It is unlikely that you have a close personal relationship with the gods. The logic for this assertion can be gleaned from a mixture of some basic concepts found within the worldview of the arch-heathens; the inner and outer-yards, frith, honor, luck and the gifting cycle. The gods of many other cultures/religions are gods one is required to have a personal relationship with. This raises the importance of individuality and diminishes the fundamental need for your family and/or community. Without going too far down that road, the converse was true for the arch-Heathens. It goes beyond simply not having precedence for close personal interaction with a god. The arch-heathen had one mission in life; to do what’s best for the family and community. It has been successfully argued that such personal interactions with the gods could be to the detriment to the family/community. It could be selfish. Generally speaking, close personal relationships are reserved for your inner-yard. You would need to believe that the gods are your inner-yard if you are going to have such a relationship. Let’s examine this more closely.
While it isn’t always a sharp distinction between inner-yard and outer-yard, the distinction is real. You should be intensely interested in those of your inner, personally and otherwise. You should be very aware of their actions. This isn’t to be nosey or controlling, but because if they do something dishonorable, it reflects in your reputation directly. You may also be responsible for their actions. That is how frith works. The outer-yard is entirely different. Most Heathens are (or should be) strict about minding their own business where the outer-yard is concerned. You might converse freely with those in the outer-yard, but getting overly involved may lead to trouble. At the end of the day, it’s none of your concern unless their actions affect your inner-yard directly. You are not responsible for the deeds of someone outside of your tribe, neither is a god responsible for your deeds. Your actions affect your tribe and vice versa. The same cannot be said of the deeds of man as it relates to the Gods. The gods are always honorable, man less so.
Honor is the respect earned for doing right by your inner-yard. This code of right and wrong is defined by your inner-yard. If the gods are in your inner-yard, then they are honor-bound to you. You would then define the honor for that god, and they would actively define honor for you. This also seems presumptuous at best. Furthermore, luck is shared freely among the inner-yard. Your luck, and the luck of your family line is literally combined with the luck of others in your inner-yard. To believe that the gods are inner-yard is to believe that you literally share freely in their luck and that they share in yours. This is almost certainly not the case as it would preclude the need to make offerings to the gods.
A previous article established the basics of the gifting cycle. Gifting within your inner-yard can be given casually, or it may be a formal endeavor. Due to the closeness of those bonds those gifts always demand their return. The manner of giving and what is given is far less important. On the other hand, gifting your outer-yard can be risky business. Someone from the outer-yard may decline to accept a gift, or they may elect not to reciprocate a gift given. One must pay close attention to what is given, and how it is given when dealing with the outer-yard. A gift (offering) to the gods, if given correctly, requires them to return the gift. Proper ritual form is essential to ensuring that your blot is accepted by the gods. This is certainly not the case for your closest family and friends.
By this logic, the gods are outer-yard. More specifically, we are outer-yard to the gods. Despite this, the standing and health of your inner-yard depends on the gods. The community relationship with the gods has to do with the dealings of one group to another, your tribe to theirs. You engage with the gods because doing so benefits your family. For example, the gods are known to have influence over the weather and fertility. Even if you are not a farmer, you need favorable weather to ensure that your food supplies are not interrupted. It is for this type of reason that you engage the gods. Thusly, the impetus to engage with the gods comes from those grander things you might not be able to accomplish on your own. Make no mistake, the gods comprise a great and powerful tribe, and you should do what you can to give gifts to maintain a positive relationship between your tribe, and theirs.
The lore demonstrates that sacrifice to the gods are carried out on a community level. The community engages the gods as a group and this combined action can be thought of as acting like a beacon in the web of wyrd. The power of that group is far more than that of an individual. The group engages the gods, not for themselves, but for the sake of the group. In the Ynglingasaga, one can clearly see that the community benefits from a protracted period of peace and prosperity due, in large part, to proper gifting to it’s benefactor, Freyr. However, the personal dealing with Odin found in Volsunga Saga result in a long litany of calamity for that clan.
Given the above, the emphasis on a personal relationship with the gods is effectively eliminated. So what’s the point of it all? The focus of life for a Heathen, once again, is their family & community. Specifically, to protect and enhance the frith, honor and luck of the family and community. Because of that focus, the importance of one’s ancestors are elevated to the highest level. They were, and continue to be, your family. It is their wisdom & luck that brought you to this day, and that should be recognized frequently. Your community also operates in this physical world; working, playing, and being productive. As such, one must also pay special attention to the other inhabitants of this world. As co-inhabitants of our world, the vaettir can be an active part of your community as well. Finally, with reverence befitting a tribe of gods, your tribe should engage the gods with the precision of correct ritual action in order to reap the benefits of your collective relationship with them.
Stay tuned; next week another author will delve even deeper into the relationship of man to the northern gods, including the perils that await those who misunderstand it.
The Culture Of The Teutons, Vol 1 by V. Gronbech
The Culture Of The Teutons, Vol 2 by V. Gronbech
Honor in German Literature by George F. Jones
The Norse Concept of Luck by Bettina S. Sommer
Road to Hel by H.R. Ellis-Davidson
The Gift by Marcel Mauss
Return of the Dead by Claude Lecouteux
Demons and Spirits of the Land by Claude Lecouteux
The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux
The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity by James C. Russell