by Garman Lord AEtheling
THEOD, PO Box 8062, Watertown, NY, 13601 1993 All Rights Reserved
The Real "Old Religion"
In eldritch days, if things went well for a man, it was said that "God saw him". If things went ill, it was said that "God forgot him". This is the importance of the quality of one's religious life. The best way for a man to make sure that God will not "forget" him is to use religious observances such that he does not forget God.
In 1976 came the discovery of a gateway back to the ancient prechristian gods of the Anglo-Germanic peoples. The key to this gateway was the worship of the ancient god Woden... known as Odin in the Old Norse. Woden is king of the gods and king of heaven, believed by some to have walked the earth at one time and founded all the kingly dynasties of Middle Earth. Whether or not that is so, there is no question that Woden lords over heaven, and all other gods bear troth to him.
The Scientific Rediscovery of the Past
The history of mankind as we know
it begins some ten thousand years ago with the ending of the last "Ice Age".
There were men on earth before that, of course, but for European man, physical
traces of his culture have been all but obliterated wherever the great glaciers
held sway. Of course, ten thousand years ago, there was no writing, so that
history as we know it
was not recorded, and has had to be "reconstructed" by scientific methods.
Fortunately, science has been able to reconstruct one of the richest cultural repositories of all; our language. We know what language was spoken by our Ice-Age forefathers, and what words they used for things, which means of course that we know a great deal about our ancient ancestors indeed! We know much about how they were like us today, and how they were different.
Scientists today refer to our ancient ancestors as the "Indo-Europeans", and to their reconstructed language as "Indo-European" Our ancestors, the Indo-Europeans, are only one amongst many families of man. In ancient times, they shared Eurasia with many families of "Old Europeans", such as Berbers, Ugaritics and Turanians, as well as many families of Asiatics. Beyond Eurasia there were also Hamite/Semites, Negroids, Australoids, Capoids and perhaps many others unknown to us today. Within the Indo-Europeans, too, were many subgroups stemming back to very early times. The sub-family that had Heathenry as a national religion is the one we are particularly interested in here; the Teutonics or Germanics.
Today the Germanics are scattered throughout many nations: they are the English, Dutch, Germans, Balto-Germanics, Scandinavians and some others. At one time, however, up to the beginning of the "Iron Age", or around 500 BCE, they were all one tribe and spoke a common tongue, known to scholars as "Primitive", "Proto" or sometimes as "Ur" (German word for "original") Germanic. They also had a common religion, all being worshippers of the above-mentioned Germanic pantheon. As the tribe branched out, there were changes in language, religion and culture. Amongst some, Thor was the best-loved god, and others mainly worshipped Frey. Amongst the Anglo-Saxons, once they were in the British Isles, Woden was held to be the chief god, just as he is in so many of the Norse/Icelandic Eddas and Sagas. It is important to bear in mind, however, that Woden was not the only god with a claim on the affections of the English. We loved the Thunderer, too, and all the rest of the traditional pantheon. Specifically, we regard Ing Frea as a patronymic deity from which the English took their tribal name. Up until Offa's duel on the island, the Angles and Saxons were two separate tribes. The Saxons, a warrior tribe, would surely have been warriors dedicated to Woden; the Angles, an aristocratic tribe, would certainly have traced their aristocratic lineage back to Ing. In Theodish Belief, all the ancient Germanic forms are considered to be co-religious, and today we and the followers of many other forms of heathenry, such as the Norse-oriented Asatru, have friendships and other strong links and often meet and worship together. But the Anglo-Saxon tribal religion is the form that is followed in Theodish Belief.
Who Were the Indo-Europeans?
The Germanics differ in various cultural ways from their other Indo-European cousins, such as Kelts or Slavs, but all Indo-European races have certain things in common that distinguish them from their non-Indo-European neighbors. They tended to be tall and fair, and culturally hierarchical and patriarchal. In earliest times, we know that the Indo-European culture was pastoral and based upon following herds or flocks. They invented and perfected selective breeding, developed the horse and the use of the wheel, and invented warfare as we know it. Their gods were warrior gods, and their culture was based upon the warrior code and the concept of "personal honor". Theirs was a rural pastoral economy, and "wife- and cattle-raiding", a ritualized kind of warfare, was not only their "national sport", but an important means of circulating their wealth.
The Language of the Indo-Europeans
Their language, Indo-European, was the ancestor of most of the Modern European languages of today, not to mention many Oriental languages such as Hindu and Persian. One of the chief differences about Indo-European was its grammar. Indo-European languages can change the meaning of a word in several ways, one of the most important being "inflection". The word "shoot", for instance, refers to a present or future action; on the other hand, to say "shot" means that the action happened in the past. A word like "shooting" can be either a noun or a verb, depending on how we use it. Words like "she", "her" and "hers" tell us by their form whether the person referred to is the subject or object of a sentence, or the owner of something, etc. We are so used to this grammatical versatility in our day-to-day speech that we may sometimes not realize that these grammatical constructs are not simple ideas at all, and that they reflect a linguistic genius in the way our language was designed by ancient man. Indo-European languages even have words for such abstract concepts as "existence", with two different words for it being the source of a rich suite of meanings today, "nuanced" in meaning as "be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been". This somewhat "surrealistic" grammatical richness in Indo-European languages like ours is called "inflection". An inflected language is capable of rich nuances of meaning, and as such can be made to support what is called "figure".
Indo-European Tongues and the Power of Poetry
"Figure" is a word for the ability of words to "imply", as well as merely to "express". If I say: "Here's to George Washington, the Father of our Country", everyone knows that I do not mean either that George Washington is present in the room or that he sired all of the children in America! No; I am using a type of "figure" called "apostrophe". If I say that my love is a red red rose, no one thinks from that that I am having a love-affair with a flower; they know that I am using a figure called a "metaphor" to characterize some perhaps, to my own mind at least, ineffable qualities of my human lover. It is the linguistic richness of inflection that enables Indo-European languages to support two crucial cultural modes: rhetoric and poetry.
Earlier Indo-European languages such as Anglo-Saxon were much richer in inflection than Modern English, and they had another feature not found today; "synthesis". A "synthetic" language is one which has free word order, so that different nuances of meaning can be expressed by rearranging the words in a sentence. That meant that ancient poets could weave words together, using powers of inflection, synthesis and rhetorical figure, in such a density of meaning-patterns that the effect of hearing it was to release hormones in the brain of the hearer that would cause a natural "drug-trip". Few people today have a good enough speaking-knowledge of these "elder tongues" to appreciate the tremendous power of the ancient poetry; most can only read it in translations. But these elder tongues were actually dangerous weapons, in a way, that caused good poets to be as tremendously feared and respected as Wild-West gunslingers, and a really good ancient poet could kill a man or drive him mad with nothing but the power of his words. Today's much feebler Modern English is not "synthetic" but "analytic"; that is, the order of words in a meaningful sentence is more-or-less fixed. This was done because Christianity and certain other crises in the history of our culture forced us to greatly simplify our language in order to enable foreigners and people speaking different dialects to communicate with each other in a common tongue. We found ourselves thus forced to give up most of the poetic and rhetorical power that our language had as a kind of ransom for our survival. We still have some synthetic capability in Modern English, of course. "I go up the stairs!" has a different shade of meaning for us than "Up the stairs I go!" Overall, however, earlier Indo-European languages had much more synthetic capability than does Modern English.
The Importance of Lore in Theodish Belief
In Theodish Belief, we need to understand such ancient mysteries, and thus language and culture play a crucial role. Theodish Belief is "retroheathen", meaning that its main goal is to be a valid religious linking-up with the authentic heathenry of our ancestors, more or less as if Christianity had never happened. Theodish Belief seeks to reconstruct and resurrect the authentic religion of our Anglo-Germanic ancestors, but that is only half of the story. The other half is in our learning how to understand this authentic religion on its own terms; to see it through the eyes of our ancestors, and have what we see mean to us all the same things as it meant to them. For most people, this is a difficult challenge, and success in it comes only now-and-then. Whenever success is achieved, however, it is one of the most thrilling experiences that the human soul can have!
In Theodish Belief, a person learned in cultural subjects such as the above is called a "Lore Thane" or a "Lore Speaker". Lore craft begins with the "Lore Churl", or apprentice-level learner. As with most heathen crafts, deep study of lore-craft is not for everybody, but is mainly for those who feel a powerful attraction to it. A man who has gained much knowledge is then expected to teach himself more by teaching others; he is then called a "Lareow", or teacher. It is the man who goes on to become a teacher of teachers who is called a "Lore Thane" or "Lore Speaker".
The crucial importance of lore is the reason for having teachers in Theodish Belief. But man does not live by lore alone, and the Winland Rice of Theodish Belief is a community, with many crafts in it besides that of lore. The most important teaching that a Lareow does is his teaching of himself, for Theodish Belief has a saying that: "Everything that we are taught is false; everything that we learn is true". But for those whose main business is some other craft than lore, some learning is better than no learning, and that learning can be gained from teachers. Lareows, then, have a high position of respect in Theodish Belief, and are always listened to by everyone when they offer teaching.
The Importance of "Manners" in Theodish Belief
It is notable that people in a "lawless" society, such as the Winland Rice, observe much more old-fashioned courtesy toward one another than people in a "lawful" society, such as the modern American one, normally do today. The reason is the natural desire to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary offense of another. A "lawless" society must depend heavily upon the web of social courtesies for the maintenance of social order. Behavior such as is commonly indulged amongst people in today's society, where we usually tolerate misbehavior as long as we can and then call the cops, might well get you killed right on the spot in a heathen society, and the community might well deem it justifiable homicide and hold the killer innocent. Good behavior, then, is important, and so is common courtesy and due respect for others. Although Theodish Belief doesn't go in for a lot of elaborate courtesies, we try always to observe certain significant ones, as tokens of the exchange of mains and "luck" that are ongoing in human relationships.
For instance, it is customary to add "milord" or whatever is appropriate reference to rank, whenever one wants to be polite or wishes to add significance to a statement. For example, the statement "What's for dinner?" is not nor-mally a significant statement. "What's for dinner milord?" however, immediately calls to mind such religious values as feasting, hospitality, generosity, etc. In social encounters, especially involving sumbels, there are several kinds of "significant speech" that may take place; an example is galdoring, meaning recitation or song-singing. There are three kinds of significant speech, however, that are always betokened by references to rank or title; these are riddling, yelping and boasting. These terms aren't all respectable today, but for us they still carry their ancient non-slang meanings. Riddling is any speech intended to draw out and involve the thinking of the hearer, especially by demanding an answer of some kind from him, and riddling is often used in Theodish Belief as a teaching device and as a means to make sure the hearer is listening and thinking in order to get some point across. (It is also often used for recreational and entertainment purposes and to cultivate wit.) Yelping (gielpung) is somewhat like bragging, but more formal; it is a rhetorical declara-tion of honors and accomplishments, your own or somebody else's, and is normally done in sumbel, in the form of toasts and over the drinking horn. Yelping is a high art, because if it is not done with flair and class and style and wit it can easily degenerate into mere tiresome bragging, rather than inspiration, which is what it is supposed to be, so it is important for a wise man to cultivate the art of becoming an inspiring boaster, rather than a tiresome one. Boasting (beotung), on the other hand, is a boasting of what one intends to do. As such it is very serious; it is apt to bind a man inescapably to his own word and his honor. It is usually prefaced by a yelp of similar deeds or accomplishments do ne in the past. An example is the yelps and boasts in Beowulf, such as where Beowulf yelps his ancestry and his feats of prowess in the past, then boasts that he has come to win glory in a foreign land, there being not enough chances for glory at home, and that he intends to meet and kill the monster Grendel bare-handed. Had Beowulf failed to live up to that bold boast, his honor would have been destroyed for all time, and thenceforth he would have been an outcast from his people and bett er off dead and for gotten about; instead, he made good his boast and more, and entered into the orlay (legendry) of his people. We have often seen how a man has been made or broken in the history of Theodish Belief by his boasts, either drunk or sober, and what he subsequently did about them.
The Sacral Kingship
Just as in the days of the Indo-Europeans, the Winland Rice of Theodish Belief has a king. The king is chosen by a Witan, from amongst candidates whose family trees are known to go back to Woden. The king, as in days of old, has many privileges and many responsibilities. He is the only one who has the right to raise the "fyrd", or army. All wergilds (fines) or taxes are set by the king and collected in the king's name, and half of any wergild must go to the king. The king sets custom, or aehte, by his deemings, or even by his whim, and his word needs no witness to be held good. The king is responsible for the sponsorship of every kind of useful craft and good works, such as through his sponsorship of "gilds", and he is the living repository of the kingdom's "luck". Should it appear that the king, and thus his kingdom, have "lost" his "luck" somehow, then the Witan have the right to remove the king and replace him. The king may not be gainsaid in his word or attacked in his physical person, and any breach of the peace in his presence is a crime.
Equally important as a Theodish institution is that of the "King's Man". A king's man is someone who acts on behalf of the king in some capacity, such as a "Hyrnboda", or king's messenger. The Hyrnboda wears a plain white cloak in his rounds, sometimes with bells on it, and carries a horn and a message-pouch, and he cannot be interfered with in any way in his business. All must come when summoned by the winding of his horn, to hear whatever it is that he may have to announce. But the key king's man is the Ombudsman, or "Ambihtsthula". An Ambihtsthula has authority borne of the king to intervene in any situation. Moreover, any free man who has a grievance of any kind may approach an Ambihtsthula with it at any time, and the Ambihtsthula must give ear. An Ambihtsthula is the only person who has a right to "interrupt" the king at moot; and he can compel the king or anyone else to give ear on any matter that he thinks important, with never any jeopardy to himself. In this sense, he has some of the same privilege as is traditionally associated with the "Druid", in some traditions, or the "Court Jester" in others. Such officers form a kind of "civil service".
The Rice as a Community
Because it is by its nature a "community", the institutions of the Winland Rice are many. At its core is of course the "holy grail"; the kingship itself. The keepers of the kingship are the men and women of Gering Theod.
To "love the king", in Theodish Belief, harks back to the original meaning of the word "love". It does not necessarily have anything to do with passion or affection. To "love" means, literally, to "give leave to"; in other words, to tolerate or give license or privileges to. To "love the king" in Theodish Belief, then, means to "give the king leave (to be king)", or, in other words, to have a plighted troth with the king and be a friend and supporter of the kingship.
Citizenship in the Winland Rice
Members the Rice, are called "free men of the Rice", meaning that they have "civil rights" guaranteed by the king and his king's men. Such freedom, however, usually has to be earned in Theodish Belief, and can in fact be subsequently lost. Theodish Belief is not truly a free society, and the most usual way to enter it from the outside world is by selling oneself into slavery, or "thralldom", to someone who already possesses "freedom of the Rice". Thralls have no rights whatsoever excepting as granted to them by their owners, who are responsible for their behavior within the Rice, and for teaching them heathen ways. Thralldom, then, serves as a "learning period", at the end of which, if the thrall is successful, he is offered opportunity to "cheap after his abraidness", or buy his freedom of the rice...usually as a full member.
It is possible, of course, for some heathen individual to gain freedom of the ríce in his own right, as in the case of some honorable lordless wretch who sells himself into the king's service and is granted freedom of the rice in return. But another way into Theodish Belief is through the institution known as the "leod". A leod is a group of lordless folk who have no ranked people amongst them. Should they wish to sell themselves into the king's troth, the king is bound to set lore speakers and lareows to teach them heathen ways and help them gain men of rank and be granted theod status.
Here it might be noted that common-sounding words may sometimes have specialized meanings as used in Theodish Belief. The words "buy" and "sell", for instance, often do not refer to transactions in which money changes hands; they refer merely to the concept of "valuable consideration". Where money is involved, the word "cheap" is most often used. The reason is because Theodish Belief tends to stick to the elder, or original, forms and meanings of words. When money is involved in a religious transaction, the actual monetary sums are usually quite small. When a thrall is cheaped his abraidness, for instance, the abraid-shot is usually paid in a certain number of "lucky pennies"; i.e., pennies found heads-up by accident. All of this may sometimes be confusing to the outsider...but, in fact, there is much about Theodish Belief that is meant to be confusing to the outsider.
Other Institutions of the Winland Rice
Another important institution of Theodish Belief is the "hof". A hof is any important center of heathenry in troth to the Rice, and in its way is like a kind of little Rice unto itself. Most usually it is some parcel of real property having two characteristics: Firstly, that it has heathen activities of some kind as one of its primary uses, and, secondly, that it can and does accommodate occasional religious observances. Hofs are deemed such by the king, and may operate autonomously or under the auspices or sponsorship of some other kind of entity, such as a theod.
Another institution of Theodish Belief which sometimes affords a way into the faith is that of the "drengthreat". A drengthreat is a band of warriors, which some thanes of the king may be licensed to keep as a kind of household guard or for whatever purpose. A "dreng" is a mercenary soldier, and he has no freedom of the rice, but rather partakes of the freedom of the freeman who employs him, and who assumes responsibility for his conduct within the rice. Such service, however, may sometimes lead to opportunities to come into freedom in one's own right. But normally, a dreng, though a sworn man, is only on hand to fight, and is under a strict oath that he will abide by and be judged by heathen customs and honor, no matter what gods he believes in and was sworn in under himself. A dreng is usually not a true heathen. The drengthreat is normally an institution that flourishes when there is some threat of war, and can often be a source of troublemaking at other times, and so drengthreats are apt to be disbanded or not cultivated during peaceful times, as being too dangerous an element of the community.
Another kind of non-heathen people sometimes found in heathenry are "goodfolk". Some people who have heathen friends and like to be around heathenry will sometimes get invited into certain kinds of heathen functions. Such folk are called "goodfolk", as distinguished from "ellenwights", or strangers. It is from the ranks of goodfolk that most people usually come into heathenry by selling themselves into thralldom to some real heathen, in order to learn.
As can be seen, Theodish Belief is not so much a cult of belief as it is a community of belief. As a "cult" of belief, it could be said that Theodish Belief proper is simply "the King's religion". Theodish gesithas (followers), however, enjoy freedom of conscience, in religious and other matters. They have an obligation to support the king in the sacral exercise of his office, always and unquestioningly. Aside from that obligation, however, the Theodish gesitha is free in the pursuit of any kind of religious persuasion that is not inimical to or at cross-purposes with his support of the king's religion. And what, then, is "the king's religion"?
Theodish Kingship as True Retroheathenry
The king's religion is the cultus that originated the institution of kingship itself, at least amongst the English. It is a cult of Wodenism, and a cult of Ing Frea. It is a plight of troth to Woden as heaven's chief god, and as such is the religion of the Teutonic ancestral folk-pantheon. It includes the worship of Woden (Odin), Thúnor (Thor), Tyr and the goddesses and the rest of the Asa (AEsir) pantheon, and Ing/Frea (Frey), Freya and the rest of the Wena (Wanir) pantheon. It was Woden, in effect, who founded Theodish Belief in 1976 by his charge to G rman Lord. On the other hand, Woden's sponsorship of the religion that grew out of this charge was never meant by that deity to be an exclusive one. We were to be steered by Woden's craft into knowledge and troth of all the gods and goddesses as we became ready for them, and so came into the knowledge and troth of Thúnor (Thor) in 1991 and of Ing Frea in 1993. Over time it has become clear that Woden's plan for us was more ambitious than the mere founding of a cultus for himself; rather, it involved as true a restoration as possible of the whole authentic elder heathenry. This means, of course, that, theologically, Theodish Belief is still evolving, and will still be evolving for some time to come.
Theologically, then, Theodish Belief is highly complex. As such, it has a trained priesthood and Lareowship in service to the folk and the faith, sponsored by the king. The belief is that the business of men in Middle Earth (Middan Geard) must be kept in harmony with the business of the gods in heaven, upon which Middle Earth depends for its prosperity. Since heaven is invisible and its business more or less unknowable to the profane world, the sacral kingship and the special kinds of lore it calls into service are used as a "tuning device" between heavenly affairs and earthly ones. The king is expected to function as a continuing source of "thyle", or "channeling", so to speak, for heavenly advice, as proof of the continuing validity of his kingship. The people help the king as their intermediary with heaven, by helping to keep up feasts and sacrifices and such, but heaven also helps the king. The gods give the king such gifts as "luck", which causes prosperity and success for the community, "rede", which is a kind of special wisdom that comes through the king to guide decision-making, "frith", which is a special holy protection that the king can bestow, and many other things. And the folk do not allow any influence in the community which would interfere with these gifts, which are shared by the whole community of those who love the king.
The warder, or custodian, of the sacral kingship is the king's own theod, Gering Theod. All Gerings have some form of thaneship of the king as their calling. But there are many kinds of callings in Theodish Belief, and all must be represented for the Rice to be a community, and therefore a Rice. In the modern world, thanks to Christian influence, we are accustomed to thinking of heaven and earth as more separate than they really are. Like followers of folk religions every-where since time immemorial, the heathen knows that the spiritual aspect of all material things is just as important as the physical, and so there is a kind of spiritual craftsmanship in all work that heathen do that is taught by the Lords (masters) of those crafts. This is a deep and sometimes even dangerous lore that often takes years of study to learn and perfect.
Retroheathen Life in the Modern World
As a result, the newcomer to heathenry soon finds out that heathenry is not a bit like going to church on Sunday, but is, rather, a discipline that pervades every corner of his life... even his dream life. For someone accustomed to Christianity, of course, this may be a rather disturbing thought. One soon finds out, however, that this is a pleasant sensation, rather than an unpleasant one. The problem with Christianity is its unnaturalness, and the difficulty of fitting it into day-to-day affairs. By contrast, heathenry is very natural. The heathen does the same work, but he does it more cunningly. He has day-to-day problems, but he sees into them more deeply and solves them more easily. He has the same relationships with others, but he doesn't act any differently with others except that he is more sincere, and truer to his word. He is never expected to serve his faith by "testifying", "winning souls" or otherwise engaging in bizarre behavior. He may be open about his faith or secretive about it, according to his own temperament or circumstances. He does things that others don't do, such as observance of holidays, and he knows things that others don't know, such as heathen wisdom tradition, which may sometimes cause him to make decisions that others do not understand. But the result is the kind of success in his life affairs which overall tends to cause his peers to respect his actions, even if they are sometimes different from conventional wisdom.
At the same time, one must be ever alert to the hidden social dangers of being heathen in a Christian world. Friends and even kin whom the heathen always thought of as trustworthy, broad-minded and sincere will often secretly turn on him because of his heathenry; this is one of the most painful facts a heathen has to face. He will often find himself surrounded by what black people call "Smiling-face Charlie ofays", in whose company he has no choice but to keep "playing the nigger", and "shining on", in spite of pain. Being heathen can, unfortunately, teach a white person a great deal about the subtle pitfalls of being discriminated against. In the example above, the biggest problem for black people is often the treachery and shallowness of friendships with whites. The white person will often seem very friendly, largely because of taboos associated with race guilt and race discrimination in our society, yet his friendship is totally hypocritical and untrustworthy. Black people have often noted that they prefer the "trustworthiness" of open discrimination to the false equality of integration; the heathen soon discovers why himself. You may say little or nothing yourself about being heathen, but find that "friends" who really ought to know better are saying a great deal about it behind your back, often accusing you secretly of devil-worship and such. You may find yourself suddenly becoming "unclubbable"; meaning "uninvited", barred from various kinds of social functions and associations, no matter how nice or socially acceptable a person you might be. Friends and associates who really ought to know better may come to seem like they are afraid to be caught talking to you. You may find yourself denied a job, or fired, or denied promotion on the job, even though you might be the best man by far for the job in question. You may feel, in fact, as if you had suddenly turned "black". The usual culprit in such cases is our society's "crypto-christianity ". People who may seem well-educated and broad-minded on the facade-level that they present to the world, and who may not seem like any kind of church-goers themselves, will often be very "Christian", meaning, unfortunately, bigoted and superstitious, on the "bogey-man" level that their thinking really operates on when confronted by anything they don't understand, even though they may pretend to. Worst of all, it is very often the most respectable and highly-placed, sociable people, people you would never dream were small -minded and bigoted, who are most guilty of these vices. Such vices and discriminations, however, are always "secret", and therefore very difficult to uproot and deal with; any questions of yours or accusations will always be met with denial, and the higher up the guilty person the craftier and more strenuous will be the stonewalling and denial. Such denials are for the very good reason that such discrimination is unconstitutional and unlawful, and anyone who is caught at it may face pretty severe punishments and the same kind of treatment himself, of course. It is a fact of life, however, that any religious belief that is not mainstream in the host culture will expose the believer to all kinds of hidden social and economic perils, about which the believer must be realistic. The day will come when heathenry will overcome these problems, but that day is not yet. In the meantime, there are some heathen, like Gert McQueen, whose approach to the problem is to be totally open and public about it, and thus able to counteract malicious gossip about their religion wit h plain public statements of the truth about their religion. It should be pointed out, however, that Gert is vested into the sort of job from which you cannot be capriciously fired or denied promotion, and that the threat of charges of religious discrimination, thanks to the highly public nature of her heathen calling, always tends to make those who would try to sabotage her in her job think twice.
In spite of all that, one thing that Theodish Belief emphasizes is the importance of being a good citizen. Although some heathen lifestyles (pure shamanry, for instance,) may be quite bizarre, they are never entered into except as a calling of individual personal conscience. For the most part, heathen can live quite ordinary lives in the host community, and are expected to always try to be good citizens of that community. This means that any legitimate law-abiding trade or profession can be entered into, that heathen can vote, pay taxes and such, that they can serve as regular armed forces personnel, etc., without any compromise to their religious values. There are of course some aspects of heathenry that may involve activities not sanctioned by law, varying from time to time and place to place. Not all heathen who are slaying a swine on a holy day, for instance, stop to inquire first what local ordinances might have a bearing on such activity! However, it must be understood that no heathen is ever required to participate in any activity that might be considered unlawful excepting with his full and knowing consent, and no heathen can be punished by his peers for declining to do so on that basis.
For all heathen behavior codes, the key is "troth". Heathenry has no codified law, and as such is a "lawless" society. Heathenry operates by customary law, and where there is doubt the custom is explained by lore thanes or else set by the king. Social order is maintained by the "web of oaths", whereby all end up being responsible to others in their community for their behavior, and can be punished or expelled by the community for any unjustifiable misbehavior. The mechanism that regulates social order and policy is the institution called "Thing". Any free man can approach an ambihtsthula to call for Thing on any matter, and the ambihtsthula is able to take action backed by the king's authority. These principles of life are of course radically different from profane life in the contemporary world as we know it, and, since heathenry tends to be an everyday reality pervading all aspects of life, heathen often have a sense of living simultaneously in two different worlds. For most, however, this is not an intolerably uncomfortable sensation.
The Power of Retroheathenry
The secret of the power of Theodish Belief is that it is true retroheathenry; that is, it is pretty much the authentic religion that was practiced by our ancient heathen ancestors, and therefore has the blessing of the authentic ancient heathen gods. It therefore has much closer ties and troth with the real ancient gods and their power. In the profane Christianized world, one often hears that religion is irrelevant to modern life and the Age of Miracles is past. In Theodish Belief, however, one soon learns that this is not so at all; that mankind has merely broken troth with its old gods and that the gods have therefore turned their backs on us, leading to the many troubles that modern society is in today. In Theodish Belief, one soon learns that "miracles", i.e., supernatural events, are as commonplace as they ever were in Middle Earth, and one soon learns to take them for granted. Many, such as candidates for weofodthaneship (the priesthood), are even expected to have "wonderworking" as a craft in which they are skilled, and to demonstrate their skills as a prerequisite for ordination. Most Theodish gesithas gain some acquaintance of wonderworking as part of the lore of their own callings, and they know which other crafts to turn to for expertise in things they themselves may not understand. Witches, or diviners, are as valuable to the whole rice as lareows, and are often consulted as experts in various kinds of wonderworking. Most Theodish gesithas have some literacy in runic, gained while they were thralls, and often have enough understanding of runic grims (mysteries) themselves to be able to cast the runes for decision-making or knowing the future. All gesíthas have the advantage, too, of a shared culture with others in which the ancient lore is constantly being explored, enriched and promoted, even if they only meet with others at special events or on holy days. Many find Theodish Belief so satisfying that they make it the focus of their personal lifestyle. As such, they make a ready example in answer to the question sometimes asked: How can one fit the forgotten religion of many many centuries ago into modern life? The answer lies in the experience of doing it. It is much easier to live Theodish Belief in the everyday modern world than it is Christianity!
Some who have never lived Theodish Belief, however, have the impression that it is easier and more relevant than living strict Christianity because it is "less spiritual". This is not true. Theodish Belief is not "less spiritual" than Christianity or any other religion; it is merely a totally different kind of spirituality. Christianity is a good example of a belief-form that is full of hangups, double standards and otherworldly taboos that cannot be questioned but only painfully yielded-to by sinful mankind in hopes of salvation. Yielding, however, triggers and releases certain addictive kinds of hormones in the brain chemistry, changing and degrading the personality of the Christian and giving him spiritual gratification but often causing bizarre behaviorisms not compatible with day-to-day life. Like most forms of heathenry, Theodish Belief is free of all that, and knows that the only salvation for mankind lies in the individual pursuit of human worth and excellence, through the pursuit of Theodism's Three Great Redes; Wisdom, Generosity and Personal Honor. Where Christians spend time praying to God, the Theodish gesitha instead contemplates God, tuning into divine wisdom through runes, meditation, mind-faring and other such disciplines. Where the Christian turns to priests and ministers for counseling, the gesitha knows that he can likewise turn to weofodthanes, ambihtsthulas, bloteres (high priests), witches, wizards, lareows and many other kinds of experts, usually beyond the wisdom available to most Christians. Where the Christian prays for solace and comfort in times of sorrow and trouble, the gesítha falls back on the strength of the warrior tradition in which he has been trained, knowing that the gods he loves will not forget those who are true to them, but also that a man's first best help is always himself and the craft that he has learned in his life as a heathen.
The result of the pursuit of the heathen lifestyle is a weave of the greater and the lesser wyrds, or destinies. The effect of Christianity is to fragment the personality between the call of the gross material sinful world on the one hand and the need to save the spiritual and hopefully "redeemed" soul on the other. This is a theology born of the apocalyptic politics of the Roman Empire and sub-Roman period of many centuries ago. Retroheathenry, on the other hand, sprang out of the nonpolitical autochthonous, or "folk", cultural experience of a tribal group, and has a more sophisticated theology that can transcend the impulse to spiritual fragmentation, pointing instead to the path of spiritual integrity as man's proper destiny. It is true that the world is an evil place, but as such it is a mere compost-heap that fertilizes the worthy and the good. While we are in this world, we are expected to live the life of this world... but in a worthy way, following ever the redes of Wisdom, Generosity and Personal Honor, which are not always easy to live by but which are the forces whereby we learn, grow and hopefully achieve in the end that degree of spiritual attainment and perfection that will make us worthy of heaven and the company of gods. Our gods do not need to be appeased, but rather to be cultivated and befriended; they only call for us to cleave to our natural troth with them. We are not their groveling subjects, but rather their junior partners, so to speak, in a cosmic enterprise that needs the cooperation of us and them to come to fruition.
As such, the great benefit and power of retro-heathenry in general and Theodish Belief in particular is the nearness it achieves between us and authentic gods. Others may prate about things like wisdom or being "blessed"; Woden is the God of Wisdom himself, and Ing the god of blessings. By following Woden's and Ing's own religion so carefully, no matter how strange it may seem in some ways, one forms a much more direct weave with the Ultimate Wisdom and the High-est Blessings.
Theodish Belief and Other Pagan Forms
Today, there are many religions that call themselves pagan and heathen, mostly spawned out of a dissatisfaction with Christianity. Only a certain few, however, can truly call themselves retroheathen, and those who come to retroheathenry from Wicca or other neo-forms often experience a severe culture shock. It is thus often asked why Theodish Belief is so different from the rest. It is true that Theodish Belief is difficult and demanding in its lore and such, and some may wonder whether it is worthwhile. It is even sometimes argued that such a strenuous religion can only serve to turn away many who would otherwise like to be heathen, and thus the gods are being denied followers amongst those who would like a chance to serve them.
The truth is, the gods themselves would be inclined to agree... but they know better than anybody that service to them which is in name only and not authentic is in fact no service at all. This may sound a bit like some kind of "heathen fundamentalism", but it is not. The only way that the gods can be validly served in today's world is by doing things the way they tell you to do them, based on wisdoms that they still know but that the modern world has forgotten.
The impulse to leave Christianity and form a new religion springs actually from a variety of sources in human nature; some of them creative, some sincere, some perverse. The same applies to men's reasons for joining a new "fringe" religion. Man will always follow his whim when he can, and even those who would like to follow God may not always hear God in order to follow him. In any case, our bad experiences with Christianity have taught us the desirability of preserving freedom of conscience at all costs, to the point where we virtually deify freedom of conscience itself, usually on the altar called "democracy". Today, even many religions follow the democratic principle.
There is no democracy in heaven, however, and deification of freedom of conscience is often as not tantamount to deification of human perversity and whim. This is why there is no democracy in Theodish Belief. We know that we ourselves may have sundry human opinions on any issue, but that the only way for us to hear the gods is if we shut up and listen. Otherwise the gods themselves "shut up", and turn their backs, and we lose their friendship. The trap here is that we may not really know immediately when the connection is thus broken. We can go on practicing a religion of sorts, but one guided not by the gods but by thought-forms, spawned from the group dynamic and the natural charisma of powerful personalities within the group. These thought-forms will of course masquerade as gods, under whatever names you are using to worship them. In Theodish Belief, we believe that this process has been going on down through history and spawning many false religions and much grief in the world. Much of the Blotere's craft in Theodish Belief devolves upon the art and craft of discerning between true gods and mere thought-forms, and dealing with thought-forms as they are encountered.
Though each religion must be judged on its own merit, Theodish Belief holds that generation of thought-form gods is the most common result of any sort of religious experimentation and the most difficult result to avoid and correct, and that therefore there isn't really as much room as is commonly believed for religious "creativity", freedom of opinion or democracy. There are only a limited number of ways to do things right, according to the whim of the gods, and that worship of the gods, however sincere and well-intended, is no worship at all unless that whim is continually consulted by those who know best how to do it. Needless to say, it is not easy to become ordained as a Weofodthane or a Blotere in Theodish Belief.
Considering all these things, Theodish Belief sometimes seems a severe calling to others who call themselves heathen but don't understand Theodish Belief. We often shun "neoheathen" and various pagan forms; we are intolerant of the introduction into our faith of irrelevant exotic "agendas" ("Political Correct-ness", for instance); we are often openly intolerant of and disrespectful toward Christianity; we punish and expel troublemakers and wrongdoers, there is never any reconciliation with troth-breakers and wretches, and for those who leave a Theodish troth, even voluntarily, there is usually no way back into it. It should be understood, however, that such policies are always followed in a civilized, balanced manner, and with "class", that we always aggressively extend to others the same respect that we demand of them, that we never give intentional offense to anyone who is honest and sincere in his convictions, however much they may differ from our own, that we are always broad-minded and realistic and non-dogmatic about the tenets of our own faith, and that our worst cultural fault is merely an intolerance of "game-playing"; we always mean exactly what we say and only respect others who do likewise. To paraphrase an old song, "Life's too mysterious not to take serious."
In many ways, then, a calling of Theodish Belief is a calling for a worthier, more meaningful life. Not every life that comes and goes in Middle Earth is a significant life, no matter what seductive ideas Christianity may have imbued our thinking with about the inherent dignity and worth of every human soul. The only respectability about an individual human soul is its potential for significance; a potential that we prefer to believe exists in everybody. The calling of Theodish Belief, hard though that calling may be, is, then, the individual and collective quest for, development of, and chance at, that significance. It is the individuals who realize and appreciate this fact that are the ones who are bound for glory. In the midst of the kind of alienation that typifies modern life, this is not a particularly popular or appealing school of thought, of course, and the world may need changing to accommodate it. The world, however, is much like a diaper, and does need changing anyway from time to time; well then, so be it. Why not pitch in, then, and do it together? Wassail!