Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heathen Considerations On Charity

Hjalp heitir eitt, en þat þér hjalpa mun við sökum ok sorgum ok sútum görvöllum. (Havamal 146) “Help is the name of the first, for that will help thee against harm and sorrow and prepare you against grief and sickness.”

Help is the very first of the rune-songs meant to help out humankind. This underlines the importance Odin gives to us helping each other out. Many have pointed out that the first rune in the rune-set is Feoh, and have thus suggested the implication that help may be rendered through money or resources. This brings us squarely into the realm of charity, but we ought to remember that help comes in many forms, not just money, and that in Havamal, Odin repeatedly advises everyone to provision and prepare themselves in a spirit of self-reliance.

I was at the bookstore the other day, and ran across Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty. I think such questions are immensely important, and besides, Singer has won a good name for himself as an ethical philosopher with his important book Animal Liberation, and so I wanted to see what he had to say. I flipped through the book, and a particular section caught my eye, where he said something to the effect of, and I'm paraphrasing here, "If everyone were to give $200 a year, we could effectively end world poverty". This was a bold if inspiring claim, and so I thought, I should check this out more. Rather than buy the book then, I decided I would see what he had to say about it online later when I got home. I like the idea of giving $200 a year, because it seemed a reasonable amount one might ask from people, and I like things that combine ambition and pragmatism.

Later on, I was able to find an article online in The New York Times Magazine ( entitled "The Singer Solution To World Poverty", where he discusses his ideas in greater depth. There he reveals that $ 200 can save a starving child's life in a third world country. That felt good ; yes, if everyone contributed that much per year, we could indeed save a lot of children. But as Singer points out, not "everyone" is going to give, and so he suggests that those of us who are willing ought to give more. Well, ok, but how much more? Singer actually goes so far as to suggest that every household ought to calculate its minimum needs, and then donate everything in their income that exceeds that. I was stunned. Can he be serious? The implication was that any enjoyments above pure necessity made one actually culpable for those children's deaths, and this felt to me like a hard rule. Granted, Singer actually "allows" us in his calculations our homes and bare necessities, but it was the closest thing I'd read in a long time to the Galilean's advice to "sell everything you have and give it to the poor."

Jesus, in Luke 18 : 22, says, ἔτι ἕν σοι λείπει· πάντα ὅσα ἔχεις πώλησον καὶ διάδος πτωχοῖς, "Yet lackest thou one thing : sell all that thou hast (ἔχω echō : to hold in the hand, chattels, Feoh. No indication of Odal) and distribute it amongst the destitute (πτωχός ptōchos, beggars, the homeless)," and commands in Matthew 19 : 21, ὕπαγε πώλησόν σου τὰ ὑπάρχοντα καὶ δὸς πτωχοῖς, "Go, sell what you have (ὑπάρχοντα hyparchonta, often translated as "goods" or "wealth", and still within Feoh's orbit), and give to the destitute," and again in Luke 12 : 33 exhorts, Πωλήσατε τὰ ὑπάρχοντα ὑμῶν καὶ δότε ἐλεημοσύνην, "Sell your goods (ὑπάρχοντα hyparchonta) and give alms (ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē, mercy, pity, alms, charity.)

Now if I'm correct and Jesus is referring here to Feoh, chattels, and not Odal, the home and family lands, then contrary to the extremely harsh and strict command this has generally been interpreted to be, Jesus is not advising that people sell their houses and lands, but only their movable goods. Here Singer's position and the Galilean's are very close, except that Singer doesn't advise that one is obligated to sell πάντα, panta, "all" of one's goods --- just those above bare necessity.

All of one's goods? All of one's goods above bare necessity? I see no indication that Singer is making any distinction whatsoever between "necessary comforts" and "unnecessary luxuries". Sure, if you have an ipod already, you probably don't need for yourself another one on top of it simply because it's a cool, new color. Our own ancestors critiqued people getting trapped by excessive comfort and luxury (one can find many such examples by heroes in Saxo), and greed, which is excessive material desire, is most definitely critiqued. But greed is desire for more than one's share, what goes beyond good proportion and necessary comforts. And what is necessary may differ from person to person. A scholar may genuinely have a need, to fulfill his or her wyrd, for many books, and if the intent is to benefit his or her community with the work, does this not also have an element of service*? Certainly Odin wants us to expand our minds, and Frey and Freya don't seem to mind us enjoying ourselves in good proportion, and Njord welcomes a good hoard of wealth for one's family to enjoy.

But there is no doubt that we are warned against greed, against excessive materialistic hoarding that divides the community. But Singer's strict tone was raising some troubling questions for me. Particularly the idea that it is not just laudable for me to help people on the other side of the world, but that I have an obligation to do so that is so stringent that I am culpable for their fate and fortune if I do not.

I wanted to think about this from a heathen perspective, and provocative statements provide just that kind of stirring that Odin wants us to riddle and struggle through to reach enlightenment, so I was willing to throw myself into the dilemma and ask some important, nagging questions. Are we culpable for the fates of people on the other side of the world whom we have never met? Are we allowed no material comforts of our own? Must we give everything beyond pure necessities away to the unfortunate? Are we obligated to go out of our way in yielding help? What is the heathen perspective on charity?

When we begin to examine the question of charity from a heathen perspective, we have to start on the right foot. In all things, Odin advises us to have manvitts, street-smarts, common sense. "No better burden" can we carry, in fact. Common sense suggests that we exercise wariness, examine (freista) things carefully, and utilize hóf or moderation when we are considering any proposition or venture, no matter what it might be. This must be our beginning point. No matter where we are venturing, we must keep our eyes about us, because we never know where unfriendly traps may or snags may lie. Gáttir allar áðr gangi fram um skoðask skyli, um skyggnast skyli, því at óvíst er at vita hvar óvinir sitja á fleti fyrir, (Havamal 1) "One should look around and examine all doorways before going forward, because you never know for sure where unfriends sit on the benches." On its face, Havamal 1 is speaking literally about people who are not friends, but deeper it is speaking about the possibility of unfriendly ambushes. Before taking on any venture, examine it very, very closely and look around, because there are ideological traps that can become embedded in ways of thinking by those with whom one would not necessarily become friends.

So we begin from this standpoint, from this axiomatic orientation, that we are going to exercise common sense, street-smarts, a measure of moderation, and careful examination of any propositions put before us.

The question of charity is the question of care for the community. There is no doubt that ancient heathen society cared about the community. The entire purpose of the Assembly or Thing is to decide on matters of import in the community, and to ensure that no one's rights are being stepped on. At the local Assembly were representatives from all the families who lived in the area, so this was not a concern that was confined to one's own kin. It was a concern that stretched out to one's kith. The Anglo-Saxon cýþþ referred to one's native country and homeland. More fundamentally, it means those people who are known through actual acquaintance, as it comes from cunnan, to know. It is those people who are manifest before your eyes in your actual affairs in going about the world. This is made plain by the inflected word cýðere, which literally means a "witness". These two parameters help us properly define and delimit kith : on the one hand, those of one's homeland, on the other hand, those one may witness, even as a bystander or spectator, in the midst of one's everyday life. This confines kith to a regional or neighborhood basis, and gives us an idea of the scale of social circles or kingdoms in ancient times.

At the Assembly, we come to discuss matters of concern for one's kith, with one's kith. Matters of administration and rights, fairness and neighborliness were brought up, and people were expected to stay informed about these things, and to be involved in community matters. There is no doubt that the vel-ferð ("well-doing") or welfare of the community was one of the issues. It was definitely something leaders were supposed to attend to, as we know that in worst-case scenarios, kings could be killed for not maintaining peace and prosperity within the kingdom. This is very clear in Ynglingasaga.

Ynglingasaga 15 : Dómaldi ... Á hans dögum gerðist í Svíþjóð sultur og seyra ...Þá áttu höfðingjar ráðagerð sína og kom það ásamt með þeim að hallærið mundi standa af Dómalda konungi þeirra og það með að þeir skyldu honum blóta til árs sér, "Domaldi ... in his days starvation and sour, foul famine were prepared in Sweden ... Then all the head men took counsel amongst themselves and all agreed together that the declining-seasons (famine, downward turn in fruitfulness and abundance) had been caused by Domaldi their king and that they must sacrifice him to obtain good harvests." There was dearth in the land afflicting many, and everyone came together in counsel out of concern for this, and it was determined that the king was responsible, and must pay the ultimate penalty, being given to the Gods because obviously he hadn't been doing their duty to them. Snorri uses very specific words here. The famine and starvation had been gerðist, "made", "prepared", "created" in Domaldi's days. This wasn't a chance happening. It was something that could have been prevented through good administration. The Irish Potato Famine comes to mind. If more varieties of potatos had been encouraged for cultivation, no one disease could have wiped out all crops, but far more significantly, and beyond this, even had most of the potatoes died off as they did, it was political policies that set the groundwork for the starvation that followed, which easily could have been prevented. We read Ynglingasaga 15 with naive eyes if we think our ancestors here were being merely superstitious and engaging in magical thinking without also seeing that there was a definitive political condemnation happening here as well. The verse from Þjóðólfur's Ynglingital that Snorri quotes clarifies this : og landher á lífs vanan dreyrug vopn Dómalda bar, þá er árgjörn Jóta dólgi Svía kind um sóa skyldi, "and the land-warriors, in the hope of saving their lives, carried Domaldi to be bloodied by their weapons, when, yearning for abundance, the Swedish kin were obligated to sacrifice the foe of the Jotnar (often translated "Jutes", but in old heathen poetry, often equivalent to jotnar)." The king was supposed to be the foe of the giants who brought barrenness and cold with them, not their friend! They were forced (skyldi) to destroy him á lífs vanan, in the hopes of saving their lives! This was how much they yearned for fruitfulness to return. It is clear that the general welfare was a key concern of the Assemblies, and that the king was supposed to design good policies to facilitate this.

We have another example of this in Ynglingasaga 43 : að landið fékk eigi borið. Gerðist þar hallæri mikið og sultur. Kenndu þeir það konungi sínum, svo sem Svíar eru vanir að kenna konungi bæði ár og hallæri, "...the land could neither suffer nor bear them. A mighty famine and starvation was created. They attributed this to their king, as the Swedes were accusomted to attribute to their king the bettering of abundance and good seasons or famine." Ólafur konungur var lítill blótmaður. Það líkaði Svíum illa og þótti þaðan mundu standa hallærið. Drógu Svíar þá her saman, gerðu för að Ólafi konungi og tóku hús á honum og brenndu hann inni og gáfu hann Óðni og blétu honum til árs sér, "King Olaf was a paltry giver-of-feasts. The Swedes liked that ill and thought that that was the reason for the famine. The Swedes then drew together an army and made an expedition upon King Olaf and seized him in his house and burned him in it and gave him to Odin and sacrificed him to obtain good seasons." Afterwards, however, Þeir er vitrari voru af Svíum fundu þá að það olli hallærinu að mannfólkið var meira en landið mætti bera en konungur hafði engu um valdið, "Those who were wisest amongst the Swedes found that all of the famine was caused by more menfolk than the land could bear and that the king had not been responsible for this." He had not valdið "wielded" this, this had not been due to his policies. This is an important qualification here. The prior assumption had been that due to the king's policies, things had gone badly, and thus he was held responsible. However, it was vindicated when the wisest in Sweden determined through investigation that the carrying-capacity of the land had been violated. Thus we learn that the Swedes were concerned about carrying-capacity as well as royal policies that affected abundance in the land.

These examples suffice to show that the general welfare was in fact the concern of the the people collectively, as a matter of policy and administration, indicating that collectively the people were expected to attend to such matters, which makes the most sense, because if you handle things well on the level of general policy, good welfare in general will be the result. Furthermore, it is silly to hold individuals responsible for poor welfare which is the result of bad policies, unless they were directly responsible for those policies themselves. The general rule seems to be, collectively, in council follow that rede or good rule and advice that fosters a good economy that takes care of the general welfare such that there is neither famine nor starvation. This doesn't mean that everyone has to have equal fortunes, but general policy should not result in such bad administration and rules that allow people to be starving in the streets.

When we examine the behavior of the folk in these stories from Ynglingasaga, we have to realize that they are behaving in accordance with traditional expectations about the king's duties. The king was expected to help out those in need by drawing upon his funds, which came from four different sources : voluntary, regular contributions from the folk, a dividend from wergild fines in criminal cases, tribute from thralls working on his demesne, and any funds won in warfare, whether through direct seizure of enemy assets, or rewards from allies. This is made very clear in Tacitus' Germania :

Germania 15 : Mos est civitatibus ultro ac viritim conferre principibus vel armentorum vel frugum, quod pro honore acceptum etiam necessitatibus subvenit, "It is the custom of the community to voluntarily and individually bring together to their leader herds and crops, which is accepted as a mark of honor and also to assist in their needs."

Germania 12 : Pars multae regi vel civitati, pars ipsi, qui vindicatur, vel propinquis eius exsolvitur, "Part of the fine is paid to the king or community, part to he who has won the case or the relatives."

Germania 25 : Frumenti modum dominus aut pecoris aut vestis ut colono iniungit, et servus hactenus paret, "The lord requires of him as a tenant-farmer a measure of grain, cattle, or cloth, and to this extent does the thrall submit." Suam quisque sedem, suos penates regit, "Each has his own habitation or settlement, and each rule their own household." (Although here we must make the note that suos penates regit can also mean, "Each are guided by their own household gods", in other words, their hamingja.)

Germania 14 : Materia munificentiae per bella et raptus, "The means for this bountifulness and liberality is through warfare and forfeiture."

The king's hall especially was meant to be a refuge of hospitality (as Robin Hood puts it, a habitation for the oppressed, where they may receive peace and rest), and a king who abused the sacred law of hospitality became a niding. In Grimnisal, the king Geirrod, seduced by false rumors, abuses a stranger who comes to his hall for hospitality, and Odin declares that through this criminal deed which Tacitus calls a nefas, a violation of divine law, the king has forfeited the help of Odin, all of the Einherjar, and his own disir as well. miklu ertu hnugginn,er þú ert mínu gengi, öllum Einherjum ok Óðins hylli (Grimnisal 51), "Greatly are you brought down, when thou art departed of all the Einherjar's and my, Odin's, grace and favour." Úfar ro dísir (Grimnisal 53), "Hostile are your disir". Odin is being very clear here : the law of hospitality is so sacred that the king who abuses it will not find a place amongst the Einheriar or Odin, nor even amongst his own family disir, who prepare homes for their kin in the sunny plains of Holy Hel, which means the only place remaining is that place reserved for nidings, cowardly, sadistic monsters, which is Niflhel.

Frigg accuses Geirrod of being a "meat-niding" who torments his guests by depriving them of food. Frigg segir: "Hann er matníðingr sá, at hann kvelr gesti sína, ef honum þykkja of margir koma." "Frigg said, "He is a meat-niding, who torments his own guests if he thinks that too many have arrived." The text comments that it was inn mesti hégómi, "the greatest slander" to declare that a konungr væri eigi matgóðr, "king was not good in sharing out meals". But not only was this king not good in sharing out meals, but he actually would torture guests by letting them starve and pine away. Konungr lét hann pína ... ok setja milli elda tveggja, "The king let him pine (be punished/tortured) and set him between two fires" where the guest was burned. The guest complains, Átta nætr sat ek milli elda hér, svá at mér manngi mat né bauð (Grimnisal 2), "Eight nights I have sat here between the fires, yet no one has offered me any food." Indeed King Geirrod is a matníðingr, and since Odin is the guest here who has come to test this claim, Geirrod will be deprived of both his kingship and his life, as even his own sword turns against him and kills him. Odin exclaims, Fjölð ek þér sagðak, en þú fátt of mant (Grimnisal 52), "Much have I told thou, but little hast thou remembered," implying that Odin shared much wisdom, the most important of which was the treatment of guests.

Public policy, then, as guarded and advised by the king, certainly cannot violate the law of hospitality, which Odin lays out very clearly in the beginning strophes of Havamal, and as I have pointed out before, this charity is quite similar to the sine qua non that Jesus gives for Christians in Matthew 25 : 35. A guest ought to be given Elds .... ok ... Matar ok váða ...Vatns..., þerru ok þjóðlaðar, góðs of æðis ... orðs ok endrþögu (Havamal 3, 4) "A place by the fire and food and clothing, water, a towel and a hearty welcome from the folk, good manners, conversation and deep silence." Warmth, food, dry clothes, water and a towel, a hearty welcome, and good conversation, with good manners leaving the guest to his or her silence when needed. Germania 21, Quemcumque mortalium arcere tecto nefas habetur, "It is considered a violation of divine law to turn away any human from the protection of one's roof." Mortalium, any mortal, not just someone of one's own folk. To underline this, Tacitus says, Notum ignotumque quantum ad ius hospitis nemo discernit, "Nobody distinguishes between friends and strangers when it comes to this law of hospitality."

Such hospitality was required of all, but most especially the king. For most people, pro fortuna quisque apparatis epulis excipit...cum defecere (Germania 21), "provided food according to their wealth and were relieved when it ran short". At this time, they would be escorted to the next house where they would receive hospitality. According to Anglo-Saxon custom, this was a three day stay. Odin comments on this in Havamal 35, saying, Ganga skal, skal-a gestr vera ey í einum stað; ljúfur verðr leiðr, ef lengi sitr annars fletjum á, "A guest shall go forth, and should not be always in one stead ; the beloved becomes loathsome if he sits too long at another's benches." On the other hand, the king was expected to have greater resources.

But public policy is not confined to the law of hospitality which is required of everyone. The laws are also meant to serve other purposes, which Caesar defines quite well in his Gallic War, 6.22. The laws of the community are designed to ne latos fines parare studeant, potentioresque humiliores possessionibus expellant, "to prevent the strong and powerful from expelling the weak and poor from their property and possessions," ne qua oriatur pecuniae cupiditas, qua ex re factiones dissenssionesque nascuntur, "to prevent greed and usury of money and property to arise, for from this cause factions and discord are born", and finally ut animi aequitate plebem contineant, cum suas quisque opes cum potentissimis aequari videat, "to secure to the common people a spirit of justice and equity, since everyone can see that his own resources and wealth are equal to that of the strong and powerful." To sum up, protection of the rights of the weak against the strong, to prevent the social fragmentation that usury and greed wreak, and to secure the common folk equity, so that their own resources are equal to those who are more powerful.

This is a high standard of social justice, and it was effected through the jubilee-like custom amongst the Germanic folk of regular redistribution of agrarian land. On the tribal lands, at least in these pre-Roman and ur-Germanic times, every clan had its own land for habitations, in which families would build homes with yards, but these clan-lands were surrounded by arable lands, common pastures, and woodlots, which were themselves surrounded by great stretches of heath between neighboring tribes. The woodlots and pastures were held in common, with traditional rules regulating usage so they would not be over-harvested, and the arable lands were divided into strips that were annually assigned by lot. In this way, the variability of fertility amongst different areas of land would be distributed evenly amongst the folk. The idea was that if every family had its own land, and an equal access to the resources with which they could produce wealth, there would be general contentment and good welfare, despite minor differences and variations in wealth. Tacitus indicates that both the jarls and the thralls, the high and the low, were raised in the same environment ; while their wealth did differ, obviously, it was mainly the difference in honor, glory, responsibility, and privileges that were prominent.

When law secures the general welfare through enlightened and customary policies of social justice, there will seldom be a need for charity, because each man will be enabled to provide for himself. Charity is then extended to those who are having a difficult time or experiencing misfortune. The idea of permanent classes of unfortunates would have been foreign (for even thralls were assigned their own house and farmlands), and only the result of really bad administration and protection of rights. The reaction of the folk in Ynglingasaga to the famine that had been "prepared" was to attack the king, who should have been administering customary welfare policies. The focus of social welfare is tribal law and not individual charity.

This begs the question of what an individual's ethical obligation is in response to need. While everyone in a community collectively ought to see to the general welfare, what should be our response to need as individuals? Here Odin has some words of advice. Mikit eitt skal-a manni gefa; oft kaupir sér í litlu lof, með halfum hleif ok með höllu keri fékk ek mér félaga. (Havamal 52.) “A man does not have to give much ; often praise is bought for a little, with a half a loaf and with a tipped horn I have gotten me fellowship.” Lof, praise, may also be translated as "allowance" and more significantly, "good report". "Praise" here is not the best translation as it implies that one gives simply to get accolades from the individual who has received the gift, but "good report" demonstrates that there is acclaim and honor to be had from the community when they hear of someone who is giving. Skal-a, a man is "not obliged" to give much, which on the one hand sets a bound of expectation or moral obligation, but lof, laudability provides the other bound. There is obviously some expectation to demonstrate generosity in our affairs, as generosity is one of the most highly praised of Northern values, and indeed, to be expected most from the king ; but on the other hand, that an action may be laudable means it goes a little beyond expectation. In these matters, one should steer a middle course between the minimum expected and being laudable.

In Havamal 135, Odin advises, get þú váluðum vel, "treat well the beggars and destitute, those who have experienced woe". Those who are truly unfortunate should be treated well. However, discernment is still advised. Odin also says, Þagalt ok hugalt skyldi þjóðans barn ok vígdjarft vera (Havamal 15), "Discreet and carefully-charitable should every child of a tribal leader be, and daring in a fight." The key word here is hugalt, which has a meaning of "kind", "charitable", "attentive to the needs of others", but also "mindful", "attentive", "cautious", "contemplative", "meditative", and even further, "amiable" and "heartful". It is to be thoughtful in both senses of the word : to exercise consideration for the needs of others, but also to think things through carefully. It describes discerning giving. Friendly, kind charity exercised with discernment and caution.

A modern example will suffice. Should you give a handout to anyone who asks you for change? Of course, being hugalt, heartful, only you can decide in that moment, but also being careful and discerning (hugalt), you may want to ask whether the person in front of you is in genuine need or whether they are going to use your handout for drugs which will only reinforce their bad situation. Yes, we should be considerate towards the needs of others, but we should also exercise some street-smarts (manvitts). And we needn't impoverish ourselves in the giving ; Mikit eitt skal-a manni gefa, "a man is not obligated to give much". Sharing a little food and drink may suffice for the community to take notice of you as a caring person. Many people today exercise this quite literally, not giving change to someone in need, but offering to take them to get something to eat and drink at a nearby fast food establishment. This is definitely exercising that blend of caring and cautiousness advised by the Havamal.

I can find nowhere any obligation for a person or community to take care of the entire world. This would be not only patronizing, but aggressive in tone, and ancient heathens didn't like aggressive people who pushed their ways onto others. We do have a single mythic example of King Frodi bringing peace, prosperity, and lawfulness to the entire known world, but the mythic context of this must be assimilated in order to be understood. The entire purpose of this tremendous campaign was to free people in order that they might run their own affairs free of tyrants and thieves, who had universally taken over in a time of crisis. The mythological context is an invasion of giants, who, bringing barrenness with them as they always do, had invaded the lands of Midgard as the strong arms of tyrannical kings, most especially King Ermanerich, that infamous and widely hated king of old who received the worst insult a king could, being called "wolfish", which was the farthest attitude the king was supposed to show towards his people.

Moreover, Frodi's "conquest" of the many lands of the world to bring them fruitfulness and peace may be compared to the similar "conquests" of Osiris and Dionysos, which constitute legendary explanations for the spread of their worship and the arts they warded over : cultivation, tending of fruit, green harvests, etc. Frodi is the title of Freyr, and so the myth tells us that when Freyr rules, there is peace, prosperity, and security. Boiled down to its essence, freedom brings peace, prosperity, and security.

In Wyrd Megin Thew, I demonstrated that this Frodi-saga exposited in Book Five of Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes is coeval in the mythic epic with the Robin Hood legends, which demonstrate a hero of disenfranchised yeomen helping them recover their freedom and odal-rights from tyrants and their henchmen through a kind of grassroots guerilla warfare conducted from the safety of the forests. Robin and Frodi here are doubles, as the English people carried with them the legends found in similar but varied form in Denmark.

Robin is fighting for those classes who have been subject to systematic injustice by those who should have been the very guardians of common rights. In John Major's Historia Majoris Britanniae of 1521, we learn that Robin "spoiled of their goods those only that were wealthy. They took the life of no man, unless he either attacked them or offered resistance in defence of his property ... He would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he spoil the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from the abbots." (Stephen Knight / Thomas Ohlgren, trs.) As we shall see, Major's take here is slightly inaccurate, because Robin is not attacking those who offer resistance in defence of property that belongs to them, but precisely property which does not belong to them which they have forcefully expropriated. In the Gest of Robyn Hode (c. 1400), Robin says, "But loke ye do no husbonde harme, / That tilleth with his ploughe. / No more ye shall no gode yeman / That walketh by grene wode shawe, / Ne no knyght ne no squyer / That wol be a gode felawe. / These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes, / Ye shall them bete and bynde ; / The hye sherif of Notyngham, / Hym holde ye in your mynde./ ... Be he erle, or ani baron, / Abbot, or ani knyght, / Bringhe hym to lodge to me ; / His dyner shall be dight," "But look that you do no harm to a peasant farmer who tills with his plough, nor a good yeoman (an odal-holder) that walks by the green wood forest, nor any knight or squire who would prove a good fellow (to us). These bishops and archbishops you shall beat and bind, and the high Sheriff of Nottingham, hold him too in your mind (for this treatment). Be he an earl or a baron, an abbot or a night, bring him to stay with me, and his dinner shall be ready." In this fight, Robin has the wide support from the populace. In the ballad Robin Hood and the Bishop, Robin appeals for help from an old wife in a little house by the forest, and she says, "If thou be Robin Hood ... / As thou doth seem to be, / I'le for thee provide, and thee I will hide, / From the Bishop and his company."

His goodness to the poor is widely attested. In the Gest he says, Of my good he shall have some,/ Yf he be a pore man. "Of my good he shall have some, if he be a poor man." To a knight who said, I holpe a pore yeman, / With wronge was put behynde, "I helped a poor yeoman who was downgraded through the violation of his rights", Robin replied, What man that helpeth a good yeman, / His frende than wyll I be, "What man helps a good yeoman, his friend I will be." In The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington, the articles or rules of Robin's order of merry men are read aloud, which include, "...[Y]ou never shall the poore man wrong, Nor spare a priest, a usurer, or a clarke. ... Lastly, you shall defend with all your power, Maids, widowes, orphantss, and distressed men." The mention of maids and widows indicates that he was very supportive of women's rights. All wemen werschepyd he, "He honored all women," says the ballad Robin Hood and the Potter, in the lingo of the time where "werschepyd" meant "honor". The extent of this honor should be underlined by the fact that the connotation "worshipped" cannot be excised from this reading either. Like Frodi, who recognized and established into law the right for brides to choose their own husbands, in the ballad Robin Hood and Allin a Dale, Robin says, "The bride she shall chuse her own dear."

Later in The Downfall, a poor, old man who has been bereft of all good in the world seeks Robin Hood out in the forest because he has become renowned as "the poore mans patron". In the ballad Robin Hood's Golden Prize, amongst the oaths to join the order are, "The last oath you shall take, it is this, / Be charitable to the poor...". In the ballad A True Tale of Robin Hood, Robin's men are said to be "Feared of the rich, loved of the poore...".

The statement in the Gest is critical to understanding the situation here. In Saxo's telling, Frodi is fighting tyrants who have stolen from the people and defrauded them of their rights. (In Thidreks Saga, which is contemporary with Saxo's tale, we find under King Ermanerich's reign giants plundering people's farms and stealing goods from them.) In the Gest we find that Robin is helping out yeomen who have been impoverished and downgraded through the violation of their rights. Yeomen are those who held an odal estate, working farmlands that had been held in the family for generations. By being deprived of these homelands, they were disenfranchized and made poor. The middle-class, the carls, are being driven into thralldom by official thieves who lawlessly deprive them of their rights and prosperity. In the ballad Robin Hood's Fishing (Child Ballad # 148), Robin says, "And, with this gold, for the opprest / An habitation I will build, / Where they shall live in peace and rest.’" We are dealing with a situation of widespread oppression which Robin intends to correct by building for the oppressed a peaceful "habitation". This means not only housing, but more importantly, the restoration of the law of the land.

Pages and pages are dedicated in Saxo's exposition to the delineation of the laws that Frodi had to set down to correct these wrongs, and they set up strong penalties for this kind of embezzlement, theft, and fraud, restored odal rights through ensuring that forefathers were properly buried in the barrows from which odal rights were counted up, and reaffirmed the laws of hospitality that provided the normal level of charity for those in need. These included a law very similar to the custom in Alaska whereby people leave their cabins stocked in wintertime even when they are away so that if a passerby is hungry, they can come in and won't starve. However, they are not expected to eat their hosts out of house and home, and are entitled to take a meal's worth and no more.

Freyr is by his very nature a "grassroots" figure, and his revolutionary warfare is conducted through the proliferation of guilds dedicated to mutual aid. I have demonstrated elsewhere ( the military structure of the Calusari and other Morris-men type groups, which gives some festal texture to the nature of Frodi's armies. Thus, these guilds formed in each of these countries through rights of freedom of association (whether recognized or no), sustained themselves in wild areas through a combination of hunting, support from the larger populace, and posse comitatus style forfeiture of assets wrongfully expropriated by leaders from the people, and returning a good share to the folk themselves. The goal here is not so much "overturning" of the social order per se, as it is the overturning of a social order gone awry in order to restore the proper social order, which functions through lawful protection of rights and freedoms. The picture painted by Thidrek's Saga, the Robin Hood ballads, and Book Five of Saxo clearly demonstrates that the jarl-class has completely reneged on their obligations to defend the rights of the people, and indeed have invited in giants! For this treason they may be rightfully sacrificed, as we have seen with kings in Ynglingasaga, and the vacated noble titles may be given, as Frodi does, to those who fought to restore rights, and many of those were thralls whose bravery in defending the nation won themselves an earldom!

Frodi's grassroots uprisings speak to conditions where odal rights have been overturned, creating widespread poverty, and where usury has been introduced. Notice the rules of Robin's order mandated against the sparing of usurers, and here we might recall Germania 26 : Faenus agitare et in usuras extendere ignotum, "Pursuing usury and enlarging their increase through interest is unknown amongst them." Someone had introduced the uncustomary practice of usury, and this had to be stopped. One might notice that in the same set of rules, Robin's merry men are advised against sparing priests and clerics, and this leaves open the question of what they had done. Here, however, the gap is filled in once again by Saxo, who lets us know that during the time that Odin was exiled, Loki tricked people into thinking he had seized the godhood and required multiple sacrifices and offerings from them.

Mitothyn ... ipse fingendae divinitatis arripuit barbarasque mentes novis erroris tenebris circumfusas praestigiarum fama ad caerimonias suo nomini persolvendas adduxit. Hic deorum iram aut numinum violationem confusis permixtisque sacrificiis expiari negabat ideoque iis vota communiter nuncupari prohibebat, discreta superum cuique libamenta constituens.

"Mitothyn... himself made out to the barbarians that he had seized divine status, and surrounded their minds with dark ignorance, and new, extraordinary errors, persuading them through his infamous tricks to pay for ceremonies in his name, and taught that they must expiate these gods who were angry at the violation of their divine will through the blending and mixing of sacrifices, and therefore he prohibited and forbade them to call on them in common, establishing separate offerings to each of the Gods."

Religion, which was supposed to tie the community together, was being used to exact tribute and fleece the common person through the threat of divine wrath. The expensive indulgences, offered to expiate people's sins, that Martin Luther combatted, comes to mind.

We must also remember that the jarl class was the godi class ; in other words, their very nobility stemmed from the fact that they led the sacrifices which brought the whole community together in holiness. If they have overturned good and fair religion, they have forfeited their honors of nobility.

The great impoverishment of Ermanerich's time was brought about through expropriation of the odal rights along with the redistribution-customs that accompanied them, the introduction of usurious loans, and the introduction of exploitative and taxing religious practices. In other words, kings and jarls had become nidings, and themselves had overturned the customary and righteous social order through their acts of nidinghood. One might wonder whether either etymologically or homonymically "Nottingham" was once Niding-ham, which would make Robin's traditional foe the Shire Reeve of the Habitation of Nidings. In any case, it fits.

Under these circumstances of widespread political injustice, Frodi leads armies that travel from Scotland to England, England to Norway, Norway to Germany, Germany to Russia, liberating the folk from tyrants, robbers, and jotnar. It was not here a matter of providing charity, but rallying a fight for freedom.

Here we must look to what Tacitus has to tell us about the comitati or bands of adventurers amongst the Germani to see what customs would hold here.

Germania 14 : Si civitas, in qua orti sunt, longa pace et otio torpeat, plerique nobilium adulescentium petunt ultro eas nationes, quae tum bellum aliquod gerunt, quia et ingrata genti quies et facilius inter ancipitia clarescunt magnumque comitatum non nisi vi belloque tueare; exigunt enim principis sui liberalitate illum bellatorem equum, illam cruentam victricemque frameam, "If the communities in which they were born stagnate for too long in peace and quiet, a good many of the noble youth voluntarily aim to advance to nations who are carrying on war with someone, because rest is unpleasant to these people, and they may readily become famous through perils and danger in battle, and their huge retinues cannot be upheld except through force and warfare."

Germania 13 : Nec solum in sua gente cuique, sed apud finitimas quoque civitates id nomen, ea gloria est, "Nor is it only amongst their own people, but also amongst neighboring communities that they have their name and fame", which again implies that retinues were filled with bold youths from neighboring communities where adventure had stagnated.

When their own communities were at peace, some of the youth from the jarl class would volunteer their services to nations that were in the midst of conflict, but not only to win the glory that this help would bring, but to receive rewards as well. Thus a band of adventurers might receive help from neighboring tribesmen who wished to advance their own status.

At the advent of our first significant account of the Germani, in Caesar's Gallic Wars, we find the King of the Suebi tribe, Ariovistus (whose name, significantly with our theme of kings and hospitality, means "he who feeds the warriors"), in this precise position. Ariovistus was invited over by some Gallic tribes who had been involved in strife with their tribal neighbors. When we look at the whole picture, the resulting composite yields us the information that Ariovistus' men had been promised wide swathes of land in exchange for their help, but once they had rendered their aid, the Gallic tribes treacherously turned on them and attacked. Ariovistus' troops defeated them in battle, and claimed beyond the land they had already been promised, even more in recompense for the treacherous attack, and imposes tribute on those prisoners of war who were spared, securing hostages from them to insure payment of tribute. The Gallic tribes in response call upon Caesar's help, who demands that Ariovistus return the hostages, but Ariovistus refuses, telling Caesar he has no rights nor authority in this part of the world. He asks Caesar how he would like it if Ariovistus came and told the Romans how they should live their lives, and points out that according to the law of nations and the customs of war, they had won their rights to land and tribute fair and square, having been attacked and defeating their attackers.

This is prologue to provide context for Germanic customs of volunteering. Anyone might volunteer as a foreign mercenary adventurer who could win fame for helping other people out. The most famous example of this, of course, is Beowulf, who comes with his retainers to Denmark to help King Hrothgar against the foe who is devastating his hall and lands. This picture from Beowulf lets us see how Frodi's "wars" were conducted : revolutionary guilds formed in each country, supplemented by volunteer mercenaries from neighboring states.

To sum up, in the one loric example that can be found of extending liberality to the entire world beyond one's own kith and kingdom, this is neither obligatory nor is it mainly monetary at all, but rather voluntary and mercenary. One expected to be well-rewarded to help others win their freedom, for freedom is both expensive and worthwhile. It is freedom-fighting and not charity per se which was needed in this situation, because all laws and rights had been overturned, which must necessarily result in a general condition of poverty and dearth.

Each kingdom is expected to take care of its own, and if it loses its sovereignty through coup d'etat by a corrupted aristocracy, the people themselves must form guilds to protect their freedoms and expropriate what has been unrightfully taken from them. If the guilds of such a nation require aid, they may call upon voluntary mercenaries who are more than happy to provide help in exchange for good rewards when victory has been won.

Thus, within the kingdom, the Law Assembly and its King ought to ensure good policies that secure the general welfare, and vagaries of misfortune amongst one's kith ought to be met with careful but heartful giving, and hospitality ought to be extended to anyone who comes knocking on one's door, provided they behave with good and guestly manners,and do not overstay their welcome. As an individual, one is not required to give a lot, just some food and drink, which alone is laudatory. Of course, if one wants to go beyond that, as long as one doesn't bankrupt oneself or the resources for one's family's future, that could be laudatory as well, but hardly expected. The greatest help one can give a nation that has been systematically impoverished through poor public policy is to support their freedom fighters, so that the bad policy can be corrected and good welfare restored. If one wants to give a little here, one may, and if one wishes to win some fame and fortune, one can always volunteer for expeditions of liberation, as asked for by other communities.

Help comes in many forms, as we stated when this essay began. We are called upon to help those in our community without impoverishing ourselves, and we are called upon to use our rights of enfranchisement, of jury duty, and of bearing arms to defend the common law of the land which ensures the general welfare. Asking folks to impoverish themselves to help out those impoverished by bad or criminal welfare policies is illogical. Individuals ought to attend to individual woe when it is before them or when it knocks on their door, while it is the community at large that ought to tend to systematic troubles.

We must exercise both common sense and discernment when it comes to lending help. Stubborn folly and misfortune are not the same things. Those who habitually fail to be resourceful, and to prepare provisions for themselves in times of trouble, are not the same as victims of misfortune. This does not mean that we may not help them at all, but those who are victims of their own folly may be treated differently from those who are truly victims of misfortune outside their own control. Here we really ought to take to heart Ynglingasaga 43 : Þeir er vitrari voru af Svíum fundu þá að það olli hallærinu að mannfólkið var meira en landið mætti bera, "Those who were wisest amongst the Swedes found that all of the famine was caused by more menfolk than the land could bear". Attention to the carrying-capacity of the land is extremely important, and a part of being a responsible member of the community. The king Olaf Geirstadaalf tells his people, "Long has peace reigned in this kingdom and good harvests, but the population is now greater than the land can bear. ... A plague will come to the country from the east and cause many deaths." (quoted in Viktor Rydberg, au., William P. Reaves, tr., Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Vol. II, Part 2, iUniverse, New York, 2004, p. 66.) William Burke evinces an old English law that forbade marriage to anyone under a certain level of income, because marriage was an institution to provide for children, and without a certain minimum level of income and resources, children would not be able to be provided for, and would tax the resources of the royal welfare. Analogues to this English law can be found amongst the Scandinavians as well. Everyone must take population and carrying capacity very seriously, and one important way to help people is to remind them that the foremost duty of any would-be parent is to assess whether the resources exist (both materially and emotionally) to provide for that child. The old English and Scandinavian laws just referred to provide examples of the common law providing public policy that supports habits of self-reliance and appropriate population adjustment to carrying capacity of the land. Such habits ought to become customs. Self-reliance means that the first form of help is self-help ; then, if we cannot provide due to misfortune, we may call upon others and even the community itself for forms of mutual aid.

There is a middle ground between greed and martyrdom in the heathen way. There is a path of good proportion that followed rigorously can lead to good for many, and with vigilance, perhaps all. The heathen way calls upon us to give, but in good measure, and with thoughts of the happiness of our own families as well as the rest of our community. For those unfortunates outside our communities, we may lend aid from time to time out of the goodness of our hearts ("peace and goodwill towards men" is an authentic Yuletide ethic), but mainly we wish them well and may, if we are of a bold and heroic nature, lend them aid in restoring the freedom and rights of the land that will allow them to prosper.

After all, we are not to be our brother's father. We are called upon to help, and the heathen path offers good advice on how to do this well.

* For example, it took me six solid hours of work to produce this essay.

all translations (Greek, Latin, Icelandic, Old English) copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow


Post a Comment

<< Home