Thursday, December 06, 2007


Let us call fremde-freista the encounter with a foreign tradition, in which that tradition is interrogated, tested, dialogued with, and subjected to customs in order to allow that which is of value to be considered for a process of assimilation to those who choose or seek to naturalize it. This is not an instantaneous process, and may take a long time. Some of this time is simply sitting with the fremde-thing, the foreign custom, and watching it, getting to know its behavior. One sits out with it (utiseta) to see how the ancestors and landwights feel about it. One leaves it alone until it becomes old, ancient, even --- then one can begin to think about it. One has to take the time to fully assimilate its significance and test its compatibility with the important, known values (thews), and then it must be adapted by thew. This naturalization process is very important, because all new things must be tested for their value lest they attempt to dominate or dictate, or invade as introjections, i.e. undigested, unassimilated foreign matter.

One can imagine that when Vikings returned from their expeditions, there were stories of their discoveries and encounters, in which others gathered to share in the tales, and some of this included news of the other ways the Vikings had encountered in their trading missions, and what they were like. Strange and curious objects might be brought back and passed around. Wonder tales of travel would be intriguing. Some of the foreign ways would strike a chord, perhaps summon up an old, lost, or submerged note in the old traditions ; other things would not arouse interest. Some things would quickly fade, others might stay for a while then go, while a few things might prove themselves out over long periods as having lasting power.

It was important to have people who went out to encounter other ways, and bring back what they could. Adventures benefited society, and it was useful for youth to go out and see the world, that they might make their way in it. But it was also important that what was brought back was subjected to some scrutiny, lest one carelessly injure the hamingja (the mother-rites of the fatherland and their luck) or the landwights. Nevertheless, we know that foreign objects were brought in, and sometimes treasured as strange, intriguing wonders, and could eventually be assimilated. Assimilation required a long period of what might be called 'Darwinian cultural selection', a kind of testing or freista. Often it was the job of the cyning (chief/king) or the witan (council of wise men) to interrogate the matter, and declare their results to the folk. If they put their hand of approval on it, it was probably considered open to experimentation and general engagement. Their job was to test it against the luck of the tribe (theod). It is this kind of process that is necessary to what scholars of jurisprudence call "reception" of a foreign legal tradition, set of protocols, or thews.

We may consider as models to be elaborated upon, Odin's freista with Vafthruthnir or his encounter with the volva in Vegtamskvida. All such information received must be weighed carefully, by one's wit and wisdom. Judgement calls must be made. One sits with it, one "smokes one's pipe" with it, so to speak, one chews upon its slowly, letting one's own experience and accumulated wisdom evaluate it. One create conditions where it may prove itself. One sees how it can open up and illuminate aspects of riddles and arcane matters in one's own tradition ; in this light, it may not be fully assimilated, but rather utilized as and transformed into a tool to unlock secrets, or a torch to illuminate the darkness. A certain peasant pragmatism is involved here : does it work? how does it work? how do we feel about it? will it help? will it last? will it prove beneficial over the long run? what are its side effects? and most importantly, how will it contribute to the hoard of luck and wit in one's repository? For many strange things illumine what is strange and obscure in one's own hoard. (Such a process of questioning and assimilating something new or foreign might be profitably compared to the process the Amish councils go through when evaluating a new technology --- a process that is not, contrary to popular belief, one of pure rejection, but retains elements of an older Germanic caution towards the foreign in respect and honor of the valuable and lucky in one's own tradition.)

The field is dominated by extremes: those who shut the door on all that is new and strange, and those who introject anything exotic which comes their way, without asserting their autonomy and history before it. I am presenting this concept of "fremde-freista" to remedy these extremes, and provide food for thought on how we may increase our luck with the treasures of others without thereby becoming their thralls. I say this because to revive our traditions, we must stay true (trothful) to the authentic material of our history (as we know it and as it has sometimes accidentally survived in disproportionate fragments), but we can only draw out its deeper richness by investigating the practices of others who kept parallel traditions alive for much longer. Of course, we must evaluate what is truly parallel and what is only superficially parallel, but we cannot turn away the new altogether, for Skuld has assigned us potentials and debts (scild) that require an encounter with the future and the unknown.


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