There are two intensities of North European paganism that set it apart from other beliefs: a multiplicity of creatures, and a belief in doom, destiny, or fate that is powerful but not absolute.(Wyrd and Providence - Part II)and ended with
New England was a peculiarly fertile ground for a peculiar and intense version of Calvinism.The creatures I dealt with in the earlier post.
The belief in fate or doom is found throughout the world, but was especially strong in Northern Europe, both in pagan times and extending into the Christian era. We see it in Beowulf, in the Siegfried legend, the Eddic sagas, and the Battle of Maldon. (It is less prominent in the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, suggesting that the theme and philosophy may be more Germanic than Uralic). Most commonly in our era, we see it in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Gandalf suggests that Bilbo and then Frodo were chosen or appointed for their tasks, and senses that Gollum has some part to play before the end. In other parts of the world, the idea of luck, a more temporary situation of auspiciousness, or a cycle of fortune, or a blessing/curse changing a destiny is more dominant.
Norse Fate or wyrd is powerful, and treated in retrospect as if it were inexorable, but for those actually in the events, effort, choice, and wisdom seem to matter greatly. One's path is chosen, yet one can refuse it or mishandle it.
The Germanic settlement of England came in waves, sometimes by invitation and sometimes by invasion. For obvious geographic reasons, they settled most densely in the eastern and southern coastal regions. Essex and Sussex bear Saxon names, East Anglia named for the Angles, the Jutes to Kent, and the later Danes overlaying large sections of those territories. It was not merely that invaders came to rule and built some temples - the Romans did that but had little longterm influence on English religion. (They did, at the end, include some Christians, whose continuity was more impressive than their initial influence.) The Germanic tribes - throw in a fair number of Frisians and a few Geats as well - came in greater numbers and stayed.
The creatures, I have noted, did not seem to cross water well. But cast of mind certainly accompanies those who move. Here's the first leap: Puritanism in England was strongest in England in the areas where Germanic/Norse settlement was greatest. The Danes may have arrived in the 10th C and Puritanism taken hold in the early 16th, but there could be continuity. The intensity of belief in predetermination among the Puritans, even more than among other Calvinists, may have been due to a congeniality of temperament. The Puritans searched the skies, their ledger books, their crops and herds for signs that they were among the elect. They were in fact obsessed with the topic, for themselves, their neighbors, and their kin. In our sexualised age we think Puritans were obsessed with sexuality. They were far more obsessed with death.
I don't want to oversell this. Farmers and sailors everywhere watch the weather intensely, seeking to understand its portents. Almanacks were known in ancient times, but no one produced almanacks in similar number and variety to the English and later, the Americans. Distant second, third, and fourth place went to Germany, Holland, and Belgium, tending to support my supposition that this reading of the natural world has a Germanic tinge to it. In other parts of the world signs in nature were used to read the future: prophecy and divination. Among the Puritans they were used to read the present, or the recent past.
It is a fair challenge to my theory that one would expect the more thorough descendants of the Norse and Germans in current-day Scandinavia and Germany to be even more fatalistic than the English. I think that holds only for fatalism in the negative sense. I think those groups moved more toward the dualism of Norse religion. The war of the gods and giants is what the universe is really about, and human actions only a secondary phenomenon. We are on the side of the gods because they are noble, but they are going to eventually lose to the giants. Lutheranism is rivaled only by Orthodoxy in its dualism among the Christian sects. Garrison Keillor speaks humorously but accurately about the Light Lutherans and the Dark Lutherans.
The Puritans of East Anglia then, had a core temperament of doom (in the neutral sense) distilled by Calvinism. Those who moved to a harsh and dangerous new land in New England, especially the Bay Colony because of their piety were thus double-distilled. They strained to read all events as indicators of God's favor or disfavor - a redeemed version of reading events for clues to the friendliness or unfriendliness of nature and the universe, perhaps. They believed that striving did not affect salvation, yet they strove more than any other peoples because they considered striving evidence of salvation. Only the saved would care so much. This doesn't strike me as all that different from The Battle of Maldon:
Hige sceal þē heardra, heorte þē cēnre,
mōd sceal þē māre, þē ūre mægen lytlað.
Thought shall be harder, heart the keener,
Mood the more, as our might lessens*
You will note that I used the verb read for the observance of nature. That was not accidental. Part IV on the Book of Nature.
* If one notes that sc is pronounced sh while the c in cenre is hard (and lytlad is littleth), you can get some sense of both the nearness and remoteness of English of a thousand years ago.