Unforgiving as a Hammer
Forgiveness isn’t Heathen. Like sin, it’s not our concept, and its accepted definition has little relevance to how we think and what we do. Heathens don’t do sin, karma, or forgiveness. We do Worth, Schild, and Orlog.
What others call fate and destiny, heathens know as wyrd. Wyrd is in the hands of the Norns, and to the weavings of wyrd even the gods must bow. Wyrd binds all worlds and all times. Orlog, or the lines of life and luck, describes your interaction with Wyrd. Orlog is partly inherited, for your situation is partly of your making, and partly what you inherit from the actions and choices of others, and the wyrd or general workings of the world. Orlog is a web, for our choices and actions in our lives touch the lives and affect the luck of those who came before, all of those who come after, and all of those whose lives you interact with on a daily basis. What you do, affects others, many beyond your sight or knowledge.
We are our deeds. This is a truth that nearly all heathens accept; which is about as amazing as a rule all anarchists obey. We are the sum of all experiences we have been through, all choices we have made, and all the lessons we have taken from them. Our pain, our shame, our pride, our joy are all rooted in what we have done. We are all imperfect, we are all struggling to build our worth. Worth is the value that each community you are a part of places on the choices and deeds you have done. Worth is gained and lost on a daily basis, and a lifetime of worth can be lost in a single moment of unrestrained rage, cowardice, greed, or malice.
Heathens are not victims; the gods didn’t hit us, a truck did. The gods didn’t rob or rape us, someone chose to do that. The pain of loss, of trauma, the long road to rebuilding trust, rebuilding confidence, rebuilding strength are our victories. Wyrd weaves as it will, there is no judgement in bad things happening to them. The gods do not guarantee we will win, the guarantee only that they will be beside us in our struggles.
Symbol of our faith is the Hammer of Thor. Thor is not the god who grants victory; for Odin the Victory Father has that honour. Thor is not the god of wealth, peace and prosperity, for that honour goes to Freyr. Thor is not even the lord of honour, for that goes to Tyr. Thor is the god of that most heathen of all functions; picking yourself off the ground and starting over.
Heathens do not forgive, for to ask you to forgive me for what I have done to you cheapens the victories you have fought long and hard to win in rebuilding what my actions have destroyed. In asking for your forgiveness, I am now taking from you your right to rage, your right to the fires of anger to balance the loss, pain, fear, or despair that accompanied whatever effect the wrong I committed cost you. Further; the implication is that if you refuse to grant this to me, or continue to resent me, the person who wronged you is now morally superior as you can’t forgive them.
Take a plate in your hand and then hurl it to the ground. Pick it up and hand it back to the owner ask forgiveness. Is the plate still broken? Your deeds cannot be taken back. Your words once spoken can never be unheard. Trusts once violated can never be unviolated. You can only accept what has happened, learn from it and move on. That is what heathens do.
Greeks tell the tale of Sisyphus; doomed by the gods to forever push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll down to the bottom. Heathens live this myth. To us it is called building worth. We strive in our daily lives to build our worth through word and deed, only to see years or decades of hard work and good choices lost in a single bad decision. Like Thor in his famous fishing voyage; finding himself trapped in a battle with the midgard sperpent that can have no end, we shrug, laugh, and keep swinging. Heathens know that we all make mistakes, we strive to learn from our own, and not repeat them, we strive to learn from the bad things that happen, and grow stronger or wiser from each challenge to help with the next one. Like Sisyphus, we know we will not reach the top of that mountain, but we understand that it is worth the struggle to fight our way towards worth with every breath, every step, every choice. Thor is the god who teaches us how to stare at that rock at the bottom of the mountain, and get back to work pushing it up. For teaching us to laugh when the stone bounces past us again, we love him perhaps best of all.
Heathens have the concept of redress, indeed, weregild or monetary payment for wrongs is something that ancient Heathens put into the civil law of the north, and became the foundations of the English Speaking worlds common law. The specific concept is schild, or debt. Third of the Norns is Skuld, she who covers what will be, what must be. To her do we look for schild. If you have wronged another, part of rebuilding your worth is acknowledging to them your error, and if such is pleasing to them, making a payment or offering some act as token of your acceptance of responsibility for harming them. This does not ask them to forgive you. You cannot take back what was done, and pretending you can has mental and emotional consequences for both of you that are unhealthy.
If I get behind the wheel drunk, and kill your child, I cannot ever undo that. I have lost much worth in the eyes of society, and all worth in yours. I can never fix what is between us. Though I save a thousand lives, your child will ever be dead. Though that choice cannot ever be undone, the choices I make from now on can begin to rebuild my worth in the eyes of others. Indeed it is possible for the same choice to build worth in the eyes of some, and cost you worth in the eyes of others, for worth is specific to communities, and each has its own standards to judge.
The hardest thing to do is rebuild when you have lost everything. Whether you have had your world crushed by the deeds of others, or seen the world and worth you built destroyed by your own deeds, it is at the moment when you have nothing that you will understand heathenry best. The Canadian Infantry teaches this bit of wisdom that survived the centuries from our heathen past, you can be killed, but not stopped. If you are still alive, it is not over. If you are still alive, you can rebuild. It is so much harder to rebuild than to build, and so much harder to give yourself fully to building something you now understand can be taken away in a heartbeat. This is where your community, your kindred, your ancestors and your gods are there to lend you strength. It is for you to push that rock back up the mountain, but it is OK to lean for support on those who care about you while you line up for your next push.
We don’t forgive the storm for flattening our crop, the thief for stealing our goods, the mouth that betrayed a trust, or the hand that struck our cheek. What is done is done. It does not own us, it does not define us, but it does motivate us, shape us, scar us. We rebuild, we move on, we grow strong in the broken places. Our gods and goddesses each have paths and truths to teach us as we struggle to move on; but none of them pretend to undo what has been done.
- John T Mainer
John T. Mainer is the Troth Steward for Western Canada and is also currently serving on the High Rede.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Troth as an organization.