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, Naur gerer nppa koste; nktan klr froste. "Need gives scant choice; a naked man is chilled by the frost."

And in the Icelandic Rune Poem we find it connected with burdensome work. Nau er jar r ok ungr kostr ok vssamlig 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 actions.

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 of it.

2001 Susan Granquist - Published by the Irminsul ttir - All rights reserved.

Irminsul ttir