Guest Post: Nick Ritter on Theodish Belief

[The following is the first of two guest posts from Nick Ritter, a member of Axenthof Thiâd, and The Wild Hunt's resident expert on all things Théodish. Given the rise of Dan Halloran, a Republican New York City Councilman, congressional candidate, and Théodish Heathen, I thought it best spotlight a truly informed voice on the subject of his religion. This post will deal with Théodish belief, while a second post, published tomorrow, will deal with Dan Halloran specifically.]

While Théodish Belief has been “public” for about twenty years, it is still relatively unknown by most people in Paganism-at-large. For this reason, Jason has asked me to write an introductory post about Théodism and issues surrounding this religious movement, so as to better help the reader when Théodism comes up in the news.

First, though, I should introduce myself, and mention why I might know a thing or two about Théodism. I became Théodish in 1996, when I was inducted into Frêsena Thiâd. This was a Théodish group in the Upper Midwest, primarily Minnesota and Wisconsin, and led by Gerd Forsta. Gerd was a “fosterling” of Gárman, the founder and (at that time) leader of Théodish Belief; Gerd had entered into tutelage under Gárman with the understanding that he would eventually split off and found his own, independent Théodish organization. Over the next few years, our théod made trips about once a year to upstate New York, where Gárman lived. There, I was able to speak with Gárman, and train under him as a wéofodthegn (priest). I was certified as a wéofodthegn by Gárman, and also chosen to be his steward for a while. I also published a number of articles and two books through the Théodish press, was a member of the Thunor-gild (i.e. a Thunor cult), and founder of the scops’ gild (a guild of poets). I am currently a member of Axenthof Thiâd, serving under Gerd Forsta.

What is Théodish Belief?

Théodish Belief, or Théodism, is one of a number of approaches to the practice of pre-Christian Germanic religion. There have been individuals and groups attempting to practice this religion since at least the late 19th century, but such attempts really took off in the U.S. in the mid 1970s. Théodism got its start in 1976 in Watertown, New York, with a man known as Gárman Lord. This was about the same time that American versions of Ásatrú were getting their start in Texas, with folks such as Edred Thorsson and Stephen McNallen. Théodism started independently of Ásatrú, and there was not much interaction between the two until the late 1980s or early 1990s.

For some time during the early part of this interaction, much was made out of the ethnic distinction between Ásatrú and Théodism: Ásatrú was taken to be primarily Norse, and Théodism to be primarily Anglo-Saxon. While there are still Anglo-Saxon Théodish groups, the Théodish approach to religious reconstruction has branched out into the particular religious forms of the Frisians, the Continental Saxons, and the Goths. Scandinavian varieties of Théodism would be quite possible (as would other Continental forms), but no one has taken that project up just yet. The distinction between Théodism and other forms of heathenry is therefore not a matter of which people’s particular heathenry we’re trying to reconstruct, but rather a matter of approach and definition.

The differences between different approaches to Germanic religion such as Ásatrú, Forn Siðr / Forn Sed, Heiðni, Odinism, and Théodism, etc. grow out of differences in the definition of what constitutes Germanic religion, and what defines a successful practice of it. For instance, one approach might be that Germanic religion is simply the worship of the Germanic gods; therefore, to worship Germanic gods – in any way – is to practice Germanic religion. In Théodish Belief, Germanic religion is defined as the pre-Christian religion* of the Germanic peoples; as such, successfully practicing Germanic religion means practicing the religion as the pre-Christian Germanic peoples practiced it, to the best of our knowledge and ability. This means that we are continually trying to improve our knowledge and practice of Germanic religion. It also means, as Germanic religion was not really clearly separable from the rest of Germanic culture, that practicing Germanic religion also means, for us, adopting the culture of which it was a central part, specifically what might be called the ideological or mental component of culture; e.g. the worldview, ethos, etc. To do otherwise, we feel, would be to arbitrarily decide what is and is not “religious” about early Germanic cultures, and risk mutilating (or at least severely misunderstanding) the religion. The adoption of the early Germanic worldview has certain consequences in how we arrange and govern ourselves, as will be discussed below.

I sometimes liken our approach in reconstructing Germanic religion and culture to experimental archaeology: we research Germanic religion and culture extensively, put in practice what we learn, observe how it works, and make changes as we learn more. Along the way, we hypothesize and experiment; some of these experiments work, and some don’t, but we keep what works until we find something better.

Pair of large drinking horns, found at Taplow, 6th century.

Pair of large drinking horns, found at Taplow, 6th century.

Our religious practice, developed from our research into pre-Christian Germanic religion, has certain characteristics. For one, ours is a votive religion, insofar as we make offerings to our gods in return for their continued help and friendship, and we seek to enter into a relationship of reciprocal gift-giving with them; these offerings are in the form of libations, valuables, food offerings, and animal sacrifice (which is also, in part, a food offering). Théodism emphasizes right action, including right ritual action, and lets people sort out the specifics of belief for themselves; the forms and rituals of Théodism are primarily those of public worship in a group, and the private religious practices of individual Théodish people are not something that we try to direct. Along with the emphasis on correct ritual action, there is an emphasis on the composition and performance of religious poetry, often hymns to the gods, and usually in an old Germanic language; to date, there have been Théodish religious poems composed in Anglo-Saxon, Old Frisian, Gothic, and Old Saxon.

Why is Théodish Belief Hierarchical?

One of the things that people find off-putting about Théodism is that it is unabashedly hierarchical in its arrangement, even elitist. Our reasons for adopting such a hierarchical social structure in Théodism – aside from such a social structure being evident in early Germanic cultures, and thus our adoption of it being in keeping with our adoption of early Germanic culture – are mainly twofold.

On the one hand, we have learned through experience and observation that groups function best when people have responsibilities and duties befitting their own qualities and character; we do not assume beforehand that everyone is the same, and so there is a process of testing and observing new people to see if they will fit in with the group, and where (more on this below). Also, our hierarchy is based on demonstrated merit, rewarding responsibility, intelligence, vision, hard work, and ethical uprightness with more social standing and influence, but also a higher degree of responsibilities to the group as a whole. The social structure is therefore aristocratic in the original sense, with power (Greek kratos) being given to those who have demonstrated themselves to be the best (Greek aristoi).

The other main reason for our adoption of a hierarchical social structure is based on our observations that a democratic, egalitarian social structure is the easiest kind to subvert; who is to blame if no one is in charge, if wrongs done were done by committee, and in the name of the group? Instead, we put individuals in power, state clearly what powers and concomitant responsibilities those individuals have, so that when wrong is done, it is clear who has done it and who carries the blame.

That said, certain decisions need to be made by the group as a whole, and this is where the thing – the tribal council – is used as a means of making decisions. In the thing, everyone has a say regardless of rank, and everyone has a chance to try and convince the group through argument and persuasion.

What is Sacral Kingship?

Along with a hierarchical and aristocratic social structure, another important element of Théodish social structure is the institution of sacral kingship. The king is someone selected from the highest level of a Théodish group to be both the leader and highest religious functionary of that group, and has religious functions distinct from – and complementary to – those of the priests. It is important to note that no current Théodish groups have kings; although we do believe that sacral kingship is a valuable role, it is not a role that can be filled by just anyone. It is also important to know that sacral kingship is not monarchical: the king is answerable, is held responsible, perhaps to a greater extent than anyone else.

When Gárman was king of the Winland Ríce (a Théodish organization comprising several théods), he accepted a few people as “fosterlings”, that is to say that he trained them to eventually go off and lead their own, independent Théodish organizations, perhaps eventually to become sacral kings in their own right. Two such fosterlings were Gerd Forsta and Dan Halloran.

What is Thralldom?

As mentioned above, people who want to join a Théodish group have to go through a process of being observed and their character tested before being allowed in as full members of the group. This process is called “thralldom,” and the would-be entrants “thralls,” terms that tend to put people off. This is intentional: the name is part of the test of one’s character. If one can submit to being called something unpleasant, to sacrificing the gratification of one’s ego in return for something better, that says something important about one’s worth. As in the military, as in traditional martial arts, as in traditional initiatory practices the world over, so in Théodism: one must be broken down a little bit so as to be built up into something better.

Théodish groups tend to be somewhat small and tightly-knit; they are real communities with a great deal of internal loyalty. As such, they are justifiably wary of new people coming in and upsetting things; thralldom has developed as the method of teaching and observing would-be entrants to make sure that they will fit in their new community, and that this will be beneficial both to them and to the Théodish group they are trying to enter. Théodish thralls have no responsibilities within Théodism other than to listen, observe, and learn, and to repay their teaching with work; thralls have no rights either, except for the right not to be abused, and the right to walk away from Théodism. To ensure that thralls are not abused, Théodish Belief has at times made use of ambihtsþylas (ombudsmen), a function I served in for a while. If a thrall walks away, no questions are asked, but that person will not be allowed to gain entry into a Théodish group again. Over the decades, there have been a few exceptions made, where people have been allowed in without having to undergo thralldom. In all but one case, this has proven disastrous. As a result, we are much more consistent now in the application of this custom.

Thew: Custom, Customary Ethic, Customary Law

Another important aspect of Théodism is thew, which means something like “custom” “ethos” “customary law.” We do not write down bylaws or rules to govern behavior, as we have observed that it is very easy to subvert a written rule, and hold to the letter of the law while breaking it in spirit. Instead, we govern ourselves by thews, customary laws that – as I have read about English Common Law – can be written about, but which can never be entirely and definitively formulated in writing. Thus, if one breaks a thew, the thew is broken: there is no hiding behind the written form. Learning how to behave in Théodish society is therefore more complicated than memorizing a list of rules: one must be immersed in it and learn by observing, asking, listening, and doing. This immersive learning is the institution of thralldom mentioned above. We find that people are less likely to break the customs of a culture that they have become immersively enculturated into than the laws of a group they happen to join without any real initiation.

The word “thew” carries with it the notion of both strength and flexibility. The thews of a théod are the bonds that bind the group together; strong bonds, but also flexible ones that develop organically over time.

Having given an overview of Théodism and its more salient outward features, my next post will be about Dan Halloran specifically, and why he is a controversial figure within Théodism. In that post, I will be referring back to some of the points covered in this one.

* This does not mean that elements of this religion did not survive the wholesale conversion of the Germanic peoples. We recognize these elements as part of Germanic religion, and include them in the definition and practice of our religion.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Nick, first I want to compliment you on providing explanations for some features of Theodism that can not only be offputting at first glance but give rise to the kind of talk that leads to exaggeration. You don’t make it impossible to disagree with Theodism, but you do make it harder to misunderstand it.

    It is true that written rules and democratic polity can lead to abuses. However, the same is true of any organization of human society. It’s a challenge to accept thralldom and thew; among those who embrace that challenge will be some with a gift for making the system work for them. I don’t say this out of malice, but as a friendly observation from someone who, in seventy years, has explored different social organizations from Quaker consensus to Robert’s Rule of Order, and seen how they all can be made to work for those who understand them.

    I wish you only the best, and look forward to Part Two.

    • Nick Ritter

      Thank you for your comments and well-wishing, Baruch. I should say that I would be very surprised indeed if I had made it impossible to disagree with Théodism, or at least with our manner of doing things. We have often stated that Théodism is not for everyone, and we mean that: we think our ways are best for ourselves, but we don’t pretend that they’re best for everyone. Our thews have evolved rather organically out of what we are trying to attempt and the history of that attempt; given different goals and a different history, we would doubtless have had different thews.

      I would agree that any sort of human organization is open, in some manner, to abuse, and the same is certainly true of our kind of hierarchical aristocracy. One of the evolutionary pressures that has shaped Théodism has been the necessity of weeding out would-be entrants who might attempt to subvert our ways to their own ends, as well as the necessity of getting rid of those subverters who pass the weeding-out process. I didn’t mention this in the article itself, but perhaps I should have: Théodish groups tend to be difficult to get into and easy to get kicked out of, and this is by design. Whatever our other flaws, at least it can be said of Théodish folks that we don’t keep game-players and the drama-needy around too long. 

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

     Interesting article, I have a favourable bias towards the Germanic (and Scandinavian) systems of belief, myself.

    Being in Britain, I have come across a few different terms relating to the Germanic faith systems, such as Heathenry, Ásatrú, Odinism, but I haven’t really heard much about Théodism.

    My question is this: Does Théodism have much of a presence anywhere outside of the USA?

    • Nick Ritter

      “Does Théodism have much of a presence anywhere outside of the USA?”

      Not much, no. There used to be a few Théodish people in Canada, but I think those folks no longer identify as Théodish. I had heard of one group in England, but as far as I am aware, they did not develop from any contact or fosterage from us, although they may have been influenced by our writings. 

      Since Théodism is passed on by one-on-one training and enculturation, and mouth-to-ear teaching, that makes it a difficult thing to export. I would be very interested in Théodism taking root elsewhere, but I am not sure how to make that happen without watering it down (short of existing Théodsmen moving out of the US and teaching Théodism to people).

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         Do you feel that, like the Germanic beliefs of pre-Christian Europe, Théodism is very much ingrained into the culture of those that practice it, which is why it would be hard for it to spread?

        I have often thought that the Germanic model of entwining religion and culture is a brilliant concept.

        • Karlsefniofbluemountains

          Its hard to spread because the intent of Theodisc geleafa is not necessarily to spread out. Theodism incubates more than it emanates.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             I wasn’t suggesting that it should spread, just wondered if it had.

            It reminds me, in some ways to Gardnerian Wicca – you have to be inducted to ‘really’ be of it. I like the idea of that. It makes for a far stronger sense of connection between faith and community than just picking up a book.

        • Nick Ritter

          “Do you feel that, like the Germanic beliefs of pre-Christian Europe, Théodism is very much ingrained into the culture of those that practice it, which is why it would be hard for it to spread?”

          That may be part of the reason: another way to think about it is that one has to *change* one’s culture in order to really be part of a Théodish group. That can take a long time and a lot of hard work, and it requires the observation of people in the target culture to tell if one has succeeded at it. I don’t think that it can’t occur, but it hasn’t yet.

          “I have often thought that the Germanic model of entwining religion and culture is a brilliant concept.”

          I like it, too, and I think it was more widely spread in the ancient world than the Germanic peoples; it actually seems to have been the norm.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “one has to *change* one’s culture in order to really be part of a Théodish group.”
            Sounds sensible, really. Although, those opposed to it may well call it ‘cultish’. (A term I dislike, as it is used for its negative connotations in order to alienate.)

            “I like it, too, and I think it was more widely spread in the ancient
            world than the Germanic peoples; it actually seems to have been the
            norm.”
            I agree, but the Germanic tribes seem to have survived longer than most.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Probably because they stopped the Roman Army.

      • Tasman

        To Nick Ritter, Wassail! This is a fantastic explanatory post. Few could rival the contribution of Axenthof Thiad to Theodish Belief and I offer the following thoughts in a spirit of respectful dialogue. The question of Theodish Belief outside of America fascinates me. I have been advocating for Theodish Belief in Australia for several years now, although this is a way of life I have only ever been able to imagine and have never been able to practice in the fullest sense. I remain a lordless wretch until such time as I either join or found a theod. As you indicate, the emphasis in Theodish Belief is on the mouth-to -ear transmission of wisdom  and face-to-face acculturation into a theod. Reciprocal social relations are the embodiment of real thew.  I agree with this emphasis but I draw a slightly different implication from it. The ideal of embodied face-to-face reciprocity is the root of your suggestion that authentic Theodish practice necessarily emerges out of an established theod, which are of course all presently in North America. According to this model, to practice Theodish Belief I would have to move to America, sell into thralldom, become a lord, return to Australia and then found a new theod that enjoyed the appropriate paternity. We might call this the “apostolic” model of Theodism. It is neither geographically, spiritually, or psychologically tenable for folk to move to the US in order to become Theodish. An authentic and grounded Heathen community must be rooted in the geography and spirit of the Land in which it finds itself. This is entirely consonant with the local and varying character of our ancestral folk religions as they manifested in ancient times. The apostolic notion of Theodism is in tension with the true nature of tribes, even re-constituted, modern tribes – which are autochthonous and emerge out of an intimate bond with their different geographical, political and ethnic contexts. Surely if a potential theod is able to demonstrate all the specific anatomical features of a tribe outlined by Garman Lord then they qualify as theodish and may stand or fall on the merits of their own thew and gefrain? This is how the original American theods made their way. They too began as tentative reconstructions pioneered by the adventurous few. All current sects within modern Heathenry are of quite recent derivation and the American theods seem unable themselves to agree on what constitutes proper Theodish Belief or who qualifies as authenticly Theodish. Is the only possible authentic expression of Theodish Belief one that emerges out of fosterage to a one of a select few American theods that enjoy the right paternity? I cannot credit the exclusive legitimacy of the American theods. The underlying principles of Theodish Belief have long been in the public domain; thew by its very nature of course cannot be placed in that domain, for it must be pioneered or learned face to face. In Australia (or anywhere else)  can we not pioneer our own thew, using the Theodish model to advance our own tribal aspirations, tailored to our own particular local needs?
                  The word “theod” is drawn from our common English heritage – for our purposes it refers to nothing more nor less than a very specific kind of reconstructed tribal Heathenry. Can the lexicon of our ancestors be considered the exclusive cultural property of any one reconstructionist group? To hold the line that the American theod’s are the sole arbiters of what constitutes authentic tribal Heathenry is to patent the very word “theod” itself and, furthermore, it condemns the Theodish movement to be an exclusively American phenomenon.
                   I understand fully that just calling oneself Theodish does not a Theodsman make. But I say again, and with great respect, couldn’t a non-American theod stand or fall on the merits of its own thew and gefrain?
                 Lastly, you have written a fantastic post. It should help to generate further interest in Theodish Belief here in Australia. 

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “An authentic and grounded Heathen community must be rooted in the
          geography and spirit of the Land in which it finds itself. This is
          entirely consonant with the local and varying character of our ancestral
          folk religions as they manifested in ancient times.”

          I agree pretty strongly with this – cultures are created by environment.

          However, there is also the concept of the ‘transplanted culture’ that we see so often now that did not exist in the historical period that is being drawn from to create these new paths.

          Otherwise, you’d have to admit that, unless you are from the areas where the beliefs originated (North Western Europe, in this case), you can’t truly understand them.

          I guess you can ask the question of whether you can accurately and fully reconstruct tribal Heathenry outside of its ‘native’ environment, but since that environment does not really exist any more it is hard to really prove this one way or the other.

          As to the exclusivity of Théodism, in the whole physical meeting and acceptance to an established Théodish group, it is not alone in that – Gardnerian Wicca also states that you have to be able to trace your ‘initiational’ lineage back to Gerald Gardner himself.

          As it is strongly based on community, this makes a lot of sense.

          Setting up your own group, with your own spin would be fine, but would it really be Théodism, or would it be inspired by it, instead?

          It’s not like it is the ‘one true way’, after all.

        • Nick Ritter

          Wassail! I think you and I have perhaps spoken before about the possibility of Théodism in Australia. I think this is an important thing to discuss. I personally would like Théodism to exist elsewhere, but I think it would need to be done carefully in order for it to be done right. 

          “The apostolic notion of Theodism is in tension with the true nature of tribes, even re-constituted, modern tribes – which are autochthonous and emerge out of an intimate bond with their different geographical, political and ethnic contexts.”

          Looked at historically, the “intimate bond with.. different geographic, political and ethnic contexts” was only one side of what makes a tribe: the other is where the people of the tribe came from, their past. The Anglo-Saxons, for example, knew that their ancestors originated in Northern Germany; after the Lombards settled in Northern Italy, they still maintained ties to Scandinavia. A culture doesn’t pop up out of the earth: it is brought there with people from elsewhere, and develops over time according to the pressures of both tradition and the new context. Looked at in that way, I don’t think that the “apostolic notion of Théodism is in tension with the true nature of tribes,” but rather a part of that nature. 

          In any case, none of this is to say that Théodism can’t happen in Australia, just that it would either be difficult, or it would be a different thing. You wrote:

          “To hold the line that the American theod’s are the sole arbiters of what constitutes authentic tribal Heathenry is to patent the very word “theod” itself and, furthermore, it condemns the Theodish movement to be an exclusively American phenomenon.”

          Well, here’s the thing: I don’t think that we claim to be the only authentic tradition of tribal Heathenry, just that we claim to be *an* authentic tradition. Other authentic traditions are possible, but if you want *our* tradition to be transplanted to where you are, I think it’s reasonable to say that it has to come from *us*. 

          Let’s say that you enter into frequent communication with myself and other Théodish folks, and we try to teach you everything that can be taught over telephone or computer: at some point, we would still need to meet you face-to-face to pass on certain things that *cannot* be taught over distance. Before that even happens, we would need to have you around to see what kind of person you are and to make sure that you have absorbed Théodish culture. I’m sure you see the difficulties.

          “But I say again, and with great respect, couldn’t a non-American theod stand or fall on the merits of its own thew and gefrain?”

          Yes, possibly. But in order for us to recognize it as the same thing as we are, it would either have to come from us, or be an amazing example of parallel evolution. There may be some option in the middle, though, but I’d have to see the result work over a number of years. 

          “Lastly, you have written a fantastic post. It should help to generate further interest in Theodish Belief here in Australia.”

          Thank you! If you would be interested, I would like to discuss this further in private. If you don’t have my email address, perhaps Jason would be willing to give it to you, or perhaps you would be willing to give me yours.

          • Tasman

            Again Wassail! Thank you for your thoughts; they have helped to clarify my thinking on the notion of Theodism outside of America. And yes, we did enjoy a brief but very fruitful correspondence. I would be delighted to discuss this further. I am also very interested to hear your thoughts on the viability of the Heathenguild model of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry emerging in the US. 

        • Deborah Bender

           This thread (comments both above and below) recapitulates a discussion that took place in North America in the 1960s when books about Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wica were available and a handful of initiated teachers with lineage had started covens on this side of the Atlantic, but many more people wanted to learn the Craft than those teachers could accommodate.

          The choices were pretty similar. Some people did whatever was necessary to get initiation and advancement in Craft traditions that had originated in Britain. Other people attempted to emulate those traditions or improve on them and to start their own groups without first going through the Wican initiatory systems. Some succeeded in creating lineages of their own; these traditions were called “bootstrap”, as in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

          Nowadays most American Wicans regard some of these other Witches as cousins; close or distant cousins depending on how similar or different their beliefs and practices are to Wica.

  • Cara

    Nick,
    This article was extremely good and very interesting.  I hope that it is referenced and read by media covering Halloran.

    • Nick Ritter

      Thank you!

  • Faoladh

    Thank you for this. I have been quite intrigued by Theodism for some time now.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    This is very interesting. I’m not personally a big fan of hierarchy but the faith described sounds eminently workable. The comment below about far-flung persons who might be interested in the faith interests me greatly — I live somewhere both central and isolated (HI), and how locale interacts with various faith traditions is a particular interest.

  • Harmonyfb

    Thank you for this informative post – I knew very little about Theodish belief and practice, and I’m glad to improve myself. :)

    eople who want to join a Théodish group have to go through a process of
    being observed and their character tested before being allowed in as
    full members of the group. This process is called “thralldom,” and the
    would-be entrants “thralls,” terms that tend to put people off. This is
    intentional: the name is part of the test of one’s character. If one can
    submit to being called something unpleasant,

    My reaction is that ‘being called something unpleasant’ wouldn’t be my objection – being called by a term which implies the obligation of a slave would be. If you’re free to elaborate, how is the period of ‘thralldom’ different from the slavery the term implies?  I assume that this term was deliberately chosen for your initatory candidates; what deeper reason is there for the choice?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Do you know much about societal organisation in Pre-Christian North-Western Europe?

      The thrall (or þræll) was the lowest caste in Scandinavian society but that did not have the traditional stigma that is associated with slavery.

      Yes, it was a menial position (relative to the cyng/konge), but thralls could be freed at any time (or buy their slavery).

      Also, duty and obligation worked both ways. The leader of a community was no less beholden to the community than the community was to the leader.

      Not being Théodish myself, I can’t comment on how it works for this system, but I imagine that, like similar Heathen paths, it is about stripping the individual of their preconceptions and previous identity in order that they build themselves up as full, integrated members of the Théodish group.

      • Harmonyfb

        but that did not have the traditional stigma that is associated with slavery.

        Yes, it was a menial position (relative to the cyng/konge), but thralls could be freed at any time (or buy their slavery).

        It’s not about stigma – it’s about involuntary servitude (I have caste issues, too, but that’s a different topic). If you have to buy your freedom, you’re a slave.

        I assume that Theodism doesn’t subscribe to actual slavery, but the term seems to imply involuntary servitude and loss of freedom.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I don’t see how that is a bad thing.

          • Harmonyfb

            You don’t see how slavery is a bad thing? Am I misunderstanding you?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            You are not misunderstanding me. But I didn’t fully explain myself, either.

            Slavery, devoid of context is not a bad thing. Nor is it a good thing. It simply ‘is’.

            Context – kidnapping people from their homes and forcing them to pick cotton/whatever so you can enjoy an easy life with maximum profit is a bad thing.

            Placing a criminal into forced labour to atone for their crimes is a good thing (far more productive than simply locking them up and ignoring them, wouldn’t you say?)

            Freedom, to me is not a right, but a privilege. Something you fight for and earn.

            In various Heathen paths (not just Théodism, but other northern traditions also), taking upon the role of thrall is a willing sacrifice of freedom and taking up of servitude. Not quite so literally as it once was, perhaps, but still in a ritualised sense.

            It is an extended initiatory rite for many, with the understanding that your service will show your worth to the group so that you will not just be granted the honour of freedom, but recognised as a member of the society to which you have sought to join.

            That’s my take on it, anyway.

          • Sunlight On Leaves

            I think the idea is that being a thrall, in this case, *is* voluntary, in order to become a member of the group.

          • Harmonyfb

            I’m replying to your comment below, since the thread has gotten too long.

            Slavery, devoid of context is not a bad thing. Nor is it a good thing. It simply ‘is’.

            Wow, do I disagree completely with that statement. I believe that slavery is always an evil, whether that’s the slavery of the pre-civil-war South or the slavery of ancient Greece, or the slavery of the Khmer Rouge, etc, etc.

            Placing a criminal into forced labour to atone for their crimes is a
            good thing (far more productive than simply locking them up and ignoring
            them, wouldn’t you say?)

            I favor neither approach – how about offering them education, support, and training so that they can change?

            Freedom, to me is not a right, but a privilege. Something you fight for and earn.

            I believe that freedom is a right, one that is granted to us at our birth.

            In various Heathen paths (not just Théodism, but other northern
            traditions also), taking upon the role of thrall is a willing sacrifice
            of freedom and taking up of servitude.

            Servitude to the Gods or to the group?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “do I disagree completely with that statement.”
            To each, their own.

            “how about offering them education, support, and training so that they can change?”
            I believe in punishment as well as rehabilitation. Those things can (and should) be offered, but the weregild has to be paid.

            “I believe that freedom is a right, one that is granted to us at our birth.”
            And here is where I disagree with you.

            “Servitude to the Gods or to the group?”
            is there (really) a difference, when your cultural (way of life) and your religion are completely entwined?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             (I apologise if I appear to be representing Théodism, or contemporary practice of Northern traditions. I am not, nor have ever been, affiliate to any group. I just have an interest in the area and am applying what I know of the history of the Germanic cultures to my answers, as well as some personal opinion.)

          • Nick Ritter

            This is actually a reply to Léoht Sceadusawol

            “‘Servitude to the Gods or to the group?’ 
            is there (really) a difference, when your cultural (way of life) and your religion are completely entwined?”

            That’s not a bad way to put it, but I should note that loyalty to the group is not intended to be one-way. Service done to the group is not unrewarded. In fact, it’s rewarded twice: once through being able to be in a group that has been improved through one’s actions, and once through gaining “gefrægn,” reputation. Now that I think about it, I could’ve written several more paragraphs on gefrægn and it’s importance in Théodism: gefrægn is the public measure of one’s worth, which has a lot to do with determining one’s rank and duties.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “I should note that loyalty to the group is not intended to be one-way.”

            I did touch on that bit, when I said:

             “Also, duty and obligation worked both ways. The leader of a community
            was no less beholden to the community than the community was to the
            leader.”

            Of course, I was discussing the historical society of the Germanic tribes, rather than contemporary Théodism. But, as a reconstructionist system, I presumed this would be true for both.

      • Nick Ritter

        “I imagine that, like similar Heathen paths, it is about stripping the individual of their preconceptions and previous identity in order that they build themselves up as full, integrated members of the Théodish group.”

        Quite so, and very concisely put. 

    • Nick Ritter

      “If you’re free to elaborate, how is the period of ‘thralldom’ different from the slavery the term implies?”

      I suppose that the differences derive from the rights I noted in the post: the right to not be abused, and the right to run away. Overall, thralls are expected to work whenever they are present at gatherings; this is how they contribute to those gatherings (they’re not the only ones who do work, though, and everyone is expected to do what is necessary to contribute). If they decide that the benefits of instruction are not worth the work, they are free to leave. Also, at no time are they allowed to be abused; abusing thralls is considered to be “unthewful” – i.e. against our traditional ethics. 

      “I assume that this term was deliberately chosen for your initatory candidates; what deeper reason is there for the choice?”

      In early Germanic cultures, thralldom was a means for outsiders to enter a tribe, and “freedom” was belonging to a tribe (the origin of the word “free” and related words in Germanic languages go back originally to words meaning “one’s own”). In those times, it could take three generations for a family to progress from thralldom to freedom; we speed that up a bit, and we free people once they show through speech and actions that they are one of us, i.e. that they have internalized our worldview and culture, that they “get it.”

      • Harmonyfb

        Thanks for elaborating – I think I have a better grasp on your process, there. :)

  • No Bod E

    Thank you for the very informative post. I do have a question that wasn’t covered. How are women seen and treated in Theodish groups>

    • Nick Ritter

      Well, women are seen and treated largely the same as men, which is to say: as individuals with their own qualities and personalities, *one element* of which is gender. We do not ignore gender differences, but that isn’t the whole of who someone is. As such, women contribute in many of the same ways that men do: we have had women as scholars, as public voices of Théodism, and as leaders. The théod to which I belong, Axenthôf, is lead by a husband and wife, both of whom take an active role. We do not hold our lady in any lesser regard than we hold our lord, and we value her advice quite highly.

      The history of Théodism has, in fact, been shaped by a few exceptional women who were present in the early days. One was an anthropologist who wanted to study our “countercultural movement” and ended up joining; to her we owe our culture of research and academic inquiry, which is very important indeed. Another taught us many of our esoteric practices, including divination, which is also very important to us (although not something we discuss a lot publicly). A third was at the forefront of bringing Théodism into the public arena in the early 1990s, bringing us into contact with Ásatrú. Ultimately, a great deal of what Théodism is, and the fact that I’m on this forum talking about it, is owed to those three women. 

      Overall, I suppose you could say that women, like men, have the responsibility to contribute to the théod, and the freedom to find the way of contributing that suits them best.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Being, as I am, a Wessaxon with an interest in Germanic tribal culture (notably the migrant cultures of England and Scandinavia), I’d be interested in reading more on this subject.

    My first port of call was Amazon to get hold of Gárman Lord’s book (pictured above). Only has second hand available, from £90.64.

    I don’t suppose there is a more reasonably priced one available somewhere? (That ships to England.)

    • Nick Ritter

      Well, there’s one on http://www.abebooks.com for about £65, and about £6 shipping to the UK. I should say that there’s more to Théodism than is presented in that book, though. There are articles on Théodism online, and I especially like some of the ones at the Axenthof site and the Sweartfenn site.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        What about your own writings, Nick? Are either of your books or any of your articles readily available to the general public in any form?

        • Nick Ritter

          For my more recent writings, there’s the Axenthof blog, and also my own blog Ordgethanc (which, I admit, I do not update as often as I’d like). There are links to both of those on the Axenthof site. Some of the early articles I wrote for the magazine Thunder (under the pen-name “Hildiwulf”) are available here: http://www.thorshof.org/thunindex.htm

          Unfortunately, none of the articles that I wrote for Theod Magazine, nor the two books of poetry I wrote, seem to be available. 

  • AcidRainLady

    The social structure described sounds a lot like the Hells Angels, and I don’t mean any offense by that for I find their tribal culture to be extremely effective and I envy their fraternity. When people on another continent want to found their own chapter of the Angels representatives from the US go there and help them establish it. They do it this way specifically because each terrain and culture is different. 

    Of course, the Angels are checking out the drug laws, assault and battery laws, weapons laws, the rules of the road and learning about the established drug trade but those (major) differences aside – the thralldom, face to ear transmission of worldview, laying oneself open to judgment by their superiors and the jealousy with which the brand is protected are all very similar.

    Perhaps this is true of all secret societies be they spiritual, political, or outlaw. Like the bike clubs, I envy your frith and structure. My king chose to make his own people rather than try to negotiate with outsiders so we’ll have to wait now for them to expand our tribe, but if we instilled in them what I think we did very soon we’ll have a passel of third generation heathens running around. But we’re lucky. We didn’t break our vows, our children are our own and not shared with resentful ex’s. Because of that honorable deed we carry great authority with them, their partners and even their friends.

    We didn’t have to inflict a period of thralldom because as children they held a different status within the group, as did their friends, so we have done a similar thing only within a family structure. It is small, but it may prove to be very durable if we manage these next twenty-five years as well as the past twenty-five.

    • Nick Ritter

      It’s interesting that you mention the Hell’s Angels. One of the first non-pagan friends I explained Théodism to remarked that it sounded like the mafia without the crime.

      Another pursuit of mine is martial arts, namely a very traditional and “hard” form of Aikido. One of the senior blackbelts is a good friend of mine, and we talk about Théodism, martial arts, philosophy, what have you. We have both been struck by the numerous parallels between Théodish structure and the structure of the traditional Japanese dojo, including: the initiation of would-be members, the role of the senior members for keeping order and training the newer members, the importance of a lineage for establishing validity, etc. We have even discussed how difficult both are to export from their place of origin: in the end, you have to travel to learn at the place of origin to get the full teaching, or be lucky enough to learn from someone who learned at the place of origin.

      Concerning the rasing of children vs. thralldom, to tell the truth we are doing both. There are a number of Théodish families with children, who are raising them in the tradition. Obviously, being immersed in this sort of culture, they will not need the brief period of intense enculturation that thralldom is; however, they will be facing some kind of initiation. Over time, perhaps our growth will come primarily from children, with thralldom being a rarely-used manner of adoption into Théodish groups.

      Good luck to you and your tribe!


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