A month for Freyr: day 13

Today, when we speak about sacred space, most people tend to think of what we understand as strictly religious spaces: churches, temples, groves, shrines, perhaps even graveyards. It’s the site where religious ceremonies occur and where images of gods, sacred books and relics are kept. For the most part, it would never occur to us that a family home or a meeting place should be included in the religious category, yet that is how things were in the past: a private house was a form of private shrine and an assembly took place on hallowed ground. A tendency to confine the religious to the cult places was uncommon, if not unheard of in the old days.

There were several reasons for this, both practical and theological. For one, because the divine is everywhere, not (necessarily) in pantheistic way, but because everything is full of individual gods. They’re in trees, rocks, springs, beaches, mountains, wind, fire, soil, storm, pathways and even in human works like swords, doors, workshops and pantries. The divine, at least in some perspectives, wasn’t seen as being confined to a particular place or existing outside the material world, but was part of it in many ways. Ergo, a house was a form of shrine because it has wights, local spirits and is also a home to one’s ancestors. If a kin is the first human form of social contract, the home is the first man-made temple.

There were also practical reasons linked to one word: protection! The world isn’t just populated with friendly powers, it also has its share of hostile ones. Therefore, a home needed to be kept safe and so it was consecrated and its entry points were placed under the protection of watchful wights or divine entities. Just like sacred ground. And when we move to the political and judicial scenes, the need for safety was enhanced by the sensitive nature of the topics of debate: a person could be physically threatened into voting something, a heated debate could degenerate into bloody violence and a sentence might not be acknowledged. So political and judicial activity was conducted on hallowed ground, which restricted the presence of weapons, limited violence and made the whole affair a matter of religious piety. Decisions weren’t just a human thing – the Gods were also part of the equation. In fact, decisions often required divine consent and hence divine presence.

Thing 01

This was true in both ancient Rome and in the old north (and, I assume, in other parts of the pre-Christian world as well). The Roman Senate had to meet on hallowed ground, if not its own building, then in a temple to one or more gods; in Scandinavia, a þing or assembly, as well as law courts, took place in friðgarðar or peace-enclosures, sometimes marked out with hazel poles and ropes. It was a sacred matter, which called for sacred inviolability. And that, in turn, made it safer and easier to acknowledge.

Why am I writing all of this? Because I believe Ingui-Frey has a role to play as a god of the assembly. Not just because He can guard it, since He does have a more aggressive side that can work as a warden, but above all because keeping friðr often requires well-pondered and wise decisions. All sides must be heard openly and freely, compromises must me forged and deals reached; difficult decisions are sometimes called for and those involved will often have to give in on something to gain something else. That is the nature of compromise and it requires open debate, threat-free and wisdom-rich. For that is how a community stays together, that is how social peace and bonds of assistance are maintained. In good as well as in bad times and, hopefully, under the auspices of Ingui-Frey. May He protect, may He inspire and may He rectify so friðr can be kept. Is it too much to call Him Leader of the Assembly?

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