The concepts of innangarð (inyard) and utangarð (outyard) have found their way into modern American Norse Pagan practice. Their historical use refers to a division between familiar tamed lands (civilization) and the unknown wilderness. Imaginably, the difference between the inner-yard and the outer-yard was a very real, tangible experience for the Norse people, who lived in geographic locations with uninhabitable mountain ranges, frozen northern wastelands, enormous ink-black oceans, long and dark winters, and other foreboding features.

Things that are inherently untameable have a way of instilling a sense of awe and reverence in us, though. We can feel the same sense of expanse staring into the depths of space. While the inner-yard promises safety, comfort, and reprieve, the outer-yard promises secrets, mystery, danger, but also adventure.

In modern American Norse Heathenry, the inner-yard can refer to environments purposed for our living, including our settlements and the spirits associated with human habitat (car wights, house wights, etc). The outer-yard, therefore, refers to the wilderness, places beyond our ability to inhabit, the Otherworld(s), realms we don’t belong to, and all spirits therein.

Establishing right relations with the outer-yard is crucial for cohabiting peacefully with it, as it’s an inescapable part of reality. This involves respecting the nature of the outer-yard for what it is. We don’t explore the depths of the ocean and expect oxygen; likewise, we don’t expect the outer-yard to bend to our needs or play by our rules. We are guests of the outer-yard, and while we can visit it and learn great things from it, its fundamental nature is not crafted for humans, nor will it ever be.

Overlap between the inner-yard and the outer-yard creates liminal spaces, places of great spiritual significance.

Dubious Use

Inner-yard and outer-yard have been used dubiously to describe ingroups and outgroups of people. This may refer to the initiated vs. uninitiated, but is more frequently used to describe “us vs. them” dichotomies: Those who belong in the group vs. those who don’t belong in the group.

This behavior is dubious because it can be used to create cult-like dynamics. These dynamics can manifest in numerous ways, but some examples are as follows:

  • The ingroup discourages access or use of outgroup resources or information.
  • The ingroup encourages reliance on ingroup narratives, resources, and authority.
  • The ingroup instills a sense of fear, anger, suspicion, resentment, distrust, or other negative emotion for the outgroup.
  • The ingroup demands (or suggests a need for) conformity to certain codes, attitudes, behaviors, practices, or ideologies in order for you to remain part of the ingroup.
  • The ingroup forbids or discourages questioning or challenging ingroup authority.

For more information on cult dynamics, see the B.I.T.E model.