an overview by Gárman Lord
Amid the revival of retro-heathenry gaining momentum in the world today, one tradition in particular undoubtedly deserves more notice than it has gained to date. It is the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Théodish heathenry that sprang up independently in the mid-seventies in Northern New York. At about that same time, the troth known as Ásatrú, a revival of Norse-Icelandic heathenry, largely inspired by Steve McNallen, sprang up in the Western US. While both troths are based on pre-Christian Teutonic Heathen tradition and therefore have parallels and similarities in outward form, they sprang up with some important heuristic differences, independently of one another, and are unrelated, only coming years later to learn of each other’s existence.
In Théodish Belief, worship is given to the gods and goddesses that were known to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Many of these gods were also known to the Norse such as Wóden (ON: Óðinn), Fríg (ON: Frigg), Þunor (ON: Þórr), Fréo (ON: Freyja), Ing-Fréa (ON: Yng-Freyr), and Tíw (ON: Týr). Others, such as Nerthus, Éastre (Easter), and Hréþe might have only been known by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other Germanic tribes from the continent. In addition to the gods and goddess we also make offerings to other wights (beings) such as the elves (land spirits) and the elderen (ancestors).
An important feature of Théodish worship is that we make our béds (prayers) and gealdors (chants) to the gods in Old English, the language spoken by our ancient Anglo-Saxon forebears. Also, Théodsmen go to great lengths to authentically reconstruct the elder heathen rituals of the agricultural year. They do this because they believe that the gods, goddesses, elves, and elderen are truly worthy of being worshipped as they were once accustomed. Moreover, Théodsmen believe that the gods reward our work and offerings by bestowing their hál (luck) upon us.
Théodism is organized along traditional lines, based on what can be inferred from the remaining cultural corpus left us by the Anglo-Saxons, today of course known as the English. With us, a théod (tribe) or háliggyld (holy guild) is a more–or–less autonomous extended family of people who have banded together culturally and religiously under one rubric, led by a Théoden or Ealdorman, normally a couple recognized as their Lord and Lady. There are also Théodish “solitaries” who may not be associated with any particular Théod, and other groups or house-holds that are recognized as Théodish without themselves having yet attained to the dignity, for whatever reason, of being properly termed Théodsmen in their own right.
Over-arching all this, as presently organized, is an entity called the “Wínland Ríce” (pronounced ree-chuh). The “First Lord” of the Wínland Ríce is called the Cyning, meaning that he is the “sacral king” who ensures that the luck of the gods and goddesses is with the Ríce. It is also his business to be, in general, a friend to all Théods and Théodens and act whenever necessary as a “third party” in matters between and among them.
The Wínland Ríce is, essentially, a lawless society. Every Lord is held to be lord under his own rooftree and as far as the reach of his arm. All operates according to three great redes known as “The Three Wynns (Joys),” these being Wisdom, Wealthdeal (Generosity), and Worthmind (Personal Honor), and according to Thew (Customary Law), as interpreted ad-hoc by lore-speakers. The real binding that holds this all together is what we call the “Web of Oaths.” Everybody in Théodism gains his or her “civil rights” (called “the freedom of the Ríce”), either by being the sworn man of someone in a théod who already has the freedom of the Ríce, and to whom he becomes thane, or by means of swearing to the guildsmen of a háliggyld to which the Cyning is a member. All men are sworn men of their lords, and all lords are ultimately sworn to the Cyning of the Ríce; such is the weaving of the web of oaths.
The form that such oath-swearing takes is the traditional Anglo-Saxon one. In a théod, the man lays his head on his prospective lord’s knee and swears that he will love, serve, and follow him; love what he loves, hate what he hates, and never raise voice, hand, or weapon against him. The lord then swears that he will always love and keep the man, and advance him in his calling as ambitiously as he would his own career, then hands him his weapon. In a háliggyld a man pledges his oath to each of the guildsmen, the foremost of which will be the Cyning himself. Oath-rings are often used for this purpose.
In the Wínland Ríce, the lord whose arm reaches the farthest is Þórbeorht, the Ealdorblótere (Chief Priest) of the Ealdríce, which is based in Richmond, Virginia. This is the first and largest Théodish háliggyld. It has its own frith-yard and mead-hall and it is legally able to marry and bury its own. Moreover, it has its own publishing arm, Háliggyld Books (haliggyld.org) which produces not only new Théodish works but republishes Théodish classics as well. The Ealdríce has begun to foster other holy guilds, to include Æppeldor Friðstów (aeppeldor.home.blog) in Tasmania which is on its way to becoming a háliggyld in its own right. The Ealdríce has many friends far and wide and loves to hear from other heathen or interested parties. Their website is ealdrice.org. Moreover, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Minds, and Tumbler at @ealdrice.
First Published in Mountain Thunder, Issue #2: Autumnal Equinox 1991 under the title of “Theodism.”
Updated and Revised for republication in 2020 by Gárman Lord and Þórbeorht Ealdorblótere.