The Bureau of Occult Affairs
25 Mab Square
25 Mab Square
Were Liaison - Were briefing
Were Briefing 2: Were Laws, the Change & Religion
Crimes which lie entirely within the Were community can be judged by other Weres, appointed to the task originally by the Lord Chancellors Department (LCD) but hived off to the Bureau of Occult Affairs (BOA) in 1934 as part of the changes introduced by the Regulation of Moots Act 1934 (the Regs). Since the creation of the Department of Constitutional Affairs there has been some talk of returning judiciary functions to them, and this is the subject of ongoing talks with all stakeholders, most noticeably the Witan, who are somewhat resistant to the idea. It would, of course, require a change in legislation and there are complications to do with the status of thanes.
Civil matters are dealt with by the thane of the pack, acting alone in the senior (named) packs, or together with the Thing in less historic packs. Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a tendency for many thanes even in the "named" packs to involve seek BOA approval for their Things to be involved in judicial matters.
Criminal matters are dealt with by BOA approved lawspeakers. When the Regs were being introduced there was some discussion of steering clear of the archaic terms still in use among the moots in favour of modern English, and to establish a term free of purely werewolf bias. However, we have retained the term lawspeaker as this was the preference of the overall Were community. This is also because the resonance the name gave the first lawspeakers licensed by the Bureau a credibility they could not have gained so quickly had we changed the name. Indeed, there were a number of difficulties encountered in effecting major change in this area.
In the past, the thanes dealt with minor criminal matters (indeed, there was some resistance when these duties were transferred to lawspeakers), and the lawspeakers dealt with the most serious crimes, even to the point of having authority over thanes. These judicial practices were in use within the moots at the time of the Recognition. Prior to the creation of the BOA the Althing had the sole say in the appointment of lawspeakers, with the role of the LCD being little more than day to day regulation and maintenance. It was noticed that lawspeakers were chosen from the same families and, within the moots, these families were linked with the religious role of saymen. When the BOA was formed one of its first remits was to separate the judicial role from the religious one, and remove the position of lawspeaker from the hands of the saymen and saywives. The Althing are encouraged to put forward names but agreement is no longer automatic, and names can also be put forward by any lawspeakers, whether currently serving or retired. Desired criteria of employment were established and all appointments are now made by a selection panel.
Training was also set up and there are a number of highly intensive training courses running at any one time. We have a better than 90% pass rate over the last 5 years, with a resignation rate of less than 5% year on year. This indicates the selection criteria and training are satisfactory. There is a mixture of lay and stipendiary lawspeakers, though the vast majority are lay. Increasingly, we are licensing those with at least a first degree in law, and often with some experience, whether as a solicitor or at the bar, but we can only attract people of this calibre by offering stipendiary posts. Eventually we wish to ensure that all lawspeakers are stipendiary and fully professional, but there are issues both of resources and political sensitivities within the Were community which ensure this may not be accomplished within the foreseeable future.
Lists of approved and serving lawspeakers are given to each thane and updated monthly. A lawspeaker can be appointed to a case by either an Eldorman or a thane. For some reason which is not entirely clear at present, the most popular choices for the most serious cases are usually lay lawspeakers rather than the stipendiaries. This is being monitored and we have instituted a feedback system which, unfortunately, has not yet delivered results that are useful in terms of the selection procedure. As far as we can tell, there is still some existing bias towards lawspeakers who have at least one relative who is a practising sayman. However, as the numbers of such recruits diminishes proportionally each year, and the number of crimes requiring a lawspeaker increases, we expect this bias to gradually disappear without the need for positive action of a kind that might disrupt our relations with the Were community.
Inter-species crime is dealt with in normal courts, by the normal law of the land. Depending on the species of the accused, the Department of Constitutional Affairs and BOA between them determine the species of the judge for any case.
If it seems arcane that, as late as 1934, the Were community’s most senior judges were also part of their religious priesthood, it is wise to bear in mind that the great majority of Weres have a strong religious faith. Most Weres, even those who have recently immigrated to this country, will tend to be on speaking terms with at least one god, and often far more. Which gods will often be determined by their cultural affiliation. For example, most werewolves are Heathen and therefore have relationships with the North Sea gods, and many of their national rituals may be attended by one or more of these gods, especially Thor and his wife, Sif. However, some werewolves of southern European extraction, together with most Wereboars, will often prefer the Gallic gods. Then there are the Irish gods, the Tuatha Da with their connections with the North Sea gods via the Viking invasion of Ireland, and, of course, Lugh is a member of three Celtic groups: the Brythonic (Welsh), the Insular (Irish) and the European. Those Weres who prefer to have relationships with the Brythonic and Insular gods increasingly share religious services with the native Albions, who have the same affiliations. And, as with humans, some Weres refuse all relationships whilst other may have relationships with many gods, regardless of tradition.
Given the increased immigration from more far flung parts of the globe during the last century or so, Weres nowadays may follow any religion, including Christianity (although this is still rare it is on the increase). Those inclining towards less native forms, such as Buddhist, Shinto or Hindu gods, still tend to be concentrated in urban areas, and mainly in the larger cities.
For those unfamiliar with traditional Were religions, the priesthood comprises a group of people generally referred to as “sayman” or “saywife”, although the preferred term among the Herds is “seer”, and various other terms may be used by Weres among the immigrant communities. These are analogous terms with the more familiar “seidrworker” or “spaekona” common to the human practitioners of the North Sea religion. The religious practice is basically shamanistic, whereby the sayman is regarded as a healer of the individual and the community. Weres generally regard the saymen as having better access to wyrd (the concept of the interconnectedness of all things) and being able, in some fashion, to either influence or intercede with wyrd (which is held to be an amoral and an impersonal force in the same way as, for example, gravity) than the average Were. Although they are not invested with any moral superiority, saymen sometimes tend to be regarded as possessing superior wisdom or knowledge of the gods.
All Were religions lay as heavy stress on ancestor worship as their human counterparts. However, one difference is that, as well as hamingjar and disir and the other archetypes of female embodiments of family or individual luck or protective mothers, Weres tend to identify these with their own species. So, for example, werewolves have the concept of the Disir as a moot of female ancestors. Over the years these seem to have conflated with terms for similar concepts from other cultures, so it is not unusual for these also to be referred to as Wish Hounds, Gabriel’s Ratchets or even the Cwn Annwn (a term proper to the Brythonic religion). All refer to something which should not be seen by humans and, if it is, will presage their death or other misfortune. For those werewolves who see them the contrary is true. It is also said that such appearances are confined strictly to the time of the full moon. Roughly similar religious constructs apply in all sections of the Were community and there is a specialist briefing on various religions available, which is regularly updated.
Driven by a physical monthly reminder they cannot ignore, all Were culture revolves around “the Change”, which also affects the way mainstream society deals with them. Although Weres commonly do change shape at full moon, “the Change” is not irresistible. In human shape, Weres refer to a condition of being “in the skin” for having human form, or to “being in the fur” for the animal form.
Submissives find it less easy to resist changing form at the time of the full moon. Dominant, or alphas, generally control their change more easily, though none will completely resist except in extreme circumstances, as resistance creates grave physical stress that can lead to illness. Change outside of the full moon appears to be entirely voluntary and controllable by any Were. It is a canard that Weres will kill or harm humans if they smell blood at the full moon; they are no less capable of controlling their impulses than any other species.
The major social problem arising from the Change is for institutions housing Weres outside of moots. Thus hospitals and prisons have sought, generally unsuccessfully, to control the physical reaction of Weres to the full moon. While there are some medications available, these only have short term effects as, over a long term, the side effects tend to be harmful to the patient, depending upon dosage and length of treatment. Thus, although they may be of use in hospitals, or where a situation is life threatening to the Were, they are of very little use in prisons. A combination of administrative difficulties and the scientifically proven highly detrimental effects of imprisoning Weres has led to shorter sentences by courts. This sentencing policy remains controversial, though generally accepted.
The Were community generally accepts certain criminal sentences that do not include prison sentences: fines (known as wergild) are very popular. Another alternative is internal or external exile for various periods of time, the worst sentence being that of permanent external exile, which is reserved for the most heinous crimes, equivalent to murder or betraying the community. Such sentences are usually notified to Interpol or other police systems as, in some parts of the world Weres construe such a sentence as a requirement to kill the exile if he or she is identified as such. On the whole, due to the problems of maintaining Weres in a relatively healthy condition within the prison population, and a perceived disparity in sentencing in normal courts, these internal sentences have been viewed as an acceptable political solution to an intractable problem.
Thanes, lawspeakers and normal courts (for inter-species crime) have the ability to sentence an individual Were to prison, but doing so tends to have severe effects on both the prison and the individual. The Bureau continues to try to find a solution to this problem, so far without success. As long as the current sentencing policy remains, there will be tension between the mainstream human community, many of whom view Weres as receiving favourable sentencing, and the impact on the individual Weres imprisoned and the reaction within the Were community to this.
We have considered human lawspeakers as a possible amelioration, but that has been vetoed by the Althing. The only long term judicial solution would seem to be that of enabling Weres not have to Change when imprisoned or in hospital. If such a solution could be found, it is possible it might also help the problem of amounts of drugs required by Weres. However, so far, this solution raises ethical and religious problems within the Were community even if it were possible.
© Alexa Duir 2006. All Rights Reserved.