The Northern Way

The Culture of the Teutons


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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