Generosity shows up as a central value in the remnant corpus of Old Norse Heathen literature. Whether celebrating the ruler who shares wealth readily, or exhorting the hall to welcome the stranger without hesitation, it is clear that for the old Heathens generosity and hospitality were fundamental practices that benefitted both the individual and the collective. The Gebo rune, and other references in the lore, also suggest the importance of gratitude, an attitude that recent research indicates can physically heal the brain of trauma.
Arguably a component of generosity is acceptance. Acceptance is a stance I can adopt or set aside, and it entails a gift to both myself and my recipient. Naturally, my acceptance of the other provides them the freedom to set aside armor (literal or psychic) and find either repose or the opportunity for deeper engagement with life. And in accepting the other I free myself from the burden of resisting what wyrd has brought to pass. As such I become more free to respond with creativity and intelligence.
A common mistake one encounters is the confusion of acceptance and acquiescence. The latter refers to a passive submission, often involving allowing another to harm me. This, however, is not acceptance. Acceptance is merely the act of recognizing what is before me. It does not instruct me on any course of action, be it passive or active. It merely instructs me not to waste my energy on phantasms of my own mind and instead attend to what is.
If I were to wax poetic, acceptance is a means of romancing the Norns and the work that they do. It is a form of religious piety; if Heathenry is a this-worldly tradition (in contrast to, say, the otherworldly focus of much of Christianity) then acceptance must be a fundamental Heathen practice.
Acceptance runs both directions when the question of generosity or hospitality arises. Not only is it poor Heathen form to decline to extend the generous hospitality of acceptance, it is also poor form to decline generosity or hospitality when they are offered. The Heathen perspective, being fundamentally practical, sees reality in terms of relationships (this is what Wyrd is, the dynamic unfolding of relationships). It follows that isolationism and autarky are ill practices from a Heathen point of view.
As such, in the practice of generosity we discover that the ancient Heathen customs are designed to break down rigid dualities. This is difficult for modern people to approach because the modern world – rooted in Christian assumptions – is founded on irreconcilable binaries: good and evil; progression and regression; rich and poor; black and white; colonizing and colonized; dominance and submission. Given such a context it is no wonder that people cannot tell the difference between acquiescence and acceptance, seeing as the latter violates the prevalent binary mentality.
Rigid binaries also existed in premodern times and non-Western cultures of course; the difference is that in some times and places, people realized that binary opposition is just one link in the eternal pattern that wyrd weaves, and not the absolute condition of existence. Thus it is that non-dual philosophies exist, and are often misunderstood by those coming from a Western context. Buddhism, for example, has often been called ‘world-denying,’ yet in reality it teaches radical embrace of this reality as it is right now. How ironic projection can be.
Well, the ancient Heathens left many clues for the overcoming of rigid binaries. We modern Heathens have a lot of work ahead of us. The great danger we face is that, lacking perspective on just how deeply binary thinking has been embedded in our bodies and minds, we will anachronistically project dualism onto the Heathen current as we rebuild it.
This is what is happening when we encounter, for example, folkish Heathens who cannot escape the very modern terms of racial categorization (and often too, poisonous and gratuitous narratives of dominance and submission, which are ultimately founded on a very modern autarkism that would not have been well received in Heathen circles).
One generous way to approach Heathenry itself is to treat it like an estranged lover with whom we have just begun to reconnect. We must be tentative. We must reach out from beyond our own assumptions. We must be wary of cutting the Heathen cultural corpus to fit our pre-existing prejudices and perspectives (those who use Heathenry to justify the worst in themselves would be better off removing themselves). If we can resist the lures of disowned projection, we extend hospitality to Heathenry itself. Only then might it begin to enter our halls and enrich them with its songs.