I’ve missed two weeks, having been stuck in a period of not finding words. As a writer, such periods are immensely frustrating. In any event, this week (two days late, but whose counting?) I want to talk about the rune Gebo. Like anyone who has studied the runes, I’ve got my favorites (and my favorites to dread seeing). There are the runes that remind me strongly of Poseidon, or of my path, or of Odin, or of the world in general. There are the runes that speak to me of holy mysteries, of the inner quiet, of one’s fortitude. There are the runes that remind me that change is constant and ducking your head into the sand is never all that useful of a coping skill.
If there is any one rune that can sum up my thoughts and feelings about my religious path, about my relationship with the gods and spirits and the worlds around us, if there’s one rune that I turn to to help remind me of how I want to live my life, it’s Gebo.
The short meaning for gebo (or gyfu)? Gift. This is one of the runes that’s only mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (the kenaz/kuan rune took gebo’s place, linguistically, in the Younger futhark). However, that doesn’t mean that the spirit of this rune is absent from one’s lives.
The Anglo-Saxon rune poem says: Giving, to all men, brings credit and honor/help and worthiness–and to every outcast/is the estate and substance, that have naught else. (Paxson’s trans.)
Gifts and giving is an important part of the heathen world-view. The concept is what drives blots, what drives sumbel — we’re seeing what we have, we’re asking for blessings, we’re giving something back in gratitude for our spirits who help us live our lives fully and honorably. As a not-strictly-heathen pagan, I definitely see giving as a foundation of my religious path, an exchange of love, time, doing, and sacrifice.
The concept of gebo is closely tied in my understanding of it with the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality was very serious for our ancestors — various places even had laws about one’s obligations of hospitality. Not just religious laws, but civil laws as well. Fines could be levied against one for refusing hospitality to one in need of it. The very idea of that runs counter to our consumerist attitude of entitlement, of take-take-take.
Because I’m wired the way I am, because compassion is a corner-stone of my faith, gebo becomes intertwined with the concept of compassion, as well. Compassion takes giving to a deeper place: it’s better to give than to receive. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love me my presents! But the spirit is what’s important there. What that saying really says is, it’s better to have a generous heart, it’s better to be generous. Not to a fault; you don’t give away what which you really need. In order to really be generous (likewise, in order to really be compassionate) you need to look after yourself first. We cannot give (of ourselves, of our time, of our resources, of our heart) what we do not properly have in the first place. The Havamal even speaks of this; do not give too much or too often. It’s better to not give, rather than to sacrifice too much. One ought not be giving to receive accolades. Giving should not be about posturing, should not be about, “Look at me and how generous I am!”
I walk with my gods and my spirits. Do I think my gods need me in order to exist? Of course not. Do I think the giving is an equal exchange? Yes and no. Yes, in that I do feel that we are all getting something that is, in essence, of equal value to us respectively. At the same time, no, because I can’t imagine that I as a mortal human can offer anything near what my gods offer me in terms of guidance and affection and aid. I’m too small, my view is too short-sighted, I can’t possibly measure up. But, I don’t have to, because, you know, mortal human. I can only give them everything I have to give them, and trust that that’s well-received.
(read more G posts at PBP