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Question Regarding Honor

 

 

Wassail!
Garman here.

 

> Let's say you're doing your best to do your best in a complex, tangled
> ethical situation, and are unable to live up to all your promises entirely
> -- but your heart was in the right place. Is this shildable, assuming one
> tries to correct the situation?
>
> Also, could you go into the "metaphysics" of shilding here --- is it really
> considered to "wipe the luck clean"?

 

Good question, and one much muddled historically by Xtian influences.
Theodism has definite beliefs about this, but it should be understood that
such beliefs are Theodish, not necessarily representative of all heathenry.
However, for what it's worth, the Theodish take, first formulated by Eric
Wodening, has come to be very widely accepted throughout the community since
we began writing and publishing about it, such that we have all more or less
come to have quite a lot of confidence in it over time.

In civil matters at least, the main concern seems always to have been
familial, and the luck of the kin-fetch. Let us say that you go and kill some
man, for whatever reason. If it's murder, it's a capital crime, and you can
of course expect to be hanged for it. However, if it was a fair fight and
everybody knows it, that's no murder, and it may well be that the crown will
not prosecute. On the other hand, that dead man will normally have been a
member of some family, and normally what will happen is that you will come
home to find some member or members of his family waiting on your front porch
to kill you; this is of course the basic logic of the feud.

The thing is, families were very large in heathen times, and depended upon
the luck of their family kin-fetch for their prosperity as a collective, much
the way a tribe depends upon the luck of its folk fetch, through the sacral
king, to prosper the tribe as a tribe. Individual death was not necessarily a
big thing amongst people who lived so collectively amongst themselves as the
heathen did. For them, cattle die, kin die, and every man must die sometime,
soon or late; not necessarily any big deal; life goes on. The idea is that
we, as family members or tribesmen, have not just one identity but two; our
own personal identity and the collective identity we share with the folk we
identify so intimately with, and though we as individuals and our individual
identity may die, our collective identity is immortal and still lives on, so
who cares? People who have their kinds of intimate shared collective
identities, and their kind of gut confidence in the afterlife, for whom
middle-earth life is but a passing shadow and but one life among many, tend
naturally to think like that. What was a big deal, however, was the
circumstances of the particular death in question.

The problem with a life of one of their family members being taken, even in a
fair fight, was the notion that their family kin-fetch was somehow injured or
diminished in its luck thereby; it was regarded as something rather like an
ill omen, potentially affecting every family member. The traditional belief
was that there was one sovereign way to neutralize that ill omen; namely to
collect the worth, or wergeld, of that man's luck, in either money or else
taken out of someone's hide; namely, to go and kill the killer and stop the
downward spiral in its tracks. Everyone of course understood this, and it was
considered the respectable thing for any family to do. If there were cops on
the scene, they would probably just be there to watch the fight like everyone
else and sell tickets to the policeman's ball or something.

We today stand at such a huge historical remove from this kind of thinking
that it may not always be easy for us to understand, but no matter; we really
do have to put ourselves inside their heads in order to properly see their
world their way. The point is that, in general, dire deeds were not normally
seen legalistically, but more naturally in terms of their "luck" implications
for all parties concerned. There was, after all, individual luck too, and if
a man was wronged and his luck wrongfully damaged thereby, it might always be
possible to restore that luck and keep the public peace by simply setting
some appropriate shild to be paid over by way of recompense; problem solved.
Likewise with the killing of a family member; it might well be possible to
satisfy that man's family and avoid feud by simply paying over his wergild to
them. Such wergilds were usually high, and might end up requiring the killer
to sell himself into slavery to raise the money. On the other hand,
traditional thew normally stipulated what family members might be held
responsible for wergilds, right on out to remote cousins. It was quite usual
for a killer's family members to get together and raise the necessary wergild
amongst themselves to avoid their family member being sold into slavery, thus
inevitably diminishing their own kin fetch's luck, of course.

As long as we basically forget about considerations of strict legality and
remember to think rather in terms of the ins and outs of the luck involved
all around, it seems that elder concepts of shild become relatively easy to
understand. Godspeed.......

 

Garman