When the gods talk to you, your actions are still yours. The idea of wyrd, or orlog, or karma, is that a person’s actions determine the future. A person’s actions not only determine their own future, but other peoples’ futures, and can even affect society’s future. This is still true if the person is a mystic who hears the gods.
It is always the human’s responsibility to decide on the human’s actions, regardless of what the gods tell him/her/hir. Sometimes, yes, you should do what they say. And sometimes you shouldn’t. Deciding what to do is each individual’s responsibility, and each individual is responsible for one’s own actions. This is one of the things I learned in the bersarkr tradition, but it is also inherent in the idea of the wyrd of deeds, that is, the idea that one’s actions have consequences.
In magical traditions, a lot of attention is paid to intent. Let us not forget that intent only means something if it results in action. If you cast a spell intending to make it rain, and it does not rain, your intent has no results.
The modern legal system also considers intent when deciding on the level of culpability a person has for their actions. For example, if John Smith kills a man by accident, without meaning to, he will be punished less than if he intended to. If John Smith kills a man intentionally but in the heat of the moment, he will be punished less than if he planned it in advance. But what if John Smith kills a man because his god told him to? If the legal system determines that he is so insane that he cannot tell right from wrong, he may be sent to an insane asylum instead of a prison, but no one will say his belief makes it OK to kill and he should be allowed to continue on as if he were not a dangerous killer. In some states, there is no insanity defense, and regardless of beliefs, John Smith would be sent to prison or possibly executed for premeditated murder.
Now, this may seem like an extreme example, when most people in heathen and pagan circles are getting messages from their gods that are more like “Unfriend so and so” or “buy me an idol for my altar” than “kill your neighbor because he’s possessed by a demon.” But ultimately, if one believes that the commands of the gods are always to be obeyed no matter what, that is where that belief could lead. We have certainly seen members of the majority Christian society say their God told them to kill.
The bersarkr tradition takes it for granted that at some point a bersarkr will be provoked, possibly by a physical attack, and the animal spirit or god will want to respond by engaging in combat. The bersarkr tradition teaches that it is the human’s responsibility to decide whether to let the bear run or keep it inside. The tradition’s training is meant to enable the bersarkr to learn to control their power so they can stop the bear from running if they decide to stop it, and to hold onto control long enough to consider and make a decision. The entire point of the bersarkr tradition is to learn how to say no to the urges of the gods and the animal spirits.
If Odin wants to use your body to engage in combat, it is up to you to decide whether to let him, based on your own human judgement. If Loki wants you to drink whiskey, it’s up to you to decide whether that’s an appropriate thing to do right then, and say, “Sure, let’s have a drink,” or if you have to say, “Later, when I’m not driving,” or “No, I can’t, ever, because I have a problem.” The god in your mind is not the one with the responsibility for your actions. You are.
[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]