HEATHEN BELIEFS

What's Good for The Tribe is Good.

That is Heathenry in a nutshell. What is good for our people is good. Meaning right action and proper conduct is what makes not just yourself, but your larger community better. Heathenry does not have a book of rules or a list of commandments, but it does have a code of ethics based on keeping the larger tribe in mind. If your actions hurt another or the reputation of your Kindred, that is not acceptable. Our ancestors had the concepts of Innangard and Utangard (Inneryard and Outteryard) for how they saw society. Your inneryard was your tribe, your family, your home. In your inneryard concepts such as order, law, and civilized conduct were valued. The Outteryard was the world outside your control, where chaos and wildness dwell. Our Kindred is our Innangard and we keep it so. Your deeds and the deeds of this group matter. Abiding the law, respectable conduct, keeping yourself in good reputation, and being of use is what matters. We live a life and practice a faith that values this. 

Gods, Ancestors, & Wights

Modern Heathenry is a reconstructionist, pagan, religion. We are polytheistic and trying to worship the way our ancestors did ages before us. That means we are using what we know from history, literature, archeology and anthropology to learn about how our ancestors saw the world. It is a very different way of seeing things than our modern Over Culture based on a society centered around Monotheism. We worship many Gods and our relationship to them is not as personal as other faiths. Our Gods are busy and also on borrowed time. They know of their own demise as much as we do. We do honor them and worship them, especially during blot, but they are not the only ones we worship.

 

Heathenry is an ancestor venerating religion. We look to those who came before us, and call on them in times of need, joy, love and strife before we would bother a God. Let's put it this way. If your car broke down would you call your brother to pick you up or call the President? You might get through to the Oval Office but chances are your brother will attend to you sooner. We feel the same way about prayer. Gods are good and we want their favor, but Kin are here now and our duty is to each other. 

 

Wights (also called Landvaettir) are the spirits of the land you reside in. They are the local forces that bring you luck and mischief. They are what listen when you knock on wood and they are the ones who decide if a hunt will be successful or if a storm shall pass over your home without damage. There are as many interpretations and concepts of Wights as there are Germanic Tribes and the concept is broad and debated - but in general - they are the spirits of the land and deserve offerings, respect, and good favor for the same in return. Many see them as Nature and Luck personified.

 

 

Reputation

Heathenry is not a passive religion and it isn't a solitary one either. We practice our religion not through belief alone, but through deeds. Our action is our faith and in Heathenry "action" is a group effort. Unlike other Pagan religions that have a strong solitary and eclectic side to them, Heathenry is about community, worth, and reputation. These are all things that must be earned through our study and works. You can't say magic words, make an oath to a distant God, and proclaim yourself Heathen - at least not in this Tribe. We work together, worship together, serve the community together, witness oaths together, learn together, heal together, and thrive together. 

Heathen Concepts 101

This section of 101 by Eric McSwain, of Ida Plainsmen Tribe, with thanks!

 

Gifting Cycle - I give so that I may receive. Or, I give so that you may give. It is through the gifting cycle that a Heathen creates and maintains relationships with fellow man, ancestors, gods, and other wigths. Those relationships are based on the concepts of frith & grith. Because of the (nearly universal) need one feels to reciprocate a gift, you can ensure a continuing relationship with someone or some group via the gift. Gifts to your inner yard are far more binding than your outter yard. There is an expectation that the inner-yard will reciprocate. There is less risk in gifting the inner yard. The outter yard is a different matter. Offering a gift to the outter can put you at risk for insult or worse. If your gift is never reciprocated, that is one way to say that this person doesn't want anything to do with you anymore. If your gift is overly extravagant, it may be taken as an insult to someone who has much less in the way of monetary resources. Some arch-tribes felt that one gift was one gift, regardless of value. Other arch-tribes valuated the gift quite specifically. This is evident given the law-codices of that time period. In any event, our ancestors were not shy about stating why they were giving gifts. They were also not shy about reminding you that you owed a gift.

 

Frith/inner yard - Frith is what you share with your inner yard. The inner yard is your closest circle of relationships. Inner yard can describe a physical location, cosmological location, or signify social standing. Frith is probably the most misunderstood & undervalued concept in Heathenry, and is also a very fundamental component of it. Some authors assert that it is THE fundamental concept, the soul of the northman. Equating frith to family is a fallacy in modern society, though it was absolutely true for our ancestors. In ancient times, the family WAS inner yard, always. Not so now. Gronbech describes frith as some combination of; trust, loyalty, love, respect, peace, security, understanding, etc... Frith is a state of mutual selflessness that exists with those of your innangard (inner-yard). That means that you always put the needs of your inner above your own needs. ALWAYS. Those of your inner also put you above their own needs. It is explicitly mutual. You are responsible for their deeds, and they are responsible for yours. If they make an oath and can't keep it, you better help because it is your responsibility as well! There are not varying flavors (different variations) of frith, but there may be varying strengths. You either share it with someone, or you don't. Frith-breaking and oath-breaking were the two worst offenses a northman could commit. Frith requires that frith be maintained. Breaking of frith is not something that can be done with little consideration, and some argue that the individual can't determine if someone has truly broken frith. It is contended that only the tribal/clan leader can make that determination. You must fully understand this concept in order to fully understand who your inner yard is. Who, among your friends and family, meets the criteria above?

 

Grith/outter yard - If you are not inner yard, you are outter yard. There is not a third place to be. You can be on or near the border between these two social regions, but you can't have one foot in each. Outter yard can also describe a physical location, cosmological location, or signify social standing. You may share grith with someone in your outter, or you may not. The only obligation of grith is that of mutual peace and security. There is no lasting obligation and grith may come and go if not properly maintained.

 

Relationships to the Gods - There is no such thing as a personal relationship with the gods. Study of frith, grith, and the gifting cycle should lead you to that conclusion as well. The gods are outter yard and you should consistently maintain a community centered relationship with them via the gifting cycle. The gods are a different tribe, a very powerful tribe, and you should strive to maintain a grithful relationship with them. They cannot be innangard, however. This asserts that they are responsible for your deeds, and you theirs. It also asserts that they are required to reciprocate gifts. Some even say that luck flows freely among the innangard. I think it is presumptuous for someone to insist that they share luck so directly with a god. Like other members of the utangard, the gods are under no obligation to reciprocate your gifts.

 

Worth - This is not self-worth, which is a modern concept of what YOU think you are worth. Heathen worth is assigned by your inner yard based on your actions. How valuable are you to them? Do you always act in a selfless manner toward them? If you do something that works against your inner, your worth is reduced. When it approaches zero worth, someone from your inner (perhaps a leader-type) should be having a discussion with you. This doesn't mean you'll be cast out, but the situation will dictate the resulting action.

 

Reputation - This is what the outter yard thinks of you and your inner. It is assigned by the outter based on the actions/deeds of you and your inner. After all, the outside world is forced to assume that "birds of a feather flock together."

 

Honour - This is the extent to which you will go to protect your innangard. There can be a fine line between protecting your inner, and breaking the law. An honorable action is one that works to maintain/increase the reputation of your inner, and maintain/increase your worth to your inner yard. Your honor is often directly proportional to your worth. The modern denotation for honor has to do with generally virtuous or respectable behavior. While similar, the Heathen connotation has strictly to do with how your inner yard defines the word.

 

Luck - This is not synonymous with chance. Heathen luck is an interesting combination of talent and skill that allows you to be successful at something. You can develop your skills and talents over time just as you expect you can. You may have fishing-luck, war-luck, strategy-luck, cattle-luck, etc... The real interesting component of luck is the "power of luck." This power is often thought to inhabit objects as well as people. This power may be purposefully endowed on an object or person by another person, god, or other wight. It may also simply be absorbed and charged by the family luck over time. When the archHeathens sold a cow from a fruitful flock, they may tell the buyer, "For that price, you may take these animals, but I will keep the luck." With that, hairs will be plucked from the strongest cow as a symbolic effort to keep the luck with the herd, instead of sending it with the buyer. It is primarily the luck of the living innangard and ancestors that we should strive to harness. Luck is said to flow freely among the inner yard. This is why it is important to monitor who you allow to walk among your inner. They may simply siphon away your luck, or their actions may act to reduce/dissipate your luck. Luck can be seen as directly proportional to worth, honor and reputation. A luckless man may be of little worth and honor. However, it has been argued that lucklessness isn't a condition that comes with niding.

 

Niding - The state of outlawry. Frith-breaking and oath-breaking were two of the most notable causes of niding. The niding (outlaw) literally exists outside the bounds of law. Not only were they not bound by law, but law also did not protect them. Tribe and/or clan leaders would determine who was to be niding. The relevance of niding within modern society is debatable. I believe that there is no such thing, as no one is outside modern law. However, "tribal niding" could be a new term to indicate that someone was cast out from a particular tribe for thew-breaking, frith-breaking, oath-breaking, etc...

 

Ritual - There are a few different rituals common to the northman. The most common rituals are as follows:

 

Blot - The ritual offering of blood (live sacrifice) as a gift to a god or wight.*

 

Faining/yielding - The ritual offering of libation (usually alcoholic) to god, ancestor, or other wight.

 

Sumble - Often occurring after feast, the traditional sumble was a somewhat formal series of toasts. The sumble was used to enhance relationships. Grith was a typical minimum requirement for those gathered for sumble.

 

Feast - Although it isn't always considered a ritual unto itself, I believe it is. If not a ritual, I will submit that it is a common and important tradition. A tradition that has been used to bolster relationships for as long as anyone has cared to write down history.

 

Hospitality - Not to be confused with generosity, this term means approximately the same in the modern context. When walking among the northmen, one could simply knock on the door of a stranger and expect a meal and dry place to sleep. It is how one should behave with utangard when they visit your home. While inside your doors, they should need nothing. Heathen generosity, on the other hand, had mostly to do with your innangard. It wasn't mentioned specifically for the decorum of frith demanded it. It can be implied by the demands of mutual selflessnessthat is frith.

 

Other Terms

 

Ve - a sacred space for conducting ritual. Often outside, or in 'the grove.'

 

Hof - a sacred space for conducting ritual indoors.

 

Horgr - an altar comprised of a stack of stones.

 

Volva - traditionally a woman who practiced spa, seethr, and galdr. A shamanic seer, of sorts.

 

Skald - a poet or bard who typically made their living with storytelling and entertainment.

 

Gothi - the spiritual leader of the community.

 

Chieftan/Lord - the day-to-day leader of the community, often having command of the mannerbunde.

 

Mannerbunde - a society (sometimes secret) of warriors bound to a chieftan/lord.

 

*At Tyr's Good Hand blot we do not offer blood. Instead we offer ale or mead. Technically this makes our offering a faining since we aren't harvesting a pig for a community pig roast or butchering a Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner. Those are examples of blots. But we use the phrase, in this Kindred, to mean ritual - but do not expect to see any blood at TGH ritual!