Arch-Heathen Concepts

Debt and Gifting

In Heathenry, our focus is on community. Building it, maintaining it, and creating luck for it. One of the key ways we do all of these is through the act of gifting.

We know that gifting was a strong part of cultural custom in Germanic Europe. There is a great deal of attestation in historical documents as well as a significant amount of folklore that discusses how the various tribes of Northern Europe engaged in gift-giving. Chieftains gave gifts to their subjects, families gave gifts to one another, as friends did close friends. And while certain situations often called for a gift as a matter of custom, the act of gifting wasn’t relegated only to those times. In fact, the custom of gifting could be indulged anywhere, anytime, and for no particular reason at all. Except, of course, to strengthen the ties of friendship or kinship.

Today we do much the same: we offer gifts to one another, as Heathens, because it builds our inner-yard. And in doing so, we create a situation of debt. While we may not implicitly state it, giving someone a gift leaves the expectation that they will reciprocate. Simply put, a friendship in which gifting only occurs from one side or the other will soon wither. No one wants to feel as if they’re being taken advantage of, and what we put into our friendships we hope to get out of them as well. This is why we, as Heathens, rarely build huge circles of “close friends.” It’s a great deal of work engaging in the kind of friendship that feels “right” to us. So most Heathens tend toward smaller circles of close friends, preferring to spend extra effort on them rather than spreading that effort around to a larger group.

But the concept of debt isn’t limited merely to gifting. It means that when you have done something for a friend, regardless whether you conciously expect them to return the favor in the future, it is implied; we want our friends and our families to put in the same effort we do, or to at least let us know that they value the relationship. Again, a friendship in which one person does most of the work will rarely last. As human beings, we just aren’t typically built that way. But more importantly, we as Heathens cannot allow that kind of relationship to go unreciprocated. It is a significant part of the Heathen mindset that we wish to pull our weight, and a sense of obligation is incurred when someone does a favor for us. Ignoring that debt, that obligation, leaves us with a bitter taste. And for many of us, the same occurs when someone doesn’t live up to their obligations to a friendship, and repay the debt they’ve incurred with us.

Not all gifts in the giving cycle need be elaborate. Simple things, such as a small gift or favor, a meal, or a ride somewhere, can mean a great deal to each of us. What truly matters is the spirit of friendship behind that gift, and the acknowledgment that we view one another as friends, as family, or as part of the tribe. Because, for Heathens, strengthening the tribe and the binds that keep it together are the most important things. Giving gifts, doing favors, or repaying them in kind are some of the simplest ways of doing that, if not always the easiest.


Rick Stevenson is a long-time Heathen, an Army veteran, father, husband, writer, gamer, avid swordsman, and all-around pain in the ass. A California native, Rick currently lives in the mountains of Northern Arizona where he is the Chieftain of the Savage Heart Kindred.

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