There is an odd dichotomy of views in the Heathen community. We are as fierce a group of rugged individualist as you will find, and yet our ranks are filled with those who have dedicated a good portion of their professional and/or volunteer life to serving the community through “The System”.
We come together as a collective because we, as a group, have needs our individual skills cannot deliver to the level required. This is a fact. We require a medical system, because even if each of us had the skill of a multi-specialist physician (like unicorns, you may have heard of them, but few have seen one), even such a creature is but part of a large team of specialists requiring an immensely expensive infrastructure to deliver the required care. We cannot do it alone. We come together to collectively support a system that can most efficiently deliver this need to our community. Granted I come from the Socialist North that does this through taxation as a pure collective effort, while most Troth come from the Capitalist South where private enterprise under government regulation fills the same need in a different fashion.
We require a police force and justice system, because without them the enforcement of social order there can be only the rule of violence, and either the collective will determines the source of order through the (imperfect) rule of law, or the strong man who kills his way to the top will impose it through tyranny. Either way, order must exist to protect our ability to produce and distribute goods, or we collectively starve to death. Our choices are law (police and courts) or tyranny (KGB, Taliban, etc). We have chosen to maximize freedom of the individual while maintaining collective order through the rule of law, codified by our elected officials (corrupt or incompetent as they may sometimes be), administered by the police (who frequently forget the people not in their uniform are who they serve, not the enemy), and overseen by the courts (who frequently forget they too are servants in the peoples house, but at least strive to serve the laws written by the peoples representatives).
I chose to serve my country as a soldier; taking individual responsibility for the collective defense of my folk, and those peoples who our elected representatives have undertaken treaties of collective defense through NATO treaty, or through short term UN resolutions for international peace keeping and war fighting efforts sanctioned by international agreement. This is a dead common choice for both men and women in the Heathen Community. Heathens and even Wiccans are far more common in the armed services than in civilian life, because to be what we are is to have taken control of your moral compass, determined who you need to be, and having determined what it is you believe, and support, determined what actions are required to turn belief into reality. It is not enough for a Heathen to stand for something; he or she must take an active role in making what they believe in a reality, or stopping what they oppose.
Now we come to the second part of the collective effort, and the systems it requires; failure. The greatest good for the greatest number is a guiding principle both of law and of civil organization. The cruel fact of statistics is that it really is best for most people, and is the only way to run a society. It is however NOT ENOUGH.
All systems have cracks through which people fall, because human beings are just that, human beings. We are weak and imperfect, most people earning a paycheque put in enough effort to earn their wage, punch out and call it a day. They leave the problems behind them when they clock out, and while they may bitch about “the system” they allow the system to take responsibility for its failures. Those failures are people. Those failures are not impersonal to those they affect.
As heathens we are community builders, we come together to build connections between peoples, to make ourselves stronger together than we could ever be alone. As heathens, we understand this is about serving our duties to our relationships. Duty runs in concentric circles, beginning with your closest family and extending outward along the lines of your duties and obligations until it reaches your nation and beyond that, the world. It begins at home, and that is the single strongest relationship. It begins there, and in the case of conflict, that is where it ends.
The Christians tell the parable of Isaac (Genesis 22), where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham bound his son to the altar and was mid way through the killing stroke when an angel appeared and stopped him. It was enough to know he would kill his child on command. This is a very Christian, Muslim, and Jewish tale, for their god places obedience above all.
Our own sagas are filled with men and women placing themselves in the way of the gods, in defiance of the gods, of the kings, of the community, when their family was at stake. If Odin himself came for my children, he would know it would take the last drop of my blood before he got them, and my steel would be wet first. Our gods tell us it is better to sacrifice never than too often, by what you receive determine what you must offer (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm p146). We are told from our gods themselves that we have responsibilities to our own to look after first. Look after your own, and with what is left, look to build relationships beyond.
The system is filled with professionals who can deliver a level of care far beyond my own competence. The police and courts can offer community serving options beyond immediate violence. Medical and mental health professionals can offer diagnosis and treatment options beyond anything I could hope to deliver. The government agencies caring for our veterans have access to information I do not, have resources far outstripping any I have. They have something else I don’t; something else you don’t. They have the ability to look at one person they are failing and shrug. “I didn’t make that decision”, “that was not done on my shift, that was unfortunate”, “I’m not aware of who made that decision”, “I agree that should not have happened”, “I agree it says here that you should have been consulted” These are all platitudes many of us have heard, when dealing with a system that has left our child, our disabled parent, a fellow veteran in trouble, fall through the cracks and end up with serious and sometimes terrible consequences. The system can do a hundred things you cannot, but one of those is accept failing. While we are capable of far less than the system, we cannot accept failure for those we love either.
What we can do, what we must do, is advocate for our own. Where the system will accept failure, we cannot. While the system can shrug and move on, we must not allow them to. We cannot provide the thousand things the system can, we can provide the bur under the saddle, the nagging voice at the end of the phone, the willingness to go above, around, or through the obstruction to see that those we love have their needs met, that they do not go from loved one to statistic. I don’t care what the other number is, if the system fails only one in whatever, the other number does not matter when your loved one is the one; the one that they didn’t save.
Heathens understand our duty is to our own first. In the event that the system failed our own; the community is on its own. Where my community, state or nation has failed to protect my child, I will. Where my community state or nation has failed my parent, I will not. Where my community state or nation has failed those with whom I served it, I cannot. Understand that I am loyal to my own first, and my community as I can afford to be. I am Heathen. I am not a system, I am a person. I have those whom I love, those to whom I am obligated by that love, by my sacred honour. It is upon that honour that I swore to serve my nation, so if my nation ever stands between me and those obligations, my nation will lose. Duty flows in concentric circles outward from the hearth. With what is left after our duties to our hearth are paid, we build community and the systems required to keep it. The system exists to serve each of our hearths. If it fails that duty, we must not. If it has failed that duty, you owe it nothing in return, but must instead devote all of your energies to meeting as best you can, the duties the system in all its wondrous resources and ponderous nature, has failed to.
Heathens exist throughout the system as soldiers, social workers, lawyers, police, because we know the needs of the community are real. Heathens also organize groups to help those the system fails, groups to help the homeless, groups to help our veterans, because we understand that the failings of the system do not relieve us of our responsibilities. In the end, the system is not important. Be it the Crown, the government, the constitution; these things in one hand, the needs of my child, my parent, my dearest friends in the other, you will find the weight of law is as of smoke compared to the weight of love and duty.
Father, husband, son, friend, citizen, employee, heathen community leader, is more than just a list of roles I play, or duties I have, it is a checklist. This is the list of circles of my duties. Citizen is fifth. That is the proper place for the system, for if it does not serve my family, it is unworthy of my service. As long as it is a part of serving the needs of my family, it deserves and receives all possible support. The system is not something we serve, although larger than any one of us, it is a servant in its masters house. It is our house, and the system is our servant. It is part of our duty as citizens and as heathens to make sure we never let the system, this ponderous imperfect colossus, to crush those most vulnerable who are given to its care, simply out of inertia and laziness. It is not ours to be silent, it is not ours to permit failure. It is not enough to have tried. Heathens understand the choice between your inner circle and the system is no choice at all.
- John T Mainer
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Troth.