One of the, doubtless, most important components of the Elder Heathen worldview is that of the gifting cycle. It simply cannot be understated. When we think of giving, or receiving gifts, be they tangible, or not, this was incredibly important to the Elder Heathen. Therefore, an understanding of it is absolutely essential to any Fyrnsidu practitioner. In other important pieces of the worldview, such as hospitality, as well the offerings given to one’s ancestors, wights, or deities, the gifting cycle lies at the core.
On the importance of gift giving in the past, Vilhelm Gronbech, in his book, ‘Culture of the Teutons‘ writes as follows:
…”One might safely trust to the gift and give it full power to speak on one’s behalf, for the soul in it would of itself reach in to the obligation, to honour, must bind luck and weave fate into fate, must produce will, or place a new element into it.”…
Lords, chieftains, or kings were expected to reward their thegns and gesiths with gifts for their service, for example. Rings are mentioned as one of those gifts, for which lords were often known to give. So, even in the higher echelons of Germanic societies, one was not immune from the obligation to reciprocate gifts and favour.
As has been stated, the gifting cycle is part and parcel with Elder Heathen worldview, as well as, of course, that of the Fyrnsidu practitioner today. Why? It’s quite simple: In a time far less stable than our own, when there were warring tribes and kingdoms, as well as smaller, less dense populations gifting had the possibility of building and maintaining stability, or even survival.
Thus, a gift given to a friend, and that friend’s ability to reciprocate, could ultimately build alliances between families and clans, even tribes and kingdoms. Ensuring the protection of the frith of an innangeard. This could also be applied between tribes to ensure grith, peace or truce between said tribes. Furthermore, the gifting cycle can very easily be applied in our daily lives as well, it is timeless.
If one gives gifts to another, and they are accepted, yet nothing is done in return, the likely scenario is that at the least, the one giving gifts is likely to cease doing so. That being said, it is up to those engaged in such a cycle to determine what is appropriate in regards to reciprocity. Of course, this is not often done in the form of a written contract, though that is possible.
More of than not, gifting cycles are based in mutual understanding and personal honour. In many cases, this can be seen today. After all, how many folks have given money to a friend or family member in need? If you haven’t, you likely know someone who has. Generally, whether or not it was a loan, it is usually expected that when the friend or family member in need is able, that they will return the favour.
Such a return may be, literally, a monetary, or material return. Other times it may be in assisting the gift giver in other ways. Be it giving them a ride to work, perhaps assisting them in household tasks, or helping them in some other way. There are many examples, and many of you may well, one might hope, know about such matters from personal experience.
We also see the consequences of failure to reciprocate in these situations. The recipient may be seen as ungrateful, untrustworthy, and possibly not worthy of further association. Due to both sides of the situation, it may be considered wise not to accept a gift one has neither the desire or ability to reciprocate. As the gifting cycle has the possibility of strengthening, or weakening bonds between people, families, or units on even larger scales.
In Fyrnsidu, where we seek to look at the worldview of Anglo-Saxon Heathens of the past, and find what from said worldview is reasonably applicable and relevant to the world today, the gifting cycle is one of the cornerstones that are not only essential. No, it’s importance, in fact is still incredibly relevant, even after well over a millennium that Anglo-Saxon Heathenry ceased to be generally practiced, as the importance that is sometimes, maybe even often placed on the importance of reciprocity, has not really died.