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Regarding Honor

 

Wassail!
Garman here.

 

> I have a question regarding honor.
>
> What happens when people make mistakes?
>
> I know Theodism holds close to honor, and is very rigorous. I know the gods
> expect us to be rigorous, as well, but we don't have to be perfect do we?
>
> What is the Theodish -- and the gods' -- perspective on mistakes?

 

I can't speak for heathenry in general, of course, but if the subject is
Theodish, I certainly know as much about that as anyone... and the answer is
of course, no, you don't have to be perfect, because obviously nobody is.

The essential problem is a kind of theodicy; the problem of evil, which is
twofold, actually. The first half is the evil of a deed itself, and what it
is. The second half is who does or doesn't see and understand it. There is no
such thing, for man, as objective truth. For man, all truth is merely
perceptual, and sometimes the objective and the perceptual coincide, and
other times they simply do not and will not.

You're quite right in that Theodism is strict, and punishes evildoing and
dishonor. And when the evil is understood and perceived, especially by the
evildoer, all tends to be well. I have seen Theodsmen who went wrong undergo
such shilds as brutal calfskin zweikampfs and trials by ordeal, heavy
monetary fines and bloody public floggings with nary a whimper, once the evil
that was done was properly understood by all concerned. I have also seen
situations where no such general understanding could be achieved, even in
lesser issues, for one reason or another, where no amount of right action
could manage to put things right, and all the king's horses and all the
king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

 

> Is it really true that if you make an oath and then can't keep it or must
> break it that that is the end to all honor? That one will be outcast? Of
> course we should do everything in our power to keep our oaths. I am not
> recommending that we all become nidings, but is it a choice of either honor
> or nidingdom? Does every mistake or failure condemn me to be a niding?

 

Maybe in some places, but not in Theodism. In Theodism all oaths have to be
to a certain set standard and of a certain set form to be held valid, and it
is possible for an oath deemed to be flawed to be summarily nullified as not
binding by a proper authority. There is a whole art and science to that, of
course. In general, no oath is binding unless it was properly constructed and
freely and knowledgeably entered into by all parties. And if things change,
it is perfectly honorable to buy one's way out of an oath with a suitable
shild or other mutually acceptable understanding.

 

> Or are mistakes simply paid for with wergild? Am I being too strict on
> myself? Outlawry is only for capital or bootless crimes. All other crimes
> are wergildable, correct?

 

Outlawry is for unshildable crimes, such as high treason, etc. A man who
swears a hold oath is swearing that he is loyal. If he then betrays, there is
obviously no loyalty there, which voids the intent of the oath; there surely
isn't any way to buy one's way out of something like that with a shild. You
just can't put a price upon that which is inherently priceless.

 

> On the other hand, I suspect that while the injured party could reserve
> this right of death or mutilation, other solutions were probably
> encouraged, if informally, such as the couple breaking up and the
> adulterer's family paying an honor-price or wergild. Perhaps the third
> party would also have to pay an honor-price. And the way Common Law works
> is that if there is no damage, there is no crime, and furthermore, if there
> is no pursuit of suit, there is no crime whatsoever ; so isn't it true that
> it was possible in the old days that if someone in a couple screwed up,
> they might in love work it out amongst themselves without taking it to Moot
> to court it out officially?

 

Though the record is not clear, it does seem as if some heathen tribal
cultures were characteristically litigious, others were characteristically
less so. No doubt you could find a broad spectrum of approaches to social
problems, based upon whatever any community traditionally figured worked best
for them. My own admittedly unsubstantiated opinion is that, in the times
available to our study, litigiousness in a community was usually an artifact
of outside cultural stressing pressure by Xtianity, and that communities not
under such pressure were normally not litigious and very little interested in
what we would today consider legal matters or approaches. Of all approaches
to solving social ills, the legalistic is surely the least effective, and any
community in a state of nature and not under exotic stress from without would
be sure to know that, and to regularly have and use their own better
traditional methods. Once you subject a community to traumatic exotic stress,
however, these methods, bound up as they are in the common weal, tend to be
the first casualties, forcing the community to resort instead to such
secondary and inherently inferior methods as codified law.

 

> How were mistakes handled?

 

I know how they are handled in Theodism; by peer review and subsequent
negotiation, often as not completely informal. Healthy unstressed societies
tend to be self-regulating. But here we have to be careful. "Mistake" carries
the presumption of "honest mistake," and it is not usually honest mistakes
that are any society's real problem.

 

> A typical "Viking" scenario seems improbable to me, where every mistake led
> to combat or outlawry.

 

Here I think we have to be mindful that most such surviving lore comes out of
Late Mediaeval Iceland, an ultra-dysfunctional hyper-stressed society,
culturally traumatized by coercive Xtian missiology, where killing one
another was the national sport, simply because there was not that much else
to do in a place like Iceland. Interesting as the Norse-Icelandic corpus
undoubtably is, we are much misled, I think, in sometimes failing to realize
how untypical and unrepresentative that lore was of heathen culture
generally. To judge all heathenry and its ways by the surviving
Norse-Icelandic lore corpus is about as valid as judging, say, all New York
State and its ways by the police blotter for a full moon Saturday night in
South Bronx.

 

> Wasn't the Moot or Thing also in some ways a way of creating frith between
> people?

 

Moot and Thing do not create frith between people; only social health can do
that. Moot and Thing are only useful to the extent the societies they serve
may happen to be healthy, a blessed state which Moot and Thing in and of
themselves have no power to confer.

 

> It is said that Tyr doesn't bring peace between men, but I suspect that
> what that really means is that he doesn't encourage suppression of
> conflict, but finding ways to bring it out to the surface to play itself
> out so that people might have genuine frith, as opposed to the "be nice to
> each other" kind of thing encouraged in Xianity where really underneath the
> surface you hate the other person's guts but you act "nice". Heathenry
> wanted real frith, and thus Tyr's contests of court or duel are sometimes
> necessary to play out the conflicts underneath the surface.

 

I totally agree; very cogent analysis.

 

> As a heathen, how hard do I have to be on myself? Do I have to be perfect?
> Or just good? Good and heading towards the excellent?

 

Merely my own opinion, of course; you have to be humble; that's the real key.
The properly humble man is his own best judge and best critic. Accordingly,
when he screws up, he will accept correction cheerfully, and be more anxious
than anybody to be activist in wanting to set things right, which is always
the key to getting things set right the quickest and most efficiently.

There are two important cavils here, of course. The properly humble man must
also be somewhat cunning; cunning enough to judge by his own truer lights
whether the correction imposed upon him is actually honest and well-meant.
The sad fact is, you can be as humble and as honest and right-minded as you
please, but you still have to be wary of the fact that too many of your
supposed correctors will themselves be less honest, and may well see your own
humility and contrition as nothing more than an opportunity for themselves to
abuse you. There are ways to deal with this as it should be dealt with, but
unfortunately it is an extremely complex topic, and as such outside the scope
of the present discussion.

The second cavil has to do with the enormous difficulty inherent in the
problem of gaining insight into our own selves and our deeds and actions. All
of us, in all we do, generally think we are justified, somehow. Son of Sam
thought murdering strangers in parked cars to be a perfectly reasonable
proposition; he couldn't understand why anyone would have a real problem with
it. Father Geoghan had no real insight into the problems his behavior was
causing for others, and still considers the nasty complaints of altar-boys he
buggered to be totally specious and unreasonable. And in fact, we are all
like that to some degree; we are all, in our way, Sons of Sam and Father
Geoghans. We are always the last to see ourselves as we really are, and on
the rare occasions when we may break through to such insights, we tend to
find them insupportably devastating to our personal fantasy structure, and of
course to be avoided at all costs. We are all, in that sense, sleepwalkers,
dangerous to be untimely awakened to our own true natures.

The only real difference between most of us and such sociopaths as the above
is that, generally, most of us can be reasoned with. And so, finally, what I
would assert here is a certain right that any of us more ordinary wrongdoers
has to always be reasoned with. In heathenry, as opposed to Xtianity, there
are three degrees of action: Right, Unright and Wrong, and, concommitantly,
Good, Not Good, and Evil. In all we do, it may take a true heathen wizard to
sort out and explain to us which is which, we being so apt to have so little
insight into our own actions ourselves. We, no matter how evil, have an
inherent right to have such degrees in our own case clearly explained to us
on every occasion by someone wiser than ourselves, before execution; we have
the right to be offered the chance to at least bring our own consciences to
terms with whatever is happening, especially when that may be all that is
really left to us. And we have a right to expect that such wizard is for his
own part always acting honestly and disinterestedly upon our case. Along with
that, however, comes the obligation to understand what we are thus being
shown as ably as we may, and on its own terms, not ours, and to accept
whatever the consequences of our acts may be, however devastating,
cheerfully; that is the only true honor. If, for instance, what you did can't
be fixed, and the only possible recourse is outlawry, then even that you must
accept cheerfully, thus preserving at least what moietey you can of internal
personal honor, whatever the world at large may think of you, because, if you
fail that one last test left to you by circumstance, then you really are, at
long last, a nidhing.

One thing about honor, strenuous though it may seem, is that it tends to be
Tysian; i.e., disinterested. Never mind what would Jesus do; what would Tyr
do? And though even the best of us make mistakes, the man who is truly
disinterested, always thinking first of doing the right thing, rather than
his own thing, makes a lot fewer mistakes than the common self-interested
self-outsmarting man, and what mistakes he makes will tend to be honest,
fixable mistakes. Even then, such a man, though he always does his best, may
yet fall before the universal foe; the foe of general human imbecility, which
never likes to let any good deed go too long unpunished. The trick, then, is
not to worry about falling, which is perhaps inevitable to us all. The trick
is to make sure that, when you do, inevitably, fall, it shall be with a clean
conscience all around. Godspeed......

Garman