The Northern Way

The Culture of the Teutons


The son inherits birth and luck from his mother, but his maternal birthright is not derived from that little moment when the mother acts and the father waits; it depends fully as much upon the life which his father names into him. Going back through history to find the moment whence the act of birth derives its weight and its power, we pause first at the evening when the pair solemnly commence their life together; the fact of their openly going to rest together is more than a merely legal sign that their connection is to have all the effects of a marriage. But then too we shall find that the intercourse before the leading to the couch, the “ale”, is emphasised as a sure sign of the depth and genuineness of the alliance. From the ale we are led further to the bargain made beforehand, the legally binding contract sealed with gifts, and given to understand that this buying is the sign that the two are married in truth; the high social state of the mother depends on the fact that she is honourably bought with the bridal gift. But even here we are not at the end of the matter, the nobility of a truly wedded woman shines out on the morning after the bridal night when the husband honours his spouse by giving her the portion of a true wife; very rightly, the “morning gift” is reckoned in the Lombardic law as the concluding blessing which releases a bond-woman from her state of thraldom and makes her a “born” wife. Each of these ceremonies can by itself be taken as the fundamental and the decisive one, without in the least detracting from the importance of the rest; for all of them stand as proofs of the fact that a change has been effected in the minds and the souls of the parties concerned. Before the alliance was made, the two family circles were strangers, now, they are united by a fusion of luck and will; on both sides there has been an assimilation by each of the other's soul, so that the hamingja of both is strengthened by the bargain. At the moment the father takes to himself luck of another's luck and unites it with his own, the foundation of a legitimate son's life is laid. And so indeed the boy can be called a string, a close-twisted string; but he is not twined of two strands lying loosely beside each other; his luck is one


throughout, that of the father and that of the mother in one. In reality, the hamingja which now inspires the son is fully active in the father; the father with his clan already resembles the mother's kin and takes after them; and he must do so, as surely as he has so much of his kin-in-law's honour in himself that be can suffer with them and stand with them under one shield. The principle of birth and naming in the North is thus fully explained in the simple scene where the father, or whoever names the child, decides upon either one of his former kinsmen or one of the wife's circle, and fixes the child's position in the clan by uttering the blessing: “Let the boy take his name and luck!”

But to understand fully the effect of lawful marriage it is necessary to bear in mind that the right and power of calling a child after the brothers-in-law is not, cannot be restricted to the man who has actually married a woman of the other clan. The fusion of soul and luck and history that is effected by one of the friends mating must go through the whole race and work a change in all the members who have one soul together. In other words, the child is not named after his mother's father or brother, but in him the whole clan regenerates the hamingja of their brothers-in-law.

Hence it comes naturally that the genealogies of the ancient families were in themselves a history or an epos, and at the same time a portrait of a character. And though the registers are to us but catalogues emptied of the rich memories that clung to the names for the original bearers, we can still in the crossing and clustering of names old and new catch glimpses of life and growth, and even re-experience something of that earnestness which for the race itself made the reckoning up at once a serious business and an edification.

History knows little about King Penda of Mercia, and still less of his father, King Pybba. We must content ourselves with a few facts from ecclesiastical history, just such as might go to a verse in the Book of Chronicles, of a king who did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. Only a single trait of


human expression is preserved in this mask; heathen as he was, he used no weapon against the Christians but scorn, when they did not act according to their faith, we are told, and in this scornful grimace we seem to recognise one of the marked characters, who might rightly find a place beside a Harald, an Earl Hakon, a Chlodevech. But even though Penda was the founder of a kingdom, and one who, like Harald, elevated a chieftainship to kingly rank, he perished with his fathers; culture threw him down, with its unwavering judgement, as one of those who was not borne on by the tide, but left high and dry by the current of civilization. In England, the new age and the new spirit were not, as in Norway, built into the old; every stake there hammered in to support the new served at the same time to keep the old from walking. With the last of the heathens fell the kingdom itself, and if it rose again, it was with the first Christian king of Mercia. But if the kingdom of Mercia stood fast after the fall of its king and his culture, if it passed unscathed through the crisis that follows upon a period of creation, when maintenance must take the place of the natural equilibrium of progress, and if, after the crisis, it asserted itself as a great power, then it was because these ruthless warriors, Penda and his kinsmen, had also been men wise in counsel, who laid the foundations of their kingly luck sound and deep. This race had, like that of Halfdan the Black in Norway and that of the Merovingians in the Frankish realm, the wit to lead the great luck of the surrounding world into their own souls, and give birth to their hamingja again and again, not only stronger, but also richer, by impregnating their house with the war-luck and the ruling-luck of new regions. One sure sign of the power these princes of Mercia possessed to support their spiritual growth by acquiring luck from without is seen in the alliance with the royal house of the West Saxons. When the two families first intermarried is not known; only this is certain, that Penda's sister was married to King Coenwealh of Wessex. And now we see that one of Penda's brothers was already named after his brother-in-law; he is called Coenwealh, and despite the fact that the peace was soon broken


between them, when the West Saxon cast off his wife, Coenwealh's branch of the family still continued to use only West Saxon names. Furthermore, the new hamingja was transmitted to two of Penda's grandsons, Wulfhere's son Coenred, and Æthelred's son Ceolred, despite the fact that one's mother was from Kent, and the other's a Northumbrian.

Northward also we can follow the aspirations of the clan; Penda's fierce conflicts with the pious kings of Northumberland, Oswald and Oswiu, are in some way connected with the fact that two of his sons had married daughters of King Oswiu. And even in the same generation there appear in the Mercian genealogy those peculiar Northumbrian names which tell of a family that was proud of its gods; Penda's brother Eowa calls his sons Alwih and Osmod. The æthel, too, which appears in the name of one of Penda's own sons, Æthelred, is of old standing in Northumbria, but owing to its general character it is not a distinct family mark.

Another ambitious race whose list of names still bears witness to the enriching power of luck, is that of the Merovingians. Its first historical name is Childeric. This king comes nearest to ranking as the Harald Fairhair of the Franks, and like the Norse founder of a kingdom, had part of his luck from a neighbouring realm. It is related, in story form, that he stayed for some time in the East, in "Thuringia" at the court of King “Bisinus”, and that the queen of the East, won by admiration of his gallantry, followed him to France and became the mother of the next great man in the race, Chlodevech. What this myth may mean, translated into modern historical proportions, we do not know, but that it has some significance is indicated by the names of Childeric's daughters Audefleda and Albofleda, since we find elsewhere an alb and an aud pointing back to the same mystical Thuringia with its even more mystical King Bisinus. Later, Childeric allied himself with Theodoric the Great, and gave him one of his daughters in marriage; Chlodevech, as one historian expressly states, looked for great things from this alliance, and hastened therefore to incorporate the luck in his family by naming his son after the great king


of the Goths. The following generations are distinguished by the alliance with the Burgundian royal house; names with gunn, as Gunnthram, and chrote, as Chrotesind, are the symbol of the union. What the remaining name combinations, such as Ingomar, Chramn, or Charibert, signify in the history of the race we are unable to explain; one might say at a guess that they appear in the annals of the family partly as a memorial to the rival Frankish clans which were gradually swallowed up by the conqueror's line. All these adopted names indicate firstly alliance, but thereafter the usurpation of luck and will; with so much Burgundian soul in them as had the Merovingians, men could safely seat themselves in the alien places without fear of luck failing them in the strange land.

In face of these old realists, who absorbed alien luck and alien right into their own flesh and blood, our faint conceptions of acquisition by marriage and inheritance prove inadequate. Our words and thoughts permit us only by a very roundabout way to reach the sort of soul-history which lies in these family registers; but when once we have allowed ourselves to be led so far, genealogy does leap forth as the expression telling all, and telling all in the right manner, as the authentic illustration of birth, which cannot be fully replaced by any other, for the very reason that the succession of names is a series of landmarks left by the very flow of life. And the symbol it calls up before our eyes is not a father who from his place in the order of the race casts a searching glance along the two roads that meet in him, in the hope of its finding some one that can furnish a name for his child; we see a man sitting, inspired by a luck that is truly his, whether he himself or another have brought the latest addition to it, taking this hamingja and determining the “age”, or fate, of his son.

“I 'wish' this boy luck of the name;” this is a saying potent to effect just what lies in it according to the old mode of speech. He who utters it knows that he can make his words “whole”, or real. The ancient idea had no respect for half or conditional results; if the father could not give his child real life, and life unimpaired, then he had effected nothing. He might


indeed also take something of himself and of his soul to give birth to a human being after it had grown old. When the Icelanders relate the story with a purpose which tells how Harald Fairhair forced Æthelstan to adopt one of his sons, by letting the messenger set the child on the knee of the English king, these words rise of themselves to the lips of the narrator: “The child is now taken on your knee and you must fear and honour him as you fear and honour your son.” Whatever the author and his circle may have meant by these words, the force of them goes back to the experience that an act such as that which the Norseman tricked Æthelstan into doing really twined a thread between the man sitting there and the child seated on his knee; this ceremony might effect a change in the parties concerned, not only creating new responsibilities, but also giving rise to entirely new feelings of frith and kinship.

Undoubtedly the soul could be renewed in a man, so that he was born into another clan than that to which he originally belonged. By such adoption, the new member acquired a new luck, new plans, new aims ahead of him, he had memories and forefathers in common with his new kinsmen, received their frith into his mind, their will to vengeance, their honour. Even through the pompous Latin of Cassiodorus we can hear an echo of the Germanic reliance on one so adopted; this quill-driver of Theodoric's touches casually on the memory of Gensemund, “a man whose praises the whole world should sing, a man only made son by adoption in arms to the King, yet who exhibited such fidelity to the Amals that he transferred it even to their heirs, although he was himself sought for to be crowned. Therefore will his fame live for ever, so long as the Gothic name endures.”

Obviously then, the man must have been re-born completely, and received an entirely new soul. A change must have taken place in him, a birth which not only affected his mode of thought, but also what we should call his character.

The half-born was, then, not excluded from the chance of being fully born, he could be renewed, nay, born, so thoroughly that there was in reality nothing left either of the old body


or of the former soul. Such re-birth lay in the act of adoption, the seating on the knee, or as the Swedes called it, seating in the lap. When the Uppland Law in one paragraph admits legitimate children to full honour on the subsequent marriage of the parents, but in the heading of that paragraph calls them “lap-children”, we have here again one of those characteristic instances of contradiction between the old-time words and the thoughts of the Middle Ages. In the Norwegian laws, we find adoption described in its full dramatic content; a three-year-old ox was slaughtered, and a shoe was made from the skin of its right foot; at a solemn feast the shoe was placed in the principal part of the room, and one by one the members of the family set foot in it; first the father adopting, then the adopted son, and after him the remaining kinsmen. From that moment the son had in himself the full life of the family, as may be plainly seen from the legal consequences ascribed to the act; he inherits, avenges, brings lawsuits, is one of their own. The formula whereby the father confirmed this kinsman's dignity contains, in old words, that unity of soul which we expressed by luck and honour and frith: “I lead this man to the goods I give him, to gift and repayment, to chair and seat, to fine and rings, and to full man's right, as if his mother had been bought with bridal gift.”

The same thing may be expressed in Swedish by saying: Until a man is adopted, he may not stand among jurors, may not close a bargain, and all that is done to him is done as to a slave; but when he has been duly adopted, when the kinsmen have uttered their solemn: “we take him into clan with us,” then he may both attack and defend himself at law, and may take his place among the compurgators when his family bears witness in a process between men. And when the adoption has been completed in due form, then the adopted one is born as fully as one who has lain naked and kicking between the knees of a high-born woman; whatever he may have been, slave or free man, no one can distinguish between him and others of the race. He does not differ from his brothers in being born of a father without a mother, for in the case of a complete

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