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CHAPTER VIII

THE ART OF LIFE

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No wonder, then, that life in Middle-garth seems so safe in spite of all perils and unforeseen happenings. Man stands firmly and self-confidently on his feet, undismayed in face of all those Utgard beings that now and again come roving about the earth; he is fighting on his own ground, and with a host of allies about him.

We saw man stumbling blindly outside the limits of his world; every step was the guessing at a riddle, riddles of the sort that giants propound, when life depends on their solution. Out there, a rarely gifted hero may manage to win safely through a few days and come safely home, but to live there is impossible. if Middle-garth had been so constituted that men were forced to feel their way thus blindly, then the giants would have ruled over earth to the end of all things.

There is no such stumbling now. Men know the soul of all things, know what there is in every being of will, both good and evil, they know the nature of hate and the nature of love, they can utilise goodwill and guard against the power to harm, they can turn aside at the proper place, and grasp a thing at the right moment. In virtue of their wisdom they can rule, and where power does not suffice they can lay their crafty plan with certainty, without fear of its missing its aim, as it 'would so often out in yonder land of demons. They can force the souls of things to serve them, by making them friendly. Plants that house a hostile will, and would infallibly eat up the ignorant from within become, for one who knows their soul, sources of strength and healing, if properly dealt with during growth, or wisely handled after they are plucked. Man has taken the stones into his service, made them into implements wherein all harmful and annihilating will is directed outward, and all goodwill inward toward the user, so that he can confidently wield them and attain his end. He is surrounded by tamed souls.

There is perhaps no soul that can testify more strongly to the wisdom of man than fire. What it has been, and what it still can be, we may learn from the names given it at times. It shares the name frekr with the wolf and is thus brought into company with the “shameless, voracious” beast; cruel and greedy, runs another of its characters. And now, what is the best thing in the world? “Fire is best among men's sons, and the sight of the sun, health and life without blame”— in such a series ending with the greatest thing in life, blameless honour, fire can hold its own. “Fire guards, or aids, against disease”, runs another ancient saw, and he who knows something of folk-life, and the part there played by fire in the welfare of men and cattle, knows the depth of significance covered by this little sentence. Fire is even the nourisher of life, says the poetic speech. And this transformation of the restless element is due to man himself; men are ever taming the flame anew and anew, consecrating it and devoting it to use in Middle-garth. The rites of this old consecration have been lost, but from later customs of the people we can at least form an idea of their character. On certain festivals, or when the decline of luck intimated that a renewal was needed, the fire was quenched on every hearth; the inhabitants of the town assembled and called new fire to life by means of the ancient and venerable fire drill that lets wood beget fire out of wood. And from the new-born flame blessing was spread to stall and barn, and new life kindled on the hearth.

But when all is said, the dwellers in Middle-garth are not dependent upon goodwill in the souls; they are not only the crafty ones who know how to exploit the weakness or generosity of another; they can force him to obey their will. The hunter can master the game he pursues, so that it does not escape him, but on the contrary, comes in his way of its own free will; bears him no grudge, and does not plan vengeance for his onslaught. It is a far cry from soul to soul, there is a great gulf fixed between man and the things around him, and none can, in virtue of the life that is in him, directly influence another being so as to raise up impulses and tendencies out of its soul. But the more easy, then, it is to steal into an alien soul, and set it in motion by its own limbs and of its own strength. Appearance and qualities are not, as we have seen, accidental results of nature, and therefore, by accepting one of the peculiarities of the soul, one gathers up the soul in its entirety, and makes it one's own will. If one can but establish connection with the soul on a single point, one has the whole; life is as fully inherent in a little torn-off fragment of the body as in the leaping, spying, willing organism, and can one assimilate that little section into oneself, by eating it or binding it to one's body, then- one sucks up the whole soul. But the end can be attained as effectively by spiritual means; by mimic reproduction of the ways and behaviour of the body, one acquires the nature, and becomes possessed of the whole great full-bodied soul — or draws it at least half way into oneself. One can enter into the nature of a beast by pursuing its aims with its gestures, by imitating its stealing out in search of prey, its cry, its leap, its mode of eating, perhaps even its mating. And one can then, from within, bend the beast to one's will. Indeed, the “idea” itself, as we would say, is really sufficient to gain one mastery over the soul, if one can but get the idea fixed in a form amenable to treatment. Possibly the name is such a true symbol in which the soul is enclosed; then it is a charm to overcome the enemy. Some dangerous being or other places itself in a man's way, opens its jaws to swallow him, glares at him as if to turn him to stone; but he flings out his “I know your name” against the monster, and if it be true that he masters its name, it sinks down impotently or steals away scowling. But mastery implies that he knows all which the name stands for: the ways of the beast, its ferocity and its dodging; mastering implies real knowledge and familiarity or, in other words, power.

But he who knows the nature of things and understands how to avoid conflict, can also take action himself and exploit the world. Not only can he bind and cow his surroundings for a time, he is also able to establish a lasting feeling of solidarity, so as to build up frith between himself and the beings around him. He can unite himself with a soul outside the circle of mankind, imposing on it certain obligations towards him, with a reciprocal responsibility in no wise inferior to the honour of the circle of kinsmen. This can, however, only be attained by his mingling mind, as the old phrase runs, with the animal. He engrafts upon himself soul of its soul, so as to bring about between the two kinds of life an identity similar to that which binds all individuals of the beast species together in bodily unity. Such union takes place by transference of soul-fragments, and where it occurs must bring about full and complete transference of the alien nature into the foster-brother. Man adopts the soul of his new kinsman, acquiring both right and power to use its luck when need arises. Among the Germanic peoples we find but a few scattered relics of the time when men united themselves with animals, but right down into historical times we find evidence of a feeling of foster-brotherhood, and that, moreover, a very strong one. In the neighbourhood of Eric the Red's homestead in Greenland, there appeared one winter a great white bear which ravaged around, and when Thorgils, then a guest at Brattahlid, slew the beast to save his little son's life, he gained the praise of all men. Only Eric was silent, and though he made no objection to the customary disposal of the body for useful ends, it was understood that he was incensed at Thorgils' deed. Some said that Eric had cherished “ancient faith” in the beast. And the saga hints that the relationship between the two men was from that day even cooler than before; indeed, Eric sought to lead Thorgils into peril of life.

The wolf was generally considered as an uncanny beast, unheore and belonging to Utgard, but as part of the battle the beast entered into the soul of the professional warrior. The language had need of two words, vargr (Anglo-Saxon vearg) and úlfr (Anglo-Saxon vulf); vargr is the demon beast, and no man could be vargr unless he was bereft of frith, given over to trolls and roving beastlike in the woods; wolf, on the other hand, is a friend of the king, and his name is often borne among men. To be true to the ancient sense, we had perhaps better say that language needed two words, because there were two beings, the animal that enters into league with man, and the wild beast of the trolls. The use of Wolf as a title of honour for warriors and as a man's name, and still more the existence of Ylfing or Vylfing as a family name, implies that men might contract alliance with the beast, overcome the strangeness of the animal and draw it into a firm alliance; such wolf-men surely had wolf-nature, the strength of a wolf and part of his habits. It is a fair guess according to the hints of the ancient literature that the Ylfings were real wolf-men, and possibly some phrases in one of the Eddie poems hark back to a half forgotten reality: In the Lay of Helgi the young prince who is a “scion of the Ylfings” once, when he went about in disguise, alludes to himself as the grey wolf. Ketil Hæing (the Salmon) belonged to a race of the Lofotens where people to a large extent depended on the bounty of the sea for their living. His name is accounted for by a myth in the family saga, a pretty sure sign that there was some inner relationship between the man and the fish. Perhaps we may also see a legendary reflex of everyday fact in the story of Otr, the fisherman, who was able to change himself into an otter to catch fish for his meals. The words in which the Volsungasaga describes the nature of this Otr are too discerning to seem wholly dependent on late romancing; probably the author is indebted to popular wisdom, if not to ancient tradition. “Otr was a great fisherman, more skilful than other men; he took the shape of an otter and dived in the river and caught fish with his mouth .... He had in great measure the habits of the beast, and used to eat in solitude with his eyes shut, lest he should discover how his food dwindled.” In the Ynglingasaga the author has accidentally inserted a queer fragment of a family legend regarding a sparrow man. We learn that King Dag was wise enough to understand the language of birds, and further that he possessed a sparrow that flew far and wide, bringing information back to his master. In one of its rambles the sparrow settled in a field to peck at the ears of corn, whereupon the peasant picked up a stone and killed it. When Dag found out in what land the bird had lost its life, he set out on an avenging expedition and harassed the country of the slayer cruelly.

By virtue of his dominance over nature, man can also combine souls, and engraft the essence of one upon another. Thus he inspires that which his hands have worked on, and equips his implements with qualities calculated to render them useful in their calling. When be fastens a bunch of feathers to his arrow, he gives its flight the accuracy of a bird, perhaps also something of a bird's force in swooping on its prey; as surely as he gives himself a touch of bird-nature by fastening feathers about his body. Or he may, in the strength of his artistic faculty, content himself with a presentment of nature. He chisels a serpent on his sword, lays “a blood-painted worm along the edge” so that it “winds its tail about the neck of the sword”, and then lets the sword “bite”. Or be may use another form of art, he can “sing” a certain nature into his weapon. He tempers it in the fire, forges it with art and craft, whets it, ornaments it, and “lays on it the word” that it shall be a serpent to bite, a fire to eat its way. So also he builds his ship with the experience of a shipbuilder, paints it, sets perhaps a beast at the prow, and commands that it shall tread sure-footed as a horse upon the water. Naturally, the mere words are not enough, if there is no luck in them; they take effect only if the speaker can make them whole. How he contrives to accomplish this is a question too deep to enter into here, but as we learn to know him, we may perhaps seize upon one little secret after another.

The poet is a great man of luck. He has more word-luck than other men — this is apparent not only in the ring of his words but also in their effect upon men and natures. We, in our one-sidedness, are inclined to see only the æsthetic side of his production; as if all his art consisted in describing how the battle serpent smote from the hand of the warrior and bit deep into the brain of his foe, how the war-flame shone as the hero swung it aloft, and bit its man to death at every blow, how the birds of battle flew singing from the bow, how the sea-horses, the wave-gangers, trod the fish-meads. Such images are not to be thus lightly dismissed. “Sea-horse” is not a comparison, the poet does not say the ship is like — no, the ship is the thing he says; the ship does not go over the waves as a horse trots along firm road, but the sea horse treads the wave with an unfailing step. The poetic portrayal of the warrior as the tree of battle, which serves as padding in every other line for the sedulous scald, seems to belong to the North; at any rate, there is no certain trace of the figure in the poetry of other Germanic peoples. But whether specially Scandinavian or not, it has the authority of age. Later poets take pleasure in the picture of warriors as trees, standing in the storm of battle and waving their arms wildly while the death-dew pours down the trunk; the paraphrase itself says no more than that the warrior is the thick-stemmed, fast-rooted tree that is able to withstand many a cut of the axe without toppling over. The description of the ash in the runic catalogue is perhaps the best commentary here; “firm in the ground, holding its place even though many men make onslaught”, words which take their light from the double play of thought between the tough ash as a tree and the invincible ashen spear. Undoubtedly, that poet was a great man of luck who first inspired his chieftain with a soul that had for its dominant quality the stubbornly swinging firmness of the ash. The beauty of the poetic figure lay in its truth; for if the metaphor failed to express a reality, it had no poetic justification.

Through innumerable kinships, natures are knit together this way and that, until the world hangs in a web of frith. So man draws souls into his circle. For the present age, the war-cry is: rule. Be master of the earth, subdue creation is the watch-word running through our time, and it looks as if this commandment sympathetically strikes the heart-note of our culture and ever sets the pace not only for its actions but also for its speculations. All hypotheses anent past ages in the history of our race hinge on the assumption that man has made his way through an everlasting battle, and that civilization is the outcome of man's struggle for existence. But modern civilization with its cry for mastery and its view of life as a continuous strife is too narrow a base for hypotheses to make history intelligible. The evolutionary theory of an all-embracing struggle for food and survival is only an ætiological myth, as the ethnologists have it, a simple contrivance to explain modern European civilization by throwing our history, its competition and its exclusive interest in material progress back on the screen of the past. When ancient and primitive cultures are presented in the light of modern economical problems, all the proportions and perspectives are disturbed; some aspects are thrown into relief, other aspects are pushed into the shade, without regard to the harmony inherent in the moral and intellectual life of other peoples; and the view as a whole is far more falsified by such capricious playing of searchlights than by any wilful distorting of facts.

        The key-note of ancient culture is not conflict, neither is it mastery, but conciliation and friendship. Man strives to make peace with the animals, the trees and the powers that be, or deeper still, he wants to draw them into himself and make them kin of his kin, till he is unable to draw a fast line between his own life and that of the surrounding nature. Culture is too complex — and we may add too unprofitable — a thing to be explained by man's toil for the exigencies and sweets of life, and the play of his intellect and imagination has never —until recent times perhaps — been dominated by the quest of food or clothing. The struggle for daily bread and for the maintenance of life until the morrow is generally a very keen one in early society, and it seems that the exertion calls for the exercise of all faculties and powers. But as a creature struggling for food, man is a poor economist; at any rate he is a bad hand at limiting his expenditure of energy to the needs of the day. There is more than exertion in his work; there is an overshooting force, evidence that the energy which drives him is something more complex than the mere instinct of existence. He is urged on by an irresistible impulse to take up the whole of nature in himself, to make it, by his active sympathy, something human, to make it heore.

Primitive man has never been able to limit his needs to what is strictly necessary. His friendships among the souls are not confined to the creatures that are useful to his body or dangerous to his life. When we see how man in his poetry, his myths and legends creates an imaginative counterpart of his surroundings, how he arranges his ceremonial life, at times indeed his whole life, according to the heavens and their movement, how at his festivals he dramatizes the whole creation of his limited world through a long series of ritual scenes, we gain some idea how important it was to him to underpin his spiritual existence. His circle of friends spans from the high lights of heaven to the worm burrowing in the soil; it includes not only the bug that may be good to eat, but also innocuous insects that never entered into his list of delicacies; it comprises not only the venomous snake, but also harmless crawling things that have no claim on his interest save from the fact of their belonging to his country.

The traces handed down from our forefathers of their ritual life are slight and few, but numerous enough to show us that they communed with things high and low. They were able to make friends among the leaping and growing creatures, as we have dimly seen. Their life was both a sun-life and a moon-life. The sun had entered into their soul to such a degree that actions were orientated from east to west. If there is to be luck in an undertaking it must be done sunwise, from east to west. The Swedish king had to ride his “Eriksgata”— a sort of triumphal progress from town to town throughout the kingdom —sunwise through the land; and sunwise, we may presume, men carried the fire when consecrating a new homestead and drawing the waste land into their luck. When Iceland in course of time had grown more thickly populated, and land was not so plentiful, it was decided that no man should take more land than he could compass with fire in one day. The procedure was to light a fire while the sun was in the east, move on and light another within sight of the first, and so continuing until the last fire flamed with the sun in the west. Even down to matters of everyday life the law of the sun holds good. Sunwise the drinking horn is to pass from hand to hand round the hall. Under ordinary circumstances, it seemed, men would walk sunwise round the house, to judge from a passage in the saga of Droplaug's sons. Grim and Helgi lost their way in a blizzard, and had no idea of their whereabouts, when they suddenly came upon a house wall; they walked sunwise round the place and discovered that it was Spakbessi's place of sacrifice. Their walking thus was, according to Bessi's view, the cause of the storm's continuing for a fortnight. If we may believe that the saga writer knew what he was talking about, it must be the actual movement about the temple which gave the weather so powerful a forward thrust that it could hardly stop. On the other hand, by going against the sun, men can throw nature back upon itself in such wise that it breaks and is put out of joint. In Iceland, we learn, witches were able to cause destructive landslips by walking round the house. The sorceress Groa, who had a grudge against the powerful Sons of Ingimund, prepared a feast of death and sent a gracious invitation to her victims, but as usual, the luck and wisdom of the family proved too strong, and the guests were prevented by dreams from attending. After sunset Groa walked round her house, counter-sunwise, looked up at the mountain-top and waved a cloth in which her gold was tied, and with a sigh: “It is hard to stand against the luck of these sons of Ingimund,” and the wish: “May that now come to pass which has been prepared,” she closed the door after her. Then came a landslide down upon the house, and all perished. The same device was used by Audbjorg, to avenge the degradation of her son upon Berg Shortshanks. She could not sleep for unrest at night. It was calm, with a clear frost. She went out, and walked counter-sunwise round her own homestead, lifted her head and sniffed at every quarter of the horizon. At once the weather changed, a drift set in, the wind brought a thaw, and a snowslide came down over Berg's dwelling, so that twelve men met their death.

For one who understood the business, this counter-sunwise movement need not perhaps have unnatural effect; it might even, if wisely directed towards a certain end, do good. At any rate, we read of a man who calmed a storm by walking against the sun around a circle formed by his companions; that he should find it necessary to talk Irish while so doing, is probably nothing more than an indication that culture proper was at an end, and the time come for mysticism to replace the simple meaning culture had taken with it to the grave, by its practical or speculative abracadabra. The action in itself might well have its authority in culture.

The close association between man and sun is also indicated by legal custom. Legal acts and bargains were not valid unless they had been accomplished in the light of the sun or in broad daylight. It is unlawful to take an oath by night after the sun has passed below the wood, to cite a Swedish instance. Killing by night ‚was deemed murder, and the reason is not to be sought for in the secrecy of the act. What was done in the dark is altogether different in character from what was performed in league with the sun or in the spirit and power of the sun. To catch the full weight — we may say the psychological force — of the saying “night killing is murder” we must remember that murder is a dishonourable act, a niding's deed, and undermines the doer's moral constitution; it discloses, some morbid strain in his character or, as the ancients would say, some taint in his soul. Consequently acts done in night time lack the sound, honourable initiative that needs the full luck of the doer, and in the temporary weakening a demon element may insert itself.

With regard to the moon, Tacitus informs us that it served to regulate the popular assemblies; at new and full moon men assembled at the law-thing, “for in all undertakings they regard this as the best beginning.” Cæsar's observations also, anent the Germanic choice of days, is evidently very significant: “Ariovistus and his people knew, from the prophetic warnings of the womenfolk, that they could not hope for victory if they opened the battle before new moon.” We might easily add to these casual hints from modern popular superstition with its hundreds of rules for what shall be done at the time of the waxing moon, and what be postponed till the moon is on the wane; and with caution, we can draw so much wisdom from this thickly muddied well, that the influence of the moon was not restricted to matter of public life, but penetrated the whole of life, even in everyday affairs. Unfortunately, however, the insight into the being of the moon is lost and its character stands now as a dark riddle. Only this much we know, that it was the moon—the year-teller — which determined the passage of time and days, and thus gave day its force by giving it of its soul; the luck of time thus ebbed and flowed with that of the moon.

We cannot be in doubt as to the importance of sunwise moving thoughts; men accept and fix the sun's nature in themselves. In this wise they must have gathered enormous powers and great luck; but if they gained good fortune by such friendship, they would necessarily acquire something more, to wit, peace of mind. That the ancients felt veneration for the sun, feared it and sought to enlist its strength, that they wished to use it to their advantage, win its favour and force it in under their own will — all this is true, for it is all one and the same thing; what men strive for, and what they attain, is frith and mutual responsibility. Without kneading natures together no kinship is possible. Men make nature part of themselves by engrafting of their own life upon the alien element, or, what is the same thing to them, drawing something of that alien life into themselves.

But man has a wider object in sight when be concludes friendship and mingles mind with the souls around him. By weaving a web of community be introduces peace and order in the world. The Northmen say that there was once a time when the world was unheore, the giants ruled as they pleased, spreading themselves as masters throughout all existence. But a race of mighty and wise beings came down upon them, and now the spawn of the ogres sit beyond the frontier, gnawing bones and biting their nails. Thus land is marked off from unland, heore from unheore. But even to this day the frontier is only held by strict watchfulness. The gods, it is said, instituted the first massacre of the monsters, slew the primeval giant, so that hosts of the brood were drowned in his blood, and swept the rest away out of Middle-garth. Even now Thor, the guardian of Middle-garth, still makes his exterminating raids; there is still danger, even for sun and moon; now one, now another dweller in Utgard has sought to yoke them under his giant will. The present order and beauty of this “fair world” has not instituted itself; it is brought about by the care of some god or hero. And in this view the Northmen are in accordance with peoples in other parts of the world. The poet of the Voluspá, who was a mediæval philosopher with ideas of his own, but drew upon ancient myths for his material — has rescued an account of the state of the heavens as it was before the arranging powers had manifested themselves: “The sun knew not where were its halls, the moon knew not what strength (i.e. luck, determination) it had. The stars knew not where were their places.”

In the legendary shape which the myths took on when they were reduced to stories by the philosophy of a new religion, it would seem as if the fateful trial of strength took place between gods and giants, while the dwellers on earth were left to look on with bated breath. The poet gives his narrative in the past form as if it were something over and done with; from the form of the words it might seem as if the listeners enjoyed an enhanced sense of security by calling up the memory of a moment when the fate of the world hung in the balance and then swung over to the proper side. But the literary form which the myths acquired in the hands of the poets during the Viking age and later obscures the actual meaning that was plain to the listeners, when the legends were recited at the feast and illustrated, or rather supplemented, by rites and ceremonial observances. The fight is waged from day to day in the midst of the human world, no one is sure of keeping the light and the warmth, unless he and his fellows by some ceremony or other are ever strengthening the bond between themselves and the high-faring lights. If the alliance fail but for a moment, then the heavenly bodies will lose their way, and then sets in the state which the poet of the Voluspá still knew, and could describe.

And the peril that hangs so threateningly in the sky lies actually in wait for every soul in Middle-garth. Behind all security there is this grave fact, that natures have potential hostility in them; they can run wild, they can become unheore. And they do so at times, when men fail to maintain themselves and their luck, and thereby their alliance with their environment; then the clammy soil grows barren, then cattle lose their power of yielding, and trees become bearers of ill-luck; the fish move in dense shoals out to sea, while the waters fling destruction upon land. If the peace of the world is to be maintained, there must be great self-restraint among men, and at the same time great watchfulness and care to do all that is fitting at every festival and ritual beginning.

Without this intimate connection between man and the other natures about him neither he nor Middle-garth could exist. The myths tell us, if properly read, that man has created a habitable well-ordered world in the midst of chaos, and that to live and thrive he must for ever uphold his communion with every single soul and so constantly recreate the fixed order of the world. Primitive man never thought of pointing triumphantly to an eternal order of things; he had the sense of security, but only because he knew how the regularity of the world was brought about, and thus could say how it should be maintained.

Man is never able to embrace all beings and draw the whole round of creation into his sympathy and understanding. The beings left out cluster on the borders of reality as a threatening and disquieting force. Through all cultures runs a chasm separating the warm friendly reality from the cold strange fact — the known from the unknown, or in Old English words, the heore from the unheore. And deep-rooted in all humanity is the fear of the unknown, a feeling which, while seemingly simple and clear enough, leads down, on closer scrutiny, to depth upon depth. Uppermost lies the fear of a will which no obligation hinders from harming and molesting; barely hidden under this superficial dread lies the anxiety as to what the alien thing may hit upon, what it may have strength to do, the uneasy restlessness that comes of being without means to estimate the danger. But this fear of the unknown extends, in reality, far beyond a sense of danger threatening life and limb, it opens out into a painful anticipation where despair is every moment on the point of breaking out; for where souls are not in some way or another welded together, man must be prepared to find actions striking with the force of a catastrophe. The forces emanating from the alien source are of another kind, and take effect in a different way, so that the sufferer may perhaps not feel the effect until the harm is done, and has at any rate no means of defence calculated to ward off the influence.

The line of demarcation runs through all cultures, but its place shifts from one people to another, and it is never possible to lay down a rule as to which beings will be found on either side of the frontier. Naturally the desert and the sown, the rough mountains or wild woods and the pleasant lea, with their kinds, are separated by a sharp border. But the reason why one animal is drawn into communion and another is left out as unheore must be sought for in the individual experience of each race. In one place the snake is a sacred animal, in another place it is an uncanny beast; thus in northern Europe, where the wriggling, striking reptile was held in execration and placed in demon land. Later mythology makes a family of Fenrir, the Serpent of Middle-garth, and Hel or Death, and names as their mother Angrboda, an ogress; this construction proceeds from the fact that Fenrir, the chief wolf or father of wolves, and the great serpent, together with death, have their origin and home in the unheore world of the ogres.

The chasm extends into the world of human beings. Humanity proper is made up of all the families and tribes with whom our people has intercourse, for companionship means constant mingling of frith, honour and luck; outside the pale the “strangers” crowd, and the strangers are another sort of men, because their minds and ways are unknown. When they are called sorcerers the word only emphasises the fact that their doings are like the doings of demons and trolls, dark and capricious, admitting of no sure calculation. The only means of overcoming the wickedness of strangers is by annexing their luck and honour and mingling mind; by mingling minds the will and feeling in the two parties are adjusted, and henceforth their acts interlock instead of running at cross purposes. Between men there may be fighting, community may be suspended by enmity, but the struggle is human and carried on by the rules of honour; against strangers men have perpetual war, and the warfare must be adjusted to the fiendish ingenuity of the demons. Towards vermin or wild beasts men cannot feel responsibility or generosity.

That Utgard is full of witchcraft and unheore, is known to all, and all fear with which man looks out over the limits of human life, is after all of a different sort from the fear of home-bred witchcraft. For when a member of the community separates himself from spiritual intercourse with his brothers, or when the worker of things unheore establishes himself within the boundary between land and unland, his presence lies like an incubus on all thought, paralysing both will and power. His doings, even his very thoughts, are a constant danger to the luck of the inhabitants; they will infallibly cause strife among neighbours, and wither up the fertility of the land. Their presence is a breach in the cosmos, and as destructive of spiritual security as the sun or the earth would be if they broke loose from the friendship of man and ran wild. To uphold the world, man must destroy and annihilate all sorcerers, with their houses and all their goods. The boundary which separates magicians from humankind is so sharp, because it is independent of all petty external estimates of black and white; it can never be effaced, however much the acts and powers of the magician may resemble those of everyday man, and it cannot become sharper through the fact that the magician's arts go far out into the dark.

We see in Northern literature that the practices of the wizard did not differ markedly from the ritual proceedings of common men; when be changes himself or transforms things out of recognition or practises optical delusions, he may know some particular trick caught up perhaps from neighbouring peoples — the Lapps for instance — but generally he works along the lines laid down by the experience of his race. He is hated because he practises his tricks in the spirit of darkness and seclusion; he is a stranger who stands outside the pale of frith, and therefore his deeds are in every case full of unheore, and when they are further marked by an uncanny cruelty, these qualities are but a necessary manifestation of the nature of his will.

It is a toilsome thing to be a human being, far more so than one would be predisposed, from human needs and human conditions, to believe. The demands of every day in regard to food, housing, fire, clothing, arms wherewith to face an enemy, implements for necessary purposes, can, by their incessant urging, keep men going; but the struggle for food cannot produce that incitement of the blood in the veins which drives a man beyond himself. It may seem a stern task enough to have to compel the sun and moon to hold on their course, keep the sluices of the rain adequately open, bind the fish to the coast, equip the woods with leaf in spring, and maintain the harmony of the world; but this task nevertheless is altogether overshadowed by another, far more difficult and even more impossible to thrust aside: to hold thoughts in their courses and keep the soul together. The god who brings the universe into shape is only a grand mask; and behind the mask is a man who works at the not less grand task of creating a clear and coherent unity out of the mass of his experience. The anxiety that drives man to intertwine nature with his own will and feeling is deeper than all fear for his bodily safety, for it is the dread of inner chaos. We Europeans are born late in the day in the sense that our social and scientific contrivances are removed by several stages from direct experience of the world; our psychology and our philosophy are built up by scholastic modifications of the thinking done by the primitive Greeks and Israelites and Teutons whose successors and spiritual legatees we are. Modern man, who deems himself much wiser than his ancestors, derives most of his strength from that very part of his spiritual work which he is most apt to hold in contempt as childish or “superstitious”. We awake in an illumined world, where all we need is to kindle a blaze or turn on a light when the sun is out of the sky and the moon is in the dark season; we find ourselves seated in a well-supplied larder where we have only to fetch the food we want. We have made ourselves independent of the rhythm in nature between richness and dearth, growing and declining; and the caprices of nature do not afflict us directly, but come only disguised as economical crises, storms in the social realm. We look upon the world as a regular easy-going machine, and all this order of things we take as a matter of course. As we stand here in the common centre of innumerable circles wherein sun and moon and stars, summer and winter, day and night, beasts great and small, birds, fishes, move without ceasing, without breaking out, it never occurs to us to enter this regularity among the great deeds of our forefathers; least of all do we realise that without them here would have been a chaos which had whirled us, poor wretches, to the bottom.

Man is born into an overwhelming ocean of sounds and sights that hurl themselves at him piecemeal without cohesion or unity, and it is left to him to arrange the welling mass into forms and structures. He must create sun and moon, clouds and rain, animals and trees into coherent personalities and shape a course for all these abrupt momentary apparitions so that they may coalesce into a continuous recognisable form All those peepings out of heads and whiskings of tails, gleamings of eyes and fleeting movements have to be sifted and sorted into bodies and labelled wolf, fox, badger. The work of establishing order and harmony calls for selection and elimination as well as addition; we cannot make a sun or an animal that includes the whole body of experience; so we boldly ignore part of the facts or sometimes make two beings that overlap one another, as the Teutons did with the wolf, and as we do now with the flower of beauty and the flower of botany. But to create a unity we must also necessarily supply some connecting links that may be called theory but are to us part of the experience. The dark masses cleaving to mountain tops may be recognised as belonging to the hills as part of their nature or soul — this will often be the primitive view; or the clouds may be severed from their resting places and combined with the steam rising from a boiling kettle into a separate entity akin to water — thus modern experience that sacrifices one very important point of reality to gain coherence on another point. According to our classification, fire and matter are kept separate, and we boldly disregard the fact that certain stones strike off sparks and certain kinds of wood produce fire when rubbed. Primitive men arrange the facts in another pattern, saying that fire belongs to the nature or soul of tree and stone — the sparks are conceived and begotten by the fire drill; consequently there is an innate kinship between stones and trees on the one hand and the fire that comes down from the heavens on the other.

In our conception of men and animals we fasten on the outward bodily coherence and continuity, thus creating a mass of isolated individuals where primitive man sees manifestations of grand souls or ideas. In our world, the reality of man is determined by the circumscribed and isolated status of his body, and his soul is made up of the thoughts and feelings confined to his isolated brain. The solitariness of the human being is so strong in our culture and so prominent in our experience that we slur over all other facts, such as the spiritual influence of his presence, the power of his words and the inevitable concatenation of fate between individuals that makes a family, and often a still larger body of men, suffer for the imprudence and guilt of one sinner. To us, the individual is the reality on the basis of which all practical and theoretical questions must be solved, and we look upon all the other facts as secondary, prepared to grapple with them as problems, and we go on tackling them, piling one solution upon the top of another, even when they prove insoluble. On the other hand, primitive culture gathers the whole mass of facts into the reality called man, and constructs a “soul” in which the power of words and spiritual emanation, the “suggestive” force and the touch of hands are included as well as form and features, in which the solidarity of the many is recognised as well as the responsibility of the individual.

 

 
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