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Heathen Common Law

 

common, adj  1.  Belonging equally to two or more; shared by all alike; joint: "common interests".  2. Pertaining to the community as a whole; public: "the common good".

law, n.  1.  A rule established by authority, society, or custom.  2a.  The body of rules governing the affairs of man within a community or among states; social order:  "the common law; the law of nations". 

common law, 2.  The part of a system of laws of any state or nation that is of a general and universal application.

community, n.  2.  A social group or class having common interests.

nation, n.  1.  A people, usually the inhabitatnts of a specific territory, who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language or related languages.  2.  An aggregation of people organized under a single government....

 

That would then mean:

common law:  a body of laws binding on a community, generally governing that community or nation.

But, who are the inhabitants of that community, and who is this nation?

We Germanic heathens might have, sometimes, to squint a bit when we look about at one another, but we are a community.  We are, in truth, for all of our personal and spiritual diversity, in practice and worship, in outlook and in manner, a nation.  We share everything but a law.

We are also heathens, the builders and owners of our Innangardhar, are citizens of our secular communities, hopefully good neighbors, involved in the affairs of the wider world of the countries in which we live, and subjects to the laws of those countries.  We take our places, then, among our Christian, Muslim, and other neighbors in our secular communities.

Still, amongst ourselves, we are a nation.  But, ironically for a people who gave the word "law" to the common language, we are a nation with little law to bind us beyond very general and easily disposable agreements, often made between individuals.

 

We currently have no binding common law.

Law provides our people with context.  Some would argue that we are bound together by our oaths and troths, individual and congregational (where these even exist), with the Gods of our Folk.  Some infer from this tie of faith or fidelity, freely given, as a tie amongst other believers.  This has often not proven to be the case, as many of us have seen.  

Ours is a communal spiritual experience, and many of us try to gather and discuss our heathen community.  A few gatherings address the law of the communicants of the organization meeting, as with the Asatru Alliance's annual Althing.  It has been observed that many of these gatherings, on the other hand, are "lawless", as the law -- any law -- is neither discussed nor even addressed.

 

Why do we need law?

We are a nation of people, self-aware and self-creating, bound to our Elder Kin and the High Holy One, by a common history and, often, a common religious experience and social outlook.  What we lack is a context.  Law gives a people their context.

The common law defines how people are supposed to act generally.  To know how a people expect to behave, know the laws that rise from amongst them.

Law has been taken by some to mean a dreary, restrictive body of rules imposed from above, often by a "lordly" individual, to restrict the actions of those who seek a place in the community.  This has often been the case, to the detriment of groups so constituted and to the reputation of the law in general.  So, people remain lawless.

Law gives our people context.  Just as words take on different meanings depending how they are used, people take on different meanings depending on how they live.  Ours is a faith and Folkway rich in context, in examples of wise and unwise actions, rich in descriptions of the power and mechanics of the oath, and rich in examples of loyalty and fidelity and honor.  We are, quite naturally, a people of law.

The law of the Althing, the last verifiable natural heathen body of law prior to the imposition of foreign systems, was neither artificial nor was it imposed.  It was organic, arising from amongst the people, with the aim of supporting the common peace; and it was simple, indeed simple enough to be recited yearly or, later, in increments during the term of office of the Althing's Lawspeaker. 

The law is a way of reminding the owners of the Innangardh what their duty is to eachother, and to reinforce the concepts of loyalty and fidelity and honor.  Common law, then, is the law subscribed to by the owners of the Innangardh for the maintenance of the general peace. 

 

Common law is binding because it is agreed to.  It is enforced by the same agreement.

It is supposed that common law is binding on all owners and inhabitants of the Innangardh, and as well upon guests while within it, for the common good.  It should be readily understandable, and also general, inasmuch as life is a complex, many-layered affair, and no body of laws ever written has succeeded in covering all eventualities.  It must strive to be accessible and relevant in general circumstances, in hopes that the particular nature of a certain circumstance bearing upon the common peace and order beneficial to all can be addressed from the specific to the general nature of the community's life together.

Today, that common law does exist, as there are have been many, many slightly differing versions of attempts at it, from at least three versions of "Noble Virtues" to varying lists of thews, admonitions and more or less binding general statements of purpose.  What has been lacking in these 30 years of building has been the agreement that a law -- a common law -- is both needed for the common good and peace.  All too often, personalities have outweighed common sense and the aspirations to the common good.

What form should a common law take?  Look to the examples of our neighbors, the Hebrews.  They are a people who, like we, understand the nature of mankind and the need for laws to protect the many and preserve the common peace.  While they have, in the end, generated a body of laws which are quite extensive in their reach and particular in their addressing many minute details of life -- 613 very specific commandments, addressing diet and worship, dress and personal carriage, marriage and interaction -- the basis of their law is simple:  do not dishonor yourself before the god who binds us, do not murder, do not steal, do not lie, and honor your god and your parents.  This is a fairly simple and workable social contract.  Pile as much dunnage and as many invasive specifics onto it as you wish, this is a simple statement of "who we are".  Knowing the Ten Commandments, one knows the Hebrews.

One might notice that the majority of Hebraic commandments are what one might term "negative law" -- "thou shalt not's", if you will.  The "thou shalts" -- "positive law" -- are quite few in Hebraic tradition, inasmuch as it was recognized that one function of law is to limit the negative aspects of human nature -- greed, anger, slothfulness, in short the "photo negative" qualities to the virtues many of we Germanic heathens view as noble -- and that to mandate positive conduct is problematic, and often resisted as coercive.  In short, it is easier to "wave someone off" a bad course of action than it is to funnel them down a good road.  This is an example of "all that is not specifically forbidden is permitted", which is wiser than trying to mandate "all that is not specifically permitted is forbidden".

While I'm not advocating cribbing these Commandments from our Hebraic brethren -- we're daily invited to adopt them verbatim by the Hebrew's troublesome cousins, the Christians -- I am advocating looking into our own history, experience as a people, and into laws ancient and situations modern and devising a body of generally binding and beneficial rules for conducting our lives as heathens...many of which have been with us all along. 

Can anyone argue that a Germanic heathen is counseled to be careful in the oaths he or she gives, but is then bound to fulfill that oath once it is given?

 

Can anyone argue that murder -- a killing by stealth, one not admitted to or one for which compensation was not offered -- was considered a grave assault on the common peace, by virtue of being an invitation to a cycle of vengeance, and so merited swift attention and resolution?

 

Can anyone argue that one has a duty of loyalty to other heathens who live their lives in accordance with the generally agreed-upon customs and standards of conduct?  In fact, is not such a person held up as a good example to be emulated?

 

Can anyone argue in favor of lying to one's family or friends?  Is rape an admirable act?  Is seduction to be winked at?  How much weight do we give to the actions of someone who has broken faith once pledged, and has proceeded to hold his own aspirations above those of his fellows?

 

Can anyone argue against the common good?  Is the common peace not to be accorded any value?

 

A common law already exists, but not in any recognized form.  Germanic heathens, in many areas, subject to many secular governments, generally adhere to a generally accepted custom of conduct and set of values.  Many of the precepts which many of us recognize as wise, and therefore as binding on any heathen of good sense, are "negative", as we're counseled to abstain or avoid certain forms of conduct which might injure others or ourselves.  Beyond that, we are free to act, with an eye toward the common peace.

A common law, and a common observance of that law, is necessary for a people to grow as a people.  In it's absence, good people can be counted on to try to be good, but there is not common agreement on what is bad. When someone is injured or offended, one of the parties involved -- often the injured or insulted party, or the party who started out with common opinion against him -- usually takes the blame, often out of relation to the facts of the incident.  At that point, attempts to maintain the peace focus on personalities, not on the common good, or on redress of grievances.  It can be, in the end, an undisciplined process...and we are admonished to remember that discipline is one of the virtues counted as noble.

There is a need for a commonly agreed-upon body of readily accessible, flexible and general laws binding upon our Folk.  For reasons we all see arising from any attempts at civil organization, many will never subscribe to any laws not specifically of their own devising.  We have become that sort of people.  But, a body of laws arising from our common historical and spiritual heritage, commonly agreed upon and commonly observed, is a guarantee that the religious experience of Germanic heathery, however defined or presented, will outlive the current contentious and often confused generation, and be passed along to folks in the future. 

Germanic heathenry was always the expression of the genius of the many Germanic peoples we stem from today, where ever we may live.  There was more to heathenry, however, than religious observance.  There was living in a heathen manner, which necessitates the rule of common law.

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