Gifts, Debt and Bond Building

In Heathenry, a primary method for building strong interpersonal and community bonds is the custom of the gift cycle. The idea is simple: you give a gift to your friend which creates a gift debt to you. Your friend will repay that gift with one that in turn creates a debt to them.

In most of the modern world, the idea of debt describes a negative situation: credit card debt, student loan debt, etc. Sometimes people see debt forgiveness, further implying that being in debt is a transgression. It’s something we want to avoid or work to pay off so we are no longer in debt. In Heathen tradition, debt between two people represents a positive relationship. A debt between two people is one way they establish frith.

The idea is for the debt to be perpetually passed back and forth between each other, becoming a perpetual cycle.

There are rules for this:

First, gifts are not judged by their monetary value. Their value is based on the personal significance to the receiver.

Second, the gift does not have to be an item. It can be any service: inviting them to a meal at your home, giving them a bed if they need a place to sleep for the night, helping them out when they are sick, and so on.

Third, the gift must be significant enough that the other one feels they are now in debt to you. Your goal is to maintain the cycle, not cancel it out. This isn’t like a modern day business transaction.

Finally, the gift must not be so great that the other one is unable to do something to exceed it. This is extremely important. It’s a damaging insult to give a gift that will create an insurmountable debt. The gift cycle is not a competition. It’s a tradition that encourages good friends to maintain their relationships.

If a Heathen gives you a gift, it’s because they respect you and want to build a strong bond of trust and friendship with you. The debt between the two of you is a physical representation of that bond and should be perpetually maintained.

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