Thursday, January 6, 2011

Law and Spirituality

I had a dream last night (staring Odin) that was pretty interesting. Now I'm not saying that this was Odin or that I'm Odin's little snowflake, because I'm not. My brain simply churns things over when I dream and makes connections that I don't see when I'm awake.

My husband, Odin and I were going from court to court to court, all at different levels (as you do...). From a 'door court' to a modern high court, to a magistrates court and again and again, we were told that 'this is how it must work with the Holy Powers too'.

When I woke up this morning, I couldn't help but consider the role of law in Heathen society, how they considered law to apply to the living as well as the dead (as evidenced by the 'door courts' held to resolve hauntings in properties) and the possible parallels between how we conduct ritual, how court was conducted and also how we view/deal with gods in the equation.

Heathen society was 'world accepting' in that a person wasn't looking for some otherworldly salvation or goal. Spiritual growth wasn't about getting closer to a deity, it was about community and growing in your community. So surely it would make sense that one of the ways in which a person could do that was through the Allthing ? How he or she represented herself at the Thing would invariably affect how his or her community would see him/her and ergo the amount of regard that person was given.

However it does also bring up what we as Heathens should consider to be the law and, in line with another debate that's occurring at the moment, what do we do when we feel it's violated.



C├║glas said...

I too have pondered the meaning of law in the modern heathen society. For certain we do not want to step on the toes of secular law and set up our own sharia-like courts to handle cases that concern traditional crimes like murder, theft, and assault.
Other things that are not covered under American law (and, presumably, British and German, though I do not claim knowledge of their laws) instead concern oath-breaking. Things like lying, betrayal, misrepresentation, and slander among heathens are not the concern of the secular government unless they're in a law court, police statement, etc. It's when these things happen between heathens on a personal level that I do feel some semblance of law could be useful in the burgeoning heathen community.
Modern heathens pride themselves on taking honor and word seriously, and not making assumptions or letting first impressions seize the day. However, the gut reaction of established heathens is an extremely powerful judgment. We have all been witness to the community sealing itself off from an individual or group without even seeing or interacting with them because someone respected doesn't like them. So far, it has been a good way of doing things and has probably kept out more riffraff than prevented genuine seekers from "entrance" to our community.
However, I do worry about the future implications of this ad hoc evaluation. I fear that it could allow the loudest heathens to become judge, jury, and executioner upon people within and without the community. We all hope that a personal disagreement will not become a "kindred war", but when the shit hits the fan it's human nature to take sides, and to take sides with the people that we care about most. What if those people are wrong?
We talk about how important honor and the praise of man are, but what if that praise is incorrect? If a heathen does their very best to be a good person, but one mistake soils their reputation, does that mean they are no longer good? Are they better or worse than heathens who are more hedonistic? And what if they are incorrectly accused? If you were told by someone you trusted that X had done Y, wouldn't you believe them?
I realize that this is pretty paranoid, but it is something that I often think about when I consider law in the modern heathen community.

Birka said...

I just wrote a long post to you but the computer ate it. Oh well, bullet points it is.

* I think you make some excellent points about ad hoc evaluations from respected members of the community. However what kinds of checks and balances could a community implement in order to ensure that it doesn't just become a case of "the loudest heathens to become judge, jury, and executioner upon people within and without the community"?

* I don't think you're being paranoid about respected members of the community exploiting their influence in order to make incorrect accusations about others. I've had it happen to me and it caused me (is still causing me) a lot of trouble.

* When we think about religious law, we always seem to go back to the Sharia. This makes me wonder about worldview issues and if this is a particular outcome of our modern worldview that's hindering our understanding of the deeper aspects of law within an old Norse context. From reading the primary sources, it's clear (at least to me), that there was a real respect and pride in the law. Legal judgments weren't just on a mundane level as they would probably entail a loss of luck too as well as the damage to reknown. The law did seem to try to balance things though.

*I also wonder if another aspect of the reticence that Heathen communities have when it comes to defining laws is down to how little say we have in the lawmaking process nowadays. Communities have thew but it's usually very much an unspoken thing and born of years of common interaction. People only really get told about when they transgress or look like they may. However what if a community were to vote on laws and have processes in place? What if 'kindred wars' could be taken care of at a community hearing (hell, we already have Allthings) and then decisions made based on that? It could be positive in that it would help get things out into the open rather than festering away and people getting resentful. Kindreds would also get the POV of people who aren't so caught up in the issues. On the other hand, we go back to the possibility of your aforementioned ad
hoc evaluations...
I dunno, all very interesting thoughts.

Birka said...

Actually, the computer had posted it but just told me it hadn't. Sorry about the bumpf in your inbox.