Volume 1, Number 4
The Norse and Germanic people had a pragmatic view of life, their philosophy was
tested against hard realities, and had a practical approach that recognized the
need for flexibility, but a respect for the lessons of the past. A result of
this view is timeless advice and observations that are as relevant today as they
were a thousand years and more ago. One important concept that emerges from that
pragmatism is an understanding of need or necessity as a part of life. In the
Old English Rune Poem we find the following for the rune Nauthiz, which
translates to need, necessity, or constraint.
Nyd byth nearu on breostan: weortheth hi theah oft nitha bearnum to helpe and to
haele gehwaethre, gif hi his hlystath aeror. "Need oppresses the heart, yet
often it becomes for the sons of men, a source of help and salvation, if they
heed it in time."
In the Norwegian Rune Poem we find another expression of need, Nauðr gerer næppa
koste; nöktan kælr í froste. "Need gives scant choice; a naked man is chilled by
And in the Icelandic Rune Poem we find it connected with burdensome work. Nauð
er Þýjar þrá ok þungr kostr ok vássamlig verk, opera niflungr. "Need is the
grief of the bondmaid, and a hard condition to be in, and toilsome work."
In each of these observations there is an understanding that constraint and need
are a part of the human condition. We must work to clothe our families, and
ourselves, or we will find ourselves cold and hungry in an unrelenting world.
Recognizing that need or necessity, we do what we must to meet that need and
avoid the inevitable consequences. There is no expectation of help if we do not
act in a prudent and foreseeing manner. The frost is cold regardless of our
The verses call to mind a modern saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention"
that is certainly in the spirit of its predecessors. Without need, without want,
grief, or heartache we would not look for solutions, new ways of doing things,
or more efficient ways of resolving problems. Toilsome work can be eased by
careful observation of faster and better ways of doing the work, or by building
tools and learning skills that create more efficient production, or leave us
with more time and resources.
While the poems relate most directly to work the same principles apply to other
areas of our lives. A pain in the chest can portend a heart attack or other
serious illness, ignoring it is asking for futher trouble. Pain is itself a
constraint and a necessary part of life, setting boundaries that warn us of
areas that we need to evaluate. Is it pain that warns that a change is
necessary, or one that comes because we are stretching our boundaries and
pushing beyond the old limits and expectations, either physically or mentally?
We learn wisdom in confronting both, but only if we accept constraint, need or
necessity as a intrinsic part of life. We find salvation, not out of luck, but
from work, planning and developing. We meet necessity by finding solutions, by
doing what must be done when it has to be done. In the end, what we gain is
not freedom from necessity, but a sense of achievement and self-worth because
© 2001 Susan Granquist - Published by the Irminsul Ættir - All rights reserved.