The importance of oaths within Heathenry is pretty well known, so I will not reinvent the wheel; instead, I will add links to a few relevant articles at the end of this post. The long and the short of ti is that one’s word is paramount. A good reputation leads to smoother relationships, better luck, and, quite possibly better Urleeg for the next life.
Coming from an Anabaptist background, the change from avoiding oaths (in favor of affirmations) to depending on them required a mind shift on my part. I still use affirmations sometimes instead of oaths, particularly if a component of what is required for an Urglaawe oath is missing.
Oaths in Urglaawe are not all that different from those of most other Heathen denominations. We stipulate, though, that the oath must have a beginning and an ending, must be well defined, must be realistic, must be measurable, and must contain a description and timeline of what happens (Schuld) if the oath cannot or is not completed. Oaths may be adjusted if both parties (and witnesses, in most cases) agree to new terms.
Unfortunately, modern American society does not generally reinforce the importance of oaths. Take, for instance, the complex and sometimes controversial topic of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge is, in effect, an oath. Students historically have been (and, in many places, teachers still are) compelled to say the Pledge every morning in school. Do they really understand what they are saying, though? I remember having cursory instruction in school (4th grade, maybe?) on what the literal meaning of each line of the Pledge meant, but no real instruction on just how serious the intention behind the words are. The addition of the prepositional phrase, “under God” in 1954 makes the nature of the Pledge particularly toxic to anyone outside of the most dominant religions, and, as a Heathen, I will not utter those words. However, every day, millions of students are taking an oath while not recognizing the gravity of what they are saying.
Then we have New Year’s Resolutions, which are also oaths, even if they are only to the self. Every year during Yule, we remind folks that New Year’s Resolutions can be wonderful planning tools, but they must be clear, measurable, and realistic. For instance, if someone is not already going reliably to the gym twice each week , it is not likely that they will suddenly start going to the gym five days a week throughout the entire year. Instead of that open, unrealistic oath, we would advise the oath-taker to take a smaller oath over a shorter period. If they are not going to the gym twice weekly now, we might advise them to oath to go twice a week for two weeks, then take a new oath once they have successfully completed those two weeks. Completed oaths help to build stronger luck an better Wurt. I’d rather hear twenty-six successful biweekly oaths than one annual failure.
Then we have the Butzemann. Creating and activating a Butzemann typically takes place during the Kannsege (Ceremony of the Corn) at Entschtanning and requires that some things be put into place. The Butzemann benefits us, so we are to make offerings or to share parts of our bounty with the Butzemann. Most of us oath to giving something monthly while actually giving things to him more frequently. We also are to give him clothes, and any items we give to him are his, and to take them from him is considered to be an act of inhospitality. In fact, there is a Verbot in Braucherei on wearing any item of clothes that has been on a Butzemann.
The most important oath to the Butzemann, though, is that he will be burned at the onset of Allelieweziel, which begins at sunset on October 30. Deitsch folklore is full of tales of what happens when a Butzemann is not burned. The plant spirits within him depart onto the Wild Hunt, leaving behind a shell that is occupied by Butz (puck, pucca). The Butz then wreaks havoc throughout the countryside. Many Deitsch people remember their parents scaring them into staying into bed on Christmas Eve by saying the “Butzemann” will get them. This is, effectively, the bogeyman.
The Butzemann ties into tomorrow’s topic, the Zusaagpflicht, which is an unwritten contract among plants, animals, humans, and minerals and relates to hospitality and stewardship.
Breaking oaths can have dire consequences in general. I have heard rationalizations and justifications, some of which may have had merit, but the fact is that an oath was still broken. For instance, I have counseled people who were prohibited from completing an oath because the person to whom they took the oath would not allow them onto their property after a falling out. There is really not much that can be done, but Hexerei practice advises offering three times to be allowed to complete the oath. If the requests are denied, then the oath is considered completed because the oath-taker had no other option.
If someone fails to complete an oath and lives up to the Schuld terms, the oath is considered nullified, not completed. If they fail to live up to the Schuld, then the weight of the oath could result in damaged relationships or even outright shunning. This is why oaths must be taken carefully with due consideration to whether it is even necessary to stake one’s reputation on a verbal contract.