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A Point of Law:  Religion or Folkway


Is Germanic Heathenism a religion?  Is Germanic Heathenism a way of life, a lifeway, as often described a Folkway?


This is a question of priorities.  Is what has been called Asatru, Vor Tru, Forn Sed and Irminism theocentric or ethnocentric? 


If this thing generally called Germanic Heathenism is a religion, then there is little point in a body or code of law.  If the focus of this experience is the spiritual mystery of the High Holy Ones -- and if that is the central or even only focus of the experience, as some have suggested -- then law need extend no further than the v or stalli, and should concentrate on one's behavior during ritual, detailing and delineating ritual and the calendar of religious duty.  One might presume that one has some duty to one's coreligionists, and so need laws, customs and traditions to regulate this duty and other aspects of congregational behavior. 


But, ours is a religion, and, if we're a religious community, ours is a congregation which doesn't lend itself to commandments.  Monotheists are better served in this department, having only one god and a fairly rigid hierarchy of belief, codified oft-times in a book of holy stories and admonitions.  We have many gods, at least twelve whose names have come down to us, and an untold number whose names have been lost but who may well share our lives with us.  Furthermore, ours is, generally speaking, a more individual religious experience, often a conversation as it were between a god and a heathen.  This sort of decentralized religious experience does not lend itself to rigid rules of order.


If, however, this thing we call Germanic Heathenism is a Folkway, then laws are crucial.  If it is ethnocentric -- focused on a particular group of people, into whose number we include our Gods, along with ancestors, wights and persons and creatures of legend and Lore -- then law is essential. 


This is because, in this case, the experience isn't limited to the spirit.  It is, then, a story of the conversation between the Folk of the Folkway, both those of Midgardh and those who have and who continue to pass through the Hub of the Nine Worlds. 


It is not, then, a matter of spirituality, of observance, of religious mystery and spiritual self-actualization and growth, but is instead a matter of life. Life is messy.  Life needs laws.


Looking to the Sagas, one comes away -- with few actual references to intervention in the stories by the High Ones -- with the impression that Germanic Heathenism is as much about hay pastures and beached whales as about chariots drawn by goats and what AllFather whispered in dead Baldur's ear.  It is a Folkway, meaning a way of life.  This requires tenets and admonitions, words to the wise, and stable data one can refer to in the affairs of daily living.  This requires rules and law, enough law to live wisely even if one is not wise.


Law, even common law, is a needless encumbrance to those who are merely religious.  Those, however, who live the Folkway need law's guiding light.