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Blutwölfin
Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 01:32 PM
For many years, the most common model for Ásatrú kindreds to follow has been that of Iceland in the 10th Century. That is, contemporary Ásatrú has generally made use of the institution of the Thing in one form or other, and has generally espoused a very laissez-faire attitude amongst individual groups. Many kindreds, despite the presence of a gothi or gythja, are run along democratic lines.

This is most definitely in keeping with the historical experience of Iceland. Colonized from Scandinavia in the 9th and 10th Centuries, the initial inhabitants of Iceland (who set both the tenor and institutions of its society) were for the most part fleeing what they saw as the over-reaching power of the kings and jarls in Scandinavia. They formed their new society specifically without such institutions as nobility, although it can be said that the gothar formed a de facto nobility (albeit one with significant peculiarities, as discussed below).

The major differences between the jarls of Scandinavia and the gothar of Iceland were the portability of the office and the ease with which one could transfer one's allegiance from one to another. The Icelandic gothi normally passed along as part of the inheritance, but it could also be shared with or sold to another person, who would assume all of the rights and responsibilities of the office. Too, while the gothi's thingmen did swear an oath to the gothi, it was completely transitory and could be canceled unilaterally at any time by a simple announcement at Thing. Each gothi was a completely independent operator, and the territories of the gothar very often overlapped; the office of gothi was in a real sense mostly for legal and political representation at the Althing, rather than a conduit through which the web of oaths could flow. One's luck was entirely one's own, and any collective luck that might be manifest did so through the Althing as a body; an institution deliberately designed as a tool of politics rather than leadership.

Contrast this situation to that found in Scandinavia at the time. The kings and jarls were bound to their men through mutual oaths of support that flowed both ways, which could not be broken without the most serious consequences to the luck of those involved. The jarl was the jarl until his death; the office was not transferable in the sense that the Icelandic gothorth was. The collective luck of the folk flowed up to the person of the king and then flowed back down to the individuals in his service via the web of oaths; in a real sense their řrlög was shared, for better or ill.

Without the interactive web of oaths connecting the řrlög of leader and follower, and the permanence of the bonds between them, instability began to take over in the form of feud. While Scandinavia certainly saw individual grudges taken to the level of national policy (for example, when those grudges were between kings), nowhere do we get the sense that the state of feud was as all-pervasive anywhere in Scandinavia as it was in Iceland. The mere fact that one's lord was as obligated to stand up for a wronged individual as that individual was to stand up for his lord, was a powerful break on such hostilities. Scandinavian society, even during the time of the most powerful Heathen kings, was still one governed by thew (unwritten tradition) rather than written laws. As has been rightly said, a society without laws is a polite society, and in such a society the opportunities for feud-igniting insults are few. In Iceland, where support in court was a thing openly bought and political maneuvering was more common than appeal to the law, bloody and destructive feuds were the rule, rather than the exception.

The consequences of Iceland's social structure on Heathenry were profound. In Scandinavia, where thew governed, it was very difficult for a sovereign-- even a Christian one-- to impose his faith on the people. Certainly, he could attempt to do so on an individual basis, and open up his lands to Bishops and missionaries from Rome, but his ability to bring about religious change on the ground, amongst the folk, on a mass scale, was simply not there. In Iceland, by contrast, the decisions of the Althing (the results of political maneuvering, remember) were binding. While thew undergoes change by gradual evolution, law can be changed by fiat, and this is exactly what happened in Iceland. The infamous conversion law in 1000 A.D., while initially tolerant of private Heathen practice, was quickly followed by ever-more-stringent laws until Heathen practice was completely abolished. Rather than a "last holdout of Heathenry" as some Ásatrúar have romantically styled it, Iceland was a model of Christian conversion, having gone down without a struggle.

Indeed, Heathen beliefs and practices survived openly in Scandinavia long after they were driven completely underground (if they remained at all) in Iceland. We are told of continuing sacrifices at Uppsala, for example, well into the 12th Century. Even Germany was still the target of intense missionary efforts long after Iceland's de jeu (and de facto) conversion. The mere fact that the kings were Christian was insufficient to compel the people to abandon their Heathen faith; their thew was strong enough to overcome such edicts. It was only after thew was replaced by law (through Christian influence and based on the Roman model) in the minds of the people that Christianity could make serious inroads into their hearts.

The relevance of the Icelandic experience to modern Ásatrú is hopefully clear. By relying so much on the Icelandic model of democracy, Ásatrú has based its fortunes on a poor model indeed. A look at the fractious history of modern Heathenry demonstrates what happens when every man is his own lord; the resultant anarchy has weakened Heathenry as a whole. The recent turn towards tribalism is most definitely a move in the right direction, and I believe that as more Heathens in general and Ásatrúar in particular see the wisdom in the tribalist approach, we will all be the better.


© Marklander

Sigurd
Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 01:57 PM
Well, Iceland at least remains the prime example that the north was christianised by murder, treachery and lies; and not by love and peace.

Sigel
Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 03:03 PM
A look at the fractious history of modern Heathenry demonstrates what happens when every man is his own lord; the resultant anarchy has weakened Heathenry as a whole. The recent turn towards tribalism is most definitely a move in the right direction, and I believe that as more Heathens in general and Ásatrúar in particular see the wisdom in the tribalist approach, we will all be the better.
Interesting. I'd have thought it would be impossible to impose strict guidelines on something like this.

What does the author mean when he says "the tribalist approach" and how does this lead to a more united faith?

Blutwölfin
Tuesday, November 8th, 2005, 03:17 PM
Interesting. I'd have thought it would be impossible to impose strict guidelines on something like this.

What does the author mean when he says "the tribalist approach" and how does this lead to a more united faith?


I think he means the confraternity of people with the same faith. What once was spread and practised alone is becoming a "group religion" again. There are several Heathenists organisations founded in "recent years", e.g. the Eldaring, Artgemeinschaft, Rabenclan, Norsk Udemokratisk Hedensk Front (predecessor of the AHF) and so on. There are new structures again, people get unionised.