Arch-Heathen ConceptsHeathenry 201Reconstruction

Sin, Thew, and the Bones of Innangeard

Does sin have a place in Heathenry? For newer Heathens, surrounded by false information that strips Heathenry of meaning and overwhelmed by books penned by authors with no interest in the truth, the answer may seem to be ‘no’. Due in no small part to a disturbing trend focused on solitary practice and rooted in new age mysticism, one of the most common misconceptions held by Heathens is that they believe they have left behind the world of such archaic concepts. They would, perhaps, be dismayed to learn that while the Heathen approach to sin differs, the fundamental aspects remain the same. To sin is to transgress against divine law, compliance with which is vital to the foundation of a healthy and long lived tribe. It is only when a tribe begins to fully grasp the sacred elements present in the roots of their innangearde and what they mean, that a beneficial relationship with the divine can be forged.

The structure and order of tribe resonate deeply with divine implications. As fences are built and the chaos of the wilds is put to rights, so the tribe moves in harmony with the original ordering of the cosmos. The construction of the innangeard is a simulacrum of the methods in which the sacred separates itself from the profane. Insodoing, the tribe has modeled itself after the divine. Within the fence exists order. Without exists chaos. [1]

As order is established, the anatomy of tribe begins to develop. The customs begin to ossify into the bones of tribal laws that will allow those dwelling inside to continue forward on a harmonious path. With every issue that arises and every problem encountered, a law will be created to address and deal with it. In a good and upright tribe, these bones will reflect the structure and pattern of the unrelenting nature of the primal law – orlæg. Insodoing, the tribe is imbuing these bones, these laws, with a sacred element that puts them in concord with divinity.

With the development of these laws comes thew, the sinew that allows the tribe to live in peace with their laws without breaking upon them. Thew is the custom that flexes so that the body of the tribe does not shatter against the ever forward rushing nature of orlæg, managing the law in such a way that the order remains; though it is important to note that while thew insinuates itself into laws it is not, in itself, law.

When law and thew take form, the undeniable existence of sin and right, good and evil, make themselves apparent. If good and right are what benefits the tribe and allows them to thrive, then it must be that sin and evil are that which damages the tribe and disrupts adherence to tribal and primal law, violating order. Sin and evil can be viewed as a disregard of the innangearde in favor of the utangearde – running toward the fence to join the wilds. [2]

Delving deeper, several telling aspects of the nature of sin begin to reveal themselves, the most important being that if right is that which follows tribal law, then sin in itself is a tribal affair. Innangearde can sin only against itself; by very definition it would be impossible for the innangearde to sin against the wilds as the wilds have no laws. Utangearde can, however, sin against the ordered fences of tribe.

The occurrence of sin seizes power from those who are sinned against, creating an imbalance. In order to reestablish that balance, the power and honor of the injured parties, the debt that sin creates, must be paid. It is in such situations that thew comes to the fore and the nuances of tending to inner stand in sharp relief. Primal law demands that when one is sinned against, they must respond with equal violence and measure, and yet it also demands that one must not commit violence or sin against their brothers. Caught between these two laws, both the injured and guilty parties are rescued from the crushing weight of orlæg by thew, in the form of scyld. Rather than causing bodily harm to regain power and insodoing damage the tribe further, the balance is restored with an agreed upon price, in the form of service or a fine.

That is not to say, however, that the crime of sin can always be corrected with scyld. In some instances, such as blasphemy or desecration of a sacred space, no amount of time or goods will ameliorate the damage that has been done. The only way to ensure that the tribe en masse will not suffer from the contamination of the sin is outlawry. Stripped of personhood and subjected to the will of utangearde and all its dangers forever, the sinner is banished from tribe and the process of restoring balance begins.

Far from being abrahamic or unnecessarily strict concepts, these ideals of sin and rightness need to be closely examined if a tribe wishes to ensure longevity. At the heart of every tribe is the outreaching communication with the sacred, and when the aspects of the tribe mirror those of the divine then the innangearde itself is a holy thing. That which is sacred cannot persist in the same space as that which is profane, and when a tribe is moving against the nature of orlæg then they will find divinity recoiling from them. [3]

Sin infects the tribe with wrongness and evil. It is this infection that compromises the individual and tribal interactions with divine and sacred power, and ultimately spells for the death of the innangearde. When members of tribe begin to behave in a way that acts counter to orlæg the divine elements that are present in the innangearde begin to dim and become polluted, which in turn spreads outwards like a disease, infecting and diminishing all that share bonds with them until the debt is paid and the crimes are corrected. This infection of sin corrodes the link between the tribe and the world of the sacred until it eventually is worn away and destroyed completely. The severing of this connection is tantamount to a death sentence for the tribe. Without adherence to the primal law and right action, the fences will fall to utangearde and the chaos of the wilds will once again rule.

1. The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade p. 30

2. We Are Our Deeds by Wodening p. 5

3. The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade p. 23

This article was originally hosted by Heathen Talk


Ashli is a wife and mother with a borderline creepy love for sources and old books. As an Anglo-Saxon practitioner, she is a vocal proponent of the reconstructionist approach to Heathenry and she definitely doesn't want to see your Helm of Awe.

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