by Gert (AEscb‚am Thygen) McQueen WeofodThygen, Lareow, High Ambihtsthula, Winlandrices
Second Edition, 1994, All Rights Reserved Theod, P.O. Box 8062, Watertown, New York, 13601
Part I: The Rise of Retro-Heathenry
Most people think immediately that a Heathen is someone who is without God and who therefore must be atheist or satanic. This is not true. That line of thinking has been wrongfully imposed upon the masses of humanity by the Christian Church. Heathenry is a complex of real religions, with Gods and Goddesses whose theologies have no relationship to the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
Heathenry is not a nature religion that worships the earth, moon, trees or such. Heathenry is not the "primitive unenlightened" religion of "barbarians", as the Christian would say. Again, this line of thinking has been imposed upon the minds of men by the sociopolitical power of the Christian Church.
The Christian Church is a manmade political structure with a theology based on the revelation of one man. On the other hand, there are many Heathen religions, each ethnically particular to a culture, such as Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Germanic, Aztec, American Indian, Chinese, Hindu, pre-Biblical Judaism, Persian, and many others. A religion starts from man's experiences in the state of nature which produce the state of awe that is his Gods. All Heathen religions sprang from the soul of the people; that is, they are autochthonous.
Contrary to popular belief, man made his appearance all over the face of this earth without the knowledge that other men existed. This diversity of men has produced the many religions of the world. A tribe survives because its people "learn by doing", and by "doing" together. This shared experience and the resultant sharing of the ideas and concepts by the medium of shared language and ideology evolves instinctually in humans. This experience with raw nature is how man comes to know his Gods, for man is part of the living ecoculture of the earth. Different tribal groups may have shared experiences that develop separately along similar lines, but are expressed quite differently according to the group "personality" and "temperament" of any one particular tribe.
The Gods become known to the
people through supernatural phenomena that are part of the cultural collective
experience. This collective experience translates into social customary laws and
into religious observances. In a state of nature, man's everyday existence was
totally dependent on his interrelationship with his Gods. Everything he did was
religious, for his Gods were in everything. Man as a social animal naturally
organizes himself into family and tribal groups, thus forming the "social
compact" that insures physical and spiritual survival. A family or tribal leader sets the standards that everyone learns and obeys for the good of the social compact, thus ensuring survival. The same is true of man's formal relationship with the Gods. Priests, shamans, and healers have the leadership and abilities to read the supernatural language and translate it for the people, leading to the evolution of religious observances.
At one time, the entire world's population was heathen, including the Jews, who were the first group of people who "de-heathenized" their religion. This deheathenization occurred primarily because of one jealous God among the many Jewish Gods who visited upon the Jews an exclusive covenant as his chosen people. Yahweh "revealed" himself to Abraham and demanded that his people follow only him and no other. Thus did the Jews develop monotheism, in hopes of uniting their scattered numbers who were living amongst other races of men who worshipped non-Jewish Gods.
Heathenry is an ethnocentric religion, hence, Germanic Heathenry is the religion particular to the Germanic people who populated northwestern Europe. It is not a revealed religion; it is culture-specific and predates the invention of Christianity. Due to the political power of the Christian Church, many religions were destroyed or driven underground to survive. In the recent past there has been a renewed interest in ancestral tribal religions that predate Christianity. Today there is still a wrongfully imposed Christian bias placed upon any such interest to the point of denial of religious freedom in a country that guarantees such freedom. But through the intervention of the Gods themselves many religions are experiencing a rebirth, a born-again existence. Such is the case of Germanic Heathenry.
Germanic Heathenry's rebirth
actually started during the Romantic period when there was a strong interest in
nationalism in Europe. With the development of the Higher Criticism (the
objective analytical study of ancient documents), and the formulation of
language studies in the 1800s, many new fields of study opened up and led many
to the rediscovery of ancient traditions. Occult studies of all kinds also saw a
renewed interest and in Germany many were studying the "magical" traditions of
the ancient Germanics. Some of these new discoveries developed an
Aryan-supremacy attitude that was actually quite harmful (example: the misguided
Nazi regime, which set back Germanic studies about 100 years). Amongst others,
the more culturally
conservative types became known as Odinism, after the Germanic God Odin. Odinism spread through Scandinavia, England and Germany, and came to Canada and the United States in various cultural and religious forms.
According to Gerald B. Gardner, many formerly underground pagan traditions began to resurface after the repeal of the last witchcraft laws in England in 1951, leading to the publication of the religious practices of Wicca. Wicca, although not taken seriously by most folklorists and scholars, has since come to be taken quite seriously by several million practitioners in England, Canada, and the United States. It should be noted that Wicca should not be confused with Heathenry. Most Wiccans and Heathens are aware that the two faiths are fundamentally as different as apples and oranges. This includes Ray Buckland's Seax-Wicca which is sometimes confused with Heathenry because of the Anglo-Saxonism in its tradition.
It is now common for most Heathens to agree that sometime during the early 1970s there developed a more powerful urge among individuals to find out more about their native ancestral Gods. Many say that the Gods themselves stirred the winds of change. The Germanic heritage found a common ground under the title "Asatru" in the United States. This is a loose organization of individuals around the country that have devoted themselves primarily to the more religious side of Heathenry. Asatru took its form from the Icelandic tradition of Heathenry because that tradition contains the most complete lore available. Many of the other traditions had been eradicated by the Christians.
While Asatru was growing, another
Heathen tradition developed in isolation from them, that of Anglo-Saxon Theodism
("theod" means "people, nation or tribe"). Much of the ancient Anglo-Saxon
material was destroyed, but what is left is mostly older than the Icelandic. The
social structure of the Icelandic tradition is based on a democracy, for Iceland
was colonized by
heathen refugees from mainland civil and religious wars, outlawed when their kings and lords turned Christian. The oldest Heathen tradition is based on an aristocratic hierarchy with bonds or oaths of loyalty amongst all individuals, on up to the king. In 1976 there was an event in the life of one man in Northern New York that began what today is known as Anglo-Saxon Theodish Belief, the rebirth of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry in America. Theodish Belief, the belief of the people, has a loose organizational framework based on time-honored customary laws with a web of oaths and loyalties that provides every Theodish gesitha (follower) a direct line to kingship that leads ultimately to the God Woden.
Heathenry in general, and Theodish Belief in particular, does not have codified laws. It is a "lawless society" that functions under customary law. Everyone knows the custom and lives by the custom for the good of the whole. Customary law does have mechanisms to provide for wrongdoing and rehabilitation. Theodish Heathenry is a society proper; its religious theology is not separate from the society. Heathenry, as a religion, tends to weave itself into an individual's life; every aspect of life takes on a new religious significance.
In today's modern democratic society it is often difficult for people to understand that Theodish Heathenry is not democratic and yet functions quite well in its host society, for instance the United States. Citizenship in our country is in no way compromised by our citizenship in Theodish Heathenry, for Theodism teaches us to be good citizens through respect and duty. When conflicts arise they can be dealt with by applying customary law, honor and wisdom.
Like most of Heathenry, Theodish
Belief is tribal. A tribe is a group of individuals who live together or come
together for a common purpose. In ancient times a tribe's physical geographic
location was set. In today's world tribal members may live in separate homes,
perhaps many miles from each other. Perhaps in the future Heathenry will be able
to again provide central
tribal locations, but in the meantime, it should be stressed that physical separateness does not remove the tribal bonds. Tribal bonds are formed through oaths of loyalty to individuals. The oaths form a web that holds the entire structure together.
The structure covers three types
of areas: social, religious, and crafts. Each of these areas functions with a
system of ranks and oaths of loyalty. It is possible for an individual to have
rank in all three areas in varying degrees. Or an individual could be content to
be of the lowest rank and still be bound by the oaths that bind him together
within the structure. These ranks reflect not only the degree to which an
individual has proven his devotion, knowledge and wisdom, but also the degree of
responsibility that that individual carries. Rank means responsibility for and
to others. Theodish Heathenry has traditions, values, ethics, and rules of
conduct and proper behavior that are enforced through customary law and pertain
to every level of heathen society. If an individual does not or cannot conduct
himself according to customary law he is then removed from the society, for he
threat to the well-being of the whole.
The web of oaths is not in a democratic spirit. There are no equal rights across the board in Theodish Heathenry. When an individual declares for Theodish Heathenry he must understand that democratic procedures have no place in any aspect of Theodism. This is a cultural gap that one will face but one that must be understood if the individual is to gain from what Heathenry has to offer him.
The structure of Theodish
Heathenry is one that is time-tested but has been forgotten in recent centuries
due to the influence of Christianity, which tends to make individuals weak and
therefore easy to control. Heathenry makes people strong and worthy, and does
not control the destiny of an individual. Heathenry teaches you how to take
control of your own life and
prepares you to be worthy. The structure of Heathenry is not for everyone. The Heathen religion is not for all. It is not universalistic, and is structured in such a way as to discourage the infiltration of alien influences. Heathenry is not a cookie-cutter form of government, social institution or religion. It is very important that when one declares for Theodish Heathenry he understands Theodism on its own terms. Failing to do so will deny the benefits that cannot be found anywhere else. Heathenry is not a return to the past, but a picking-up where we left off at the time that Christianity so rudely interrupted us, and, beyond that, the way of the future.
part II: Garman Lord and the Beginnings of Theodish Belief
The Anglo-Saxon tradition of
Germanic Heathenry is called Anglo-Saxon Theodish Belief. The structure is
understood to be a federation of Anglo-Saxon tribes, collectively composing the
Winland Rice (pronounced REE-cheh, meaning American Kingdom). This kingdom is
currently ruled over by a regent, whose title is AEtheling. The First Lord
AEtheling of the Winland
Rice is Garman Lord, the founder of Theodish Belief. Note: (The AEtheling's pretentions were duly voted upon, by the Witan, and the Kingship instituted on Twelfth Night of Yule 1994, and Garman was crowned King on July 8, 1995)
How did this revival come about, and how did Garman Lord get the authority to become a regent? It is wise to remember that in our day-to-day lives events occur that seem to be of little value to us, for we are too busy to see the larger pattern. This pattern is woven by the Sisters of Wyrd. Wyrd controls all, including the Gods. This weaving is a tapestry which is woven of the threads of men's lives, such as the thread of Garman Lord.
As mentioned earlier, the winds of change were sweeping across America in the 1970s. During the '60s we all knew we were in the dawning of a new age --"The Age of Aquarius"-- but few of us fully understood what that meant. For a new age to dawn, an old one has to die. Since the '60s we have been living in an end-time; the world as we know it is about to die. The last end-time was when Jesus' philosophy took hold. The 1960s presented many new and old ideas that blossomed under free attitudes, but many wilted away while others lay stagnant. The '60s and '70s lacked the real structure for the future to be built upon. And yet those seeds that were blown around by the stirring of the Gods have taken hold and now, twenty years later, they are bursting forth from the dormant stage into life.
In 1968 a man reared in science,
and an agnostic, came face to face with a supernatural encounter. Fortunately,
he was able to meet another man, a guru, who was not only able to explain the
metaphysical world but to impart many wisdoms. The two men formed a friendship
that has now spanned almost a quarter of a century. They formed a
relationship. The teacher/guru taught trance work, scrying and psychic development, and conducted encounter groups. The student/seeker, while studying here, continued learning on his own such subjects as occultism, astrology, witchcraft, I Ching and magical workings. The teacher/guru later became known and respected in Theodish Heathenry as the wise Sage, Waldhere
Saga. The Saga's wisdoms inspired the seeker to spend his life in search of truth. During the next two years of study the seeker began to attract a following of his own.
At that time Wicca, calling itself
the Old Religion, was becoming something of a fad all across America. In the
same town lived a female who had a Wiccan coven. In 1971 the seeker gave his
following to this coven and shortly afterwards was persuaded to become the
coven's High Priest, taking the name Merlin. Believing at first that Wicca was
the Old Religion of
England, Merlin gradually began to question why it was Celtic and where its materials were coming from. In his search for these answers he had come upon the word and meaning of "Witan", an Anglo-Saxon word for "a body of wise men". Within nine months' time, having been promoted to the new office of Chief Wita for the purpose, he had crowned the coven leader Queen of the Witches and, in May of '72, left to form and institute the WITAN, a council of wise men that would handle higher questions for her. During Merlin's quest to form the Witan many difficulties arose: personal problems, the breakup of the Wiccan Coven, and a division of interest amongst the members that were to be the Wiccan Coven's Witan. The coven breakup left the Witan, as Merlin then said, "all dressed up with no place to go".
After some discussion the Witan
decided to form its own truth-seeking group instead, based on what was at the
time referred to as the "Shattered Diamond Theory". According to that
philosophy, there was a precious gem that fell from heaven and shattered into
many pieces. Different people, seeing this, ran away with different pieces,
which they treasured amongst their
tribes. The gem was Spiritual Truth, and the fragments are the fragments of spiritual truth professed by different followings. The Witan being made up of experts in many disciplines (Wicca, divination, yoga, even a Catholic priest) decided to try to reassemble the shattered diamond by bringing as many different kinds of spiritual experts together as possible into one study
group, to work together and regularly publish their findings. In September of 1972, Merlin and his girlfriend, the Wiccan Priestess Nimue, founded the Fellowship of Amerisyche with the Witan members as its Fellows.
Amerisyche set up a network to disseminate this information for the increase of knowledge and to publish their experiences. Amerisyche grew very large and was active from September 1972 to March of 1975, sponsoring many projects, including a Wiccan coven of its own to operate in-house amongst some members and share its insights and experiences. By that time Wicca in the North Country, as in other parts of the world, was in a state of chaos, remembered since as the Wiccan Wars. Many Wiccans were at bitter odds with the queen that Merlin had crowned, and wished to be dissociated from her in the practice of their religion. In early 1973, unable to bring the queen to account, Merlin outlawed her and stripped her of her crown, and with Nimue as High Priestess formed the Anglo-Saxon Coven Witan, sponsored by Amerisyche and not affiliated with any other Wiccan groups.
Merlin's Coven Witan was instituted in 1972 with the purpose of providing a council of wise men fit to advise a king for the end-times. In late 1974 the former queen was brought to account and a peace was made, but Amerisyche began to suffer internal strife amongst its members. In early 1975 Merlin and Nimue broke up; the breakup was a bitter one, and proved a fatal blow to the morale of the Fellowship, which ceased to be active at that time. In March of 1975 Merlin went into retreat, journeying out west as a solitary until September of that year. Upon his return the remaining members of the Fellowship met and formally shelved Amerisyche, archiving its materials.
Religiously, Merlin remained in retreat. According to Merlin, the greatest lesson of all the painful lessons that he learned at this time was the falseness of the Shattered Diamond Theory; it is merely a fine-sounding popular mystic delusion. It is often said that all roads meet on the horizon, but, in fact, they don't; they only appear to meet by an optical illusion. While in retreat in 1975 and '76, Merlin became painfully aware that the Gods he was serving were not taking care of him--they were ignoring him. In June of 1976 Merlin called upon the Wiccan Gods and gave them an ultimatum, saying that because of his long and faithful service he deserved a better fate than the poverty and failure that were now his lot in life. When, after a month, the Wiccan Gods did not come to his aid, he banished them from his life for all time.
On July 4, 1976, then, in a now
godless circle, forlorn and alone, Merlin reflected on the meaninglessness of
paganry. He then remembered reading about Woden and Frige (known in Old Norse
and Odin and Frigga) in an encyclopedia and wondered what he had to lose; they
weren't Jesus or Satan. So he said, "Woden, if you live, I don't know who you
are, but I give you leave to come here in peace". And Woden came. Merlin knew
instantly of the presence of the God. Within moments Merlin was even able to see
a man and a woman. The man came to Merlin and embraced him, then sat down and
talk. Merlin was aware of the sense of an overwhelming intellectual power and realized that he was talking to God.
Woden asked Merlin, "What can I give you?" Merlin said, "I did not call you here to give me a gift and I'm not sure if I'm ready to feel obligated in terms of my religion". Woden said, "We are not talking about your religion, we are talking about my religion. My religion is gift-giving and if you don't take my gift it could go ill for both of us". Merlin then said that he would like a job, a good job. Woden said, "It is done". Merlin asked Woden how he could learn the things he needed to know. Woden said that he would put those things in place for him. When they finished talking Merlin said good-bye to God and began to ponder the experience. Within days, out of nowhere, Merlin was offered a job by the State, and went to work immediately. Woden, of course, stayed nearby Merlin, asking him if he was to be Woden's man.
By late 1976 Merlin had changed his name to Garman, for he was now Woden's man. The Coven Witan became the Witan Theod (tribe) and began faining (celebrating) Woden. The first Lord rank was Garman's and the first members were the Wordsmith, a linguistic genius, and AElfwyne, a Senior in Anthropology at Syracuse University, who tutored Garman in scholarly techniques and provided the materials and scholarship from which Garman was able to learn.
The original purpose of the Witan Theod, besides celebrating Woden, was to resume where the Coven Witan had left off: to become a council of wise men. The Witan Theod realized that research and relearning was the only way to get things right, and began to put into practice what they were finding. Between 1976 and '77 many Wiccans wanted to join the Witan but were denied, since retraining them would disrupt the research. At that time there were a series of Wiccan and Celtic political difficulties that needed to be straightened out. During these crises new members came into the Witan Theod: Were-wolf, AEgili, and in 1978, Saegaest and his wife Wuldorhiht.
During its most flourishing period, the Witan rediscovered and put into practice many ancient motifs, such as swine-tivvering, trial by ordeal, real witchcraft and seithR-craft, berserkerism and battle ecstasy, and the poetic boasting tradition. It became in fact a retro-heathen shamanistic cult, open only to the most serious and dedicated high-quality seekers, willing to learn elder tongues and other difficult lore and honestly face its dangers in order to learn its eldritch truths. In the process, however, it began to develop a gulf between itself and the twentieth century, which was growing wider and wider and becoming almost impossible for many people to cross. Garman Lord and others began to feel that this situation could between Woden and the rest of the world, and that bridges of some sort needed to be built across that gap. It was Garman who decided that the gap could best be bridged by artists and writers whose works could perhaps make Heathenry more intelligible to the world, and that he could show the way by starting a sideline career as a freelance artist and writer in commercial media. But this would mean suspending his activities as Lord of a theod, which was virtually a full-time career in itself. Garman tried to get someone to lord the theod, but no one at the time felt ready to do it.
The only exception was Saegaest, who at the time had an idea to run a theod, but not the way the Witan was run. He felt that a bridge could be built by having a kind of learning theod that could be open-door in its policies and work with people to develop them, instead of just rejecting them impatiently as failures like the Witan often did. Garman did not like that idea, but tentatively gave permission to do it, saying, "Do it, but don't let the Witan find out about it." If it can be said that Garman's main weakness is not suffering fools gladly, it must also be admitted that this vice is counterbalanced by true open-mindedness to criticisms and to the honest opinions of others. In the years that followed, Saegaest and Wuldorhiht, fearing that the Witan might never become active again, continued to experiment on their own and to try working with groups in various ways.
From 1979 to 1983 then, the Witan stopped being active while Garman pursued a freelance writing and drawing career. He began to write articles for Heathen and Pagan publications, sold a few cartoons and placed some articles in Fate Magazine. In time a circle of literary interest began to form, leading to the creation of "Vikingstaff Magazine", a Heathen publication, with Garman as editor, Sean Howley as assistant editor, and Saegaest, Wordsmith and others as Vikingstaffstaffers, a name coined by Wordsmith.
Part III: The Winland Rice
In 1983 Garman had stopped faining the Gods and suffered the Gods' disfavor; he lost his job. He didn't immediately realize the significance of this, because he was so busy promoting the Gods in his art and writing that at the time he assumed that that would be service enough to make up for not faining. Because of the job loss, Vikingstaff stopped being published, and other members went off in other directions. Garman then became a graphic artist to support himself.
In 1985 Garman, realizing his mistake, started faining the Gods again as a solitary. He did not formally reconvene the Witan, most of whose membership had by then drifted into other circles or in some cases had moved away. He did, however, get his job back and was able to buy a house. At that time, there was some discussion between Garman and some former Witan members about reconvening, though it was never formally acted upon. In February of 1986, when some of the members (Aegili, Saegaest and Wuldorhiht) brought up the subject of the negative connotations of the word "heathen", Garman laughed and said that they would all live to see a day when the word "heathen" would become respectable, but that in response to the concerns expressed by them and others, such as Waldhere Saga and Embla, he had already changed the name of the religion to Anglo-Saxon Theodish Geleafa ("belief"), and the use of the term "heathen" was henceforth to be considered slang.
March 1988 marked my fateful meeting with Garman, and as I asked a multitude of questions, he began to teach me. Garman's solitary fainings, from which I had learned, had begun to evolve along their own lines, and farther and farther away from the old still-remaining traces of their Wiccan historical roots. Eventually, I catalyzed him into coming out of solitary status and being more active in the pursuit of the religion. In 1989 Saegaest and Wuldorhiht were faining with various friends and had the beginnings of a theod of sorts. In order to learn more, I joined their theod, M.H., in June of 1989. Saegaest and Wuldorhiht changed their names to Ealdoraed and Tunhofe in that year.
Garman decided that what was needed was a Rice, in which theods could operate the way they wanted to, but be bound together honorably under Woden by a web of oaths. Garman then asked Woden whether this was a good idea and whether Garman should try to become Lord of the Rice, and Woden said yes. Garman then approached M.H. on the subject and called for them to Thing the matter. Garman proposed that the office be called "AEtheling", meaning "First Lord", or "Pretender to the Throne" rather than King, which seemed too pretentious for the scale of things at that time. M.H. voted the AEthelingship into being and installed Garman as First Lord AEtheling at Haligmaest 1989.
Under the AEthelingship, Theodish Belief began to grow and prosper. M.H. became very active and successful in recruiting new membership, and in time grew to between fifty and a hundred members. During this time of growth of M.H. and the Rice, I myself had grown, developing a social consciousness about the suppression of our faith and our ways of life, and began public writing and classes, teaching runes under the mantle of the Asatru Rune Gild, plus other lore, as well as becoming a member in the Ring of Troth. I became something new to Theodism, a Heathen activist. Most Heathens are prevented from being public due to social pressures and possible loss of a job. These public activities took much of my time away from the theod and were frequently an embarrassment to M.H. because they were out of control of its policies and were felt to be an inappropriate role for a woman. In letters to the newspaper and such I tended to frequently haul off and tell the truth, infuriating the Christian Establishment, and my smash-mouth style of activism often embarrassed M.H.'s already complicated public relations. My differences with the theod's leadership quickly became too complex and too great to be reconciled, and in late spring of 1991 I went wretched (into exile) from M.H. Theod.
Lordlessness, however, as it says in the old poetry, is the worst fate that can befall a Heathen. Having no place else to go in Theodism, I tested for Weofodthaneship and a possible vocation in the always more "worldly" and now vigorous Rice, and was ordained. I then plighted a troth to the Rice and received such credentials as would formalize my chosen vocation: Rice's Lareow (teacher) and Rice's Ambihtsthula (ombudsman), these events taking place during the summer of 1991, for through my activism and my Asatru connections I was making contacts in the outside world on behalf of the Rice.
By that time, M.H. was beginning to take more and more issue with Garman, mostly over my role in Theodish Belief and in the greater heathenry. Garman was willing to try to satisfy M.H. concerning my activities, but only up to a point. He refused to control my outreach activities, or to forbid or even constrain my activism as long as it did not overstep the bounds of legitimate civil dissent. As more and more trouble brewed, Garman's energies began to be devoted to runing and seeking counsel with Woden about the directions that Theodism should be taking. Garman mooted frequently with Wordsmith and me, expressing the thoughts that began to formulate with Woden's help.
Two major growths came during this time period: kingship and the king's luck and the philosophy of Gering. Garman began to believe that some high-placed people in M.H. were "testing" the Rice, and that the AEthelingship should have been instituted as a kingship in the first place, to make sure that people understood what kind of troth they were getting into. In the fall of 1991 Woden told the AEtheling that he must blot. This blot, which is documented elsewhere, was carried out on Nov. 9, 1991, with instantaneous results for the Rice. Woden blessed the AEtheling with new insights and wisdom and as a result the Gering philosophy began to emerge. "Gering" (pronounced YAIR-ing), a runic pun that means "the offspring of the sprout" is the continuous growth from the original Witan that was spawned by Garman through his initiation with Woden in 1976. Gering is, then, an authentic continuous thread of the divine kingship of Woden, through which the luck of the Gods is passed to the folk.
Garman had asked Woden whether he
(Garman) was king or not, but Woden just laughed and said, "You don't want to be
king!" Therefore Garman merely declared that his office of AEtheling was to be
that of a "warder" of the kingship, which acts as a regent, and has kingly
authority and can be called king, but is not a real king unless so elected by a
real Witan. M.H., however, was not so much interested in the question of
kingship as of my own role in Theodish Belief and the Rice, which had become an
insurmountable issue with them. As the year 1992 wore on, differences increased
between M.H. and the Winland Rice, to the point where it was feared that war
would break out at any moment, and a ban was declared that would
have gone into effect at Hallows. A peace treaty, however, was successfully negotiated and signed on Sept. 6, 1992, and M.H. was set wretched and left the Winland Rice in peace.
As with any rebirth process there
is a gestation period before birth occurs. The Gering "sprouting" took place in
various forms. Many obstacles began to vanished. The chance suddenly came for
the Rice to undertake a project of computerizing all their vast and shapeless
body of lore, and volumes began to be produced, including this text. My own
public image, as
expressed by letters in the newspaper, began to gain credibility and acceptance in the community. My victories in skirmishes with the fundamentalists began to draw applause from the gallery. On Garman's counsel, I myself began to experiment with a "kinder gentler" approach, showing myself as a good winner, and soon I began to be invited to speaking engagements by
liberal minded Christian groups which in the public eye made me suddenly seem respectable. Ordinary citizens began asking questions. People who had been watching from a distance began to seek me out, to actually learn about the religion. My vocation began to be noticed by the Asatru community, and I was soon being approached with offers of various offices and responsibilities, with the Ring of Troth, in Febrary 1992, asking me to accept a seat on the High Rede, and in May I was confirmed an Elder. I had also gained recognition from the Rune Gild and was granted an Outer Hall of the Gild.
Gering Theod, born out of strife, began to wax. Former members of the Witan Theod took on new and more important roles. New people came seeking the Gods, and the theod grew to a dozen. The "era of good feeling" that the Gerings then enjoyed, however, did not last for long. It soon began to appear that new people, even the bright sophisticated ones, never really understood my role either. The troubles that Theodish Belief had been through had forced me to assume many positions of power in service to the Rice, often reluctantly, and gradually many resentments began to grow against me. When Garman learned of this he ask me to step down from certain of the offices that I held, and I did so. But this did not seem to be enough. People still seemed to find something threatening in the idea of a strong aggressive woman playing a role involving the exercise of real power, and were constantly accusing me of abusing my powers
for personal glorification. My answer was that my accusers simply did not
have a deep enough understanding of real heathenry and how it works, and were
trying to turn it into a game comparable to the Society for Creative
Anachronism. People's reactions were generally to find fault with my vocation,
my activism, my knowledge of the lore, and just about everything I did. By
October of 1992 all members expressed to Garman their intention to go wretched
from the Rice themselves if I were not banished from the Rice. Garman responded
that it would be unethical for him to break troth with anyone who had kept good
troth just because they were politically unpopular, and released them all from
their own oaths and gave them all leave to go in
Based on the experiences of 1991-1992, Garman then told me not to recruit any new members. Garman felt that it would not be safe or wise for the Winland Rice to accept any new membership until people could learn proper heathen ethics and honor and the seriousness of oaths, for fear of offending the Gods. Garman felt that much of the energy spent dealing with human conflicts and misunderstandings could be better spent doing a better job of presenting and explaining ancient heathenry and its ways and the relationship of modern heathenry to it. He made me promise to devote most of my energies to that direction and Gering Theod took on the holy task of wardership of sacral kingship, open only to kings' men.
My public fame had brought about an increase in correspondence with other heathens during the early part of 1993. This correspondence has brought many heathen across the land into contact with Theodish Belief, many of whom were of Anglo-Saxon descent, or are interested in the Anglo-Saxon ways. In early 1993 it was felt necessary, by Gering Theod, to publish a journal for the Heathen community, and we began the planning and building of THEOD Magazine, with a launch date of February 1994.
Gering Theod, "the offspring of
the sprout" of the Witan Theod, now began to give rise to new growth from the
original root stock, in the form of thread-like runners or rhizomes, as if spun
by the gods themselves. In mid year of 1993, Wednesbury Leod, in Missouri, was
instituted, with Swain and Eric Wodening as its Landlords. Garman had been
attracted to their
penetrating writings on the subject of heathen morals and ethics, and realized that his earlier hard decisions had been the right ones and we were being rewarded with a gift from the gods. With the growing problem of how to teach people what heathenry is, and what is meant by oath and troth, Wednesbury Leod took the king's charge of setting up a Heathen School. The school's curriculum is compatible with the Troth's Eldership Program and is an excellent springboard for those entering that program.
Theodish Belief is not all that easy to understand or to get into, because of its retro thinking versus neo. In the past, it has been seen that a "learning theod", where people are accepted just as they are, without any change of mindset or heart, defeats the purpose of restoring all of our heathen might, main, and religious being. It is to this end that Theodish Belief strives to bring to those who are ready and willing the challenge of heathen becoming.
And so as a chapter of history ends and a new chapter begins, Theodism takes a great leap forward in its great leap backward for retro-heathenry. We need now to consider what it is that makes Theodism think itself so retro-heathen, and why it relies on the web of oaths.
Part IV: The Web of Oaths
The level of responsibility that an individual rank carries is betokened by an oath signifying a bond of loyalty between the one who conferred that rank and the one who receives it; it is a two-way street. Every free Theodish Heathen is in service to someone as a thane.
The forms that oaths take are
generally the same for all ranks. The lord may use his own weapon or the man's,
or he may sell the betrothed man a weapon at that time (usually for a penny).
The man lays his head on the lord's knee and swears that he will always love
what the lord loves and hate what the lord hates, and will ever love and serve
him and never betray him or
raise voice, hand or weapon against him. The lord then dubs the man with the weapon, swearing that he will always love and keep the man and will always advance the man's career as ambitiously as he would his own. He then hights the man who knelt down in the old rank to stand up in the new one, if it be a new rank conferred.
Any free Heathen can confer any rank he wants upon another freeman, so long as it is not above his own. How far is a rank recognized? If the Rice confers rank then all freemen of the Rice are bound to recognize that rank. In Theodism we have an expression about the extent of any lord's deemings; we say that it holds good and is enforceable as far as the reach of that lord's arm. The Rice's kingdom reaches far and wide. Theods can of course confer ranks and other arungs (honors), which are bound to be honored at least under the theod's own rooftree. Rice's ranks and theod's ranks differ from each other in this way: a Rice's rank is conferred directly from the Lord of the Rice and reaches as far as the arm of the Rice. Theodish rank is conferred with indirect authority because the person who is granting the rank is in good standing with the Rice and the rank reaches as far as the theod's arm. These reaches of the arm, whether it be theod or Rice, carry not only loyalty but also protection. Rank conferred by anyone else is recognized as far as the reach of that arm, so long as it be witnessed and not gainsaid (denied) by the Rice.
If there be no outlawry standing against his name, or if the Rice will have him, a freeman who is not a member of a theod may formally declare himself and take an oath for the Rice, thus having the freedom and the protection of the Rice. A freeman is one who has risen above the levels of goodfolk (one who is friendly to Heathenry) and thrall (one who has declared for Heathenry and is in the process of learning by experience whether Heathenry is for him).
The usual doorway into Theodish
Heathenry is through thralldom. By selling oneself into the service of a free
Heathen, a person who is considering Heathenry as his way of life gains access
to Heathen circles and activities in natural consequence of such service, under
the patronage and protection of whomever it is he is enthralled to, hence the
opportunity to learn Heathen ways. A thrall does not have freedom: He is
considered a slave, with no right to own any kind of property, swear any oaths
or troths or to bear weapons other than such weapons as his owner may arm him
with to bear on the owner's behalf. The thrall's owner, for his own part, always
bears responsibility to other Heathen for the thrall's doings in Heathenry. In
practice, of course, the owner does not necessarily take physical possession of
the thrall's real chattel in the world; the owner's right to do so is
merely asserted as a customary formal usage. A thrall who is happy with his thralldom may remain in thrall forever if he wishes, or until he is sold to someone else, or he may hope to gain freedom and rank in his own right some day, and even subsequently to enter into thaneship as a freeman himself to his old owner if he so chooses. As part of the bargain of thralldom, it is customary for the freeman to agree to an obligation to help the thrall along with all deliberate speed toward the goal of the thrall's own manumission, in the sense that the one he is enthralled to has the responsibility of seeing him taught in the ways of Heathenry, and allowing the thrall ways to earn his freedom in Heathenry. This being the custom, then even if the thrall be too naive or the buyer too lax to have included explicit statement of such obligation as part of the bargain of thralldom, it is still apt to be upheld
as implicit in favor of the thrall should such a situation ever come into question. Freemen who are lax or who seem to be holding ambitious thralls back are chided by their peers and might even have the matter brought up in Thing. By the same token, thralldom can offer ways out of Heathenry not available to freemen without risk to their honor, in case the thrall should come to discover that Heathenry was a wrong choice for him. He can buy himself back from his owner, if his owner can be persuaded to sell him. If his owner will not sell, he can run away. Since he can swear no oath, his escape is not in violation of any oath, and therefore he is safe once he is outside the Rice, so long as he does not venture back into the Rice. Otherwise, all thralls are protected by the ranked individuals or theods who own them, and if the ranked individual or theod is in good standing with the
Rice the thrall has the protection of the Rice.
Normally, a Thrall is in service to some Churl, who is in service to a Thane, who is in service to a Lord, who is in service to the Rice. The exact meaning of rank and of the words for ranks as they are often used in common speech is not always clear to everyone. Names for ranks may be used formally in "capital letter" sense, but are also often used informally in a colloquial sense. For instance, it is not unusual to hear a lord refer to some lord under him as "my thane" or even as "my lord", depending on context. It would not be unusual for a churl to address the thane to which he is sworn as "my lord", or to address his wife as "my lady". In other words, such terms may have both informal and formal meanings.
Moreover, there are recognized ranks in the various Heathen paths or ways of life. Names for ranks normally designate social rank and authority. The first level of freedom is that of churl, and anyone called a churl is understood by that designation to be free to swear oaths, bear arms and own property in his own right by definition, whether his means and lifestyle be grand and prosperous or poor and simple. All churls within the Rice, whether they be individuals or members of theods, have protection and freedom of the Rice. This protection and freedom is the result of the web of oaths of loyalty amongst people.
The greatest distinction is apt to be in the kinds of service given; a Thrall's service is most likely to be menial; a Churl's service is apt to be general and involve all kinds of work. A Thane's service is normally specialized and involves some sort of special accomplishment, or position of special trust which his Lord has conferred upon him. A Lord's service is apt to be divided between caring and providing for his people on the one hand and bringing himself and his people into service of his own Lord, most usually the Rice's First Lord or King, at such times as he may be called upon to do so; raising a barn, or an army, for instance.
On the other hand the religious
calling of Weofodthegnscipe, or altar service, has ranks of its own, distinct
from social rank. A Churl who serves at the altar as an altar boy, or
Weofodceorl, may be studying to become a priest, or Weofodthegn. Should he be
ordained, his social rank is then also apt to be considered thanely by other
Heathen even if he is still technically
a Churl and no Lord has conferred Thaneship on him yet.
There is also the path of Heathen
crafts. Such crafts, as smithcraft, lorecraft and witchcraft are usually in the
hands of gilds, which may have the sponsorship or patronage of Lords and yet
operate fairly autonomously. Within such crafts degrees of accomplishment
corresponding to apprentice, journeyman, and master are designated by such terms
as Churl, Thane and Lord,
in that particular craft. Such paths of religious and civil service and crafts are often ways for talented Thralls to gain their freedom, and ranks gained in this way are apt to be given social recognition as well by other Heathen. Such gilds constitute a kind of professional class amongst Heathen, with a good deal of overlapping and a tendency for people of various gilds and crafts to regard each other as colleagues. A learned scop (minstrel, pronounced "shawp"), for instance, is apt to stand in "colleague" relationship to other learned crafts, such as Weofodthaneship, which devolves in a different way upon the same lore, and for the same person to have standing in two or more related or unrelated crafts, after the manner of a "Renaissance Man", so to speak, is not at all uncommon.
The words "lord" and "lady" literally mean "loaf-provider" and "loaf-kneader", respectively. These titles or ranks carry both the responsibility to provide for and to be of service to someone. The usual pathway to lordship is to become the theoden (leader), or Lord, of a recognized theod. Of course every individual Heathen can call himself lord or lady under his own roof tree (home).
The office of AEtheling, or First
Lord of the Rice, when it exists, is understood to be a substitute or surrogate
for the king and to be the warder of the kingship, and as such is of a sacral
nature. In the absence of a king the AEtheling is responsible for fulfilling
whatever duties and services to the Rice a king would otherwise fulfill, such as
setting custom and providing for lore speakers and blots. In the fulfillment of
such obligations it is customary to accord to the office of AEtheling whatever
prerogatives would normally be accorded to the kingship, such as the power to
swear by his own word alone, or to impose the peace of his person, or to raise
the fyrd (militia). The Lord AEtheling of the Rice is a provider and protector
for his kingdom and is in service, by oath or bond of loyalty, to his kingdom
and to Lord Woden, King of Heaven. A theod formally declares
itself to the Rice and declares an oath of loyalty. The Rice has authority to grant Rice's" ranks and to grant Lord and Lady ranks to Theods.
The AEtheling has custody of the
lore within the Rice, and is responsible for providing the mechanisms to handle
problems as developments demand. As a party to any and all theodish proceedings,
it is usual to refer indifferently to either a King or to a First Lord AEtheling
as the "Rice". By custom, the Rice is always careful to allow the rede of Lords
of theods, or Theodens, to hold sway within their own theods and under their own
rooftrees. But theods may find it needful to call the Rice in for such
situations as conferments of arungs that may want the Rice's witness or
blessing, or problems or disputes that might require third party intervention. A
theod always has the right to summon the Rice to any or all of its doings, and
if the theod is in good standing the Rice is under obligation to respond
appropriately to such summons, either by attending in person or sending a
qualified representative, or Ambihtsthula. The Rice is also obligated to act as a kind of ombudsman, and any freeman of any theod can come to the Rice at any time for any reason; he cannot be forbidden to do so. At the same time, it is customary with the Rice to always uphold the importance of the loyalty of a freeman to his own lord, and to be loathe to ever act in such a way as to capriciously or unnecessarily compromise such loyalties. Inasmuch as Lords of theods are such by virtue of being thanes of the Rice, the Rice is under obligation always to conduct itself as a friend to theods. The Rice is, then, the nexus of the web of oaths; it is where everything comes together, at the point of King or AEtheling and Woden.
The result of this social webbing is a communal kind of lifestyle that is so complete, so organically natural and so efficient, that it is impossible for the average person who partakes of it not to be drawn into it more and more as his personal center of gravity, and not to wonder why anyone ever lives any other way.
Fortunately for Heathen, the effect of this is not too disruptive in everyday twentieth-century lifestyles, and the centeredness that Heathenry lends to one's inner life seems to make for a more relaxed and efficient person.
It might be objected by some (although such has not yet happened at the time of this writing) that much about the foregoing understanding of ranks and arungs is in many ways nontraditional... a serious criticism for a faith that calls itself retroheathen. Theodish custom not only pretends to confer its ranks and arungs where and upon whom it will in such a liberal way as to be more or less at the whim of circumstance, but does not hesitate to carry this usage into realms of rank and station that in earlier days would hardly be accessible to anyone excepting by birthright. Theodism seems to go so far as to mix up historical periods and customs into a mishmash born of cultish convenience that throws ancient aristocratic heathen distinctions together cheek-by-jowl with burger and bourgeois conventions of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, and perhaps with borrowings from everything in between, with results that might not seem so much a revival of ancient custom as a travesty upon it.
Theodism feels, however, that the
only defense really needful against such objections is acknowledgment of them.
Theodism isn't really trying to kid anybody about what was really done in the
past, a field of inquiry that is always wide open to any and all competent
scholars, and about which useful documentation is more or less abundant. To the
Theodish mind, retroheathenry is made no less "retro" by gracefully bowing to
the necessities of different times whenever it has no realistic alternative. No
one tries to climb a tree that has been chopped down; better to spend your
trouble trying to find out
whether the roots still live. Likewise, it serves no true purpose of Theodism to be merely atavistic for atavism's own sake, by consciously or unconsciously donning and uselessly sporting the authentic but empty livery of ancient institutions long since laid waste and bled dry by two millennia of Christianity. That is, unless in so doing it can find valid ways of revitalizing and fleshing out those empty shells. The ancient institutions are of course necessary to the fact that we are retroheathen. The bourgeois
influences are likewise needful to provide the machinery for allowing all and sundry in the world today, who were denied the chance to be born and bred into a supportive cultural tradition of the ancient institutions, to naturally find their rightful places and relationships amongst one another on the basis of merit, to replace the missing living machinery that we once had of truly ancient blood and breeding, folk custom and tradition. The fact is, even ancient institutions themselves were once young, and when young would themselves have most likely progressed through natural stages not so very different from this stage of Theodism to become ancient in the first place. By being so natural, Theodism succeeds in emulating needful institutions that it has no power to restore by means that do the least possible violence to the true deeper meanings of the ancient faith.
...Garman Lord, AEtheling, Cyning
In some ways, this brief history of Theodish Heathenry seems like too slight a subject to be dignified by the term history, yet from such small acorns mighty oaks grow. There may come a day when children yet unborn will be glad that someone set down what is here.