Tag Archives: holiness

Thoughts and Ponderances on the thrall…

The thrall…

According to the mythic ideals found within the Rigsthula, the thrall caste of the elder hierarchy were representative, not only of the lowest rung in the tribal hierarchy as is often spoken of, but also of the first generation of men, Hence, the mean and dirty Thrall is the issue of parents whose names translate as “Great Grandmother” and “Great Grandfather”. The poem further relates how the god Heimdal — whose name directly translates to Brightness of the Home and implies the fire of the hearth and its own full range of connotations — visited the humble dwelling of Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather, where he graciously received their crude and simple hospitality. And of how nine months later Great Grandmother gave birth to a lad who was sprinkled with water and named Thrall. According to the poem Thrall and his issue “established the yard” (lögðu garða), and are attributed the qualities of a simple, but otherwise physically strong and fundamentally capable, self-sufficient folk accustomed to hard work and rude pleasures. The poem also quite clearly implies that they were both hospitable (within their means) and properly pious. Hence the manifestation of the spirit of kinship among them. Hence the sprinkling with water at birth; which is an ancient birth/naming/acceptance custom that long precedes the coming of Christianity to NW Europe.

And this picture of the thrall is not remarkably different than that painted in Tacitus’ 1st AD Roman survey of Germanic society where we read,

Thralls in general do not have particular duties about the house and estate allotted to them, as our slaves do. Each has control of a holding and home of his own. The owner demands from him a stated quantity of grain, live-stock, or cloth, as he would from a tenant. To this extent the slave is under an obligation of service; but… To flog a thrall, or to punish him by imprisonment and hard labour, is very unusual

A wise thew that last bit, in a hierarchical society in which every one was subject to someone, even if only to the community as a whole and its divine progenitor, and so not surprisingly found reflected in the nature of the Thing system. As we read in Tacitus’ work once again,

Execution, imprisonment, even flogging, are allowed to none but the priests, and are not inflicted merely as punishments or on the commanders’ orders, but as it were in obedience to the will of the god…

Getting back to the Rigsthula and its inter-generational (ie. not simply hierarchical) nature; as it proceeds we find that it is Grandmother and Grandfather, with the spirit of Heimdal between them, that give issue to Churl (Freeman), while it is Father and Mother that give birth to Earl (noble). And it is only to his latter, Earl, the mortal vessel most fit to receive and bequeath his divine blessings on the whole community, that Heimdal directly returns, first to test, and then to foster as his own.

Indeed, while Heimdal does again return to the first generation of Earl’s offspring, it is only to one of them. At it is to the last born at that, and all that implies regarding succession and worthiness. This lad is named Kon, called Kon the Younger, which, in keeping with the hierarchical theme of the poem, is word play on the Old Norse word konungr, which is cognate to the Old English cyning, from whence we get the modern word king. The word carries the technical meaning of “offshoot of (-ing) the related people (cynne, kin)” and perhaps even carries the implications of “Ing of the Kin”, ie. the embodiment of the god Ingui-Frey.

And yet, for all of what might be perceived as “preferential treatment” of Earl and King by Heimdal, we find the Eddic poem Voluspa opening with a call for attention to “all of Heimdal’s holy children, both high and low”, which we know from the Rigsthula includes the caste of thralls.

Thralls were not wretches, as they often regarded by modern Asatruar. Much less were they despicable nithings. At worst they were characteristically luckless in one manner or another (or many), but no less definitively then any other of the offspring of Mannus.

Of the upbringing of the various castes that made up preChristian Germanic society, Tacitus once again relates,

In every home the children go naked and dirty, and develop that strength of limb and tall stature which excite our admiration. Every mother feeds her child at the breast and does not depute the task to maids or nurses. The young master is not distinguished from the slave by any pampering in his upbringing. They live together among the same flocks and on the same earthen floor, until maturity sets apart the free and the spirit of valour claims them as her own.

And this is how life remained for much of the folk, under most usual circumstances; working and living and facing life’s challenges together. And even as far back as Tacitus, it was a dynamic hierarchy, in which the caste of one’s birth vouchesafed nothing, and the potential of the individual, as a child of Mannus, was given its due. A thrall could rise out of his caste, a churl could fall into thralldom, and being the first born of the reigning king was no safe assurance that you yourself would one day be king.

“A king’s son, an uppity thrall…”, after all.

While the Germanic peoples had been exposed to the international slave trade network since at least the time of Tacitus, and came to take part in it and fall under its dehumanizing influence no less than the “heathen savages” of Africa or the Americas — who likewise observed their own native forms of “slavery” — it is nevertheless worth noting that on the eve of the Norman Conquest that the thrall population of Anglo-Nordic England is reckoned to have been about 10% of the total population. Statistically this means that only one in ten Englishmen were slave-owners at the time; though in reality Anglo-Nordic dwellings were not defined by single person dwellings and slave populations would have been concentrated among the most affluent. Suffice it to say that the English have never characteristically been a race of slave-owners, and that our native culture was conducive to the maintenance of the humanity of the thrall, and so the overall health and integrity of the community.

A thrall, while characteristically humble of means and perhaps even ability, perhaps best defined once again as lacking luck in life, was nevertheless (and as a general characteristic once again) self-sufficient and quite capable under most circumstances of providing for themselves at a subsistence level.

In contrast, take your typical modern Westerner, high or low, no matter their religion or atheism, put them in a time machine and send them back to 7th century England or 1st century Germania… and thralls wouldn’t remain the lowest rung in society for very long.

Holiness or Glory: The point of Germanic belief?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; the fundamental point of Germanic belief is not the pursuit of glory; of any kind up to and including martial glory. It is the achievement and maintenance of holiness, of health, of wholeness; with the accent falling on the wholeness of the community … which is itself the bestower and carrier of glory (and simple individual wholeness) in all of it’s many varieties.

The principles of wholeness rarely stand in the way of glory the same way that the principles of glory (removed from the greater context of wholeness) stand in the way of, and often undermine, (community) wholeness, eg. social adversarialism. Certainly, sometimes people of great potential will be required to give up their dreams for the sake of wholeness … to not go off to university for example, because the family farm won’t survive without the benefit of their man-power, thus leaving that individual in a state of personal unwholeness … but ultimately, in the bigger picture, that communal wholeness is the soil that all of the varied potential of the community has, is, and shall evolve within and out of. And so it is given due priority.

When times are fair, the ethic of communal wholeness bleeds over into the individual realm and allows, even prompts people to embrace their personal wholeness and pursue their individual dreams with the full support of the community; as per the inclinations and aptitudes of the individual, eg. war, wealth, art, learning, etc.

There is of course nothing wrong, from a Heathen perspective, with a person working a minimum wage job. Most of our heathen ancestors lived a simple subsistence lifestyle as simple farmers, herders, and hunters; as did their forefathers for generations before, and as would their descendants.

The desire to “get ahead”, to do better than one’s parents, implying as it does the desire to be better, and the consequent opinion of “I am better than you”, was simply not part of the common heathen value system; which, naturally, was more (if not exclusively, ie. where the emphasis falls) concerned with securing one’s position within the tribe rather than advancing it.

Certainly, the “accomplishment” of “making minimum wage” shall never be glorified, nor should it, but as the Havamal relates, “some are blessed with sons, some by friends, some by wealth and others by good works”. And indeed, even if a man can boast nothing spectacular, save that he pitched in and did what he could for his community (like everyone else), no one (that matters) glorifies the man who forgets where he came from and turns his nose up at his own. As the Havamal also relates, “(memorial) stones seldom stand by the roads unless raised by kin for kin.”

Forsooth, looking back at the conversion age, all of those we heathens today deem to have been heroes in that epoch championed the cause of the wholeness of their tribe — quite explicitly in the case of an East Anglian Queen and later a Swedish Queen — while those we deem the sell outs were invariably were chasing glory, chasing their personal advancement in society or in the international community.

There is of course nothing wrong with having the right stuff and showing it. Elder heathen thought was not like the dualistic absolutist thought that is so common today; where things are perceived to be either one way, or their exact opposite, with only a fence to sit on between the two. But even Tiw, who’s name is synonymous with glory, was ready to give all of his rightful glory up for the sake of the wholeness of the divine community.

Glory will always sprout from the soil of wholeness; no matter the weather … which itself is an ever shifting affair. No. Glory shall always, inevitably, sprout.  But woe to the flower that snubs the dirt it draws it’s vitality from.

And so, what does it mean to be whole?

For the answer to this, I look primarily to the Norse-Icelandic Eddas, which paint the clearest picture, but certainly compliment this with broader pan-Germanic evidence, and then verify within an even greater pan-ethno-cultural/tribalist context.

The Eddas paint an awe-inspiring picture of the cosmos as being held together by a great “World Tree”; the roots of which are deeply sunk into each of the “steads of being” that make up the cosmos (drinking deep of their varying natures), and who’s branches hang over the all (and rain “morning dew” down on all of the cosmos).

The World Tree is a great and deep symbol for cosmological wholeness in Germanic thought. This is also true of the number 9, as we see in the nine steads of being that the Norse-Icelandic World Tree is said to encompass (Asgard, Midgard, Hel, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Jotunheim, Niflheim, and Muspelheim). These realms can be viewed in an abstract, mystical spiritual sense — and certainly that is how they are presented in the Eddas — but indeed the unknown will always be explained within the context of the known, and these “worlds” also(more certainly) express the nature of the environment of our ancestors … and particularly the environment of Iceland, eg. Muspel and Niflheim, fire and ice … where Asgard becomes the sacred space of the gods (grove, altar, temple), Midgard the halls and homes of one’s tribe, Hel the tribal graveyard, Vanaheim perhaps the community’s farm, pasture and hunting grounds, Jotunheim the untamed wild lands, etc.

It is perhaps worth noting that in both the Prose Edda (13th century) and the Grimnismal (10th century), three of the Tree’s “nine” roots are singled out as being of special significance; though both sources differ on which roots. The Prose Edda holds them to be the roots that sit in Asgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim, while the Grimnismal holds them to be the roots that reside in Hel, Jotunheim, and Midgard.

At any rate, even as the Tree was seen as a sign of cosmological wholeness, so to was it seen as a symbol of individual wholeness; as we see in the Eddic creation of the first men out of trees. And as we know from evidence beyond the Eddas, the tree (and it’s offspring the pillar, aka. axis) was also a symbol of the wholeness of kindred, community and tribe. The destruction of such things as the Donar Oak of the Thuringians or the Saxon Irminsul were highly symbolic acts in the Catholic conversion of our peoples;which resounded deeply (and balefully) in the “folk soul” of the tribe in question, ie. the destruction of their wholeness as a people.

And so, wholeness can be seen to entail an awareness and acknowledgement, of one’s organic relation/obligation to (and the inter-relationship between) the divine, the natural world, and the human community … both past and present, living and dead, great and humble, worthy and shameful. And it is much the same with tribal peoples the world over.

And as we have received, so to must we give.

Never forget where you come from. And always be whole!