the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner.
return · restoration · handing back · replacement · surrender · yielding · recovery
recompense for injury or loss.
"he was ordered to pay £6,000 in restitution"
compensation · recompense · reparation · damages · indemnification ·
the restoration of something to its original state.
The law of restitution is the law of gains-based recovery. It is to be contrasted with the law of compensation, which is the law of loss-based recovery. When a court orders restitution it orders the defendant to give up his/her gains to the claimant. When a court orders compensation it orders the defendant to pay the claimant for his or her loss.
As a teacher of Seidr and the ancestral wisdom teachings of Northern Europe I teach a two-year program in Sweden, preparing people for working as a professional Seidkona or Seidmadr. In September 2019 I was teaching module #2 of his program, which explores the Old Norse Anatomy of Soul. The Old Norse people viewed soul very differently from the way we perceive it in Western culture today.
Old Norse and related languages/dialects did not have a word for soul until the 11th century (when the word sál was invented and added to the vocabulary, as an equivalent for the Christian word “soul”). What they did have was a rich and complex collection of words for describing various aspects or dimensions of the human soul: hugr, hamr, hamingja, fylgja…
I was trying to paint a vivid picture for my students of the mindset of the Viking Era. That it was a time in history where people who had been injured, or lost a love one, would not have a soul retrieval (as people familiar with core shamanism might do today) -they would receive restitution instead.
I came to the Northern Tradition via a Roman Catholic upbringing. I wrote a blog recently which received many beautiful, honest and deeply vulnerable responses from people. The title is The Night Garden of Forgiveness. You may want to read it before reading this article.
Writing this blog, and then reading other people’s responses to my article, made me realise how even within me a schism still operates, where Roman Catholic values linger (on some level), while I have left the religion of my childhood and consciously chosen a vastly different spiritual orientation in adult life. This clash is not surprising as both have been important shaping forces in my life, but it immediately flushes out an important question:
Does forgiveness have a place in the Northern Tradition? And if so, how does it relate to the concept of restitution?
To answer that we first need to examine what restitution is exactly.
The word "restitution" was used in the earlier common law to denote the return or restoration of a specific thing or condition. In modern legal usage, its meaning has frequently been extended to include not only the restoration or giving back of something to its rightful owner and returning to the status quo but also compensation, reimbursement, indemnification, or reparation for benefits derived from, or for loss or injury caused to, another. In summary, therefore, the word "restitution" means the relinquishment of a benefit or the return of money or other property obtained through an improper means to the person from whom the property was taken.
We could perhaps say that in its simplest form restitution means giving back something which has been taken unjustly.
As not all things that can be “unlawfully taken” can be “given back”, a closely related matter is compensation.
Let me clarify this with some examples:
If someone physically assaults you, and leaves you impaired and wheelchair-bound for life – your previous condition of perfect physical health and full mobility cannot be given back to you. This also means that certain passions, say mountaineering and your dream of climbing Mount Everest, might need to be released or at least seriously adjusted.
If someone kills your son or daughter, no legal recourse will ever return your child to the Land of the Living. Not only do you lose someone you love dearly, you also lose their future, such as the joy of your continued relationship with them and any children they themselves might have had (your future grandchildren).
This brings us to the issue of compensation. Someone who is left physically impaired may receive a financial pay-out towards high quality medical care – but excellent medical treatment is not the same thing as walking again (or escaping the trauma of the assault altogether).
Parents who have lost a child to murder may (but do not always) see the murderer put behind bars. This may give them a small degree of peace of mind: “this monster now cannot do the same thing to another person”, but sometimes even murderers are released early for “good behavior” and most are released from prison sooner or later (only to kill again). Prison does not “heal” anyone, for that to occur therapy and commitment to a spiritual path are necessities. Some people (psychopaths, sociopaths) are not very sensitive to either intervention.
Returning to the Viking Era for a moment: before the Christianization of Scandinavia people had their own code of honor, which essentially translates as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Meaning that if someone kills my father, I will give orders to have them (or another member of their family) killed to restore my honour and the honour of my family. Honour was a huge deal. Were I not to send out my brothers to commit the “return killing” required, I will lose face in my community or tribe. The problem with this modus operandi is easy to spot: a vicious cycle of honour killings results, one that is almost impossible to stop. In modern times we still see examples of this in both the Mafia (think of the 1972 movie The Godfather) and gangland killings in big cities. In certain gangs, youths need to kill someone in order to prove themselves. It has become a grotesque form of self-initiation which mimics the symbolic death experience that elders inflict on teenage boys in tribal cultures.
If we are to agree “not to commission further murders”, we would need to receive significant compensation for someone’s death if we are to keep our honour and standing in the community.
I have used some of the most dreadful nightmarish scenarios I can think of, just to make the point. Less dramatic (but still very serious) examples might involve theft, less grievous injuries, slander (the destroying of someone’s reputation), unfair loss of a job, stalking, other injustices and so forth.
The key principle of keeping things balanced and restoring harmony when/where needed is deeply wired into the Northern Tradition. In the 21st century we often find the same principle presented with a modern gloss as fair energy exchange. As Odin says in the Havamal: every gift requires a return gift. It is understood that when things are not balanced (or compensated for when circumstances call for this) an imbalance will occur and serious imbalances endanger both relationships between people and, ultimately, if too many of those occur, the larger cosmic order is endangered, affected or unhinged.
The big question then is: what happens to all and any matters that are not balanced, forgiven or compensated for?
Here I will refer once again to my previous blog: The Night Garden of Forgiveness. I had a mentally ill father who was very abusive. I grew up in an atmosphere of physical/mental and emotional abuse. Never feeling safe. Constant humiliation. The persistent message that I was failed human being in every sense. Perhaps in response to that (or possibly because I am genetically wired that way) I became an A* student, an "academic freak", taking extra subjects/classes and sitting the most difficult exams my school offered.
As a good Roman Catholic girl in my early twenties I worked hard to forgive my parents. Had I been brought up in a Heathen or Pagan Northern Tradition family, would I have worked so hard to forgive them? Would I have had another toolkit at my disposal? Both scenarios are perfectly possible!
I have not come across examples of the Christian virtue of practicing forgiveness in pre-Christian Viking Era sources. This has made wonder if the concept was coined at the same time as Old Norse acquired the word “sál” (soul) was.
Christianity teaches that after death people (but of course only god-fearing Christians!) go straight to Heaven, implying that any unresolved issues (grief, anger, emotional agony, unlived dreams, various forms of “hunger”) conveniently vanish overnight.
Practicing Seidr, in addition to years of performing shamanic and ancestral healing work, has taught me instead that all unresolved issues go in a “huge cauldron” called Urdr (Wyrd in Old English, wyrd is not an Old Norse word). The “fated interactions” between human beings contribute to the fate (and therefore wellbeing) of their descendants, the people who come after them. Not only biologically speaking, but this same principle also works across professions, countries, land, politics etc.
When the Norns (Norse “Fates”) are said to carve someone’s fate (in Old Norse fate is carved, not written or woven) they take into account what has already been carved. I have come to believe that the actions I just described are part of that reservoir of potentialities. We more commonly use the word karma for this, in Western culture. The wheel of karma may grind slowly, meaning that we do not always see its workings in one lifetime, meaning our actions today will shape future events and our lives are shaped by the actions/choices/emotions/experiences of those who came before us.
Would the Vikings have practiced the virtue of forgiveness? No, I guess they would have laughed when presented with the concept: “something for nothing”. They would have perceived a massive imbalance, a gaping black hole, a fatal loss of personal honour.
Then, as a teacher within this tradition, how do I now perceive forgiveness? A common misperception is that forgiveness lets people “off the hook”, meaning they go scott-free. I do not believe that this is so. If I was abused for two decades (as I was in my family of origin) and I forgive my parents, that does not mean that those same parents won’t need to (eventually, it is clearly not going to happen in this lifetime, either mine or theirs) carry the moral responsibility for those actions. When I forgive them, I cut myself free, I release myself from entanglement in their karma. I can get on with my life without self-identifying as a "victim". I believe that either in the other world or in another life on earth, they will face those issues again, because they themselves helped carve them or perpetuate, rather than actively healing and resolving those imprints. (And here I fully acknowledge that their often is a suffering victim inside every perpetrator, excepting criminal career psychopaths ).
I cannot undo what was done. I cannot step between a person and their fate. What I can do is work very hard to make sure the “karmic buck” stops with me, so my children and my children’s children will not be trapped in yet another enactment of this core drama (parent abuses, bullies and humiliates child >> this child grows up and abuses the next generation of children). They will undoubtedly face other issues, including their own karma/orlog/fate. But I can hopefully unravel and cancel out one ancestral burden and make their lives better, lighter.
What about restitution?
I have not received restitution personally, not even an apology. Until today I have received no acknowledgment of what was a brutal childhood reality, for two decades of my life. On the contrary, I am still under pressure to pretend these things never happened (which is of course far more convenient than a daughter who speaks her truth!)
Does that feel wrong (out of balance)? Frankly yes.
What kind of restitution would I have liked to receive?
An apology and far greater respect of my personal choices and being granted the freedom to live my life overseas, and not visit more often (as a dutiful daughter) than my spiritual and emotional health allow. There are constant attempts to yank me back into the fold and guilt trip me. I would liked (perhaps ought to have grabbed) greater personal freedom, more time spent with my Family-Of-Choice, my friends and spiritual tribe.
If you abuse a child really badly – perhaps consider that this child won’t visit as often as you would like (or perhaps at all) as an adult, for reasons of emotional and spiritual hygiene. The problem is of course that many abusers see nothing wrong with what they did – as they themselves were abused and do not know another reality. This means that such an apology is rarely forthcoming.
I know people who have cut themselves off from their family of origin altogether. I can understand that choice and I fully support that choice. I certainly have sometimes envied people who went for the clean break, rather than decades of slow but debilitating torment. However, what I have received in return for “sticking with it” are two gifts:
My parents did much better as grandparents and my children grew up getting to know their grandparents
Velocity – some people would say I have gone far in life (but of course that depends on how you define “going far” or “doing well”). I have never received psychiatric treatment or been on medication as part of managing pain and trauma. Instead I do a huge amount of a shadow work and ancestral healing work to keep myself healthy and a committed state of always-healing.
Does forgiveness have a place in the Northern Tradition, speaking of the 21st century?
I think it can free some people of ancestral burdens while others need to not forgive in equal measure. This tradition offers alternative ways of navigating the matters of kith and kin. It must be said that the Vikings (and Old Norse people in general) were very tribal, very focused on clan and tribe. I imagine that they overlooked some transgressions out of loyalty for their tribe (but perhaps they had a good fist fight first). Their standards for rearing children were, likely, less gentle and ambitious than ours.
Imelda Almqvist, London, 5 February 2020
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. So far she has published two books: Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) in 2016 and Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) in 2019. She has presented her work on both The Shift Network and Sounds True. She appears in a TV program titled Ice Age Shaman, made for the Smithsonian Museum, in the series Mystic Britain talking about Neolithic arctic deer shamanism. Her third book, Medicine of the Imagination (Dwelling in possibility) will be published by Moon Books in October 2020.
Imelda was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She is a regular presenter on The Shamanic Path with Sounds True. She appears in a TV program made for the Smithsonian Channel (the series is called Mystic Britain) about the Mesolithic site Star Carr in Yorkshire talking about arctic deer shamanism! Imelda divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She has just finished her third book “Medicine of the Imagination: Dwelling in Possibility” and has is currently working on her fourth book, about the pre-Christian spirituality of The Netherlands.