Good Evil and Wholeness: Enclosures and The World
by Swain Wodening Canote
The concept of *wíh- "that which is a part of the gods' realms" was related
to other concepts revolving around how the ancient Heathens viewed society and the law. Hastrup in her book addresses this
concept of "separateness" between that of a husbandman's farm and the wild lands outside it and expands this explanation to
Heathen society itself.
The important point is that in our period a structural and semantic opposition
was operative between "inside" and "outside" the society-as-law, allowing for a merging of different kinds of beings in the
conceptual "wild." This anti-social space was inhabited by a whole range of spirits...landsvættir "spirits of the land," huldufolk
"hidden people," jötnar "giants," trölls "trolls," and álfar "elves"...all of them belonged to the "wild" and it was partly
against them that one had to defend ones-self... In this way the secure, well-known and personal innangards was symbolically
separated from the dangerous unknown and nonhuman wild space outside the fence, útangards.
As Heathen familiar with our own cosmology, we know this paradigm not to be
entirely correct. In truth, what the ancient Heathens truly saw was a series of enclosures comprising even larger enclosures.
Thus individuals comprised the enclosure of a farmstead, several farmsteads com-prised a godord and all the godhords, the
Icelandic state. In most ancient times, individuals made up families, families made up clans or kindreds, clans or kindreds
made up tribes, the tribes made up Middangeard. Middangeard and the other eight abodes made up the multiverse and were held
in the world tree Yggdrasil. Hastrup points out later in her book:
Horizontally the cosmos was divided into Míðgarð and ÚtgardR. Míðgarð was
the central space..inhabited by men (and gods), while ÚtgardR was found outsidethe fence .
This view of the universe as a series of enclosures governed nearly every
socio-political factor of an ancient tribesman's life and extended beyond a socio-political philosophy into the very theology
of ancient Heathenry. At the base of all of these enclosures was the individual. An individual was part of a mægd "a family"
and as an individual held certain responsibilities towards that family. He or she was expected to contribute to wergeld should
another family member commit a crime, avenge any fellow family members wronged, defend the family's enclosures from encroachment,
and generally contribute to the common good of the family. As an individual he or she possessed mæen, his or her own spiritual
energy, and a fetch inherited from some ancestor. Individuals determined their own Wyrd through their own actions, each action
resulting in an appropriate outcome according to a personal law that individual had laid down throughout his or her life time.
All of an individual's actions had to be in keeping with that which is good. That which is good was determined by the tribe
as a whole, and generally came down to "that which did not harm the tribe or one of its individuals," but actively contributed
to the tribe as a whole. The word good, which has cognates in every Germanic tongue, derives from Old English gód which in
turn derived from proto-Germanic *gad- "to unite, bring together." It is related to the word gather and referred to the collectiveness
of the family and tribe.
Individuals are rarely treated as being solely responsible for their deeds
in the ancient law codes. According to Bill Griffiths, "Compensation itself would be collectable and payable to a kin-group
rather than an individual, suggesting communal responsibility." In time, an individual's lord or guild would be held responsible
(notably after the Conversion when Heathen custom was dying), but in the earliest times it was the family or kindred that
was responsible for the individual's actions. The mægd was the institution that enforced the law for its members. Should a
mægd fail in preventing a member from committing a crime, it was then held responsible for making compensation to the victim's
family. If the mægd held that their family member was innocent, they could then take the matter to thing, or fight the ensuing
blood feud. Even should the culprit of the crime flee, the family was still responsible for half the victim's wergeld under
some Anglo-Saxon law codes.
A notable absence in the ancient law codes are laws dealing with crimes within
a kindred. These crimes were dealt with by the mægd itself without outside interference. This was because the mægd formed
a legal unit in and of its self. A glance at the Icelandic sagas will quickly reveal the strength of the family in this respect.
The strength of the family as a legal unit also extended into the spiritual realm. Just as the individual possesses a fetch,
the family possesses a kin-fetch called in Old Icelandic the kinfylgja, and as an individual possesses mægen, so too does
a mægd. Similarly the collective actions of a family comprised that family's wyrd. Families were the most important enclosure
within a tribe. While within Anglo-Saxon England there were Hundred courts, and Iceland, the Godords, that came between the
families and the tribal assembly itself, it was the family that wielded the most power.
While families were the principle enforcers of the law, they were not its
creators. In a metaphysical sense, every individual lays down law as personal wyrd, as does every family. But the laws that
governed individuals' behavior were generally decided upon by the tribe as a whole in various mæþels and things. The þéod
or tribe was the enclosure, the innangards. The law created by the þéod was customary in nature. The tribal assemblies did
not "make laws" so much as rule on how existing customs or traditions would apply to a given situation (for example the dispute
between two families over a boundary). The customs or traditions of a þéod were considered its wyrd, its doom, the actions
that as a collective whole the þéod had laid down in the Well of Wyrd. Kirsten Hastrup maintains that "In Iceland 'the social'
was coterminous with 'the law'...it was eloquently expressed in the notion of vr lög ('our law'). By logical inference 'the
wild'...was coterminous with 'non-law.'" This philosophy was expressed when the Heathens and Christians in Iceland declared
themselves ýr lögum "out of law" with each other at the Icelandic Althing of 1000 CE.18 Ancient Germanic law was not connected
to political boundaries as modern law is now, it was by tribal membership, by blood. That is, an ancient Jute would only be
tried under Jutish law, not by the law of the þéod he had committed his or her crime in. The tribe was the law, was that which
was good, was the innangard, and all outsidethe tribe was útangards for all practical purposes. The tribe as an innangard
served as "contained space" for deeds to be done. It is the sort of contained space Bauschatz is talking about in his book
the The Well and the Tree:
For the Germanic peoples, space as it is encountered and perceived in the
created worlds of men and other beings, exists, to any significant degree only as a location or container for the occurrence
of action...The container is action, whether of individual men, of men acting in consort or in opposition, of men and monsters,
or whatever. In all cases, immediate actions are discontinuous and separable deriving power and structure from the past.
These deeds done within the innangard of the tribe by its tribesmen are its
law, its orlay. A þéod is no different than a mægd or an individual in that it too lays down its own wyrd in the Well of Wyrd.
This wyrd or doom is the law of the tribe. Just as there are spiritual correspondences between the individual and the family,
so too are there between the tribe and the family. The tribal leader was seen as possessing the mægen of the tribe, and for
the tribe to remain successful, it had to obey its laws. Failure to do so would result in a loss of mægen. The Anglo-Saxon
Miercinga Ríce believes that our law, orlay, wyrd, and mægen operate on the very same principles. The same principles that
the ancient Heathens may have believed in.
Here we are brought back to the discussion of *wíh-. The tribe in ancient
times was the largest social enclosure of Mankind. In a sense, that which was *wíh-, was also outsideits realm, outsidethe
innangards of Mankind, tho not a part of the "wilds," the Útgard. Not all outsidethe realm of Man was thought threatening.
In sooth, much of what lies outsideMan's realm is helpful, esp. the Gods. Perhaps then we have struck upon the primary reason
for worship, to build a bridge between the enclosures of the gods and the enclosures of Man.