A month for Freyr: day 12

Almost everything I’ve been writing this month is a modern perspective on an old god. No surprise there, but it’s good to keep it in mind. What I say may be based on past practices and beliefs, but it’s nonetheless the view of a 21st century man. You shouldn’t take my words as gospel nor as an accurate reconstruction of a pre-Christian cult. For one because the information available is incomplete and so one has to fill in the gaps and, in doing so today, it will naturally carry today’s view of the world. I’m also a Roman polytheist, so I’m taking a Norse cult and adapting it to a Latin context and, finally, religious reconstructionism is not a goal, but a tool – at least in my view! It serves the purpose of understanding the past so we can move its cults into the modern world. This will natural mutate them, as is to be expected when context is changed, but if you want to bring back old societies and politics as well, then you’ll be closer from re-enactment than reconstrucionism. Today’s Shinto and Japanese society are not the same as 500 years ago, nor is today’s European Catholicism when compared to its medieval version: why should it be any different with pre-Christian religions?

This introduction, almost halfway through this series of daily posts in Ingui’s honour, puts this post into context. For today I have a few words to say about what, in my view, in another of Frey’s aspects: that of god of freedom. Of course, in the past the word might have meant different things then today, but, as said, this is a 21st century take on Ingui.

My view of Him as a god of freedom derives from my understanding of friðr. If it implies reciprocal bonds of protection and assistance, if it means safety and the rule of law, then it also requires people to be free. A slave cannot marry nor ensure the well-being of his/her kin, since his/her life belongs to someone else; a person cannot thrive under the constant threat of violence or arbitrary rule; nor can anyone take part in a state of reciprocal protection if he/she lacks basic means and cannot satisfy his/her own essential needs. As a result, this calls not only for legal and political freedom, but also for a more personal form of being free that’s attached to one’s material means. This agrees with Ingui’s traditional role as a god of worldly things, of wealth and prosperity. In the past, lost of financial independence meant you could lose your freedom by becoming a servant or even a slave in order to pay off debts or have a livelihood. Today you may not fall into slavery – at least not legally – but a lack of basic material means nonetheless results in a loss of freedom and an inability to protect and assist your kin. If it’s a short-term situation, you can count on the assistance of relatives, which is within the realm of friðr; if it’s long-term problem, it results in an inability to do your part towards the members of your family and community. The blessing of prosperity isn’t just a goal – it’s also a tool!

Freedom, in a modern and Ingui-inspired perspective, doesn’t just mean opposing slavery and authoritarian rule: it also means a willingness to assist others. But, the way I see it, it should always be a temporary help. If it’s a short-term situation, that’s all people will need; if it’s a case of long-term poverty, charity alone will not solve the problem. It’s the proverbial case of giving a fish to a starving person or teaching him/her how to fish: the former option lasts one meal, but ends up perpetuating the problem; the latter grants the person the tools to become independent again. To help is to grant someone the tools to be able to walk for him/herself.

This is well within the realm of Ingui: generosity, well-being and, to paraphrase the god Tyr on Frey in the poem Lokasenna, release from captivity. Slavery, oppression and dependency from others when you’re healthy enough to be independent, that is losing your freedom, that is being captive. At least from my modern perspective.

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