The Injustice of the Thrall System
It is certainly easy to imagine a position for Thralls that is not unjust --- for example, temporarily creating indentured servants out of those who cannot pay their wergild-debts for crimes against others --- and indeed, the institution perhaps began in this kind of way, but Moberg illustrates that it was a hereditary class in which slaves were bred and kept as slaves. It was brutal, unjust, and a reduction of human beings to chattel.
Absolutely, totally incompatible with the freedom that our ancestors claimed to cherish. A glaring, bloody contradiction in their societies that is irredeemable, and tremendously under-addressed in modern heathenism.
Moberg argues that texts like Rigsthula were utilized by the Jarls to claim that this unjust social system was Divinely Ordained so that the thralls would keep their place. This kind of nonsense is not religion ; it is ideology, plain and simple. Rigsthula doesn't have to be interpreted in that way, but it does take a lot of twisting to get any liberatory interpretation out of it.
How does one excuse the ancestors for disgracing Freyr in this way? Freyr whose very name means freedom, who sets all bonds free?
This is deeply troubling, and it should be deeply troubling. It is proof that the religion of our ancestors was not yet fully developed, for they had not yet been able to fully realize, articulate, and put into effect the reality of the Gods they worshipped. It is a contradiction to worship Freyr and to hold slaves.
This level of class contradiction and division cannot but help poison a society. Moberg makes it very clear that it was Christianity that brought a new ideology that allowed bondsmen to be freed because they were now seen as fellow human beings rather than property. Moberg does not romanticize Christianity, because he shows that the freedman did not become an equal of the carl, but was still maintained in a servile laborer class ; nevertheless, he makes a strong argument that it was the Asa-religion as wielded by the jarls of the time that forged the ideological manacles of the thralls, and that it was the change to Christianity that allowed the thralls to be freed in a recognition of common humanity. This was undoubtedly a tremendous gain on all levels, a positive step towards human liberty.
The average heathen likes to imagine themselves in the light of the nobles, but pure numbers suggests that most of us would have been in the lower carl and thrall classes. What their take on heathenism was is not recorded. There is no necessity for such class division in the religion as even Rigsthula suggests that all human beings, thrall, carl, and jarl, are Sons of Heimdall, but in actual practice as reflected in the laws there was absolutely no sense of human brotherhood.
People were bought and sold in open markets, slave women were purchased from abroad in order to breed more offspring who would not be free, who had committed no crimes, but would be enslaved themselves. Thralls could be killed or maimed at the owner's discretion, and any sign of disobedience would be met with corporal punishment.
We want to remember these things when fellow heathens idealize the old days. I don't think any of us would have wanted to live in those dark and corrupt Iron Age societies, however much we may have the freedom in a far freer age to romanticize them.
Our ancestors who created this religion only planted the seeds, but they did not yet bring their vision and realization of the Gods to fruition. No society can do so perfectly, but at least a society can try to do so in good faith. There is no way that bond slavery of the proportions of those times was in good faith. Truly, it was not Asatru. It did not hold True Faith to the Gods in their best of capacities.
If we do not admit this, if we do not admit that the ancestors fell short in their ability to realize the mandates of the Gods, and instead maintain that the religion was perfect as is, then we open ourselves to the quite legitimate charges that the religion itself was corrupt as such, and needed to be replaced by a more liberatory one. I, for one, do not accept that conclusion, but it is at times a difficult one to resist, even with my disdain for Official and Organized Christianity.
Often it is the most militaristic of folks who will whine the loudest about how Christianity was imposed by force, not realizing the utter hypocrisy of their statements. By their own logic of the strong against the weak, we should be celebrating Christianity for winning military victories. Obviously Odin and Tyr were on their side! And perhaps they were. It is not foreign to religious traditions to suggest that the God(s) utilize foreign enemies to punish impiety amongst a native population.
Could slavery have been the sin that cast the Gods' aspersion?