Anytime, that more than one individual get together for a common purpose, a leader will arise. Many times when there are just two people; leadership will flow back and forth seamlessly. Increase the membership in that same group to three and you will begin to see the seamless transfer of leadership breakdown. Maybe not in a large way, but it is noticeable. One of the 3 will naturally begin to take charge more than the other two. Increase the amount of people in the group again and you will see drastic changes. From here on out, if a leader is not raised up, the group will be rudderless and will perish. It is a matter of time.
With that said, how do you lead in a society that has a fierce streak of independence in it such as Germanic Heathenism or Ásatrú? As usual, we look to our past for our questions. Looking to the way our ancestors did things and putting it in a modern context is the same as when you were getting your first car and having your folks go along with you. They guided, and might have even co-signed, but the end decision was yours, tempered by their input. All in all, not a bad way of doing things.
My thoughts on looking to the past for examples on how to lead could give us many, many contradictory examples of leadership. Stalin, Charles the Saxon Slayer, Olaf the Traitor: these are not good examples. Canute, Washington, Hakon the Good, Alaric, Alfred the Great, yes, Woden too; these are good examples.
I'll get back to the Allfather. Now how do we, as Heathens, decide the proper examples? We choose leaders who led by virtues held right by our Heathen Ancestors, of course.
Sounds logical, eh? Well we have heard some of these names, and have heard that they were great leaders, but why? What did they do that made them great? Some were mighty warriors, others were statesmen, some were both, but that is not what made them loved and respected. The most common thing running through each of these people was their dedication to the people that they led. They took their role as leader the Heathen way, which is to be responsible for and to your folk.
Before we get into the details of this reciprocal responsibility between folk and leader, lets see some reasons why some of the above named people were great and some, such as Charles the Saxon Slayer and Olaf the Traitor should be forever cursed to be chewed upon by Niddhogg.
Washington, Hakon, and Alfred all ruled by consent of the people and returned the honor by taking care of the people. I cannot put this in any other way to clarify it. Make me your leader and I'll take good care of you. Protector, provider, mediator, it's al there. Simple. Sure, there were certain qualifications around then that is not around today. I figure the main one was that you had to be part of a royal or aristocratic family.
But even then, there was no divine right for you to be a leader if you had these credentials. Leaders were chosen from a certain class. It was a different world where mainly this class had the education to lead. This is not the intent of this essay to get into this area of leadership, as it has no real application for Heathenism today. It is enough to know that the ability to lead oftentimes goes hand in hand with education.
Now, all these folks were chosen to lead, but some, once in command, betrayed their folk and went against their folk. Charles expanded the strength of the Franks at the cost of his neighbors and his nation's own national heritage. He abandoned the way of his ancestors and led in the manner of a tyrant. Forcing his, and only his way upon all that he could. Olaf did essentially the same thing, by ruling of his own consent and not allowing for the ancient rights of freemen to decide their own course. Stalin as well. A leader should command under ancient law, not order like a master over a slave. When the folk spoke against the loss of rights, as this was their ancient right to speak, they were crushed. Whether they were maimed or murdered or driven out, matters not. The point is that the leader thought he was not accountable to his folk. This attitude is foreign to Heathen Society. Leading is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibilities. These responsibilities are to the folks that are led.
Now some will easily see that Canute was a Dane who forged a kingdom throughout the North. He ruled over England and Norway as well as his native Denmark. He forced his way, through war, to be the leader of countries he was not native to. How do we deal with this? Well for starters, once he conquered, he got permission from the folk to lead them. Sound a bit weird? Not really; he conquered the old leader, pitched his case to the Witan (in England) about why he should lead them now and what he could do for them and got accepted as the new legitimate leader. For all intents and purposes, he was a good king. He took care of the people and the people let him lead. Heathen ruling at its best.
Let's look at the responsibilities of the folks being led. One of the prime responsibilities is to always act in the best interest of the folk. They do this through the focal point of the leader they elect. This creates a cycle. We raise you up, you look out for us, we keep you raised up, and you keep looking out for us. It is important to note that there is no blind obedience in Germanic Heathenism. This is a fact. This must be accepted or you cannot be a Germanic Heathen. This is what Olaf and Charles expected when they assumed command. Look what horrors they committed.
We may have had some setbacks, but our folk have been evolving towards freedom and self-rule since at least the Great Migrations. We are strong in our independence, yet we need someone at the helm to guide the ship. If that person cannot do the job, it is our responsibility to replace them.
There will be times when we do not agree with our elected leaders. This does not mean that the leader has to obey each and every wish of the folk. There are times that the leader might think it is in the interest of the people to do this, instead of that. It is also the responsibility of the people to trust their leader that his course of action might be best. Now, if this doesn't work out once or twice, it is no big deal, it was attempted for the people's best interest. But if this happens over and over again, the leader must be either removed or forced to heed the folk's advice.
Woden, the Allfather, giver of wisdom and victory. A Woden's man could go on forever about him. With all due respect, we will limit our discussion of him to a brief two examples. The first example comes from Saxo, when he tells how Woden was removed from leadership and replaced with Wuldor. This was because of dishonorable behavior by Woden. Saxo said that after a period of time, the Gods asked Woden to lead them again, they were not completely happy with Wuldor. The opinion was that Woden did a better job. I won't get into specifics, but note, and this is key, Woden was removed and restored by the will of the Gods.
I think this bears repeating. Woden, the Allfather, the leader of our Tribe of Gods, was removed and then restored by the will of the Gods that he led. The general reasoning, he wasn't doing a good enough job taking care of his people. This is mirrored here in Middle Earth.
Here comes example number two. You know the tale, Woden gets in a horse race with a giant. Woden is riding Sleipnir, so of course he wins. Then, Woden invites the giant into Asgard for a drink. The giant gets stupid drunk (remember the Havamal), starts talking trash, and Thinner must be called to restore order. Thinner arrives and gets challenged to battle at a later date by the giant. Thinner shows up for battle and kills the giant. When the giant falls, his foot rests on Thinners neck, pinning him to the ground. None of the Gods can help Thinner, until his son arrives and lifts the foot from Thinners neck and frees him. In his gratitude, Thinner, who gets the spoils of combat by ancient right, gives the giant's horse to his son. Woden wants the horse. I think this was the reason for the original race. Yet, even though Woden is the leader, just because he wants something, doesn't mean he can override the rights of the individual. This example ties right into the concept of there being no blind obedience or servitude in Germanic Heathenism.
Furthermore, the leader (Woden) has no recourse when he doesn't get his way. He is bound to accept Thinners choice because it is Thinners ancient right to choose.
All along I have been speaking about kings and nations. Fortunately we are part of a nation that has striven to attain this form of leadership. This leadership, at its core, at least, is a present from our Heathen Ancestors. It is natural to our people.
In this stage of our Heathen rebirth, we are many autonomous groups of normally up to fifteen or twenty people. Of course there are many Tribes that have formed bonds for a greater organization, but even those 'larger' umbrella type organizations do not infringe on the leadership and rights of the member tribes. The attitude and spirit of the Heathen view of mutual responsibility between leader and led is easily compatible from a family to Tribe level, up to a national level. If a tyrant tries to take charge, they must be condemned and cast out as a foreign element to our Troth. This is the only way to live in the proven ways of our ancestors.
I hope this short essay has been of interest and can guide you in the natural order of leadership organic to us, and our Heathen Ancestors. Practice it, and you will see just how natural it is.
Wes Thu Hal!
Raven Kindred North~Massachusetts