“Taking the Rap”
by Lavrans Reimer-Møller
How do we apply the principles of Ásatrú to our daily lives? Do we always practice what we preach? How do we answer the attacks against our beliefs? What, if anything, gives us the right to claims of moral superiority?
I have come to believe that there is a single unifying principle at the heart of Ásatrú. Just as the christians have the idea “love thy neighbor as thyself’, the satanists “do what thou wilt”, and the Jews “thou shall have no other god before me”, most religions can often be summed up in a single phrase or idea. For ÁsatrúaR, it might well be “one must always be prepared to take full responsibility for one’s actions”. While it doesn't have quite the same lofty ring as some of the other religions, it does ring true for me.
If anyone should challenge the ethical basis of our religious beliefs, then this can serve as a rational response. We always take full responsibility for everything we do. Period. Good, bad or ugly.
For example, wee should never try to avoid responsibility for breaking the law by falsely entering a plea of not guilty. While the society around us, falsely mouthing the pious platitudes of the judeo-christian ethic, thinks nothing of committing the foulest of crimes and then denying everything, I think that we of Ásatrú practice a higher code of behavior. I imagine that the practical application of our religious principles means to simply think through the consequences of any act, and then decide whether or not the price is worth it.
Say someone insults and offends you. Your instinctive reaction is to attack the offender physically. but think: you will be arrested and charged with assault. You will have to hire a lawyer, a member of a profession which no longer carries the honor it once did. You will play the game in the legal system of pleading not guilty in spite of the truth, and then force the the court to prove otherwise. The whole legal system in this country is based on the principle of avoiding responsibility. To play this game is morally corrupting.
So unless you are willing to go to jail or pay a fine, you probably have to refrain from attacking the bastard. Of course, if you decide that it is worth it, then go ahead and give your enemy what he deserves. But as Ásatrú, you must be prepared to enter the courtroom and proudly state, “Yes, I did assault him!” Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, and always have the were gild ready, just in case!
There are alternatives to assault: in the Norse Tarot by Clive Barrett, the 2 of Swords is titled “Peace”. Two men are shown at a gaming board (playing Tafl?) while in the foreground we see their swords stuck in the ground. That may be one good solution.
Another may be that if your honor is challenged by a fellow ÁsatrúaR and it is agreed on to keep the authorities out of it, then it may be possible that a revival of the old tradition of HolmgangR may be revived. But only with great discretion, and again, only if you have thought your actions through. If you badly injure or even kill an enemy are you prepared to pay the were gild that our traditional laws require? Having considered the full ramifications of such an act, might you not seek a different solution?
I had a serious problem with a fellow employee several years ago. My instinctive reaction was to punch him out in response to his extremely rude and obnoxious behavior. Instead, I goaded him into attacking me (not physically, but in other ways) in such a way as to expose his weaknesses. The boss then had to either force him to modify his misbehavior or fire me. He fired me, but in such a way as to make both of them appear to be evil foolish miscreants. The offending co-worker was forced to to leave due to the unremitting hostility of my friends, angry at him for getting me fired. The supervisor’s unpopularity caused him to leave as well. As we can all learn from the sagas there is more than one way to skin a cat.
I hadn’t been happy in that situation and was planning to leave anyway. My manner of departure left a trail of chaos and destruction behind me. I turned my back and walked away, knowing that my enemies were perfectly capable of destroying themselves without any help from me.
My method in this case was not just the result of over 55 years of being mucked about with by lesser men, but a practical application of my personal religious philosophy. By deciding just exactly what I was willing to take responsibility for, I was able to deal with the situation honorably and effectively. I could have followed my first instinct and given him the beating he deserved for his rudeness, but in the long run, he wasn’t worth doing the time for!
Another problem which popped up more recently came from a source closer to home. I found myself the victim of unwarranted libelous and slanderous attacks from a newcomer to the Boston area, someone who didn’t know me personally or know of my work. Because I had extended the usual hospitality to a new inquirer, I found myself being accused of being racist, anti-semitic and homophobic! It seems that this particular character, who we’ll call Mr. SS, didn’t like the idea that I had been friendly to someone with whom he had disagreed.
After having explained myself, I offered Mr. SS a chance to apologize, but he failed to avail himself of this opportunity. I have been offended, insulted, libeled and slandered. In the interest of maintaining the frith, I will not participate in any activities at which he is present, a decision which has meant cutting myself off from a number of local folk whose friendship I had enjoyed in the past.
This again is the application of principles. In elder times, the matter would be brought up at Thing, and if a reasonable resolution couldn’t be found, then the solution would be to open up his mind- with an axe! But no matter how much pleasure as it might give me to go to war against this particular party, in the long run it would cost more than he is worth. Anyone who devotes that much time and energy to such negativity will eventually find himself paying the price.
As has happened on a few occasions before, it becomes this: we are not friends, nor are we enemies- no relationship of any kind exists between us. He no longer exists.
It is one thing to practice a system of moral and ethical behavior internally in the homestead, but it is equally important to apply those ethics to the reality of Midgard. Unless one has managed to isolate oneself from society, then one has to be able to interact with that society. To do so and maintain the thews of honorable behavior is the true test of the Ásatrúar.
For me, a basic review of my personal checklist before I go out into the world gives me the inner strength and confidence to ride that subway into the wilds of downtown Boston and take car of business without being crippled by all the fear I sense all around me. The key in this process of self-empowerment is in the application of the basic thews of Asatru. We do not beg our gods to do for us, we gain from them the empowerment to do for themselves. And we do not take any action whatsoever unless we are prepared to take full responsibility for the results of that action. Thus we honor the gods of our ancestors!
© Marklander 1996