Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Wergild?

On April 13, 2014, a pagan—in this case, Odinist—man gunned down three strangers in Kansas City under the (mistaken) belief that they were Jews.

The public reaction of the heathen community to this cowardly and despicable act was both instructive and (to me, at least) heartening. They did not say: This is not heathenism. They did not say: This is nothing to do with us because this man is not our kind of heathen.

They said: What this man did was wrong. They said: This is not heathenism as we understand it. Then they raised money for the families of the victims.

This is a courageous and truly pagan response. The payment of blood-money when a member of one group has wronged a member (or members) of another group is a long-standing and honorable tradition. It is an action both pragmatic and compassionate.

It seems to me that this is the way our people should act. When one of ours does public wrong, we have a responsibility for collective response, since we are all implicated in each others' behavior. Our responsibility is to condemn the wrong, to treat justly with the offender, and to do what we can to make restitution.

We even have a name for this time-honored behavior in English: wergild. Maybe it's time for this ancestral word to reenter the modern pagan vocabulary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Marcus
    Marcus Thursday, 15 May 2014

    Double posting, cell phone. Mea Culpa.

    You need to really pay attention to the literary source material and re-think who "they" are in regards to the responsible party for weregild. It was up to the individual to pay or his family; not the community.

    For that matter, I think you really need to pay attention to whom you accept as community. This murderer was certainly not part of my community. I have standards. My community has standards.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 18 May 2014

    Yes, I really was using the term "wergild" far too generally here. Thanks for pointing it out, Marcus.

    Re. community. Personally, I don't number many racist murders among my acquaintance, either. But from within a community, one sees the differences that those outside the community don't. In an age of increasing intercommunal tension, this magnanimous gesture seems to me a tool worth the remembering.

  • Hrafnskald
    Hrafnskald Thursday, 15 May 2014

    Respectfully, weregild does not apply here.

    Weregild was given when one party, or their family, committed a crime, and wished to make amends.

    The heathens who donated and reached out to the victim's families have committed no crime. Instead, they have chosen to demonstrate through their words and deeds that the murderer is not like them.

    Calling that this is weregild is a statement that those who gave or reached out did so because of a debt brought on by the murderer's actions. This is incorrect. Those who gave gave because they saw the humanity of the victim's families, and wanted to distinguish their deeds and words from those of the murderer.

    If you need a heathen term, I would suggestion grith- or frith-building. These reflect the core idea that donations and words of support were motivated by goodwill and a feeling of community, rather than a debt owe due to a crime.

    -Hrafnskald

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 18 May 2014

    Thanks Hrafnskald, I stand corrected.

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