’t grow, it usually becomes extinct.  Even though the English language has been influenced by trading, invasion, and technological innovation, I believe that the IE base can still be found.

The influence of the coming of Christianity is another influence.  The Romans brought the first hint of Christianity during their occupation, but the first King to actually be baptized was Aethelberth in 603.  By this time The Angles and the Saxsons had invaded and the more urban Roman towns and cities gave way to more agriculture and with it the practice of paganism resurged (Mayr-Hartig 30).  Even after Aethelberth’s conversion, there were a series of pagan revivals, if you will.  A Christian King would die and the next one would be Pagan.  That King would reinstitute the Pagan practices, then he would die and the cycle would start all over again (Mayr-Hartig 29).  This happened until the last openly pagan king died in 686.   During religious cycles there could be purges of pockets of members of the former religion and their families.  There were forcible baptisms and cleansings as well as laws that would fine people if they did not baptize their children, or pay the proper tithe (Christianization).  The fact that those in charge felt the need to create and enforce these laws is a testament to how slowly the general population converted.  This slow conversion process allowed the envelopment and assimilation of some of the older Pagan practices into the newer Christianity.   Churches tended to be built on older holy sites, some of the more popular deities, like Brigid, were turned into saints, and new Christian holidays were celebrated in place of the older Pagan rites (Jones, Pennick 103).  This led to the slow abandonment of the old ways and traditions and eventually Christianity was declared the official religion of the land.  Britain went from a land with many deities whose worship could vary depending on locale to the worship of a single deity as dictated by the government.

Two examples of this dramatic shift are going from honoring many deities, both male and female, to worshiping a single male deity and nature becoming something to be conquered instead of worked with.

Another characteristic of an Indo-European culture, and probably the most talked about, is that of tripartition.  Dumezil postulates that within every IE culture there are three functions.  I believe that these functions can be found in modern British culture.

The first function is that of Sovereign.  The Queen Mother can be seen as filling this role.  Not only is she head of the Monarchy, but she is also the head of the state church, The Church of England (Britannia).

The second function is that of Warriors.  The British have a military.  Indeed, they were once a superpower on the world stage.  The British military’s job is to do whatever it takes to defend the Kingdom and the Throne.

The third function can be found in modern British society as well, but unlike the pastoral providers of ancient IE cultures,  most of the time the Provider class is found in factories and shops.  There are still those who make a living at agriculture and artisans still exist, but the Industrial Revolution moved the populous from mainly agricultural areas into cities.

While parts of the typical IE cultural experience, such as using only solid wheels, and living mainly agrarian and pastoralist lives are gone from the modern British society, the IE roots still shine through with the tripartition seen in their society and in the language.


  1. Choose one other Indo-European culture and compare and contrast it to the culture discussed in question 3 above with respect to each culture’s Indo-European nature. (minimum 300 words)

One of the oldest Indo European cultures is that of India.  It is an ancient culture that has been shaped by time and a plethora of different forces. Due to its location, India was repeatedly invaded, conquered, and occupied by outside forces, including the British.  Vast natural resources and trade routes were too enticing to pass up for many nations.  This constant flux of nationalities contributed greatly to the unique culture that is evident in India today.

Unlike England which has one official language, India has twenty two. Over half of them have Indo-European roots, but not all.  India is also the origin point of four of the world’s current religions; Hindu, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.  Hindu and Buddhism are still considered major religions today and their popularity is behind only Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  (Wikipedia)

Just as there are many languages in India, so too have there been many outside religious influences.  These religious influences have helped to build the unique diversity that can be found in India.  In Britain, Christianity has had the biggest cultural impact but India was influenced greatly by practitioners of Islam.  Muslims moved into the area and brought with them their family members and sometimes their business contacts.  They also grew their numbers through inter-marriage with the indigenous Indians.  When Islamic clergy first came into India they tried to peacefully convert followers, but they ended up turning to violent tactics to try to convert the populous.  Today Indian Muslims are second only to Hindus in number.  (Indohistory)

Judaism may have been introduced to the Indic region early in history as well.  Some have dated the beginning of the influence as far back as the reign of King Solomon.   This early date seem to be a result of the close proximity of the Jewish homeland to India.  Britain’s remoteness prevented such an early influx of Judaism.  (Indohistory)

Zoroastrianism and other religions may have arrived with refugees fleeing other countries.  They moved into India to get away from the fear and persecution that they encountered in other countries.  Christianity also affected the Indian culture, but to a lesser extent that Islam.  Missionaries started visiting in the 15th century, but there are some that state that Christianity was brought much early than that and point to St. Thomas’ journey to India in the first century AD as evidence of that fact.  Rather than adopt Christianity as the official religion, as the British did, India held onto its roots.  80 percent of Indians identify as Hindu and old slightly more than two percent identify as Christian.  In Britain, however, the vast majority of people identify as Christian. (Heitzman Worden).

Hindu, one of the world’s major religions evolved out of the older Vedic religion.    The Vedic religion revolved around the writings in the four Vedas.  These works contains poems about different deities and how to honor them.  The main deity referred in this work is Indra, a warrior god.  There is also Angi, the fire, and Soma, the ritual drink.  During the Vedic period the priests would oversee the rituals and sacrifices.  These rites began as simple celebration but gradually became more and more complex and the priest became more and more powerful.  Eventually it was thought that if the rituals were not performed perfectly, a horrible fate awaited the ritualist and possibly the entire civilization.  It is speculated that this rigidity caused the beginning of the evolution from Vedic to Hindu (Vedic Religion).  The religion began to shift its focus from rigid orthopraxy whose main purpose was to maintain cosmic order to more philosophical things such as balance and unity as well as addressing everyday needs of the practitioners.  The concepts of dharma, karma, and reincarnation formed.  The newly emerging religion went from a literal interpretation of the Vedas to a more symbolic one (History of Hinduism).  The important deities changed as well.  Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva became the main players.  Brahman is seen as a creator, but also the embodiment of everything, the great unity that everyone strives to get back to.  Vishnu is a provider and Shiva is a destroyer (Vedic Religion).

It seems that while the religions changes of the British went from a more liberal Paganism to a rigid Christianity, the opposite happened in India.  The original Vedic religion had the rigid orthopraxy and the new Hinduism allowed for more flexibility of thought and practice.

One of the best known features of India’s culture is the caste system.  It still exists today, albeit in a different and seemingly more complicated form.  There are the Brahmans who are the high priestly caste, the Kshatriyas who are warriors, the Vashyas who are landowner’s and merchants and the Shudras who are artisans and servants.  A more modern caste of Dalit or Untouchable also exists today.  These people would be those that deal with death, waste and decay. These five main categories can be broken down into smaller more specific units, but for our purposes I will use the main categories only.   The Brahmans can be seen as fulfilling the first of Dumizel’s functions, the Kshatriyas the second, and the Vashyas and Shudras collectively make up the third.  The Dalits would make up a separate outsider caste. (United States) In British society, the tripartition can be seen but doesn’t necessarily affect all aspects of peoples existence, but in India, especially in the rural areas, a person’s social standing, job opportunities, and who they can and cannot eat with or be married to is still determined by the caste that they are born into.  Discrimination based on caste is technically illegal, and in urban areas caste is not as evident as it once was.  Rural areas, however, can still have stark divisions.

India’s Indo-European roots can still be found in the caste system and in the roots of some of its languages, but the country is extremely diverse in many regards.  I don’t think that one can say that Indian culture as a whole is still Indo-European.  It is there lurking in the shadows, but it has been transformed and mutated.

  1. From its beginnings, ADF has defined itself in relation to Indo-European pagan traditions. What relevance do you think historical and reconstructed IE traditions from the past have in constructing or reconstructing a Pagan spirituality for the present and future? (minimum 600 words)

Why do we need to know what the Ancients did?  This is the 21st century.  How can the actions and beliefs of people that have been dead for centuries have any bearing now?  These questions have been asked by generations after generation.  They not only apply to religion, but politics, technology, and even music.  People want to know why they should spend valuable time looking at the past instead of just moving forward into the future.

When I was an undergraduate music major at Ball State University, I had to take Music Theory.  We started at the very beginning and most of us wondered what in the world those rules had to do with anything.   We weren’t a bunch of powdered wigged men composing Sonatas for the royal court.  We were college students who were more likely to listen to Van Halen in between classes than Wagner.   As the classes progressed we realized that subsequent lessons and classes built on the foundation that we learned those first months.  We eventually figured out that had we skipped the basics, we would be totally lost when trying to created “modern” music.  Not only that, but we were shocked (and somewhat appalled) to learn that most popular songs are, in fact, sonatas and that they really aren’t all that modern at all!

I believe the same concept also applies to ADF and its emphasis on the Indo-European cultures and traditions.  You have to see where you have been to be able to get where you want to go.   While we no longer live in the same world as the ancient Indo-Europeans, we are trying to re-establish some of their practices.   The lore we have available gives us valuable information about the basics of the ancient’s beliefs.  We can use these basics to create a modern version of their religions.   If we were trying to make up a religion from scratch, we would be floundering around trying to figure out what, or who, to worship, how often to worship, what the Holy Days would be, what would be present at ritual, or if there would even be rituals or Holy Days. It would be chaos.  We would have nowhere to build from, nothing to anchor our fledgling religion to until it grew roots of its own.  Any idea that came along could be patched in until the whole mish-mashed and misshapen lump collapsed in on itself.

Instead, ADF was built upon and anchored by the cultures and mythologies of the Indo-Europeans.  These stories provided the founders with the essential elements to create this religion.  Will things change as time goes on? Probably, and I think hopefully.  That is what happens when anything grows.  If there is no change there is no growth.  But the growth can be qualified by the basics of IE culture and the way ADF has already grown around it.  Because ADF has a firm foundation, any changes can be held up to existing traditions and questions can be asked like “Does this go against any current traditions and if so, how many and what would the effect be of making the change?” or “How can we make this item from the lore relevant to practitioners now, or should be try something new?”.

ADF has a starting point.  It may seem like a simple thing, but people and organizations have attempted to create something out of nothing and they don’t usually do very well.  They tend to be blown about, changing focus with every whim or chasing after every dream or new shiny piece of information or hot topic.  ADF has something with which to make decisions and judgments about what we want, or do not want, for our religion that is based on cultures that actually existed.  We aren’t just jumping from one “feel good” quick pick me up to another.  We are stable and strong instead of fleeting and frivolous.

Works Cited

“Anglo-Saxon Christianity”.  Wikipedia Foundation Inc. n.d. Web. 6/12/2015.

“Christianity of Anglo-Saxon England”. Wikipedia Foundation Inc. n.d. Web. 6/12/2015.

“Culture of India”.  Wikipedia Foundation Inc. n.d. Web. 5/5/2015

Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Myths and Legends. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers. 2002.


“The History of Hinduism”.  Lotus Sculpture. 2015. 6/12/2015

“History of India.” Indohistory – A History of India. 2008. 5/5/2015. Web

“Indo-European Languages”. Wikipedia Foundation Inc. n.d. Web. 5/20/2015

Jones, Prudence and Nigel Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe. New York, Barnes

and Noble, Inc. 1999. Print.

Littleton, Scott C. The New comparative Mythology Revised Edition.  Berkeley:

University of California Press. 1973. Print

Mallory, JP. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.  New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc.

  1. Print

Mayr-Harting, Henry. Coming of Christianity to Anglo Saxon England.  University Park:

Pennsylvania State University Press. 1991. Web. 6/12/2015

“Overview of Christian Britain”. Britannia.com, LLC. 2013. Web. 5/5/2015


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