Murder & Violence in pre-Christian Heathen Society

Updated: Jul 1

Were the so called "Scandianvian and Germanic Heathens" more brutal than other societies, all of which practiced violence in order to survive and gain wealth? While I cannot answer that question fully, what is clear, is that we live in a mis-information age that is even more encouraged by inaccurate information in entertainment and the world wide web. Today, people assume rape, murder, and pillaging go hand in hand with the historical "vikings." Recently, a new "Viking" film came out, and the subject is about murder and revenge killings. Susanne Nagel, in her doctorate thesis, Homicide and Suicide in the Viking Age, states, "I will argue that the people in the Viking Age society defined homicide after the deed was committed by the non-executing of specific actions. In contrast to the modern-day judicial situation where homicide is based on premeditation. Furthermore, I will conclude that suicide was seen as an alternative way out of unbearable life-situations, basically due to a less dogmatic belief-system and a higher value set on honour." In Heathenry, the eternal afterlife location is determined not by how a person lived, but how a person died. Therefore the kind of death determined if one went to Valhalla, Volkfangr, Ran, or Hel. Germanic/Scandinavian belief was that death was followed by a journey to some hall or realm. Life after death is also divided into two concepts, one where the deceased lives in his/her grave that stays in earth (middilgard) and one other example is Hel or even Valhalla. In the pre-christian Heathen culture, death did not destroy the soul, but only the life-spirit, that died with the physical body. And we must remember Christian bias in regards to Heathen writings. The Eddas and Sagas, were written down after Christianity was in effect. However, Icelandic books like Íslendingabók and Grágás do give us important facts about pre-Christian Icelandic society. Iceland was mainly inhabited by Norwegians between 870 AD and 940 AD. But we must remember, Íslendingabók and the Grágás still are written through the lens of a fully christian Icelandic society, which was fully christian by 1000 AD.

Disclaimer #1, I am absolutely against pre-meditated murder and violence. One of the reasons why I am writing this, is I am heartbroken that one of my son's closest friends was brutally murdered at the age of 19 very recently. This blog is in his memory. Murderers in my personal belief system are the lowest of the low in any society. Murder is unacceptable. Definition #1. Murder is defined as with malous forethought or pre-meditation. Even the Hebrew Bible's 10 commandments in Hebrew states "Do not Murder" and not "Do not Kill." To kill in battle or self defense is not murder in even a biblical sense. (The Hebrew for the command is "lo ratzach.")


Disclaimer #2 Monotheists and religious people more often than not associate religion with morality. I do this at times too, but the question is, should anyone? The Bible states those who practice sorcery should be put to death, and those of different sexualities should also be put to death. Murderers are to be stoned to death on the basis of 2 or 3 witnesses, with these witnesses throwing the first stones. Most christians I come across do not believe that sorcerers should be put to death, nor do they believe (anymore) that those who hold different sexualities should be put to death. Heathenry did not historically have commandments, but Judaism (the Old Testament) was about behavior, and even historical pre-christian Heathen society was about "honor." (Christianity is about belief/faith for salvation).


The National Library of Medicine has put out experimental evidence which suggests that people’s opinion of what God thinks is right and wrong tracks with what they believe is right and wrong, not the other way around. (To be clear, what people believe is right and wrong they attribute to their God or Gods.) Social psychologist Nicholas Epley and his colleagues surveyed religious believers about their moral beliefs and the moral beliefs of God. Not surprisingly, what people thought was right and wrong matched up pretty well with what they felt God’s morality was like. (Source: Paste this link in your browser https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19955414/ This same study concludes that genetics and the society/culture one lives in (which is greatly impacted by religion) also generally impacts a person's morals and ideas of the afterlife.


Punishments for Murder in Pre-Christian Scandianvia


The gragas state for murder: Full outlawry as the worst sentence. Outlawry means the loss of the right of immunity, all propery, and status. One had to live alone in the highlands of Iceland and survive, and they could be killed by any passer by as well. This meant almost certain death. If a person kills another person, the person must cover the body for protection against animals and afterwards publish the events within three days to the inhabitant of the first house nearest the killing location. The person as well must find witnesses that classify the wounds and they furthermore have to decide which of the wounds the deceased acquired was the one that killed. [Dennis, Foote, Perkins (1980), Grágás, 1]

GUÐRÚN, BOLLI AND KJARTAN FROM LAXDŒLA SAGA

There are many murders in the sagas, from a modern mindset, but I am chosing this event as my saga example. This event in the Laxdoela Saga, would be a murder in our modern mind. Insults, humiliation, and a slaying for revenge. Kjartan and Guðrún fall in love. But Kjartan goes off to war and is held captive for three years. Bolli married Guðrún, though Kjartan loved her, and courted her first. When Kjartan is released, there is hostility. This escalates into insults, and theft. Guðrún goads her brothers and her husband Bolli into attacking Kjartan for revenge. They slay Kjartan. In our modern world, Guðrún would have been charged as the planner of the murder, but pre-christian society finds her not guilty of anything, as she just goaded her husband and brothers into the murder. Guðrún's brothers recieved outlawry, but Bolli was exhonorated, even though he struck the blows that killed Kjartan. If murder is not dealt with at Heathen Thing, a family member of the one murdered can slay any family member of the murderer. Thing however, would order a wergeld (payment, large) to be made to atone for the death, or in the case of Bolli, decide on outlawry.


Are Germanic Heathens/ Scandianvian Heathens more "dangerous" today than the rest of the general public?


Information from the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Prisons, is that those who identify as Pagans make up 3 times more of the prison population than their equivalent percentage of the general public. Point 7 percent (or 7 out of every 1,000) people in the general public are "Pagans", while 2% (20 out of every 1,000 prison inmates) are "Pagans." Only Muslims and Native American Religions hold a worse ratio of "more in prison, less in the general public." In an email interview/discussion with a former Prison Supervising Counselor, Training Director, Special Agent Supervisor, and Intelligence Director (who wishes to remain nameless, I received this quote (below) in red. Nonetheless, this quote sheds some interesting light on the data the census bureau provided, and may even call it into at least some question:

Sadly, within prison, all inmates find religion when they are first incarcerated, as they diligently pray in an effort to barter or even wager their way out of circumstances. When one spiritual path does not provide relief, they explore others. Sometimes inmates sign up to attend a spiritual service simply to meet up with a friend or lover from a different cell house, or because when a program is scheduled offers an opportunity to change when they are out of cell, when they eat, or when they recreate. Many times religious schedules permit weaker inmates to avoid predators. Even more sad is the fact, criminal gangs within a correctional environment, take advantage of freedom of religion laws and available spiritual programs to conceal their illicit activities and hide beneath legal protections. They abuse attendance at religious programs to further their criminal acts and coordinate operations. Depending upon the level of supervision, there have been times when there are no true practitioners of a faith in actual attendance. They were all threatened away by the gangs who do not trust them not to "snitch," while they use the program to conduct business. A majority of the time, true "believers" are forced to worship as solitary practitioners within the confines of their own cells. Therefore, those who attend the programs and are identified on the rosters, are many times those taking advantage of the religious front to further commit criminal acts. Those who truly subscribe to a spiritual path are not identified nor accurately counted. I spent the better part of 14 years investigating gangs who had infiltrated spiritual programming. Mexican Mafia / Surenos controlled the Native American program, Asian drug gangs controlled the Buddhist program, Gangster Disciples controlled the Jewish program (so they could get away with wearing the Jewish Star of David as an emblem of their gang and religious protections prevented staff from responding as we needed to). And, as you correctly surmise, White Supremacists controlled the Asatru program. It did not take much during an interview to accurately identify who understood and was committed to a spiritual path and who was faking it. Staff assigned to supervise and monitor activities were primarily christian, so they could care less about the content of the program and could not distinguish when actions were not appropriate. Therefore, inmates could easily control a program and conduct the business they needed to with a simple charade someone such as yourself would immediately question.

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