Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Crafting the Runes: Giefu

Generosity brings credit and honor, which support one's dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

Here we have another rune that, while attested in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem quoted above, does not have a counterpart in the Icelandic or Norwegian rune poems.  Giefu directly translates to 'gift' in Anglo-Frisian (another Germanic language once in use in the British Isles).  Despite a very Christianized concept of generosity and gift-giving represented in the rune poem, the original Heathen idea of a gift was rooted in the concept of Hospitality.

In ancient Germanic societies such as the pre-conversion Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, hospitality was one of the most important values.  It provides for the care of travelers or those who have fallen on hard times, it helps to establish community relationships, and even provides a basis for interaction with the divine.  If any of you have read A Game of Thrones, GRRM's concept of guest right is a very common one throughout Indo-European cultures, and Germanic culture specifically places a heavy emphasis on it.

In the same way, "a gift for a gift" provided the basic religious outline of Indo-European, and later Germanic, ritual to the divine.  Offerings, promises, and prayers were often given to the gods or land spirits in thanks for their goodwill and help; either before or after the help took place.  The idea was that giving to a spirit put them in a place where they were obligated to give a gift back - not in a manipulative or skeezy way, but in a completely culturally appropriate and widely-understood fashion.

To me, this is also what the rune Giefu represents.  It is a rune of that which is given, and the gift that must be given in return.

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