Friday, October 25, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Fehu

Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet every man must bestow it freely
if he wish to gain honor in the sight of the Lord.

The quote above is from the first few lines of the Anglo-Saxon Rune poem, a poem composed around the 8th century, after the Germanic religions of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others had been supplanted by Christianity - hence the occasional Christian references.  It was first written in Old English, but there's a modern English translation available here.  There are also Norwegian and Icelandic Rune poems, composed later and yet more Pagan in nature.

At first glance, I assumed the slightly negative slant on wealth in the quote above was a Christian overlay; however the Icelandic and Norwegian poems are much more negative in nature, saying "wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen; the wolf lives in the forest," and "source of discord among kinsmen // and fire of the sea // and path of the serpent."  Clearly the Germanic peoples realized the power of greed; it is this that causes the fights even among families.  The Anglo-Saxon Rune poem offers us a solution, however: do not hold on too tightly to your wealth, but bestow it freely, and greed will not haunt your house.

It's interesting and sheds a great deal of light on early Germanic culture that cattle (the literal meaning of 'fehu') is synonymous with wealth.  The more cattle you were able to sustain, the more milk you would have in the early spring, and more meat in the fall and through the winter.  Clearly, however, having too much wealth - or just being rich for the sake of being rich - was very undesirable.

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