the circle of friends, the soul exhibits its features
and its strength, but the hamingja of the clan is not
restricted to that human fence which now encloses the
sacred field. The soul is not a thing born with each
generation and renewed with each brood of kinsmen that
steps in. It reaches forward; it will, as surely as
anything is sure, flow through those sons' sons which
all good kinsmen hope and expect will follow one
another. And it reaches back over the known part of the
past, embracing all former kin, and extends behind them
into the primeval darkness whence their fathers came.
soul which works restlessly in the present generation is
a legacy from the forefathers who made it by always
letting it have its own way, never suffering it to
hunger, but willingly gathering honour together so that
the hamingja was for ever growing beyond its former
had Harald Fairhair obtained his kingly luck, his kingly
soul, with its wide-spreading avidity, its plans for a
Norway united into one, and with the power to carry out
his will? The question has been put forward in the past,
and has also — at least in part — been answered.
According to the legend, his soul's foundations were
laid with luck of many sorts. He himself was a son of
Halfdan the Black, a prince of considerable distinction
in a small way, victorious and very lucky in harvests.
Halfdan was first married to a daughter of Harald
Goldbeard of Sogn, and on the birth of the first son,
the mother's father took the boy to his home, gave him
his name and his kingdom and brought him up. This Harald
died young, about the same time as his namesake, and the
name then passed — together with the soul —
to his younger brother, despite the fact that the
latter was born of a different mother, who was a woman
of the powerful race of chieftains from Hadaland. Thus,
from several different sources, was gathered together
the foundation of Harald's great luck as king. We have
every right to say that the first king of Norway was a
highly complex character.
race of Halfdan became the greatest in Norway, because
its members had understood how to draw other sources of
life into their own and fill themselves with hamingja to
old forefathers lived in their posterity, filled them
out with their will, and wrought their achievements
through them anew. A scornful reference to the departed
actually strikes a living soul; for whereas the soul
transmigrant merely repeats itself, and, saves itself by
again and again coming into existence when he slips from
one body into another, the kinsmen actually are their
fathers and their fathers' fathers, and maintain them by
their being. Since it is the same soul which animated
the ancestors and which now makes bearers of honour and
frith out of the living generation, the present does not
exclude the past. The identity of hamingja which bears
the clan includes all the departed.
is indeed really no question here of past and present in
the same uncompromising sense as with us, who always
move with faces half buried in a dark cloud, and a
clammy feeling about the neck. Time lay spread out about
those people of old. The past was north to them, and
that to come was south, time present was as east and
west: all in a way equally near, all in a way equally
present. And to the right as to the left, straight ahead
and behind, the horizon was bounded by the luck of the
circle; time was penetrated throughout by its flood, as
it flowed about men and through men, filling them and
space about them; always and everywhere with the force
of movement in it, always and everywhere with the
fulness of expansion, again and again crystallising into
a human being, who lived his time in the light to fall
back again and be kept until another time. For the
hamingja, present and past are not strata superimposed,
but a double existence, through the spirit walls of
which man passes to and fro without hindrance.
a new man came into the family, the Northmen said
expressly: Our kinsman is born again, so and so has come
back. And they confirmed their saying by giving the old
name to the young one. Thorstein consecrates his son to
life with the words: “This boy shall be called
Ingimund, and I look for hamingja for him because of the
name.” The soul and luck of the old grandfather,
Ingimund, is now to enter into life again, to new
activity in the light. Later in the story we are told
that this younger Ingimund brings about the
reincarnation of his uncle Jokul, by uttering these
prophetic words over his second son: “This boy looks
as one who will be quick to undertaking: keen eyes he
has; if he lives, he will surely gain the mastery of
many an one, and not easy to get on with, but true to
friends and kin — a great champion, if my eyes can
see; should we not now call to mind our kinsman Jokul,
as my father bade me, — surely he shall be called
firmness of this custom in the matter of names shows
that the ancients meant what they said. Names were not
spent recklessly; the family had a certain stock of
regular appellations which were borne in turn. The
children were named after a deceased relative, and took
over the vacant name. It is a thing quite conceivable in
itself that Olaf Geirstadaalf was buried at Geirstad and
later, about 1020, visited his own grave, or, as we may
also put it, that Olaf the Saint had once been called
Olaf Geirstadaalf and, if he wished, could remember his
dwelling at Geirstad. Men asked Olaf once, when he rode
past his kinsman's barrow, if it were true that he was
buried there; rumour declared that he had there uttered
the words: “Here I have been, and here I went in.”
— The same unecclesiastical mode of thought obtained
in Iceland. “Kolbein is come again,” we hear folk
say, with an intense delight of recognition, when they
saw the prowess of Kolbein's' nephew, Thorgils Skardi;
here they had the whole of that much-admired man before
them, his friendliness, his generosity, his delight in
feasting— his chieftainly character altogether.
the Northmen in naming new kinsmen after the old lay
stress on the individuality of the re-born, the
remaining Germanic peoples follow a different custom,
the scion of a race not being called directly after his
predecessor, but given a name which assimilates portions
of the kinsmen's name-material; and from all
appearances, the Nordic method is due to a restriction
of the underlying principle. The clan had two or more
appellatives in which it saw expressed its will and
honour; the kinsmen bore one or another of these family
signs, extended to form a name by the addition of a word
such as strong (bold), mighty (ric), lucky
(red and others) or berht, i.e. radiant,
to be recognised from afar. The princes of Kent were
called Eormenric, Eormenred, Eorconberht, Eorcongote and
Æthelbeorht, Æthelred, their women Eormenbeorh,
Eormenhild, Eormengyth; eormen and eorcon are
both words indicating something great or imposing in the
luck of the Kentish stock. The proud and ancient race
that held the throne of Essex called themselves after
the sax, or short sword, after sige, victory,
and sæ, which is probably nothing other than
sea; there were Sæbeorht, Sæweard, Seaxred, Seaxheald,
Sigebeorht, Sigeheard, Sigebeald. Among the West Saxons,
we find coen, cuth and ceol predominating,
indicative of progress, renown and seafaring — ceol
is probably keel or ship —: Cuthwulf, Cuthgisl,
Cuthred, Cuthwine, Ceolric, Ceolwulf, Ceolweald. The
Northumbrian kings proclaimed their gods — os —
and their holy places or things
their names: the men were called Oslaf, Oswulf, Oslac,
Osweald, Ealhred, Ealhric, the women Ealhfrith, Ealhfled.
the Beowulf, the memory of the ancient Scyldings is
preserved: Heorogar with his brothers Hrothgar and Helgi,
and the later generation of Heoroweard, Hrethrek,
Hrothmund and Hrothulf; these had for their name-mark
the sword, heoru, and renown, hroth, hreth. The
Frankish house of the Merovingians was proud of its chlod
and its child, renown and battle.
difference between the ancient, pan-Germanic method of
naming and that of the Northmen indicates perhaps a
breach in the mode of thought, a revolution, whereby the
individual was brought forward and given a free hand to
make — in course of time — the most of
himself. But in all spiritual changes the new is
contained altogether in the old and the old unimpaired
in the new; the difference at the outset lies in a
slight shifting of the accent. The contrast between the
two systems certainly means nothing more than a
dissimilarity in the emphasis laid on personal and
general. The period which fostered the new system of
nomenclature would hardly have been preceded by a time
when the deceased ancestor was not recognised in the
new-born child at all. Then, as well as later, men
believed in man's living on after death; but in the
re-birth of the family, the thought dwelled more on the
idea of its reincarnation, than that of his coming
again. The dead continued their life until they were
forgotten, or so to speak dissolved in the luck, and
meanwhile, the regeneration of the inexhaustible went
the birth of a child, the luck of the kinsmen breaks out
again in a new individual. Possibly the event may have
an external occassion in that a portion of luck has
fallen vacant; but death and birth, to the deeper
insight, do not stand in any so straightforward relation
one to the other. The living cannot by simply plunging
into the reservoir of soul make its waters ooze forth in
a successor. When one is born, it is the well-spring, of
luck overflowing, and if a dead man is to bring about
such overflow, it must be in virtue of all that honour
he has in himself, or which the avenging of his death
brings with it. When the race increases its honour, then
kinsmen rise up and make the fence wider. The will is
not shared out among a greater number of individuals,
but grows, so that there is more will and need of more
implements for carrying out its work.
the men of a race are rich in honour and luck, their
womenfolk bear children. The luck must pass through the
mother to gain strength for life; but the fact that the
woman brings forth her child is not enough to inspire it
with life and give it a share of luck. In the North, the
child was at once brought to the master of the house,
and accepted by him with a name. We read, for instance:
“This boy shall be called Ingimund, after his mother's
father, and I look for luck in him because of the
name.” Or “This boy shall be called Thorstein, and I
wish that luck may go with the name.” The meaning of
this “look for”, “wish” lies midway between an
“I know”, and an “I decree, I will, I give him
hereby such and such a definite portion of luck, I
hereby give him birth.” The father can say this,
because he has, with the name, the soul itself in his
mouth, and breathes it to the child; he inspires him
with that luck, that character and will, that strength
and that appearance which lie in the soul that hangs
over him. With the name, luck and life, and thus also
frith and the dignity of a kinsman entered into the
child. Not until then had it a living soul. Here and
there in the laws we find indications of a time when the
life of a child was reckoned from the day it was given a
name. In England, even after the law had advanced so far
as to place the little child equal to the grown man, it
was necessary to invalidate expressly all earlier
distinctions, by adding: whether it have a name or not.
Among the Franks, the child not yet named was still kept
in a category by itself, with a smaller fine for its
killing than for real human beings.
would be regarded as a vital injury if another acting on
his own responsibility gave a name to the child and
thereby stamped its mind and body and fate; and in the
Germanic consciousness of law and right there is a
firmly rooted hatred of him who dares to give a man a
nickname and thereby plant new soul qualities in him. On
the other hand, it may be said that a cognomen brings
luck, in that it increases the honourable distinction of
the receiver; the depth of this pride is still
discernible in the “superstition” of late times that
a man with two names lived longer than a man with one.
boy who started his career with a rich and powerful
name, one that his father or grandfather or another
kinsman had filled with honour and progress, had a great
advantage to begin with. Sincere Christians such as King
Magnus and his true man Thorstein Siduhallson have not
lost 'an iota of their confidence in the blessings of a
good name. Thorstein comes on his homeward way from a
pilgrimage to his king, when the latter lies at the
point of death, and has already set his house in order
and given gifts to his men. Nothing is left for the
late-corner, but Thorstein himself cares not for goods:
“But this I would, that you should give me your
name.” The king answers: “You have in many wise
deserved of me that which is best, and I give you gladly
this name for your son. Even though I have not been a
very great king, it is still no little thing for a
simple yeoman to name his children alter me, but since I
see that it means something to you, I will grant your
prayer. My hugr tells me, that there will be sorrow and
honour in the name.” The child receives with the name
a fragment of the king's luck, but this he must know,
that the king's luck is strong, so strong that an
ordinary mortal would hardly have power to carry it
The act of the father is clearly just 'as much an act of birth as is the mother's delivery. The little empty possibility had in itself no part in the race, had no claim to be called kinsman; and if he showed evil tendencies, in other words, appeared likely to become a niding — as might be discerned from such sure signs as deformity, or physical qualities alien to the stock,— then he would simply not be allowed to enter into the luck, but was placed outside life, until the trifle of mobility in him also disappeared. He was carried out to perish. The Germanic father would have looked askance at so unreasonable an accusation as that he had carried out a living being; and if the matter were touched upon at a moment when he chanced to be inclined to discuss it, he would undoubtedly have set the phrase-maker's errant wits to rights with a blow of his axe. He knew well enough what life was worth. If the child had had the least share in frith, then its separation must have caused a breach that demanded careful and precise attention.
So effective a part is that of the father in making a human being of the newly born, that one might be tempted to regard the consecration as itself the real birth. What can be the value of simply being born, when the child, until adopted by the father or male kin, is after all but a thing one does not even need to kill, but can merely thrust out as not belonging to humanity at all? It may be difficult enough for us to harmonise the father's absolute veto with the ancients' praise of noble origin, and their frowning suspicion of men who had to cry aloud their father's name that their mother should not be mentioned.
For the Northmen, high birth was the only qualification for honour and respect, or in a deeper sense, the sole condition which enabled a man to possess the skill and self-assurance which honour and respect presupposed. No false pretender could remain long undiscovered; the changeling could not hide the fact that he lacked a soul, as witness Queen Hagny's vain attempt to exchange her two ugly, black sons for a fair slave child. The two spurious slave children lay one day playing in the straw upon the floor, while Leif, the changeling, sat in the high seat playing with a finger ring; then said one of the brothers: “Let us go and take the ring away from him;” the other black mite was ready enough to try, but Leif only cried. In this little scene, Bragi the Scald finds sufficient indication of the real state of things; he tells the queen: “Two are in here, they please me, Hamund and Geirmund, King Hjor's sons, but that boy Leif is the slave woman's son, not yours, woman, — a wretch beyond most".
In this story, we find that which was the silent foundation for the Northmen's judgement of men emphasised with polemic force; in everyday life, it is apparent in the scorn of the low-born, wonder at the ability of an upstart, and most of all, in the unconditional respect paid by free men to one with tradition behind him. This much is certain: no man could be brave and skilful unless he came of a brave and skilful stock. He who was born of a great luck, had a guarantee for his life which one who saw the light in poorer circumstances never could have, he could grasp with fuller hands, without fear of letting fall. He was sure of having such and such qualities of luck — those which pertained to the hamingja of his race and he would always choose with unfailing certainty the one decision which was the only right and only possible one in any matter.
Glum, the old man of luck, had once an experience which taught him that a fault of birth, even though well hidden, can always break out at the critical moment and upset one's thoughts. In the Thvera clan, which traced its descent right back to Viking Kari, one of the great commencements in the genealogy of Norway, and was connected on the distaff side with Norway's kings, there had come a strain of slave blood; a man whom Glum had given his freedom, and who had somehow or other managed to raise himself to a position of wealth, had married a kinswoman — her name is not stated — of the man who had freed him. Their son, Ogmund, was a promising young man, whom Glum took into his house and regarded as the equal of his own sons. When the time came, Ogmund also went abroad, on board his own ship, as fitted the cadet of a great house; and in fitting wise also, he announced his arrival in the Norway fjords by ramming a longship and sending it to the bottom. The ship belonged, to Earl Hakon, who was naturally incensed at the news, and did not exhort the survivors from the wreck to deal gently with the offender. Ogmund received a blow that kept him to his bed the greater part of the winter. And now it seemed as if he had suddenly lost all his nobility. He saw his kinsman Vigfus Glumson as one of Hakon's retainers, and knew the earl would take vengeance on him if anything happened to one of the Norsemen; and he could hardly reconcile it with his duty to Glum to bring misfortune upon Vigfus. So he argued, and left the blow unavenged. Vigfus, however, thought otherwise; his retort shears through Ogmund's justification right down to the diseased spot: “Neither I nor my father care to have you looking after me if I do not do so myself; it is other things that teach you to be so cautious; as might be expected, you take after the thrall stock rather than after the men of Thvera.” And Glum's bitter outburst against Ogmund after his return is a stronger antistrophe to this: “What call have you to guard him if he did not guard himself; rather had I seen you both dead, and you avenged.” And he calls to mind the old truth that unfree race is ever short of manhood. — It was the mark of birth of the thrall's descendant, that he saw the lesser thing first, and it grew in his eyes, whereas men of the true Thvera stock saw only the thing that mattered.
The Northmen had a keen eye for psychological signs of mixed race; a saying often on their lips was: “Who is it you take after?” And we have no grounds for supposing that it was only the one side that counted. Thorolf's opponents, the Sons of Hilderid already mentioned, never got over the disability in their birth, that their mother was of an inferior stock to their father's; it was a fault plainly seen in every word they spoke, when they stole into the hall from behind as soon as Thorolf had strode out of the front, and explained and interpreted the action of their enemy, while Thorolf let his act carry its own interpretation. The sagas also have an argument, to the effect that a man's rascality is due to the mother's blood.
Among the other Germanic peoples it may be difficult perhaps to find any testimony directly showing the judgement of the day in regard to the half-breed. Even in King Gunnthram's day, however, a bishop, Sagittarius, whose eyes had been opened by adversity and loss of office, can realise that the disregard of birth was a factor in the moral decline of the people: “How should a king's Sons ever come to rule when their mother came straight from the thralls' bench into, the king's bed?” This was his everlasting theme when the talk turned on matter of serious import. The experiences of poor Sagittarius were just of the very sort which generally gives the sufferer the most unprejudiced view of his adversary; he had been deprived of his office without having any righteousness of his own to set up against unrighteousness. Gregory, on the other hand, who has found a place for his eccentric brother-prelate in his panorama of Frankish society, looks more historically at the matter: “Sagittarius did not reflect that nowadays all who can call the king father are reckoned king's sons, whatever their mother's birth.” But even if we had not the opportunity of hearing judgement passed in definite words, we can read it in the practical behaviour of men. It does not take long to perceive the importance of birth, outside Scandinavia as well. This refinement of feeling would naturally appear in its strongest form as public illwill against marriage with inferiors. And we are told, indeed, of the Saxons, that they made equality of birth a legally indispensable condition between parties entering into matrimony; no marriage was suffered to bridge the gulf between noble and free, any more than between free-born and freedman, or freedman and thrall. Our authority here, a clerical biography from the ninth century, compiled by a monk whose ethnographical knowledge is restricted to a good page of excerpts, is one of those sources whose sentences are not to be estimated word by word, but taken en bloc at discretion; whether the words refer to a written or an unwritten law, whether they apply to many of the Saxons or only a little clique at some given time, must be left open. At all events, such pedantry of class is not a general Teuton characteristic, but the Saxon caste feeling may probably point indirectly to a marked regard in our forefathers for the importance of blood. And the Saxons elsewhere show themselves as finicking formalists who would doubtless be the first to make a sound dogma out of refinement.
There are two things in which all good Germanic stock is agreed: that a free woman surrendering herself to a slave becomes a prey to the unreality of slave existence and loses her soul, and that an unfree woman gives her children spirit of her slave spirit. In Sweden, the church, with its hate of adultery and its disapproval of slavery, had entered protest against the prevailing view. Then the law may run, that true marriage always ensures freedom of the child. But on all sides of the paragraph extends the old conception of the man as the one who is borne by and has his validity from a clan and the honour of a clan. The words happen to stand in the same chapter with an old sentence in which an earlier age expressed its condemnation of the woman: the woman who enters into matrimony with a slave shall go backwards, or rather back foremost, out of her clan; the word backwards indicates an unlucky mode of exit involving disgrace and loss of human status.
A free man has of course the right to use his slave woman as he pleases, but children begotten in the slaves' corner will be unfree, without right to walk, sit or inherit with the children of a free woman. That child sits in the corner and eats from its bowl among the thralls, as is said in the law of Norway; the same thing may be expressed as in Denmark: If a man have begotten a child with his woman thrall, and the child not freed, then the father shall not pay more in fine for his deeds than for those of any other thrall. It is the woman who stamps her child; we find this also in the words wherewith the Lombards have rendered the idea of a man's right to marry his own female slave; he must first give her her freedom, and raise her to the standing of a rightful wife; then her children will be legitimate and free to inherit; the word used by the laws to indicate her new standing, whether it be virdibora, noble born, or viderbora, re-born, plainly embodies the thought of her moving from one existence into another, into one that is really life.
In all Germanic law, as far as we have any evidence, distinction is made between children born in wedlock and the illegitimate, even though the latter be both free-born and recognised by the father. Among the Lombards, as among the Northmen, both Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, the rule for the illegitimate child runs: not as the others, not entitled to equal share of inheritance, or more strongly: let him have a gift from his father, and go content with that to his own. Whatever may have been the position of the free-born illegitimate in the clan among different peoples, there is a deeply rooted feeling that he lacks something which the others have, or a fear lest he be not so strong as his kinsmen, not the rock that unconditional faith can build on without fear, or that an inheritance would not be safe in his hands. Possibly such feeling of difference was not always or everywhere suffered to make the decisive factor in the social arrangement of a bastard's position, but it has everywhere contributed to the judgement passed upon him, if not as fear, then at least as caution. There is in an Icelandic saga an everyday scene and a passage of words that point out the essential weakness in an illegitimate daughter viz, that she may possibly not be able to pass on to her husband the full frith and honour of her father. In the last battle between the two Helgis, Helgi Droplaugson and Helgi Asbjornson, the latter was faithfully supported by his son-in-law, Hjarrandi. The other Helgi tauntingly shouted to his young and lusty adversary: “Hey, how you would have laid about you, if it had been a free-born daughter of Helgi Asbjornson you had taken to wife.” The words surely had their sting, for they goaded Hjarrandi, so that he fell to still more violently. Though the speech is altogether Icelandic in its form and not to be drawn upon too indiscriminately, it plays upon an uncertainty which is present beneath the legal provisions which set the place of the bastard at the extreme limit of the line of kin. On this point, the church, in its endeavours to lower the status of the bastard in order to strengthen monogamy, had an ally in the old thoughts, and this moreover, a strong ally acting from strong, half-felt instincts and thus capable of effecting great and rapid changes.
Surely enough, a man is born to be what he is. Between marriage and the looser relations, between children whose parents were of equal rank and those whose mother was not a wife proper, between birth and half-birth is drawn one of the sharpest lines in Germanic thought, a limit never veiled. Whatever Tacitus may have imagined out of his own head as to the solemnity with which a barbarian woman took her bridegroom's hand and mentally reviewed the perils she was determined to share with him, his description of the marriage contract is at least in agreement with all later authorities in emphasising the marriage ceremony as a principal act in the life of our forefathers. The contract was an event, the social and legal influence of which was emphasised by detailed ceremonial; it was concluded with the same thoughtful care as a treaty of peace, where the foundation was securely laid by welding together two whole clans and their luck; it was prepared with caution by a series of solemn acts, the formality of which was in proportion to the legal importance of the proceeding.
We cannot gain a real understanding by harmonising and squaring the facts. Again and again it will be found that our words are too narrow or that the ideas which the words call up in our minds are incongruous with the thoughts that bore the ancient institutions. We give the act of bringing forth an absolute validity that the moment did not possess in the old times, because our conception of life as something purely physical is totally different from the primitive idea of a human being. The modern word birth must be stretched to its utmost possibilities so as to embrace the whole weighty conception of race, breeding and family. Birth is not solely parturition and not solely the ceremony of naming, but something more extensive — it is the past breaking forth anew.
The child's social state
depends on the complete process of its coming into the
world, and into the world of its kin, a process that
begins with the mother's birth-pangs and ends with the
father's solemn recognition of the infant as admitted
into the clan. It is impossible to conclude directly
from the cry of a woman that a child is being born; but
the distinction is not between delivery and giving soul,
but between the double act of giving birth and naming
whereby a human being is born, and the insignificant
bringing forth which is no birth at all. The only place
where one can see what takes place is in the clan
itself, and standing there, as a kinsman among kin, we
have, in the one case, the happiness of seeing a kinsman
come into the world, in the other, we are merely
spectators of a happening of no importance, whereby an
individual passes before our eyes, out into nothingness,
into the unreality of thraldom, or perhaps into a
reality with which we have no concern.
But to understand fully the effect of lawful marriage it is necessary to bear in mind that the right and power of calling a child after the brothers-in-law is not, cannot be restricted to the man who has actually married a woman of the other clan. The fusion of soul and luck and history that is effected by one of the friends mating must go through the whole race and work a change in all the members who have one soul together. In other words, the child is not named after his mother's father or brother, but in him the whole clan regenerates the hamingja of their brothers-in-law.
Hence it comes naturally that the genealogies of the ancient families were in themselves a history or an epos, and at the same time a portrait of a character. And though the registers are to us but catalogues emptied of the rich memories that clung to the names for the original bearers, we can still in the crossing and clustering of names old and new catch glimpses of life and growth, and even re-experience something of that earnestness which for the race itself made the reckoning up at once a serious business and an edification.
History knows little about King Penda of Mercia, and still less of his father, King Pybba. We must content ourselves with a few facts from ecclesiastical history, just such as might go to a verse in the Book of Chronicles, of a king who did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. Only a single trait of human expression is preserved in this mask; heathen as he was, he used no weapon against the Christians but scorn, when they did not act according to their faith, we are told, and in this scornful grimace we seem to recognise one of the marked characters, who might rightly find a place beside a Harald, an Earl Hakon, a Chlodevech. But even though Penda was the founder of a kingdom, and one who, like Harald, elevated a chieftainship to kingly rank, he perished with his fathers; culture threw him down, with its unwavering judgement, as one of those who was not borne on by the tide, but left high and dry by the current of civilization. In England, the new age and the new spirit were not, as in Norway, built into the old; every stake there hammered in to support the new served at the same time to keep the old from walking. With the last of the heathens fell the kingdom itself, and if it rose again, it was with the first Christian king of Mercia. But if the kingdom of Mercia stood fast after the fall of its king and his culture, if it passed unscathed through the crisis that follows upon a period of creation, when maintenance must take the place of the natural equilibrium of progress, and if, after the crisis, it asserted itself as a great power, then it was because these ruthless warriors, Penda and his kinsmen, had also been men wise in counsel, who laid the foundations of their kingly luck sound and deep. This race had, like that of Halfdan the Black in Norway and that of the Merovingians in the Frankish realm, the wit to lead the great luck of the surrounding world into their own souls, and give birth to their hamingja again and again, not only stronger, but also richer, by impregnating their house with the war-luck and the ruling-luck of new regions. One sure sign of the power these princes of Mercia possessed to support their spiritual growth by acquiring luck from without is seen in the alliance with the royal house of the West Saxons. When the two families first intermarried is not known; only this is certain, that Penda's sister was married to King Coenwealh of Wessex. And now we see that one of Penda's brothers was already named after his brother-in-law; he is called Coenwealh, and despite the fact that the peace was soon broken between them, when the West Saxon cast off his wife, Coenwealh's branch of the family still continued to use only West Saxon names. Furthermore, the new hamingja was transmitted to two of Penda's grandsons, Wulfhere's son Coenred, and Æthelred's son Ceolred, despite the fact that one's mother was from Kent, and the other's a Northumbrian.
Northward also we can follow the aspirations of the clan; Penda's fierce conflicts with the pious kings of Northumberland, Oswald and Oswiu, are in some way connected with the fact that two of his sons had married daughters of King Oswiu. And even in the same generation there appear in the Mercian genealogy those peculiar Northumbrian names which tell of a family that was proud of its gods; Penda's brother Eowa calls his sons Alwih and Osmod. The æthel, too, which appears in the name of one of Penda's own sons, Æthelred, is of old standing in Northumbria, but owing to its general character it is not a distinct family mark.
Another ambitious race
whose list of names still bears witness to the enriching
power of luck, is that of the Merovingians. Its first
historical name is Childeric. This king comes nearest to
ranking as the Harald Fairhair of the Franks, and like
the Norse founder of a kingdom, had part of his luck
from a neighbouring realm. It is related, in story form,
that he stayed for some time in the East, in "Thuringia"
at the court of King “Bisinus”, and that the queen
of the East, won by admiration of his gallantry,
followed him to France and became the mother of the next
great man in the race, Chlodevech. What this myth may
mean, translated into modern historical proportions, we
do not know, but that it has some significance is
indicated by the names of Childeric's daughters
Audefleda and Albofleda, since we find elsewhere an alb
and an aud pointing back to the same mystical
Thuringia with its even more mystical King Bisinus.
Later, Childeric allied himself with Theodoric the
Great, and gave him one of his daughters in marriage;
Chlodevech, as one historian expressly states, looked
for great things from this alliance, and hastened
therefore to incorporate the luck in his family by
naming his son after the great king of the Goths. The
following generations are distinguished by the alliance
with the Burgundian royal house; names with gunn, as
Gunnthram, and chrote, as Chrotesind, are the
symbol of the union. What the remaining name
combinations, such as Ingomar, Chramn, or Charibert,
signify in the history of the race we are unable to
explain; one might say at a guess that they appear in
the annals of the family partly as a memorial to the
rival Frankish clans which were gradually swallowed up
by the conqueror's line. All these adopted names
indicate firstly alliance, but thereafter the usurpation
of luck and will; with so much Burgundian soul in them
as had the Merovingians, men could safely seat
themselves in the alien places without fear of luck
failing them in the strange land.
In face of these old realists, who absorbed alien luck and alien right into their own flesh and blood, our faint conceptions of acquisition by marriage and inheritance prove inadequate. Our words and thoughts permit us only by a very roundabout way to reach the sort of soul-history which lies in these family registers; but when once we have allowed ourselves to be led so far, genealogy does leap forth as the expression telling all, and telling all in the right manner, as the authentic illustration of birth, which cannot be fully replaced by any other, for the very reason that the succession of names is a series of landmarks left by the very flow of life. And the symbol it calls up before our eyes is not a father who from his place in the order of the race casts a searching glance along the two roads that meet in him, in the hope of its finding some one that can furnish a name for his child; we see a man sitting, inspired by a luck that is truly his, whether he himself or another have brought the latest addition to it, taking this hamingja and determining the “age”, or fate, of his son.
“I 'wish' this boy luck of the name;” this is a saying potent to effect just what lies in it according to the old mode of speech. He who utters it knows that he can make his words “whole”, or real. The ancient idea had no respect for half or conditional results; if the father could not give his child real life, and life unimpaired, then he had effected nothing. He might indeed also take something of himself and of his soul to give birth to a human being after it had grown old. When the Icelanders relate the story with a purpose which tells how Harald Fairhair forced Æthelstan to adopt one of his sons, by letting the messenger set the child on the knee of the English king, these words rise of themselves to the lips of the narrator: “The child is now taken on your knee and you must fear and honour him as you fear and honour your son.” Whatever the author and his circle may have meant by these words, the force of them goes back to the experience that an act such as that which the Norseman tricked Æthelstan into doing really twined a thread between the man sitting there and the child seated on his knee; this ceremony might effect a change in the parties concerned, not only creating new responsibilities, but also giving rise to entirely new feelings of frith and kinship.
Undoubtedly the soul could be renewed in a man, so that he was born into another clan than that to which he originally belonged. By such adoption, the new member acquired a new luck, new plans, new aims ahead of him, he had memories and forefathers in common with his new kinsmen, received their frith into his mind, their will to vengeance, their honour. Even through the pompous Latin of Cassiodorus we can hear an echo of the Germanic reliance on one so adopted; this quill-driver of Theodoric's touches casually on the memory of Gensemund, “a man whose praises the whole world should sing, a man only made son by adoption in arms to the King, yet who exhibited such fidelity to the Amals that he transferred it even to their heirs, although he was himself sought for to be crowned. Therefore will his fame live for ever, so long as the Gothic name endures.”
Obviously then, the man must have been re-born completely, and received an entirely new soul. A change must have taken place in him, a birth which not only affected his mode of thought, but also what we should call his character.
The half-born was, then, not excluded from the chance of being fully born, he could be renewed, nay, born, so thoroughly that there was in reality nothing left either of the old body or of the former soul. Such re-birth lay in the act of adoption, the seating on the knee, or as the Swedes called it, seating in the lap. When the Uppland Law in one paragraph admits legitimate children to full honour on the subsequent marriage of the parents, but in the heading of that paragraph calls them “lap-children”, we have here again one of those characteristic instances of contradiction between the old-time words and the thoughts of the Middle Ages. In the Norwegian laws, we find adoption described in its full dramatic content; a three-year-old ox was slaughtered, and a shoe was made from the skin of its right foot; at a solemn feast the shoe was placed in the principal part of the room, and one by one the members of the family set foot in it; first the father adopting, then the adopted son, and after him the remaining kinsmen. From that moment the son had in himself the full life of the family, as may be plainly seen from the legal consequences ascribed to the act; he inherits, avenges, brings lawsuits, is one of their own. The formula whereby the father confirmed this kinsman's dignity contains, in old words, that unity of soul which we expressed by luck and honour and frith: “I lead this man to the goods I give him, to gift and repayment, to chair and seat, to fine and rings, and to full man's right, as if his mother had been bought with bridal gift.”
The same thing may be expressed in Swedish by saying: Until a man is adopted, he may not stand among jurors, may not close a bargain, and all that is done to him is done as to a slave; but when he has been duly adopted, when the kinsmen have uttered their solemn: “we take him into clan with us,” then he may both attack and defend himself at law, and may take his place among the compurgators when his family bears witness in a process between men. And when the adoption has been completed in due form, then the adopted one is born as fully as one who has lain naked and kicking between the knees of a high-born woman; whatever he may have been, slave or free man, no one can distinguish between him and others of the race. He does not differ from his brothers in being born of a father without a mother, for in the case of a complete adoption the luck of the wife and her kinsmen was included in the soul which the father named into him. The adopted member has received a whole soul and a past.
In Norway, it was required that all kinsmen should be
present at the adoption ceremony, and step into the
shoe, in order that they might one by one hand over to
the new man right to life and a share in the rights of
life; infants not yet of an age to take part in the
ceremony by themselves, confirmed the adoption of their
brother by sitting on their father's arm when he stepped
into the shoe. The same condition for the validity of
adoption was probably required by other Germanic
peoples, though we cannot conclude from this that it
always restricted the right of the father in the same
way as in Norway. The main object of the ceremony is not
to announce the change in the new man's state, but to
make the change itself real, so that it could face the
world as a fact which all must feel. The child did not
sit on its father's arm to figure as an announcement; he
radiated luck into his new brother, and he would, when
he came to man's estate, feel the kinship which he had
unknowingly established. Consequently, the public
announcement at the law-thing, required by Danish and
Swedish law, was not in itself more effective than the
act a father undertook himself, when he had great luck
concentrated in himself.
Beside true kinsmen there appears to be a class of men who have life, who act in luck, whose honour is guarded by the clan, but who yet lack something. When the slave-woman sent for the father at the time of her delivery, and he consented to come, in order to receive the child and name it, as did Hoskuld with his son Olaf, then the boy was free, and might, as Olaf did, rise to fame; but he was after all forced to stand aside in the division of inheritance, with nothing but his gift, that which his father had given him out of the whole. And so the laws actually describe the condition of the illegitimate son, both in south and north. The father might, if he chose, set up his son in life, but after his death the bastard had no claim on the property of the family. From the Germanic standpoint, there is apparently something unnatural about this class of kinsmen, who do not inherit, but can yet receive a portion of the inheritance as a gift; who have honour enough to take oath, who take part in the pursuit of a cause, and have a share in fines as well as in the giving in marriage of their kinswomen, but always at last, by themselves, with a portion inferior to that of the rest; kinsmen who may indeed be entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining the family honour, but only when no better man is left alive. Their position is a compromise against the spirit of the age. We must, however, pause at the fact that such a halfway position was possible in societies based on the ancient culture, and living on the ancient honour as the foundation of all humanity. We can perhaps read the fate of these half-born and the cause of their weakness in the old words used in Norway with reference to an adopted son when he undergoes the full process of adoption: “That man shall be led to the laps of men and women.” If the meaning is that he is thereby fully established on the mother's as well as the father's side, then the sentence indicates surely enough the psychological disability which distinguished the unadopted from his brothers. In the legal terms of the Lombards, the legitimate son is distinguished, as fulborn, from the illegitimate but recognised son, and since the word plainly dates from a time when the difference was a reality and not a juridical distinction, we cannot get away from the literal meaning: fully born, in contradistinction to incompletely born. The words “led to the laps of men and women” did not, perhaps, carry the meaning that the ceremony included the bodily assistance of the wife, but they imply that the adopters have asked the consent of their brothers-in-law to introduce the new kinsman into the full right that the matrimonial alliance seemed to themselves.
Because birth means an infusion of hamingja there are several degrees of birth or adoption possible. The Scandinavian bairn-fostering was in its innermost essence an act of adoption, though the act was not carried through so far that it severed the link which connected the child with the race of his father and brothers. The fosterson felt frith towards his foster-father, so that he would feel an injury to the latter as an injury to himself, and maintained his right whatever others might think of the character of that right. Vigfus Glumson's piety towards a Hallvard, whose character can at best be described as doubtful, is no exaggerated example of the intensity of this feeling. Hallvard was regarded as a grasping nature, and it was whispered that he had few scruples as to the means he employed; there was much to suggest that half a score of sheep and a fat hog had found their way to his homestead, and it is certain that they never found their way thence again. His end was a wretched one; when the son of the offended owner came to him on an errand of the law, he saw at the first glance that the thief's head was loose on his shoulders, and wisely spared himself the trouble of summoning him. Glum let him lie on the bed he bad made, without an honest fine to ease his pillow; but Vigfus, who had been abroad while the matter was decided, could not rest till he had met the slayer of Hallvard, and given his foster-father vengeance in his grave.
Where frith has been drawn in, hugr and mind must surely follow after; the assurance, or rather the experience, of this soul-change is petrified in the proverb: a man takes after his foster-father to a fourth of himself.
Adoption full and complete involves a radical change in the son, so that all his thoughts are given a new direction, and the fate, or aldr, that was implanted in him at his first birth is exchanged for that of his new friends. His former past, even to his ancestors, is wiped out, and a new descent is infused into him through the hamingja which now envelops him. But the weaker forms of adoption only imply an addition of past and present to the hamingja which has come down to him through normal inheritance. Hakon Æthelstansfostri did not renounce his right to the luck of the Norwegian kings, and probably the adoption of Gensemund into the family of the Amals was more nearly related to the Scandinavian bairn-fostering than to the Swedish setting in the lap or the Norwegian leading into the shoe.
We must without hesitation accept the thought that a human being could be born several times; and the consequence which our thoughts teasingly put forward, that an individual would then have two or even more fathers, we may safely grasp; the words do not burn. The fosterson felt that the man in whose house he had grown up was his father, and he felt that in the home where his brothers were, he had also a father. But he did not regard the relationship in the same way as we; he did not say what we say, because it did not occur to him to take the two together and say: one-two. And if we would know how his thought ran, we have only to listen with understanding when the son calls his father, and the father his son, by the name of freónd, kinsman. This name was the fundamental note in all closer family designations, in the same way as we on the other hand now have father, mother, son, brother, according to circumstances, as the fundamental note in the word relative. Kinship consists in having a share of the hamingja, not in having been born, and therefore the fatherhood was overshadowed by frith, and derived its strength from the bond uniting all members of the clan; the begetter did beget in virtue of his kinship, and thus it comes that “kinsman” has a ring of intimacy and is the word best suited to express the feeling of trust and pride in the begetter towards his begotten. An Icelandic or Norwegian father will introduce his warning or encouragement or praise with the intimate “kinsman”; “Thorstein, kinsman, go with your brothers, you were always one to know where gentle ways were best,” says Ingimund to his eldest son, when Jokul dashes out of the house with anything but gentle intentions.
In all externals, the life of Hakon Æthelstansfostri is a forcible illustration of the power of form. Harald Fairhair had begotten him with Thora Mostrstong, it is told. When the mother felt that her hour was at hand, she hastened northward by sea from Mostr to Sæheim, where the King then was. The child was to be born in King Harald's house and into his hands. But she did not reach so far, for on the way, when the ship put in, as customary with coasting voyages, to stay the night on shore, she gave birth to her child on a stone by the landing stage. In place of Harald, it was the king's close friend and brother-in-law, Earl Sigurd, who planted the name in the child, and he called him after his own father, the old earl of Halogaland. The child was thus born straight into the mother side of the Harald family, and never, perhaps, became properly related to Thora's kin. Later, Harald undoubtedly recognised the boy as his, and accepted him with full validity as his kinsman, since he let him be brought up at the royal courts with his mother. When Hakon, a youth of fifteen, professing Christianity, came home from the mysterious sojourn with his foster-father Æthelstan to crave his right of inheritance, his first thought was to go straight to Earl Sigurd, and throughout the whole of his troublesome reign the earl of Hladi was everything to him that a kinsman could be. Sigurd's solidarity is unconditional, it is independent of moods, unassailable by anything that could come between, even at the moment when Hakon's new faith stands in sharp opposition to the old mode of thought in the earl and his circle; the earl's assistance is not limited by any possibility of his adopting a different position, and when he remonstrates with the young king for alienating the proud yeomen of Norway by his excessive zeal for Christ, his words are never edged with any suggestion that he himself might pass over to the king's opponents. When Earl Sigurd's eldest son was born, Hakon baptized him and gave him his own name; and the boy grew up to become that Earl Hakon who for a time succeeded in filling the throne of Harald Fairhair.