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CHAPTER VII

HOLINESS

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Treasure and man are one; but the man has his time, and that done, another succeeds him; the treasure remains, handing on the luck to his successor. Man comes to his appointed day; by virtue of his luck he makes his way across into the other existence; but he does not take the whole sum with him; part, and that no insignificant part, remains in the things he leaves behind him, there to await the man who follows. With very good reason, then, weapons, clothes, household implements may be called bearers of life; not only is the sword a lasting thing, it is a well of life, whence a man may renew his store, through which he can draw up power from the primeval source. The settler stuck his axe into the new soil to mark it as his property, and it has hamingja enough to bring the whole piece of land under its will, making it to serve its owner, and guard him against aggression. The law of Norway retains a memory of the emphatic prohibition declared against unrightful use of land by the owner's placing his mark (called law stick) upon it and thus barring it from all others' luck. Often the weapon manifests its intimate contact with the family hamingja by revealing to the owner some intelligence which his personal hugr was not aware of. The sword knows beforehand when battle or killing is toward, and utters its warning aloud. The victorious axe Skrukke was ever singing loud and cheerily to its owner, the “murderous” Steinar, when the war-path opened before him, just as Gunnar's halberd ever rang out in greeting of news to come. Clothes do not submit tamely to be worn on imprudent expeditions: When [109] Thorgils, despite the warning appearance of his fylgia, had ridden to the law-thing, his cloak uttered warning verses as it hung drying on the wall.

So also cattle are both sharers in luck and a means of luck. There was healing to be gained in the pigsty, even for so serious a disability as the lack of power to see visions in dreams. When Halfdan the Black had tried diverse cures to get rid of his dreamlessness and all had failed, he made his bed in the byre, and presently the splendid future accorded to his son was revealed to him. The regenerative power of animals appears more particularly in certain individuals, of special character, the treasures of the livestock; such cows, oxen, horses, as the owner himself put faith in. He trusted to them more than to others in case of need, and he put faith in their counsels. Thorir, one of the early settlers in Iceland, staked his future on the mare called Skalm; all one autumn he wandered nomad fashion about, following its tracks, and on the spot where it finally lay down under its burden, there he built his home. As early as in the days of Tacitus, there were tribes in the south who had turned the prophetic gifts of the horse to account as regular state oracles; at critical times, when the welfare of the people called for some guide as to the future, the sacred stallions were harnessed to the sacred chariot by the king or the priest, and solemnly led forward until their neighing and whinnying gave the sign expected.

Acting as links between men and luck, such beasts and chattels drew life forth from the ultimate depths of that hamingja wherein they were fixed. But this fund of honour and blessing had other wells too, gaping wide in the house itself. A man could gain new strength and new will by placing himself in the high seat; the ceremony of leading a man into the high seat meant, in the case of a stranger, adopting him into the clan whose centre it was, and in the case of a son, investing him with authority. First and foremost, there is mention of the pillars of the seat, the supports which bore the roof above the master's seat in his home; in these there was wisdom, so that they would move ahead of the venturer when, on nearing the [110] shores of Iceland, he threw them overboard, to guide him to a spot where he might set up his new homestead with good hap. When an Ingolf, a Thorolf, and a host of unnamed besides, so carefully took these pillars with them on board, and so faithfully followed their directions, relinquishing their temporary dwelling the moment news of their finding arrived, it was because the wood contained a guarantee of welfare. The place bounded by these pillars held the seat of the head of the family and was filled with the hamingja of his clan. The peculiarity attaching to Odin's throne — that a man saw all things on seating himself upon it was merely an accentuation of the wisdom and luck which ever went with the place in the high seat. When the heir to the throne was led by his father to the royal seat, he was clothed in power, and at the same time, it was with him as with Saul, when Samuel had anointed him with oil; his heart was changed within him.

In similar wise, luck dwelt in the setstocks, the planks which marked off the floor of the room from the lower central portion where the hearth fire burned. These, like the high seat, could, when thrown overboard, show a way through the sea and find the right place for a dwelling, and, probably, it was due not least to their spiritual powers that Thorgest first borrowed Eric the Red's setstocks, and thereafter refused to give them back, so that Eric had to take them by force of arms.

The whole house is pervaded with hamingja, from the roof to the roots of its uprights, even to the cooking vessels; there is not a corner in or about the home but has its inspiration, from the weathercocks on the gables, that told what weather was to come, to the fire on the hearth, which doubtless also, from its behaviour, indicated any approaching change in luck. Where the fire was carried, it paved a happy way for the clan, and so it was that the first settlers in Iceland, by embers brought from the ancient hearth, planted their luck in the new land, in the same way as their fathers for many generations may have tamed and humanised wild soil. And when it was lit upon a stranger's property, indicating a rightful claim to the ground, it ate its way down and gnawed through the will that had [111] hitherto reigned on the spot, devouring the ground beneath the feet of the former owner. When Glum had made away with the treasures of his grandfather, he was brought so low by his enemies that he had to sell his land, but at the last moment he made an attempt to defy his fate; on flitting day, he remained sitting in his high seat, ordered the hall to be decked with hangings as for a feast, and pretended not to hear the others calling him. Then came the new owner's mother, and greeted him with the words: “Now I have lit fire on the land, and demand that you go out with all that of yours, for the land is consecrated to my son.” Then Glum understood that his right and his luck were gone, it was useless to kick against the pricks, and with a bitter word he rose, and left the place.

The power of the hearth is strongly emphasised in legal language as well as in later custom. The Northman demanded, for rightful transfer of a property, that earth should be taken from those places in the house where it was strongest, and when he mentions the high seat and the corners of the hearth, we may be sure that he knew of nothing holier within the threshold. Nor is it impossible that the hearth among certain peoples, perhaps even in certain families, occupied the place of the Norwegian high seat as the heart of the house, here as everywhere there is, in the midst of homogeneity, scope for the individual character of luck.

When the open hearth in the middle of the house was abandoned for the chimney, the holiness was transferred to the chimney hammer, the cross piece supported by the two side baulks of the hearth; Danish popular custom recognises it as the real foundation of the house, which was conscientiously taken away on removal, and built into the wall of the new dwelling.

In addition to these natural centres, luck might have an individual high seat of its own in the house. At Thord Gellir's homestead of Hvamm there lay in the midst of the room a stone, which was no ordinary piece of rubble, to judge from the fact that great oaths were sworn upon it. And from the stone at Hvamm, one's thoughts turn naturally to Volsung's house. It was, according to the legend, built about an oak, in [112] such wise that the trunk formed the backbone of the house, while the leaves shaded over the hall, and it is added that the trunk which made up the core of the home was called the child-stock. Tradition further relates that Odin appeared in the guise of an one-eyed old man and struck the sword fast in the stock, dedicating it to the man who should be able to wrench it out; from this sword, which came loose when Sigmund tried his strength, proceeded the fate of the clan, made famous through Sigurd the dragon slayer. It is probable that this legend once formed part of a family tradition, but whether such a house ever existed or not, the interest for us lies in the fact that Scandinavian listeners had no difficulty in realising the bearings of this tale.

The sacred customs lead us further afield; outside the house men would point to a stone, a waterfall, a meadow, a mountain, as the holiest of holy things, the true source whence all luck, all honour, all frith flowed out to pulse through the veins of the kinsmen. Thorolf's family had their spiritual home in the mountain that stood above the homestead — Helgafell (the holy mountain) it was naturally called. One of Thorolf's contemporaries, the settler Thorir Snepil, lived at Lund, and he “worshipped the grove” (lund); another, Lodin, acquired the Flatey valley right up as far as Gunnsteinar, and he worshipped the rocks there. Hrolf lived at Fors, and his son Thorstein worshipped the waterfall (foss), and all the leavings of the house were thrown into the rapids.

Helgafell was fenced off from daily life by a holy silence; nothing, neither man nor beast, was suffered to perish there, no blood was suffered to flow, no dirt to defile. But it was not only a place inviolable; it was the place whence luck was brought. When it was a case of hitting upon the right decision in a difficult matter, the discussion was adjourned to the holy place. Snorri Godi, the later master of the homestead, whose “cold”, wise counsels were famous, knew that plans made on Helgafell were more likely to succeed than all others. From the foss came inspiration to the seer Thorstein Raudnef, so that he could always see, in the autumn, which of the cattle would not live [113] through the winter and therefore should be chosen for slaughter. This power of holiness is the same as that which Tacitus heard spoken of among the southern Germanic tribes; in the land of the Hermundures there lay a salt spring, where the gods were to be found, and where men could have their wishes fulfilled. He knew too, that the Batavians assembled in a sacred grove to make plans against the Romans, and if the meeting, which is not inconceivable, took place in the sacred locality itself, the meeting place must have been chosen for the same reason which led Snorri Godi to go up to Helgafell.

On the island of Fositeland, “which lies midway between the Danes and the Frisians”, the missionary Willibrord found a sanctuary. A fortunate hand has preserved to us the account of his experiences during the few days he stayed there, and from the purely external description which the Christian observers could give, the same two features stand out distinctly: the blessing in that spring which was in the grove — for there the inhabitants procured their water — and the peace and solemnity of holiness which marked the resting place of luck. The animals grazed there, sacredly inviolable, all that was found within the boundaries lay undisturbed in its place, while men came and went, the people moved in silence towards the spring in the middle, drew their water, and moved silently away. We also learn that the inhabitants trusted in the power of the place to assert its holiness without human aid; for when the missionaries came tramping in with ostentatious indifference, slaughtered the beasts and baptised in the waters, the inhabitants looked to see the trespassers lose their senses or meet with sudden death. This time, the hope of the natives was disappointed, simply because the luck of the Christians was too strong for the ancient holy place to affect it, but the holiness reasserted itself later on, and forced the Christian God to do the duty of its former powers. Adam of Bremen tells of an island, Farria, where the Christian hermits led a blessed life, untouched by the stormy times about them; not only did they retain their worldly belongings in peace, but even received visits from sea-raiders, who with the deepest reverence paid them tithe [114] of their plunder. It was, of course, God and the good saints who guarded the land, and deprived thoughtless vikings of ship-luck and sword-luck so that they soon perished at sea or fell in battle, when they had offended the peace of the little island by even the slightest foray; but it is perhaps hardly any depreciation of the honour of those high ones to suppose that they had wrested the place from devils, or point out that it was just the luck of the ancient heathen gods which they here turned against these gods themselves.

We perceive that the clan, in times of crisis, when it was a question of making luck to flow into their kinsmen, and powerfully acknowledge a new commencement of their life, took their way to the mount or to the spring, and derived blessing to themselves therefrom. Thord Gellir, a chief of the renowned family residing at Hvamm, was led up into the hill which was the holy centre for the men of Hvamm, before taking possession of his, chieftainship. The ancient formula whereby the purpose of such a visit was expressed, to heimta heill or go seeking luck, has later been applied to the bridal pair's going to church after the wedding, and has been preserved in this form to our own days. In Ditmarsk, the visit is not paid to the church, but to the churchyard, and it is the bride who is led by her sisters-in-law to the holy place — as if she needed to be made familiar with the centre of that home to which she thenceforward belongs.

In the holy place, the store of luck, the life of the kinsmen was hid, and while they, in real life, were mostly seen and mostly active outside the sanctuary, they entered in after death, and fused with luck itself. The settler Kraku-Hreidar chose Mællifell for his dwelling after death, Selthorir and his heathen kinsmen died into Thorisbjorg (Thorir's rocks), Thorolf also intended to end in Helgafell with all his kin. Aud, the Icelandic ancestress of the family residing at Hvamm, had embraced Christianity during her stay in the British Isles, where her husband, King Olaf the White, had carved out a kingdom, and when she settled in Iceland after the fall of her husband, she chose a hill for the scene of her devotions; this place retained among her pagan descendants its significance as the holy place of the homestead, and they fixed on the hill as their resting place after death. We remember that when Thorstein Codbite was gathered to his kin in Helgafell, it was not a spirit wafted into an immaterial spirit host; the vitality of the assembly made a strong impression on the herdsman looking on from afar the night his master was welcomed by his departed ancestors. But we need only, from what we know, consider their personality in relation to the life that inspired them, to understand that the departed rested nevertheless as a potentiality in the stone.

With regard to the local relation between the seat of power and the bodily dwelling place of the dead, our sources hardly give us sufficient information. Thus much we may believe, that the burial-place was as a rule connected with the holy place, whether the two adjoined or were identical. The problem is, however, of less moment regarded from the point of view of the old thoughts than it would be in our world. External contiguity is, as we have seen, of small account in relation to inner identify. The two regions were one in soul, wherever they lay, in the same way as the dead man and his hamingja, as the various treasures, as every kinsman, whether of human race, or beast, or plant, was identical with all individuals of its species in Middle-garth. The mound was called vé, the place of consecration, with the same name which expressed veneration for the divine places, because it was of the same nature, and stood in the same relation to the circle of human beings who died into it. Each clan bad its own resting place, and this insularity in death has obtained far into Christian times, so that the churchyards often became topographical images of the village itself. And the sternness with which the law maintained the sacredness of the clan's right to keep its dead in peace originates first of all in something deeper than the mere aversion from any wounding of the feelings of the living. When a son who considered himself unfairly treated by his brother set himself upon his father's barrow and from there demanded his inheritance and due division, he did not choose the spot on account of the view; the site was calculated to give his claim authority [116] and legal force; his father's hamingja should speak through him. There is also a distinct stamp of authority — of a similar character — in the traditional formula whereby a man counted up his ancestors back to the place where they were buried — “back to barrow”, as it was called in legal language — e. g. in a case of proving uninterrupted possession of disputed land; and when he could thus show that the dead resting in the land were his ancestors, the soil declared itself for him as his right.

In the high seat, in the grove, and on the mountain, we stand face to face with a power which seems never before to have forced itself upon us: that of holiness; but in reality, we have traced its influence at every step. It is luck in its mightiest shape. The connection lies in the name, for heilagr — holy — and heill — good luck or good fortune — are radically akin. From the point of view of form, the one is a derivative of the other: heilagr is that in which heill resides; but the formal relation does not show that the idea of the adjective should be later than that of the substantive. We can get nearest to the spiritual kinship by viewing both as linguistic expressions of the fundamental idea wherein Germanic culture once gathered the innermost secret of life in one sum; heill is humanity, and heilagr is human, in the widest sense of the words.

Holiness is the legal expression for the inviolability of a man and his right to invoke the law as his ally. He is holy as long as he has not exposed himself in any way to an opponent; in case he be slain as holy his value as a man rises up and invalidates his slayer's defence. Dying unholy means that be has challenged fate by some guilt of his own, so that his death is his own fault.

The mark which distinguishes man from the dependent individual who cannot act independently is expressed in the Scandinavian word mannhelg, which means legally: personal rights, and really: his holiness as a man. If a free-born man happens to have fallen into slavery, and his kinsmen wish, to purchase his release, they must first of all lay upon him mannhelg ---i. e. claim his rights as a free man — and offer a ransom, after which he has the free man's right to full fine for any wrong [117] done him. If his kinsmen prove laggards, so that the owner sits waiting in vain for the ransom, he cannot do anything to his thrall until he has first appeared at the law-thing and had his mannhelg removed.

This legal holiness does not depend on any social contract, which has once and for all decreed that the innocent shall be unassailable; like all legal values, it is based upon an experience. The strong luck, that which is whole and without flaw, is what strengthens a man and makes him inviolable, and on the other hand, holiness itself carries with it an obligation; luck is damaged by the slightest blemish, and whether such weakening come from within or from without, by guilt or by an affront, makes at best but a difference of degree. It is the same spirit which inspires the holy man and the holy place. When we find the sanctuary wrapping itself about a fugitive, while his pursuers stand without, at a loss, or at best determined to await the moment when he shall find himself constrained to steal away from his refuge, we think first of all with admiration of the power which can thus tame excited tempers to veneration or even to fear. But in reality, the pursuers have a better reason for leaving him there in peace. It is not only the inviolability of the spot, but also its righteousness, which has communicated itself to him who presses into its frith; luck is right as well as power, and its ward has the advantage of his opponents in every way. It was by no means mythological eccentricity which caused the gods to deal cautiously with the wolf Fenrir which they had suffered to grow great within their own holy grounds. When the wolf discovered signs of mischievous propensities, they dared not kill him, but bound him securely to the entrails of the earth. They knew that in the wolf they were fostering their own unluck, but the holiness of the place permeated him, and could not be removed — to recur to the legal expression. On the other hand, the fulness of luck is an annihilating judgement upon him who is unable to assimilate the blessing; if a niding, in whom the thread of life has been solemnly sundered, presses into the holy place, he defiles the hamingja by his touch, and when the luck is sound and strong, it will repel him. It [118] was useless for Glum to attempt defiance, after his son Vigfus had been judged by the assembled court and outlawed. “Frey would not allow him to remain there at the homestead, by reason of its great holiness," runs the saga.

Holiness is the very core of life in men, the life that is engrafted in a child on the day when it is truly and spiritually born; and when the father recognises an illegitimate child and admits it fully into the clan, he is said to hallow it. Holiness is in treasures, and according to the poetic usage of language which sees in to the innermost, and calls things according to their true nature, cattle and weapons are simply holy. Holiness is the heart of ownership. The special consecration which made a sanctuary of a grove or a hill, and the preparation of the land by fire to make it inhabitable, are two degrees of the same act; from Helgafell, or whatever the centre might be called, holiness spread out without a break, only in ever weakening degree, to the farthest limits of the land. The first thing a settler did was to hallow the land to himself; Thorolf, the chieftain-priest, consecrated his holding to Thor, in the same way as he did his temple. Another of the holy chieftains, Thorhadd the Old of Drontheim, laid the holiness of Mæri on his new land; the holiness which had been the soul of Mæri in the Drontheimfiord be drew forth from the place itself, and carried it with him in the pillars of his high seat and the mould from the place where the pifiars rested in the ground; and when he arrived in his new home, he introduced it into his land around Stodvarfiord. When looked at from the social side the settler's act is simply an act of appropriation, because the essence of ownership was identity between possessor and possessed; and therefore the word helga, to hallow, applies equally to appropriation and to the higher consecration whereby men added the final touch to the temple and dedicated it to the god. The hamingja which held the property together and made it serviceable to man was the same that resided in his own veins, so that blood spilt by an unknown hand upon the soil would be upon the owner's bead and render him guilty of homicide. The poor Frankish homicide who is not able to pay his share of the were- [119] gild took up a handful of soil from his land and threw it on his next of kin before leaping over the fence; the dust of earth here carries with it not only the ownership but also the responsibility of the unfortunate man, just as duty as well as strength is contained in the weapon which goes to the best man of the family. If the slayer should die before having made reparation, his obligations devolve upon his heir, and this is expressed in Norwegian law in this phrase: the heir takes the axe.

Not all the settlers were great chieftains, with splendid temples on their land, and wealthy enough to have a whole mountain for a holy place, but all had their holiness to plant out in the fields, a luck of the same character as Thorolf's and Thorbadd's, only weaker in force. The difference then becomes apparent in the soil. “Half man's worth shall the freedman have if he come upon an earl's land, full and whole if he come upon the king's,” runs an old saying, which has in some inexplicable fashion found its way into the Icelandic law codex of the Grágás, and the words obviously hint at the valueing of a man according to the soil on which he lived. The king's son was born on holy ground, in the poetic language, and the effects manifest themselves in his heroic stature, and we can guess that the fulness of holiness in the earth made demands on' the inhabitants; the ordinary peasant's holding would hardly be as sensitive as Glum's, which thrust an outlaw from it as the plague, or as Thorhadd's on whose fields nothing might ever be suffered to perish save cattle taken for slaughter. In such a general removal as that which took place when families from the most distant parts of Norway settled down side by side along the shores of Iceland, there would necessarily be much readjustment of the old self-estimation. Independent clans from various parts of Norway were shaken up together, and the old, very holy families might find it difficult to maintain that dignity which they had enjoyed in the old country, where veneration had grown with the steady growth of centuries. In the Eyrbyggja saga, we are initiated into a settling of accounts which may have had several parallels. The independent family of Helgafell tried to establish its wonted hegemony within the district, but its supremacy was challenged [120] by the powerful clans settling in its neighbourhood, and the defiance finds its natural expression in the outcry: “Are they to reckon their lands for holier than other lands about Breidafiord?” They enforced their protest by violently entering and profaning the ground, and a battle ensued which led to a settlement admitting the contending clans to equal rights. This conflict implies in reality a struggle for supremacy, but it is naturally described from its religious side, because it is not a quarrel regarding forms, but a trial of strength between two hamingjas.

To unfold the old thoughts and experience we must remain within the hamingja, and let it unfold itself for us. From the centre, a man's holiness spreads out through the house, fills it with its atmosphere and permeates men with its force, so that they are different beings within doors from what they are outside. We can mark this holiness in the “home-frith”, the high degree of inviolability which the law assigns to a man in his own house. He who pursues him beyond his own threshold, and injures him on the bench and by the fire, has dealt him a heavier wound than one who strikes at him upon the open road; be had smitten his luck where it was thickest and bled most violently, and his act is villainy. In Danish law, the more serious character of a breach of peace within the home is marked by its being placed in the same category with killing after reconciliation. In Swedish law, the point of view is so consistently applied, that the judgement passed upon a killing taking place at the gateway of the tún, or enclosure, is made to depend upon the position of the body; if the attacking party lies with his feet inside the enclosure and his head outside, then he is himself responsible for his death; if he fall the opposite way, then fine shall be paid, for “the head fell from there where the feet stood.” German laws can stamp a killing within the home-frith as villainy by assigning capital punishment, and excluding the option of settlement by fine, which was available in ordinary cases of homicide.

Actually, a man was no less holy in another's house; any one attacking him there, offended against the honour and sacredness of the third family concerned, and would by so doing [121] make two implacable foes in place of one. So solid is frith within doors, that the holiness of the slain man suffered no damage from the fact of his having called down vengeance upon himself; unless the pursued were branded with some great villainy, his opponent was required to observe certain formalities before he could remove him, or take him within the house. Only a decree of outlawry could annul his right to any refuge; when his holiness, that is his life, had been removed from him, he fell from the stem and could be disposed of without danger.

In those members of the clan who constantly dwelt within the narrowest circle of luck, holiness was at its strongest. Women were filled with frith to such a degree that an attack upon them did not amount to an injury but an outrage, as we know from the special care wherewith their inviolability was fenced about in the legal decrees; and the strong condemnation of the law finds its best commentary in the insuperable loathing felt by the Northmen for thoughtless breaches of this rule. In the midst of a society in which a man was called to account for every idle word pronounced against his fellow men, a woman stood and took the measure of this world of responsibility, as if a word had never turned upon the speaker again, and she knew her power, when she freely dressed her view of a man's worth or lack of worth in words that hid nothing. He who falls under a woman's tongue and feels her words hailing down upon him, never attempts to stop such fateful utterance with the same means as he would involuntarily apply to a male derider, or, if he forget himself so far as to lift his hand, it is to be hoped be may have a good friend at hand to prevent him from committing that unluck. And yet, the reason for this toleration is certainly not that a woman's words have less force than a man's; on the contrary, be goes his way with especial discomfort of soul, for there is a double point in a woman's words, as in a woman's counsel, they come directly from “the powers”.

The woman also reveals in her activity that she has a closer contact with luck than the man, under ordinary circumstances, can maintain. These premonitions, this unfailing sense of things to come, which is born of the welling up of luck itself from the depths, is strongest in her. A wise man would not disregard what his wife said upon any serious matter; we know from the sagas how great was the weight of her counsel in men's deliberations; and a man would be even more disposed to listen when the ring of her voice told him she was prophesying. Therefore, the prophetess has become an historical figure in the Germanic past. Tacitus knew her, the virgin of the people of the Bructuri, who with advice and prophecy led her tribesmen's campaign against the Romans, and received the best of their plunder as a gift of honour. Almost divine, he calls her, sacred in her inviolability, and he has summed up his impression in general of woman's position in the unquestionable words that the Germani saw in her “something sacred and foreseeing”. Long before Tacitus' day, his countrymen had with a shudder seen old women moving, barefooted and white-clad, among the hosts of the Cimbri, doing prophetic service by reading omens in the sacrifice of prisoners.

Full holiness demanded many considerations and much care. The greater luck a man had gathered in himself, the greater power in his movements, but also, the greater danger of any false step. If he failed or sinned, the act was more momentous, and consequently his guilt was more immediately fatal and the wound less easily staunched. The women had their place in the holiness of the home, they were not to carry luck in earthen vessels out into life, they were not expected to possess the lightning adaptation to the need of the moment, which might lead a man to forget the caution due to holiness. The men, on the other hand, lived on the outer boundary, and in order to be able to move easily in their daily doings, outside the house, they had to leave behind them something of their garment of luck, and choose a lighter dress for unemcumhered action. Therefore, manhood begins with a liberation: the youth is freed from the unhindered obedience to frith, and moved down to an inferior, masculine degree of holiness.

There were two ways possible in dealing with children; either they might be kept throughout their childhood outside the hamingja, as a sort of aspirants to humanity, — in which case they would, as regards principle of life, and probably also conditions of life, rank with the thralls, so that their soul was first given them on consecration to manhood; or they might be admitted right into holiness, and kept there until manhood opened for them. We cannot venture to say that all the Germanic peoples chose the latter alternative, but many of them did so. The transition of youth from a largely dependent grain of luck, to the state of a self-conscious agent and maintainer of luck, is denoted by the cutting of the hair; until the day of admission to the circle of men, a youth wore his hair long, like the women; his locks marked him as holy and inviolable in the highest sense; from that day forward, he confirmed his utterances in manly wise, by grasping the honour in the weapon, while the women, who all their lives bore their luck concentrated in their hair, took oath with one hand about their plait. What took place with the boy, is sufficiently indicated by his spiritual kin by their veneration for beautiful hair. A penalty was decreed for cutting off a youth's — or worse still, a maiden's — hair without consent of their kin. A mother such as Gudrun, who lived to see her daughter trodden underfoot by horses, sits moaning over the hair trodden in the dust. “This was the hardest of my sorrows, when Svanhild's fair hair was trodden under horse's hoofs,” runs her plaint. “Locked” was used as an official title, unmistakably distinguishing the ruler from all other mortals, and men were ready to recognise, in the royal wealth of hair, a higher power. So sensitive was royalty, that a Frankish prince was never allowed to cut his hair; according to the description of a contemporary, evidently that of an eye-witness, he wore his hair parted in the middle and flowing loose over his shoulders. If a razor were applied to his head, he became as one of the ordinary plebs, to quote the words of Childebert when he wished to indicate a means of placing an inconvenient pretender beyond all pretensions to royalty. After Chlodomer's death, his brothers, Childebert and Chlotachar, considered the world by no means too wide for two, and their mother's regard for her son's little boys was, according to their view, only serving to keep open a possibility which were better closed. They got the boys into their power, and sent the queen a sword and a pair of scissors, that she might look at them, and choose for herself which implement should be used upon the lads. “I had rather see them dead than shorn,” she cried, “if they are not to have the throne.”

It is fulness of soul which unites the youth and the woman and the greatest man of luck, who, all his life, or at any rate from the hour he becomes chief of the clan, retains the intensity of holiness. The peculiar array which distinguished the priests of the Nahanarvales was regarded by Tacitus, doubtless with more reason than he knew, as a womanly fashion; he states that the master of the temple was a priest in woman's garments, and we may believe that the holy man, when attending at the altar, wore his hair loose, and thus enveloped himself in the strength of holiness. What it meant when the women loosed their hair, this too we may learn, if we will condescend to seek the information from witches; the Swedes were severe upon women who ran about with their hair down while good folk were in bed.

Cutting the hair, then, must have been a real offence of some sort against holiness. A piece of the boy was cut away. As far as we can make out, the operation was always entrusted to a stranger, or at any rate one not belonging to his nearest of kin, and the reason for this was probably no other than the natural unwillingness of the family to cut their luck, however needful the operation might be. On the other hand, it was necessary to be fully assured of the operator's goodwill, before he was entrusted with the carrying out of so important an act as the removal of something holy; and the close contact created a mutual obligation in frith, so that the man who cut a youth's hair became his foster-father and gave him gifts. Undoubtedly the opportunity of requesting a man of position to act as a sort of godfather was utilised to a great extent, as offering the possibility of an alliance and increase of power both for the youth and his kin, and in the great ruling families, hair-cutting became a state act, significant enough to be immortalised history. Paulus Diaconus relates that the Frankish prince Charles sent his son Pippin to Liutprand, that the latter, according to custom, might take his hair. And in cutting the hair from his head, he became his father, gave him royal gifts and let him return.

But although men in daily life tucked up their skirts, so to speak, for greater freedom of action, a man could always put on his greater holiness. The man who stood up on the stone in Thord Gellir's hall to swear mighty oaths, and the fugitive seeking refuge in the sanctuary, show us the Germanic type raising itself to a superhuman dignity. When he is standing on the holy place, both he himself and that which proceeds from him will be stronger than usual; soul wells up from the source, pressing forth in his words, filling them to the uttermost corner, so that they fall from his lips with weight and ringing tone. The words are whole — true, as we should say — only that truth in the old reality is something active; they have power. A man steps on stock, i. e. puts his foot on the setstocks round the hearth, when he utters a vow that men shall hear of him in the future, and his innermost life is in the declaration, nay more, the whole power of the kinsmen inspires it. No recantation is then possible, that is to say, the word goes ahead carving out a way for the deed, but also, it draws the speaker with it, because his word would be lost and involve his hamingja in its fall if it were not redeemed.

A similar transformation — less drastic in force, but identical in character — takes place in a man the moment be grasps the treasure, sword or spear or ring, and strengthens his words; by his oath be overwhelms his opponent who has attacked his manly worth. His words are eminently true and strong, so that nobody can help being convinced, because in him and in his speech there seethes an honour and a luck which bears down all before it. But the vow or oath he proffers also binds himself by chaining him to the reality of his proclamation; if he vows to do such and such a deed, the deed must be done; if be says such and such a thing is true, it must be true, because his life is bound up with this truth. His words become an inspired value, a thing to be grasped and held, a thing that can be used and a thing that can hurt. As he swears, he counts for more in the judgement, being to an eminent degree himself.

Even in the Christian form, several of the Germanic laws recognise the oath “with armed right hand”, or the oath sworn upon sacred weapons — where the word sacred is doubtless an echo from the old days; and this gesture in swearing was a thing to catch the eye of the stranger from other lands. The educated Southerners tell one another of these barbarians, the Quadi, who swore by their swords, which they regarded as gods; and when the Germans became a civilised people and wrote ethnographical notes concerning that land in the north where men were wont to swear by weapons, naturally enough, the observers of these queer foreign customs were struck by the gesture which was the highest symbol of supreme reliability, and outsiders would hardly be aware that the oath among the barbarians was not an isolated form for settlement of conscience. The oath passes by imperceptible degrees into more everyday declaring truth, and it is immaterial, whether we say from an external point of view that the Germanic swearing was merely an emphatic form of utterance, or we express it by saying that they swore their way through life from day to day. Wherever a definite utterance is called for, some material corroboration takes place. The Frank who had some claim to make against his neighbour, and felt that he must get greater men to take an interest in his case if he were to gain his rights, presented himself before the Count, or royal official for the district, grasped the staff and begged him as the guardian of the law to do his duty and deal with the recalcitrant fellow-citizen: “I stake myself and all I have on this my word, that you can safely distrain upon him.” And this ceremony is merely an adaptation to new conditions of the old power of a word to move the world. Before the order of society was placed in charge of royal officials the Frank would go to the law-thing, and clench his hand about the staff or spear to let his words ring out over the assembly with the justifying and compelling power that must set all present in motion, and make existence insecure for the person attacked, until he had struck it down with his defence. 

The Swedes also confirmed their agreements “by the shaft”. He who acted, and with him all his witnesses — as they later become, — grasped the shalt of the spear thus strengthening the word uttered by their spokesman, so that the formula of the bargain had power both over themselves and over all others, and became an assurance for the receiver of the promise.

The man who had laid aside his sword was another than the one who a moment before had stood with it in his hand; he was as a bow with loosened string. So too, it made a difference whether a man still had his foot on the spot, or had regained his earthly footing; but a man would yet hardly be quite the same as before at the very moment his foot shifted from the holy place or stepped down from the high seat; it would probably be some time before he became like his fellows again. A man did not always wish to get rid of his manly holiness so soon; on the contrary, one might purposely fortify the holiness in oneself. At critical times, when it was a question of straining luck to the utmost of its power, one could put off all that pertained to everyday life, and live solely as the initiate of luck. Prior to the setting out of an army, certain ceremonies unknown to us took place, which transformed the warriors into a sacred host, and the effect of that consecration appears in the frith which united them into a whole of the same solidity as the community of kinsmen. A breach of solidarity would then be the utmost villainy, and the land lay in solemn silence; the law holds, that all legal business is suspended while the army is in the field. Tacitus knows that when the gods were in the camp, the power of judgement slipped from the hands of the leader of the army, and passed into those of the priests, the sacrosanct chieftains of the temple. The same consecration is indicated by unhindered growth of the hair. After a great defeat such as that which the Saxons suffered at the hands of the Suevi, they swore a solemn oath not to cut hair or beard until they had avenged the shame; they consecrated themselves and strengthened them selves for the great task, as Civilis when he vowed death to the Roman legions, and as Harald Fairhair when his plans of conquest had taken hold of him.

Among the warlike Chatti, the young men went through a sacred period of youth as warriors, when no razor touched their head; for the majority of these youths, their first killing was the introduction to a calmer life, but many made it a matter of honour to extend the strong and arduous life as sacred to war, until their strength failed them in old age. Similar bands of warriors were found as far as the Germanic peoples extended, and in the traditional laws of the vikings of Jomsburg, there remains an echo of the stern ethics of those consecrated to war. The root of the law was the “warrior's frith”, or inviolable peace within the ranks; personal connections and personal preferences counted for nothing compared with loyalty to the band; even kinship and its obligations were dissolved; all questions were referred to the leader's decision, and plunder was shared. This sacred unity cut men off from the rest of the world, and especially from the normal life of everyday, where work and the breeding of children took place; the warriors were forbidden to sleep outside the camp, and none was allowed to have any dealings with women.

Among the songs of the Edda there is preserved a poem which may be called the epic of warrior holiness, the Hamdismál, but unfortunately the old thought has slipped away from the poet, — unless it be the incomplete form in which it is handed down which renders it vague; the prose narratives of the contents afford us little help, as later saga writers had evidently lost familiarity with the then obsolete technique of war. This much we know, that Gudrun, on sending out her sons to avenge their sister, consecrates them in invulnerable mail and gives them rules to observe which they dare not break. With irresistible force the “battle-holy” men force their way into Earmanric's hall, and strike him down despite the efforts of his retainers till he lies as a shapeless mass, without hands or feet; but they had broken the commands laid upon them, and therefore were bereft of victory, Sorli falling at the gable end of the hall, Hamdir at the rear wall of the house. Disaster came upon them at the moment Hamdir, in his boasting, forgot his mother's order to observe silence during the fight; then Earmanric gained mind and speech, and was able to urge his men to see what stones might avail against those whom iron would not scathe. But the misfortune must have begun earlier, perhaps on the way, when the two met their brother Erp and slew him in a dispute; but the killing itself was probably not their only crime. Whence had Earmanric the happy idea of seeking help from stones? Odin, the saga men would naturally say, having recognised once and for all that the god is wont to come and go where men are fighting; the original story would have said something else, as for instance that the two brothers had themselves challenged stones to enmity; before reaching the king's hall, they must in some way or other have offended the stone hamingja, which the mother had probably won over to their side at the time when she made their mail proof. But wherein the infatuation lay, whether the spilling of Erp's blood upon a stone, or some act we do not know of — this must remain a mystery till the end of time.

Then too, where men assembled for purposes of friendly contest, in hunting or fishing, they invoked luck and placed themselves under its sole dominion. Quarrelling on the fishing grounds rendered all their trouble vain, we are told, and we may know that the will to avoid failure found other expressions than a mere pious attitude of mind. Therefore the crew of a ship was holy, and the ship itself a spiritual counterpart of the house — we find here the same deep connection in the thoughts of the poet when he calls a house the ship of the hearth. The ornaments at the stem of a ship carried the power of a high seat; the ship's side rendered the words of one making oath whole and full just as did spear and shield; sojourning on or by a ship gave a man the value of home frith.

In times of great strength and renewal in the life of the clan, holiness would thicken in the house and embrace all with its whole force. Home frith grew into feast frith, and the inviolability was intensified into sacrosanctity. In the case of a killing taking place at time of sacrifice, at a wedding, or funeral ale, the offender found no place of repentance, but became a niding for ever, “a wolf in the holy place”. Holiness then was so close that it could even penetrate into the thralls and communicate to them life of human life, as is shown in the Swedish laws by the edict calling for full fine for the killing of a slave at one of the great festivals. Here, the word holy reaches its richest, but also its sternest ring, as when the Swedish laws speaking with venerable weight, call the bridal pair holy, and the seats they fill holy.

With the frith of the feast, the perfection of home holiness, we are introduced into the stillness that reigned in the holiest of houses, where no weapon might be carried over the threshold. As far as to the point where the temple door opens, luck is explained in itself, but there is something more, and to reach it, we must step from the temporal into the religious. But in reality, the step exists only for us; to the Germanic mind, the transition from human life to the divine was an unbroken continuation. If we begin in the religious sacredness, men's preparedness in face of the gods, we are driven ere we are aware up into the teaching of men's social settlements with one another at the law-thing, their dealings and their bargains. And though we keep strictly to the worldly side of buying and selling and bartering, we shall yet discover, one fine day, that there are other traces there than those of men alone. There falls a gleam of the divine over all the legal artfulness we have been toiling through.

In holiness, men meet with the gods. The holy place was the place where “the powers” dwelt.

 

   

 
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