Was Van die Liebhaberin?
(What of the Lovers?)
By: Steve Anthonijsz RKN
This article originally appeared in Théod magazine Vol II No 3 (Lammas 1995) under the pen name “Radböd Ártisson”.
True religion is not separate from any particular aspect of our lives. It is involved in our morality, our politics, our work habits, even our times of play. Something that touches us so deeply and thoroughly must, obviously, touch on the most fundamental and powerful aspects of our lives- love and death. Perhaps it is due to the strong focus in the Reawakening on the Æsir and their warrior values that we have seen so many articles in Heathen journals on the subject of Death. For example, the association between death and Óðinn, the Valkyriur, the passing of BaldR, u.s.w., are themes which often appear. If this is so, the lack on concentration on the Vanir may explain the absence of discussion with regards to love and romantic relationships among the fólk.
Love is a very special, though confusing, part of out lives. It involves emotion, commitment, duty, sex, personal life goals of both partners, and a myriad of other issues. Is it not weak-minded to imagine that such an aspect of out lives would not be affected by our Heathenry? Assuming one has found a partner worthy of the kind of effort and commitment described above, how does one manage the relationship as outlined by the advice of our wise and honourable ancestors? To understand this, we must understand two things: the general social relationship between Man and Woman, and the obligation of each partner to the other. Our ancestors lived in a society which probably demonstrated more equality between the sexes in the social realm than any other. Neither gender was considered more important than the other, as both were seen as priceless members of the ætt (family), though generally had different responsibilities. The man was the main protector of the heimR (home) and sib (tribe), the gatherer of spoils, the home provider, and it was he who was responsible for the payment of taxes and debts. Although the man was generally regarded as the head of the household, the woman enjoyed a great deal of license, especially in the areas of heimR, various crafts, and social/spiritual influence. The woman carried the house keys, cooked, made and sold cloth, and was responsible for domestic and economic affairs. She could take up weapons to defend herself, and could speak at the Þing (legal assembly), and could even obtain a divorce with a fair division of property. While both partners were encouraged to build the moral fibre in each other, most of this charge was placed on the woman.
Today, our social structure is very different from that of our ancestors. Many variations on the nuclear family have become the norm rather than the exception. What is important for us to learn from our forefathers is the status invested in each partner by the other. Neither one individually could make or break the couple or the family. All was seen as a mutual exchange between the talents and abilities of each- though it was recognized that women generally are better at some things, and others, men.
For those today who are not handfasted or raising families, these same principles apply, though perhaps, less formally. We might consider that our ancestors recognized two kind of loyalty: ætt ok trú (family and bond-oath). Neither was seen as greater than the other, as is evidenced by many stories in the Eddas and sagas. The process of dating, to courtship, to bryllup (handfasting) might be considered a slow preparation toward changing the kind of loyalty from one of oath to one of blood, the bryllup functioning as a sort of initiation or adoption.
While a bryllup was generally planned more around practical concerns by our ancestors than by romantic ones, one should not think that romance was unknown or unimportant to them. One of the most romantic tales of all time is The Wooing of GerðR as found in Skirnismál. FreyR sacrifices Bloðughof- the horse that could dash through fire and water- and his magical sword- which could fight of its own accord when drawn- on the mere gamble that he might win the heart of GerðR. When one considers that the source of this lay comes from a purely Viking perception, we may begin to understand the gravity of losing a sword and a horse. This immolation even leads to FreyR’s death at Ragnarøk when he attempts to battle SurtR with a stag antler in lieu of his sword. In the meanwhile, however, FreyR hallows GerðR, taking her from the cold and the dark, and giving her a fruitfulness that she did not think was possible. FreyR, in this tale, demonstrates his tendency to turn Yearning into Joy, Joy into Abundance, and Abundance back into Yearning, demonstrating both his True nature as a proper lover, and also as a god of prosperity.
So what of unmarried couples going through various stages of this process? What are their rôles and duties toward one another? Obviously, the keeping of the home is not yet an issue (though various stages of this may come into play now that single parenthood and other non-traditional lifestyles are common). How interesting and important are the duties of lovers, especially in today’s decadent society—although this is rarely recognized due to that same decadence. We are given great autonomy, yet have lost the sense of honour and taboo which allows us to fully take advantage of this opportunity for ourselves and our partners.
It has often been said that Heathenry is a path of doing more so than one of feeling or believing. In this we are not given a simplistic law book, but, instead, proven principles by which we are to base our decisions and actions. How much is this demonstrated in our relationship, where it really counts? Romantic partners are to be both helga (special friend) and ráðgjafi (counsellor). It is our duty to lighten each other’s cares, to soothe each other’s sorrows, and to augment each others’ joys. We are to watch over each other’s interests, warn each other of dangers, and comfort each other during trials. Most importantly, by our holy, diligent, and attractive deportment, we are to constantly endeavour to render each other more virtuous, more useful, more honourable, and happier. In other words, while we ourselves are Worthing, we are to aid each other in this same process. This is the difficult part. No one wants to be involved in a relationship with a partner who is constantly trying to change him or her. On the other hand, do we not all want to find someone who will help bring forth the best in us?
In this context, we might consider again the nature of Yngvi-FreyR. Currently, FreyR is often seen as a simple fertility god. Our ancestors, however, generally saw him as the giver of friðR (fruitful peace). Kings associated with this VanR were remembered not just for keeping the fólk happy, but for improving their lives and then sustaining this improved lifestyle. It is understanding this difference that makes a Heathen partner more significant than isavi (fólk who are not trú) competitors in today’s romantic marketplace. For we are those who understand Worthing, and are TRÚ FÓLK who will actively pursue these goals rather than idealizing them.
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