As a heathen, Hrafnarfjallian, and/or human being, the cycle of gift-giving is a time-honored tradition that builds trust, respect, loyalty, credibility, and value between parties of a mutual relationship. We often think of gift-giving as relegated to holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, Anniversaries. We also tend to give gifts for significant life moments and surprises: a new baby, a job promotion, a surgery. In a religious context, we may offer gifts to our spiritual leaders, to members of our respected faith, and to the deities and spirits that guide us, watch over us, and give favor to us. Our focus today will be on the traditional gift-giving cycle as it applies to us as Hrafnarfjallians- who are not all necessarily heathen, but roll under the flag of Old Norse reconstructionism.
“Once entered into, the gift-giving cycle is meant to be an indefinite exchange between two people (or parties).”
Once entered into, the gift-giving cycle is meant to be an indefinite exchange between two people (or parties). First, you give your gift. The receiver becomes indebted to you. Second, the indebted receiver gives you a gift, and now you become indebted to them. This cycle of gifting and shifting debt is meant to last in perpetuity, and has been an essential part of life for many cultures around the world, past and present.
Gifts are given based upon the means of the gifter and the needs of the recipient. A gifter should not spend or otherwise overextend their energy to give a gift; nor should they ignore the recipient’s age, gender, social status, occupation, hobbies and interests when selecting an appropriate gift.1 Gift giving is a learned skill, it takes time to understand how best to select gifts for others.
“Gift giving provides a channel by which both parties can exchange on equal terms, and allows for discovery, experience, boundary setting, communication and trust to be developed throughout the duration of the cycle.”
Additionally, gifts may be immaterial: making a meal, providing a place to stay, offering sound advice or a listening ear, and so on. Thus, gift giving provides a channel by which both parties can exchange on equal terms, and allows for discovery, experience, boundary setting, communication and trust to be developed throughout the duration of the cycle. Gift value is determined by the material cost of the good or service, and what that gift means to the receiver personally.
It is important to note, however, that gift giving can be used in negative ways. If, for example, the gift receiver is unable to exceed the value of the gift in return, it may be considered as an insult or an act of aggression. As a gift giver, you do not want your receiver to be permanently indebted to you. This is an unequal exchange of energy that results in a power shift in the relationship— establishing a connection where now you and the receiver no longer equal. This is no good, honorable way to maintain relationships of any kind: friend, family, or lover.
Beyond personal relationships, gift-giving is an important aspect of community building, and it’s more important than a simple “you scratch my back, and I scratch yours.” Like any community, ours has a diverse number of roles that we take on. Royalty, nobility, government, citizen, ally. Such awards given by the Crown as titles of nobility, medals of merit and honor, and knighthoods are all a part of that all-important gift giving cycle. The extended hand, celebratory post on one of our Facebook groups, or mentoring advice provided between one another are more examples of gifts given. So I ask you, what kind of gifts do you give to your kin, fellow citizens, your King and Queen; and what do they give to you? Are you currently in debt to anyone? If so, think about how you can go about repaying that debt— and then do it. The gift-giving is an active process, and so I implore you to give as much as you recieve, and ensure that you’re entering into relationships where you’re receiving back when you do give.
By Chancellor Kendall Belopavlovich, Princess of Hrafnarfjall