To Give Fehu

Not yet a week past, Rhyd Wildermuth of Your Face is a ForestWild Hunt, Paganarch, A Sense of Place, Gods & Radicals and all around general fame put up a brief annecdote about T.S Elliot which led into the results of his, one presumes given the choice of annecdote, being convinced by some friends to establish a Patreon account with the sole purpose of trying to gain enough support to go from full time work to part time work and spend more time writing poetry and pretty much doing what I always rather dreamed that I would one day be able to do (high school dreams, I at least remember those ones). You might have noticed that I re-posted/re-blogged Rhyd’s post the other day (after somewhat embrassing myself at Paganarch). I figured that it couldn’t hurt to share the word around, maybe get him up to the stupidly luxurious amount of US$400 a month – I mean really how dare he! Sheer largesse is what it is… I’ll admit to some sense of hubris here: I really did think that by doing my little bit he might have gotten up the last bit to his higher goal and it was uncomfortably poignant when I checked again this morning and he had gone up the grand princely sum of a single dollar. It was hardly what I had hoped for but in all honesty I had already decided last night that I would climb aboard that sailboat and ride it into the sunset. Coyly worded metaphors aside, there was a compelling thought behind my choice to not just climb aboard but also to choose not to collect on any of the gifts which can be condensed down into a single, simply drawn word:

Fehu

Fehu by Numenelen

Fehu, by Numenelen of DevianArt

In the absence of a great many things, I use the Elder Futhark Runes as something of a Guide Dog (service dog for the Americans); no “god-phone” ringing off the hinge, few and minimalist profound experiences, the Elder Futhark have been the backbone of any so called successes I might be able to lay claim to. They’ve featured heavily in past things that I have written but never in quite the capacity that they apppear today.

The very first rune of the Elder Futhark is the Fehu (seen on the brawny bicep above) that I have mentioned several times now and as you might expect part of its weight stems from being first; new beginnings, fresh starts and the like. However a more complicated aspect of Fehu is its position as Wealth. As always when dealing with the Runes, the matter is more complciated than simply saying ‘oh, that means money!’ Contextually, the Old Norse saw Wealth in a number of different forms, which to be honest don’t really change drastically across the myriad of ancient cultures. For them, Wealth could be gold and silver and jewels, or it could be a herd of cattle which one feeds and raises, calves and slaughters, or wheat which follows a similar pattern of abundance and dearth. The key component in Fehu is that it’s Wealth is that of coming and going – wheat grows, is harvested and you either have not enough, just enough or more than you need; cows are the same, so too were the more familiar forms of Wealth. The idea of Fehu is that ones fortunes grow and wither, they are with you and they go away, sometimes you have enough and other times you dont; principally there are cautions against simply hoarding ones Wealth for the sake of hoarding ones Wealth (constrast to hoarding it for a reason) in many of the poems from which we extract the Old Norse perspective of Fehu, both as a thing in its own right and as a force within the world. Hence, you could say that this year Fehu has been kind to you and you have much Fehu in your household (obviously, from a linguistic point of view the rune wasn’t used in this fashion but conceptually its not so far off).

The modern context is a bit different because lets be honest, I’m not going off viking for some new silverware anytime soon and very few of the farmers that I have known personally or farmers in my country of birth or of working actually use much of the produce they farm. Instead we grow other crops, metaphorically speaking, and hard or soft cash has taken the head of table in this respect though it is by no means the only one at the table. In many respects Fehu has been distilled down to an impossibly pure state in the form of money – we spend, we work, we recieve more. Thats a very simplified presentation though. Never the less, Fehu remains a part of my life and however much its form might have changed from the Old Norse form, the same principles can be applied – in this case, I have more Fehu than I need and it grows beyond my capacity to stockpile it for a special purpose and there is someone with a lack of Fehu. Thats how simple it is. I have more than I can possibly use, it will rot in the field so to speak (bank fees and the like rather than hail and insects) which – most importantly – makes it a shameful and idiotic waste to not give Fehu to someone who doesn’t have enough.

One of the things at the heart of Fehu is that the use of it will, in one form or another, bring more back; not in the sense of ‘I’m doing this so I can benefit from it’, that is called investment or profiteering. Rather in the sense of making room for more come. To give an Old Norse example: I grow wheat, cows and pigs. There is a good spring and a kind summer which means I have harvested more wheat than I can store, I have doubled the size of my herd and my sows had large litters which I’ve now got smoking in my shed. The reality of the situation however is that wonderful though it is that I have all this wheat, my store house is only so big. As great as it is to have a large herd of cows, I can only use so much milk and I can only feed so many heads of cattle and really between a large herd and some large litters of piglets (now grown and salughtered) I have more meat than I can really use. I have no family and my longhouse fits me just fine (plus I might go viking next year, who knows?) so there is no point in making it bigger. Whats a guy to do? Well, I can’t sell my excess because well we ALL had a good year this year in the valley but, I hear that the grumpy bastard in the big meadow near the river didn’t have such a good season this year…

See where I’m going?

The underlying philosophy of Fehu is that its fucking stupid and makes no sense to let your excess go to waste when someone else could really, really use it – maybe this is part of where we get the socialist part of the modern ‘Nordic Socialism’ concept. Its just dumb to waste what you have, whether thats through luck or hard work or circumstance, when it can be put to good use by someone else – and that is where Fehu differs from a lot of similar ideas, like charity. Most people give to charity because they feel something about the cause or they believe that it will make them a better person or because the act is intrinsically worthwhile. There is a place for charity, make no mistake, but it is different to Fehu. To wit:

I earn just slightly above what my friend in Portland, Oregon earns. We have different jobs, we are in different countries, we are even paid in different ways. Our circumstances however are different. My friend, were they living on their own and not with two similarly paid housemates, would not be able to stay above the poverty line in Portland unless they picked up two or three extra jobs. I on the other hand, have no partner nor pets and my contract means that much of my rent is subsidied by my Board of Education and I didn’t have to buy any furtniture because my predecessor left all of it behind (not always a certainty) and I don’t have to have a car to do my job which results in my having an embarassing amount of money given that the only difference between my friends pay and mine is two dollars (US).

It’s more complicated than that however.

I wont have this job in a years time, and my plans for afterwards are by no means set in stone. So on the one hand, I will need the money that I am saving up  – stockpiling towards a particular purpose – however unlike a circa 1000 Old Norse farmer I have the advantage of knowing what my excesses will be. I know that I can count on X amount of wheat, cows and pigs each Y period of time and that my average use of that is about Z, which means that even taking into account that I want to go pay tribute to Thor (or whomever) at the temple in Uppsala which I know will take ten bullocks and a dozen pigs, I have enough excess that what would otherwise be wasted can go to a famer or fisherman or warrior or bard who didn’t do so well this season and can make use of what I simply have far, far too much of. Should circumstances change, my Fehu become less than I (genuinely) need then I cannot give what I do not have.

At its heart, the philosophy of Fehu is to make useful that which otherwise goes to waste – kind of like an advanced concept of recycling. There is no warm fuzzy feeling you’re supposed to get, theres no spiritual bonus points, theres not even a sense of ‘I’m getting something of value out of this’. In some respects the behaviour of it could come across as quite cold or abraisive – I don’t need it, you do, so you have it. Yes, it is close in concept to other philosophies like philanthropy and chairty but rather than being a religious duty or social expectation to do the variably determined ‘right thing’ it is a responsibility to yourself not to let things go to waste.

At the end of the day, Fehu is why I didn’t want the ‘gift’ Patreon ellicits from its  users. The money should be used for something, should, and if I can’t use it then why should it go to waste when it can be Rhyd’s Fehu? I won’t lie, perhaps there is a selfish element to giving Fehu – doing so means Rhyd writes more and that is something I find agreeable.

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