The Social Structure of Wednesbury Shire

At the base of Wednesbury Shire's structure are several Anglo-Saxon Pagan insitutions.  The mægð  or family is the most important of these insitutions as it was in ancient Anglo-Saxon England.  It was the mægð that cared for the individual, clothed, fed, and gave shelter to him or her. It was the family that collected wergild (a murder fine) if a family member was killed, or paid it if a family member killed someone else. Often when a member of mægð a was killed the family went to war on the family of the murderer. Today we do not have to worry about such things, but the family both nuclear and extended is very important to Wednesbury Shire. The extended family in Wednesbury Shire is called the sibb. The  sibb is roughly analogous to the Scottish clan, it is a confederation of related families, and functions much as the mægð  does save on a larger level. 

Two other insitutions that are a part of the basis for Wednesbury Shire are the dryht and the gild. The dryht is the ancient warband, the comitas bound together by oaths with a dyhten or chieftain at its head. Most often the dryht  was tied to some sibb or mægð  Today, these waarbands play the role of a martial arts domo. Members train in ancient weapons, and behave as a brotherhood in arms. The gild or guild is just that, a guild dedicated to some profession or craft. Both are tied to other insitutions through oaths or by the blood of a family.

At the head of Wednesbury Shire is the ealdorman. The ealdorman is sworn to the lord of Hwítmersc Theod. This office is much sacral in nature as it is adimistrative. The sacral duties of an ealdorman are based on ancient ideas surrounding sacral kingship which are outlined:

1) The sacral king was responsible for the luck of the tribe. He generated it, protected it, and could loan it if need be. According to the scholar William Chaney:

“The king is above all the intermediary between his people and the gods. The charismatic embodiment of the ‘luck’ of the folk.( William Chaney” The Cult of Kingship Berkeley: University of California Press, pages11-12)”

 In the Heimskringla and the sagas, kings often lend their hamingja or luck to others.

2) The sacral king had to partake in the sacred feasts. This is seen in the Heimskringla, where Hakon the Good, a Christian king tolerant of Heathens, had to take part in Heathen feasts to keep his folk happy.

“The relation of the divine and the tribal is primarily one of action, of ‘doing,’ and to assure the favourable actions of the gods toward the tribe the kinf ‘does’ his office as mediator between them, sacrificing for victory, for good crops, and for peace….( William Chaney” The Cult of Kingship Berkeley: University of California Press, page 12)”

Heathen kings had to perform blot to ensure the good luck of the tribe continued.

3) The sacral king can trace their ancestry back ultimately to a deity. With most of the Anglo-Saxon kings this was Woden, but the kings of Essex traced themselves to Seaxneat. The Swedeish kings traced themselves to Frea (Frey).

4) The sacral king represented the tribe, the tribal identity was one with the king’s. Herwig  Wulfram has this to say:

 “The early Germanic thiudans personified the tribe in a very real way. His tribe saw him the best man to please the gods of war and nature because of his Heil, that certain nsomething about him the ancient deities liked. His tribe entrusted him with thei very identity: the divine liking for him meant a greater probability of victory or survival in face of calamity than tribesmen could hope for on their merits” (Henry Meyers and Herwig Wolfram, Medieval Kingship, Burnham Inc Publishing, page 348)

 The sacral king is the tribe as a whole’s representative to the Gods and Goddesses. This is especially true when the king sacrificed to the deities. In return via the king, the Gods and Goddesses would reward tribe, for example with victory in battle. It was also true when the king sought the guidance of the Ése (Æsir) and Wen (Vanir).

5) The sacral king had the gift of ræd, or advice from the Gods. This can be seen in the Flateyjarbók where King Eric consults the idol of a deity called Lýtir. The idol is lead through a procession in a wagon. The wagon ends at the king’s hall, where the king sacrifices and then, questions the idol. Kings also took other auguries:

“But to this nation it is peculiar, to learn presages and admonitions divine from horses also. These are nourished by the State in the same sacred woods and groves, all milk-white and employed in no earthly labour. These yoked in the holy chariot, are accompanied by the Priest and the King, or the Chief of the Community, who both carefully observed his actions and neighing. (Gordon translation, Tacitus, Germania)

They interpreted omens and sat on the mounds of their ancestors to receive inspiration. As H.R. Ellis says in Road to Hel:

“Is it accidental that the apple sent by Frigg, the eating of which by his queen brings them a child, drops in the king’s lap while he sits on a howe? And again it is while sitting on a howe that the young Helgi, for whom no name can be found, receives one at last. (H.R. Ellis, The Road to Hel, New York: Green Wood Press, page 107)”

An ealdorman is aided in their governace of a sætan  by the folkmoot. The folkmoot consists of every free adult of the sætan,  meets at least three times a year. They deliberate on items put forth to them by the Ealdorman, and vote on such issues as they see fit. The folkmoot in ancient times was not a week unit. We are told by Tacitus:

"Affairs of smaller moment the chiefs determine: about matters of higher consequence the whole nation deliberates; yet in such sort, that whatever depends upon the pleasure and decision of the people, is examined and discussed by the chiefs. Where no accident or emergency intervenes, they assemble upon stated days, either, when the moon changes, or is full: since they believe such seasons to be the most fortunate for beginning all transactions. Neither in reckoning of time do they count, like us, the number of days but that of nights. In this style their ordinances are framed, in this style their diets appointed; and with them the night seems to lead and govern the day. From their extensive liberty this evil and default flows, that they meet not at once, nor as men commanded and afraid to disobey; so that often the second day, nay often the third, is consumed through the slowness of the members in assembling. They sit down as they list, promiscuously, like a crowd, and all armed. It is by the Priests that silence is enjoined, and with the power of correction the Priests are then invested. Then the King or Chief is heard, as are others, each according to his precedence in age, or in nobility, or in warlike renown, or in eloquence; and the influence of every speaker proceeds rather from his ability to persuade than from any authority to command. If the proposition displease, they reject it by an inarticulate murmur: if it be pleasing, they brandish their javelins. The most honourable manner of signifying their assent, is to express their applause by the sound of their arms.  (Tacitus Germania Chapter 11, Thomas Gordan translation) "

The ealdorman or chieftain consults with his council or witan and brings matters they have deliberated to the folkmoot. The folkmoot then deliberates these matters and votes on a course of action to be taken. Such a situation is seen in 

Rimbert's Vita Anskarii. Anskar visits King Olaf with the intention of establishing a mission:

The king was delighted with his kindness and liberality, and said that he gladly agreed to what he had proposed. " In former time," he said, " there have been clergy who have been driven out by a rising of the people and not by the command of the king. On this account I have not the power, nor do I dare, to approve the objects of your mission until I can consult our gods by the casting of lots and until I can enquire the will of the people in regard to this matter. Let your messenger attend with me the next assembly  and I will speak to the people on your behalf. And if they approve your desire and the gods consent, that which you have asked shall be successfully carried out, but if it should turn out otherwise, I will let you know. It is our custom that the control of public business of every kind should rest with the whole people and not with the king....................As soon as his chiefs were assembled the king began to discuss with them the mission on which our father had come. They determined that enquiry should be made by the casting of lots in order to discover what was the will of the gods. They went out, therefore, to the plain, in accordance with their custom, and the lot decided that it was the will of God that the Christian religion should be established there...................When the day for the assembly which was held in the town of Birka drew near, in accordance with their national custom the king caused a proclamation to be made to the people by the voice of a herald, in order that they might be informed concerning the object of their mission.
(Robinson translation)

A folkmoot could be a very powerful thing capable of removing a leader, even a king, if need be. We are told in the Heismskingla:

I also remember King Eirik the Victorious, and was with him on many a war-expedition. He enlarged the Swedish dominion, and defended it manfully; and it was also easy and agreeable to communicate our opinions to him. But the king we have now got allows no man to presume to talk with him, unless it be what he desires to hear. On this alone he applies all his power, while he allows his scat-lands in other countries to go from him through laziness and weakness. He wants to have the Norway kingdom laid under him, which no Swedish king before him ever desired, and therewith brings war and distress on many a man. Now it is our will, we bondes, that thou King Olaf make peace with the Norway king, Olaf the Thick, and marry thy daughter Ingegerd to him. Wilt thou, however, reconquer the kingdoms in the east countries which thy relations and forefathers had there, we will all for that purpose follow thee to the war. But if thou wilt not do as we desire, we will now attack thee, and put thee to death; for we will no longer suffer law and peace to be disturbed. So our forefathers went to work when they drowned five kings in a morass at the Mula-thing, and they were filled with the same insupportable pride thou hast shown towards us. Now tell us, in all haste, what resolution thou wilt take." Then the whole public approved, with clash of arms and shouts, the lagman's speech. The king stands up and says he will let things go according to the desire of the bondes. "All Swedish kings," he said, "have done so, and have allowed the bondes to rule in all according to their will.
(translator unknown, Heimskringla)

It must be remembered that an ealdorman is not a king. While an ealdorman may play many of the ritual roles of a cyning, they are not thought to be a king.

The ealdorman governs Wednesbury along with the tribal folkmoot. The tribal folkmoot  consists of every free adult member of the shire. Helping the ealdorman is the witanagemót . The witanagemót or witan advises the ealdorman. The witan meets about nine times a year, with smaller meetings inbetween. The folkmoot only meets one to three times a year if that.


Anglo-Saxon Paganism

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Social Structure of the Shire

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