The Northern Way

The Culture of the Teutons


adoption the luck of the wife and her kinsmen was included in the soul which the father named into him. The adopted member has received a whole soul and a past.

In Norway, it was required that all kinsmen should be present at the adoption ceremony, and step into the shoe, in order that they might one by one hand over to the new man right to life and a share in the rights of life; infants not yet of an age to take part in the ceremony by themselves, confirmed the adoption of their brother by sitting on their father's arm when he stepped into the shoe. The same condition for the validity of adoption was probably required by other Germanic peoples, though we cannot conclude from this that it always restricted the right of the father in the same way as in Norway. The main object of the ceremony is not to announce the change in the new man's state, but to make the change itself real, so that it could face the world as a fact which all must feel. The child did not sit on its father's arm to figure as an announcement; he radiated luck into his new brother, and he would, when he came to man's estate, feel the kinship which he had unknowingly established. Consequently, the public announcement at the law-thing, required by Danish and Swedish law, was not in itself more effective than the act a father undertook himself, when he had great luck concentrated in himself.

Beside true kinsmen there appears to be a class of men who have life, who act in luck, whose honour is guarded by the clan, but who yet lack something. When the slave-woman sent for the father at the time of her delivery, and he consented to come, in order to receive the child and name it, as did Hoskuld with his son Olaf, then the boy was free, and might, as Olaf did, rise to fame; but he was after all forced to stand aside in the division of inheritance, with nothing but his gift, that which his father had given him out of the whole. And so the laws actually describe the condition of the illegitimate son, both in south and north. The father might, if he chose, set up his son in life, but after his death the bastard had no claim on the property of the family. From the Germanic standpoint, there is apparently something unnatural about this class of


kinsmen, who do not inherit, but can yet receive a portion of the inheritance as a gift; who have honour enough to take oath, who take part in the pursuit of a cause, and have a share in fines as well as in the giving in marriage of their kinswomen, but always at last, by themselves, with a portion inferior to that of the rest; kinsmen who may indeed be entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining the family honour, but only when no better man is left alive. Their position is a compromise against the spirit of the age. We must, however, pause at the fact that such a halfway position was possible in societies based on the ancient culture, and living on the ancient honour as the foundation of all humanity. We can perhaps read the fate of these half-born and the cause of their weakness in the old words used in Norway with reference to an adopted son when he undergoes the full process of adoption: “That man shall be led to the laps of men and women.” If the meaning is that he is thereby fully established on the mother's as well as the father's side, then the sentence indicates surely enough the psychological disability which distinguished the unadopted from his brothers. In the legal terms of the Lombards, the legitimate son is distinguished, as fulborn, from the illegitimate but recognised son, and since the word plainly dates from a time when the difference was a reality and not a juridical distinction, we cannot get away from the literal meaning: fully born, in contradistinction to incompletely born. The words “led to the laps of men and women” did not, perhaps, carry the meaning that the ceremony included the bodily assistance of the wife, but they imply that the adopters have asked the consent of their brothers-in-law to introduce the new kinsman into the full right that the matrimonial alliance seemed to themselves.

Because birth means an infusion of hamingja there are several degrees of birth or adoption possible. The Scandinavian bairn-fostering was in its innermost essence an act of adoption, though the act was not carried through so far that it severed the link which connected the child with the race of his father and brothers. The fosterson felt frith towards his foster-father, so that he would feel an injury to the latter as an injury to himself, and


maintained his right whatever others might think of the character of that right. Vigfus Glumson's piety towards a Hallvard, whose character can at best be described as doubtful, is no exaggerated example of the intensity of this feeling. Hallvard was regarded as a grasping nature, and it was whispered that he had few scruples as to the means he employed; there was much to suggest that half a score of sheep and a fat hog had found their way to his homestead, and it is certain that they never found their way thence again. His end was a wretched one; when the son of the offended owner came to him on an errand of the law, he saw at the first glance that the thief's head was loose on his shoulders, and wisely spared himself the trouble of summoning him. Glum let him lie on the bed he bad made, without an honest fine to ease his pillow; but Vigfus, who had been abroad while the matter was decided, could not rest till he had met the slayer of Hallvard, and given his foster-father vengeance in his grave.

Where frith has been drawn in, hugr and mind must surely follow after; the assurance, or rather the experience, of this soul-change is petrified in the proverb: a man takes after his foster-father to a fourth of himself.

Adoption full and complete involves a radical change in the son, so that all his thoughts are given a new direction, and the fate, or aldr, that was implanted in him at his first birth is exchanged for that of his new friends. His former past, even to his ancestors, is wiped out, and a new descent is infused into him through the hamingja which now envelops him. But the weaker forms of adoption only imply an addition of past and present to the hamingja which has come down to him through normal inheritance. Hakon Æthelstansfostri did not renounce his right to the luck of the Norwegian kings, and probably the adoption of Gensemund into the family of the Amals was more nearly related to the Scandinavian bairn-fostering than to the Swedish setting in the lap or the Norwegian leading into the shoe.

We must without hesitation accept the thought that a human being could be born several times; and the consequence which our thoughts teasingly put forward, that an individual would


then have two or even more fathers, we may safely grasp; the words do not burn. The fosterson felt that the man in whose house he had grown up was his father, and he felt that in the home where his brothers were, he had also a father. But he did not regard the relationship in the same way as we; he did not say what we say, because it did not occur to him to take the two together and say: one-two. And if we would know how his thought ran, we have only to listen with understanding when the son calls his father, and the father his son, by the name of freónd, kinsman. This name was the fundamental note in all closer family designations, in the same way as we on the other hand now have father, mother, son, brother, according to circumstances, as the fundamental note in the word relative. Kinship consists in having a share of the hamingja, not in having been born, and therefore the fatherhood was overshadowed by frith, and derived its strength from the bond uniting all members of the clan; the begetter did beget in virtue of his kinship, and thus it comes that “kinsman” has a ring of intimacy and is the word best suited to express the feeling of trust and pride in the begetter towards his begotten. An Icelandic or Norwegian father will introduce his warning or encouragement or praise with the intimate “kinsman”; “Thorstein, kinsman, go with your brothers, you were always one to know where gentle ways were best,” says Ingimund to his eldest son, when Jokul dashes out of the house with anything but gentle intentions.

In all externals, the life of Hakon Æthelstansfostri is a forcible illustration of the power of form. Harald Fairhair had begotten him with Thora Mostrstong, it is told. When the mother felt that her hour was at hand, she hastened northward by sea from Mostr to Sæheim, where the King then was. The child was to be born in King Harald's house and into his hands. But she did not reach so far, for on the way, when the ship put in, as customary with coasting voyages, to stay the night on shore, she gave birth to her child on a stone by the landing stage. In place of Harald, it was the king's close friend and brother-in-law, Earl Sigurd, who planted the name in the child, and he called him after his own father, the old earl of


Halogaland. The child was thus born straight into the mother side of the Harald family, and never, perhaps, became properly related to Thora's kin. Later, Harald undoubtedly recognised the boy as his, and accepted him with full validity as his kinsman, since he let him be brought up at the royal courts with his mother. When Hakon, a youth of fifteen, professing Christianity, came home from the mysterious sojourn with his foster-father Æthelstan to crave his right of inheritance, his first thought was to go straight to Earl Sigurd, and throughout the whole of his troublesome reign the earl of Hladi was everything to him that a kinsman could be. Sigurd's solidarity is unconditional, it is independent of moods, unassailable by anything that could come between, even at the moment when Hakon's new faith stands in sharp opposition to the old mode of thought in the earl and his circle; the earl's assistance is not limited by any possibility of his adopting a different position, and when he remonstrates with the young king for alienating the proud yeomen of Norway by his excessive zeal for Christ, his words are never edged with any suggestion that he himself might pass over to the king's opponents. When Earl Sigurd's eldest son was born, Hakon baptized him and gave him his own name; and the boy grew up to become that Earl Hakon who for a time succeeded in filling the throne of Harald Fairhair.

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