Another Q&A with TBW: Heathen Addition, Part Deux

This is a continuation of my earlier post.

How does a Heathen approach “sin” and forgiveness?

Because it sounds like the question is referring to “the forgiveness of sins,” I will take a two pronged approach to this answer. First, to explain that there is no such thing as sin. Second, to explain that there is no such thing as, um, er, forgiveness.

Heathen ethics are pretty straightforward. Virtues, on the other hand, are things we strive toward; this is where our duties lie. We must judge for ourselves how to meet the challenges and responsibilities that are given us, therefore, there can be no one answer to any question. There can be no “one-size-fits-all” commandments. Therefore, there can be no breach of said non-existent commandments. It might be easier if there were. In Heathenry, we believe in the need to judge for yourself.

For instance, my brother is a could-put-John-Popper-to-shame-gun-owning, former competitive martial artist and paint-ball aficionado who trains his sons and daughter in bow, spear, sword, and rifle.  They hunt, fish, and eat meat.  Aside from his quirky pseudo-Assembly of God mentality, I think he’s a pretty good Heathen. He has a great deal of respect for our ancestors, he takes full responsibility for his actions, he gives when he gets, and he pays when he screws up. However, for reasons of my own, I am (once again, now that I am back from the land of beef and bacon) a vegetarian and pacifist. This does not make me more or less Heathen. I support my brother’s right to bear arms. But I do not join him in exercising that right. I support the right to reproductive choice. (Some Heathens and many Pagans, to my surprise, do not). I support the decriminalization and demarginalization of homosexuality around the world. I believe in keeping the government out of personal affairs. However, I support nationalized infrastructure, including healthcare and education. And I cringe to admit that I am vacillatory concerning capital punishment. But these are political views, not religious ones.

So, sin? No, not so much.

Forgiveness? Yes — and no.

No, because there is no sin. Yes, because there is recompense to be made for “wrongs.”

There is, however, a concept of weregild. Literally ManGold. Often misinterpreted as “blood money”[1] in Celtic traditions, weregild was the monetary significance (or worth) placed on every animal, item, or person. If something was ruined, broken, stolen, or otherwise effed-up, or if a person or animal (as property) was maimed, injured, or killed (with no differentiation between accidental and intentional), the individual causing the loss would have to pay weregild as restitution to the victim’s family or clan of the person or to the owner of the spoiled property.

So, you see, you don’t “give” or “accept” forgiveness. You pay for what you did. That’s that.

In today’s terms, we don’t really live by a-cattle-for-a-cattle-law. So, we might say that if you have borrowed someone’s lawnmower and run over one too many large stones, you should sharpen the blade (eh, hem, replace the blade) before returning the equipment. If you broke your sister’s lamp, you should pay for it or buy her a new one (or give her one of yours). This stuff is easy.

But it gets hard when you get to intangibles. If you wrongfully publicly besmirch someone’s reputation, you should publicly recant and publicly applaud the wronged party. If you have taken too much (time, energy, affection, advice, support, etc. – not so much sugar or Saran Wrap) from a neighbor without giving something back in kind, you should make appropriate atonements. How to do this? See my point above about virtues. You have to figure that one out.

Back in the day, the trespasser would ask the trespassed what s/he wanted as payment.[2] You paid that amount. No questions asked. All was “forgiven.”

Besides, like a handsome acquaintance reminded me, until a person is dead, they always retain the ability to grow, learn, and change.

In Heathendom, even outlaws are given the chance to figure out they have effed up (why I waiver on capital punishment) and mend their ways (can sociopaths and pedophiles do this?).  We have the idea of Frith, which is the restoration of rights to an outlaw after s/he has made amends. We figure that the kind of wisdom that comes from realizing that you are a complete douche is often a heavy enough price tag. Fix it, and all will be, um, “forgiven.”

Don’t fix it and mum’s the wyrd.

What is the role of magic(k) in Heathenism?

Galdr means “chant” as in “spell” or “incantation. It is usually performed in combination with certain rituals. Both men and women practiced galdr. The “songs” themselves are called galdralag. (It has a specific meter and literary parallelism, but I won’t go English Teacher on you right now.) Some galdr were used to raise storms, assist in childbearing, protect someone in battle, decide victory or death, etc.

Sorcery in Heathenry is another story altogether.

Let me break it down – Heathenry/Paganism is the cultural, Wicca/Ásatrú (pick your religion) is the religious, Galdr/Incantation is like prayer, and then there’s Magic/Magick/Sorcery/Crafting/etc. In Norse, the word is seiðr [see ther].

If you want to read some fiction I wrote about this distinction – and my ancestors – go back about a year to A Hurricane of Tricycles (about halfway down the first section) . I used to share my novel’s progress online but I quit. I felt too obligated to make it “good” instead of just making progress.

Practitioners of seið [seth] were predominantly women (völva), although there were male practitioners, after the Roman invasion, the practice of seið by men had connotations of “unmanliness” or “effeminacy” known as ergi, as its manipulative aspects ran counter to the male ideal of forthright, open behavior. (In Lokasenna Loki accuses Odin of practicing seið, condemning it as an unmanly art. A justification for this may be that following the practice of seið, the practitioner was rendered weak and helpless.) The berserkergangr may be described as a sort of religious ecstasy, associated with Odin, and thus a masculine variant of the ‘effeminate’ ecstasy of seiðr.

Seiðr, sorcery, and Spá [spāe], prophesy, are not customary rituals, and are not an everyday part of Germanic Neopaganism.

Just as not all Pagans practice “magic/k” and prophesy, not all Heathens practice Seiðr and Spá.

Tomorrow, I’ll answer those questions about racism, stereotypes, heaven and hell and the afterlife, and I’ll add in a little discussion about bacon and peyote for good measure.
And I wholeheartedly apologize if my cultural reference has Blues Traveler’s “Hook” replaying in your head. It it makes you feel better, I am stuck on the bridge: “Suck it in suck it in suck it in / if you’re Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn . . . . ” Oi.
Cheers from TBW.

[1] Blood money being the payment in advance for taking a life.

[2] There’s a word for it and I can’t keep racking my brain for it (if you know it – please remind me, it’s making me cuckoo). Is it gafol?

3 comments on “Another Q&A with TBW: Heathen Addition, Part Deux

  1. beyonddead says:

    Greetings fellow sister of the craft.

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