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

The Role of Luck in the Recognition of Kindred Leadership

It might help in reading the essay I posted on the blog just previous to this one.  It is called "The Bare Basics on Luck."

To summarize, Luck is something that was very important to our ancestors. Its not "dumb luck" or "random luck," like it is viewed in today's modern culture.  For Heathens, Luck is something some people have a lot of and some people didn't.  Those that have a lot of Luck are almost always successful in everything they set their mind to. But Luck is earned. Luck comes from right-action, experience, hard-learned lessons, knowledge, wisdom, and especially hard work. The leader (whether it is the head of a family or the Chieftain of a tribe) holds and safeguards the Luck of his people.  Luck can also be lost or even squandered.  Poor decisions, inaction, or dishonorable deeds can all have a large negative impact on one's Luck, and thus affect a person's ability to succeed at future efforts.

Since our Heathen ancestors believed that their leaders held and safeguarded the Luck of his/her followers, men chose leaders that were seen as having Luck.  Obviously, if a man's decisions and actions are successful more often than not, then this is a man whose advice, support, and leadershp you would want.  The same is true today.  When choosing the leadership of your modern kindred or tribe, would you rather choose a successsful leaders or a unsuccessful leaders?  Would you rather choose leadership that makes good decisions most of the time or bad decisions most of the time?

Among our Heathen ancestors, when people looked to someone else for advice (rede), they looked to someone who was seen as having Luck.  A man with Luck, had the knowledge, experience, wisdom, insight, and the sort of contacts that allowed him to give rede that was immensely valuable.  When you asked a man for rede, some of his Luck was considered to go with this rede. If you were facing a big decision or problem, and you asked a man with Luck for rede...following that rede was seen as enormously likely to help you make the right decision or solve the problem successfully.  Common sense would dictate that this is true today as well.  When choosing someone to ask for advice, do you go to the man who has repeatedly succeeded or the man who seems to repeately fail?  Do you ask for marriage advice from a man who has been divorced three times?  Do you ask for advice about work-politics from a man who's been fired four times due to work politics?

So, as we talk of what qualities we look for in a Chieftain or a Godhi, one quality that cannot be ignored is Luck.  The leadership of a kindred helps to keep the kindred focused on its goals, helps build consensus within the kindred on important decisions, and at times of strife or serious problems, the leadership of the kindred must sometimes act quickly to solve problems and move the kindred beyond hardships.  Every member of a kindred is important for different reasons.  Each mmember has a crucial role in making that kindred who they are.  The role of kindred leadership, is one of holding and safeguarding the collective Luck of that kindred.  In order to do this, it is important that those considered for kindred leadership have Luck of their own.

When a 45 year old man divorced twice and estranged from his kids, who has started and run four different kindreds into the ground, and who never goes to heathen gatherings because because he was laid-off from work a year ago, and still has no job, and he's behind on his child support says he's a Chieftain of a new kindred (his fifth kindred, btw), it is just natural for us as heathens to see this as rather silly.  This man has made many wrong choices, his life is a hot mess, and he has no Luck...what good is his Rede or his Leadership? 

When a 17 year old boy with no kindred who has never read the Eddas or Sagas, never had a family, never had a career, never owned a home, and who lives in with his parents or in the basement of a friend's house, says he is a Godhi, it is just natural for us as heathens to see this as rather silly. This boy has no experience, little knowledge, and no Luck...what good is his Rede or his Leadership? 

When a 32 year old woman who spent 15 years as a Wiccan, and converted to heathenry a year ago, and who lost her children to the State, and who picks fights with every heathen she meets online, and who avoids heathen gatherings because people might find out what a mess she is, says she's a Gythia, then it is just natural for us as heathens to see this as rather silly.  This woman has no knowledge base, makes bad decisions, and has no Luck...and what good is her Rede or Leadership?

I've given somewhat ridiculous hypothetical examples on purpose.  First, I don't want anyone to mistakenly think I am describing them.  Second, sometimes exaggerating a bit helps make the point a little sharper.  One must consider the life, the Gefrain, the Honor, and most certainly the Luck of the man or woman that you accept rede from, or decide to recognize in a leadership role within your kindred.  Do they have experience and knowledge in the matters you need advice about? Have they succeeded at the very things you are asking advice about?  Do they make good decisions and do they have more successes in their life than failures? 

The positions of Chieftain or Godhi are given by the people who know and respect that man or woman who would serve in these roles.  Each time a man or woman trusts in the decision-making or guidance of their Chieftain, his/her position and "authority" is reaffirmed.  Each time a man or woman trusts the rede given to them by their Godhi, his/her position and "authority" as a Godhi is reaffirmed.  This is much different than the source of "authority" that exists in many other religions.  The people in leadership over our kindreds earn their authority, and their authority is bestowed on them by those that respect their decisions, guidance, and advice.  It is very much a reciprocal relationship.
Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Bare Basics on "Luck"

Sometimes we as heathens, use terms that not everyone understands.  Or terms that don't mean today, what they used to mean to our ancestors.  I received a message the other day from a new heathen, asking me to explain what I was talking about when I referred to "Luck."  And I thought I'd share that response here for anyone else that isn't familiar with how our ancestors viewed and defined the concept of "Luck." 

Luck is something that was very important to our ancestors. Its not "dumb luck" or "random luck," like we think of luck today.

Luck was something some people had and some people didn't. Those that had Luck were almost always successful in everything they set their mind to. But Luck was earned. Luck came from right-action, experience, hard-learned lessons, knowledge, wisdom, and especially hard work. The leader (whether it was the head of a family, the Chieftain of a tribe, or the King) held and safeguarded the Luck of his people.

Luck could also be lost.  Poor decisions, inaction, or dishonorable deeds could all have a large negative impact on one's Luck, and thus affect a person's ability to succeed on future efforts.

It is said that an army without its King, when facing an army led by a King, would often flee prior to the battle...because they knew they could not stand against the Luck of the man leading the other army.

Men would go to a leader, and ask for advice on an important matter. That advice (rede) was considered to contain some of the Luck of that leader.  His advice, if followed, was likely to lead to success because of that Luck. 

Men would go to a leader, and actually ask for Luck. He would give them (advice) rede and give them his Luck. They would then go to other men to recruit them to their cause, and say, "I come with the Luck of King so-and-so." And that held weight with our ancestors.  Because they understood the importance of Luck. 

For modern heathens, you'll see the one's who have Luck. They are stable, knowledgable, strong, and willing to work their ass off to make something happen. This combination of traits results in them having success, and this is Luck.

That Luck builds on itself. Success in and of itself brings more Luck, and makes the next effort even more likely to succeed. And a string of successes, builds such Luck that failure becomes very unlikely.

A disorganized kindred, that has no leadership (official or default in nature), no direction, no work ethic, no focus, no real Frith...natually has no Luck. And will succeed at very little.

But group working together, in a committed kindred, brings together collective Luck. That Luck is held and safeguarded by their leader, but it advances the entire kindred...and advances all the individuals in that kindred. A kindred with Luck, can accomplish almost anything they set their minds to.

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

Clearing Up Misconceptions New Heathens May Have

New Heathens almost always encounter other Heathens on-line first, prior to meeting actual Heathens face-to-face in real life. Based on the behavior of many of the Heathens you encounter on-line, it would be easy to falsely conclude that all heathens are angry, mean people who like to argue and belittle other people. One might mistakenly conclude that the biggest problem facing Heathenry are the "hoards and hoards of racist” people calling themselves Heathen. One might start to incorrectly believe that Heathernry can take place on the internet. One might falsely conclude that the Prose and Poetic Edda are basically the Heathen Bible. One might sadly conclude that there is only one-true-way within Heathenry, and we're debating and working hard to develop and define that one-true-way.

As easy as it would be to come to these conclusions, all of these conclusions would be essentially false.


Our Heathen ancestors put great important on their own families and their own local communities. But they held generosity and hospitality as important strengths of a man's character. A man who knew how to be a generous host, and how to treat his guests well, would earn himself great respect among his peers.

Modern Heathens focus on their families and their kindred, living in Frith and cooperation within their trusted Innangarth, or trusted inner circle. While focus closely on family, kindred, and friends, they also understand the importance of extending hospitality to heathens traveling through or visiting their local area or kindred.

A man's reputation, or Gefrain, is based on his deeds, how much he accomplishes, his generosity, his hospitality, and his honor. There is nothing about Asatru or Heathenry that encourages meaningless anger or pointless confrontations. But, on-line Heathenry is rife with keyboard cowboys that seem to delight in tearing other people down, name-calling, and being as confrontational as possible. This says much more about the nature of the internet and the nature of these people, than it has to do with Heathenry itself.


Heathens are proud of their history, their culture, and their ancestors. We feel that we share a connection with our ancestors by blood, by culture, and by Orlog, a part of the Heathen soul that is passed from parent to child. This pride is a positive pride, and does not involve hatred for other cultures or a need to tear other cultures down in favor of our own.

Some mistake this positive pride as somehow being “racist.” You'll find that most “Folkish” Heathens don't even use the word “Race,” in reference to their beliefs...because pride in one's ancestors is not about “Race.” This on-going “racist” debate and name-calling is decades old within Heathenry, and has gotten us no where. It is an enormous distraction from anything constructive and positive. It should be noted, that this “racist” debate, is almost exclusively something that takes place on-line. It is an internet phenomenon, and utterly pointless.

Racism is not specifically a Heathen problem. Racism is not the problem of any one particular group. There are Racists within every religion. Christian Racists. Muslim Racists. Jewish Racists. Hindu Racists. Even Wiccan Racists.

Jotun's Bane Kindred has been to scores of face-to-face heathen gatherings. The topic of “Race” or “Racism” never comes up at these gatherings, and is a complete non-issue within real Heathenry. It is only on-line that self-appointed “crusaders,” harp on this topic constantly. In so doing, they give the issue more time and attention that it deserves. Listening to these proverbial “Chicken Littles” on-line, one would think that Racism was a major problem within Heathenry...and that the sky is falling. I doubt they realize it, but their constant feeding and attention of this non-issue, gives this non-existent internet bogey-man a life of its own.

Rather than running about telling people what we aren't, we should be focusing our time on telling people who we are, and why. We should explain why we honor our ancestors, and how important they are to us. What few “racist” Heathens there are, cease to have any real impact when we ignore and shun them as a topic, and focus our time and energy on moving forward.


Real Heathenry is about community, gathering as a people, shaking a man or woman's hand, looking them in the eye, hearing their voice, telling stories, getting to know each other. Its letting your kids play together. Letting your spouses get to know each other. Its about laughing at dumb jokes, and telling stories from your life. Its about mingling Wyrd...and taking the measure of another person, and finding them of worth.

Real Heathenry is about actually DOING something. Reading, scholarship, communication, discussing various beliefs, and even debating approaches to our Folkway are important. But, we are our deeds. What have you done? What are you doing? What will you do?

Starting, growing, and maintaining kindreds is a way of bringing Heathenry home. You build close-knit bonds of Frith with other Heathens that then become part of your Innangarth, or trusted inner circle. Gathering with other Heathens and living in Frith with them, allows for collective Luck to be built, and for great things to be accomplished. Our children get to know and play with other Heathen children. And we establish Heathen communities that draw other members of our Folk home to their ancestral Folkway.

These things can only happen face-to-face. We should never mistake internet interactions and acquaintances as “real.” They are just pixels on a screen, and these pixels flicker out when the machine is unplugged.


The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda are both historical texts, written by men. Both texts were actually written down by Christian men. The Poetic Edda was an attempt by Christians to record in writing the old poetry of their oral storytelling culture. The Prose Edda was written by Snori Sturleson in order to preserve enough knowledge about Norse mythology and the meanings of poetic kennings, to preserve the poetry forms of the North. Heathens understand that these books are not “the word” of our Gods. 

We include the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda among our Lore, a collection of primary sources we look to for information about the religion, ways, and world-view of our ancestors. We also include among this Lore, the Icelandic Sagas, Beowulf, and other contemporary writings of the time. But none of these books are “scripture.”

But you will encounter Heathens that read the poetry recorded in the Poetic Edda as scripture. They will quote it, and interpret it as literal truth, without any critical thought as to how and when they were recorded, and by whom. They quote information in the Prose Edda, as if what Snori Sturleson wrote is exactly what all Heathens thorughout history believed of our Gods and Goddesses, and the Nine Worlds. Yes, information from both the Poetic and Prose Eddas is important and well worth considering. But both sources are the works of men, and not the works of our Gods.

Other religions have their Holy Books, which they proclaim are the direct “Word” of their god. But our Heathen ancestors did not have a written tradition, nor a holy book. And modern Heathens also do not have a holy book.


The ways of our Ancestors varied greatly from tribe to tribe, location to location, century to century, and even among various levels of society. The same situation exists today within modern Heathenry. There was no “one-true-way” among our ancestors and there is no “one-true-way among modern Heathens. We live in different regions, we have different backgrounds and upbringings, we have different life experiences, different personalities, different interests, and different ways of interpreting things we read and learn.

One of the great strengths of grassroots, local kindred-based, tribal heathenry is the understanding among various tribes that they can have unity of purpose and work together, without having unified beliefs or practices.

But, you will encounter Asatruars and Heathens who feel they are right, and everyone else is dreadfully wrong. Heathens who believe that the goal of the Reconstruction of our ancestral Folkway, is to rediscover the “one-true-way” of our ancestors. These Asatruars and Heathens debate angrily over details, denigrating and insulting all those that do things differently than they do, and they seem completely oblivious to the fact that the never was “one-true-way” of Heathenry.

When you look at the behavior of these elitists who insist there was one-true-way, and that they specifically are the ones that have found it, and that everyone else is wrong...does it not feel eerily familiar of the desert faiths, with their one-true-way?

Our ancestors did not act in this way, and I'm always amazed when people who claim to be the most well-read and learned among us, act in a way that is so contrary to how our ancestors would have approached their own ancestral Folkway.


The best way to clear up these internet-oriented misconceptions is to meet or gather with other heathens face-to-face.  If there is a kindred or tribe within traveling distance of where you live, arranged to visit them or attend one of their meetings.  If there is no kindred or tribe within traveling distance, do some research on Heathen Gatherings...and attend one.  There is nothing like meeting with or gathering with other heathens, to give you better insight into the reality of Heathenry...rather than what lurks in the internet shadows.

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Role and Responsibilities of a Modern Thyle

This essay was co-written by Craig Winkler and Mark Ludwig Stinson.

Many kindreds have designated a role of responsibility called the "Thyle" (pronounced "Thule.")  Craig Winkler is the Thyle for Jotun's Bane Kindred, and he co-wrote this essay with Mark Stinson.  Some of the concepts and ideas contained in this essay were outlined in a discussion held at the Midwest Thing in Minnesota (in 2010) involving Craig Winkler, Brody Derks, Mark Stinson, Rod Landreth, Gunnar Miller, and Dan B-E.

Craig Winkler declaring Grith at Lightning Across the Plains 2010

<span class=" fbUnderline">The Mead Hall</span> by Stephen Pollington is an excellent book to read regarding how Symbel's worked among our ancestors. On page 181 he writes, "While little is known for sure of the specific duties of the feast officers, and much of our information is taken from a handful of poems, the following appear to have been the usual participants at an early English symbel." He then goes on to to describe some of the positions of responsibility that existed in the Hall during Symbel.  One of these positions is the position of Thyle which he describes on page 188.

"The OE word thyle glosses Latin terms such as orator 'spokesman' and scurra 'satirist.'  There is some confusion surrounding the proper interpretation of the word, for which our only evidence is the behavior of Unferth the Thyle at Hrodgar's court in Beowulf.  In the 'courtroom' analogy of the hall, the Thyle appears as a kind of 'prosecutor' whose function is to query and question the applicant's credentials and motives, almost as a devil's adocate.  This probing of the evidence presented allows the leader to reach an informed decision about the course of action to be followed."


The modern Thyle serves in the role of protecting the Wyrd and Luck of his kindred and the assembled Folk during Symbel.  At the beginning of Symbel, he announces what is acceptable and unacceptable during Symbel, and ensures that everyone present is aware of the kindred's traditions and thew regarding the event.  Throughout the Symbel, he is watchful for disruptive or disrespectful behaviors, and quickly addresses and stops such behaviors when they occur.  The Thyle has the responsibility of ensuring that Grith is maintained during the Symbel.  During High Symbel or Symbels with a fair number of people in attendance, it is helpful to assign several Hall Wardens who assist the Thyle in this task, and the Thyle directs and guides these Hall Wardens in the completion of their duties on behalf of the Chieftain.  This allows the Chieftain, as Lord of the Hall, to focus on his guests and their good words spoken over the horn.

The Thyle also serves an important role in questioning and testing boasts made over the horn during Symbel.  Is the boast true and stated accurately?  If a boast seems a bit "off" or exaggerated, the Thyle will ask the person making the boast questions regarding the matter.  While the Chieftain, Valkyrie, or anyone in the Hall can ask questions ensuring the validity of a boast made over the horn, it is specifically the Thyle's role and responsibility to do so when the need arises.  If the Thyle is satisfied that a boast is true and accurate he will allow it, but a boast that continues to appear questionable after being probed and examined will not be allowed.

Craig, Rod, Mark, and Nathan on a Kindred Canoe Trip

When an oath is made over the horn, it is the Thyle's responsibility to closely examine the oath being made, ensuring that it is clear in its meaning and intent, and a worthy oath to be made over our horn.  Toward this end, he may ask questions or suggest alternative ways of wording the oath to ensure clarity in its meaning.  If an oath is deemed to be silly, worthless, or inappropriate, the Thyle will not allow the oath.  While the Chieftain, Valkyrie, or anyone in the Hall can raise objections or question an oath, it is specifically the Thyle's role and responsibility to safeguard against oaths unworthy of being spoken over the horn.

Every oath that is made, should include a Shyld (or obligation) that will be paid should the oath not be fulfilled.  This allows the person making the oath to retain some portion of their Honor should they fail in their oath.  And it protects the Luck of the kindred, in that the kindred can enforce the Shyld if an oath made over their horn is not completed.  It is specifically the role and responsibility of the Thyle to judge the Shyld offered for an oath, and to accept it or reject it as sufficient.  If the Shyld offered is insufficient or inappropriate, then the Thyle can suggest an alternative Shyld that he believes is more appropriate.  If the Thyle and the person making the oath cannot agree on a proper Shyld for the oath, then the oath is not allowed.

The Chieftain, Valkyrie, and Thyle work very closely together to ensure that the Symbel goes smoothly, that good words are spoken over the horn, and that the Wyrd and Luck of the kindred and those assembled are protected.  While they each have different areas of responsibility during Symbel, there is some overlap in their duties.  When an exceptionally problematic or sensitive situation arises, such as the removal of a participant for obnoxious intoxication, it is completely appropriate for the Symbel to be briefly paused, so that the Thyle can confer with the Chieftain and Valkyrie about the best way to handle the situation.  But, if the problem is clear and the is Thyle confident in how it should be handled, he can take whatever actions are necessary to protect Symbel and the Luck of the kindred and those assembled.


The modern Thyle's role outside of Symbel, mirrors closely his role within Symbel.  A kindred's Thyle should be someone for which the Chieftain has immense trust.  Trust that the Thyle understands how to act in a loyal and frithful manner.  Trust that the Thyle understands his position and is 100% dedicated to his responsibilities.  Trust that the Thyle knows and comprehends the ways and thew of the kindred, and is able to communicate and preserve that thew when necessary.  For this reason, the Thyle should be someone who has been in the kindred awhile, and has had time to get to know its history, its culture, and its ways.

The Thyle works closely with the Chieftain, warding the Luck of the tribe.  Since the Chieftain holds the Luck of the tribe, one responsibility of the Thyle is to shield the Chieftain from harm.  Shielding the Chieftain can be done in many ways. First and foremost, the Thyle acts as an advisor to the Chieftain.  A frankness and openness should exist between the Chieftain and Thyle, that allows the Thyle to be enormously direct in private when he feels the Chieftain is making an unwise decision or following a course of action that will damage the Luck of the tribe.   It is also appropriate for the Thyle to declare Grith at heathen gatherings, and then ensure that Grith is maintained by supervising whatever security has been put in place for the event.

Publicly, when something is happening that could embarass, undermine, or diminish the Chieftain in some way, it is the Thyle's responsibility to quickly prevent the damage that is about to occur.  This can be done with a simple distraction.  For instance raising a horn and making a toast, drawing all of the attention away from the negative situation.  If a guest is baiting the Chieftain into an argument, and it appears the Chieftain may lose his temper inappropriately, then the Thyle should diffuse the situation with a distraction or even a joke, or simply pull the Chieftain away for an "important matter" that does not actually exist.  Those Thyles that are skilled in reciting poetry or song, can also use these skills to draw attention away from or prevent a situation that could damage the Chieftain's Gefrain or Luck.

Brody Derks, Thyle of Volkshof Kindred and Craig Winkler, Thyle of Jotun's Bane Kindred

Assisting the Chieftain in warding the Luck of the tribe can take many forms.  Is a heathen gathering hosted by the kindred sufficiently planned and prepared for?  Is the kindred fully prepared for an Open Faining or Blot they are hosting?  Is there something negative about a potential new member to the kindred that the rests of the kindred seems to be overlooking?  Are the decisions being made by the Chieftain and the kindred consistant with the kindred's history, purposes, and thew?  Truly, the Thyle is expected to keep a close eye on things, and express concerns that may come up in an appropriate fashion most likely to lead to a successful resolution of the concerns.

A kindred's Thyle is the protector and keeper of the kindred's thew, customs, and traditions.  It is helpful for the Thyle to keep a book, wherein he records the history of the kindred, events that take place, decisions that are made, and problems that are encountered and solved.  This book can be somewhat general or enormously detailed, and that will probably depend on the personality of the kindred's Thyle.  But the Thyle's book, sometimes called a "Thew Book," can serve as the kindred's memory, or its lore.  Some Thyle's are skilled in verse or song, and can further fulfill this role within the kindred, by composing and performing poems or songs that preserve the history and memory of the kindred. 

As the keeper of the kindred's thew, the Thyle has a responsibility to educate potential or new members to the kindred regarding the kindred's thew, customs, traditions, history, and ways.  He can share this information through conversations, having them read from his book, or even holding classes.  This will vary depending on the needs of the kindred and the preferences of the Thyle.  A simple way to look at this though, is that the Godhi is responsible for the spiritual education and guidance of new members, while the Thyle is responsible for the thew education and guidance of new members.

It is important that the Thyle should record in his book the oaths, promises, and obligations made by kindred members and the Shyld they are required to pay should they fail in these commitments.  Individual failure in an oath by a kinded members, affects the entire kindred to some degree.  So, part of the Thyle's role is recording these oaths, and if necessary, prodding or reminding kindred members that seem to be falling short on an oath.  This should not be mistaken for "babysitting."  Each individual is responsible for their own oaths, and ensuring that they fully fulfill whatever commitment they have made.  But no one is perfect, and sometimes a firm reminder from the Thyle can turn failure into determined success.  Such is the power of the Thyle.

Craig in Symbel, raising Chieftain's Folly...

A successful Thyle needs to be a little thickskinned, firm, detail oriented, and able to interact well with other people.  It also helps if they have equal measures of wit and wisdom.  Every kindred will approach things a little differently, and some of these differences will be dictated by the personality and skills of the person who is recognized as their Thyle.  But, we wanted to share how JBK views this important role within our tribe.

Craig Fairhair Winkler & Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods