Tag Archives: Relationships

Ancestral Journeys: The Black Loyalists, Canada, and the Specter of Racism

Following the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 (Treaty of Paris) some 40,000+ British Loyalists withdrew from the newly formed United States of America to settle in various parts of the British Province of Quebec and the Colony of Nova Scotia.

Among their numbers were some 3,000 Afro-American Loyalists.

These settled primarily in Nova Scotia.

You might have heard of them within the context of the modern political narrative; of their unfair and/or inadequate treatment by the Crown; of the race riots that took place in Nova Scotia between the Loyalists; and of their subsequent petitioning of a rough third of those black Loyalists to the Crown for resettlement in some more hospitable climes. This petition was acknowledged and granted, resulting in the founding of Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa.

We hear much less of course of the stress, the hardships, the suffering and frustration, that all of the Loyalists were under those first couple of years; already disheartened (to say the least) at having come up on the losing side of the war. And thus being forced to abandon the lands of their birth and upbringing, along with most if not all of their worldly possessions. And then to be effectively dropped in the middle of the vast North American wilderness, to watch one’s loved ones go hungry when the promised rations did not come in, and then to meet with typical government ineptitude and inefficiency in the surveying and assigning of land.

Naturally, people were a little bit stressed. And so things got out a little out of hand. At least here and there.  And on an occasion or two. With both sub-groups of Loyalists giving and receiving their collective lumps.

These things can happen among men; who can afterwards be men about it.

See the source image

We also don’t hear too much today about how the 2,000 odd Afro-American Loyalists that remained in British North America fared after the departure of the fellows for Sierra Leone. You know, once order was brought to the chaos, foundation established, and folks settled into the patterns of their new lives and homelands. On this point the site blackloyalist.com states,

Economically, the Black Community’s position showed improvement within the decade. Many Blacks completed their indenture terms and more Blacks working as apprentices began to qualify for trades. By 1812, employers could not find enough Blacks to fill available work and wages rose accordingly. During the war of 1812, Blacks volunteered in militia and formed three separate Black Corps.

Now, as a descendant of the District of Mecklenburg Loyalists, I was a little taken aback by some of the complaints made, by people today I must assume, regarding the treatment of the black Loyalists. After all, we white Loyalists were also settled along ethnic and religious lines. We also starved the first few years. Some of us also left. We were also sent essential equipment that was entirely inadequate. In the case of some of us, receiving hatchets rather than proper axes as part of our initial supplies, with land needing clearing, cabins needing building, and winter quite literally coming. We also had to wait on surveys and deal with bungles, while the officers got better and more land. Some of us got lots (of land) that were basically useless. And we were also, particularly us Bay of Quinte folk, about as far as you could get outside of the established supply chain and still be considered part of it, ie. up two weeks (wilderness) travel, round trip.

We all had it hard.

But what really struck me from the quote above was the mention of trades, employers, and wages!

Seriously???

We didn’t have those things in 1812 Hastings county.

Maybe they had them in Kingston.

In fact, many of us fell into illiteracy for a generation or two, as we put our nose to the grind of simple survival and working toward the kind of prosperity that, in due time, ushers in things like trades, jobs, wages, and literacy. We bartered in labour with our neighbours and newcomers, and being so inconveniently situated in the supply chain, we were regularly low-balled by the merchants when we brought our produce to market; which is something I hear we made up for during the War of 1812.

But the point is that once we made it through the hard years, that were hard on all of us Loyalists, those that remained got our feet on the ground, settled and prospered.

While Afro-Americans are a rare sight in the historical records of the Bay of Quinte region (aka the District of Mecklenburg), they do appear here and there, and in much the same manner and capacity as most any other person in the region; being named in the censuses, being baptized, getting married, etc. As for Afro-American slaves, they simply were not a significant thing, as such, among us. It is said that Major Vanalstine brought some up with him after the war, but by 1793 the Act Against Slavery was passed in the second legislative assembly of Upper Canada, effectively Anglo-Canada, which prohibited the introduction of any more slaves into the colony, required that any existing offspring born to a slave woman be released upon reaching the age of 25 years, and even forbade voluntary submission to the state of slavery. And of course by 1834 the British parliament passed its Slavery Abolition Act which effectively brought an end to the institution within the British Empire.

And note here that slavery was a default institution found in all human societies; European, Asian, African, American, no matter. And it was the English that abolished it. Not the Coast Salish or Bantu peoples. Not the Jews or the Arabs or the Chinese. And for that matter, not the Greeks or the French or the Germans. Or even the Danes.

The English abolished slavery.

Everyone followed in our footsteps. Or in the case of the Arabs and of modern Africans themselves, they didn’t follow in our footsteps and slavery is still practiced in those regions today.

And I say this all with the grudging addition that the decision was inspired in no small part by Christian principles and long-standing Christian tradition; though we were hardly the only nation in the world to have been Christian at the time. Or Germanic for that matter!

And moreover, it came at monumental expense to us. And not simply in economic terms, but in pure flesh and blood human terms as well.

And from there, it was all downhill, with Canada’s Afro-American communities growing strong, stable, and self-sufficient, able to boast their own achievers and achievements, on through Confederation and into the 20th century. And this has left the authors of racial division having to stray off into immigration policy by this point  in order to build even the semblance of an argument for “Canadian racism” and all the word “racist” implies (or at least used to) to your average Anglo-Canadian of the 20th and 21st centuries.

While a 1911 declaration by Wilfred Laurier placed the immigration of any “negros” into the country on moratorium, this was largely because the Eastern Europeans, as a result of native climate, culture, and associated breeding, were deemed more fit to the task of developing the cold, windswept lands of the Canadian prairies. And of course within a decade a wave of “negro” immigration began to roll in from the Caribbeans all the same.

In fact, over the next 100 years to present, Canada has received over 800,000 black immigrants; with Jamaica and Haiti being its main sources, both overall and early on, and African countries coming more into vogue over the last few of decades.

Presently, less than 9% of the Afro-Canadian population is comprised of native Loyalists and other pioneering Afro-Americans of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

A full 91% of Canada’s Afro-Canadian population (1.2 million) is comprised of first or second generation immigrants; which will be the case for 50% of all Canadians by 2036 and, with the goal of hitting population 100 million by 2100, shall (ahem) “define” Canada by the end of the century.

Which brings us back around to the prevailing narrative that Canada is “racist to the core”.

Quite simply, while Canada is by no means perfect, as the prevailing political situation makes abundantly evident, the mere suggestion that it is racist, and specifically racist against black people, is entirely laughable and completely unfounded outside of isolated minutia and statistical games of smoke and mirrors. Not to diminish any tragedies any specific families or individuals might have actually suffer, or to turn a blind eye to honest statistics and/or specific incidences that should gives us all cause for concern, but the fact that horrible things happen in Canada, even for horrible reasons, is not evidence that Canada is thus a horrible country.

Over 800,000 black people did not chose to immigrate to Canada throughout its history to date because it is a horrible country that treats blacks poorly. Unless of course we are to assume that they were all incapable of making intelligent decisions? In fact, when compared to such black dominant, black policed, black ruled countries as Jamaica or Haiti, or even the “Rainbow Nation” itself (South Africa), a black person still enjoys more far more freedom from violence and oppression, along with a general higher standard of living and availability of opportunity here in Canada.

While I cannot find information on the homicide rate of Afro-Canadians in specific, it seems fair to assume that it is below the 4.22 (per 100,000) reported for First Nations women in 2017. Using that as our (admittedly questionable) number, this would still rank Canada as a statistically safer country to be black in than 33 out of the 54 odd countries that make up the vast continent of Africa. And of those 21 “safer” countries we find a motley assortment of predominantly Arab-Berber (ie. not black) North African countries, British ruled countries, happily small and homogeneous countries, and others that more than make up for their low homicide rates with state corruption and blatant violations of human rights.

Of the 18 African and Caribbean countries that Canada has actually drawn significant numbers (ie. 10,000+) of immigrants from, only four have lower homicide rates than the above number assumed for blacks in Canada, and they are themselves otherwise characterized by a dominant Arab-Berber demographic, and/or by wide-spread corruption and gross human rights violations. The other 14 range from somewhat more dangerous to much more dangerous, to the excessively more dangerous of Jamaica (murder rate 43.85 in 2018) and South Africa (murder rate 36.4 in 2018).

But speaking of Africa, remember those Loyalists that left British North America to found Freetown? Well, getting back to them and things we don’t hear too much about, we don’t hear too much about how they fared in their new African home. We hear virtually nothing for instance about how the black Loyalists were greeted upon arrival by lethal attacks from the indigenous (black) population of the region. But really, feel free to look into the history of Freetown yourself if you’re so inclined, and beyond citing its seemingly modest homicide rate of 1.71 in 2015, I’ll leave it at this quote from the site statecrime.org and its article Introducing State Crime in Sierra Leone,

…long before the conflict (civil war), Sierra Leone had a history of corrupt regimes, the violent suppression of civil society, and state sponsored theft of national resources… Since the end of the conflict Sierra Leone has been regularly highlighted for acute levels of poverty and high rates of corruption. With a high infant mortality rate, a low life expectancy, and overwhelming unemployment, only in 2009 was Sierra Leone elevated from the bottom of the Human Development Index… according to the World Bank governance indicators, unemployment is increasing, while control of corruption and government effectiveness have been steadily decreasing since 2003. This is despite the creation of an Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) that is tasked with monitoring and stamping out corruption… in recent years there has been an alarming trend towards ethnic based violence.

So, while Canada cannot be said to be without racism, because no country can, a few things are clearly in view for the astute (and not so astute) observer to plainly see. First and foremost, that far from being racist against blacks, Canada is, by any holistic standard, one of the best places in the world for a black man, and especially a black woman, to live. And two, that if significant racism does exist in Canada, most poignantly of the state endorsed variety, it exists against both First Nations and Founding Nations; the former of whom are due to be dealt with separately as the unique case they are, and latter of whom are experiencing it straight across the West, within their own ethnic homelands, and in direct contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UNRIP conveniently redefines the word indigenous to purposefully exclude ethnic Europeans in Europe. And this despite the fact that even the Anglo-Saxons for example have been in the British Isles for considerably longer than,say, the Thule-Inuit have been in the Canadian arctic, while the Normans have been in the British Isles themselves for considerably longer than the Bantu have been in South Africa. And finally, it is obvious that if racism is Canada’s biggest problem, then there are clearly exponentially bigger problems a country can have than “racism”.

Such as “whatever it is” that results in a homicide rate of 30+ for example or leads the world in child rape!

Not to in any way imply, as I trust is evident from my various blog entries here, any kind of blind faith in the state. Including the state of Canada. As a 21st century man of Anglo-Nordic heritage I don’t need to be told, by any one, about the dangers of an overweening and self-entitled state; much less by those marching in full goosestep to the beat of the prevailing doctrine of the (globalist) state. Our history as Anglo-Nordic peoples with the state goes way back. And even in the earliest of preChristian times a delicate balance of power existed between our proto-state/s and the folk; in which authority led more by respect born from example and less by command/power; in which the folk sat down at assembly armed; where, outside of the most extreme of crimes, the law was largely civil and fine-based; and where in the words of Tacitus, “good habits are (here) more effectual than good laws elsewhere“.

There is of course no wishing the “wolf of the state” out of existence. That genie has long since been let out of the bottle, and there is a world full of competing states, along with a host of wouldbe warlords, all mouths agape, that would promptly step in to fill any power vacuum left by its absence.  And indeed the wolf of the state is not without its objective virtues; even if they have generally tended to come via serendipity, required a heck of a lot of work and foresight, and violence and hardship, to beat into an moderately acceptable shape, and always carries with it a host of inherent dangers and evils that must constantly be watched and held to account lest it over-step its bounds and begin devouring its charges and contravening its very reason to exist.

We Anglo-Nordic folk are no strangers to historical injustices perpetuated against us by the state, and particularly by the elitist imperial/colonial/globalist state, from whose standpoint we Celto-Germanic peoples were among the first in a very long and very ethno-culturally diverse line/web of “savages” who “needed” to be civilized by any means necessary.

No, no.

I’m a pro-gun, small state, honest celebrant of true diversity kinda guy.  With an inherent, but nevertheless healthy mistrust of the state; so necessary to capitalize, in human currency, on the state’s functional value in the face of the greater world.

The abuse of power, the excessive use of force by the state on its citizens is everyones concern. The seriousness and ramifications of such affronts are done a grave disservice in the racialization of the issue, in which the BLM rhetoric regarding “standing as allies” against it involves, as requisite, that one condemn not only themselves, but their ancestors, and even their new born children as over-privileged, hate filled racists. And, well, that isn’t going to happen. And personally, that is the exact opposite direction that the current of my life has been carrying me, and the exact same direction the current of history has been carrying my folk (and yours) along in for almost 1400 years now.  And that kind of divisiveness from BLM and its ilk, in the face of such a serious and all-inclusive affront, is exactly what the wouldbe tyrant ordered.

If these types truly cared one wit about black lives, they wouldn’t be preaching to the converted about the value of life, muchless making mass generalizations based on skin tone. They would be carrying their message and directing their resources to where they are truly necessary; namely, the black populations of such places as Toronto, Chicago, and South Africa, as well as the snake-oil politicians, entertainment moguls, and social justice fanatics that promote thug-culture, attribute the characteristics of success and failure to skin colour, and sow the seeds of hatred and division both within racial groups and among we, the people.

“A king’s son… an uppity thrall… none should be so trusting as to trust in these.”

— the Havamal

Indigenous belief, Christianity and Ancestor Worship

An interesting question was asked over the chat in yesterdays Mimir’s Brunnr; How do you reconcile indigenous ancestor worship with generations of Christian ancestors?

I’d like to say the question baffles me. As much as the Christian denunciation of Heathenry as our ancestral faith because, “your ancestors were all Christian!”.

I’d like to say it baffles me, the sheer narrow minded, intellectualized and artificial nature of both the question and denunciation, but if I did it would only be by virtue of hindsight. Indeed, it is something I continue to wrestle with even today, for all that Wyrd has already taken care of all this for us.

I mean, we might have a problem with it, ie. Christianity, but there we have have, not only in the last, what, 50 generations or so of our ancestry, but outward and surrounding us in the present-tense, among our family, friends, and community.

We either have Christianity surrounding us among our folk, or we have the product/s of our culturo-historical experience with Christianity; of which we people of Anglo-Nordic belief are ourselves one example of.

Whether you can reconcile it in your mind or not, well, like “horns and horses” or “goats and thunder”, THERE IT IS. All of a piece in the heritage set at the foot of your cradle.

Something that I spotted out fairly early on as a Heathen was a tendency, perhaps subconscious as was the case with me, but a tendency nevertheless to imagine that the adoption of different gods somehow made us an entirely different form of man from our generations of Christian ancestors. And it only takes a sideways glance at 50 mph to see, historically, where this emphasis on ideological differences comes from. Who was it, historically, that imagined their ancestors were a completely different form of man? Such that they called them soulless, godless, lawless savages, and (ahem) “refused” to even bury their dead in the same graveyards as their ancestors?

So, while there is an ideological division there, certainly worthy of our thought and consideration, it was not born of our “folk-soul”. And it should never be allowed to define our folk-soul, which would, by its very nature, attempt to define our folk-soul out of existence.

And certainly, while I am none too sure about your own ancestors, mine weren’t exactly the “Church Fathers” demanding, under threat of law, that my ancestors bury their dead, not in native graveyards, but in Christian graveyards. My ancestors, Christian though they many have thought themselves, if only by virtue of there having been no other viable option at the time, lived under the yoke of the Church Fathers; where they never felt quite so comfortable as the Church Fathers told them they should, and so ultimately landed us where we, as people of Anglo-Nordic belief, are today, ie. not under the yoke of the Church Fathers.

Certainly, I don’t doubt that I have my ancestors, some of them quite immediate, who might conceivably have been quite mortified at my rejection of Christianity. But then, my maternal grandfather was a church-goer, not a “holy-roller”, but a man who behaved as though he had an obligation to get out there with the community every Sunday and spend some time thinking about God. He also use to tell me that “the Old Man is cracking his whip again!” when a thunderstorm was rolling in, bought me the first book I ever found on the runes (Tony Willis’ Runic Workbook lol), and seemed interested in my initial writings on Anglo-Nordic belief — “you’ve got some pretty deep thoughts there!” — while he was out here on Vancouver Island visiting just prior to coming down with cancer, et al.

When I call upon my ancestors and make offerings to them, I call upon them all. And much like the living, there might be some who want nothing of it. That is their choice, for them to make. Enjoy sheol, I guess? But on my end, as a person of Anglo-Nordic belief, it is offered to all, in thanks and remembrance of all … be they Anglo-Nordic of any kind or otherwise (eg. Christian, Slavic, Mi’kmaq).

The wheel keeps on rolling. As ever.

After Death: Certitude or Mystery?

skeleton

The importance of the remains of the dead, their treatment, their burial, the tending of graves and honouring of one’s dead kinsfolk and heroes. It was an important aspect of the elder Germanic beliefs; with enough parallels in both the beliefs of their fellow Indo-European cultures and the associated archaeological record, to nail it down as a very ancient, very significant, and very enduring thing.

But was Hell simply the grave and grave mound? Was the soul truly and irrevocably bound to it’s remains? Was there in fact no Germanic “afterworld”, beyond life in the grave-mound, as more than one well informed person has proposed? And indeed if the remains of one’s ancestors were lost and/or forgotten so to were their souls to the kindred?

Well, I like this perspective. It’s something that began to dawn on me a couple of decades ago after reading Gronbech’s “Culture of the Teutons”; in which he drew a parallel between the cosmology of the Eddas and the physical realities of a tribe’s surroundings. And there is a lot in elder Germanic lore that certainly points in this direction.

However, while this understanding is a very good foundation — rightly shifting our attention, energy and emphasis away from the otherworld and on to this world, away from the goldstar we will get in some otherworld and on to the legacy we leave for the benefit of our community and descendants that remain in this world after we have departed, ie. world accepting — it nevertheless presents certain inconsistencies with other aspects of both Germanic and Indo-European lore; which, from subtle indications of language and elder figures of speech to ship-burials are suggestive of both a journey, and hence a destination, following death … undertaken from within the gravemound it would “certainly seem”.

For all of that, I still find that the Eddas, paint too detailed and too certain of a picture about such things. Who knows what lies ahead in that great journey taken after death? The dead … of which none of us are at this moment. As with the nature of the Tivar, I tend to dislike sharp and certain definitions of things a person doesn’t really know anything more-or-less about than anyone else. Certainly we have a sense of “life after death” … a sense that is of course the strongest in the presence of the bones of our ancestors, but if the ancient Greeks are any testament, a mound is a mound is a mound, each as the other a gate to Hades apparently, whether or not their ancestors or heroes were actually buried in “that” particular mound or worshiped at many different mounds in different localities. But no, certitude was never a promise or pretense of elder Germanicism, which was always happy to own it’s sense of things while happily letting those things be whatever they actually are apart from their sense of them. As can be gleaned in the following passage from Bede’s History of the English Nation, the elder culture knew how to honour to *mystery*,

“The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry weather. But after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short while. But of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

And in the poem Beowulf as it pertains to the death, funeral and otherworldly fate of Scyld Sceafing,

“Men do not know
truth be told, neither counselors
nor heroes under heaven, who unshipped that cargo.”

And in Book I of the Gesta Danorum,

“she drew him with her underground, and vanished… <snip> … purposed that he should pay a visit in the flesh to the regions whither he must go when he died. So they first pierced through a certain dark misty cloud, and then advancing along a path that was worn away with long thoroughfaring… <snip> … Going further, they came on a swift and tumbling river of leaden waters, whirling down on its rapid current divers sorts of missiles, and likewise made passable by a bridge… <snip> … Then a wall hard to approach and to climb blocked their further advance. The woman tried to leap it, but in vain, being unable to do so even with her slender wrinkled body; then she wrung off the head of a cock which she chanced to be taking down with her, and flung it beyond the barrier of the walls; and forthwith the bird came to life again, and testified by a loud crow to recovery of its breathing.

Did our ancestors believe in life after death? Certainly. But certitude about such things as no man can be certain about is not a selling point of the elder beliefs. As ever, truth is more about questions and less about answers. Beware the man who is certain about things no man could possibly be … for within him grow the seeds of evil.

Our Story

Indigenous Germanic belief was never so sharply compartmentalized a thing as we think of today when we think of religion. Certainly, our ancestors had their notions of what might properly be thought of as religious … those things “set apart” in dedication to the gods and their worship, and which were mostly the preoccupation of the tribal priests and/or head of household … but those beliefs impacted all other aspects of their culture. Language, poetry, mead, farming practices, battle formations, social institutions, tribal land masses, etc. were all ascribed sacral origins by our ancestors. There was no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather a “trichotomy” of the sacred (wih), the blessed community (holy), and everything else outside of that (unholy, ie. not whole, not integral to the community).

While, in the past, Christianity came to replace the theological aspects of our indigenous beliefs, it did not mark the end of our beliefs from a properly heathen point of view. Ideology does not define our folk in the same way as it does universalists. The conversion was not the end of our story. Our languages continued, our folk cultures continued, our cultural perceptions and biases continued … not only to BE impressed, but to IMPRESS itself upon Christianity … and our blood continued.

Our story has continued, as ever, to grow and evolve in accordance with our historical experience … in accordance with our native notion of law, of precedent. Our Christianized ancestors of yore, for better and for worse (but mostly for worse), laid down a new precedent … and we have laid down other precedents since … the Eddic “laying of layers” … that have enabled us “heathens” to arise again and lay down a new precedent of our own, which is itself an old one … that recognizes our sacral origins as a people and the value of who we are. But it is all our story as the offspring of NW Europe. There is no Christian history or Heathen history. There is only European history, Germanic history. Our story.

The Germanic Hell

Much as with the word Heaven, there is really no need qualify the word Hell with “Germanic” as Hell is a Germanic word … no matter how many L’s you throw in it. As with Heaven, it would be more technically correct to speak of the “Christian Hell”; which itself is properly known as Sheol or Gehenna. Biblically speaking, Sheol is simply the grave, where the dead await the Resurrection and Final Judgement of the Biblical God, while Gehenna (named after an old Jewish garbage dump) is the more familiar “lake of fire” that those who don’t make the cut will be incinerated in and which we commonly association with the “eternal torment of Hell”. There really is no “otherwordly” afterlife within Biblical Christianity, only the “promise” of the Resurrection and Judgement Day, and then the recreation of an earthly Eden which shall follow in its wake.

7. If any one, in accordance with pagan rites, shall have caused the body of a dead man to be burned and shall have reduced his bones to ashes, let him be punished capitally.” (Charlemagne, Capitulary for Saxony)

Hence the Christian contempt for the practice of cremation; which was seen to deprive the Biblical God of his/those in Sheol of their rightful judgement.

As we have it, the word Hell stems from the Old English word Hell (Hel, Helle) and has cognates in all of the Germanic languages from Gothic to Old Norse, all of which stem from a common Proto-Germanic root *haljo, which itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *kel(2), meaning “to cover, conceal”. On its most concrete level it refers, like Sheol, to the grave, and on a more abstract to the “underworld of the dead” as portrayed quite explicitly (ie. as Hell) in the Norse-Icelandic Eddas and implicitly in the sagas of the same folk (eg. Helgafell) . To those of our ancestors who gave us the word Hell it was simply “the place where the dead go”, both literally and figuratively, ie. under the earth, and more akin to the Greek concept of Hades then any of our received Christo-Germanic notions.

Of course, when an outsider asks about the “Germanic Hell” they’re not really asking about the Germanic Hell at all. What they’re really asking about is the, ahem, “Christian Hell” and if there is a place like it in native Germanic belief? And the answer of course — given the degree that native Germanic culturo-religious sensibilities have shaped popular Christianity in the West — is yes. Naturally. And our most glaring evidence of this comes from the Eddas themselves, which speak of Niflhel and the grim hall that sits upon Nastrond (the Shore of Corpses),

38. A hall I saw, | far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands, | and the doors face north,
Venom drops | through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls | do serpents wind.

39. I saw there wading | through rivers wild
Treacherous men | and murderers too,
And workers of ill | with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked | the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men; | would you know yet more? (trans. Henry A. Bellows)

While some like to pass bits like this off as “Christian influence”, similar beliefs can be found throughout the Indo-European world such as in Naraka of Hindu belief and Tartarus of Greek belief; in both cases standing “far from the sun” and places were the wicked are punished. Furthermore, it is a curious fact that in both Old English and Old High German Catholic poetry we find Gehenna being glossed as Wyrmsele (Hall of Serpents) and Wyrmgarten (Yard of Serpents), respectively. As there is nothing in Biblical Christianity that might fuel such a conception of an otherworldly realm of punishment, the “hall of serpents” motif can only reflect one that is inherently Germanic in nature.

Looking at early Germanic culture itself we see an earthly paradigm in Germanic legal customs and the practices of the Thing; where most crimes could be paid for, literally, via fine, but under which some crimes were, naturally, deemed so wicked that they were handled by “the priest-king”. According to Tacitus,

..they may not execute, they may not imprison, they may not even flog a criminal; those are the obligations of the priests alone, who do so not as a form of military punishment nor at the general’s bidding, but in accordance with the will of the god that accompanies them to the field of battle.

The same can be seen in the judgement of the missionary Willibrord by the Frisi-King, Radbod, for said missionaries acts of sacrilege on Fositesland. As per Tacitus’ statement regarding capital offense, the judgement was not rendered based on the will of the king, but rather on the casting of lots, ie. the will of the gods. So, as to the notion of “divine judgement” in and of itself in Germanic belief, it is evident enough within the context and actual practices of the Thing. As for punishment, while I personally dislike the notion of active and prolonged punishment — in-keeping with the general legal customs of the Thing, ie. fines — what follows must be acknowledged as what follows. The North Germanic Loki for example didn’t just happen to slip and fall into his bindings in the underworld. He was put there. By the gods. For all that one might argue that, in terms of the concrete practices of actual mortals, we are obliged to ask permission of the gods, legally speaking, in executing our fellow tribes men. But here we carry out the actual punishment, be it execution, imprisonment or flogging.

As for an abode of punishment, I once again refer to Tacitus’ comments on the fate of capital offenders,

Penalties are distinguished according to the offence. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the coward, the unwarlike, the man stained with abominable vices, is plunged into the mire of the morass with a hurdle put over him. This distinction in punishment means that crime, they think, ought, in being punished, to be exposed, while infamy ought to be buried out of sight.

The distinction is pertinent and immediately calls to mind the distinction the ancestors drew between a man-killing and a murder; the latter of which was a far more serious offense and defined as a secret killing, ie. that went unclaimed by the offender. It is also reminiscent of  Jacob Grimm’s assertion in his Teutonic Mythology  that, “it is said of fortunate men, that God saw them, and of unfortunate, that God forgot them“, and the duality of glory/obscurity as expressed in Germanic heroic poetry. And of course this aligns with what the Eddas tell of the realm of the shameful dead as standing “far from the sight of the sun” and existing within the aforementioned Niflhel; itself meaning dark, misty, obscure (nifl-) Hell.

So, we might well say that the bog — or even more poignantly the snake pit, ie. Ragnar Lodbrok — is the concrete reality that the mythical abstraction of “Wyrmsele” is based upon. And that the fate of the shameful capital offender in this world was a reflection of their fate in the after death; even as the “name undying” was a reflection of one’s fate in the after death.

All of this brings me around to my personal beliefs regarding the shameful dead; which, as noted above, do not hinge on any kind of active punishment at all and is more inline with the practices of shunning and moreso, full outlawry. It has often been noted that, among the Indo-European peoples in general, and the Germanic peoples in specific, wretchedness, to be left alone and without a tribe or people, was commonly  regarded as being the worst fate that could befall a man. The pains of wretchedness are laid bare in such painfully eloquent Old English poems as the Wanderer. To be forbidden entrance to the halls of the gods, denied a place even in the halls of one’s own ancestors, and to be left alone at the mercy of the “otherworldly wilds”, to wander wretched and assailed, without respite, until the last vestiges of your humanity is shed and the stuff of one’s soul biodegrades back into the nothingness of Ginnungagap that it, ultimately, issued from … such to my thinking is the fate of shameful dead. No one punishes them per say. They simply lose faith in them and so turn their backs on them. And what follows follows.

I’ll tie this up with a pertinent poem I wrote back in the 90’s,

Oft flies the eagle / beyond the udal of men
seeking those sights / unseen by sons of Ing.
Tired he takes rest / atop a steadfast tree,
Then sails on, skyward, / continues his search.

Hwaet! There is a frozen plain / no joy to be found.
The wind is lonesome, / it wails in wrath,
Stirring up wights, / armed well, and wicked
Who fling into flesh / their fiery spears.

Above, soot-grey clouds / grim the skies greatness
And yonder loom dark peaks / dreadful to behold.
No tirfast sun, here, / shall ever be seen.
No home nor hearth / shall warm your heart.

Here wander the souls / worthless and withering,
Forgotten by men / forgotten by gods.
The wulf in this wasteland / nothing weens
Save evil will / save stagnant wyrd.