Heathenism's Flexible Dualism
Good is that which allows all beings to have a home, leaving no one homeless. It is an active state of belonging whereby things find their proper, fitting place, and through this niching and nesting, organic order results. Good includes, therefore, all kinds of different valences which may be explored, played with, experienced, and inhabited, all within proportionality and proper boundaries.
Evil, on the other hand, is that which destroys good through crossing the lines that allow beings to have homes. It is arrogance, disproportionality, and aggressing over one's natural limits into territory where one truly does not belong. Now, it is certain that animals often have territorial disputes that can result in sometimes fierce melees. But evil violates all boundaries of good sense and moderation, aggressing upon all with no respect for home. (Evil thus very much approximates imperialism.)
The Alfar are a divine race often paired with the Aesir, who are traditionally associated with tending the energetics of the land itself. Bil Linzie has profitably suggested that as Mankind are the children of the Aesir, the Alfar are the children of the Vanir, and that these two children of the Gods inhabit the same world and owe each other duties of mutual recognition and diplomacy. The Alfar, serving the Gods, are generally benevolent, although as a created race, they are not without flaws either. But their benevolence is relative to their service to that Nature shaped by the Gods and warded over ultimately by Beloved Mother Earth, and not relative to human needs shaped by free (or random) will rather than nature.
The Alfar are, in fact, fierce defenders of nature, depicted as archers whose bolts can be painful or deadly, afflicting either luck or health or both. These arrows are used primarily to ward off monsters who would impose their barrenness on nature, but when we become the monsters, we are no less subject to those awesome bolts.
Let me give you an example to illustrate this. Several years back, my brother was in a film class, and he joined up with a team of filmmakers who wanted to make a short film for their class. I had been recruited to act in the film, which was shot on location not too far away in a park that bordered on wild Tovangar, the native ecology of the area, replete with beautiful stone outcroppings, yerba santa, sage, and in this particular location, poison oak.
I had to continually point out the poison oak to these would-be filmmakers, who, having all the attitude of city-folk, were quite ignorant to the nature around them, and who would have many times learned the bite of the poison oak had I not again and again warned them away from it.
During filming, they decided that a particular bush in the background did not belong in their scene. Rather than changing their location, they decided to rip out the bush. I protested profusely, but they did not listen to me, and ripped it out even as I urged them not to, pointing out that this was a public park and that nature had the right to grow here without interference. I lost whatever little respect I might have had for them, and this bush was made to die for a small school film whose quality was mediocre at best. Was it a worthwhile sacrifice? I doubt the bush would agree, and asking humans so narcissistic they can't even imagine that a plant has value, power, and worth would be an exercise in self-circularity.
As it turns out, later that night, I had a powerful dream. In the dream, I was being assaulted and confronted by a formidable spiritual force which was tremendously angry at me. This was one of those dreams that feels, even in the dreaming, as something a little bit more than a "mere" dream. The power of this enraged being was tremendous. Suddenly, within the dream I realized that this was the wight (spirit, being) that either was or represented or guarded poison oak, and it all began to make sense to me. It communicated that had I not interfered by continually warning the filmmakers about its location, that they would have learned respect for the natural area in the old fashioned way that only poison oak knows how to deliver! In other words, I had interfered with its guardian function, and as a result, a bush needlessly had to die.
It was then that I really began to realize the powerful guardian function of poison oak. Poison oak covers many canyons and meadows in Southern California, and it is a quite beautiful plant, creating swathes of emerald and off-rust red that are enchanting if poisonous. This enchanting but poisonous property should already alert us to the possible presence of the Alfar, who are indeed magical and potent beings. Poison oak, like an elf with a quiver of arrows, guards much of the backwoods and ensures that other plants are not mindlessly trampled by ignorant brutes. It also requires those who would like to pass to cultivate and maintain mindfulness and care as they traverse such locales.
If you asked most people whether poison oak was good or bad, I think most people, responding from a place of not wanting a bad rash, would say it was bad, but this is to impose our human standards on parts of the world which are not properly speaking human homes. If you believe that the entire planet is the home of humanity, you will note that within the heathen definitions of good and evil as I have defined them above, you are dangerously within the threshold of evil, for all beings have a zone which is proper to them, and while there may be border disputes from time to time which martially renegotiate the boundaries, it is to no one properly speaking to claim everything for themselves. Finding your place is what brings you power ; stepping out of place, no matter what temporary advantages it may seem to bring, is what ultimately if slowly and imperceptibly at times, drains your luck.
If Bil Linzie's construction is correct, and there is no inherent reason to think it is not, besides a great deal which gives it sense, then we share the planet with other intelligent beings much like ourselves but of a finer, more energetic corporeal quality, whose concern, properly speaking, is that of tending that wild garden over whom the Vanir Gods exercise sovereignty. These are the Alfar, and their homes must be respected if we wish our homes and luck to be respected as well. There are places you do not belong, human. There are places that are not your back door, and there are places where if you do tread, you must do so with respect, with humility, and even with deference because these are not your places. The rune of Algiz recognizes that there are zones that must be set aside from normal human interference and usage so that animals, plants, and other wights may prosper there. These were the natural groves set aside for temples amongst our ancestors, and as such, were experienced as radiating immense holiness. When we set aside ample measures of land for our elder cousins the Alfar, our luck and our experience of holiness was greatly increased.
So is poison oak good or evil? It is good, because it finds and keeps its own zone, within its own and larger lawfulnesses, and within that zone, it protects the other beings who reside there from outside interference. It is a quick punisher of careless trespassers, but this does not make it evil, just as the pepper-spray you might carry to ward off trespassers does not make you evil either.
Between the realm of the Gods who guarantee homes for all types of beings, and the realm of the Giants who forever desire to step outside their boundaries to trespass and impose upon all in their greedy, ignorant hunger, is a wide and spacious zone of different types of good and bad relative to the homes or habitations made there. Thus, our native Indo-European dualism is springy, flexible, and full of ambiguities that can only be negotiated by considering events from a higher perspective and our relationship to other beings.
Whether the man with the shotgun is friend or foe depends on whether you're facing his back as he defends your household or whether you're facing his front as he confronts your intrusion, right? It is little different with the poison oak.