Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Enormously Limited Role of Outlawry in Modern Practice

Outlawry among heathens in Viking Age Iceland provided a way of dealing with serious troubemakers.  It provided a way for Icelandic society to remove those that "could not or would not abide by its rules."  "Once outlawed, a person could be killed with impunity, that is with no vengeance expected...."  There was lesser outlawry and full outlawry, both of which resulted in the outlaw losing all of his property.  Lesser outlawry involved a three year exile from Iceland, while full outlawry meant that you could receive no assistance in Iceland nor help leaving Iceland.  This was essentially a death sentence.  "Because of the seriousness of the penalty and because it often resulted from arbitrated settlement, an outlawry judgement required substantial consensus."  (Quotes are from pages 231 and 232 of <span class=" fbUnderline">Viking Age Iceland</span> by Jesse Byock.)

Outlawry was something imposed by an established legal body, acting under set laws and rules, regarding specific serious crimes.  It was not something imposed by a single family or group.  It was not imposed over minor conflicts or disappointments between people.  It was a measure put in place to put limits on and mitigate vengeance and blood feuds between individuals and their families.

This begs the question if Outlawry has a place in modern Heathenry, and in what circumstances and by what methods should Outlawry be applied?

At Thingvellir


Well, I'm a tribalist...and if a kindred wants to apply some form of limited "outlawry" on someone that has done some serious harm to them, then they can do what they want.  Obviously, this is more of a "shunning" or an official "driving them off" action by the kindred.  Since it is done by the kindred, it is often done at a kindred meeting rather than an actual Thing of any sort.  The person outlawed is rarely present at the meeting where this is done, and the action is taken unilaterally by the kindred in question.  For this reason, the effect of this sort of "kindred-Outlawry" is limited to the actions of that kindred and perhaps other kindreds they are aligned with toward the "outlaw."  Those outside the situation have very little ability to judge whether the action taken was done fairly, or was even necessary.  

I think the more accurate and appropriate terminolgy for such an action by an individual kindred would be a "shunning" or "declaring someone an enemy," rather than calling this "Outlawry."  It is not done at an established legal body involving parties outside of the conflict, and the action is normally done exclusively by those that believe they were injured, against the person they believe injured them.  And as such, the action taken by the kindred will be acknowledged by some, and not acknowledged by others...making it much more limited and less effective than true Outlawry.


The purpose of modern Things, usually on a regional basis, is to being a region of heathens together in some common goals and purposes, and move that region and all the participating kindreds forward. Toward this end, it is best if the time and attention of the Thing is focused on positive efforts.  Communication, collaboration, and a certain unity of purpose in the region.  

Small conflicts, disagreements, and issues between heathens and kindreds in that region, are best resolved between the adult parties concerned, and these resolutions work best when arrived at in private. If a mediator is needed, then one can be agreed to by both parties involved, and the matter resolved.  Most conflicts amoung Viking-Age heathens in Iceland were resolved in just this way.  Once a matter was taken to Thing, it fell outside the direct control of both parties involved in the conflict.  For this reason, there was a certain amount of pressure on both parties to negotiate and mediate the problem prior to Thing.  What was true then, works well today.

Of course, in modern Heathenry, if the matter cannot be resolved privately and without assistance, then the Chieftains, Godhi, and Elders of the Thing can be asked in private to help mediate the matter.  Even in these cases, it is best that the matter be mediated by a mediator appointed bythe Lawspeaker, and agreed to by both parties involved in the conflict.  If at all possible, the matter should still be handled privately.  Only in cases where mediation has completely failed, should a matter be brought to Thing.  And even then, if at all possible it should be decided by the participating Chieftains, Godhi, and Elders in private.   

 In all but the most serious crimes (as I describe in the "Real Modern Outlawry" section below), it is not the purpose of a modern Thing to solve everyone's little conflicts and issues. We're all adults, so we should be adults and figure out ways to handle your own problems without making it everyone's problem.

Near the Law Rock


We've all seen it.  A kindred "outlawing" someone who has caused them problems.  These are usually irritating people, who enjoy causing low level discord and chaos whereever they go. They do this mostly on-line, but they also attempt to do so between real people in their region, at gatherings and between gatherings.  They tell little lies, stir up trouble, and seek some level of importance by tearing down others.  They are troublemakers, but do these people need to be brought to Thing and officially outlawed?  

I would argue that there are several good reasons not to bother with actually outlawing them.  First, they would like nothing better! The idea of being the center of everyone's attention is usually exactly what they want, whether it is negative attention or positive attention, they don't really care. They would delight in the moment their name is announced at being called to Thing. They would grouse, and fume, and rant on-line and love every minute of it. Then at the heathen gathering where the Thing was being held, they would make the entire event all about them. And whether they are officially outlawed at Thing or not, they will not cease to be a problem. In our modern world, they can't truly be silenced. So, if "outlawed," they will live on in their joyous outlawry, continuing to stir up the trouble that got them in that position in the first place.

The real solution to people of this sort...the shit-disturbers and disruptive worthless folks, is simply to ignore them. It is amazing how over time, they eventually piss off and drive away everyone they come in contact with...and essentially become ostracized by their very own actions and negative reputation. Nothing is more painful to this sort of person, than to not be the center of attention.  But it is the natural and inevitable result of their worthlessness.  They either catch and clue and change their ways, or they become irrelevant all on their own.


Nope. People do not have a "right" to come to gatherings. At events Jotun's Bane Kindred hosts, if we choose to not allow someone to come to the event, then that is our choice. We do not make the decision lightly, and we only exclude the most disruptive of people who have proven themselves unable to exist in Grith with other heathens at a gathering. But that is our choice. We are host.  Excluding consistantly disruptive people is actually part of our job as host.  Outlawry is not required to keep dishonorable people from coming to one of our gatherings.

You will hear people insisting that unless a person is "formally outlawed" you must welcome them to your gathering. This is absolutely false.  Usually the people insisting this, are the disruptive people themselves...insisting that no matter how bad a guest they have been in the past, they have a "right" to attend an event.  They don't.

If the person in question is disruptive enough, eventually there will be 2 or 3 gatherings where they are not welcome. Eventually, by their very nature, these people will piss off enough people to not be welcome at any gatherings. They bring this Shame upon themselves, by their own hand and their own deeds. No outlawry is needed to make that happen.

At Thingvellir


One modern use of Outlawry, that can be enormously over-used and appear somewhat silly, is a kindred that outlaws everyone they get in a disagreement or a conflict with. Among our ancestors, outlawry was a big deal. A very big deal.  Outlawry was reserved for serious crimes that would spark vengeance of blood feuds.  Not simple conflicts and disagreements.

The point of outlawry is not to publicly humiliate every person who ever causes you problems. Life and interactions with other people is just full of problems, by its very nature. So, to some need to just chalk it up sometimes when you or your kindred has a problem with someone.  It is going to happen, and should never come as a surprise.  And earlier in the essay, we already covered how a unilateral "shunning" or declaring someone an enemy" by a kindred is not the same as Outlawing someone.

Then there is the dirty-laundry issues. People do not like hearing about your dirty laundry...and they find it ridiculous when people air their dirty laundry over issues that just don't rate as that important. So, someone owes you $20. No one cares to hear about it. So, someone called you a name at a Pubmoot once. No one cares to hear about it. So, someone wasn't a good fit for your kindred, and left on somewhat bad terms. No one cares to hear about it.  That is between you and the person in question.  And if our kindred wants to exclude them from your events and consider them an "enemy" of the kindred...then you certainly can do that.  But, making a big dramatic announcement about it is simply drama-inducing, divisive, and somewhat pointless.  It is a local and private issue.

Then there is the situation where a kindred or group seems to outlaw quite a few people. At some point, it lessens the impact of bothering to "outlaw" people. Moving a bit further down the line, it becomes suspicious that perhaps the kindred itself is the problem. If they seem to be getting in all these conflicts, and outlawing all these people, and making all these "outlawry" or "this person is our enemy" announcements...then maybe they are doing something wrong to be having all these problems and conflicts.

There is also the the misuse of "outlawry" that takes place, such as outlawing every ex-boyfriend of a female member of the kindred or group. At the point where 3 ex-boyfriends are outlawed, it sort of becomes clear that this is not "real" outlawry, but simply an attempt to get revenge on or humiliate guys when relationships don't work out.

At Thingvellir


Modern Outlawry works best, when it mirrors fairly closely the use and purpose of Outlawry among our ancestors. 

A modern example would be a child-molester that has committed a crime against a member of a heathen kindred. Real criminal charges should be brought of course. And upon conviction, it would be utterly and completely appropriate for that kindred to share this information publicly and widely to the rest of Greater Heathenry. Doing so, makes it very clear what was done, what was done about it, the conviction that took place, and it serves to warn and protect all other heathens that this shit-bag is a convicted child molester.  If the kindred has bonds with kindreds in their region or an actual regional Thing in place, then bringing this situation and the conviction to the attention of the other kindreds in the region or the Thing, would be completely appropriate.  In my view, this would be real Outlawry.

Another modern example would be if a kindred's Godhi, Chieftain, or Treasurer were to steal $10,000 from the kindred's bank accounts and skip town. I think criminal charges should be brought, and the matter resolved in court.  Then a similar announcement could made to the one I described in the child-molester example above.  The situation and conviction could be brought to other kindreds in the region or the Thing in that region.  This serves to let other kindreds know, that this person is not to be trusted around their Folk.  In my view, this would be real Outlawry.

There's a spectrum here, and there may be a place for Outlawry in lesser cases. It is very much a case by case issue, and it is not the purpose of this essay to set up a comprehensive system of law for the purposes of Outlawry.


Often, outlawry in Viking Age Iceland could lead to the death of the person outlawed, as in some cases they were basically made "free-game" to those who wanted to kill them. Obviously, we live in a different sort of world. We have a law of the land and an established legal system in our country, and it does not allow for the sorts of punishments that we see among our ancestors. 

So, outlawry within modern Heathenry is more of a warning to other heathens about a heathen that has committed a serious crime.  And in my opinion, it should be used only in cases involving the most serious crimes or threats against other heathens, and not as a public tool for humiliating or ostracizing people that individual kindreds have conflicts with.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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