One of the most common phrases Heathens frequenting electronic communications media (Facebook, for example) will hear, particularly from the older and more experienced heathens, is that they need to focus on “building their inner.” Often they are admonished to spend less time on said electronic media in favor of actual physical contact time with the people they should be building relationships with (and no, the irony of telling someone to spend less time on Facebook via a Facebook post is not lost on us old farts). But what the hell is an “inner?” Is there an “outer?” When we say to build it, do we mean literally piecing together something out of brick and mortar?
I’m glad you asked!
First, a bit of disclaimer: This is not going to be a scholarly focused article. This is an opinion piece written by one person, hopefully based in some historicity but without citation. You are of course free to ignore it to your heart’s content. That being said…
Inner. Inner-yard. Innangardh. These are all the interchangeable phrases modern Heathens use to simply express what can be an incredibly deep, oftentimes situationally malleable, and sometimes divisive topic. Likewise, Outer, Outer-yard, and Utangardh are often even more easily misunderstood. So, what is the Inner, what does it mean to you as a Heathen, and how do you build it?
Simply put (and I mean REALLY simply) your inner-yard are those with whom you have built and work to maintain an intricate web of trust, obligation, and kinship. These are the people within your community to whom you have debt, and who in turn are indebted to you. Quite often, these people are your blood family. They are also your close friends, people with whom you feel a close bond. Your inner may even be extended to the family of your close friends. Getting much beyond that I think begins to reach the territory of the greater tribe, and that reaches beyond the intended scope of this missive.
Your inner is those people you know you can count on in a pinch, and for whom you will drop what you are doing to go render whatever assistance you can. More than that, though, these are the people upon whom you can rely for small things. The little ways that a friend renders assistance like borrowing a crock pot, or a quick ride to the gas station with a gas can because your car is on empty. The small things that add up over time to become hugely important when taken as a whole, and are the glue that binds your inner-yard together. While it is certainly true that these are acts that many of us feel perfectly fine with doing for someone not in our inner, we usually feel under no obligation to do so as we often have no obligation accrued with that person. Also we know that by rendering this assistance we may never see that debt to us repaid, as the recipient may not recognize their obligation in the same light that we do.
(Words like ‘debt’ and ‘gift-cycle’ get thrown around a lot. It is not my intent to go into all the ways in which our debts impact our standing within our tribal structures and inner-yards. If you wish to see an excellent short video on the subject, Vince Enlund’s 14 minute talk may be found on YouTube under the title “Asatru and Debt,” as well as Rick’s article on this very page.)
Many solitary Heathens bemoan the fact that there are no other heathens in their area with which to engage the gift-cycle and build an inner-yard. But this overlooks the fact that quite often, their families are nearby. Just because a person’s parents are not heathen, does this stop the heathen in question from being their child? Of course not: Building your inner quite often involves strengthening your bonds of kinship with your blood family. I would go so far as to argue that these are the first people with whom a heathen should seek to build up their inner-yard. These are the people with whom you already have a connection (hopefully one of trust and understanding). You know them, they know you. They know your history, as you know theirs. And they are usually more inclined to have a favorable disposition towards you, so building the gift-cycle should (ideally, anyway) be easier for the heathen to accomplish.
Now that we’ve established in basic terms how an inner-yard may be started and who it may involve, who then is in the outer-yard? Well, usually this would be everyone in your community around you. Those with whom you may interact on a daily basis, from your bank teller to the kid that bags your groceries, to maybe our neighbor four houses down. They are not necessarily your enemies. They are not your friends, either. They owe you nothing, you owe them nothing, as you have not established a gift-cycle with them.
Now, they may be friendly acquaintances in the outer, of course. Your neighbor from four houses down may be invited to your front yard to watch a fireworks display along with the rest of the neighborhood, for example. You may even offer him a beer from your cooler. But neither you nor he should be under the illusion that this interaction contains anything other than the most superficial significance.
There are certainly degrees of hostility or friendliness within the outer-yard. Your neighbor may have borrowed your hedge trimmers at one point, and in reciprocation allows you to borrow his snow blower in winter time. Or you may have had unpleasant dealings with a dishonest auto mechanic who is still in business because she has not swindled everyone she has done work for. Or perhaps you even have built a loathing so strong of your childhood enemy that to this day if you were to see him walking down the street you have to resist the urge to punch him in the nose. But the one thing they all share in common is that, when all is said and done, they owe you nothing and vice versa.
So, to put things into the simplest terms possible:
Inner-yard: These people have the right to call upon and make use of the resources of my household, often without question or explanation needed. *Even if it causes me some hardship.* Because I know that this hardship will be eased and the gift reciprocated in greater measure than that which was given.
Outer-yard: These people have absolutely no right whatsoever to make demands of me and my resources. They may request aid or assistance, and I may render it. But I will rarely, if ever, put myself or my household into any discomfort for their sake alone.
Hopefully this all makes some semblance of sense to you, the reader. These concepts may be simple on the surface but can rapidly get convoluted when you start considering the weight of various obligations, debt transference (yes, this is a thing), the ways in which you maintain peace within your inner, etc. These are topics for another time, however.