The Northern Way

The Culture of the Teutons



In the circle of friends, the soul exhibits its features and its strength, but the hamingja of the clan is not restricted to that human fence which now encloses the sacred field. The soul is not a thing born with each generation and renewed with each brood of kinsmen that steps in. It reaches forward; it will, as surely as anything is sure, flow through those sons' sons which all good kinsmen hope and expect will follow one another. And it reaches back over the known part of the past, embracing all former kin, and extends behind them into the primeval darkness whence their fathers came.

The soul which works restlessly in the present generation is a legacy from the forefathers who made it by always letting it have its own way, never suffering it to hunger, but willingly gathering honour together so that the hamingja was for ever growing beyond its former bounds.

Whence had Harald Fairhair obtained his kingly luck, his kingly soul, with its wide-spreading avidity, its plans for a Norway united into one, and with the power to carry out his will? The question has been put forward in the past, and has also — at least in part — been answered. According to the legend, his soul's foundations were laid with luck of many sorts. He himself was a son of Halfdan the Black, a prince of considerable distinction in a small way, victorious and very lucky in harvests. Halfdan was first married to a daughter of Harald Goldbeard of Sogn, and on the birth of the first son, the mother's father took the boy to his home, gave him his


name and his kingdom and brought him up. This Harald died young, about the same time as his namesake, and the name then passed together with the soul to his younger brother, despite the fact that the latter was born of a different mother, who was a woman of the powerful race of chieftains from Hadaland. Thus, from several different sources, was gathered together the foundation of Harald's great luck as king. We have every right to say that the first king of Norway was a highly complex character.

The race of Halfdan became the greatest in Norway, because its members had understood how to draw other sources of life into their own and fill themselves with hamingja to overflowing.

The old forefathers lived in their posterity, filled them out with their will, and wrought their achievements through them anew. A scornful reference to the departed actually strikes a living soul; for whereas the soul transmigrant merely repeats itself, and, saves itself by again and again coming into existence when he slips from one body into another, the kinsmen actually are their fathers and their fathers' fathers, and maintain them by their being. Since it is the same soul which animated the ancestors and which now makes bearers of honour and frith out of the living generation, the present does not exclude the past. The identity of hamingja which bears the clan includes all the departed.

There is indeed really no question here of past and present in the same uncompromising sense as with us, who always move with faces half buried in a dark cloud, and a clammy feeling about the neck. Time lay spread out about those people of old. The past was north to them, and that to come was south, time present was as east and west: all in a way equally near, all in a way equally present. And to the right as to the left, straight ahead and behind, the horizon was bounded by the luck of the circle; time was penetrated throughout by its flood, as it flowed about men and through men, filling them and space about them; always and everywhere with the force of movement in it, always and everywhere with the fulness of


expansion, again and again crystallising into a human being, who lived his time in the light to fall back again and be kept until another time. For the hamingja, present and past are not strata superimposed, but a double existence, through the spirit walls of which man passes to and fro without hindrance.

When a new man came into the family, the Northmen said expressly: Our kinsman is born again, so and so has come back. And they confirmed their saying by giving the old name to the young one. Thorstein consecrates his son to life with the words: “This boy shall be called Ingimund, and I look for hamingja for him because of the name.” The soul and luck of the old grandfather, Ingimund, is now to enter into life again, to new activity in the light. Later in the story we are told that this younger Ingimund brings about the reincarnation of his uncle Jokul, by uttering these prophetic words over his second son: “This boy looks as one who will be quick to undertaking: keen eyes he has; if he lives, he will surely gain the mastery of many an one, and not easy to get on with, but true to friends and kin — a great champion, if my eyes can see; should we not now call to mind our kinsman Jokul, as my father bade me, — surely he shall be called Jokul.”

The firmness of this custom in the matter of names shows that the ancients meant what they said. Names were not spent recklessly; the family had a certain stock of regular appellations which were borne in turn. The children were named after a deceased relative, and took over the vacant name. It is a thing quite conceivable in itself that Olaf Geirstadaalf was buried at Geirstad and later, about 1020, visited his own grave, or, as we may also put it, that Olaf the Saint had once been called Olaf Geirstadaalf and, if he wished, could remember his dwelling at Geirstad. Men asked Olaf once, when he rode past his kinsman's barrow, if it were true that he was buried there; rumour declared that he had there uttered the words: “Here I have been, and here I went in.” — The same unecclesiastical mode of thought obtained in Iceland. “Kolbein is come again,” we hear folk say, with an intense delight of recognition, when


they saw the prowess of Kolbein's' nephew, Thorgils Skardi; here they had the whole of that much-admired man before them, his friendliness, his generosity, his delight in feasting— his chieftainly character altogether.

While the Northmen in naming new kinsmen after the old lay stress on the individuality of the re-born, the remaining Germanic peoples follow a different custom, the scion of a race not being called directly after his predecessor, but given a name which assimilates portions of the kinsmen's name-material; and from all appearances, the Nordic method is due to a restriction of the underlying principle. The clan had two or more appellatives in which it saw expressed its will and honour; the kinsmen bore one or another of these family signs, extended to form a name by the addition of a word such as strong (bold), mighty (ric), lucky (red and others) or berht, i.e. radiant, to be recognised from afar. The princes of Kent were called Eormenric, Eormenred, Eorconberht, Eorcongote and Æthelbeorht, Æthelred, their women Eormenbeorh, Eormenhild, Eormengyth; eormen and eorcon are both words indicating something great or imposing in the luck of the Kentish stock. The proud and ancient race that held the throne of Essex called themselves after the sax, or short sword, after sige, victory, and sæ, which is probably nothing other than sea; there were Sæbeorht, Sæweard, Seaxred, Seaxheald, Sigebeorht, Sigeheard, Sigebeald. Among the West Saxons, we find coen, cuth and ceol predominating, indicative of progress, renown and seafaring — ceol is probably keel or ship —: Cuthwulf, Cuthgisl, Cuthred, Cuthwine, Ceolric, Ceolwulf, Ceolweald. The Northumbrian kings proclaimed their gods os and their holy places or things

ealh in their names: the men were called Oslaf, Oswulf, Oslac, Osweald, Ealhred, Ealhric, the women Ealhfrith, Ealhfled.

In the Beowulf, the memory of the ancient Scyldings is preserved: Heorogar with his brothers Hrothgar and Helgi, and the later generation of Heoroweard, Hrethrek, Hrothmund and Hrothulf; these had for their name-mark the sword, heoru, and renown, hroth, hreth. The Frankish house of the Merovingians was proud of its chlod and its child, renown and battle.


The mark of the Ostrogoths was, as far as can be seen, first and foremost the ancient sacred amal, but in addition to this there was the kingly sign of theod, not only meaning people, but also in a wider sense indicating greatness, that which surpassed ordinary measure: Theodomer, Theodoric, Amalaric, and women such as Amalafred, Amalaberg. From the first century, the very dawn of North European history, we find, through the medium of southern annals, a couple of names handed down among those born by the royal family of the Cherusci:        Segestes, Segimundus and Segimerus are the names of three kinsmen in their Roman form; we may perhaps in these names discern the word for victory.

The difference between the ancient, pan-Germanic method of naming and that of the Northmen indicates perhaps a breach in the mode of thought, a revolution, whereby the individual was brought forward and given a free hand to make in course of time — the most of himself. But in all spiritual changes the new is contained altogether in the old and the old unimpaired in the new; the difference at the outset lies in a slight shifting of the accent. The contrast between the two systems certainly means nothing more than a dissimilarity in the emphasis laid on personal and general. The period which fostered the new system of nomenclature would hardly have been preceded by a time when the deceased ancestor was not recognised in the new-born child at all. Then, as well as later, men believed in man's living on after death; but in the re-birth of the family, the thought dwelled more on the idea of its reincarnation, than that of his coming again. The dead continued their life until they were forgotten, or so to speak dissolved in the luck, and meanwhile, the regeneration of the inexhaustible went on.

On the birth of a child, the luck of the kinsmen breaks out again in a new individual. Possibly the event may have an external occassion in that a portion of luck has fallen vacant; but death and birth, to the deeper insight, do not stand in any so straightforward relation one to the other. The living cannot by simply plunging into the reservoir of soul make its waters ooze forth in a successor. When one is born, it is the well-spring.


of luck overflowing, and if a dead man is to bring about such overflow, it must be in virtue of all that honour he has in himself, or which the avenging of his death brings with it. When the race increases its honour, then kinsmen rise up and make the fence wider. The will is not shared out among a greater number of individuals, but grows, so that there is more will and need of more implements for carrying out its work.

When the men of a race are rich in honour and luck, their womenfolk bear children. The luck must pass through the mother to gain strength for life; but the fact that the woman brings forth her child is not enough to inspire it with life and give it a share of luck. In the North, the child was at once brought to the master of the house, and accepted by him with a name. We read, for instance: “This boy shall be called Ingimund, after his mother's father, and I look for luck in him because of the name.” Or “This boy shall be called Thorstein, and I wish that luck may go with the name.” The meaning of this “look for”, “wish” lies midway between an “I know”, and an “I decree, I will, I give him hereby such and such a definite portion of luck, I hereby give him birth.” The father can say this, because he has, with the name, the soul itself in his mouth, and breathes it to the child; he inspires him with that luck, that character and will, that strength and that appearance which lie in the soul that hangs over him. With the name, luck and life, and thus also frith and the dignity of a kinsman entered into the child. Not until then had it a living soul. Here and there in the laws we find indications of a time when the life of a child was reckoned from the day it was given a name. In England, even after the law had advanced so far as to place the little child equal to the grown man, it was necessary to invalidate expressly all earlier distinctions, by adding: whether it have a name or not. Among the Franks, the child not yet named was still kept in a category by itself, with a smaller fine for its killing than for real human beings.

It would be regarded as a vital injury if another acting on his own responsibility gave a name to the child and thereby stamped its mind and body and fate; and in the Germanic


consciousness of law and right there is a firmly rooted hatred of him who dares to give a man a nickname and thereby plant new soul qualities in him. On the other hand, it may be said that a cognomen brings luck, in that it increases the honourable distinction of the receiver; the depth of this pride is still discernible in the “superstition” of late times that a man with two names lived longer than a man with one.

A boy who started his career with a rich and powerful name, one that his father or grandfather or another kinsman had filled with honour and progress, had a great advantage to begin with. Sincere Christians such as King Magnus and his true man Thorstein Siduhallson have not lost 'an iota of their confidence in the blessings of a good name. Thorstein comes on his homeward way from a pilgrimage to his king, when the latter lies at the point of death, and has already set his house in order and given gifts to his men. Nothing is left for the late-corner, but Thorstein himself cares not for goods: “But this I would, that you should give me your name.” The king answers: “You have in many wise deserved of me that which is best, and I give you gladly this name for your son. Even though I have not been a very great king, it is still no little thing for a simple yeoman to name his children alter me, but since I see that it means something to you, I will grant your prayer. My hugr tells me, that there will be sorrow and honour in the name.” The child receives with the name a fragment of the king's luck, but this he must know, that the king's luck is strong, so strong that an ordinary mortal would hardly have power to carry it safely through.

The act of the father is clearly just 'as much an act of birth as is the mother's delivery. The little empty possibility had in itself no part in the race, had no claim to be called kinsman; and if he showed evil tendencies, in other words, appeared likely to become a niding — as might be discerned from such sure signs as deformity, or physical qualities alien to the stock,— then he would simply not be allowed to enter into the luck, but was placed outside life, until the trifle of mobility in him also disappeared. He was carried out to perish. The Germanic

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