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The Vices

Aug

23

The Vices

Náströnd (1895) by Lorenz Frølich.


  Every religion in the world has certain restrictions that generally serve in curbing wanton desires or malevolent tendencies. These taboos represent time-tested principles based upon human experience expressed through the folk-will. Ásatrú, our Teutonic heritage, developed this using common sense and practical thinking. There are no bizarre limitations dictating how we eat, how we talk, how we express ourselves, etc. In fact, these restrictions, as you will see, embody vices that anyone would easily recognize as undesirable. As stated, our eschatology— our beliefs in the afterlife— is retributive, with the powers of örlög reaching beyond the borders of life and death. This belief in punishing the damned was formed as a reflection of earthly ideals of justice. If the Thing of humans punishes nidings, naturally that of the gods would do the same. But, because the dead are immortal their suffering in payment of their crimes is greatly exaggerated and administered in accordance with each specific type of transgression. 

There are nine realms below Niflhel, in the land known as Náströnds, each containing places of punishment for certain sins. Below are the Nine Vices and tortures of the damned that accompany them, with references to the sources where these are mentioned. 

Murder: Serpents spew venom onto those who dishonorably kill another. Murder, to our ancestors, was defined as secret killing, assassination, which was different from that which occurred through blood-revenge, self-defense, or honorable combat. This pretty much still holds true today, even with blood-revenge, where we have given this power over to the hands of the state. (Sources: Völuspá 40, Sölarljód 64, Vafthrúdnismál 43).

Perjury: Serpents spew venom onto those who violate their oaths. The serpent motif is common in punishments in our lore. When Loki is bound by the gods, Skadi hangs a snake over his face to drop poison down on him, just like the other nidings. Archaeologists have found rings made in the images of serpents, which many believed were used as oath-rings, rings on which sacred oaths were made. The circular design probably represents the eternal bond one has to their promises, but the snakes obviously remind us of those in Niflhel who torment oath-breakers, making them symbols of justice. (Sources: Völuspá 40, Völundárkvida 6-8, Skáldskaparmál 4, Vafthrúdnismál 43, Sigrdrífumál 23).

Adultery: The waste venom spewed onto murderers and perjurers flows through troughs onto those who violate the sanctity of marriage vows. They are imprisoned within crates made of lead, forcing them to drown in the caustic fluid continuously. Our faith places much importance on vows, especially those between husband and wife. A goddess, Vár, is said specifically to listen to people's oaths and the agreements between men and women, and sees to it that those who break them are punished. In this capacity, she probably has some connection to the Helthing near Urd's well. In ancient Germania, adulterers, both seducers and the seduced, were severely disgraced. Women would have their hair cut off and would be beaten, naked, through the streets by their husbands. They were marked forever, never again to enjoy the company of men, for no man would have them. Men were worse off— they were buried alive! In comparing our sources, it is possible that this vice was originally more generalized as "debauchery", encompassing the degenerate sex acts that brought shame to those who committed them or brought harm to others. (Sources: Völuspá 40, Germania Ch. 12, Vafthrúdnismál 43, Hávamál 115, 131).

Sacrilege: Burning stones are fastened to the hands of those who blaspheme the gods, mock religious rites, or profane sacred grounds. In maintaining our relationship with our deities, we must not insult them or show them a lack of respect, as we would demand from them. Consider this— if our religion supports any belief in the sacredness of any being, place, or object, obviously the profaning of these would be prohibited. When the gods violated the sanctity of Valhalla with the slaying of a witch, Gullveig, a war between the two divine clans broke out with a demand that this act, committed by one of the Aesir, namely Thór, be avenged and recompensed. The demand came from the Vanir. Loki's nids include his disgraceful acts towards the gods and their sacred realm, leading him to his punishments in Niflhel. The idea of burning stones, in some sources sacred objects, fastened to the hands of the sacrilegious, probably has some relation to punishing grave-robbers, who desecrate these holy burial sites with their sacrilege and thievery. (Sources: Sölarljód 65, Historia Danica Book 8, Vafthrúdnismál 43, Lokasenna 63, Skírnismál 35).

Greed: The greedy have their hands fastened to burning objects of their desire, similar to blasphemers. This vice is the predominant trait of Jötuns, and is particularly loathed by the gods and goddesses. Ódin is known to have personally brought dishonor and shame upon those with an avaricious disposition, with his wife Frigga inciting him. One who cannot be generous or hospitable will have few friends, few who will aid them in any way, for, as has been stated repeatedly, relationships must be reciprocal. (Sources: Sólarljód 63 & 64, Historia Danica Book 8, Vafthrúdnismál 43).

Thievery: Bloody runes are risted on the breasts of thieves who carry heavy burdens of lead. The addition of this vice within our morality fully contradicts the idea that our ancestors were nothing more than marauding pirates out to take whatever they could get their hands on. In fact, some of the old stories portray an early "golden age" where treasures could be left out in the open without any threat of them being stolen. For the protection of any group of people, there has to be laws in place that will keep property in the hands of its owners, for without them nothing sacred may be held safely and securely. With their admiration for precious objects, valuable metals and holy artifacts, it should come as no surprise that the Teutons would view those who would steal them with disdain. (Sources: Sólarljód 61 & 63, Historia Danica Book 5 & 6, Skáldskaparmál 43, Vafthrúdnismál 43).

Treason: This could also be called treachery, and those who betray their kin or nation are hung up and constantly torn apart by wolves. You have to understand the importance of this on a national scale, even though it is rarely brought to our attention today. When an individual sells their people out to a foreign, hostile enemy they have practically committed a thousand murders. Their underhanded antics threaten the lives of everyone in their land— people who trusted them, who loved them, who raised them, who helped them. In some ancestral lands, traitors were burned to ash and their names purposely forgotten. In the same sense, to turn against one's friends or family is a shameful act, one that would lead many to distrust the one who betrayed them. We have a union with those in our lives, a union that should be respected and held sacred. (Sources: Historia Danica Book 8, Germania Ch. 12, Völuspá 29, Vafthrúdnismál 43).

Slander: Liars and those who utter falsehoods about others, in line with perjurers, wade through the river Vadgelmir in horrible pain. This river is made from the venom of the serpents, whose wattled backs form the hall in Náströnds. As they wade, "Hel's (Urd's) ravens" repeatedly pluck their eyes out of their heads, which we can presume grow back so they can continue this. In an honor-based society such as the one in early Northern Europe lying about someone was serious business. Known as "honor-robbers", they could bring about much harm to those they disgraced. As bad as it is to commit a crime, it is much worse to be accused of one you are innocent of by a garrulous tongue. The role of slanderer is one in which Loki is particularly vested in, possibly furthering the conclusion that Vadgelmir is the stream of venom, since he is punished by the poison of the serpent. The plucking of their eyes might simply be a practical idea— one cannot speak of that which they do not see. (Sources: 4, Sölarljód 67 [cp. Fjölsvinnsmál 46], Vafthrúdnismál 43).

Cruelty: Those who fail to show mercy are continuously feasted upon by the demons of Niflhel, and they are regenerated after every devouring. They are also said to suffer terribly on the paths to Urd's Thingstead even before they are even judged. The marks of torment upon them serve as evidence before the tribunal that they were especially vicious towards others, as does their lack of a hamingja to defend them, since she abandons such criminals. The ability to show mercy is the hallmark of nobility in the Teutonic paradigm, for it represents the characteristics inherent within the chivalrous nature of the Nordic warrior. (Sources: Völuspá 29, Hávamál 150, Visio Godeschalci [cp. Sölarljód 42], Historia Danica Book 8, Vafthrúdnismál 43, Gunnars Slagr 20, Sigrdrífumál 22).

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