Theodish Belief as some call it is the "belief of the tribe." In order to have a "belief of the tribe," one must have a tribe. While we will never be able to achieve tribes as they were in the days of old, we can attempt to mimic tribalism by formulating a common identity with a common history and common culture. The ancient Anglo-Saxon Pagan tribes had a common identity and common history by virtue of many forms of bonds, not the least of which were bonds of kinship. As seen in Tacitus' Germania, many tribes traced their origins to a common ancestor:
In their old ballads (which amongst them are the only sort of registers and history) they celebrate Tuisto, a God sprung from the earth, and Mannus his son, as the fathers and founders of the nation. To Mannus they assign three sons, after whose names so many people are called; the Ingaevones, dwelling next the ocean; the Herminones, in the middle country; and all the rest, Instaevones.
Further, tribes were made up of families, groups of people that could trace their kinship out to at least third cousins (for the purpose of wergild, amongst the Anglo-Saxons, kinship was traced to fifth cousins). Today's situation is quite different. Most within a þéod would be lucky to claim being 7th cousins of their fellow tribesman much less anything the ancients might recognize as truely close kinship (the inner family of the hælsfang, our nuclear family). However, kinship was not the only way a tribe could create bonds. Men without kin, or simply seeking adventure would often come together in a dryht or "warband." In the Migration Era many lost their kin through warfare, migration, or simply left their kin to earn their worth in battle. These warbands were bound together by the warriors all having an oath to serve the leader of the dryht. The kin group being the earliest organized unit of society that the ancient Heathens recognized, the dryht mimicked the structure of the family. Its members held the same obligations to each other and their lord as kinsmen would. Were one murdered they had to take revenge (esp. were it their lord), and could seek wergild. The lord or dryhten of the warband was seen as a fatherhood figure with the warband as a sort of band of brothers. The veterans of the warband held more say than the youths as would be the case in a family with the eldest family members having more say than the youngest (see ). For the warband to operate as an artificial family however there had to be some form of bonding. The core of a dryht would often be true kinsmen, and for them no artificial bonds were needed. But for others, there had to be a substitute for the bonds of kinship created by birth into an extended family. This substitute was the hold oath.
The hold oath is often mistaken or confused with the later medieval oaths of fealty, and while they have much in common with these, there are differences (mostly revolving around the obligations and lack of land tenure). At the head of the dryht was the dryhten, its lord or leader. The dryhten was a warrior that had made a name for himself, and shown his ability to lead men into battle. He was obligated to give his men wealth in exchange for service, and often provided them food and shelter. All the men of the dryht were oathed to serve the dryhten (and in turn his lady at whom's command they were also). The wording of none of these oaths has come down to us intact unfortunately. Fortunately we can attempt to reconstruct such oaths from heroic poetry. The hold oath placed certain obligations upon both the lord and the warrior serving him. Should the lord be killed, those oathed to him had to take vengeance. The lord in turn had to be generous with gifts, mead, and weapons. See the article on hold oaths for more details. Within the warband there were various functions but primary amongst these was the lady of the hall who served as an artificial mother, and indeed, had as much command over the dryht as her husband if not more. In Beowulf, Wealhtheow informs Beowulf that:
þegnas syndon geþwære, þeod ealgearo,
druncne dryhtguman doð swa ic bidde.
The thegns stand as one a folk at the ready
warbandmen given drink so they do as I bid.
Within modern Þéodisc Geléafa, hold oaths are used in lieu of ties of blood. Modern Heathens are in a situation very similar to ancient warriors who lost their kin through warfare or migration. We are not related to the people we chose to join in fellowship, worship, and community. Yet to be a þéod or tribe we must have ties that bind, bonds that draw us closer together as a folk and help in building a common identity. It is only natural then that we use hold oaths in the way they were used in ancient times, as a way to create bonds of artificial kinship. These bonds within a modern Þéodisc group are referred to as the web of oaths, and cumulate in the person the group has chosen as its leader. One man is oathed to a lord, who in turn is oathed to another lord, ultimately ending with the ealdorman, dryhten, or cyning of the þéod. The person one is oathed to can be thought of as a kind of foster brother or sister (or if the age difference is sufficient, a father). The purpose of the web of oaths is to build a common identity necessary for a þéod to develop a common history and build a community of individuals and families that share a common goal and welfare. Not everyone in Wednesbury Shire has to swear an oath. Indeed, the majority do not. Family relationships are prefered for one thing, and for another churls (the lowest level of full membership) do not have to swear any sort of hold oath.
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